Is the local congregation the primary factor in communicating and demonstrating the meaning of the gospel to our contemporary society?
Yes, I believe it is. As Newbigin points out, Jesus did not write books, he built a community. All of our other evangelistic efforts must point back to a community. Everything else is secondary to that.
Newbigin outlines six characteristics of a modern community that fulfils this mission.
- A community of Praise. Modern society believes that we all deserve equality, and and that is essential to human dignity. Our communities give praise to one who is greater than ourselves, but in it find their true freedom, dignity and equality in showing reverence to God, who is worthy of all the praise we can offer. Our community is one of gratitude and our gratitude overflows into our actions by helping those people less fortunate than ourselves in society. This does not come from a ‘moral crusade’, but from the overflow of grace.
- A community of Truth. Newbigin believes that a Christian congregation should remember and rehearse the true story of human nature and destiny. He believes the manner of speaking the truth must not be aligned to the techniques of modern propaganda but must have modesty, sobriety and realism. I need to read more into what he believes on this matter because I do think that we should communicate our message in a way that is accessible to our current society. He may be referring to the way in which the media manipulates people into the next way of thinking, and I do believe propaganda is used with a negative connotation, as we all understand it, but literally speaking it is the idea to propagate something, to spread an idea, or “spread the word” about something. Using modern techniques does, by no means, make the Truth any less Truth.
- A local community for the immediate neighbourhood. The Greek word EkkLesia represents the church as “The Church of God” and the church of a place. The local congregation is to be God’s embassy in a specific place. I believe the local congregation needs to be the centre of that community, where it is known for the good news that flows out from it. It should be known by the neighbourhood for its stance on social justice, for its serving attitude and its action for its people. It should always remember that it is God’s messenger in that place, and not get consumed by its own image.
- A community that is Gods Royal priesthood to the World. We are to carry the good news to the world and be trained and disciplined as such that we are prepared to stand our ground in whatever places of work, or social situations we find ourselves in. It is the pastor’s duty to ensure that relevant teaching is given and discipleship is carried out to ensure the correct equipping of the saints.
- A community of mutual responsibility. If the church is to be effective in advocating a new social order in the world, it must first itself, be a new social order. Its members will be advocates for human liberation by being themselves liberated. Its actions for justice and peace will be an overflow of a life in Christ.
- A Community of hope. Newbigin exposes the idea that in western civilisation, the concept of hope has all but disappeared. He suggests there is a widespread pessimism about the future, and that hope is now an alien concept. Our communities need to be the living embodiment of hope. The gospel offers an unending supply of hope in all hopeless situations. Newbigin, suggests that there is no way of explaining this hope to society in a humanistic way of understanding, but rather the only possible hermeneutic of the gospel is a community or congregation that believes it. He writes:
“It will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel. But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognise that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God’s redeeming grace for the whole life of society.” – Newbigin (1989)