(Appeared first in December 2012, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.—2 Corinthians 5:20 (TNIV)
Not long ago, a middle-aged woman shared with me her concern about the state of the church. Although she has been part of a Mennonite church all her life, she sometimes feels like a misfit. She worries that our church has lost its focus on Christ as the source of our salvation. She feels that we mostly invest our energy in getting people to reconcile with each other, with too little concern about getting people to reconcile with God.
I assured this woman that she has a valid concern. That’s why I’m so excited about the identity-defining document we call “Desiring God’s Coming Kingdom: A Missional Vision and Purposeful Plan for Mennonite Church USA.”
It clearly says that “Jesus is the center of our faith. We claim him as both Savior and Lord. Just as God calls us to believe in Jesus for salvation by grace through faith, God calls us to follow Jesus, to become members of a new community and to invite others to join us on this journey.”
The statement also makes it clear that while we are signs and agents of God’s kingdom, we are not the primary agents. “Authentic witness to the kingdom is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.” This is a basic understanding of the missional church, as explained below.
Missional character trait: There is a recognition that the church itself is an incomplete expression of the kingdom of God.
Signpost: There is a widely held perception that this church is going somewhere—and that somewhere is more faithfully lived life in the reign of God.
To be reconciled to God means more than a first-time commitment to Jesus Christ in which we are saved. It implies an ongoing relationship to be tended. It means that we allow God to inspect all areas of our lives, some of which are ripe for reconciliation.
The same is true of our relationship with others. All of us live in situations where we need reconciliation with others—perhaps even a spouse or members of our immediate family. If we haven’t made peace there, it hinders our reconciliation with God. Further, as Ched Myers and Elaine Enns insisted in their 2011 Bible study in The Mennonite, the gospel has broad economic and social implications. If we truly follow Christ, no part of our lives will be left untouched.
We may at times be tempted to confuse our identity or loyalty between the kingdom of God and our nation, or perhaps even with our church programs. We must remember that Jesus comes not only as a friend but also as a stranger, to every culture and people group in the world. Therefore we cannot be faithful as Christ’s ambassadors unless we truly live under the reign of God.
That means we must often come to God through the cross of Jesus Christ, aware that our own sins may stand in the way of showing others what it means to be reconciled to God. Our primary work as ambassadors is not simply to point people to the cross but to bring them with us to the cross, where together we seek God’s mercy and grace. That is the very heartbeat of a missional church.