Hello! My name is Greg Hoenes, and I have the privilege of serving Christ in the context of ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In my role as director of the West Region of the Southern California Conference, I get to pastor pastors, encourage churches, and create opportunities for creative engagement with the challenges and opportunities our society and church face.
Amongst our core values, which you'll find in the “Mission & Vision” portion of our website, is core value #2: "Engagement." A gift to us from John Cress, our current conference executive secretary, who brought us this language from a church he previously pastored. It reads: We will do anything short of sin to reach people who don't know Christ. To reach people no one is reaching, we will have to be fully engaged, doing things no one is doing.
There's no question this is a radical aspirational statement! But I believe it's key to any success the church may have in the future. Here's why: Our faith, the Christian faith, is based upon one highly improbable, incredibly daring, overwhelmingly risky proposition: that the Son of God would become the Son of Man, and make (as the Gospel of John in chapter 1 notes) His dwelling with us. Christ, the Creator, became an inhabitant of the Earth He created. In order to save the world, which He loved (John 3), He came to it as one of us.
The Incarnation (taking on of flesh) of Christ is the basis of the incarnational gospel and incarnational approach to ministry and evangelism, which essentially says that as Christ became one of us, sin for us, we must be the hands and face of Christ to all we meet, everyone we encounter. As He fearlessly entered our space, our world, we—His followers—must fearlessly enter spaces where He's not known—and “incarnate"—be the body of Christ—the person of Christ—to all whom we meet.
Understanding "sin" here is vital. Many people familiar with Scripture would define sin as the "breaking of the law." While biblical, the definition tends to bleed into civic, societal laws born of legislatures and council zones and codes. The text is speaking of the law of God.
I think it's useful to understand "sin" as "rebellion" against God and the fall to violence against one another in all its forms. My fear is that too many of us will take the phrase "short of sin" and define as sin things which aren't. It's a real temptation to build rules of engagement, spaces of safety, prohibitions against those things which aren't actually sin, but brush up against sin—or sit right beside it. We like margins of comfort and safety. We don't like the appearance of evil.
Our core value of engagement challenges us to think through how we understand sin, and what it means to be as Christ was, Christ—whose good works were ascribed to Satan (Beelzebub Matthew 12:24), who was accused of being a "drunkard and a glutton" (Matthew 11:19), criticized as a Sabbath breaker and friend of prostitutes and tax collectors. He did what no one else was doing. He went where it wasn't safe. He stood with people who were universally condemned.
What would happen if we took incarnational ministry seriously? Where would we go, whom would we meet up with, who would we be reaching out to if we weren't concerned with appearances—only with bringing the saving presence of Christ to them? What would our churches be like if we were "fully engaged"?
My hope is that you are, or will vow to be, a fully engaged follower of Jesus, ready to embody the gospel to all whom God puts in your path. I look for the day when sin is not a label put on just anything but is taken seriously as that which distances us from the life of God and desensitizes us to love's power and grace's efficacy. My prayer is that this aspirational value will become a reality, and that we'll go into the highways and byways—inviting all to Christ's welcoming table of the forgiven and freed.
Thanks for watching! Until next time, this is In Touch.