Being Human, Becoming Imago Dei – Part 20: The Ministry of the Imago Dei

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Why minister? preach? Why is it necessary to be a witness? Certainly there is the teaching function of it, sharing with a group of people new information or a fresh perspective. There is also the edifying function, uplifting and inspiring the people in their walks of life. But neither of these functions are unique to Christian witness alone. Even the in the secular world, teachers can expound wisdom, and speakers can encourage the masses. Christian preaching, therefore, has some additional function—additional purpose, and that is to transform lives, but not only that. Preaching ultimately is a participation in the restoration of the world and the creation of harmony.

In order to understand the purpose of Christian preaching, one should first look at what Christ preached. Mark 1:14-15 states, “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is a hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” The gospel, the good news that he speaks, concerns the coming of God’s kingdom, that which was anticipated by the Old Testament prophets. Throughout the synoptic gospels, the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God are central to Christ’s discussions and parables; most of what he had to say dealt with the entry into the kingdom. It is both something that already exists—“the kingdom of God is in your midst” (Luke 17:21)—and something that is yet to be fully realized. Revelation says, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15). Moreover, this coincides with Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…,” which, in turn intends to fulfill Isaiah 65:17, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” Altogether, by Christ preaching the gospel, that is the coming of the kingdom of God, he is speaking of a restoration of creation. This is also visible in Romans 8:19 and 21: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the [children] of God…because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” The purpose of bringing people into a participation with this life is why Christ preached.

Christ’s preaching, is transferred to his disciples. In the Great Commission, he states, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…” (Matthew 28:19). And in other places, when the disciples are sent out, he says, “…preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8). The Gospel of Luke likewise closely relates preaching the kingdom and healing as the purpose of the disciple’s ministry (9:2, 9:11, 10:9), as it was for Christ. Healing, of course, is the restoration of the body, and the many healings were signs of the kingdom’s presence.

But, besides healing, baptism is an important component of preaching the gospel, made available to those who receive the gospel. According to Paul, baptism is a participation, symbolically enacted, in the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12). Thus baptism is meant to mark a person’s own recreation or restoration. Moreover, it unites one to Christ, dying with him and thereafter being raised with him (Romans 6:5). Being united, baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13), those baptized become children of God, as Christ was the child of God, “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs of Christ…,” thereby receiving the kingdom. What is more, if part of ministry is to baptize people, it should be more than guiding them through a ritual. Rather, to baptize someone is to take an active part in their transformative process, to support them and encourage them through the stages of dying an renewal (see Parts 16, 17, and 18)—which is, of course, to participate in someone’s healing.

But baptism is also associated with the power of the Holy Spirit. In all the gospels and Acts, it is said, in some form or another, that John baptized with water, but that the one who came after him—Christ—would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33, Acts 1:5). According to many interpreters, such a baptism takes place on Pentecost when the followers of Jesus “were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). And throughout the book of Acts, the Spirit is shown to be active through the hands of the apostles, giving them the ability to heal and raise the dead. It can also be posited that the Holy Spirit is also the Spirit of God that first hovered over the waters in Genesis 1:2, therein being present at creation, if not a force of creation. The Hebrew word ruach can mean “breath” as much as it does “spirit,” and in a few places in the Old Testament, ruach is used to denote the “breath of life” (Genesis 6:17, 7:15; Ezekiel 37) something that would have been given by God’s Spirit in order to animate life. This is to say that if the Spirit of creation and the Holy Spirit are one and the same, then the role of the Holy Spirit has always been to enact life or new life. Therefore, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit is, in a manner of speaking, to be given the power of creation itself, which may be part and parcel of the original intention for humankind made in the image of God—to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, [having] dominion…” (Genesis 1:28). Human being were meant to be, in a sense, co-creators. Baptism of the Holy Spirit, following baptism and initiation into the body of Christ, restores a piece of that original role.

Preaching, then, should be directed at the continuation of creation. When Christ preached concerning the kingdom of heaven, he referred to the world about to be recreated. As an expression of this reality, Christ healed and did other miracles to restore life and health. Then he gave the commission to his disciples so that they may go and do the same. Such is the continued task of the preacher—to act as a vessel of the Spirit to restore and recreate.

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