What is the Christian goal?

10 Jul 2022 by Rev Andrew Smith in: Letters, Thoughts, News

What is the Christian goal?

From Rev Andrew Smith
Presbytery Minister - Congregation Futures

Last week I suggested to you that in addition to praying “Your kingdom come … on earth as in heaven”, our contribution to the coming of God’s kingdom is to anticipate it! This suggestion comes from NT Wright in his book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters.
To help us understand using “anticipate” in this way, Wright provides an example about anticipating that it will rain. He points out the difference between simply commenting “I’m anticipating that it will rain later on”, and saying the same thing to someone who asks why I’m wearing a raincoat even though the sun is shining. In the second case the comment means something more. It means that I am already dressed in the way that will be appropriate for the later conditions.
Similarly, in the context of anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven, it means something to be living now in a way that will be appropriate for the fullness of the Kingdom of God coming on earth as in heaven.
As we seek to anticipate the coming of God’s kingdom, we also need to find some clarity in how we describe the Christian goal of the coming of God’s kingdom. Wright describes what he thinks are two current visions of this goal in the Western world.
The first is where people cling on to the idea of a disembodied heaven, an existence where we spend eternity simply being in God’s presence. Wright describes it like this:

  1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time and matter.
  2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

The second current vision of the Christian goal is framed by Wright as:

  1. The goal is to establish God’s Kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
  2. The goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Wright thinks that those who take the path of the first vision will be trying to live Christianly with one hand tied behind their back, and that the heart of the matter seems to be strangely missing in the second vision. He makes a counterproposal. This is how it goes:

  1. The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests. [Rulers in terms of exercising wise stewardship over the world. Priests that sum up the praise which all creation offers to its maker]
  2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.
  3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

Take some time to think about how you would express the Christian goal and what that means for Christian living in the present by you and your congregation.
For the emphasis that the Uniting Church puts on the Christian goal, see the below excerpts from paragraph 3 of the Uniting Church Basis of Union:
“The Church … confesses that Jesus is the Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end … the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal. On the way Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way”.