A Fresh Understanding of the Church

Tuesday 11 July

Bishop Rennis is the Bishop of Singapore as well as multiple congregations in South East Asia.  This year at #Sligo17 he is leading the morning Bible Teaching in the Main Arena.  Here VOX magazine editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings a summary of his message on Tuesday morning.

Outline of the book of Isaiah

1) The book of the anointed king - Chapters 1 to 39

-       the failure of the kings of Judah

-       God’s answer is the perfect King (e.g. Isaiah 7)

-       Unsolved - the people are still very much the same

2) The book of the anointed servant - Chapters 40 to 55

-       the failure of Israel to be the people of God

-       God’s answer is the anointed servant (Isaiah 53)

-       Unsolved - the remaking of god’s people is incomplete

3) The book of the anointed conqueror - Chapters 56 to 66

-       the failure of the redeemed to experience full victory

-       God’s answer:  the anointed conqueror who will bring final judgement and consummated salvation.

Isaiah 42: 1 - 9 

The people of Israel are surrounded by the pagan nations.  In Isaiah 41:29 - “Behold these idols that you worship are worthless… they are false gods.”    Alongside these ancient idols, we put the gods of the modern age - materialism, technology, the pursuit of pleasure, etc. They are nothing - just empty wind. 

But behold my Servant - without pomp He brings about the renewal of the whole earth.  Who is this servant of the Lord?  As we stay with the context of Isaiah, it might be possible to see the servant as “ideal Israel” but there are four servant songs and by the time you come to the fourth song you realise it is a person - Jesus Christ.  He is the anointed servant of the Lord, who has changed the human condition.

This prophesy in Isaiah 42 is uniquely fulfilled in Jesus Christ but as we study the whole of scripture we see that this fulfilment is not exhausted.  Just as Jesus said to His people, “You are the salt of the earth.”  Paul and Barnabas understand that their missionary work is a continued fulfilment of this passage.  It would be right for us to come to a fresh understanding of the church by looking at the passage.  The church continues the ministry of the servant of the Lord.

The Scope of the Church’s ministry is Transformation

One word is repeated - justice.  This is a key word in the ministry of our Lord and the ministry and mission of the church.

Justice is knowledge of the true God and the reality of His right and wrong being practised on earth.  The Lord is God and He has revealed what is right.

Justice is the transformation of society to function under God’s divine order.  As I speak, you recognise the depth of the battle.  The world is hurtling headlong into the abyss.  The world has thrown off God’s evaluation of what is right and wrong. 

Justice is the total ordering of society according to God’s just laws and it applies to every sector of society.  What God has planned for the environment, for marriage, for political systems.  That is what the servant of the Lord is to do: The church is to usher in the just and merciful reign of God to the nations.

How can we do that?  The answer comes in verse 6.  I will make you (the people of Messiah) a covenant for the people and a light for the nations.  Yes this is fulfilled in Christ but it is continued through the people of God.  We are proclaiming God’s new covenant.  When we return to Him in repentance and faith, He gives us a new capacity for righteousness. We cannot practice the covenant rule of God without the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

Paul and Barnabas said, We are a covenant for the people by embodying and modelling covenant relationship with God. 

Some here may be disillusioned and wounded by the failures of the church. The word of God brings back the purposes of God and the promises of God.  Even if you have been disappointed by the church, listen to what God says!  By embodying His rule, when we show compassion, when we are honest and fair in our work, when we keep our promises in marriage… When we do justice,  love mercy and walk humbly.

By being a covenant people, we bring God’s light into this dark society.  We bring release from spiritual darkness and set people free!  That is the scope of our ministry - societal transformation.  He sends us out in mission.  He has not given up onHis world.  We are calledfor societal transformation.

If that is the scope of our ministry, we cannot have undiscipled church.  If we are just caught up with ourselves we will not be able to be salt and light!

Some of us will be teaching God’s word.  This whole task of discipling people is not just about the formal… it has an informal element of gathering a few people.  In every affluent society, the church can be impressive on the surface but is their the depth of life lived under God?

The Nature of the Church’s Ministry is Servanthood

How do the people of God change society?  By a radiant servanthood.  The church is present in the world as servant to the world’s needs.  The weapons of our warfare are not about power or aggression.

Unostentatious - not concerned about our PR image, not showy.  We don’t market ourselves to make a good impression but steadily do good works out there in society.  We are salt and yeast, penetrating and changing the society. 

Gentle yet empowering - compassion that empowers people to change.  It is robust because it does not give up!  The servant of the Lord does not shrink back because of intimidation.  He does not fight with worldly power (not coercive or domineering) but neither is he a doormat.

The Power of the Church’s Ministry is the Holy Spirit

National Israel had failed in her calling.  Now under the new covenant, we can keep our covenant obligations by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God wants to enable us to experience the truth and the power.  Even when we trip and fall, He is there to life us up.  The Holy Spirit makes real the power of God in our lives and ministry. 

V5 He is the Creator God with limitless power.  Our very life comes from Him and He sustains that life.  He has plans for the world and not just for a chosen race.  He made the nations.  We all exist by His power and He has a father’s heart for all of us and so He is making us a covenant people and a light for the Gentiles.

Revival is hard work but the energy for it comes from the Lord.  The force of His goodness and the energy of His love.  The Holy Spirit teaches us the rhythms of grace.  The spirit knows how to replenish you.

God calls us and takes us by the hand.  He accompanies us and guides us every step of the way and every moment of the day.  He will keep us, safeguard us and shape us for His purpose.  He will accomplish His plans.  You can rest in the faithfulness of His promises and it is the Spirit who makes this all so real for you.

It ends with us again thinking of the faithfulness of God.  The former things have come to pass.  New things I declare.  Don’t loose heart!