The Being of the Church
Occasionally, when sitting at a traffic light in the Memphis area, I’ll notice a neon paper sign stuck in the nearby grass median. On that flimsy pink paper, someone took about 6 seconds to scribble in black marker: “Childcare available. Call ________.”
Though cheap childcare sits enthroned in my top ten list, I’ve yet to call.
Why? Because the medium is an aspect of the message. Verbiage’s current skillset does not include the ability to divorce itself from the one who speaks or how that one chooses to speak. In short, the care those folks might potentially provide for my children is contradicted by their lack of care in making that sign.
This reality of language carries profound implications for the mission of the church. God sends His people into the world to be something as well as do something.
1. Being Precedes Doing
In fact, being comes first. The character qualifications for elders and deacons assume that some tasks must be undertaken by a particular doer. (1 Tim 3) Character qualities––aspects of a person’s being––make someone qualified for the task.
However, salvation remains the lone qualification for participation in the mission of God. In salvation, God calls a people by the gospel to Himself and to one another for the purpose of glorifying Himself in the lives of one another. He intends for this group of people––His church––to embody that which He intended for His image–bearers at creation. Before a watching world, He calls them to be something.
While listing the characteristics of the church’s being would fill up a stack of napkins, they all begin here: God made the church to be like Himself. The church mirrors, albeit imperfectly at present, the nature of its Creator. A holy God creates a holy people. A united God creates a united people. These realities––that which God imparts to His followers––precede any action on their part.
2. Being Shapes Doing
However, since who you are often determines what you do––or how you do it––that which the church understands itself to be shapes that which it does. Deeds emanate from nature. Therefore, if God united the church, they ought to go as a united people. If God made them holy by the work of His Son, holiness inevitably shapes their mission. In fact, because the medium is an aspect of the message, disunity or unholy behavior actually sends a mixed message. One might say ecclesial faithfulness doubles as faithfulness to the mission.
As believers better grasp the biblical teaching on the people of God––while growing up into those salvific realities––their lives better attest to the message of the gospel. While isolated individuals often hijack this verse for merely personal application, Paul commanded the Philippian church to work out together what God worked in them. Inasmuch as they did so, they would shine as lights––a radiant plurality––in the midst of a dark, crooked, and twisted world. (Phil 2:12–14) In other terms, what makes the church stand out from the unbelieving is precisely that which God wrought in them through the gospel.
In 1967, Marshall McLuhan wrote a book on communication entitled The Medium is the Massage. Now, you might think I just misspelled message, but that was the printed title. Sometime during the publishing process, an editor happened to misspell it. McLuhan decided to leave it as is, believing a typo on the cover actually proved his thesis.
That is, we can’t separate a message from its communicator. Knowing this, God intends for the church to embody in its life that which it proclaims with its lips. The integrity of the message is bound up in the integrity of the messenger(s). However, it must be said, this is far from an alibi for missiological laxity. Deeds must follow. Yet, being precedes doing, the latter shaped by the former. For good or ill, the medium remains an aspect of the message.