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The Christian life in the present age is not meant to be a waiting room for heaven-bound passengers, but rather a stage to live out a glorious new life in Christ.

Thanks to technological progress forged in an individualistic culture, believers today can find Christian community in a nontraditional way. Not only do online platforms offer timely alternatives to in-person gatherings, but they also create alternative Christian communities. Online, everyone is welcomed without prejudice, regardless of one’s background or circumstances. Some prefer online communities because of the anonymity it allows and the control it gives over whom one associates with.

But while online platforms might seem to satisfy personal needs and offer conveniently selected unity, it also removes participants from traditional church responsibilities.

These days, people are asking questions like: Should I go to (in-person) church as people traditionally did? Is that the only or best way of being a Christian? Is traditional church membership a necessary condition of being a believer? What options do I have if the church decides or acts against my Christian conscience? Some reason that there are diverse ways of “being church,” such as house churches, parachurches, café churches, or online churches, and that the church needs to change to meet contemporary needs.

While church leaders are understandably concerned about the church’s future, most people today are instead asking about what the gospel means for them in their life. They are not simply seeking excuses to stay away from church; instead, they are searching for what it means to be a believer in today’s context.

The real challenge facing the church is not that people are not coming back to in-person church in the post-pandemic era, but that the church might have become stagnant with tradition. We can see examples of such stagnancy in how the church usually proclaims the gospel and in how the church handles the growing concerns of justice in our society.

Let’s take a look at gospel proclamation. In the last half-century, the fastest-growing church movements tend to have an individualistic and utilitarian view of the gospel and consequently a narrowly pietistic spirituality. In some developing countries, such as Korea in the past, people absorbed the simple message that “faith alone” (in a personal, individualistic way) guarantees salvation. Weary fathers, mothers, and widows would attend Sunday services, early-morning prayer meetings, and revival meetings to hear the gospel message. The simple “faith alone” gospel worked, and the church grew even in harsh situations. However, once the gospel had been set in such personal and narrowly spiritual terms, many of those same people, now that they are richer and freer, struggle to find how their faith is relevant to their lives. With their eyes set on heaven, many of them fail to see how God’s salvation can impact their society. Consequently, the church’s apathy toward justice issues and amoral social behaviors invites criticism from society.

Christians in advanced countries face challenges, too, when they sever their faith from their everyday lives. When the meaning of our Christian faith is not lived out in a conflict-torn society, when it merely looks forward to an otherworldly heaven, such a pietistic gospel can dwindle to focusing only on the self.

The challenge for ministry today is how to revive the church to live out the gospel of Christ in a polarized society. Diverse conflicts, such as polarized political situations, approaches to gender and sexuality, or issues related to economic and racial justice produce anger, misunderstanding, prejudice, and suffering. These conflicts aggravate an already fragmented society and its relationships. The church is a victim of these conflicts even though it creates some itself and bypasses others.

Salvation Issues

Therefore, an essential goal for ministry today is to form a community whose aim is the justice, reconciliation, and unity that the gospel makes possible in the world. The Bible teaches that God is reconciling creation to himself—the fundamental reason we should be asking how God is working salvation in and around ourselves and our communities. Reformed theology has long cherished this comprehensive theological view of God’s salvation. It’s not just about saving individual souls; it’s about God reconciling all things to God (Col. 1:20). This theology was formed through a trinitarian reading of Scripture, which describes the Christian vision for life as ultimately universal, not narrow. The Reformed mind sees the broad, comprehensive work of the triune God, who redeems the sin-damaged creation through Christ. There, human salvation, achieved by grace through faith, is only one part of God’s greater vision of cosmic salvation.

Within this greater context we can better understand God’s original purposes for humanity in God’s world. Salvation is creational in the sense that salvation achieves the Creator-ordained purpose of creation, and the Christian life is therefore communal, in that believers are born again to live in the creational community.

In this biblical view of cosmic salvation, human salvation is more glorious and dynamic than a merely passive movement of being transferred to heaven when we die. The Christian life in the present age is not meant to be a waiting room for heaven-bound passengers, but rather a stage to live out a glorious new life in Christ. Our present lives have purpose in God’s schedule of salvation. They are new and glorious lives because God has commissioned and equipped the redeemed to be the “rulers” of the world—or in Christ’s words, “ambassadors.” The new creation has already come and is working among believers (2 Cor. 5:17). Whatever believers do with this new life in Christ affects not only their own lives, but also God’s kingdom. Living this new life is meant to be a joyful responsibility, never a grudging duty. And the community, big or small, is the stage where believers live out their new life. This Reformed vision of the Christian life can serve as a needed antidote to modern individualistic and utilitarian ideas of salvation and of the Holy Spirit’s work.

Yet Christian responsibility to be active participants in creational reconciliation does not happen automatically. Most of the conflicts that undermine the church, whether confessional or practical, involve suffering. The conflicts regarding justice, reconciliation, and unity are never resolved by the church’s decisions alone. They require the church, individually and communally, to commit to humble listening, fair discernment, and long-suffering love.

Scripture gives many examples of God’s people proclaiming the gospel message within a cross-cultural context. Look at what happened to the Israelites when God led them through all the surrounding cultures and formed his people out of all nations. Israel’s dealings with other people often included prejudice, misunderstanding, and even wars. The Israelites had to learn new languages and cultures wherever they went because they were called not only for their own sake, but also to serve as priests among foreign nations (Gen. 12:2-3). Through this long and arduous process, Israel came to realize its God-endowed identity for the sake of the world. Much later, in Acts 6, we witness an internal church conflict between Hellenistic Jews and Hebraic Jews. A series of compassionate and humble conversations were needed to deal with that conflict.

As long as we interpret Scripture’s teaching of God calling his people out of all nations and cultures as simply a religious or spiritual phenomenon, we are far from grasping the biblical mandate of practicing justice, reconciliation, and unity. We are commanded to understand and practice the spiritual fruit that can help resolve our human conflicts (Eph. 4:1-4). Christ has already established unity among believers of all people groups. On this basis, the church is Christ’s body together. In today’s terms this might mean that Christ has established unity among believers with diverse consciences. It is not our decisions or work that establishes unity; rather, we are called to joyfully recognize and faithfully live out that unity by practicing justice and reconciliation.

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