BIBLE STUDY III

Rev. Park Jong Wha

 

Scripture text: Matthew 28:16-20

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (RSV)

In this passage, Jesus appears to his disciples after his resur- rection and commissions them to do what he commanded them to do. Jesus began his mission in Galilee. He gathered his disciples again in Galilee after his resurrection. It was there that he told them to go to the ends of the earth until the end of time, to make all nations his disciples, to baptize every woman and man everywhere in the world in the name of the Triune God and to teach them what he had commanded them to do.

Now this is the commission which we have received from the Lord Jesus Christ. He tells us to go out and do something for the world, in the world. We know without a doubt that we are sent out into the world where we live.

Some people in the Korean Church have been reflecting about what it means to be a Christian or what is the Christian identity. Christians are called to be Christian. We are an especially elected people - the Elect, like the Jews. We are a chosen people therefore we have a preemptive right to do God’s will. The sense of calling is very important for all Christians. We have to have some sense of calling. We are called to be his disciples, to be his followers. Without this sense of calling or without being called by Him, we cannot do anything. This calling is the preemptive right, the special right, the special identity, and the special foundation of being a Christian. However, we have to take a second look here. Why are we called? Why did God call us? Why did God choose us? The Korean Christians have not been thinking about these questions seriously. The sense of calling is important but we are not being called for nothing. It is oriented towards something that is to be done. My understanding is that we are called so that God can send us into the world. Sending is the purpose of God’s calling us to be Christians. Calling and sending are quite different in meaning.

Yesterday, I attended a mammoth worship service. There were great numbers of people ate the church is there can be the proclamation of the good news (the gospel) of Jesus Christ. It has been said that where the Church is, there is Christ. In Latin, "Ubi eclessia ibi Christus" means "Where the Church is, there is Christ". However some say "Where we build up our church, there is Christ". So they say, "Come people to this church! Gather together, sing together, praise together!" and we will have a caring church. This type of church has made a great contribution to the development of Christendom but in a negative way. The missionaries who have built up such a church have made it a western church. They build a church and gather people there. Then they say that it is only in the church that Christ exists. Outside the church, there is no Christ. This is mission according to the colonial understanding. The Western churches transplanted their churches in Asian soil and teach that Christ can only be found inside the churches. This is an untruth.

Today, we can meet Christ even where no church exists, because Christ is the supreme Lord of the entire world. Whether there is a church (building) or not, Christ is always there. So we must change that way of thinking. Instead of saying "Ubi eclessia ibi Christus", we ought to say "Ubi Christus, ibi eclessia". Where Christ is, there is the Church. Christ is the foundation, the ground of the Church. Without Christ, there is no Church. We are the Church, the Body of Christ. Have we the Church made Christ, or has Christ made us? We need to think carefully about the statement, "Where Christ is, there is the Church". It can change our being a church. Let me give you one example.

Two years ago, there was a political incident in Korea in January 1986. A Buddhist student was tortured to death. His name was Park Jong Chul. It sparked off the fire of the whole democratization movement in Korea. The churches began to move. People of other faith began to be motivated. All sectors of the people united to fight for democracy and to fight against dictatorship. This Buddhist student was a real martyr. He was not a Christian but he kindled the fire. It was then that the churches realized they had not spoken out the will of God in that political situation. Instead God sent a person of another faith to do so for the sake of the Church. That is Christian conviction. Christ was there. Christ was tortured with the Buddhist student. Christ was tortured not merely for Christians but also for everyone of his people whom he was destined to save.

This incident shocked us greatly. The churches realized that in the moment of decision-making this Buddhist student had done a great act. We also realized that when the church did not speak out, God sent someone else to speak for him, through the torture of the Buddhist student. Although this was a non-Christian movement, we believe that Christ was active within it. Some people call this person an anonymous Christian. Let me give you an example. I will leave it to you to accept or reject it. God was there through Christ in an anonymous way, in a concealed manner. Christ was there in the tortured Buddhist student who spoke out the will of God.

Where is God now? I have mentioned earlier that it is important for us to take our life situation seriously because Christ is active in all areas of our life. "Ubi Christus ibi eclessia" - Where Christ is, there is the Church". In Matthew 25:31-46, it is evident that Christ is active in the life of the poor, the hungry, the thirsty and so on. It is in those living situations that the Church is called to be active. When we feed the hungry people, the Minjung, then there is the Minjung Church, the church of the people. Where these people are, there is the church because Christ is active there. We are sent out to the world to be where the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the strangers are. It is in those situations that we are to build up the church, the Body of Christ because Christ, the Son of Man, identifies himself with those who are in such situations. Because Christ is there then there is the Church.

