One of the most supreme Christological mysteries within the historical events in Christendom is that of the incarnation of Christ. This central miracle is paradoxical when examined but fundamental once comprehended. At the center of the Christian confession is the question of why did God become man? The purpose of this blog will seek not only to answer this particular question but to elaborate on its context of how we can become a missional-incarnational church within our communities through discipleship by investigating the account of the incarnation. The reason for adventuring on the topic of the incarnation is to recapture the person of Christ in relation to humanity and how by participating in this wonderful exchange can we experience a renewed rhythm of life that reshapes our desire for God. The incarnate son not only reveals the Father but unifies the world by taking residence in our human flesh so that we might be made god. The cost of discipleship must maintain a missional focus through becoming a visible church community that is held together only by the incarnate son of God.
The Word Made Flesh
Before we can establish a premise for becoming a missional-incarnational church through discipleship, the explanation of why did God become man must be first properly addressed. It was Anselm of Canterbury who proposed this question in his famous work, Cur Deus Homo, in a correspondence with Boso asking the questions and Anselm answering. Anselm remarks, “It was man’s inability to restore what he owes to God, an inability brought upon himself for that very purpose, does not excuse man from paying; for the result of sin cannot excuse the sin itself.”Throughout Anselm’s account, we see the atonement model of satisfaction explained that a sinner cannot justify a sinner but it was that very love for humankind and goodness of his own Father that he appeared to us in a human body for our salvation.By this, we can approach the Father through the mediation of Christ because of the participation of the Word in human nature, true man and real man. God willed to coexist with the creature and was willing to exist also as a creature for the reconciliation of the estranged world to himself.Christ shares this love by joining himself to us granting us an access point into an intimate and relational knowledge of Father and Holy Spirit. This extending of relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit has now taken residence in our human flesh in the very person of Christ. This homoousion between Christ and the Father now is true of us as the Gospel of John states, “you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:20). That the Word was made “flesh” means first and generally that He became man, true and real man, participating in the same human essence and existence, the same human nature and form, the same historicity that we have.The Word did not cease to be eternal but takes on a temporal form as a servant (locus classicus), experiencing what we undergo by submitting to the limitations of our creaturely estate under the judgment of the law.By Christ veiling his glory, the property of his body was subject to corruption due to its concrete likeness of the creature. This same human nature that Christ took upon himself will come again the same way (Acts 1:11) and promises to drink again with those who are called his disciples (Matt. 26:29). As Christ will continue in the offices as priest, prophet and king, our incorporation into the Father-Son relationship is secure and redemption validated. We are left with the commission to make disciples before his return but how this is conducted will be the focus of the following section.
The term incarnational discipleship is used by Glen Stassen in his book, A Thicker Jesus, who provides a three-dimensional paradigm in formulating necessary discipleship. These three senses he explains are: (1) A thicker, historically embodied, realistic understanding of Jesus, (2) A holistic sovereignty of God and Lordship of Christ through all life, (3) A strong call for repentance from captivity to ideologies through the Holy Spirit.This diagram illustrates an incarnational trinitarian model that approaches the three divine persons as coequal and coeternal, each relating to each other in a particular way for the purpose of humanity. This type of discipleship is a move towards relating to a given community in such a way that rediscovers the way Christ interacted and commune with those he came in contact with. It’s an adherence to follow Christ’s example, cultivating relationships that are fertile in a learning environment that builds on trust and empowers others to follow suit. Jesus exhibited this type of human frame among his disciples by shepherding and training them to grow into their calling.
When we embody the character of a thicker Jesus we mean displaying the virtues found in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim.3:2-7; 2 Tim.3:1-11; Titus 1:6-9), the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), the fundamentals of faith, hope and love (1 Cor. 13:13) and Peter’s description of maturity (1Pet. 5; 2 Pet. 1).Such a cost of discipleship involves a denial of certain self-interest and desires, a total commitment level to the sovereign will of God even if that results in death. This sort of repudiating from the affairs of the world is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes: “What are the disciples to do when they encounter opposition and cannot penetrate the hearts of men? They must admit that in no circumstances do they possess any rights or powers over others, and that they have no direct access to them. The only way to reach others is through him in whose hands they are themselves like all other men.”Even the apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth that he would become all things to all people so as to save some without compromising Gospel integrity. This draws from a holistic character that discipleship should correctly pay attention too in eliminating the influential entanglement of individualism. Discipleship is not dissociation but interactive and a recovery is necessary for a social understanding of selfhood within church and community.
