Close Your Church for Good, Chap 3, Sec 7. This is the concluding section in a chapter called “Your Church Must Die.” So far we have seen that the church seeks honor and glory, but in all the wrong places. This final section in the chapter shows how Jesus, through His incarnation gained glory, and how we can too.
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Incarnation within a dying world also requires identification with the world in its pain, fear, rejection, sorrow, and ultimately, death. There is no truly human existence without such things. Therefore, a desire to be incarnational requires a headlong race toward death. However, embracing pain and death takes vision.
Many churches talk about vision casting, and this generally means envisioning how big and influential the church can be in ten or twenty years, and then deciding what steps need to be taken to get there. While it is true that “Without vision, the people perish” it is also true that the wrong vision leads the people astray. The vision of most churches focuses on imagining a glorious future where they grow and expand their ministries, programs, building size, and Sunday attendance. Maybe the church needs a new vision—the vision of Jesus.
The vision of Jesus for His earthly ministry can be summarized in one word: death. What was the way forward for Jesus? It was away from glory, away from riches, away from honor and fame. From very early in His ministry, Jesus began talking about His death as the reason why He came.
Of course, it must be recognized that the death of Jesus was not the end of the Incarnation, but the ultimate expression of it. It was in the death, the shame, the horror, and the pain of the cross that Jesus revealed another aspect of the character of God. Jesus revealed that God is a God who dies for the sake of others.
And so death was not the end, either of Jesus or the Incarnation. It was just the beginning. After three days, Jesus rose from death, and after appearing to and encouraging many of His followers, ascended into heaven and was glorified to the right hand of God the Father. This also was part of the incarnation.
The church sees the glory of the resurrected Savior, and cries out, “Yes! That is what we want! That is our vision! May the glory of God cover the earth in and through the church!” But we have forgotten that glory for Jesus only followed humiliation and death. And so it will be for the church. To go forward to glory, we must go back to death. To reach glory, we must die. Like Jesus, we must spread out our arms in victorious defeat, let out a trembling sigh, and utter those words which make the devil shudder to this very day: “It is finished.” Only then, once we die, can we hope for resurrection.
So remove your life support. Turn off the iron lung. Pull the plug. Your church must die.