The ministry of the reign of God

This post concludes a series examining key points of Andrew Purves' book Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. For the other posts in this series, click a number: 1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Christ Icon, St. Catherine's Monastery
(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
We have looked at Andrew Purves' view of pastoral work as the ministry of the spoken Word of God, the heard Word of God, the grace of God, and the presence of God. Now we'll look at his understanding of pastoral work as the ministry of the reign of God, which is about helping people embrace the hope that is theirs in union with the Lord Jesus who reigns over all, both now and forever.

Rather than wishful thinking, this hope is grounded in the reality of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, who, already, has included us in his life through his vicarious (representative-substitutionary) humanity. This hope gives Christians power for living in the present, despite their weakness and suffering. Purves shares three points concerning this hope: 1) the ground of hope, 2) the liveliness of hope, and 3) the transformations of hope.

1) The ground of hope

Christian hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus (see 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Cor. 6:14, John 14:19; Acts 23:6), which the early church believed was "not only a sign that Jesus was alive, but a guarantee that they would live also" (p. 218). The church fathers understood that Jesus' resurrection must be understood in the light of his crucifixion, which is more than an event that ended Jesus' life---the cross "reached into God's inner experience in such a way that God in Christ has, firsthand, experienced life unto death" (p. 219).

Fully understanding our present suffering, God does not turn a blind eye to our weaknesses and sufferings in this sin-sick world. Though evil is a present reality, we are not alone---the Father, Son and Spirit stand with us in solidarity. Thus our hope, which looks to the future, is not dis-connected from our present. Indeed, the Father, in the Son and by the Spirit is present with us both now and in the future; in this life and the next. Purves' comments:
The hope of the gospel... lies not only in a hope for the future, but also in a hope for the past---our pasts and our coming pasts of sinfulness, disobedience and faithlessness. In the dying humanity of Jesus Christ, God has... gathered up our history and present experiences of fear, wantonness, violence, death, and so on into himself, and given humankind a hitherto undisclosed future that is now announced in the event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (p. 220)
Ascension of Jesus 
Hajdudorog Cathedral
(public domain, Wikimedia Commons)
Because Jesus, in his humanity, is our representative and substitute, when he died, we all died; and when he rose we all rose. That being so, "resurrection... must be thought of not just as a doctrine of faith to be believed, but also as a personal apprehension of faith through hope" (p. 220). The pastoral implications of this stunning reality are enormous, particularly in situations that involve death, for "hope affirms that life, not death, has the last word" (p. 221).

This hope is not mere wishful thinking, for Jesus himself is "the subject matter of hope, just as our union with him is the agency that makes hope personal and powerful in our lives." Indeed, "hope is not its own subject, at least not first of all, because Jesus and our union with him, not our hoping, is the hope of the gospel" (p. 221). This being so, in pastoral ministry, we seek to strengthen the hope of God's people by proclaiming and celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. Purves comments:
Pastoral work is always in one way or another a ministry of hope that because Christ is risen, we too will share in his life. This word of assurance, on the basis of this ground, must ever be on pastors' lips. The ultimate word, the decisive word that is ever and always announced is: Christ is risen! Life! (p. 222).   

2) The liveliness of hope

Jesus is the ground of hope, a hope that becomes ours in a deeply personal way through the ministry of the Spirit, who helps us experience the reality that Jesus is not just raised, but it now present with us in the power of the Spirit: Christ in your, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27) is the way Paul put it. Because Christ truly is our hope, by the power of his Spirit we live hopefully.

As Jesus promised, he is with us always (Mat. 28;20), and this is particularly true as believers gather in Christian community where they experience Christ's real presence in Word and Sacrament. Christian hope is announced in the sermon, sealed in baptism and participated in via the Eucharist. Through this gospel-focused, Christ-centered and Trinitarian-shaped worship, the answer to a key question comes into sharp focus: What happens to us when we die? The answer we are given in the gospel is that our future, both in this life and the next, is locked into Jesus, for his life is our life. "In some sense or other, then, Christian hope is for life in Christ and through Christ after death" (p. 224).

What are the implications for pastoral work? Here are a few: 
  • When preaching funeral sermons, our focus will be on witnessing to the resurrection and thus casting everything back on Jesus into whose future we entrust ourselves.
  • We will encourage people to participate in worship that orients us regarding God and ourselves---giving us perspective on life that is "true and not ephemeral and merely self-indulgent fancy, ...worship that keeps God's promises and hope for future fulfillment before us" (p. 224).
  • Our teaching and preaching will confront the Devil's lies that keep the people of God from missional living. As Purves comments: "Each Christian has a gift from the Holy Spirit, a blessing from God... given for a missional purpose.... Practical Christian renewal has to find a space for helping the people of God discover and accept their giftedness and blessedness and then to hold them accountable for its suitable employment and enjoyment" (p. 226).

3) The transformations of hope

Rather then being one of passively sitting by, or of withdrawing into a self-protective shell, a life directed by Christian hope is one in which we step out in hope and faith, willing willing to suffer as we actively seek positive transformation in the world. This involvement is not about advancing political agendas, but about being faithful to the "eschatological indicative of the gospel that creates its own imperative for action and life" (p. 228).

In short, hope fuels mission in the world as we willingly place ourselves into situations that call out for transformations. Purves comments:
The hope of the gospel must be seen as hope for the hopeless, wherever they are to be found and in whatever form that hopelessness is found.... There can be no real separation between work for social righteousness, evangelism and pastoral care.... Wherever Christ is, there the church is found. (pp. 228, 229.
As we step out in hope, our emphasis will be on the formation of community where person-building relationships are started and nurtured. As Purves notes, "In all things, Christians bear witness to the coming reign of God as relationship restorers" (p. 231).

On mission with Jesus, we will also be willing to address the great issues of national and international life in ways that reflect the mind of Christ. This "entails an advocacy of policies, attitudes, and behaviors that are congruent with the reign of God" (p. 231). This means advocacy against the things that demonize people, including their destructive behaviors. As advocates, rather than moral police, we love the sinner, even as we denounce the sin. As Purves notes, "Christians are to be advocates for social righteousness, peace, freedom, and dignity, though on gospel terms, not on terms of personal or national self-interest" (p. 232).

Purves concludes his discussion of Christian hope, and his book, noting that the prayer of the church is "Thy kingdom come." Only God can bring about his kingdom---all things finally are cast back upon him. And with that important concluding thought in mind, we pray, "Come Lord Jesus and establish the fullness of the reign of God on the earth."

If you benefited from this series of posts on Reconstructing Pastoral Theology, you will likely appreciate two other books on pastoral theology by Andrew Purves: The Crucifixion of Ministry and The Resurrection of Ministry. Enjoy!