This Sunday, as we gathered for worship, a member of our church approached me and asked if I would lead the congregation in prayer for his friend whose son died in a car accident. He was 21.
I asked God to provide his family with supernatural comfort and peace. As I did so, I realized just how often we pray: Lord, bring peace. Bring peace to those affected by the hurricane, to victims of sexual abuse and assault, to the poor and vulnerable, to those who bear the brunt of injustice.
Burdened by the weight of the tragedy, I prayed, How long, O Lord? which then led me to cry out, Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus. Bring with you the fullness of your kingdom, our hope. Sorrow led to lament; lament, to eschatological hope.
But something else happened as we prayed. I realized that this church, gathered in solidarity and prayer, is a small foretaste of the comfort to come. The local church is a glimpse of future hope. It is deeply eschatological, and this is good news.
The Church Is Eschatological
In Revelation 21, John sees the city of God descending from heaven and describes it as “a bride adorned for her husband.” This city is the bride of Christ, the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes. John’s eschatological vision, full of hope and wonder, centers on Jesus but climaxes with the revelation of his church. The church is the city to come.
As we plant churches, we’re bringing a taste of the future to a world trapped in sin.
Local churches, then, are eschatological communities—small, scattered foretastes of the future. They rest in a future hope, work toward a future goal, and preview a future reality.
Church planting, then, is a profoundly eschatological exercise. As we plant churches, we’re bringing a taste of the future to a world trapped in sin. Here are two ways that a church is a vision of the future.
1. Eschatological vision of family
I remind my church regularly that we are not like a family; we are a family. We are brothers and sisters, adopted by the Father, through the blood of the Son (Eph. 1:5), and sealed by the Spirit (Rom. 8:16). We are God’s household (1 Tim. 3:15).
This is both a present and also a future reality. God is gathering a people for himself now. He is adopting children into his covenant family. And we, along with all creation, eagerly await the future revelation of the children of God (Rom. 8:19). It’s easy to miss how powerful this vision is.
A recent study named our city, Washington D.C., the second loneliest in the United States. When you add the divisions exacerbated by economic and educational disparity, gentrification, political tension, and racial distrust, you get a city filled with people looking for true, lasting community. Amid that, we get to be and plant churches that picture the eschatological family of God comprising people from every ethnic group (Rev. 7:9), gender, and socio-economic stratum (Gal. 3:28).
In the early stages of our church plant, we gathered in smaller groups for dinner parties. Four to six members would get together in a home with the intention of inviting four to six people from outside the church. These groups weren’t novel, but it was remarkable how often non-Christians would comment that they rarely got invited to someone’s home for dinner, let alone sit around a table with people who look, believe, and even vote differently from them.
2. Eschatological vision of society
I love utopian movies. They paint a picture of what society could be at its best. Yet, embedded in each of them is the understanding that these perfect worlds, these inventions of humanity, are frail and finally fraudulent. The hope of the ideal captivates, but we know it’s too good to be true.
We know this because we’ve seen it. Political parties, national identity, and economic theories all present an eschatological vision of the world. They promise a better, brighter future. But none delivers.
Scripture promises a society that outdoes the best utopian vision and yet is neither frail nor fraudulent, since its architect is God.
That’s what’s amazing about Scripture. It promises a society that outdoes the best utopian vision and yet is neither frail nor fraudulent, since its architect is God (Heb. 11:10). Consider the Bible’s eschatological vision of society:
- No need for weapons (Isaiah 2:4) or closed gates (Rev. 21:25) because there is perfect peace.
- No poverty (Rev. 7:16) because there is perfect prosperity.
- No mourning, crying, or death (Rev. 21:4) because there is perfect harmony.
- No sin because there is perfect righteousness.
And there, right in the middle, is God, dwelling with his people. What’s remarkable is that Jesus calls his followers a city on a hill. His church is a foretaste of that city. As we proclaim the gospel, pursue righteousness, do justice and mercy, love our enemies, and make peace, we showcase this vision of God’s new society to the world.
The early church lived this reality, and it made them an anomaly. They were a Jewish sect who accepted Gentiles. They welcomed outcasts, the sick, women, even slaves. They called each other brother and sister. They were radically devoted to holiness and justice. They held everything in common and met one another’s needs. They presented to the world a new society formed and shaped by Jesus. They obeyed the Greatest Commandment (Matt. 22:36–40) and the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16–20).
Church Planting Is Eschatological
The apostles understood this was embedded in the mission Jesus gave them. This was disciple-making: seeing people enter the covenantal, eschatological family of God (baptizing them) and living as God’s new, eschatological society (teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded). They knew the proliferation of churches was the best way to accomplish this goal, so they planted church after church—big and small, urban and rural—as outposts of a kingdom that is both here and yet to come.
Church planting rests in a future hope, works toward a future goal, and presents a powerful vision of a future reality.
Our prayer continues to be, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Until then, let’s be the church. And let’s plant churches that bring a taste of the hope of glory into the present darkness.