Francis and the Challenge of the Gospel graphic

Last week, Pope Francis addressed the highest seat of our nation’s legislative government. He has been called “the people’s Pope” by many of his observers.

When installed as Pope, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the name Francis. Naming himself after Francis of Assisi, Bergoglio said, “For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.”1

In accord with his symbolic name, Pope Francis engages in symbolic actions. For example, instead of dining with dignitaries after addressing Congress, the people’s Pope had lunch with the poor at the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Pope Francis is trying to inspire his flock, and he is leading with word and with deeds.

I see that our understanding of the gospel is particularly relevant for our work as church leaders in an urban context. Our ministry is to proclaim the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, to engage our culture with the gospel, and to encourage the local church to do the same.

The Kingdom of God is often thought of as a future place, which we sometimes refer to as paradise. Reading Isaiah chapters 11 and 65, we catch a glimpse of this future paradise. Heaven is a place where there will be no more untimely deaths, cursed environments, economic oppression, or social violence; the full experience of the presence of God will be available to us. We also understand that the Kingdom of God is not only a future hope, but to some extent, a present reality that has been inaugurated in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Which aspects of life that are fully redeemed in heaven should we work to instantiate in our present time? Christ’s Kingdom agenda includes redemption for the souls of people, the brokenness of our physical bodies and earth, and our distorted social structures.

The Church resists all the works of Satan, the effects of sin, and the curse in all its forms. We stand against humanity’s separation from God, the decay of the body, the pollution of the earth, oppressive economic structures, segregation, and violence. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection secure the redemption of all things broken by sin and the curse. The mission of the Church is to boldly proclaim that gospel in word and deed, calling fallen people to even now begin instantiating God’s salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.

Leaders of the Church should inspire followers of Christ to pursue a full Kingdom agenda. We should faithfully proclaim all the realities of salvation and lead others by example to experience these realities. We should teach and inspire the Church to engage in all the redemptive activity of the gospel.

The salvation that Christ has wrought includes the rescue of all things from the effects of sin and the curse. May the Lord cause His Church to be a redemptive presence on the earth and proclaim the great salvation of Christ.

1 “Saint Francis of Assisi Inspired the Pope—and Me” by Kennedy Warne, National Geographic

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