If the church has been sputtering along with an incomplete Gospel that only eliminates sin and focuses on heaven while also creating a peculiar Christian sub-culture, it is safe to say that we have forgotten how to live in the world as a redeeming presence. A combination of these errors with misguided doctrines concerning the rapture and the annihilation of the world results in goals that are quite different from those of the Christ. While Jesus brought God and his reign into the world, the goal of the church of late has been a strategic withdrawal into heaven. Jesus brought God into the here and now, we hand out divine IOU’s.
God’s plan has focused on redeeming and rehabbing his creation. Of course part of redemption is a spiritual resurrection into new bodies, thereby enabling us to live with God forever, but that is only part of the picture. The ministry of Jesus provides some very important clues into the scope of God’s plan. First, the message of Jesus was the arrival of God’s Kingdom. Secondly, Jesus performed a host of miracles. Third, he called his followers to believe that he is one with the Father and the he can reunite people with their creator if they repent. The result of accepting and then following Jesus brought radical change in this world and a place with him in the next.
If Jesus only preached a message of salvation in heaven one day, then we are hard pressed to make sense of his miracles. Why would he waste his time restoring sight or making cripples strong if they only need faith to gain entry into heaven? But if Jesus meant to bring God into this world, to bring his rule into individuals, and to begin eternal salvation in the here and now, then we have something altogether different. There still is hope for resurrection and life after death, but new, abundant life with God starts now. If God is truly the Lord of someone’s life, then miracles can happen, sin will be erased, and God will bubble up from within like a spring of water.
It is curious that Paul speaks of creation groaning for restoration, as if God may not destroy this world (contrary to some popular eschatology theories). Perhaps his ultimate goal is to recreate or rehab it. But whatever the case may be with the actual end of this world, the Bible does end notably on the return of Jesus to this world. He does not pull us out into some spiritual dimension.
Revelation 21:1 (NASB) And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer [any] sea.
2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.
The goal of the Gospel is to bring God’s reign to earth, not to separate us from this world for him. I think the Leslie Newbigin’s concept of election (see The Gospel in a Pluralist Society) is particularly relevant here. My paraphrase: God saves his people so that they may bring his blessings and presence to the rest of the world. Christians are in one sense aliens and strangers in this world since our ways are not the norm. Yet, in another sense, those reunited with God are the only ones who can truly live as God intended. We have something that must be seen and experienced. We have the very reign of God in our lives redeeming and rehabbing our fragile spirits.
May we seek the Father, Son and Spirit out today and live in their fullness so that the good news of God’s benevolent reign may spread to those who need it so desperately.