As the economical trinity is working out our redemption, bringing about salvation throughout the created order, the eternal relationship that exists between the persons inside the triune God is how our relationships should be conducted. This can only be achieved through the Spirit in a dialogical fashion that brings discipleship to the obedience of Christ, as Bonhoeffer states, that only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.This very act of obedience is the nature of being a disciple, accepting our spiritual imperfections yet experiencing the power of the resurrection in our life with Christ (Phil 3:10).
Missional Ecclesial Architecture
The missional theology of the church is oriented in regularly sharing the faith to the world and not just confined to formulated private affairs between God and the individual. When we reduce the togetherness of God and restrict this open invitation to a unitarian view, it becomes a static understanding of the Gospel that leaves community outside the eternal dance. The essence of the church is built on the incarnation as the apostle Peter and disciple Paul refer to the church as the people of God, a royal priesthood and the bride of Christ. The responsibility of the church has an obligation to the community. The church will always have to present itself both in the forum of God and in the forum of the world. For it stands for God to the world, and it stands for the world before God.The proclamation of the church and its architectural structure is to present Jesus Christ in three distinct ways, communion, community and co-mission.
Historically, the ancient church during the council of Nicea was defined by four keywords, one, holy, catholic and apostolic. God desires to fellowship with us but as the body of Christ, this hasn’t always been the case. With the ecumenical movement attempting to restore unity to the church, the rise of pluralism, doctrinal divides and ecclesiastical expansion, there is less visibility in the church community. The visible church-community should emphasize that the way of life of the visible church’s community is held together by none other than Jesus Christ, the incarnate one himself…the word made flesh.Learning to live a life in Christ throughout our ordinary lives is what we are commissioned to do as disciples.
Recovering a better Christian anthropology as to engage community should become our centripetal understanding as it was in the garden of Eden. Every organism operated in the terrain of habitation according to His perfection in a harmonious relationship. The church is an organism because of the unique life established through the incarnation that empowers us to be the hands and feet of Christ. God our Father has two hands-the word and the spirit-by whom he created and redeemed the world.An invisible church is not what Augustine meant when he used the term, corpus permixtum, for a mixed body. The institutional church must consist of those who are willing to commit their lives to Christ and it’s our responsibility to point the way forward. By developing a public, personal and intimate awareness, the church can build its structure to reflect the needs of its community. Christ did not bring the church into this world to do what he can no longer do in his absence, but so he might be present through and in the church as her existence, mediator and mission.We are none other than the body of Christ, joined with him through the spirit sharing in the prepared communion table within our given communities. As the ecclesia, we must continually transcend ourselves to more than mere small groups or ministerial functions inside its walls.
In becoming a missional-incarnational church through discipleship we must grasp the truth of God’s word universally but consolidate it locally. C.S Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else.”Christianity that doesn’t have incarnational discipleship is a Christ-less Christianity that is invisible to the world. We are commanded to become the preview through which the world will see Christ. A sort of prototype that will herald His second coming that cultivates community by living, communicating and establishing not just a vertical relationship, but one that constitutes a horizontal approach in humanity. The consequence of the incarnation as the body of Christ is that we must inhabit the space we’ve been given. Living among the people who are hurting, lost and in need of God’s grace. Jesus called the twelve disciples to leave everything they had which included people, possessions and positions in order to pursue the possibility of persecution. Being a disciple and administering discipleship is not only what we comprehend but is given to us by the Spirit of repentance from our dogmatic practices.
In the earthly and public ministry of Christ, we are given a glimpse into the communion he had with the Father and through the sending of the Holy Spirit, we too can have this wonderful exchange with the triune God. This transformation that we undergo as disciple-makers should stem from a desire to seek the shalom of its community. While the traditional church pushed back on certain methods of engagement, the organic church is one that should strive on the theological conviction to care for the souls (Heb. 13:17) and be willing to possess a deep ecclesiology that has a mission in mind. In recapturing the true image of the person of Christ, we can mimic his every move in relation to the communities he visited. His ministry was one that extended beyond racial, social or economic barriers and through the participation of becoming human, we not only have an example to follow but a renewed desire to serve others. The church as a movement must continue to cultivate the communities, practicing healthier ways of relating, sharing the rhythm of life together and then can we experience the fullness of Christ in gospel-centered partnership with each other.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York, NY: Touchstone, 1995, 187.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. New York, NY: Touchstone, 1995, 63.