This Sunday morning I’ll be speaking about the phrase “Ministry of Reconciliation” as found in the II Corinthians 5:18: All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. Rather than write out all my notes for Sunday, I thought I would share a couple of powerful quotes that have re-emerged for me. As I wrestled through what it means to live out this call to the ministry of reconciliation, I was struck by the juxtaposition between how the church grew in the first century compared to today. In the church planting world, we are encouraged to ‘launch large’ with lights, camera, and action! I have written about this before- about the pressure to grow quickly through marketing blitzes and such.
But check out this first quote out: "The early Christians did not engage in public preaching; it was too dangerous. There are practically no evangelists or missionaries whose names we know… The early Christian had no mission boards. They did not write treatises about evangelism… After Nero’s persecution in the mid-first century, the churches in the Roman Empire closed their worship services to visitors. Deacons stood at the churches’ doors, serving as bouncers, checking to see that no unbaptized person, no ‘lying informer,’ could come in… And yet the church was growing. Officially it was a superstition. Prominent people scorned it. Neighbors discriminated against the Christians in countless petty ways… It was hard to be a Christian… And still the church grew. Why?” Alan Kreider’s They Alone Know the Right Way to Life: The Early Church and Evangelism, pg. 169-70
Much of the answer lies in this next quote: ". . . Christianity served as a revitalization movement that arose in response to the misery, chaos, fear, and brutality of life in the urban Greco-Roman world. . . . Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable." Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, Princeton University Press, 1996, page 161
In reflecting about these quotes, it appears as though the church functioned more like an embassy. II Corinthians 5:20 states that Christians are ambassadors, which got me to thinking about the church gathering as an embassy. The illustration of the embassy reminded me of how Leslie Newbigin described the church as the sign and foretaste of the Kingdom. Embassies are ‘the Kingdom’ of another place. The soil which the embassy sits on is the soil of the country the embassy represents. Ambassadors do not always have a safe job. Simply consider what recently happened to the American ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert. It can be dangerous out there, but that must not stop the ambassador from doing his or her job. In fact, the whole reason the ambassador is there is to serve the country ‘out there’. Of course, there are also bad ambassadors, lazy ambassadors, and ambassadors who do not represent the ethics of the King.
The early church showed us how to serve as ambassadors well. They served faithfully the ministry of reconciliation in such a way that others are drawn to the love of Jesus. That is what I strive to do and something for which I pray. How are you doing with your representation? If you do not consider yourself as an ambassador, how have you witnessed to those who do consider themselves as Christ’s ambassadors?