When it comes to the future of Christianity in America, are you optimistic? You may read this is as a political question, so your answer depends on who is elected next. You may read this is a social question, and you feel dismayed at the rapid morality shift in our culture. I would argue that how you answer this question reveals your beliefs about the church. Over the next several newsletters we are going to look at the church: what it is, why it matters, and how it relates to the culture and government. Each month I will pick a dominant metaphor for the church to give us a better understanding. In the end I hope you will see that we have every reason to be optimistic about the future of Christianity.
This month let’s consider the church as an embassy. Part of the difficulty in talking about the church is simply that it’s hard to define the word. The word “church” is used in many different ways, both in our Bibles and in everyday speech. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to use one part of the definition that we find in the Westminster Confession of Faith. It says, “[The church] is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God” (WCF 25.2). While there are other parts of the definition, this one is helpful as we look at the church as an embassy.
An embassy serves as an outpost in a foreign nation. The embassy itself is not considered territory of the nation it resides in, but territory of the nation the embassy represents. If a fire broke out in the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, the Brazilian fire department would not be allowed to enter the embassy to put out the fire without permission of the U.S. Ambassador. When an embassy is attacked, it is considered an attack on the nation itself.
Within an embassy is an ambassador. He resides in the foreign land and often depends upon its services for food, utilities and so forth. But as much as he might like that land, his citizenship and allegiance are to his home country.
With this in mind, consider some of the ways the church is described in Scripture:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt. 16:18-19
From this passage we could say church serves as the embassy, and its leaders issue the travel visas to the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” John 18:36
The church, which is located in this world, is not of this world. The church could be compared to the gateway or portal to the kingdom of God. It not only provides the travel documents, but also has the pathway to a kingdom of God within its gates.
But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Phil 3:20
Here Christians are reminded that the land we live in is not our true home; it does not merit our highest allegiances. We are like embassy workers waiting for our tour of duty to be over so we can go home.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 2 Cor 5:20
What is our role as part of the embassy of God’s kingdom on this earth? To be ambassadors. Paul’s language couldn’t be any clearer: God makes his appeal through us. We are God’s spokespeople on this earth. What is God’s message? Be reconciled to God. The message God is speaking through us is the message of the gospel.
Now that we have looked at Scripture, let’s look at some of the applications of thinking of the church as an embassy.
The success of the Church doesn’t depend upon the friendless of the culture.
It’s wrong to think that the strength of the church depends upon the friendliness of the surrounding culture or nation. While in the military, I was deployed to Iraq, and I can tell you there were many people not particularly friendly to Americans there. Yet the American Embassy was at one point the largest and best funded embassy in the world. Why? Not because the host nation was so friendly to it, but because the embassy had the resources of the U.S. government behind it. It’s the same with the church. Behind the church are all the resources of the God who made heaven and earth. The strength of the church does not depend upon where it’s located, but upon the God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).
Our success is in our faithfulness to the message, not in how it’s received.
Imagine if the U.S. ambassador to Russia had to pass on a message he knew would not go over well. So he decides to change the message to make it less offensive to the Russians. He leaves out several crucial demands of the U.S Government and offers to give the Russians top secret military technologies. The Russians are ecstatic at the ambassador’s offer and accept it immediately. Is the U.S. Ambassador a hero for getting the Russians to agree to his terms? No! He is a traitor. The ambassador is successful only when he is faithful to the true message. It’s the same with us. We are ambassadors for Christ. We are successful when we are faithful in relaying Christ’s message to others. Sometimes the message is well received, and other times it’s not.
Another important point in this analogy is that successful ambassadors know both their home country and the country where they serve. The ambassador to Russia would never consider himself a Russian citizen, but he probably knows a lot about Russian culture. He may speak Russian fluently, and he may enjoy Russian food and music. This allows him to better deliver the message from the U.S Government in a way that appeals to the Russians. As ambassadors for Christ we must understand the culture we find ourselves in. We must work to know how best to take God’s unchanging message and present it to an ever changing world. Unfortunately, we as Christians often veer too far to one extreme or the other: Either we are so cut off from the world that we don’t know how to even speak with others, or we are so fully part of the world that we have forgotten our true home.
The Church is a home away from home.
When you step into a U.S. Embassy you will feel closer to home. You will hear English, and you will see the U.S. Flag. There are little reminders of home all around. It’s the same with the church. The church is our home away from our true home with God. It’s a place where we find refuge and rest, yet it reminds us that we are not home yet, and there is still work to be done.
In a couple of weeks, we are kicking off our adult Sunday School with a study called “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.” I’m excited for this study because it develops some of these themes we’ve talked about here. We are purposely doing this study before the presidential election in order to help all of us think more biblically about how we approach politics and our surrounding culture. I hope you’ll join us as we seek to grow together!