On Sunday, January 13, Mitch Majeski’s sermon addressed the nature, function and characteristics of the global body of believers, the Christian Church. We hope that this series of posts is a helpful refresher of who we are as Christ’s bride, and what our Savior is doing specifically in our context here in Fort Collins.
Martian-kind is looking for an answer. Before detonating their newly developed Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator and destroying planet earth, they need to understand humankind and, in particular, this peculiar group called the Church. Something in this group gives Martian-kind pause in their mission. The future of our race hangs on an accurate answer. Are you ready to answer Marvin when he asks, "What is this thing called the Church?"
Quick caveat: The answers below are not complete, nor are they always an accurate translation into the Martian language. There is a fair amount of Christianese that needs to be translated for effective impact on Marvin, but due to space and time constraints, I have kept large swaths of my native tongue in this post. Yet as we move into a culture that has no context or “furniture” of what Christianity is, there will be many instances when our Christianese inadvertently gets in the way of what we’re trying to communicate. And this is even true for “basic” elements of our faith, such as when we talk about Abraham or the Apostle Paul. We’ll have to explain the histories of such figures for Marvin without using our familiar, churchy phrases. (Incidentally, this is why Aaron Ritter’s “Foundations” class is so valuable and needed. It equips us to share the over-arching themes and important details of the Bible in a way that Marvin can readily understand.)
So, where were we? Oh, right: What is the church, dear Marvin? Well, let me explain. No, there is too much (for now, anyway). Let me sum up:
The Church is a historical group
Although there are aberrations, collections of people who worship Jesus Christ and adhere to a set of truth claims set forth in a collection of writings called "The Holy Bible" (most simply summarized in the Nicene Creed, which we will have to explain to Marvin) have existed in every human context for the last two thousand years.
The Church is a historical group because it has been present (despite vigorous attack) throughout modern history. And it is historical because members of the Church believe that the major events that established it – the virgin birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – are not mythological but true history.
This is critical. The claims of orthodox Christianity are not like that of Aesop's fables. Aesop gave us a mythology that had some value. His stories instruct us of morality and wisdom but we all know they are not true. Christians do not claim adherence to the ideas of a book of mythology. Rather they believe that a sole, creator God has revealed Himself in actual history and His interaction has been documented without flaw in a single record, the 66 books of the Old and New Testament.
The Church is a commissioned and empowered group
The Church exists to "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). Marvin will need some explanation on darkness and light here. This is clear throughout the Bible and crystal clear in the words of Jesus (Matthew 16:13-19). To come short of proclaiming this message of redemption or to go beyond it is to cease being the Church.
If this collection of Jesus-worshippers remains moral and active in good deeds and fails to happily proclaim its central message, it fails in its primary identity. Conversely, if proclamation is just one of a multitude of "primary objectives" for the Church (healing the sick, housing the homeless, working for justice, etc), it will lose its distinctive commission.
God emphasizes this in the fulfillment of the most dramatic Old Testament prophecy. God and man are permanently and intimately united as His Spirit resides in Christians ((those who trust, follow and worship Jesus as Savior, Lord and Treasure). This Spirit is a constant source of power and a guide into the truth ... for a reason:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
God’s Spirit empowers the Church to be witnesses of His plan to save through Jesus Christ. Indeed, if the Church does not proclaim Christ and him crucified, no one will. Therefore, though individual Christians will bring good to the earth in many ways, the primary focus of the Church is the proclamation of and mutual encouragement in the Gospel.
The Church is a holy group
He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Ephesians 1:4)
God and the Church have something prehistoric going on. God was thinking of the Church before the mountains. Throughout the Bible, God's people are referred to collectively as His bride. In fact, the story goes something like this: God, desiring that His people would understand His affection for them, created marriage to reveal His love.
Like every great, heroic husband, God would rescue the Church. At great cost to Himself, God would deliver her "from the domain of darkness and [transfer her] to the kingdom of his beloved Son." God planned this. He did not react to some unforeseen circumstance. And this was no mere rescue. He wanted her to wear white.
So, in building the Church, God takes individuals who were, like all mankind, enslaved to various passions and pleasures and He changes them (Titus 3:1-8). The change is inextricable from being rescued. It is impossible to be "delivered from the domain of darkness" and remain in darkness.
God's people see disobedience to His commands and affection for created things over the Creator as marital unfaithfulness. The pursuit of holiness is not a moral self-improvement plan; it is the unfolding of a love story.
"We love because He first loved us."
The Church is a group of people who are happily devoted to one another
This can't be explained any better than with these words from the New Testament letter to the first century church in Colossae from the apostle Paul (we will probably need to explain his story to Marvin):
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:12–16)
Loving, humble, harmonious and celebrating. These are fitting adjectives for this historical, commissioned and holy group. All of humanity's deepest problems find their resolution in the story of God and His Church. So, as long as the church exists on the earth there is hope in the earth – hope that should not be destroyed.
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