The missional character of the church

This post continues a series examining key points of Andrew Purves' book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. For other posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 7891011.

For All Mankind
by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with permission)
Purves now addresses the essential missional character of the church, noting that by our union with Christ, we have both opportunity and the calling as members of the body of Christ (the church), to participate with Jesus our one High Priest, in what he is now doing, by the Spirit, to fulfill the Father's mission to the world.

The broad scope of Christ's mission

That calling, which is for the whole church, involves sharing in what our Lord is doing to redeem every aspect of human existence: spiritual, social, economic, etc. Purves comments on this broad scope of mission:
There are no limits to the compassion God has shown toward the human race in Jesus Christ [thus] there can be no limits upon the scope of the church's mission in union with Christ to the whole of the human family. (p. 102)  
Of course, not every Christian or congregation can share in all aspects of what God, in Christ, by the Spirit, is doing in the world. Our participation will, necessarily, be limited by our spiritual gifts along with God's provision of other mission-critical resources. Nevertheless, the scope of the church's mission to the human race, when considered as a whole, is unlimited, "just as the love God has shown to us in Jesus Christ has no limits" (p. 102).

Our calling to mission includes evangelism

As a case in point, consider the missional activity of evangelism. The church is called to participate with Jesus in what he is doing to reach out to the people of the world who do not yet know his love for them. Understanding that Christ loves and has died to save all people, "nothing could be more inhuman and unloving than to withhold the proclamation of Christ from any of the world's people" (p. 103). Therefore the church is committed to evangelism, though one congregation can not reach all people. It must decide which people it will focus on and how it will go about reaching those particular people. Understanding that such missional activity is imperative, Purves notes that "we must reject [any] non-missional understandings of the church" (p. 103).

On mission in a christological pattern

Purves notes that the church's calling to be on mission with Jesus is not optional---it's a matter of obedience to Christ, who told his disciples, "I am sending you." (John 20:21). We are go where and as he sends us, living out our calling to mission in a pattern of life that is fully christological:
The ministry of Jesus on earth is the "place" where God's ministry in, through and as Jesus Christ intersects with the church to form the church's ministry. Therefore the development of a theology of ministry looks to the Gospel accounts for its content, and Christ's ministry on earth, in which we participate, is given as the christological pattern in such a way that the ministry of the church is correlative to the ministry of Christ.... By its baptism the church is baptized into Christ's own baptism and as such is engrafted into this ministry of Jesus Christ, to share in his life and to be the present form of his ministry on earth. (pp. 124-5)

Participation---not merely imitation

As we've noted before in this series, the ministry of the church is not one of merely imitating Christ, but one of real participation in Christ's ongoing missional activity in the world. This participation is "enabled at all points by the reality and power of [Jesus'] vicarious humanity to which we are joined through the Holy Spirit." As we think through what this means, we will begin to see that our approach to pastoral ministry, "must be converted from pragmatism to sharing in the work or ministry of God in, through and as Jesus Christ" (p. 152). We will realize that Jesus is not a mere point of reference for our ministry, nor a set of principles by which we would govern our ministry. Instead, as Purves notes, Jesus... inherently and irreducibly a practical and personal Truth. Whatever else pastoral work is about, if it would be Christian it concerns directly Jesus Christ as the living and personal Word of God. Pastoral work has no other basis or validation than Jesus Christ; he alone is its self-sufficient basis. (p. 153)

Four aspects of Christ's pastoral ministry

Purves notes that the pastoral ministry of Jesus, into which we are called by the Spirit, has four primary aspects: 1) the ministry of the Word of God, 2) the ministry of the grace of God, 3) the ministry of the presence of God, and 4) the ministry of the reign of God. We'll finish out this series in Purves' book by examining the implications of all four to pastoral ministry in our day.