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.

Your Church Is Too Small: why unity in Christ’s mission is vital to the future of the church. (Zondervan) 2010

A personal review of this new book on the 130th anniversary of the birth of my maternal grandfather, Henry Thomas Young. Personal, because I need to admit upfront that the vision that is so clearly and concisely stated of the Christian church as she has entered the third millennium, the vision of ACT3 is the same vision behind E4Unity Institute.

John H. Armstrong, Director ACT3

The author has placed his life-journey out on the table for all to see. In doing so, he shows us what a passion for Jesus Christ, his church, and the divine mission they are on together in this present age looks like for the eternal blessing of the nations.

My personal sense is that perhaps the best way to describe what we have in this book is a “handbook for observing the unity of the church” in her relationship to the Christ of God. John Armstrong has gone to great lengths to tell us exactly where we are and where we have come from and remind us who we are and what we have been called to both be and do on planet earth. This is the reason, he tells us, why he wrote this book and why he believes that the greatest scandal of all is our disunity before our neighbors and our watching world.

Handbook for promoting Unity

Here is a very wise collection of the realities of our divisions set in the larger context of the vision of  our oneness in Christ and his mission. It’s obvious that John has discovered for himself something of the incredible bigness and largeness of the Christian church. With the help of a glossary of terms we will need to understand the vision, the author takes us through a personal narrative in a helpful and logical progression for the reader to follow.

Beginning with Jesus prayer for our unity (John 17:20-23), John gets into the heart of the issues involved: love-our greatest apologetic, the essential nature of the church (four classical marks), all the while stressing Christ alone as the Biblical focus. The reader is at once aware that the author is deeply involved with a much larger conversation and celebration than what most of us are accustomed to. He is listening to a host of others from the first century church to the contemporary one. He is conversing with brothers and sisters from multiple traditions and denominations such as Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and of course his own Reformed tradition.

He tells us about those who have been some of the helpers along his journey to seeing the vision of unity. Men like J.I.Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Leslie Newbigin. John is honest with us about how hard it was to begin to see the ecumenical movement of the twentieth century in positive terms. But he insists that the church will need all the wisdom and experience of the saints in previous generations to equip us for the advance of the Christian gospel and the Kingdom of God that is now before us.

The one thing I probably liked most about this book is that it lifted my own heart to new levels of expectant hope in what God will yet do in and through the community of His exalted and beloved Son. I think he has nailed the major obstacles to “growing up into the fullness of Christ” together. These barriers are not really those outside the church but ones inside us all. In the very beginning he stresses that it is our own vision problem “our common penchant for placing limits on Christ’s church…”. One of the greatest challenges that confront us is that which John describes as “sectarianism”, or the evil that equates the one church with “our own narrow views of Christ’s body”. There is a brief but excellent treatment of this and the topic of “the true church” and this is one of those themes addressed directly on this blog. We simply cannot continue as we are- separated and disobedient to the clear imperatives of our Lord. There are answers for the one who seeks them and this is a good place to begin if you are not already wrestling with this part of the Biblical narrative.

I can think of no better way for every Christian to join the celebration of one-hundred years of world mission advances since the Edinburgh World Conference of 1910, than by making this book your handbook. For the last one hundred years have also seen the greatest labors toward true ecumenism that the church has seen since the earliest councils. Yes, John, unity is vital to our future. Thank you for your journey and the gift it represents to the churches of the twenty-first century.

p.s. Happy birthday grandfather. It is a joy to remember your own life vision and faithfulness to the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.