It is our desire to put into words what we, as a church, believe is our dream, our work, and our purpose for being. This is no small task, and, yet, it should be the simplest thing for us to articulate, because if you want to defend your right to have a voice, to contribute, and to belong, you have to let people know why you are here.
Now, much is made of what a church should be, and almost everyone has an opinion on this subject. What we would like to do is make a biblical case (albeit, a fairly short one) for what I am calling a theology of presence. Our hope is that you would come to see that this is indeed a shared theology—one we can all amen and rally around in times of need. In essence, it is our mission statement as a church. Here it goes: Our work is to be on the block, for the city, showing off the glory of Christ.
To be on the block is to be present. It is to be with neighbor and community in the good and the bad, in the ups and the downs (Romans 12:15). Samuel Wells writes, “The Christian faith is that God originally made, and has endlessly reiterated, a decision never to be except to be with us. And our way of embodying that faith is constantly to look for ways to be with God, with one another, and with the creation.”
“Being with” starts in the creation narrative of Genesis where God creates man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:27, 5:1, 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; James 3:9) and is with them in the garden (Genesis 3:8). This “being with” culminates in what is called the incarnation (literally, in the flesh) of Christ. Jesus was the prophetic fulfillment of what was to come (Matthew 7:14), and He did indeed show up! We are on the block because Jesus was on the block and because Jesus became a friend to all (Luke 15:2; Luke 7:34).
This was always the way it was supposed to be. Our presence starts and ends with Jesus (Revelation 21:6). He is, like Joshua Ryan Butler writes in The Pursuing God , our “Once upon a time” and our “Happily ever after” (1 Peter 1:20).
To be for the city is to join Jesus in his mission to see that every child, woman, and man in the South Bronx gets to experience Christ and His justice. The book of James tells us that to practice pure religion is to care for the most vulnerable in our society (James 1:27). Jesus Himself rebukes the religious elite of His day because they kept flawless records of their deeds, but ignored the weightier issues of compassion and care of all (Matthew 23:23). In Isaiah, God calls for a breaking of chains, an untying of ropes, and freedom for the oppressed (Isaiah 58:6). In the middle of a synagogue study session, Jesus stands up and is handed the scroll containing the words of Isaiah, the great prophet, and just so happens to read the part that states that the Lord, the Holy Spirit was on/in him and he was set apart to preach the good news that he has arrived, on the block, to set the prisoners free and give sight back to the blind (Luke 4:18).
In Jeremiah, God, through the prophet, tells the people to seek the peace of the city that he sent them to. He goes on to state that this pursuit of well being is good for the flourishing of the people (Jeremiah 29:7). He encourages the people to build homes, get jobs, plant gardens, and start families there.
Biblical justice can be defined as “Divinely righteous action, whether taken by humanity or God, that promotes equality among humanity. Used in relation to uplift the righteous and oppressed and debasing the unrighteous and oppressors.”
Our work is to see that every person who breathes oxygen and calls the South Bronx home will have an opportunity to experience Jesus and His justice.
To show off the glory of Christ is to witness with our words and deeds that there is One who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). Jesus was sent, and now He sends us to preach the good news (John 20:21).
The church—universal and local congregations—are called to show that the hope we have in the gospel creates a community that believes in biblical truths, meets regularly, encourages one another, acknowledges each person’s gifts and calling in the church and the world, and submits to authority (Hebrews 10:19–25).
Jesus sends witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8), but that’s not all He does. He also promises to be with us until the end of time itself (Matthew 28:20). We are to witness, make disciples, and plant churches (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47-48). The church—meaning us—is called to do all of this while doing justice and serving those in need.
Our work is to show off the glory of Christ, to bring the good news to those who need to hear it (Romans 10:13-15), and to evangelize while giving equal attention to the ministry of the word and acts of grace and kindness. We are to witness in word and deed.