James Davison Hunter on “the Central Ministry of the Church”

“Beyond the worship of God and the proclamation of his word, the central ministry of the church is one of formation; of making disciples.  Making disciples, however, is not just one more program—it is not Sunday School, a Wednesday night prayer meeting, or a new book one must read.  Formation is about learning to live the alternative reality of the kingdom of God within the present world order faithfully.  Formation, then, is fundamentally about changing lives.  It is the church’s task of teaching, admonishing, and encouraging believers over the course of their lives in order to present them ‘as complete in Christ,’ ‘fit for any calling.’  At the foundation of this task, of course, are the fundamental preparations of the catechesis—instruction into central truths of Christian belief, the development of the spiritual disciplines, and the observance of basic sacraments.  It will also include teaching new language rooted in Scripture that is at the heart of the story of creation, redemption, and consummation.  Words such as covenant, grace, gift, sin, mercy, forgiveness, love, hope, blessing, the flesh, glory, creation, resurrection, sacrament, and the like must be learned anew in part by understanding the significance of the language and narrative of faith within the context of the social, political, and cultural realities of one’s own time.  As Walter Brueggemann has put it, Christians must renounce the dominant script of the world and embrace the alternative script that is rooted in the Bible and enacted through the tradition of the church.  This task, however, presupposes that Christians are capable of discerning the difference between the two scripts.  Making disciples, in other words, means that the people of God will learn to live with and reflect in life the dialectical tension of affirmation and antithesis.” – James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 236-237.

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