April 2010


Paul’s concentrated vision of the Church in the eternal purpose of God: what every Christian should know about the Church.

 

St. Paul's Ephesian Vision of the Church

I recently had an opportunity to present the E4Unity vision to a local assembly of Christians. It gave me a chance to do a personal review here in 2010 of where we have been with this blog and where I want to focus on going forward.

My thoughts as well as my main speaking points came from the first three chapters of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I was reminded once again at just how concentrated the Apostle’s thoughts are in this particular letter regarding the over-riding vision that gave direction to his own sense of purpose and responsibility.

In those first three chapters, the major subjects seem to me to be- 1) The eternal purpose of God that He has designed for His own pleasure and including all things, both in heaven and on earth (Ephesians 1-3).       2) This purpose centers in His Son Jesus Christ whom He has made Lord above all authority, and in whom God has determined to sum up in Him all things (Ephesians 1:10).      3) Finally, there is in this plan a unique place and function for a People that God has determined to have for His own dwelling place and this People is created and sustained in dynamic union with God’s beloved Son. Christ alone is given the responsibility for accomplishing everything to build this living Temple from His own works of redemption(Ephesians 3:10,11).

Now I realize that what seems relative simple about these three major themes are not so easily grasped by everyone who reads and studies the Bible. It’s one thing to state as Curtis Vaughn did in his introduction to a Bible Study guide for Southern Baptist churches in 1963 on Ephesians,

The most comprehensive statement of the theme of Ephesians is this: the eternal purpose of God and the place of Christ and His People in that purpose”.

It is entirely another thing to then proceed to study that letter keeping  these three themes always in view. The one thing we need to know about the Church all too easily gets lost in the details and discussions because by default, we are always trying to fit it into “our” own church tradition.

To catch the vision Paul was passing on to his readers of the first generation of Christians as it concerns the Church is the only place I am convinced we have any hope of living out the unity of the One Church. I made the observation in my address that seeing this vision includes both the individual Christian life as well as the pattern for every local church. But the critical thing is to grasp what God says about this People and that seems to be where all our difficulty continues to come from. Grasp what Paul says in this Ephesian letter about this People whether he refers to them as God’s household or the Church and you will then be able to relate your calling to live out the new life in Christ and your place in a local church. By focusing either on yourself or the life of the Christian or what a local assembly is supposed to look and act like, and you’ll have endless confusion.

The vision of E4Unity is the larger Church inseparable from the Christ; God’s new humanity, His new creation, His eternal Temple and dwelling place. Everything else is secondary, part of this fleeting life that is passing away. Only what God has done in Christ has eternal meaning and value.

Scripture reading: Ephesians 3:1-13

Read James Fowler’s excellent comments about the inseparable union of Christ, His Church, and the Christian.

Listen to “The Occupation of All Things” from The Jesus Manifesto.

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I frequently tell anyone who will listen, that this is the day of opportunity for those working for peace and unity in our fragmented and increasingly polarized society. Against the usual backdrop of ugliness, almost any demonstration of togetherness across the barriers that divide and separate us from oneanother is bound to shine forth as a candle in the darkness. Here is an example that is just full of implications-

Only about a dozen Jewish residents remain in Natchez, a city of about 16,400 best known for its elaborate plantation homes. As younger generations moved away, the congregation hasn’t had its own full-time rabbi since 1976.

With a circuit-riding rabbi visiting on this Friday night, about 80 Catholics, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists joined their Jewish neighbors and helped fill the wooden pews of the 105-year-old temple. Read more. . .

Rabbi Marshal Klaven reads Torah

The conclusion to Lent and to Passover, is the victorious and risen Lamb who has accomplished redemption! Easter is the victory out of suffering and anguish and separation. Celebrate with me the victory of Easter.

Revelation chapter 5: 

6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,

         “Worthy are you to take the scroll
             and to open its seals,
           for you were slain, and by your blood you    ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” 14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

A related Easter homily by Robert Hart: The Victory of Easter

Advocacy sometimes means getting off the fence!

You know by now that I am a passionate advocate for human rights which include dignity and justice. I don’t however put my name on very many public petitions. But this one I felt needed my participation, especially in light of so many other conflicting statements from we Christians regarding healthcare.

Here is what I signed today-

As a Christian, I believe my faith calls me to view all people, regardless of citizenship status, as made in the “image of God” and deserving of respect; to show compassion for the stranger and love and mercy for my neighbor; and to balance the rule of law with the call to oppose unjust laws and systems when they violate human dignity.

These biblical principles compel me to support immigration reform legislation that is consistent with humanitarian values, supports families, provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers already in the U.S., expands legal avenues for workers to enter the U.S. with their rights and due process fully protected, and examines solutions to address the root causes of migration.

I believe the current U.S. immigration system is broken and reform is necessary. I call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the above elements by the end of this year.

Signed by: John Paul Todd, Berea, Kentucky

What does character have to do with it?

The last supper, Corinthian version

On this thursday of Passion week our thoughts turn to the Last Supper and the Biblical narratives that tell us all that went on there between Christ and his disciples. While the gospels are the main source for the actual initiation of the sacrament of communion, there is one other occurance of it recorded in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. This text should also be carefully considered.

Robert Hart, writing in the Nov/Dec issue of  Touchstone Magazine, presents a strong argument for what he considers was a main issue in the letter, “That Corinthian Problem”.

“The disarray, foolishness, and sin that St.Paul addressed when writing his first extant epistle to the Church in Corinth have worked to our benefit, for they gave rise to teaching in the Scriptures that has been needed throughout the subsequent history of the Church, and that we need today.”

He ties this main problem and thus the main concern for the Apostle as he writes to several of the main themes dealt with in the letter and shows that these are not disconnected thoughts but all examples of the main problem in the church.

“The same people who have gifts to work miracles and to prophecy, can, at the same time, be guilty of creating and perpetuating sinful divisions within the Bodu of Christ. The same people who truly discern spirits, and are able to test and know which spirits are not of God, can at the same time be proud to have a notorious fornicator among them, allowing him to receive the Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood along with all the rest.”

Hart points out that “they knew the right doctrine about idols” and that Paul did not question their knowledge and orthodoxy. No, the major rebuke was reserved for their lack of love and consideration for oneanother (see the warning in I Cor. 8). I think that he is correct in his exegesis of the text and its purpose for us today as we approach the Lord’s Table.

As I have posted before there is a very common attitude present at the observance of this solemn moment in the worship of the church which misses entirely its significance. If it is, for example, only about my individual forgiveness of sin, and not about participation along with my fellow Christians in the death of the Head of the Body, then I have missed a large part of what God was accomplishing in the death of His only begotten Son; I am in fact “not discerning the Lord’s Body” (11:29).

One final word from Hart, demonstrates that this was exactly what the selfish Corinthians were doing as they approached the Supper of Our Lord (I Cor.11).

“How, in their knowledge so enriched, with utterances so gifted, did they miss the obvious point? How could they have been so blind to the simple rule of putting the needs of their brothers and sisters ahead of their own desires? They were orthodox. They were learned. They were gifted. They were also carnal.”

This article by Robert Hart has thrown a whole new light on Chapter 13  for me. I now agree that it was originally meant as a rebuke, ” a fire lit to melt their frozen, unloving, selfish hearts.” May God grant all His people to come to the Supper with an unselfish attitude of gratitude for what He has accomplished to free us from our sin of selfishness and make us partakers of His divine nature.

Related: The Communion of Saints-A.W.Tozer