So how do Christian churches become permeable – the postures of missionaries in a Pre-Churched world – and remain faithful? This is the million-dollar question facing every church desiring to follow Christ in a Post-Church world. Is it possible to surrender the boundaries (the protective walls) without losing the essential life and integrity of the faith? Our Lord thought so. As He looked to His own death, by which He would gather the nations to Himself, He told His disciples, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24 ESV) What has to die in the seed is not its essence, just its protective husk. Missionary permeability and doctrinal integrity are not biblically exclusive. However, from the New Testament until today, churches desirous to be faithful have struggled with meshing the two.
Consider St. James’ words to St. Paul in Acts 21: “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to walk according to our customs.” St. Paul’s ability and requirement “for the sake of the Gospel” to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” seemed to cause significant anxiety among the Judean believers (cultural insiders) that he was compromising the true doctrine as revealed through Moses in the Torah.
Confessional and missionary faithfulness require that we wrestle with these Gospel essentials in the light and for the sake of our Savior’s purpose in coming into our world.
Source: Robert Newton, “The Church in a Post-Church Culture,” The Lutheran Witness, January 2010, pages 7-11.