In my new course, "Pastor as Theologian," we have been talking about the identity and mission of the church. The church is a community (koinonia) of disciples and witnesses, not a product to be marketed. As Reggie McNeal would say, the goal is not "church growth" but "kingdom growth." The church is called to be a sign and instrument of the kingdom of God. At the heart of this witness is the power of God's reconciling love that St. Paul speaks of so elequently in 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (among other places):
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.Back in 2003, I heard Lutheran missiologist Philip Baker call for a moratorium on the "Great Commission" of Matthew 28 as the foundational text for Christian mission (his article starts on page 39). He suggests instead that we consider this passage from St. Paul. The idea of "reconciliation as a paradigm for mission" has been echoed and developed by others such as Robert Schreiter, the Forum for World Evangelization, and the World Council of Churches. I plan to explore this idea in ecclesiological terms (i.e., how do we understand the nature of the church in light of this paradigm?) in a paper proposal for the Ecclesiological Investigations Group of the AAR.