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what is the church’s unique contribution to the city?

July 18, 2011

I was recently having lunch with a friend of mine who is, by his own admission, an atheist. He is a thoughtful guy and was asking me a lot of good questions. The most challenging and memorable question he asked was this:

What is the church’s unique contribution to the city?

Now that’s a good question.

I thought about it for a while, and shaped my answer around the notion that the church should be a living demonstration of the gospel. In other words, when you come into contact with a Christian congregation, you should get a very real taste of what God is like (Thanks, Lesslie Newbigin).

My friend pushed me further and said, “What exactly do you mean by ‘getting a taste of what God is like’”? I then talked about how Jesus was full of grace and truth. Because of this, the church should be a living demonstration of both the grace of God and the truth of God.

I started off with the grace of God, thinking he would resonate more with that. Our congregation (or any congregation that is following Jesus) should be a living demonstration that God loves sinners. People should be able to taste that in our midst. We should be quick to confess our sins and be patient with others as they struggle with their sins. In other words, we shouldn’t be uptight, finger-pointing and Church Lady-ish.

I then talked about the truth of God. Our congregation should also be trying to live out the truth of who God is. At the time of my lunch conversation, we were in the middle of our church’s worship emphasis on the Ten Commandments and how they articulate God’s will for His people. I told my friend that my congregation needs to be marked by obedience to God’s commandments. People should be able to taste that obedience in our midst.

And this is where the conversation really got interesting.

My atheist friend jumped on my comment and said, “Exactly!”

I think I said something profound like “Huh?” I was thinking, of course, that any talk of God’s law would be readily dismissed as suffocating legalism.

But my friend went on to explain to me that his whole life he had been around people telling him that whatever he wanted to do was OK. On the surface, this sounds very loving and wonderful. But, this atmosphere of constant and universal affirmation, in his experience, simply does not work. He said that for once in his life he wanted someone to correct him.

In other words, he wanted someone to tell him the truth. A truth that exists independently of our personal desires and preferences.

In his estimation, this is the church’s unique contribution to life in our city—to live by God’s standards, albeit in a way that is humble and full of grace.

Who knew? An atheist articulating the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 4:5-8) and the New Testament (Matthew 5:13-16) perspective on what it means to live evangelistically.

We have been given the profound gift of God’s good law. Let’s embrace it and live it out before others. Holiness is missional.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Johannes Becker permalink
    September 4, 2011 7:21 am

    Hello bro,

    good article. but, please remove the advertising script from your blog for the ad’s content is not in harmony with the message of the post… 😉

    • John permalink*
      September 4, 2011 6:49 pm

      Thanks for the heads up. I don’t know where the ad script is coming from. We use a straight up WordPress template that doesn’t have advertising. If you’re using a mobile blog reader, that may be “supplementing” the blog with ads.
      Hope this helps.

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