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.

Neglecting the Greatest Gift

I want to continue the subject of the last post, which as you remember, was the concern voiced by internetmonk that an unhealthy emphasis on the Glory of God was having on “all things human”. I agreed with the spirit of that discussion, especially the confusion among Christians that is undermining our unity of calling and purpose in the world. And to me this is the real danger that indeed faces us today: the neglect of the great salvation/redemption which is the Biblical narrative.

I think the subject has everything to do with all that we have been finding as we have focused on the Apostle Paul and his unique contribution to that narrative, especially as he interprets what God really accomplished in the Christ Event, the cycle just celebrated with Advent, Passover, and Pentecost. We have seen in this “Year of Saint Paul” that nothing short of a new humanity in Christ, a humanity that would succeed where the old had “come short of the Glory of God” and could not please God in the flesh is the message of the Gospel of the grace of God.

Is that salvation only (exclusively) about a prepared place referred to as “heaven” beyond death, or is much more included involving “all things human” in this life, which directly relates to the life beyond? There is no doubt that the Biblical narrative is about the Glory of God as it is revealed progressively to the human race on planet earth in history. But that revelation is always in the context of that humanity and its history. God indeed wants to be known and worshipped as the only true God by his creation, especially humankind made in His own image and for that very purpose. And the meaning and quality of human life is in turn always related to the right relation to the True God- qualities like peace and harmony, blessing, or strife, conflict, and cursing.

So when we fail to keep these two essential parts of the whole narrative balanced, we are not only in serious danger of missing the purpose for which we were created but the purpose for which the Redeemer has fought and won the great battle for freeing us from our former bondage into “the glorious liberty of the Children of God”, as Paul says it. In fact this is the over-all vision that the Apostle lived with from the time that he was confronted on the Road to Damacus and later had as long as three years in the Syrian desert to think out.

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many Sons to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (letter to the Hebrews 2:10)

God’s eternal plan involves the promise to make “all things new’; both a new earth and a new heaven. Thankfully there have always been those among us who have seen that the Glory of God is forever intertwined with His creation, humankind and the material creation. So internetmonk is raising a legitimate warning that we are not keeping the proper balance. Once again in this generation, as in those that have gone before, parts of the Body of Christ are speaking into this imbalance. Will we keep fighting oneanother from our own faith traditions precious heritage, or will we practice the UNITY of God’s New humanity in Christ and let every contribution be received which will result in the “Growing up into the fullness of the Body in Jesus Christ”? Will we finally grasp the full intent of God’s mighty once-for-all work of redemption when “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”?

I intend to mention three major ways that this “seeking a holistic salvation” took within Christianity in the 20th century, as we continue this discussion. To wet our appetites I will simply introduce a phrase that I think we can look at from the past- CHRISTIAN HUMANISM.

A related essay- Lockerbie-Thinking Like A Christian.