The church is the body of Christ, and all ministries are to grow from and build toward local expressions of assemblies of believers.
. . . I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1Timothy 3:15 NASB)
The longing for authentic community is one of the most persistent among the so-called post-modern generation. Little wonder considering the rapid degradation of the family, the increase in child abuse and the growing sense of isolation and alienation experienced by so many. Reality TV, the portrayal on the public airwaves of the most intimate and usually dysfunctional personal and family relationships, is captivating and popular – not so much because it is shocking or bizarre, but because it connects. In truth it is the conscious longing for true community, not the recognition of its need that is especially evident in the post-modern generation.
We have always had the need for true community because that’s the way we have been designed. It is why, when Jesus long ago explained to his disciples about the new commandment to love one another as he loved them, he also said, by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:35 NIV) Such mutual love is the ultimate demonstration that one is a true follower of Jesus Christ. The scripture says that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)
This is the heart of the good news by which our sins are forgiven and our lives are transformed. It is also the means by which we are able to love one another as Jesus, the Son, loved us, the basis of true community and the aim of the new community to which he gave birth and shape.
Immediately following his public baptism and period of withdrawal to the wilderness, Jesus began gathering a select group of followers that became his disciples. Not insignificantly, the inner circle of these disciples numbered 12, an obvious reference to the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 10: 1-5). “The twelve,” a name by which they would eventually come to be known, were the first representatives of the new community, the new people of God (Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:10). Not entirely new, however, since they were the inheritors of the age-old promises and prophecies. Because of the sacrificial death of the Messiah they would be a people for whom the ancient Law of Moses was not set aside, but fulfilled completely (Matthew 5:17) with a radically new understanding (Matthew 7:12; 22:36-40).
As in the past, this new community would be the focus of God’s ongoing redemptive work on the earth (1 Peter 2:9). However, the new message of the gospel of the Kingdom could not be contained in the old ways, new wine needed new skins (Matthew 9:17). That new message also needed a new community among whom it could come to full maturity and that would be an essential vehicle by which God would make known his ways to the nations.
Wherever the gospel is proclaimed, communities of the saved come into being. Adopted as spiritual orphans into God’s family, followers of Christ seek each other out to share their common life in him. The proclamation of the gospel inevitably produces gathered communities (ecclesia) of God’s people called churches. Jesus Christ declared that he would build his ecclesia and that the gates of hell would not overcome it (Matthew 16:18). By this and other scriptural truth, we understand that the principal instrument by which God will transmit his redemptive message to the ends of the earth and manifest his way, truth and life among all the nations is through the authentic and visible life and witness of local Christian communities called churches. It is about such communities that Jesus, the Christ, gave his promise. He will build them and they will not be overcome.
Specific local churches come and go, but visible, local churches will be established and flourish throughout the earth. That is the promise. God calls missionary communities like Proclaim! International into being for the principal purpose of helping fulfill the promise of building and multiplying these churches. God’s plan is that in every culture and community God’s people will be gathered for worship, service, witness and redemptive influence. Missionary communities like Proclaim! International come and go. God calls them into being for a time and purpose.
Of all the many and varied images of the church in the New Testament, one of the most important is that the church is the body of Christ. This graphic image is used in two distinct ways. The first reflects a vertical dimension between Christ and the church. The church is the body and Christ is the head. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:17-18 NIV) The important truth is that the head has authority over the body, the risen Christ ruling in sovereignty over his church. The ministries that grow out of such a community, including Proclaim! International, must remain as well under his lordship, conforming to his precepts if they are to contribute to the health and growth of the body. We are confident that our spiritual authority to pursue our mission and exercise our ministries is complete, being derived from our head, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, like the church, it is only legitimate to the extent that we are obedient and faithful to him and are living under the influence and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Our commitment is not to carry out our ministries according to the precepts of a sinful world but rather to remain under the authority of our head, Jesus Christ.
The second image reflects a horizontal dimension, the church being identified as Christ’s body. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27 NIV) The church is a community of those who are linked and bound together like the parts of the body, different in function and position but all valued and important. The varied ministries of such a body, including Proclaim! International, should be similarly linked in a complementary way, contributing to its maturing and multiplication.
This is why we value and actively seek cooperation with local churches and other missions in proclaiming the gospel. We desire to share information. We understand that we do not possess all the gifts, experience and expertise. We look for ways to partner and cooperate with others in a complementary way because we too are part of the spiritual linkage that is the body of Christ.
This is why the church holds such a high value to us. It is the earthly reference point for all that we do as a missionary community. It is the visible fruit of a redeemed humanity. God’s desire is that every spiritually orphaned person on earth be adopted into his family and find a place of love, acceptance and purpose in Christ’s body, the church (1 Tim. 2:4, Gal 4:1-7). Our desire must be no less. Only in such a way can man’s real need, as well as his conscious longing for real community, be met in any generation.