Romans 15:1-17
Your Church And Your Neighborhood

Authored By Rev. Chen Tientsu, Taiwan Presbyterian Church, then on mission at Osaka Nozomi Church, Osaka, Japan

1. The Taiwan Presbyterian Church has set one Sunday as "The Lord's Day For Church And Society."  As everyone knows, the church has for some two thousand years by faith continuously shown interest in and spent a lot of its energy on the welfare and reformation of society.  The presbyterian church is considered in Taiwan as a very strong denomination in so far as its efforts in "showing interest in society."  In the creed of the Taiwanese presbytery, the church is said to be "a sign of the hope that stands by Christ's love and passion."  "The Lord's Day For Church And Society" is the day in particular that we share this with everyone and that we encourage one another on.

2.  Please read again the passage we read shortly ago.  "Christ did not seek his own satisfaction," (verse three).  "Imitate Christ and embrace the same mind with one another," (verse five).  "Therefore, [receive one another] for the glory of God," (verse seven).  "I am telling [you].  In order to reveal the truth of God Christ became a servant to the circumcised.  He did this to confirm the promises to your forefathers and so that the Gentiles would praise God for his compassion," (verses eight and nine).  "That I would have you remember anew, I have written quite strongly in a few parts in this epistle.  It is because I have received grace from God and became a servant of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles and am employed in the role of a priest on behalf of the gospel of God.  And it is so that the Gentiles would be made a holy people through the Holy Spirit and an offering for God's pleasure.  Thus, I feel pride in Christ Jesus for working for God," (verses fifteen through seventeen).  This is the image of a servant of Christ called by God, shown the privilege of evangelizing the gospel, and working among the Gentiles.  Paul himself shows that his work for the Gentiles was for the purpose of bringing glory to God.  He thought of his own work as a very great honor.

3.  Paul's mission to the Gentiles was a great harvest.  The process involved was painful, but it stuck deep down in the hearts of the people.  Paul faithfully and first hand himself taught many people from the scriptures.  He was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and went around to every nook and corner of the towns [he visited] and he not only went into places where Jews assembled but he even went among Gentiles and proclaimed the gospel boldly to them.

4.  Today, among a number of churches, the foot steps of preaching in one's area have been disappearing little by little.  It is only being confined to the church or the parish (within the supposed sphere of the church).  People seem to think the church is not to be in one's area and has nothing at all to do with it.  Even though we are supposed to step out from church into our neighborhoods we barely go out and open our doors.

5.  The reason the church was founded is for preaching.  In order to achieve this purpose the church must pay something, which is, a dedication of ourselves.  The church must be a flock of the local area and pastors of the church pastors of the local area. At the least a church must give comfort to the souls of the local people and be encouragers, helpers, and good neighbors.

6.  It is hard for the church to go forward in its preaching work in a locality.  Preaching is not merely a task of the clergy.  It is the responsibility of every christian.  The self-dedicated co-operation of everyone is necessary.

7.  In this month's Discipline Of Discipleship Class (See end note), we studied that "Baptism in the sense of being joined to Christ's death has an ethical meaning of not only a call to individual sanctification, but in it a christian is pushed out into the battle to fulfill God's will in every territory of one's daily living in this world."

8.  Churches have different traditions, but I think that we must boldly build new tradtions in response to the times and the news in one's area.  This is to get the souls of the people in modern times.  In verse sixteen [where Paul] says, "I... became a servant of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles and am employed in the role of a priest on behalf of the gospel of God.  And it is so that the Gentiles would be made a holy people through the Holy Spirit and an offering for God's pleasure," he didn't say it only to his churches back then, but proclaims it to the church today to open its doors wide, tell the gospel to the people of its area because even the Gentiles will be offerings by the Holy Spirit for God's pleasure.

9.  Pastoral care inside the church and pastoral care in one's area are exactly opposite.  Pastoral care only within the church is in a certain sense dangerous and easy to become self centered.  It makes it hard to grow.  By way of illustration I give you the example of The Taiwan Presbyterian Church, that church ten years ago had the tendency for supposed pastoral care for within the church and it did not grow, but was full of problems.  Most recently in ten years, after enlarging its sphere of pastoral care from church to its area a great change has taken place.  Until now the people of the neighborhood were against the church, but recently as we have shown interest in the area little by little, gradually we obtained the confidence of the people of the area and plus the opponents of the church became co-operative and even partners, and as they recognized and understood the existence of the church many people of the area became christians.

10.  As you all know, before [our] religious reformation almost the whole church entertained the notion of parish focused pastoral care.  The old church neglected its educating of the world and was proud of its encyclopedic knowledge in so far as theology, and thought as if the clergy were sent from heaven to earth to rule, and terribly twisted the meaning of the gospel, and was self satisfied despite the depravity within the church.

11. In some cities churches are as numerous as convenience stores and are built even in many of the towns in neighborhoods that still have not gotten the gospel and one elder put it like this, "Why aren't our churches made like the chain stores the areas love?"  We don't expect churches to receive anything from their areas, but shouldn't an area receive something from their churches?  Isn't God commanding christians today to go and proclaim my gospel to the nooks and corners of the world?

12.  Through his own resurrection Christ has made our lives abundant, (John 10:10).  God came down from heaven to earth to save us sinners.  The saving gospel also must go out from our churches.  Church is not a holy land for christians, but is the base of faith, hope, and love for an area.  Church exists for the area.  If that isn't so, we might as well build nice places for our purity and discipline and practice stillness and serenity atop the mountains like the temples do.

13.  The reason that Paul's preaching was effective was because Paul was convinced that Gentiles were the people of God, too, (Romans 9:25-26).  But, today's church in claiming that unbelievers are so far from God have selfishly made themselves a distinct and separate holy class away from unbelievers and have little concern if any for them.  Churches are built in towns, but invisible walls have been constructed high and thick.

14.  Now, as for the faith we have, we ought to remember the many variations in the areas.  An American preacher in Kobe said, "In a Japanese church today the threshold is too high up and the average person finds it too hard to get in."  I agree.  We should lower ourselves down from our high states of "holiness."  In addition, we should be convinced that our areas are to be given the message of the gospel because Jesus himself taught in a visible form like that.  How will today's church be recognized by the people of an area?  And how can we take part in God grace with them?  Are we convinced that God loves the local people?  Does he love them like the brothers and sisters of the church?  How much time and concern do we spend in prayer for them?  How much time do we use in mixing in with them and sharing the gospel with them?

15.  Paul said the following, "We proclaim Christ and so that every person would be joined to Christ and be perfect we reason with and tell every person exhausting our knowledge.  For this reason I toil hard and I do battle in the power of Christ, which works mightily in me," (Colossians 1:28-29).

16.  Now the shape of our faith is in miserable and sorrowful condition, so much so that God would have to say that you are far apart from me because you are proud and you are sinful.  If the church was clearly the light and the salt of an area, everyone would notice the church.  Therefore, we must scrutinize carefully and pay attention to the words and the deeds of [us] christians.  Then a church will be like the church and it will escape from the captivity of its old shape and its self-centered haughty faith life, and it will be the true light of the world and be a local church like salt for the area, and this indeed will result in the God in whom we believe being revered by the people of the area.  Don't you think so?

17.  *End note:  In Osaka Nozomi Church each month they have a discipleship study time called, "The Order," [which has a Catholic monastic ring to it that suggests deep commitment and devotion such as the Franciscan Order, the Benedictine Order, the Jesuits].  This year we read The Lima Document, "Baptism, Eucharist And Ministry" [The BEM text, January 1982] which was adopted (1983) at the sixth assembly of The World Council Of Churches.

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