THIS ARTICLE IS BY BRADLEY Bell, DIRECTOR OF CONTENT Development
I want to tell you a story.
Perhaps the most thrilling part of being on mission is that moment you get to share the entire gospel with someone who’s eager to hear it. A common missionary skill that’s actually not covered in Tradecraft is storying. In addition to the Bible itself being mostly narrative, we see numerous examples throughout the Book of Acts where the gospel is preached as a story. Over the past few years, missionaries have been utilizing this skill in a method called the Creation to Christ story, or C2C for short. As you have probably already put together, it’s a way of succinctly tracking the story of redemption from creation to Jesus’ resurrection. I’ve seen the gospel given room to do its thing when this method has been used. Yet I’ve also seen something missing. Allow me to use a short case study from my own experience to describe it.
I met a man on a bus who had great spiritual interest, so I ended up sharing the gospel using C2C. He responded, “Can I share this with everybody I work with?”
Track ahead one year in that man’s life and the promising start came crashing down. After striving for months to establish a local church with him and a few other new believers, we were giving up hope that it would ever work. They were all about Christ. But the church? Ah, take it or leave it.
Another important consideration is that every scene of my relationship with the man had taken place one-on-one: on a bus, in a cafe, at my home. Though there is a time and place for individual investment, I had invited the man to a private relationship with God without the communion of the saints.
The Missing Element
Not only had I left the church out through my actions, I had made perhaps an even worse flop with my words. As mentioned, I had shared a well-oiled, expertly-contextualized version of the creation to Christ story. And at the end I called for repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation. I had even given the implication for trusting Christ: obeying all his commands, namely, making more disciples. But I made no mention of the family of God. It’s not that an opportunity for discipleship was missed. I had neglected a key segment of the good news, as Dr. Gregg Allison had recently reminded me: “The church is an ingredient of the gospel.” In it we are not merely reconciled to God, but to one another (Ephesians 2:14-22). Thus the gospel includes what Allison calls a “covenantal ecclesiology,” the understanding that following Christ means a covenantal relationship with God and his church from the very beginning.
Not only is the church implicit in the gospel, but it is also necessary for its continued dissemination, thus a robust ecclesiology as a part of the gospel message serves to prepare the hearer more fully for what it means to follow God both in relationship and on mission. Sons and daughters in covenantal relationship with their God bear a unique and powerful identity that shapes how they behave. We are ambassadors for Christ through which God makes his reconciliatory appeal to rebellious people (2 Corinthians 5:17-20). We become a part of God’s covenant people—sojourners and exiles here—that we may “proclaim his excellencies” and others “may glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:9-12). The message I preached to the man on the bus lent itself to what Michael Horton calls a “contractual ecclesiology,” making the church “not only dispensable but perhaps also a hindrance to personal growth” (170-171). No wonder the man with whom I shared the gospel was always ready to have coffee with me—and ready to bounce when the rest of the church showed up!
Don’t get us wrong, we are fans of storying, and also of C2C. We’re merely asking some questions: Could it be better? Would it be a helpful move to call it Creation to Church? What would it look like for the story of redemption to include the church? Well, here’s our brief shot at it, ready for your customization for your own personal use.
Creation to Church: Succinctly Telling the Story of Redemption
At the very beginning of time, God was there, and there was nothing else, only God. He spoke, and when he did, he created the universe and everything in it. Then he decided to make a special creation: man. So, God created man and woman. He had a perfect relationship with them. He walked with them, talked with them, and took care of them.
God gave the man and woman a command to never eat fruit from a special tree. They obeyed him, until one day a serpent came to the woman and tempted her to eat from the tree. The woman did eat fruit from the tree and gave some to her husband, who also ate it. They disobeyed God. Disobeying God is called sin. Their sin ruined their relationship with God. They were hopelessly separated from him.
The man and woman had children. Their children had children, and their children had children, until all the earth was filled with people. But, just like the first man and woman, they continued to sin and be separated from God. However, God never forgot his special creation. He graciously chose a man named Abraham whose descendants would be God’s people. God gave them a great law to remind them that they needed God. But the people not only broke God’s law, they worshipped other gods.
God also gave them a way to be forgiven when they broke his law. They could sacrifice a perfect lamb or bull, and the blood would pay the price for their sin. But the people just kept on sinning and making empty sacrifices that weren’t from their hearts. The blood of many animals wasn’t enough to save them.
God also sent special messengers, called prophets, who reminded the people of God’s love. The prophets told the people that God was going to send them a Savior who could free them from sin and death forever. But the people didn’t just ignore the prophets; they even killed many of them.
But God still sent the Savior. The Savior is Jesus Christ, and he is Gods very own Son. He was born so that he would be fully man, but also born of a virgin so that he would not come from the same sinful seed as man. He proved he was the Savior not just because he lived a sinless life, but also because he taught many great things and did many miracles. Some people followed him, but many were jealous of him because he said that he was the only way to God, and that he and God were the same. So the very people that Jesus came to save put him on trial. He was beaten beyond recognition and nailed to a cross until he died. Why did the sinless Savior die? Remember how the blood of many animal sacrifices wasn’t enough to save people when they broke God’s law? Jesus kept the law perfectly, so his blood was a perfect sacrifice, and enough to save anyone who turns from trying to make heaven on their own and believes in him!
Jesus proved that he can save anyone because after three days he rose again from the dead. He showed himself to his followers, and told them he would soon send them his Spirit to be with them always. When he did send the Holy Spirit, his followers were filled with life and began telling everyone about Jesus the Savior. Three thousand people repented, believed, and were baptized together on the very first day! They devoted themselves to Jesus’ teaching by meeting together and sharing everything they had. They also warned people that Jesus is coming again soon, not as a suffering servant but as a conquering King who will judge the world rightly.
Before Jesus ascended to heaven he told a story about a great father. This father had a young son. The son demanded his inheritance and then wasted it in a faraway country on wild living. He quickly ran out of money, plus there was famine in the land, so he ended up slopping pigs and starving. He decided to go home and beg his father to be a hired hand, but along the way his father saw him in the distance and ran to him. He gave him new clothes, shoes, and a ring, and threw a huge party, saying, “My son was lost, but now is found.” His older brother, who had never disobeyed his father, was angry at his father’s grace. The father in this story is like God, who graciously welcomes home his lost children. The sons are like us, who are far away from our Father, whether we’ve lived wild lives or been really good. If we need proof that God runs to us when we’re far away, then we know it’s true because he’s given up his very own Son. That’s just how much he wants us reconciled to him and to one another in his family, the church.