Theology of Ministry, Section 1: Scriptural Basis for My Theology of Ministry

Original Paper in Bold

As in any Christian theology, scripture plays a foundational role for my understanding of ministry. Several passages in particular are central to my conception of how the church is to act in the world. First among them is II Corinthians 5:17-19:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

I understand this passage in several different senses. First, it is a statement about the atonement of humanity through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Second, it is a missiological statement about the nature of the work to which the church is called; the work of proclaiming the reconciliation that is found in Christ as well as the work of reconciling ourselves to one another. Finally, this is an eschatological statement. To be in Christ is to participate in a new creation in which reconciliation, not enmity, is the norm. This new thing that is being created in Christ does away with the old moral order and Paul’s acknowledgement that he has been entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation illustrates that God has a participatory role set aside for those who follow Christ.
The next foundational passages are found in the Gospels. First is Luke 4:16-18:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
In this quotation of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is giving what amounts to a mission statement. Jesus’ understanding of himself as the fulfillment of this prophesy has missiological, Christological and ecclesiological ramifications which we will discuss later.
Along these same lines I see Matthew 25: 31-46 as making important missiological claims for the church:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

Though the author of the Gospel of Matthew must have certainly intended these words to have an eschatological tone to them, I imagine that the evangelist also intended these words to shape the understanding of the Christian mission. To finish off this section, allow me to use two more passages of Scripture that will be the springboard for the following theological discourse. First is simply John 1:14:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 

The second is Philippians 2:5-8:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

Both of these passages speak to the incarnational nature of Jesus’ ministry and provide a model for the church to follow.

A few observations: I could add at least a dozen passages to this section with rationale for each as to why they are central to what it means to do ministry. I think that is a good thing! I’ve spent more time with Scripture since finishing seminary and continue to draw upon it for personal strength as well as allowing it to shape the ways that interact with the world. Perhaps for now I will limit my additions of texts to three that have been central to me in the last 5 years.

Were I to completely re-write this paper, I would begin it with I John 4:7-21:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

My starting point for everything these days is that God is love. What that means, what does that have to do with me, and how does that affect the ways that I interact with others seems to be the most important questions with which I should find myself concerned. Love in opposition to fear and love in action that responds in care to the needs of others seems to be the heart of the biblical witness. I may need to say more about the nature of this love elsewhere in this project.

The next passage that I would add as foundational to my theology is Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

A couple of key things that go hand in hand for me. One is the notion of being saved by grace, but add to that the notion that we are not saved “from” so much as we are saved “for” good works which then becomes our lifestyle. Leave to some Deutero-Pauline author to lump grace and good works into the same passage!

Speaking of Deutero-Paul, the final passage I would add to that has become foundational to my theology of ministry is found in Colossians. Chapter 1, beginning at verse 15 reads:

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

While I love the cosmic image of Christ presented in verses 15-18, it is the last two verses that to distill the mission of Christ (and by extension the mission of the church) down to it’s essence; the reconciliation of all things to God.

I could say more on the topic of scripture. I could have added Isaiah 58, James 2, John 13:12-17, The entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, but it seems best to stop here to give focus to what follows.

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