The Gospel of Reconciliation
The past couples weeks I've been unpacking five components of the good news that the Kingdom of God has come and that Jesus Christ died for our sins. These dimensions were:
- worldview reorientation
- community building
- shalom spreading
- present and future hope
Each of these is essential, an irreducible part of the gospel concerning what God has done, is doing and will do. What becomes obvious when it is phrased this way, is that the gospel and mission are inseparable. This good news is all about the mission that God has been on, the missio Dei that he is about and that he has chosen to include us in. One of the implication of God's activity is that those who follow him become recipients of his grace and eternal life. But that is an outcome, not the gospel itself. The gospel is that Jesus is God himself, alive and ruling over the cosmos. As King, justice is his prerogative. He has taken responsibility for the wellbeing of that which is his, setting about restoring all that has troubled his lands.
At the most fundamental level, this world is corrupted by relationships that fail to function as they were created to.
Poverty, oppression, violence, loneliness, shame, environmental destruction--these all stem from the same fundamental cause. Broken relationships, starting with the failure to recognize God as God and worship him as Lord. Once that is lost, it doesn't take long for us to lose touch with ourselves, to begin mistreating others and to see creation as something which only exists to be exploited to meet our desires.
If one word could capture the gospel, the mission that God is on to repair all of this, I believe it would be reconciliation.
In 2004, a council of 47 delegates from 21 countries gathered in Thailand to craft a document called Reconciliation as the Mission of God: Christian Witness in a World of Destructive Conflict. It's available online, and I would strongly encourage anyone to read it. The rest of this post is an extended quote from that document which powerfully captures what reconciliation means for the Church today:
"God’s initiative of reconciliation through Christ transforms believers into God’s new creation. With all of creation, we await our final and perfect transformation in the end of time. At that time, when Jesus returns, God’s mission will be complete. People of every nation, tribe, and language, gathered as one, will worship the Lamb, the tree of life and its leaves shall be for the healing of the nations, and the new heavens and earth shall make the reign of God a reality with all things reconciled to God (Romans 8:18-39, Revelation 7:9-17; Revelation 21-22:5).
In response to all this, the believer is called to participate in God’s mission of reconciliation. This includes obeying Jesus’ command to humbly make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28:18-20), teaching them to follow the example of Jesus who suffered for a suffering world. The church is called to be a living sign of the one body of Christ, an agent of hope and holistic reconciliation in our broken and fragmented world.
A serious impediment to God’s mission of reconciliation in our time is not only the reality of destructive divisions and conflicts around the world, but also quite often the church being caught up in these conflicts—places where the blood of ethnicity, tribe, racialism, sexism, caste, social class, or nationalism seems to flow stronger than the waters of baptism and our confession of Christ. While the church’s suffering faith is evident in many conflicts, the guilt of Christians in intensifying the world's brokenness is seriously damaging our witness to the gospel. The church’s captivity is both direct and indirect, whether actively furthering destruction and division, remaining silent or neutral in the face of it, or promoting a defective gospel. This is true of recent and current contexts including legalized apartheid (South Africa), “ethnic cleansing” (the Balkans), genocide (Rwanda), histories of racism and ethnocentrism (U.S.), terror and killing of civilian populations, and bitter, unresolved social divisions ranging from “sectarianism” in Northern Ireland, to Dalit “untouchables” and caste in India, to the plight of Aboriginal peoples in Australia, to the Korean peninsula, to Palestinians and Israelis. Christians are often bitterly divided on both sides.
This troubled situation calls for prayer, discernment, and repentance, and a critical re-examination of the very meaning of mission, evangelism, discipleship, and even church in relation to God’s reconciling mission. This is particularly urgent given cases where vast areas of revivals and church planting have become vast killing fields (such as Rwanda, 1994), with Christians slaughtering neighbors and even other Christians. Yet even in the worst conflicts, signs of the quest for reconciliation can be detected in the church. Christians have shaped many of the world’s most hopeful breakthroughs for reconciliation. In becoming agents of biblically holistic reconciliation, we must learn to name and confess the sins of the past and present and encourage others to do the same, be willing to forgive, and live in new ways of repentance and costly peacemaking. Above all, Christians must be people of hope; hope in God’s victory in Christ and that, over time, reconciliation can break in, because this is God’s mission."