Paul to the Ephesians & CCC to Dearborn

113_church_glasses-628x250.jpg

As we embark on a new path and new season of ministry in the endeavor to plant Christ Community Church in Dearborn, MI, some have likely wondered what are some of the biblical convictions leading to this endeavor. Does CCC represent a "paradigm shift" in terms of a traditional mission approach to something new? When I say "traditional" think of the inspiring lives of William Carey, Adonirum Judson, Hudson Taylor, or Samuel Zwemer packing up the family, sailing to a far away country for life, learning language, inculturating themselves and the gospel, and planting and leading churches as foreigners among the indeginous population. When I say "new" I am not necessarily suggesting something innovative. Neither am I suggesting that what these great fore-fathers sacrificed for the glory of God was misguided. To the contrary, these men and their families are a great testimony to the kind of selfless zeal for God's gospel and glory to which God calls each of his people. I am writing here of something "new" only in the sense that our developing approach to missions will seem rather uncommon to 21st century Christians. The new "glocal" (simultaneously local and global) paradigm we are exploring now is really a "new-old" paradigm. We hope it reflects what the New Testament would require of us in our specific place in history.

When it comes to all our ministry practices it is our goal to develop a "Theological Vision." This is a term I'm borrowing from Richard Lints (The Fabric of Theology, 1993) and Timothy Keller (Center Church, 2012). Developing a theological vision means, first, thoroughly saturating our thinking and lives with the gospel; thinking deeply about the gospel and all that God has accomplished for us and is for us in Jesus Christ, his death on the cross, his resurrection and all he promises for the future. Next it means thoroughly examining and understanding our culture (or the culture we desire to reach with the gospel). It means identifying the common grace ways in which that culture reflects things that are redeemable according to the gospel and things that are counter to the claims of the gospel and need to be challenged. Our theological vision then describes the specific ways we will go about reaching the culture around us with the gospel.

As we began to look again at the gospel and the ways Paul applied it to in his practices to the cultures of his day we began to see many similarities and correlations with the needs presented by the world around us even today. For example look at Ephesians 3:7-11. 

"Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (8) To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (9) and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, (10) so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (11) This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,"

Here are some convictions from this passage that are shaping our theological vision for mission, church planting, and life and ministry, living together as the church in Dearborn: 

1. Paul’s ministry was Gospel-centered

“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given to me by the working of his power.” (Eph 3:7)

Notice that Paul describes his calling as being a minister of the gospel. We often hear people in the ministry speaking of being called to be a minister of a particular church, or called to reach a particular people group or called to serve in a ministry of the church. Paul saw his calling as a minister of the message of good news of Jesus Christ (he speaks this way in Col. 1:23 too). This does not mean that he did not serve the church (in fact, he speaks of this calling also in Col. 1:23-28) or that he did not see himself as simply serving Jesus Christ (see Rom 15:16). But it is clear that the gospel message was central, foundational, and instructive with regard to his ministry in the church and how he served Christ. This is the reason the first step in developing our ministry approach is thinking deeply about the gospel and all its related themes, promises, truths, and implications for our lives. It is the reason we emphasize understanding the gospel message accurately and conveying it with all it's components to every culture we encounter. There are things in our lives we must adapt in order to reach a particular culture for Christ - the gospel is not one of those things! Certainly, we may emphasize certain truths of the gospel when sharing the message the first time with someone because each culture and each person within each culture is wired to respond better to certain truths contained in the gospel message than others. But we never emphasize certain gospel truths (like "God demonstrates love toward sinners through Jesus" - Rom 1:18) to the exclusion of other gospel truths (like "God demonstrates his wrath toward sin by setting a day for judgment" - Acts 17:31). 

Our conviction: Although our starting point may differ from person to person or place to place, when sharing the good news we must always bring the whole gospel to the whole world.

2. Paul’s ministry was cross-cultural

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,”  (Eph 3:8)

Paul was Jewish. He had been trained in the Law of Moses as interpreted by the Pharisees. Before his conversion he used to drag Christians out of their homes and throw them in jail because of his zeal for his interpretation of the Law of Moses and his conviction that Christianity presented a threat to the Jewish religion. Many times Paul demonstrated his concern for the salvation of his own people (Rom 10:4; Acts 17:2,17). But here in Ephesians 3 he emphasizes his calling to preach to the Gentiles. Notice the order: first, he is called as a minister of the gospel, then he his called cross-culturally to reach Gentiles as well as Jews. I have struggled personally throughout my own walk in ministry to figure out how to reconcile two callings that are always presented in our times as distinct. I have served as a pastor and longed for the challenge of the cross-cultural ministry demanded by the mission field and I have also served as a cross-cultural missionary and yet longed to be a pastor. What an encouragement to discover in passages like this that Paul was both! 

Conviction: Christ Community Church seeks to be a gospel witness where we are indigenous while at the same time reach out to multiple ethnicities while working to equip pastors of other ethnic and national backgrounds to reach their own cities around the world. 

3. Paul’s ministry was pastoral & put the local church at the center

“so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:10)

Paul saw that the church is God's plan A for reaching the world with the gospel. There is a powerful and intentional witness that God has designed to accompany the unity and fellowship of believers committed to a local body of Christ. Jesus said that when people see the love we have for one another and unity as believers in the church it will witness to the fact that he was sent by God (John 17:21).

Conviction: It is our conviction that what we do in Dearborn and around the world must begin and end with the local church as God's vehicle for spreading the gospel. We are not simply about the work of evangelism, but also of worship, cradle-to-grave disciple-making, shepherding, and growing the body of believers unto maturity in Christ.

4. The Local church was  multi-ethnic

“and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,” (Eph 3:9)

It is typical for church planters and missionaries to target specific people groups or areas to reach with laser focus. I understand the reasoning for this. It is for the sake of streamlining one's ministry and  hopefully gain a better edge of effectiveness because one's work does not become scattered or too broad. But I question whether this approach is inspired more by the maxims of "niche marketing" than the example of Scripture. What do we see Paul doing? In this verse the key is the word, "mystery." What is this mystery Paul is talking about here? Take a look at verse 6 just before this passage:

“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph 3:6)

Popular Jewish thinking of the day excluded the other nations and ethnicities from inheriting the promises and blessings of the coming messiah.  But this thinking was short-sighted. They were ignoring Old Testament passages like Psalm 67 and Habbukuk 2:14 and numerous other references of the ultimate end of the work of God in the world as bringing glory from all the nations and every corner of the earth. But the Jewish-background believers (including the Apostles) in the early church struggled to grasp this. Acts 10-11, 15, and the epistles to the churches in Rome, Ephesus, Galatia, and Corinth all have a large amount of material dealing with the need for Christ-follwers from a Jewish background to accept their brothers and sisters from non-Jewish backgrounds as one in Christ. It was not Paul's approach to plant ethnic-specific churches, but to help multi-ethnic congregations to see that in Christ they must learn to love one another and live in unity within the local church. And it is the truth of the gospel that we become "one new man" in Christ (Eph 2:15) that makes this possible. How sad that Sunday is still the most racially segregated day of the week.

Conviction: It is our desire to see Christ Community Church ultimately reflect in its membership the ethnic diversity of the city of Dearborn and greater Detroit. Again, only the gospel can accomplish this.

May God help us to develop this theological vision. Let it be true to the gospel, have an impact on the city with its cultures around us, and extend the knowledge of God's glory in the earth.