August 4, 2020

The Church: Flawed and Finished (5)

pews-sidecurve.jpgThis is the last post on the subject of the Church: Flawed and Finished. The others are directly below. I will be doing an F.A.Q. post on the topic.

1, 2, 3, 4.

What is the connection between the flawed church in history and the completed, finished perfect body of Christ?

Is it the fact that God knows the difference? Of course, he does, and that is a great encouragement. Does it mean that among all these flawed churches, there is one denomination that will one day be vindicated as having been the true Body of Christ? If our fragmentation into denominations is, itself, one of those blemishes that will be removed, we ought to be wary of saying our denomination is a preview of the finished church.

I think we have a very clear word on this question in the letter to the Ephesians. A word about that letter.

Ephesians is, quite likely, a sermon or teaching that was circulated in various forms to several of Paul’s churches. The “letter” is an overview of God’s complete plan of redemption and an admonition to the life that results. Throughout the letter, the church as God’s project is in view, from its predestined origin in eternity past to its certain presentation as the perfect bride of Christ in the future. Between these two points, the church is historical and therefore, in process from being flawed to being finished.

At the heart of this God-guaranteed process is the role of the human leadership God provides to the church.

Ephesians 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.

9 (In saying, He ascended, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

There is no place in scripture where it is clearer that in the midst of the historically flawed churches we create, God has called and is creating ONE ECCLESIA.

Is it not amazing that we can read verses 4-6 and still refuse to include other believers who participate with us in the same God, the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism? Are the various historical disagreements about matters like baptism and the Lord’s Supper reason enough to refuse other members of the One Body? I’m truly amazed that we could ever, in any circumstances, proudly defend our commitment to divide what God has loudly, plainly proclaimed is and must be ONE. While we won’t reach perfect unity on this side of glory, we can pursue imperfect unity and be willing to distinguish between denominational pride and the true glory of God in his church.

But the most interesting part of this passage for our question begins at verse 11. God has given leadership to his church for reasons that apply directly to the issue of moving from our historical brokenness as churches and Christians to the unity, maturity and perfection God has promised to his church.

Notice that this leadership includes the Apostles. As a Protestant, I believe scripture teaches that the Apostles were unique and were not a continuing office, but I believe Apostolic authority remains with the church in the scriptures, particularly in the New Testament and in the tradition that confirms the overall context and message of the scriptures.

Historically, God used the prophets to shape and correct his people Israel under the old covenant. In the era of the new covenant, prophets are preachers of the Gospel message to the people of God, the single most important “tool” for shaping the church into the people of God. Evangelists are those who take the Gospel to the world, particularly as church planters, though all Christians and all ministers are “evangelical” in being called to proclaim the evangel. Pastors are God’s shepherds of his flock. Teachers feed his church.

(I believe that the basic offices of the local church are elders and deacons, but the New Testament makes it plain that those with the title of deacon or elders are also leaders who do evangelism, pastoral care, teaching, shepherding, etc.)

In these overlapping roles and leaders, God is at work shaping a flawed and imperfect church into the body of Jesus Christ. Leaders are not dictators, politicians, comedians, entertainers, entrepreneurs, pundits, executives or therapists. They carry out the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the body of Christ. A church without functioning, healthy leaders is a broken church. I believe this is the case in Corinth and most of the problem in the churches in Revelation 2-3. It is surely the problem facing many churches today.

The agenda for leaders is just as plain: build up; encourage; evangelize; work toward maturity; love; parent; training for ministry; a love of unity; shaping Christians into the image of Jesus Christ; facing the troubles and false teachings that surround the church and speaking the TRUTH in LOVE.

I cannot emphasize enough that the historically flawed church is not well served by those who defend and justify its flaws, and those flaws include many things that are part of our denominationally fractured churches. We will never have congregations that are identical until there is only one congregation before the throne of God, but that does not mean that leaders cannot pursue the agenda of Ephesians 4 with love and loyalty toward Jesus Christ and a shepherd’s heart toward the flock of God.

I pray that God will equip his church with leaders who love the vision of one church with Christ alone as head, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one table, one authoritative scripture, one heart for the Gospel. In all our necessary diversity, there can be a great unity if leaders will repent of the sins that presently divide the church and be moved toward Christ and all others who share in Christ through faith.

There is a reason Jesus washed his disciples feet and said that if they rejected this, they had no part in him. The church must have leaders who understand that they are the instruments whereby Jesus washes the feet of an imperfect church and makes her his bride. While Jesus will finish the work, the life of the church is to ever move toward the heart of Jesus towards his church and to clearly make that loving commitment its center and goal in all it is and does.

Comments

  1. Thanks for your post.

    Not to digress, but where is the picture from with the curved pews? The architecture looks very similar to our church here in Stillman Valley (see http://www.theredbrickchurch.org/pages/about.html).

  2. The ideal of “church unity” is a fine goal, but at what price?

    Some say,”we will stand with you and proclaim the love of Jesus, but have you made a testimony? And have you made your decision; accepted Jesus.These things you must first do.”

    Others say,”we will stand with you and proclaim the love of Jesus, but are your clergy ordained in the historic episcopate? When you have done this we will close ranks with you.”

    Jesus + (whatever) is all the rage today. It always has been, and it looks as though (if trends continue)it always will be.

    Everybody just has to add something, even if it’s just a little something, to the cross of Jesus.

    Here is where I draw the line concerning unity: Jesus Christ and His action for me is enough.

    Gee whiz, I guess that leaves me out of a whole lot of churches. Are they not Christians because they don’t believe as I do? No.(even though many of them would say that I’m not a Christian)

    Unity at the price of the Gospel, or at the price of Christian freedom, or at the price of God’s freedom, is just way too high a price for me, or the Church, to pay.

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