John Nugent, in his book Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church, comes now to a decisive point in his proposal: how does the church related to God’s vision of the “better place”? Recall that Nugent sketches three views, none of which is as robustly biblical as the proposal he offers (and I agree with Nugent in many ways):
1. The Heaven-Centered View
2. The Human-Centered View
3. The World-Centered View
Nugent proposes a different view, one more focused on the church — but the question is this: What does God expect of the church?
The simple answer is this: to embody the kingdom, the better place, so far as that is possible in the here and now.
To review, the church embraces the kingdom, and that looks like this:
1. We have entered into a new era in world history: Matt 4:17
2. We have entered into a new world reality: 2 Cor 5:17
3. We have entered into a new life: Col 2:12; 3:1
4. We have entered into a new social reality and set of relationships: 2 Cor 5:16; Gal 3:28; Eph 1:13-15; 2:21-22
5. We have entered into a new way of living: Col 2:10; 1 John 1:7; 1 Thess 5:4-5
6. We have entered into a new status: Phil 3:20
7. We have entered into God’s abundant blessings: Mark 10:29-30; Gal 1:4
In light of that, the church not only embraces the kingdom but it is to embody and demonstrate and display that kingdom by how it lives.
Jesus intended the kingdom to be the organizing center of the church’s life together. The kingdom vision is to the church what Torah was to Israel. Every congregations life together should look like the kingdom. … We are the model home of God’s kingdom. … Their mission is to be and do in every land what Israel began to be and do in Palestine. This was God’s plan for his people from the very beginning.
- It takes precedence over all other loyalties (Matt 6:33; 13:44-46).
- It lives by God’s wisdom (1 Cor 1:17-2:16; Jas 3:13-18).
- It produces Christlike citizens (Rom 8:29; 1 Pet 2:21; 1 John 4:17)
- It flees from and repents of immorality (1 Cor 6:18-20; Gal 5:16-21).
- It follows the Holy Spirit’s leading (John 16:13-15; Rom 8:13-14)
- It grows in ways only understood by God (Mark 4:26-29; Col 2:18-19).
- It shows equality regardless of gender, race, age, heritage, or social status (2 Cor 5:16-17; Gal 3:26-29; Col 3:9-11).
- It loves God’s people sincerely (John 13:34-35; 1 Pet 1:22; 2:17; 4:8).
- It unifies through diversity (John 17:20-24; 1 Cor 12:12-27).
- It forgives and reconciles at all levels (Matt 18:15-35; 2 Cor 5:18-19).
- It seeks peace in all circumstances (Matt 5:38-48; Rom 12:17-21; 1 Pet 3:9-17).
- It values children and childlikeness (Matt 18:1-5; Luke 18:15-17).
This is about half of Nugent’s list… and he draws this all into a tight circle: the church is display kingdom to the world through love of God and love of others. He has an extensive set of Bible verses focusing on mutual love — that is, love of Christians for Christians. They are called to love one another, but I think he is too tightly focused here. Matthew 5:43-48, when perfection is read as God’s loving care for all and therefore of disciples’ love for enemies, expands love so that Jesus says “love your enemies”; as does the Parable of the Good Samaritan — and all of this is rooted in what love means or how it is defined.
I agree that the emphasis in the NT is to love fellow believers, not the world. But God loves the world, and we are to love as God loves.
Again, he shows the inner-circle nature of the “least of these” in Matthew 25:31-46, the meaning of “widows and orphans” as well as the poor and oppressed .. all leading to a solidly focused foundation for the church displaying the “better place” by embodying the kingdom through loving one another. This isn’t so much sectarian as it is ecclesially-focused.