In this post I continue presenting highlights from this very challenging book.
The first major theme of the book is the organic nature of the church versus the institutional model so often adopted in the church today, and I covered this in my previous post. A second theme is about how the church features in God’s eternal plan. Viola introduces this theme by commenting on the Gospel as follows: ‘Our modern gospel is entirely centered on human needs. The plotline of that gospel is one of a benevolent God whose main purpose is blessing and healing a fallen world. Thus our gospel is centered on saving man’s spirit/soul (evangelism) and/or saving his body (healing the sick, delivering the captives, helping the poor, standing with the oppressed, caring for the earth, etc.). In short, the gospel that’s commonly preached today is “human centered.” It’s focused on the needs of humanity, be they spiritual or physical.’ Then he writes, ‘What was God going to do with human beings if they had never fallen?’ The implied question is, is the Good News, the Gospel, purely a divine response to man’s fall into sinful rebellion, or is it more? Viola answers this question in several ways, but the main thrust of the argument is that through the Gospel we are not only saved out of a condition of sinful separation from God and each other, but into a condition of wholeness and unity within a divinely ordained community called The Church. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is at the centre of the Gospel.
He writes that ‘from the viewpoint of God’s eternal purpose, the church exists to be;
- the incarnation and manifestation of the ultimate passion of God
- the organic expression and physical extension of the Trinitarian Community
- the corporate image-bearer of the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth the family of God
- the divine building whereby every living stone is being transformed, reshaped, and fitted together to form the Lord’s temple
- the colonial outpost of the coming kingdom
- the masterpiece of God
- the spiritual “Bethany” where Jesus of Nazareth is received, obeyed, and adored in the midst of a rejecting world
- the vessel in which the power of Christ’s resurrection life is visibly displayed
- the object of God’s supreme affection and delight
- the willing vehicle for Christ’s manifested presence
- the torchbearer of the testimony of Jesus
- the “one new man”—the new species—the “third race”
- the fiancée of Jesus Christ—His very body, His very bride
- the new humanity marked out in the Son of God before time and brought into existence by His cross
- the Christian’s native habitat
- the spiritual environment where face-to-face encounters between the bride and Bridegroom take place
- the living witness to the fullness and headship of God’s Son
- the colony from heaven that bears the image of its Ruler In short, whenever the church gathers together, its guiding and functioning principle is simply to incarnate Christ (1 Cor. 12:12)’
In my next post I will present some highlights which partially present a third major theme of the book, Viola’s conviction that the modern clergy system is the single biggest impediment to the realisation of God’s plan for the church.