Since the Church Is of God
Thursday, May 31, 2012
“He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:5 RSV).
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:3-10
In one of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons, Lucy shouts, “Do you understand?” Linus puts his hands over his ears and says, “Yes. I understand! You don’t have to yell at me!” Lucy reflects. “Perhaps you’re right. . Perhaps I shouldn’t yell at you so much, but I feel that if I talked to you quietly as I am doing now [and again she shouts], you’d never listen!”
This is reminiscent of generations of robust, aggressive, evangelical Protestant preaching. The practice of “laying the truth on the line” and turning up the volume is not to be downgraded if done with integrity. Most of us have heard the story of the preacher who wrote on the margin of his sermon notes, “Weak argument-get louder here.” Christianity is more than something to be preached and something to be heard. Kierkegaard pointed this out: “Christianity, by becoming a direct communication, is altogether destroyed. It becomes a superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting wounds, nor of healing them.”
We who have been redeemed through Jesus Christ are the church of God, and therefore it is our responsibility to go beyond “turning up the volume” when presenting God’s Word. When we become Christians, we step into a sacred community where we are to serve others. The church is of God, not of human origin.
1) Since the church is of God, we should not resist self-examination.
The quaint old church on Main Street or in the suburbs, U.S.A., is facing many crises. The church has been a captive church swallowed up in a middle-class culture. Often it has acted as if its sole task is to do whatever the world wants done and to do it on the world’s terms. Afraid to live in terms of its own integrity, the church adopts what has been called a “flirtatious response,” trying to con the world into noticing its presence by all kinds of tricks.
In Robert Bolt’s drama A Man for All Seasons, the concluding scene has the Common Man step to the edge of the stage just after the godly Thomas More has been beheaded for defying for conscience’ sake the wrathful Henry VIII. The Common Man says to the stunned audience: “I’m breathing. . Are you breathing, too? . . It’s nice, isn’t it? It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends-just don’t make trouble-or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected.”
Here is our problem, at least in part. Any trouble the church has caused modern society is the kind that is expected, like passing resolutions at conventions. Jesus came to bring a sword, but we have been busy pin-pricking. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, but we have only hinted gently that they might be offending God. Lukewarmness often is considered virtuous; economic and social application of the gospel is sometimes rejected as subversive, as though communist inspired. Ministers, in far too many instances, have unwittingly sold out in the defense of an oppressive status quo and then wondered why their members ask, especially before the new wears off, “Have you heard our fine preacher?” Our Christian fathers in the first century did not flinch at the charge that they “upset the world”! What heirs we have turned out to be! We cannot bring ourselves to upset the apple cart, let alone the world.
Self-examination is necessary for the church in each generation. Some good and exciting things are taking place now as a result of such reflection. More good things ought yet to come.
2) Since the church is of God, it must learn and remember what God wants it to be.
The New Testament records the early Christians’ convictions about the purpose of the Christian life, community, and witness. It is more of a shout of joy than a closely reasoned theological argument. It invites people to come and see what God has done in Jesus Christ.
In the opening sentences of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he is refreshing the memory of his readers of their joy in their newfound faith, and then he gives this reason for it. “[God] destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ . . for he has made known to us . . [his] plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him” (Eph. 1:5, 9-10 RSV). God is summing up all things in Jesus Christ; he is bringing all things into clear focus in him. All things, as they are brought into their true relationship with him, also are brought into their true relationship to one another and so into an all-embracing harmony.
These early Christians meant business when they said they had found God in Christ or had been found by God in Christ. The one whom they called Lord was Lord in fact as well as name, not only of their lives but of the entire universe. Such a saving experience and such a sense of mission ushered them into a community, the church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The church is not a chance creation of a group of people who happened to make up their minds that they wanted to stand for certain things. They found a mission for living and the strength to carry that mission to the ends of the earth. We belong to the church not simply when our names are on the membership book but when we feel deeply a part of the power of the love of God that brings all things into focus in Jesus Christ.
Now in Conclusion
When you choose Christ in such a way that he truly becomes the center of your life, you put yourself in the sphere where you not only act but are acted upon. This kind of living is not passive. It goads you to your best and haunts you at your worst. It summons you up into what you could be and to forgive what you have been. It invites you to compassion and brings pain upon you. It bids you laugh at your own insignificance; it gives you a sense of your own importance. It calls you into the lives of the unlovable; it enables you to get along without their love. It drives you to the heart of sorrow; it puts you alongside joy as well. Since the church is of God, be a part of it.
God bless you all,