By Michael C. Mack
Never has our culture been more perplexed about how to answer the seemingly simple question, “Who am I?” It’s hardly a surprise: The more the world drifts from the Creator, the more people struggle with their identity. We lose our sense of who we are when we forget whose we are. Satan is complicit, of course, in this case of identity theft.
In this issue, we address various matters of identity today. Our writers look at identity biblically, speaking truth in love, with a positive, humble attitude. And we hope our readers will have a similar attitude, seeking to learn about and better understand these issues so we can more effectively serve people in our churches and communities.
While all that’s true, the church may have some identity issues of its own to wrestle with. What is the church’s identity in a culture that is increasingly secular and skeptical of Christianity and the church?
As Christ’s church, who are we?
We can readily list several fundamental facets of our identity: we are family, dearly loved children of the most-high King; we are Christ’s chosen and cherished bride; we are Christ’s body, his hands and feet and heartbeat for the world.
Yet, even as he said farewell, Jesus clarified his paramount vision for who we are as his church. He summarized it in five words: “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The book of Acts provides other aspects of the church’s identity, but they all support that one main vision.
For instance . . .
- We are God’s servants. When the King says stay, we stay. When he says go to live out his vision, we go (Acts 1:4, 12; 2:1).
- We are dependent on God. The early church demonstrated this in at least two ways: “They all joined together constantly in prayer” (1:14), and God’s Spirit led the way (2:2).
- We seek to live “with one mind and one purpose” (1:14, Amplified Bible; cf. 2:44; 4:32). We have failed and will fail in our quest for unity, but we must diligently seek it “so that the world may believe” God sent Jesus into the world (John 17:21).
- We are a Christ-centered, countercultural community. The New Testament church existed in community, to carry out Christ’s mission, for God’s glory (Acts 2:42-47). As we care for and support one another, God will still add to our number daily those being saved.
- Regardless of how “intolerant” our culture portrays us, we believe in and teach the narrow way of Jesus. We point people to salvation in Christ alone (4:12, 20).
- Despite opposition and persecution, we always obey God rather than people and we always do what’s right in God’s eyes (4:18-19; 5:29).
- We never stop “teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (5:42). The most loving thing we can do for anyone is to tell them about Jesus. The church has only one mission, and that’s it.
Someone said, “Jesus started the church the way he wanted it and now he wants the church the way he started it.” He still wants us to be his witnesses.
As someone else put it, “Jesus called us to be fishers of men, not keepers of aquariums.”
Being his witness in our world today may not be as difficult as some people think. Most non-Christians (79 percent) say, “If a friend of mine really values their faith, I don’t mind talking about it with them.” Yet recent research indicates only about 30 percent of non-Christians say a Christian has shared their faith with them. We are unfortunately missing opportunities with many open-to-the-gospel non-Christians! Also, although nearly four in five non-Christians would welcome a conversation about faith with a Christian, about two-thirds (66 percent) said they are unlikely to attend a church service anytime soon.
Today, statistically and tactically speaking, it may be more effective to engage our non-Christian friends in a conversation about Jesus than invite them to a church service. That doesn’t mean we don’t include them in the church, of course. We can’t separate Jesus from his body. But we can help break down people’s distorted images of the church by personally representing Christ and his church as his ambassadors. We do this by spending time together in a group of friends, loving them, exploring God’s Word together, accepting and caring for one another, teaching and encouraging and exhorting one another, and serving others together.
When I became a Christ follower at age 28, I wanted to tell everyone I knew about Jesus. I’m sure I wasn’t very good at it, so I read scores of books about evangelism and implemented what I was learning as best I could. Eventually, I used several different popular evangelism studies to teach others how to be witnesses.
We may no longer use soul-winning approaches from 30 or more years ago, but that doesn’t mean evangelism has gone out of style; it’s just that many of the techniques have changed. The methods from the books I read and the classes I taught in the 1980s and ’90s likely would not work as effectively today. Our culture has changed, and so should our methodologies for reaching people in this culture. Especially now, as non-Christians are increasingly ambivalent or even antagonistic toward the church and its leaders, we must walk with people patiently and lovingly through a myriad of obstacles before they are ready to accept Jesus and become part of his church.
We have many challenges to sharing our faith today. But we also have many opportunities. God, who is both sovereign and Savior, is actively drawing people to himself, and we get to join him on this exciting mission.
Regardless of the challenges, we must never stop telling people about Jesus. That’s who we are!