Last night I had the pleasure of dinner with friends including a new friend named Mary who is the President of Neighborhood Bible Studies. Mary is a visionary who instills a lot of confidence in her ability to make things happen. Much of our conversation revolved around the task of mobilizing God’s people for gospel witness. During our discussion a certain theme emerged: witness is not limited solely to our activity as individuals; it also includes the network of relationships that make up the Christian community. On this point the late Edmund Clowney offers some valuable insights.
Former President of Westminster Theological Seminary and author of several theological works, Edmund Clowney (1917 – 2005) expounded consistently the necessary role of the Church in the world today. In his book The Church, he begins by defining the Church from a biblical perspective, thereby countering prevailing misconceptions, and setting forth the great hope that is present for the people of God.
“To be sure, if the church rather than Christ becomes the centre of our devotion, spiritual decay has begun. A doctrine of the church that does not centre on Christ is self-defeating and false. But Jesus said to the disciples who confessed him, ‘I will build my church.’1 To ignore his purpose is to deny his lordship . . .
The very threats to the existence of the church in the twenty-first century show again our need of the church. The courage to stand apart, to be unashamed of Christ’s claims, is nurtured in the community of those who are baptized into his name. The church may not apply for a union card in a pluralistic establishment by signing away its right to proclaim the only Saviour of the world. Together we must make clear that it is to Christ and not to ourselves that we witness. In that witness we are not only individual points of light in the world, but a city set on a hill. In the ethnic hostility that ravages Europe, Africa and the Middle East, the church must show the bond of Christ’s love that unites former enemies as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Only so can the church be a sign of his kingdom: the kingdom that will come when Christ comes, and that is already present through his Spirit.”2
1 Matthew 16:18.
2 Edmund P. Clowney, The Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 15-