The church and its ministry (part 1)

Gary Deddo

With this post, we begin an essay from Gary Deddo on the nature of the church and its ministry. To read each part of the essay, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. We encourage you to add your thoughts and questions in the “comments” box at the end of each post to get a discussion going. To read the full essay in booklet form, click here. To read the related essay, “Clarifying Our Theological Vision,” click here.


A Brief Theology of the Church
(with a view to equipping the saints for the work of ministry)

by Dr. Gary Deddo

Introduction

Christian ministry and a theology of the church belong to and need each other. When separated, both are undermined. Ministry in the church of Jesus Christ is enriched by a robust theology of the church because the central activities of Christian ministry have always taken place in the context of a particular group of persons who gather in Christ’s name. Christian ministry is an integral aspect of what the church is, and what it is was instituted by its Lord and Savior to accomplish. The nature of the church, which comes first, informs the nature of the church’s ministry. In that way, Christian ministry serves the church, the Body of Christ, not vice versa.

Christian ministry exists for the sake of the Body of Christ in the name of its Head, Jesus. Ministry is a means to God’s great purposes for his people, and as we will see in this essay (being published in several parts), Christian ministry, in one way or another, involves not just pastors and elders or other “leaders,” but all members of the church gathered in congregations for worship and service.

GCI’s journey of renewal

It has seemed good and right that as a denomination of the Christian church, GCI should give concentrated time and effort to filling out its theological understanding of the church (ecclesiology). Over the last 20 years or so we have not given ecclesiology as much attention, study and teaching as other doctrines of the Christian faith. We have spent more effort understanding and learning how to communicate the core doctrines of the faith.

gc-next-logoverticalbigThe doctrinal renewal that has transformed (and continues to transform) GCI from top to bottom, focused initially on the most fundamental or central truths of biblical revelation regarding who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ according to Scripture. The Spirit focused our hearts and minds on the person and work of Jesus who reveals the true nature, character, heart, mind and purpose of God. In Jesus, God made himself known in person, in time and space, in flesh and blood. As a denomination, GCI was arrested, then re-centered by that self-revelation of God, which focused our faith, hope, love and worship of God through him.

As we were renewed around this “Center of the center,” Jesus Christ, by the Word and Spirit, we were directed to take account of the grace of God in the new covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Legal and contractual understandings of our relationship with God were left behind and we discovered life in Christ under his freely given grace, and with that a life of peace, joy and love in a relationship with God that had been more or less obscured under our former teachings. We discovered that God was entirely for us and with us in Jesus because God is a good and gracious God from beginning to end. Our own renewal was itself an unforgettable sign of God’s grace, since we had not earned or deserved his renewing, regenerating grace.

Inseparably connected to God revealed in Jesus Christ, and living in the grace of the covenant fulfilled in him, we came to see and to be captured by the biblical revelation that God is not a lonely God, but from all eternity the Triune God of holy fellowship, communion and love. In coming to see and believe in Jesus as the one who reveals and reconciles us to God, we came to comprehend that this Jesus identified himself as one with the Father and one with the Holy Spirit. He takes us to the Father and he sends us his Holy Spirit. Through Jesus, we came to recognize the divinity of the Son and the Spirit. The one whole Triune God is our Savior. The oneness of God’s being was a unity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. So Jesus directs us to make disciples and baptize in the one (singular) name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:16-20).

Consequently, it makes sense why the writers of the New Testament assume the identity of all three of the divine persons as being Lord and God. As a result, the first creeds of the one church of Jesus Christ that summarized the teachings of the apostles were all Trinitarian in structure as was its worship and teaching. As a denomination, renewed by the Spirit, we came to see that is why the early church was moved under the Word and Spirit to develop a more formal doctrine of the Trinity to address confusion and mixed messages arising in the church to make explicit what was already implicit in the apostolic biblical revelation and in the faith statements and practices of the New Testament and early church (see our article on the Nicene Creed).

Reformed theology gives birth to reformed ministry

The renewing work of God by his Word and Spirit among us can be described (and is best described) in theological terms. We became Christ-centered, grace-filled and Trinitarian. Ever since, we have been learning more about these realities and how to communicate them to others. We continue to live within God’s renewing work, learning how to more faithfully participate with God’s ongoing ministry to share that renewing work with others.

