The Apostle Paul said, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). And what was that promise?
- Descendants and land. A people and a place.
- Greatness and blessings in general.
- Justice. Holding the world accountable for its treatment of God’s covenant people.
- And lastly, that “all the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:3)
In the Christian view, the church stands in continuity with the people of God from Abraham to Moses to the kings, priests, prophets and sages of the Old Testament. The various threads of the Old Testament story begin with Abraham and come to full maturity in Christ Jesus, who continues to exercise his many offices in the church until he comes again.
God is fulfilling – in a small way – part of his promise to Abraham through Christian chaplains, spiritual heirs of the patriarch who bless the world beyond the local church. Christian chaplains are a gift from the church to the world. Just as the church’s committee on relief unconditionally feeds, shelters and nurses the hungry, the sick and the injured, so our chaplains care for those with inward hungers and wounds.
Notice that I said that chaplains are a partial fulfillment of God’s promise. All baptized Christians who do good and provide value to the secular communities in which they live fulfill the promise of Genesis 12:3. That applies to those who dedicate their lives to humanitarian efforts, but it also applies to farmers, carpenters, shopkeepers, teachers and magistrates who simply live honorable and righteous lives. It doesn’t take a special gift, calling or training to bless the world around you. Individually, God’s people should all be making the world a better place whatever their vocation. We are all salt and light, with God working in and through us to love our neighbors.
Those whom the church calls, trains and commissions for specialized ministries in the world express the corporate side of that blessing. Laity and clergy work in organized missions and ministries to help the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the uneducated. Countless church members volunteer in congregational programs organized for similar ends.
Chaplains, ordained and endorsed by the church, likewise care for hospital patients, prison inmates and military service members regardless of religious affiliation, simply based on the person’s need. In all of these, the church corporately attempts to bless the people of the world in Christ’s name.
And while the church and its members unconditionally bless the people of world in which they live, they also individually and corporately invite people to faithful allegiance to Jesus Christ in union with his church. The church proclaims the gospel, teaches the faith, baptizes new believers, incorporates them into vital congregations and worships God at the table in the name of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. In these actions, too, God blesses the world through those who by faith are sons and daughters of Abraham.
Chaplains, as preachers and worship leaders in chapel, also participate in this aspect of the church’s ministry in the world. They may even lead people into an explicit relationship with Christ and his church in their work as caregivers. Pray that it happens more often! But regardless of whether the caring relationship leads to new or renewed allegiance to Jesus, the church still cares.
The church’s corporate caring ministries are only one aspect of its life in the world, but it’s an important part. And it happens to be the part in which I’ve spent most of my life.