Gleanings from Newbigin’s The Open Secret, chapters 1-6
The church is
- a community with the commitment that Jesus’ authority is ultimate and who announces this ultimate authority to the world.
- a community existing by the authority of the Father for the purpose of proclaiming the Father’s Kingdom to the world and remaining aware in the process.
- a community existing by the grace and intention of God in Jesus for the purpose of embodying Jesus’ presence–his incarnation and passion–in the world.
- a community existing by the power of the Spirit for the purpose of following the Holy Spirit in the way prepared by his prevenient grace.
Précis of key ideas on the missional identity of the church
All understandings of and responses to the human condition are based on commitments. Christianity and Christian mission are based upon the commitment that the authority of Jesus is ultimate. Therefore, when asked, “By what authority?” we respond, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” We answer thusly because we believe, because Jesus is the supreme authority, and because we have been commissioned to do so. Therefore, the announcement of the gospel is the answer to the question, “By what authority?”
What does proclamation mean? The reign of God is not a new “movement” in which those interested may enlist. It is not a cause for support, a cause that might succeed or fail according to the amount of support it attracts. It is, to be precise, the reign of God, the fact that God whom Jesus knows as Father is the sovereign ruler of all peoples and all things. The announcement means that this fact is no longer something remote—far up in the heavens or far away in the future. It is an impending reality, in fact, the one great reality that confronts men and women now with the need for decision. (p.34)
The proclamation of the Kingdom of the Father requires us to offer an interpretation of world events, putting into context happenings that seem opposed to God’s Kingdom. The Little Apocalypse in Mark 13 provides insight. The announcement of the Kingdom gives hope for full liberation, and opens the way for false messiahs bringing temporal liberation. Therefore, the evidence of the Kingdom’s breaking in is not peace, but war. Matters are made worse when evil usurps the throne. Then, when things seem at their worst, the final triumph of God comes. Therefore, those to whom the truth has been revealed must remain awake and aware.
Mission, seen from this angle, is faith in action. It is the acting out by proclamation and by endurance, through all the events of history, of the faith that the kingdom of God has drawn near. It is the acting out of the central prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to use: “Father, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” ( p.39)
The church is a movement launched into the life of the world to bear in its own life God’s gift of peace for the life of the world. (p.48)
The embodiment of the presence of the Son is the embodiment of the Kingdom. The church, even in its mixture of faith and doubt, embodies the presence of Jesus and, thus, the Kingdom. The church is not the Kingdom, but is the embodiment of Jesus’ presence. This is possible because what has happened in the incarnation and passion is larger, more complex, and more wonderful than we can grasp. It is possible because the time-bound, geographically located historical events surrounding the incarnation and passion of the One who is sovereign over all must and does have significance for all times, places, and peoples. It is possible because the presence of the Kingdom is revealed, not in a book, but in a faith community bearing in itself the incarnation and passion of the Son. It is possible because the Kingdom of God is both hidden and revealed in a people who bear it, not by any merit of their own, but by the grace and intention of God.
Because I believe in one God the Father, one Lord Jesus Christ, and one Holy Spirit, I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. And I believe that the reign of God is present in the midst of this sinful, weak, and divided community, not through any power or goodness of its own, but because God has called and chosen this company of people to be the bearers of his gift on behalf of all people. (p.54)
Trust in the prevenience of the Spirit requires we recognize that the mission is not ours and that we must follow where the Spirit leads. The Spirit is the guarantee that the Kingdom of God is here and will be complete. The church’s necessary response is to live in and proclaim that hope in the world. Our task is to follow the Spirit.
The church exists to proclaim the Kingdom of the Father, embody the presence of the Son, and follow the prevenience of the Holy Spirit. Our identity as church is defined as this mission.