The two passages, Matthew chapters 25 and 28 belong together. However, we have tried in vain to bring the two together in our concrete living situations. In my own situation there are big established churches with a middle-class membership and there are also small churches whose membership are the poor. Christ is in both but is active in different ways to save the people. Christ liberates people from their sins both in the established church and in the church of the poor. We have to find out how he liberates in each situation.

God’s liberation could be effected in the form of judgment as depicted in Matthew 25:31-46 in the separation of the sheep and the goats. We need to identify which side we are on. I found an interesting sentence while reading a report from India on inter- faith dialogue..."These people who are hungry, thirsty, naked, they are not objects of sympathy, but they are subjects of change." I totally agree with this statement. They are not objects of our mission. They are subjects of God’s promise for the future.

God promised us the kingdom of God on earth. We are living on it. God’s kingdom is already realized in Christ but is being actualized through the Holy Spirit until the end of time. God’s tomorrow challenges us to be subjects of change, of ourselves and our present situation. In URM, we should always challenge the present situation in the light of God’s tomorrow. God’s tomorrow comes to us. We do not go to God but God comes to us and God continues to come to us. God is the God of our future. When he comes to us, our present situation is subject to change because God’s future challenges us.

In Latin, ‘adventus’ means advent or God’s coming. In Greek, ‘futur’ means future. We go to the future from the past through the present to the future. We are talking about futurology - vision in the future. We make the future on the basis of our present and past experiences. In biblical language there is no ‘futur’, there is only ‘adventus’, the future wherein God reigns. God’s future comes to us in the present and challenges us. God is the God who comes, not the God who becomes. We do not say God becomes. God comes from the past through the present to the future. God’s kingdom comes. We cannot claim that we make the kingdom of God on earth on the basis of the present and past experiences but we accept God’s kingdom which comes to us to challenge us. Here we see the Christian spirit which works for change.

Today, we can hear neo-Marxists say that traditional Marxism is a failure because traditional Marxists tried to build a new Communist world. Biblically speaking, we have to accept that we have to change our situation because our future dream challenges us. How we change our living situations is based on the spirit of God’s future which comes to challenge us. In Matthew 25, God challenges us. He envisions for us a new kind of church. We should see his challenge in the life of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked. Maybe that is why URM is there because it wants to build up this new kind of church.

Matthew 25: 3146 has often been understood and interpreted from the point of view of Christian ethics and in a moral sense. We still hold to that way of thinking today. In fact, the issue is not a question of ethics but rather a question of what kind of church do we belong to. URM should be the kind of church which reflects the kingdom of God here on earth... a church of God’s tomorrow. Can we identify ourselves and our work with those of Christ who is active among the people. The church as described in Matthew 28 reflects the church for the people, while the church depicted in Matthew 25 is that of the church of the people. We have to accept both as they belong together.

In this last devotion, allow me to suggest some directions URM may work towards. In the future of God which comes, URM has already experienced suffering. But URM with its protesting way of life has learnt to accept the challenge of God’s tomorrow. Whoever works towards the tomorrow of God in the present situation will suffer. However, suffering is not the goal but the way towards perfection. It is then that we see hope. This hope can be realized and is being realized. The Holy Spirit is actualizing this hope concretely in our situation. Hence, we experience solidarity.

The two kinds of church as described in Matthew 25 and 28 are very challenging and encouraging and they belong together. The missionary task we have is to work towards improving the state of our churches and cooperate to the end that we might become the kind of church as depicted in Matthew 25 and 28. So let us work together for God’s tomorrow. God’s tomorrow challenges us to protest the present situation.

In my own country, Korea, it is probable that God has promised reunification. In the spirit of a reunified Korea, we must challenge our dividedness. We must challenge the divisive ideologies, the divisive mentality in response to the vision of a united church in Christ. This is the ecumenical vision. We must challenge the separation of churches, of denominations, of the human race, all discrimination of race, sex and class and creed which we experience in our world today. May we live towards God’s tomorrow which empowers us for change. This is the realized promise by the Holy Spirit.


[This Bible Study was presented at the 21st URM Committee Meeting held in Seoul, Korea from 24-26 February 1990]