Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.
In 3 days time a small cohort of fresh-faced missional pioneers will join us again for the Invest course. Just like previous years, they will come with a vast amount of knowledge and experience, along with some big questions and a small amount of baggage.
One of the biggest questions we ask over the year is “What is church?”1. As I was contemplating this, I realised that so often we think backwards about church. The apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians that we should love our neighbour as ourselves only a couple of verses after instructing that the cross of Christ is offensive.
The gospel is offensive, and the church is a community of love. And yet it seems that so often we have fallen into seeing this backwards - trying to promote an inoffensive gospel of love, whilst presenting an offensive church! Trying to make our gospel more acceptable, more palatable, whilst at the same time allowing our churches to become less loving, less open, less pleasant than ever before.
Forgive me for an extended quote from Charles Spurgeon:
there has never been anything which has caused more disturbance in the world than the Christian religion! It is not a sword and yet it has brought war into the world. It is not a fire and yet it has consumed many old institutions—and has burned much that men thought would last forever. It is the Gospel of peace and yet it has parted the dearest friends and caused terrible feuds and confusions everywhere! Though in itself it is all gentleness, yet it seems as if the standard of the dove were the standard of battle and as if raising up the peaceful Cross had been the signal for war, like the blood-red fiery Cross which of old they passed through Scotland to summon the clans to battle!”2
As we begin our new year, and as we begin to question the nature of the church, the Body of Christ; as we consider what the essence of church is, and how that essence can be translated into the different cultural languages of 21st century Scotland, let us not forget that, at the very centre of all that we do, is the cross of Christ, in all it’s offensiveness.
Of course, this will be wrapped in Hirsch’s framework of Christology informing your Missiology, which in turn informs your Ecclesiology, although this in itself may be better represented in a more circular, rather than linear, way, as advocated by (among others) Ed Stetzer. See also here ↩