So now, out of a desire to live in the saving grace of our Triune God as revealed in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit and according to Scripture, we want to take time to consider how we best share in Christ’s ministry as his church. We want to grow in learning how to most faithfully be witnesses to the renewing grace of God of which we have been the beneficiaries so that others may join in and share in the gift of our renewal. We want to pass on to others what we have received in and through the congregations and ministries of our denomination. In order to move in that direction, it seems good and right to explore as best we can what it means to be the church (our ecclesiology), and how we might share in Christ’s ministry as a church (our missiology). We turn now to that task in the rest of this series by first exploring the theology of the church.


Part 1: The Theology of the Church

Since we cannot attempt here to put forth an entire doctrine of the church, we will endeavor to present aspects of a theology of the church (ecclesiology) that bear most directly upon discerning the nature and form of Christian ministry by all who participate in a local congregation. A more complete theology of the church will have to remain in the background, although never forgotten even if not explicitly referenced.

The New Testament has much to say about the nature of the church, the assembly of those called together, and about the ministry that took place in those first years of its life. We have examples and teaching in the New Testament about both. The book of Acts is indispensable for examples of the functioning of the church with some explicit teaching also included. However, it is the apostle Paul who offers significant and relatively extensive teaching related to the nature, purpose and functioning of the members of the body of Christ. The book of Ephesians is especially important. Paul not only talked about the church, but referenced his own ministry and its relationship to Jesus Christ in the context of the church, the Body of Christ. He also commented on the ministries of others and how his was related to theirs, whether in alignment or opposition. Appointed by the resurrected Jesus Christ, Paul serves as an example and source of information about the church and Christian ministry.

A theology of the church for the sake of ministry will take account of the New Testament revelation—not to create a blueprint for reduplicating the New Testament church (which is impossible), but to assimilate what we learn there and synthesize it to see what kind of core understanding we can make use of to inform and shape our being members of the Body of Christ and participating in Christ’s continuing ministry on behalf of the Father and by the Holy Spirit. Our understanding and practice of ministry must be firmly rooted in our understanding and participation in the church, the Body of Christ.

Jesus Christ, his church and his ministry

If God’s revelation and redemptive work culminates, as we have come to believe, in Jesus Christ who is God’s only self-revelation and self-giving, we would assume that any answer to our questions about the church and its ministry must be founded in Jesus Christ, God’s own answer and revelation of who he is and what he has done, is doing, and will do for us and our salvation. This is how the biblical revelation approaches any description of the church and its ministry. As we discover in biblical revelation who Jesus is in relationship to the Father and Spirit, and who he is in relationship to us, we discover that the church is identified by its relationship to Christ. The church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is his church. It is his ministry that takes place in the church and overflows from it. The most important thing about the church is recognizing whose church it is. All else about it flows from that.

Jesus and his disciples
Jesus and His Disciples by Rembrandt (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Our questions and God’s revelation in Jesus Christ

As we seek to minister in Christ’s name in his church, we come with many questions about ministry. It will be unlikely that all of our questions will be directly answered. We may discover that some of them are not relevant or actually are the wrong questions (or at least the wrong place to begin looking for answers). But we can ask: Are we given the basics? The fundamentals? The foundations? Are we provided sufficient information to strengthen and encourage us and give us direction? Set priorities? Arrange and organize ourselves, to cooperate, communicate, coordinate? And is any insight provided to do all this in a wide range of differing socio-cultural and, within these, even differing local contexts?

Down through the ages the church has looked to the revelation God has graciously given to provide what is central, what is foundational, what is essential for his people to faithfully participate in what the Father has done, is doing, and will do through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in this “evil age”—the time between the times, in history, in the world. We too, along with the assistance of those who have gone before us, can do no less.

Icon of the Church Fathers (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Icon of the Church Fathers (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

What questions are answered by the biblical revelation centered around Jesus Christ? The most fundamental answer given to us is unmistakable—the center or core of the being and identity of the church is clear biblically, theologically and ontologically (that is, in reality, in essence, in actuality). In turn, this answers our questions about the core of Christian ministry by those who belong to the church of Jesus Christ. Biblical revelation addresses the questions of: What constitutes the church? What is the nature of the church? What is it for? How does it live out its life? What directs the church in its calling or vocation, mission or purpose? Who is involved and in what way? We discover that the nature, purpose and design of the church aligns perfectly with the core of our faith and worship of God through Jesus Christ in the Spirit.

Once we answer the question Who is Jesus Christ? and see who he is, it becomes clear what the church is and what its purpose is, for the church has its being and vocation on the basis of who it belongs to. We understand and participate in the church by knowing who it belongs to. If we know whose it is, we know where it comes from, what sustains it, what directs it, what it is for, and where it is headed. Simply put: the Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. Since we know that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of the Father in fellowship and communion with the Holy Spirit, then as his church, the church belongs to the Father, through the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Through Christ, the church belongs to the whole Triune God.

