What is the Church called to be?
The final interaction between Jesus and his disciples, in Acts 1, I believe, is a likely blueprint of what the Church is called to be.
After Jesus rose from the dead, he reappeared among his disciples and fellowshipped with them as before—breaking bread, eating fish, and discussing the kingdom of God. The disciples were excited (I mean, who wouldn’t be?). Their teacher, whom they thought was dead, came and was eating fish with them! In their excitement, the disciples asked Jesus:
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6 b)
However, Jesus, as always, answered them in a quizzical way:
“It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 2:7-8)
This contrast between the disciples’ question and Jesus’ response is quite striking. Reading the two parties’ response side-by-side helps to provide a picture of what the Church is called to be.
First, the disciples asked, “Will you (Jesus),” but Jesus replied, “but you (the disciples) will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” The disciples depended solely on Jesus to do the work, but Jesus invited the disciples to join in his ministry—as the Holy Spirit gave them ability. Second, the disciples asked, “restore the kingdom?” but Jesus replied, “you will be my witness.” The disciples envisioned restoration through a worldly kingdom, but Jesus proclaimed restoration through a life of witness. Finally, the disciples asked, “kingdom of Israel?” but Jesus replied again, “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” While the disciples focused only on their nation(Israel), Jesus embraces all the nations of the world.
So, What is the Church called to be?
Church is, first and foremost, called to be invigorated by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit-invigorated Church, then, is called to witness the reconciling Gospel of Christ against the worldly kingdoms. And finally, Church is called to extend its arms across the boundaries of nations, reaching to all God’s children.
Thanks be to God, even with its 2000-plus years of noisy history, the Church today continues to be the Spirit-invigorated, witnessing body of Christ across the world. As a Korean-American Mennonite/Anabaptist, I have witnessed the Church’s struggle to be faithful to its three-fold call.
First, growing up in the Korean Church, I’ve learned what it means to be “invigorated by the Holy Spirit.” The leaders of the Korean Church performed wonders and signs of healing, exorcisms and miracles, all through the power of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, young people celebrated in the Spirit as we spoke in tongues, danced, and prophesied during worship. From these experiences, I have truly tasted the joy of “worshiping in Spirit.”
Second, from the North American Mennonite Church, I’ve learned what it means to be a witness of Jesus Christ–embodying his teachings against the guidelines of this worldly kingdom. Every year, N.A.Mennonite women assemble tens of thousands of care-packages to be sent for MCC relief across the world, while many of its young people volunteer for service, both domestically and internationally. Perhaps even with an ulterior motive (i.e. having a nice resumé), N.A.Mennonites possess an eagerness to serve others–an attitude that certainly challenges the values of the worldly kingdom. In the N.A.Mennonite community, I have learned what it means to witness Christ through practice and in life.
And third, my experiences in both of these different contexts have taught me, even more, of the essentiality of our final call: to witness Christ in “Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Church is called to share its unique gifts, meet each others’ needs, and challenge one another to live in mutual accountability across national, social, political, and what-ever-all boundaries.
While the Korean Church readily celebrates in, and seeks to be a part of, the signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, we are weak in practicing Christ’s call to witness him through embodied discipleship. There is a grave discrepancy between the words and the lifestyle of the “great leaders” of the Korean mega churches. For example, early last year, a young assistant pastor of one of the Korea’s largest mega churches physically attacked and injured the lead pastor, after having a dispute over church leadership. While the tongues of such leaders may be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, their lives are not a witness to the world.
Within the North American Mennonite Church, however, I have, sadly, experienced the opposite; while the N.A.Mennonite Church is deeply committed to a life of witnessing Christ through embodied ethics and peacemaking, we are reluctant to celebrate in and with the Holy Spirit. I find this to be especially true among the young people of the N.A.Mennonite Church.
During my time at Goshen College, I hardly could talk about the gifts and/or the work of the Holy Spirit, because my peers would become exceedingly uncomfortable. Many of my Mennonite friends who grew up in the church live good, caring, and righteous lives. However, very few of them are actually connected to the Church, or desire a relationship with Jesus Christ. It saddens me when these friends devote their lives to peacemaking, but become burnt-out when their initial convictions are questioned by the immeasurable brokenness of the world. Our conviction to make peace with others, alone, cannot sustain us. We can serve and love others genuinely and consistently only when the Holy Spirit gives us new strength, desire, and the power to do so.
I long for the day when the Korean churches join hands with the N.A.Mennonite church to embody peace and nonviolence. I long for the day when the young people of the N.A.Mennonite Church rejoice with those of the Korean Church to celebrate in the Holy Spirit. Only through active engagement with Christian brothers and sisters around the world can the Church sustain its call to live as the Spirit-invigorated, witnessing body of Christ throughout the world.
What is the Church called to be?
The story of the final interaction between Jesus and his disciples continues as this. After responding to his disciples’ question, Jesus is lifted up into the heaven on a cloud. When the disciples were dazzled, two men in white robes stood by them and said:
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
Luke tells us that Jesus will come again in the same way. Does this mean that he will come on a cloud? Maybe. Maybe, not. However, Jesus will most certainly come again when the Church, invigorated by the Holy Spirit, lives as a witness of Christ’s body in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
For, where the Church lives, Christ lives, also.