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Read With Me: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church - Week 2

Welcome to installation #2 of our time together in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller.  Last week, we discussed chapters one & two, this time around we'll get into three & four which will start the second section of the book entitled "Getting Our Missionary Identity Straight."  Going through these pages has once more encouraged me in the work of the Lord and at the same time warned me again of the drift toward timidity.  I'm thankful for this work, and hope it blesses us as a community.  So, chapters three & four it is...

Section II: Getting Our Missionary Identity Straight

Chapter Three -- The Local Church: Its Missionary Character

Building off of his call to individuals and churches to repent and believe in terms of an outward focus, Miller starts chapter three addressing the "key weakness in the introverted church."  He calls this the "unbelieving timidity" of its members (pg. 42).  He was publicly confronted with the question of whether or not the Good News of the gospel can actually transform.  It sounds like he had known the proper answer to the question, but did he believe it?  He wrestled over the truth of God's transforming power and committed himself "to acting on the principle that the gospel can change anyone who will take it to heart."  He calls this embrace of the gospel's power the process of shedding his own "ingrownness" and looking to and relying on the power of God to be a pacesetter in his local church.

As this shedding and transformation took place, 1 Peter 2:9-10 fueled the fire within him and helped redefine the nature of the local church.  

"What, then, is the basic, fundamental nature of the church?  To serve itself and its own self-centered interests?  Or even first of all to serve others?  No, its fundamental character is to belong to God...It exists for God, and He in His infinite majesty lives in it as a troubling, transforming, barrier-breaking presence."  (Pg. 43)

Being part of the "royal priesthood" from 1 Peter 2:9, we all are priests having access to God and live to serve him.  Do not remove this from its corporate context!  We are a group of people with access to God the Father through the work of God the Son by the power of God the Spirit, and corporately we serve him!  Our existence as a Body is to proclaim the excellencies of him who brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light, but the introverted church does not see our time here before Jesus' return in this way.  Though they may know the gospel can transform people, but there's no belief.  "Church members have no eye of faith to see and act upon the promises of God."  (Pg. 46)

"But if these church members are born-again believers, they have the Spirit, and if they have the Spirit of grace, they can be activated to declare the divine glory in the face of the world's darkness.  It follows that if they cannot be stimulated by sound teaching to confront the world's darkness, it is at least possible that they themselves are still living in that darkness."  (Pg. 47)

As Miller began to live by these principles, acting in faith upon the promises of God, in the power of the Spirit, things in the church began to change.  The culture of the local church he pastored was being turned outwardly from the example being set and the celebration of God's work.  From this, five principles began to infiltrate the community:

  1. "Our identity is that of God's own people, and our purpose in the world is to glorify Him by declaring the gospel to others."
  2. "You are either in Christ or not--there is no middle, neutral ground."
  3. "If you are in Christ, you are alive, and this new life should be bringing glory to God by your deeds of love."
  4. "If you are not in Christ, now is the time to receive Him, because you will perish if you die without knowing him."
  5. "The gospel is good news--indeed, supremely good news--which believed and acted upon produces a whole new life of praise for anyone, no matter how corruped, confused, or damaged."  (Pg. 49)

As this played out in his church, he determined what the key practice necessary by church members was in order to move from inward to outward: "What is required is a willingness as a church member to practice the art of gentle confrontation of people with the message of the gospel and the evidence of its tranforming power."  (Pg. 50)

This tells me that the shift to an inwardly focused church is the lack of this willingness, which is a natural drift.  This "art of gentle confrontation" does bring persecution but the flow of his argument orginates in the objective fact that the church belongs to God.  We are a people purchased and redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and in that redemption there's a transformation that cannot be denied.  This gentle confrontation of worldview, of identity, of objects of worship is the graciously-given occupation of the Church.  All of us who have trusted Christ alone for salvation have someone who has faithfully done this with us.  Our parents and family.  A friend.  A street evangelist.  A faithful preacher in the pulpit.  We put our faith in Christ through hearing the Good News and responding to it in repentance and faith.  What an honor to play a part in the proclamation of the gospel, may we continue learning this art of gentle confrontation watching the Lord do what he does!

