THE Lord Jesus Christ sent the Apostle Paul to the Gentiles (non-Jews), “to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). This still remains the essential, God-given commission and work, of the Church today.
One often hears the statement that Saint Lucia is a Christian nation. I usually respond, “No. Saint Lucia is not a Christian nation. Christianity is the major religion in Sant Lucia, represented by many denominations with a variety of theological and doctrinal differences. If Saint Lucia was a Christian nation in the sense of adherence to Biblical Christian theological, moral and ethical principles, this island nation would be a paradise.”
Church-going persons are often asked, “what is the Church doing?”. This comes in the midst of complaints about general anti-social conditions. The questioners are not usually church people. They do not know of the community work engaged in by many churches. They are not aware of the Bible teaching in churches that promotes reverence for God and His revealed commandments, respect and love for others. That many people who profess Christianity do not practice what they preach is a major contributor to the generally negative view of churches and church people.
Preliminary questions should be: “What is the Church? What is the purpose of the Church?” The answer to these fundamental enquiries determines what the Church should be doing in our world.
When our Lord Jesus Christ asked His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”, Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:15, 16). Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Christianity has always seen this incident as the blue-print of the Church’s founding. The rock is not Peter (a sinful human being) but his faith and declaration of who Jesus is, the Son of the living God. This was the rock of the Reformation that restored Biblical Christianity, “the just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17).
The New Testament Church is made up of people who believe this and whose lives are controlled by life-changing faith in the Deity and Divine Sonship of Jesus Christ. These people are scattered throughout various denominations. There may well be people who believe, but are not part, for various reasons, of an assembly of believers. Think of those who live in countries where Christianity is a persecuted faith. For all these, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12).
The Church revealed and described in the Biblical New Testament is made up of those who have been saved from the destructive power of the world, flesh and devil. Believing in Jesus’ victory over these enemies, supremely at Calvary, the Bible-believing Christian asserts that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8, 9). This Christian rests totally on the Divine Sovereignty of God in life, salvation and ultimate glorification. This belief in the total sovereign grace of God marks the true Church and true believer. Amazing grace indeed!
For the Church of Jesus Christ, the Bible is a revelation from God, an infallible, unchanging record of the requirements of Divine authority by which the Church on earth determines its life-purpose and work, its world-and-life view. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”(2 Timothy 3:16,17.)
The essential work of the Church is outlined in Jesus’ great commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:18-20). This commission is expanded and clarified in the Gospels and the Epistles. The Person and commandments of Christ are presented through preaching the Gospel, “in season and out of season.” (2 Timothy 4:2). Christ came to seek and to save the lost. Salvation of a lost humanity is the goal of Christ’s incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection. “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us…” (Titus 2: 11-14). Above all else, this is the essential, main, fundamental message of the Church. This Gospel message guides all its life and activities in its families and societies.
The Church today, at best, despite its failings and frequent loss of the vision of Christ’s calling, still preaches the gospel. It continues to offer real hope to sinners who desire to be free of the power and guilt of sin. It announces that sin is man’s greatest problem. It is still warning of the inevitable, coming Judgement of God on God-hating man. The Church continues to minister to the needs of all kinds of persons, both material and spiritual. If it were not for the real influence of the Gospel-believing Church the social situation would be far worse.
Christ called the Church to be the salt and light of the earth. He promised that the gates of hell would not destroy the Church. The Church is a real colony, outpost, community of the Kingdom of God. In this crime-ridden, partisan, plague-cursed, corrupt world, it still proclaims the coming of a new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). To the doubters, mockers, scoffers, unbelievers, religious charlatans, it continues to proclaim that Christ Jesus will return as King of kings and Lord of lords. In the midst of all the present darkness, the true Church still proclaims Christ Jesus as the Light of the world. Above all else this is its calling and task, to present the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, the only Saviour. When it does not do this, one must ask whether that group of persons and their leaders represent the Church of the New Testament. Where Christ Jesus and the Bible are not at the centre of the life and work, one must question whether the Church of Christ is present.
John Robert Lee is a Saint Lucian writer. He is an Elder with Calvary Baptist Church.