Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Last Tuesday evening, the Mission Study Team met, as it has done nearly every week since April. The Mission Study Team’s task is to create a document that the pastor nominating committee will use to create what’s basically the church’s resumé. The Mission Study says, “This is who we are. This is what’s important to us. This is what we strive to become.” This description of who we are and what we hope to become lets potential pastors know whether they’d be a good fit for us, and vice versa.
So on Tuesday evening, the Mission Study Team noted that over 80% of you responded on the survey that one of the things you value most about this church is the sense of community. But, the team wondered, why this community? After all, you can find community many places: your kid’s soccer team or the school PTA, Rotary or Al-Anon, your golfing buddies or your quilting club. We talked about the fact that church provides people with a sense of purpose, but you can find purpose with any charity or even at work. What church provides, what any good religion provides, is a combination of purpose and meaning, and both of them, the meaning and the purpose, point to the ultimate meaning and purpose of God, our Creator, “whom alone we worship and serve.”
The meaning and purpose of the church is what we will explore over the next six Sundays, in our series on what the Presbyterian Book of Order calls the Great Ends of the Church. All six are listed on your bulletin cover. I learned this past week that the pastor who served this church before me, Chandler Stokes, preached a series on the Six Great Ends of the Church in 2003, just before he left. So maybe this is our signature “pastor’s farewell sermon series.” When I was a teenager, I had a friend whose father always said the same thing when she left the house to go to a party or out on a date. He said, “Remember who you are.” I’m guessing that is what Chandler Stokes was trying to say to you in 2003, and it is certainly what I am saying now. Remember who you are.
Today we begin with the first Great End, “the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind.” That’s a string of theological words, words we don’t use in normal conversation. We need to define them, because they may not mean what you think they mean, and it makes a big difference what we think they mean. Except we’ll work backwards, starting with “salvation.”
When we hear the question, “Are you saved?” it usually means, “Are you sure you’ll go to heaven when you die?” More often than not, people assume the answer depends on whether you hold the correct beliefs, and that the people with correct beliefs will be “saved” and go to heaven while everyone else will go to Hell. Behind all this is a complex set of doctrines developed centuries after Jesus and the early church, a theology that says, basically, the human soul is separate from the human body, and our souls need to be saved, individually, from an angry God, because of our “original sin” or “total depravity.” Now, that isn’t the God that Jesus described, or the God Scripture describes generally, or the way Scripture describes human nature. How we ended up with these doctrines is fascinating and complicated; the question that fascinates me most is, “Who is it that benefits from terrorizing people with eternal damnation?” but that’s not the topic of today’s sermon. The point I want to make is that these doctrines don’t use the word “salvation” the way Scripture uses it. “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?,” wrote the psa