Jesus: God’s ultimate act of speech

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joseph and Tammy Tkach
Joseph and Tammy Tkach

An undergraduate speech class professor of mine taught that there are three aspects of a speech: 1) what is said; 2) how it is said; and 3) who says it. I sometimes reflect on this insight when preparing sermons—focusing particularly on how these aspects of a speech relate to the Bible where what is said, in both the Old and New Testaments, is the message of salvation in Christ; where how it is said has largely to do with the Spirit inspiring the retelling of Israel’s story, which includes Christ; and where who says it is the living Word of God, Jesus Christ—God’s ultimate act of speech.

The author of Hebrews refers to Jesus Christ (God’s “Son”), as “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)—or as the NIV has it, “the exact representation of his being.” Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is the ultimate, definitive speech of God. He is the life, the way and the truth of God personified in order to communicate with us. We rightly, therefore, refer to Jesus as the living Word of God, knowing that he transcends the written word (Scripture) because the totality of God cannot be reduced to a text. Jesus’ life exudes the character of God and embodies God’s kingdom rule. As the Word made flesh, he interprets for us what it looks like to live in relationship with God in anticipation of the coming fullness of the kingdom.

St. Augustine by Peter Paul Rubens (public domain)
St. Augustine by Peter Paul Rubens
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The declaration that Jesus is “the exact imprint” of God’s “nature” should create new connections in our minds in telling us the truth that God is like Jesus. To express this truth, the apostle John calls Jesus the Word (Logos/Logic) of God. Centuries later, in The Trinity, Augustine explained the triune relationship of love that God is using this analogy: If Jesus is the Word, then there must be speech (the Spirit), and a speaker (the Father). Augustine’s analogy expresses both the three-ness of the divine Persons and the one-ness of God’s being as Trinity. Though all analogies ultimately fall short, this one helpfully conveys the wonderful truth concerning God’s nature, and his revelation to us in and through Jesus, by the Spirit. I enjoy the way Gary Deddo put it at one of our conferences:

Jesus was the self-revelation of God, and the self-giving of God. He was the embodiment of God’s love for the world. Everything else then shifted around that new and living Center, and a renewed grasp of who God was. He was identical to Jesus Christ. There was no other God, no God behind Jesus Christ, no Old Testament God in contrast to Jesus Christ. God is like Jesus, all the way down.

Think back to the prophetic promise given to Abram in Genesis 12: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV). As Scripture goes on to make clear, Jesus, the Seed of Abraham, is the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. In the book of Acts we read this about Jesus: “There is salvation [ultimate blessing] in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 ESV). God gave us the written word of God (Holy Scripture) to point us to our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Living Word of God. The Bible is the only ancient book that can be read with the author still present with us, and Jesus, through the Spirit, uses the written word to tell us about himself, and also about his bride, the church.

To help us better understand the nature of the church and its ministry, Gary Deddo has written a lengthy essay that addresses the related topics of ecclesiology and missiology. You’ll find the introduction and part one of his essay in this issue (click here). Additional parts will be posted once a month, leading up to our Denominational Conference in Orlando, Florida, in August 2017. I believe you will enjoy reading how Jesus is the foundation of the church, and about the nature and purpose of the church that Jesus continues to build.

I wish you all a blessed Advent as we rejoice in the coming of Christ into the world for our salvation.

Loving the Living Word,
Joseph Tkach

Grace Communion Seminary update

Here is an update concerning Grace Communion Seminary from GCS President Dr. Gary Deddo.

As the fall semester comes to a close, I want to share three important announcements about GCS.

First, a landmark: We anticipate the graduation of about 40 students at our 2017 Denominational Conference in Orlando! That’s quite an achievement for GCS and these students. If you can join us on August 4 for the graduation ceremony, we would be delighted to have you. It will be quite a celebration.

gcs-board
GCS Board of Directors

Second, GCS tuition will increase on January 1, 2017 from $150 to $200 a unit. So a typical three-unit course will cost $600. As you may know, tuition at nearly all, if not all, educational institutions does not cover all expenses. Our tuition covered just over one-third of what it cost us to provide our degree programs in 2015. Our tuition increase will help close that gap. Tuition will now cover about 45% of our expenses. Scholarships from a variety of sources and grants from GCI are what enabled us to meet our annual budget, and that will continue. Also you should know that a GCS master’s degree is still one of the best deals around, one of the lowest available from DEAC-accredited institutions and far less expensive than ATS theological seminaries. We are attempting to find more outside scholarship funding and will continue to offer our scholarship program for interns and pastors at the same rates. We are especially keen to provide increased help to international GCI leaders and pastors as we are able.

