Gleanings from Newbigin’s The Open Secret, chapters 9-10
The church is
- the community of those who acknowledge Jesus as the ultimate authority, existing to trust and participate in the Holy Spirit’s work, bringing all of humanity into conformity with the Son.
- a culturally-located, christologically-defined community existing to proclaim Christ and his Kingdom within and against culture.
Précis of key ideas on the missional identity of the church
The calling of men and women to be converted, to follow Jesus, and to be part of his community is and must always be at the center of mission. (p.121)
Newbigin sees the Church Growth Movement (Donald McGavaran) as raising questions in three areas:
I. The relations of numerical church growth to the message of the kingdom.
II. The meaning of conversion and the relation between discipling and perfecting.
III. The relation of gospel and church to culture. (p.124)
While the book of Acts reveals some interest in numerical growth, the message of the Synoptics, John’s gospel, and the epistles is much more concerned with faithfulness and integrity. Indeed, church history shows us that treating growth as the criterion of health too easily leads to the implementation of worldly methods and a reliance on human ability. The missionary is therefore sent not to grow the church, but to raise up a community that acknowledges Jesus as Lord and then to move on.
And how can we defend a form of evangelism that has nothing to say about the big issues of public righteousness and talks only of questions of personal and domestic behavior? (p.135)
Mission, as I have insisted, is not just church extension. It is an action in which the Holy Spirit does new things, brings into being new obedience. But the new gifts are for the whole body and not just for the new members. Mission involves learning as well as teaching, receiving as well as giving. (p.139)
The day-to-day worship and word and witness of the local church has to be developed in relationship to all of these in such a way that it becomes credible to the inhabitants of the local culture as sign, instrument, and foretaste of that one universal reign of God that is the true origin and goal of this and every human culture. It must communicate in the idiom of that culture both the divine good that sustains it and the divine purpose that judges it and summons it to become what it is not yet. (p.150)
The foundation of Christianity is not a set of culturally shaped propositions. The foundation of Christianity is a person in a specific place at a specific time in history. The foundation of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth. This historical foundation is always interpreted within a culture. Therefore, our particular understandings can only be corrected as we meet with others from other cultures at the cross. It is not our understandings, but Jesus alone who has authority.
…religion is intended to denote all those commitments that, in the intention of their adherents, have an overriding authority over all other commitments and provide the framework within which all experience is grasped and all ideas are judged…[It] has final authority for a believer or a society, both in the sense that it determines one’s scale of values and in the sense that it provides the models, the basic patterns through which the believer grasps and organizes his or her experience. (p.160-161)
The truth is that my meeting with a person of another religion is on a much humbler basis. I do not claim to know in advance his or her ultimate destiny. I meet the person simply as a witness, as one who has been laid hold of by Another and placed in a position where I can only point to Jesus as the one who can make sense of the whole human situation that my partner and I share as a fellow human beings. This is the basis of our meeting. (p.174)
In seeking to understand the religion of conversation partners, Christians must come with several understandings. First, Jesus is Lord of all and the light and life of all humanity (John 1:9). Because we love the Light, we will look for it everywhere. Second, there is a dark side, for humanity continues to intentionally cut itself off from God. Third, the way of salvation is not any particular religion, but a particular person: Jesus. Fourth, God has given everything that is good and everything belongs to the Son. Fifth, the church is not the owner of salvation, but a first fruit of the salvation which God intends for the whole of creation. Sixth, Christians enter into dialogue with other religions by setting aside religion and focusing on Jesus.
This purpose [of entering into dialogue with persons of other religions] can only be obedient witness to Jesus Christ. Any other purpose, any goal that subordinates the honor of Jesus Christ to some purpose derived from another source, is impossible for Christians. To accept such another purpose would involve a denial of the total lordship of Jesus Christ. A Christian cannot try to evade the accusation that, for him or her, dialogue is part of obedient witness to Jesus Christ. (p.182)
The church is a steward of the mysteries of the gospel. This gospel is the open secret. “It is open in that it is announced in the gospel that is preached to all the nations; it is a secret in that it is manifest only to the eyes of faith” (p.188).