The thrust of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is bigger than just our local fellowship – our Jerusalem:
“But when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be filled with power, and you will be witnesses for me in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
— Acts 1:8 (GNT bold added)
Jesus, himself, mandated that we go beyond our local town or city, into the country, beyond our country, into all the world. Not that Jesus is calling everyone to ‘go’, but he is calling us all to be involved – to pray, to support, or to go.
Imagine the vastness of the resources that are pooled together, as the early church did in Acts 2:45; possessions were distributed as any and all had need. Imagine those resources harnessed and mobilised.
The autonomy of the local church is a good thing so long as that local body doesn’t become inwardly focused. That would be the antithesis of evangelicalism. Yet, this is exactly today’s threat.
The danger in the I-generation era is that local autonomy might be confused for the right to retain resources against the will of the Spirit of God. The rich church might get richer and the poor church, poorer. And there is good evidence that the richer a church gets, the less they notice the needs of the poorer church. They become less involved in the social action God calls the church to. The richer church becomes less ‘church’ the richer it gets; it actually gets more organised and secular.
It’s not just about your church; it’s about the church!
We must not stop at Jerusalem!
We must become sensitive to the will of the Holy Spirit in empowering those churches less able to advance the gospel.
It’s important that the church, globally, be fluid, flexible, and agile in an ever-changing world, ready for Christ’s return. We need to be a more thoughtful organisation, characterised by the hallmark virtue of unconditional love.
We need to have the imperatives for social action before our eyes to motivate us.
We need to champion the cause of the battling and the persecuted.
With too much autonomy a church becomes less accountable and too individualistic.
The church exists as a beacon for the glory of the Kingdom of God.
Social action, the agenda of love, and the propagation of the gospel message, all depend on working together efforts of the global church. We must become more focused on what brings us together in our humanity. We must become less focused on our differences.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
NOTE: this article was written to be used in a Baptist Distinctives debate.