Christian Ministry in the 21st Century Part 1: The World’s Challenge to the Church -- By: John R. W. Stott

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 145:578 (Apr 1988)
Article: Christian Ministry in the 21st Century Part 1: The World’s Challenge to the Church
Author: John R. W. Stott

Christian Ministry in the 21st Century
Part 1:
The World’s Challenge to the Church

John R. W. Stott

London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, London, England

[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 3–6, 1987.]

This series begins with two articles on the church and the world and the relationships between these two communities. The term “the world” here refers (as in the Johannine literature) to godless society, the human community which disowns or dethrones God. By “the church” is meant (as in the Pauline literature) God’s new society, the new humanity of which Christ as the second Adam is the head. The first article addresses the world’s challenge to the church and the second article addresses the church’s outreach to the world.

One of the greatest needs in today’s church is for a greater sensitivity to the world. As true servants of Jesus Christ, believers should keep their eyes open, as He did, to human need and their ears cocked to the world’s cries of pain. They should respond, as again He did, with compassion to the real issues of the day.

This does not mean that in every respect believers allow “the world to set the agenda for the church” or that they trot like a little dog at the world’s heels. To behave like that would be to confuse service, to which we are called, with servility, to which

we are not. It would be to interpret sensitivity, which is a virtue, in terms of conformity, which is a vice.

No, Christians are first and foremost to declare and do what God has told them to declare and do. They are not to pay obsequious homage to the world.

At the same time, unless believers listen attentively to the voices of secular society and struggle to understand people’s misunderstandings of the gospel, unless Christians feel with people in their frustration, alienation, and even despair, and weep with those who weep, they will lack authenticity as the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. They will run the risk, as has often been said, of answering questions nobody is asking, scratching where nobody is itching, supplying goods for which there is no demand, in other words, of being totally irrelevant.

Modern men and women are engaged in a threefold quest. These are three human aspirations, which Jesus Himself arouses by His Spirit, which He alone can satisfy, and which challenge the church to proclaim Him in His fullness. These are the quest for transcendence, the quest for significance, a...

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