God’s church: Working while waiting for glory

God’s church

Working while waiting for glory

Richard E. Lauersdorf

“We have a deal with the bank,” reads the sign on the pizza parlor wall. “We don’t cash checks, and they don’t make pizzas.” If I want a pizza, I am in the right place. If I want to cash a check, I should go to the bank. Each place has its own purpose, its own role to fill.

THE GREATEST WORK ON EARTH

What is the role of the church on earth? What assignment has God given to believers as they live in this world? We don’t have to guess or speculate. The head of the church outlined our mission very clearly. Shortly before his ascension Jesus told his disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). In what is called the Great Commission, he added more details: “Go and make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). The early believers understood Christ’s command. When persecution scattered them from Jerusalem, they, as individuals, “preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). As a group of believers, like the church at Antioch, they sent out missionaries such as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2,3). Their mission, their role, given to them by Christ, was to preach to needy sinners the good news of salvation through Jesus’ atoning work.

Today there seems to be more confusion than ever about the mission of the church. In some church bodies nurturing the saved and reaching the lost with God’s gospel message has taken a backseat to other concerns. More important to them than preaching the good news is working with the temporal needs of people. For them the church’s heavenly mission has become an earthly one. Some think that clearing up social injustice, dispensing food and water, or bringing the light of education to backward people is more important than proclaiming how God’s holy justice has been satisfied by his love in Christ Jesus. The task Jesus gave his church is to bring the light of salvation to others.

Of course, Christians are to show concern for the poor and needy. We dare not, however, forget that deeds of love to the needy are fruits of the gospel in hearts that have first been touched by God’s love. Nor dare we forget that the church’s primary mission is and always should be preaching the good news of salvation. There is no greater work, no more important message than this. If the church into whose hands Christ has placed this good news fails to share it, who will?

We need to be careful, though, when we say Christ has given this news to the church. A danger for us is thinking that means an organization, an institution like our congregation or our synod, instead of the believers who belong to it. Such thinking reduces individual believers to spectators sitting in the bleachers, cheering for the team on the floor. It can make individuals into “shopping cart” Christians who use their church like a supermarket where they can go down the aisles and take from the shelves with little concern for stocking those shelves. It can reduce believers into only being “takers” instead of also being “workers,” busy in the greatest work on earth.

That is not what Peter saw when he looked at God’s people. He wrote, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). What beautiful terms Peter used to describe us as believers. Note, though, besides the meaningful labels, he also put forward a meaningful task for us. We are to declare God’s praises. That’s what God desires from those whom he has brought out of darkness into the light of salvation.

We can get a pizza from our favorite restaurant and cash a check now even electronically at our bank, but we cannot get the good news of salvation except through God’s saving Word. Doesn’t that make our work with that Word important, so important that we call it the greatest work on earth?

THE GLORY YET TO COME

Even as we work here on earth, we glance toward heaven. The day is coming when the church now invisible on earth will be fully visible in heaven. What will it look like? Who all will be in it? How will it be different? Haven’t we often wondered?

First of all, we might be surprised as to who is in God’s church in heaven. John saw a “great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). In heaven we’ll see people we know and people we have never met, people who look and speak like us, and people who are far different. From the east and the west, the north and the south, they will have come to stand before the throne and in front of the Lamb, who shed his blood for them.

We might also be surprised at the complete unity of God’s church in heaven. Here on earth there are differences and divisions. Yes, we want unity even here on earth. We pray for, long for, and work for agreement in teaching and practice. In heaven it will be so. Knowledge and understanding will be complete. Mind and faith will be made perfect. The image of God will be restored fully in each of us. And we will be as Adam and Eve once were, knowing God’s will completely and following it fully. We can throw our list of questions away because we’ll see how God’s love had led us on a straight line to his home even when on earth it seemed to be one detour after another. We can leave behind the imperfect harmony of our earthly praise as we sing forever with the heavenly hosts about his wondrous love. And at the heart of all our praise will be deep appreciation for the good news he proclaimed to us and used us to proclaim to others.

We might ask how God’s church in heaven will be different. John again gives us a hint. He writes, “‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away'” (Revelation 21:3,4).

Gone will be all that caused our tears in this world. No more sin means no more temptation. No more troubles that sin once brought into the world. No more death or mourning or crying or pain. The old has passed away. The new has come.

That’s what waits for us in heaven. But while the Lord leaves us here, he has work for us to do.

Richard Lauersdorf is pastor at Good Shepherd, West Bend, Wisconsin.

This is the final article in a four-part series on the holy Christian church.

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Author: Richard E. Lauersdorf
Volume 102, Number 4
Issue: April 2015

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