There was a time when we thought our job was to get people to heaven. Then we somehow became convinced that our job was to bring heaven to earth.
Wrong on both counts. We’re not in charge of heaven.
I’ll leave the debate about New Earth theology for another day. For now, when I’m talking about getting people to heaven, I’m using that to mean “get people saved.” I’m a strong proponent of evangelism. I think it’s central to the identity of the church. A church that isn’t sharing its faith isn’t imitating Christ.
That said, we were never in charge of salvation. Some of us would like to be, proclaiming this person saved and that person lost. But there’s only one Judge.
We can help people come to know Jesus, help people see how to respond to Him, help people grow in their relationship with Him. But we can’t save. And we can’t see other people’s hearts; God knows those that are His.
A reaction to an over-emphasis on man-defined salvation was to say that the church is supposed to be bringing heaven to earth. That comes from what Jesus prayed in the Model Prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That part of the prayer is plucked out and made into a command for the church. You hear few people talking about how our main task is to obtain our daily bread. When we pray for forgiveness in the Model Prayer, we understand that we are seeking the forgiveness that only God can give. So why do we think we are supposed to bring heaven to earth?
We should live out the values of God’s Kingdom. We are to live as citizens of heaven even as we sojourn on earth. But only God can bring heaven to earth.
Where these two viewpoints hurt us is when they are set against one another, viewing our task as either evangelism or the promotion of justice. Both tasks are part of who we are as Christians. We try to live like Christ, we proclaim Christ, and we point others to Christ.
And God remains in charge of heaven.