Thursday, October 20, 2016

Theological Statement, Part 6 - Eschatology & Ecclesiology

Theological Statement, Part 1 - The Nature of God
Theological Statement, Part 2 - Jesus & the Holy Spirit
Theological Statement, Part 3 - The Bible
Theological Statement, Part 4 - The Human Condition
Theological Statement, Part 5 - Salvation

(Icon of the Second Coming, Greek, c.1700)

Eschatology – I believe that Jesus Christ will return again in glory (Ac. 1:11; 1 Th. 4:16), that the dead will rise again, and that we Christians will share fully in Christ’s own resurrection (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:20-23); that God will judge the earth and all its inhabitants in righteousness, each according to their own works (Ps. 98:9; Rev. 20:11-15); that there will be a separation of the unrighteous from those who have been made righteous in Christ, the former being given over to judgment, and the latter (though still having to submit to an accounting of their acts) will be welcomed into the full bliss of the presence of God (Mt. 25:31-46; Rev. 21:1-4); that all of creation will be purified, restored, and united with the spiritual reality of heaven (2 Pet. 3:7; Rev. 21:1-3; Is. 65:17-25); and that Christ’s kingdom will have no end (Is. 9:7; Rev. 22:3-5). Beyond these points I am freely willing to admit that I don’t know exactly how it will all play out; I consider a number of the traditional Christian interpretations of eschatology to be valid possibilities. I tend to prefer an optimistic amillennial stance regarding the end times, because not only does this position have a very long and deep theological pedigree throughout Christian tradition, but it also offers powerful encouragement to the church here and now. Thus, while in my teaching I emphasize “the big picture” of biblical eschatology rather than the minutiae of disputed speculative scenarios, in my own interpretation I hold to the idea that this present age of the church is itself “the last day” (Ac. 2:16-21): that it is in fact both “tribulation” and “millennium”; it is the time of the suffering of the saints (Rom. 8:17-18; 2 Thess. 1:5; Rev. 1:9) and of their reigning with Christ (Eph. 2:6), serving as the ambassadors of the Kingdom of God on earth. 

The Purpose, Place, and Mission of the Church in Today’s Society – As mentioned above, the church is the Body of Christ, and as such it is the main thrust of “the Kingdom of God at hand,” just as Jesus himself was during his earthly ministry. The church carries out a commission from Christ to continue his own mission (Jn. 20:21; Mt. 28:18-20)—to work toward the restoration of all things by preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God, making disciples, healing diseases, breaking the cycles of poverty and violence, confronting the powers of evil, tending to the commission of humanity to care for creation, and pouring out self-sacrificial love throughout the world. As such, the church is essentially called to be the presence of Christ in this world: to bring in as many new converts as will join the new humanity in Christ, to raise them up to greater holiness and participation in the divine nature, and to anticipate the return of the Lord by bringing his Kingdom into ever fuller realization through our daily work, through our prayers, and through our love for one another.  Along with all these things just mentioned, which could be categorized as falling into two categories of (1) an outward call—evangelization, work, creation care, social compassion, and prophetic justice—and (2) an inward call—discipleship, holiness, progress in virtue—there is also a third calling, (3) an upward call: to worship God, the grand and ultimate calling of all creation. By simply worshiping God, we become the anticipatory sign, here in history, of the full and eternal reign of God, when he will be all in all.