Sunday, October 23, 2011

Reading Romans

Paul’s letter to the church in Rome has long been read as a work of abstract theology, which of course skews how we understand it.  In fact, like all Paul’s letters, it is written in and to a particular context, addressing particular issues of concern.  In the case of Romans, the key matter Paul addresses is this:

Given that the Jewish nation has rejected Jesus as their Messiah, or one sent by God to deliver them from their enemies;

and given that God has made Jesus not only the (rejected) Messiah but also the Gentile Christ, or one who delivers them;

and given the imminent destruction facing the Jewish nation (which has rejected Jesus as Messiah) at the hands of the armies of Rome (the city where the Christians to whom Paul is writing happen to live, in case you hadn’t noticed);

has God given up on his ancient people, and replaced them?

Paul’s answer is, no, God has not given up on his ancient people.  God’s intention was always bigger; God has been at work through the history of his ancient people to bless all peoples; the Gentiles are included in God’s plan – but just as the arrogance of the Jews has resulted in judgement, so the Gentile believers ought not to boast and thus incur God’s judgement on themselves; and though for now God’s ancient people are under judgement they will be brought back into the fullness of God’s plans for them.

Why does this matter?  It matters because today the Church is asking the same question:

Given that the Christendom nations have rejected Jesus as Christ;

and given that God has made Jesus not only the (rejected) Christ but also the King of all;

and given the present judgement inflicted on the inherited churches of the Western nations, whereby their ongoing existence is under real threat from a wider society which is indifferent and hostile by turns;

has God given up on the inherited Churches, and replaced them?

This question is asked both by church leaders of inherited church traditions in other parts of the world (for example, some of the Anglican bishops of the Global South), and by pioneer missionaries and church planters in the post-modern West (for example, some exponents of emerging or missional church).

The answer is, read Romans: no, God has not given up on, has not written off, is not seeking to replace, the inherited Church.  Yes, God is doing several new things – that is what God does, in extending and extending the scope of his Kingdom – but he has not given up on the older things.  So beware of gloating over the demise of some part of the Church you don’t like, or boasting of how much better your part in the Story is.  Be who you are called to be, where you are called to be, but have a vision that is bigger, and pray that God will bring all things – the whole Church yes, but that is just the start – together.

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