Lesslie Newbigin, a missionary with decades of service in India who then came to America, observed and asserted that the only interpretation "of the gospel is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it."
In chapter 18 of his book The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, he goes on to describe six characteristics of this kind of community that believes Jesus and lives by his words and deeds.
The first one: "it will be a community of praise and thanksgiving."
The second characteristic: "it will be a community of truth. "
The third: "it will be a community that does not live for itself but is deeply involved in the concerns of its neighborhood."
Fourthly: "it will be a community where men and women are prepared for and sustained in the excercise of the priesthood in the world."
The fifth characteristic: "it will be a community of mutual responsibility."
Sixthly: "And finally, it will be a community of hope."
This characteristic hits close to home for me, and for the identity of our church. Anchor Community Church gets it's name from Hebrews 6:19 "we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." From the beginning Anchor has sought to be a community of people who add hope to people's lives.
Newbigin comments on the increasing amounts of despair, darkness, and pessimism that hangs around our conversations, our movies, our newsstories, and our homes. So how is a church to be a community of hope? One way is for us to keep remembering - as well as helping others understand - that life is not about a struggle between good and evil. Evil is very powerful and pervasive in this world.
Rather than seek hope in our work for progress or in reincarnation, as Christians our hope is rooted in our trust towards our Creator who is ALWAYS at work in this world - in his work of Redemption. Redemption is that work which reclaims from from evil and renews what was corrupted. Evil will be pervasive till the End of All Things. But one day evil will come to an end, and the ongoing, everyday redemption will be complete. Nebigin writes:
"...the gospel offers an understanding of the human situation which makes it possible to be filled with a hope which is both eager and patient in the most hopeless situations."
Where we work, where we play, where we shop, where we live, where we pray - these people are who we seek to fill with hope by how we interact with them, the kind of wisdom we share with them, the respsonse to their crisis, the everyday comments about inconveniences and global tragedies. How can your strong Hope in an always-working God of Redemption make your words as salt and light to the people who speak to in everyday situations? This is one of the best ways that we build our community of hope.
He closes the chapter and the call to be a community of hope with these thoughts:
If the gospel is to challenge the public life of our society...then it will only be by movements that begin with the local congregation in which the reality of the new creation is present, known, and experienced, and from which men and women will go into every sector of public life to claim it for Christ, to unmask the illusions which have remained hidden and to expose all areas of public life to the illumination of the gospel.
But that will only happen as and when local congregations renounce an introverted concern for their own life, and recognize that they exist for the sake of those who are not members, as sign, instrument, and foretaste of God's redeeming grace for the whole life of society.