Can I start with a big mind-blowing idea we discussed in the Gotham Fellowship, and then explain? Ok, good.
Big Idea: The purpose of the Church is to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 by participating with God in the fulfillment of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1.
Wow.. Any brain cells left? Let me break this statement down, and you’ll thank me by the end of this blog.
There are so many stereotypes, arguments, and much confusion around the purpose of the Church. The politically liberal might say the church is to reach out to the poor and be the heart or conscience of society. The politically conservative might say the church is to encourage morality and slow down the progressive advancement of the secular agenda. Evangelicals might say the purpose of the church is to preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls. A Roman Catholic might say the purpose of the church is to be and advance the Kingdom of God in the tradition of the apostles until Christ’s return.
In the Gotham Fellowship this week we began with the big idea above. In full disclosure, this is a uniquely Reformed statement and perspective (by Reformed I mean the theological convictions coming from Martin Luther and Jean Calvin in the mid-1500s Europe that developed into the Reformed churches such as ours, Presbyterian). And yet, more than a Reformed statement on the purpose of the church, I think this big idea is effective in understanding the role of any Christian and any church in our society.
The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is a term given to this command of Jesus’:
And Jesus came and said to (the disciples), “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
These closing words of Matthew are a charge to go out and get the job of disciple-making done. It is a clarion call by our Lord, and has been oft-repeated to give Christians and churches both a directive and a kick in the pants to do her job…make disciples.
Now, hold that thought… and let me explain the idea of the cultural mandate mentioned in the big idea.
The cultural mandate comes from Genesis 1:28, when after creating the cosmos and humanity, God says to the humans:
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Theologians have taken this command by God as the charge to fulfill our role as humans: be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth with your progeny. Humans are at the top of the food chain, if you will. Take your dominion over the living things and build a society that flourishes.
Granted, a good corrective has been emphasized as of late. Dominion for dominion’s sake, and abusing our place at the top of the food chain can lead to environmental disaster. Other parts of Genesis help balance that dominion out such that as stewards we must care for that which is within our responsibilities. Yet, the idea still remains: humans are in charge, and even encouraged to create culture. A mandate to be culture- makers on God’s behalf.
So, back to our big idea: The purpose of the Church is to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 by participating with God in the fulfillment of the cultural mandate of Genesis 1.
Christ followers (the Church) go out and make disciples in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit best when we are doing as God’s naturally and originally created us to do: make culture that is God honoring and promotes Creation’s flourishing.
Here is how that is expanding my sense of what it means to be a Christian. Yes, we do Bible study, and yes, we evangelize, and yes, we worship, and yes, we serve the poor on behalf of Christ.
But more than these traditionally viewed functions of a religious institution, Christians are to also fulfill our cultural mandate. Christians are to make amazing art to help our society imagine her future. Christians are to honor God with new vistas of exploration in engineering. Realtors, car salesman, and politicians redeem their trade with God honoring practices that lead to a healthier society. And more and more and more.
I close with this: I met a new friend on Tuesday. He is a car salesman, and a pastor. His church owns several used car dealerships in Central and South Florida for several specific purposes. First, the dealerships provide jobs to the people coming out of jail with whom they minister. Second, the dealerships facilitate a fair economic exchange for their congregants who need affordable transportation under $10,000. Finally, the dealerships train their salesmen to redeem the perception of their industry. Their salesmen sell unto the glory of God. Their salesmen reveal all the numbers right up front, and people are not dragged through any games. Their business is profitable and their customers are given a fair deal. They are making disciples and living out God honoring culture.
A small example, but big ideas work.
This post is part of a series of reflections on leading the inaugural class of the Gotham Fellowship as part of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando’s Center for Faith and Work.