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Christian Mission to the West : The Parable of Fire

The disciples and their master spent several days in Newport, Wales.  They enjoyed a meal at a Thai restaurant on Cardiff Road, and then they went around the corner and began to wander down Commercial Street.  They soon stood before a stately church building with stained glass windows built in the gothic style in the early 1800s.   In front of the building was a large sign stating that the building was for sale.

One of the disciples said, ‘How sad it is to see another church close.’  The master replied, ‘This is a building, not a church.  The church that worshipped here has not closed but is worshiping in Spirit and in truth without its old building not far from here.  But the Church of Wales is dying year by year because it has, by and large, failed to worship in Spirit and in truth,[1] except for several faithful congregations that continue in the orthodox Christian faith.’

‘Is this why we wander throughout Wales?’ asked one of the disciples.  ‘Yes,’ said the master.  ‘Just as Jesus could find no home in either the synagogues or the Temple in Jerusalem but wandered through the villages and hills of Galilee with faithful followers, so now Christians are finding it necessary to minister outside the walls of established institutions today.  This is why we have a roving ministry.’

The disciples and their master walked further down Commercial Street.  The master said, ‘What is the Church?  It is not a building.  It is not an institution.  Denominations are not the Church; they are para-church organizations.  So, what is the Church?’  Then he taught them a parable, saying, ‘The Church is like fire.  You can see it, but you cannot touch it.  When it is fed with dry wood and fanned to life with the wind, it burns brightly.  It is powerful enough to purify and transform things, and yet you can kill it if you throw earth onto it.  It brings light and destroys the darkness.  Without its warmth, you may well die. You cannot hold it in your hands, and yet it can be moved from one place to another.  And it often is.’ 

Then he said, ‘You will find the Church where the Spirit of the Lord fans truth into purifying and transforming flames that bring warmth and life to the community of Christ.’  They turned onto Bridge Street.  ‘And that,’ he concluded, ‘is why the Church cannot be held in one institution or building and why it is often moved from one place to another.  Do not for a moment imagine that its survival is maintained by trying to mix God’s Word with the sand of this world’s false teaching, which will only snuff out the truth and divide the community.’

[1] Cf. John 4:23-24.