In June of 2007, after many years of starts and stops, I finally completed the requirements for my master’s program and received my degree. My master’s thesis was a directed reading focusing on the works of Lesslie Newbigin, a highly influential missionary, pastor and world church leader in the middle to late 20th century.
Newbigin, upon returning to his native land of England after thirty years in India, was appalled and dismayed to see that due to the decline of the church and the rise materialism, secularism and pluralism, his own country had become a mission field in desperate need of a fresh witness to the unique, saving truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The compelling question for Newbigin was what form should or could this witness take in a civilization that had been the cradle of Christianity in the West and the impetus for much of the missionary work around the world, but had now lost faith, or at least interest, in the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”1 While listening to a talk at a high level missions conference, Newbigin recounted that the noteworthy leader seated next to him summarized Newbigin’s concern with the comment, “The real question is ‘Can the West be converted?’” Can a culture who has heard and even responded to the message of God’s love in Christ, but which has now turned away due to religious abuse, cultural distraction or the “acids of modernity,” as Newbign liked to say, be convinced anew that God is good and the Jesus is trustworthy. Newbigin’s concern and his colleague’s question are as relevant for the Church in 21st century America as they were for 20th century England.
The claims of Christ are exclusive and universal. Jesus claimed to be the unique path to peace with God and each other, saying of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”2 And in commissioning his disciples for carrying on his work in the world he gave them this charge: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”3 But what of a nation that has heard, experienced and turned away?
After much thought, prayer and work, especially among the poor of his home area of England, Newbigin came to a sobering conclusion: The light of the gospel could be rekindled in the lands and among the people where Jesus was once greatly adored and faithfully followed only through transformative community.4 Here is Lesslie in his own words.
“How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer…is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it…Jesus…did not write a book but formed a community.”5
Today, in this time, 2017, and this place called La Mesa, California, in this church family that we call Central Congregational Church, we are that transformative community – that congregation of men and women that truly believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be, that he is now the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and are seeking to live lives of love in accordance with his teaching and example as the Holy Spirit enables us.
At least that’s what Jesus calls us to, and what he promises is the foundation of our witness to our community and the world. Jesus makes this declaration most clearly in John chapter thirteen where, after washing his disciple’s feet he states:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.”6
It excites me and humbles me that this is exactly the dynamic that I see coming to fruition in our congregation. And, I thank God that he has brought us together as his transformative community for his glory and the good of our neighbors near and far.
 Philippians 3:14
 John 14:6
 Matthew 28:18-19
 My paraphrase of Newbigin’s idea.
 Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, p.227.
 John 13:34-35