At the Southeast Asia Reformed Network (SEARN) Conference this month, the first two sessions will address specifics about what a local church should look like and how it should function. The final session will place all of our variegated, local churches into the context of the redemptive plan of our Creator – Redeemer God. We are all doing very specific activities within unique and individual local churches – but it is important to see the larger, redemptive setting of these local bodies. That context will help us understand the significance of seemingly insignificant works of service performed week after week. Our churches may seem like small, impotent minority groups in their respective contexts, but our omnipotent and wise God has chosen to use many, local manifestations of his kingdom to bring about his will on the earth as it is in heaven.
From the very beginning he incredibly chose to entrust the rule of his creation to mankind who, as both male and female, were created to represent, or image, God on this earth. Even after the rebellion and consequent curse, mankind is still left with the responsibility of caring for God’s creation, albeit now incredibly hampered by a perverse will. As we read through the Old Testament, we see a record of mankind’s repeated failures to fulfil that creation mandate. And those failures occurred despite God’s special grace shown to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In the opening pages of the New Testament, the last of God’s old covenant prophets prepared the way for the coming King and God’s kingdom. The incarnate Son came in the fullness of time announcing the reign of God on the earth and pronouncing himself to be the visible manifestation of the Father on the earth. He called those with ears to hear to follow him and practice the ethic of the kingdom. He left those whom the Father gave him on the earth, and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence he sent the Spirit, as he promised, to empower those who were chosen to join the new covenant community – to make disciples who would be loyal subjects of God’s kingdom.
The Church is unique among all other human or social organizations on the earth in that it is both physical, made of real physical persons who meet in defined locations, but also spiritual in that it is the manifestation of God’s rule on the earth – through the Spirit-enabled obedience of her members. We are the physical manifestation of Christ’s body on the earth, baptized in the Spirit.
This is why prayer is so integral to the fabric of our churches. This is why Jesus taught his disciples to pray and admonished them to pray because the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. The letters of the New Testament contain requests for prayer and admonitions to pray without ceasing. What we are trying to accomplish, the expansion of God’s rule in the world, is not merely a physical objective. It goes far beyond feeding the hungry or clothing the naked, though it includes those things. It also must involve changing people from perverse rebels into loving and submissive members of God’s kingdom. This change can only occur from within and only occurs when God’s Spirit enables that change.
The final session of the SEARN Conference will be a time of prayer for one another, for our churches, for the nations to whom we bring glad tidings. We pray you will join us both physically in Phnom Penh and spiritually in prayer that God’s kingdom will continue to advance in Southeast Asia.