I have been teaching for several years—and it is illustrated in my book Come to the Table—that the ministry of Jesus is the model for practicing the kingdom of God in the context of the church. The ministry of Jesus is the ministry of the church.
Historically that has been questioned in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Our dispensational hermeneutic drew a sharp line that created an insuperable gulf that no one can cross between Acts 1 and Acts 2. Our ecclesiology was severed from the ministry of Jesus. The “patterns” of the church are regulated by Acts and the Epistles. And this had the tendency to reduce ecclesiology to discussions of forms and a constriction of purposes to “spiritual” values rather than to social, economic and other values.
But there is something quite odd about saying that the ministry of Jesus cannot be the pattern or model for the ministry of the church. This disconnect between Jesus and the church is the very thing to which many would object. After all we don’t want a disjunction between Jesus and the church. Indeed, Jesus and the church have a shared identity; the church derives it’s identity from Jesus himself. We are the body of Christ.
But if we take seriously this connection between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the church – between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the church—then we will have to expand our traditional understanding of the ministry of the church. It will have to include economic, social, peace and justice issues. We can no longer hide the church in the bastion of “salvation” (that is, the forgiveness of sins and our escape from hell to heaven), but rather must understand salvation as the reversal of the curse, the renewal of heaven and hearth in terms of cosmic and social liberation.
The ministry of Jesus was not only a word about forgiveness, but also the deeds and acts of social and cosmic redemption. The ministry of the church must model the “good news and good works” (to use Ron Sider’s title for his book on the “whole gospel”) trajectory of Jesus’ own ministry.
Hermeneutically, then, we need to recover how the Gospels shape the ministry and mission of the church so that we embody Jesus in our world today. Acts and the Epistles are examples and guides for the implementation of the Gospels through the life of the church. We need both and both should guide us.