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The Church’s Double Identity

During Sunday’s message on our church value of revealing Christ’s incarnational presence to the world, we shared a rather lengthy quote from John Stott. This quote explains what Doug and I referred to as the church’s call to be both holy and worldly. We thought we would give you an opportunity to read it again and absorb it.

By its double identity I mean that the church is a people who have been both called out of the world and sent back into the world to witness and serve. These are, in fact, two classical marks of the church. According to the first, the church is “holy”, called out to belong to God and to worship him. According to the second, the church is “apostolic”, sent out into the world on its mission. Alternatively, we may say that the church is summoned by God to be simultaneously “holy” (distinct from the world) and “worldly” (not in the sense of assimilating the world’s values and standards, but in the sense of renouncing other-worldliness and becoming instead immersed in the life of the world). Dr. Alec Vidler captured the church’s double identity by referring to its “holy worldliness”.

Seldom in its long history has the church managed to preserve its God-given double identity of holy worldliness. Instead it has tended to oscillate between the two extremes. In order to fulfill its mission, the church must faithfully respond to both its callings and preserve both parts of its identity.

“Mission” arises, then, from the biblical doctrine of the church in the world. If we are not “the church”, the holy and distinct people of God, we have nothing to say because we are compromised. If, on the other hand, we are not “in the world”, deeply involved in its life and suffering, we have no one to serve because we are insulated. Our calling is to be “holy” and “worldly” at the same time. With out this balanced biblical ecclesiology we will never recover or fulfill our mission.”

~John Stott, The Contemporary Christian


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