Janet Morrison
Janet Morrison
susan
Susan Williams

Third, after serving us faithfully for nearly two years, Susan Williams will be leaving her post as GCS Registrar in January to work for GCI in accounting. Susan has been wonderful to work with, and I know we’ll all miss her. But not to worry—a capable replacement has been lined up. Janet Morrison has been appointed to take up where Susan left off. Janet, who has long-time GCI involvement, including leading one of our Generations Ministries’ missions organizations, is the wife of GCS Dean, Michael Morrison. Janet will be the one you’ll hear from in corresponding with GCS starting in January. I know you’ll join me in welcoming her.

Bogota seminar

GCI’s Bogota, Colombia, congregation recently held its annual seminar with 70 members attending. The theme of the seminar was “Rooted in his love.” Its purpose was to gather the congregation’s leaders for a time of sharing vision, values, and strategies, along with a discussion of GCI doctrine and Trinitarian theology. To encourage all to be involved, there were small group discussions with “hands on” exercises designed to help members engage more actively in the work of the congregation, utilizing their gifts to build up the church and, God willing, to start some new GCI congregations in the area. Here are pictures from the seminar:

bogota

Jim Kissee

Two weeks ago, we asked for prayer for Jim Kissee, pastor of GCI congregations in Springfield and Joplin, MO. Here is an update from Jim’s daughter Janna Jones:

Jim Kissee
Jim Kissee

Dad, Mom and I met with the doctors who will be removing the cancerous mass and also, if necessary, Dad’s right kidney. There is a possibility that they won’t have to remove the kidney, but if the mass is into the covering of the kidney, which they think it might be, then it will have to be removed. The good news is that the left kidney should be fine on its own, though anytime you remove one kidney, kidney failure is a risk. They showed us on a scan how the tumor seems to be moving everything out of its way, though not invading anything, and Dad’s chest is negative for any cancer.

All three of us left the meeting feeling encouraged and hopeful that the surgery will take care of the cancer. Dad will be hospitalized for about five days.

Thank you again for the prayers and encouragement for all of us, we really appreciate it.

Cards may be sent to:

Jim and Kaye Kissee
601 N. 36th St
Nixa, MO
65714-7558

Earl Jones

Last month we asked for prayer for Earl Jones, pastor of GCI’s congregation in Fayetteville, NC. Here is an update from Earl’s regional pastor, Paul David Kurts:

earl-jones
Earl Jones

I visited Earl and his wife Betty at the facility where he is going through rehabilitation following the stroke he suffered in early October. Earl was in good spirits and doing well. He has improved significantly since I saw him just a month ago. He is still anxious to get back to the gym! Earl and Betty and their entire family are grateful for the prayers, cards and words of encouragement received from GCI brothers and sisters around the country.

Cards may be sent to:

Earl and Betty Jones
168 N. Gaines Street
Southern Pines, NC 28387-3906

Glen Weber retires

On November 6, New Hope Christian Fellowship, GCI’s congregation in Eagle Rock, California, bid fond farewell to their lead pastor, Glen Weber and his wife Connie. Glen is retiring from employment as a GCI pastor and the couple has moved to the Denver, Colorado area.

Glen and Connie Weber (and grandbaby!)
Glen and Connie Weber (and grandbaby!)

Reflecting on his last day as a lead pastor, Glen wrote this on his Facebook page:

After 43 years and 5 months, today is my final sermon/service as a full-time pastor. We will ride off into the sunset to Denver (Aurora) and see what new opportunities await us in my retirement (Connie will continue to work for another couple years.) Thank you to all of you out there that have shared and impacted our lives!!

Here is a video produced by his congregation giving tribute to Pastor Glen and his wife Connie:


On YouTube at http://youtu.be/N_5xK2yt5YE.

Conference in Denmark

Forty six people gathered in Denmark recently for a conference that focused on the topic of peace (“shalom” in Hebrew) in accordance with the priestly blessing voiced in Numbers 6:24-26.

The sermons at the conference expounded different aspects of God’s gift of shalom, leading into small group discussions where personal stories were shared concerning how God has granted his peace in difficult situations.

A highlight of the conference was the blessing of a one year-old girl.