Part II: The Ministry of Reconciliation
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:18-21)
Jesus is in the reconciliation business, therefore the church must likewise be in the reconciliation business. Our primary concern in schemes is to see people reconciled to God. That stands above all other considerations and needs (perceived or otherwise). Yes, we want to see people get jobs, pay the bills, get up of the floor, break free from addiction (all idolatry in fact) and a multiplicity of other issues. But we want to proclaim the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and see people respond to him in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of their sins. Forget community renewal if there is not first reconciliation between sinful men and women and a holy, just, loving & wrathful God.
Reonciliation is needed because their relationship to God is broken
We at NCC, of course, want to develop programmes and outreach that serve our community and seek to better it for the benefit of all, whether that is helping with teens on street corners, helping out on local boards, developing community outreach events and a whole host of other things. But we know for sure that if we are not driven by a deep need to see people reconciled to God first and foremost then we will quickly lose focus. Schemes are full of broken people. Beaten down by life. Beaten down by a lack of opportunity. Beaten down by prejudice. Beaten down by their own inherent sinfulness and laziness. Beaten down by bad choices. But we know they are broken because at root their relationship to God is broken. That may not be their presenting issue but if we fail to hold at the gospel to them then they will never find a real and meaningful fix to everything else.
Reconciliation is needed because their relationships with one another are broken
Feuds run deep amongst some families and have done for generations. Reconciliation is needed at a local level between people. Churches can model this by having different types of people and different classes of people working together under the gospel for the common good. One of the questions I am often asked about working in schemes is, ‘Do you think a middle class person could do effectively what you do here?’ Of course, the answer is “Yes & No”. Anybody could do what I do here: love people, treat them as equals, seek their welfare, proclaim Christ to them, and share life with them. No, in terms of natural cultural connection and instinctive evangelistic ability to contextualise on the hoof.
The point is we don’t want a church full of Mez’s any more than a church full of middle class people. We want a mix, do we not? We want the church to reflect something of the culture around us. Niddrie is not all deadbeats and drug addicts. There are hard-working, young professionals in desperate need of Christ also. Both sides are suspicious and dismissing of each other. The church has a chance to paint a counter cultural picture through our life and ministry together in community. We must continue to work hard at modelling in our church culture what this unity and reconciliation looks like. For example, ‘A ladies brunch’ is a foreign concept to Niddrie. It is a middle class expression of fellowship. We had one here recently. The key point is that Miriam, my wife, made sure to invite women who didn’t even know what the word meant. So, two groups who would never normally mix, did (at a small level). The question now is how that is reciprocated so that fellowship is not driven by one particular cultural group and there can be seen to be balance and a recognition that one way of expressing togetherness is not seen as superior to another. At a micro, communal level, this is a picture of reconciliation between people (whether they realise it or not).
The aim of community reconciliation at this level is to break down these barriers of suspicion. I’ve lost count of the number of times a local has said about X in the church, ‘Actually, he/she is alright. I thought they’d be a stuck up ******* but they’re alright.’ Or, conversely, ‘I thought I wouldn’t know what to say to Y but he/she is actually really switched on and asks intelligent questions’. Why the change of mind? Because the individual(s) crossed the cultural divide and engaged in an activity outside of their norm. This kind of conciliatory behaviour, then, must be a two-way street if it to have any lasting effect. There is huge power in the reconciliation brought to us through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The testimony of a life transformed by the ravages of sin is a powerful tool. That power is further intensified at the community level as they see reconciliation and barriers broken down through the community life of the church alongside other ministry outlets. Of course, this is a big topic with much to say.
To summarise: One of the most important keys to gospel ministry on the schemes is to remember to hold out the ultimate reconciliation by proclaiming the Word and modelling it at the micro level in relating to people. We’re ambassadors for Christ, not for our class and culture. We’re holding out the truth and working out together what that looks like as we respect our distinctives in Christian community and consider others better than ourselves.