Chapter Four -- The Local Church: Its Missionary Authority

"All too often the church is viewed as passive in its relationship to the world and in its own life.  In practical terms, we have observed, this often adds up to its becoming a religious cushion for the comfort of its shaky members."  (Pg. 52)

Agreed!  This is the drift of the local church.  Looking to the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20, Miller categorizes the Church as "a commissioned body that is itself involved in the harvesting task."  (Pg. 53)  He breaks down the commission into three parts:

  • The Enthronement Proclamation
  • Task Commanded and Defined
  • Promise of Power

The Enthronement Proclamation

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus proclaims that "He has become King of kings and Lord of lords" and in this the Father has exalted him to "a new enthroned position with all rule and authority."  (Pg. 54)  "In this proclamation jesus is declaring that a brand new day has dawned, and the cause of that new day is His victory over sin, death, and the devil through His crucifixion and resurrection."  

Jesus has been given all authority on heaven and earth!  This is the context in which we live and disciple here in Fargo/Moorhead/West Fargo.  Jesus is Lord!  That's the objective truth of our Commander in Chief, "He is Lord fo the harvest and [His] grand redemptive purpose is to bring into the barn of salvation all the chosen people of God from the nations of the earth."  (Pg. 54)

As Christ's representative, "[the] gospel messengers are announcing that the Lord of the harvest is on His way, and now is the hour to surrender to His salvation in faith and repentance."  The Church is "the vehicle, the instrument, for gathering in the people of God.  Christ has no other agency for accomplishing this work."  (Pg. 55)  We're given the Spirit as the empowerment of this work, to act as messengers practicing the art of gentle confrontation from chapter three.  By the power of the Spirit, "it is the privilege and duty of each believer to become God's zealous pacesetter in bringing the lost to Christ by every means available."  The Church works together for this to happen, playing out the role they've been given, utilizing the gifts of grace all believers have, to build up the Church in number and in faith.  But why is this rare in the local church?  To answer this, Miller quotes R.C. Sproul from an article entitled "The Christian in the Market Place" from the February 1985 edition of Tabletalk:

"It was the Pharisees who developed the doctrine of 'salvation by separation.'  They were practicing segregationists, belieiving holiness was achieved by avoiding contact with unclean sinners.  No wonder they were scandalized by the behavior of Jesus who dealt with Samaritans, ate dinner with tax collectors, placed His hand upon lepers and ministered to harlots.  Our Lord was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, not because He was overweight or given to intemperance, but because he frequented places where these things were commonplace."

Having a lack of trust, this pharisaical attitude can often be found in the local church.  This is our drift, this is my drift.  However, trusting in the authority of Christ is an empowerment to go to the places our Lord frequented in order to practice the art of gentle confrontation with the Good News and transforming power of Christ.  May these accusations be made against us as well!  May we exercise faith in the sovereign authority given to the Risen Christ.

The Task Commanded and Defined

"Expressed in relationship to the local church, the goal is to add people to the church who are Christians seeking to live in obedience to its Lord."  (Pg. 59)

The task given in the Great Commission is more than just seeking decisions, but to see actual conversions where saved souls move into the process of sanctification.  Matthew 28:19-20a defines our calling: to make disciples of all nations as we "go," teaching them to live a life of obedience to Christ.  

During a visit to Fuller Seminary in the late 60's, Miller was lovingly critiqued by professor Donald McGavran who characterized many like Miller as "elitist" and lacking "practical confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit as Christ's presence," showing timidity (Pg. 60).  Seeing people as "washed" and "unwashed" culturally rather than spiritually lead to resulted in basic moralism, or viewing people in terms of outward behavior rather than inward renewal.  The introverted church does not see people as far from Christ and in desperate need of salvation.  Either one is a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3) or a child of God (Romans 8:16), and we are prone to forget this truth.  As the task of making disciples is renewed in the local church, this elitism is washed away and the desire to see new followers of Christ baptized into the body is present.  

Promise of Power

Finally, Jesus reminds his disciples in Matthew 28:20 that his presence will not go from them.  His sovereign authority will not leave them as he gives them this impossible task.  Having reminded them not long before this in John 16:1-15 that the Spirit will be with them even as he goes to be with the Father, we see how this all works!  God has sent his Son to live, die, and rise again.  The Son sends his Spirit to indwell us, his followers, with his very presence.  And the Spirit works to bring about conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment.  By the power of the Spirit, we're awoken to new life!  Jesus goes so far in John 16 as to say it's to the disciples' advantage that he go so that the Spirit comes!  

It's in the Spirit that the power of God works in and through us in this endeavor to make disciples of Jesus.  We gently confront people with the Good News of the gospel, knowing Jesus is with us by his Spirit, convicting the world of sin, righteousenss, and judgment.  May we understand Jesus' sovereign authority, may we understand our commandment and task, and may we know the power that's ours through the presence of Christ!  

Next week, we'll move into Section III looking at the sources of missionary power.