One last post this week will give you just a bit more from my sermon this past Sunday. Enjoy!
We might be less inclined to think the Church unnecessary if we experienced Christian discipleship like so many throughout history, or even those overseas, where persecution means so much more than someone else sitting in the pew you normally occupy or the sale at the Christian bookstore not including the series of novels you’re currently reading.
If we found ourselves depending on the encouragement of our brothers and sisters and looking for another illegal copy of the scriptures, we might see a weekly meeting as irreplaceable instead of a check on our to-do list, something to be done before enjoying the rest of our day. Seeing Church as a means of survival instead of something to be survived changes everything.
What does God want to accomplish through the Church?
A look throughout scripture gives us a picture of what God is imagining the Church to be.
The Body – In multiple verses, perhaps most famously in 1 Corinthians 12, we are called the body of Christ. Unique like the parts that make up our physical body, we find our ultimate fulfillment when we work together, understanding that none of us live well without the others, and always keeping in mind that Christ is the head of this body. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:23, “Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” Paul, in Corinthians, even goes so far as to say that when one part suffers, all suffer. (12:26)
The Bride – God also pictures us as a bride. Let’s not underestimate the value of a bride and subject her to being simply something pretty to look at. Without a bride, a marriage does not happen. Again, from Paul in Ephesians 5:31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.”
The Family of God – Closely connected to both of these pictures is the idea that the Church is a family. "So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” Ephesians 2:19.
Do you see what these pictures have in common? It is a picture of unity. The body doesn't work unless it all works together. A bride and husband do not get along unless they get along together. And family? We don't have to look very far before we see that family becomes very complicated unless we get along.
It is a grand picture of unity, which is what Jesus prayed for us in John 17. This is not unity for the sake of window dressing. Notice Jesus prayed for unity so that the world would know God loves them.
Why don't we see this unity? Perhaps because, unlike the persistent widow that Jesus talked about, we haven't wanted this long enough to continue asking for it. We might ask for it once or twice, but have we shown how serious we are in deciding that enough is enough and asking God for this, together, time and time and time again. Because that is when we will show ourselves to be serious about the things that God is serious about.
The Holy Christian Church is the embodiment of the next phrase used in the Apostle’s Creed.
The Communion of Saints means that every Christian believer is spiritually connected to every other Christian believer throughout the world. That spiritual connection exists through our common adoption into the family of God and the worldwide presence of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul acknowledged this fact when he addressed the believers at Corinth as “the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.” 1 Corinthians 1:2
This, of course, can be taken in a positive way or a negative way. There is something great about being part of something bigger than ourselves. When the Church behaves like it should, we see amazing things happen, as all of us together accomplish more than any one of us could as individuals.
On the other hand, it also means that we throw our names in to the same group as those we read about in newspapers. One person on the internet rants about whatever it is they wish to rant about and then adds an exclamation point, proclaiming their words to represent Christ and His Church. Meanwhile the rest of us want to go hide under a rock.
One person speaks and the rest of us are left answering 'Do all Christians believe that?' to our searching friends. Dan Bernard put it this way:
Remember putting your face above a headless frame painted to represent a muscle man, a clown, or even a bathing beauty? Many of us have had our pictures taken this way, and the photos are humorous because the head doesn't fit the body. If we could picture Christ as the head of our local body of believers, would the world laugh at the misfit? Or would they stand in awe of a human body so closely related to a divine head?