We are looking at the church. What it means to be this new community. We learned as we go through the New Testament that Christ has created it and is constantly working on it. It seems because of that, it’s just about impossible to separate his work in any one of us from what he’s making of us as a group.
In the New Testament, these are, for the most part, indistinguishable. Even the means of our salvation, the death and resurrection of Christ, we can easily say that Jesus loved me and gave his life for me. But you also have to say that he gave his life for the church and loves her.
Howard Snider says ecclesiology is inseparable from soteriology.
We’ve seen that the church is a microcosm of Christ’s rule over the universe. As a result, it’s the headquarters of God’s cosmic purposes in the world.
The church is God’s agent in the world. We are agents of reconciliation in the world. What we do really does contribute to this cosmic picture.
It’s easy to see why disconnecting from the church makes it impossible to do and be what he’s called us to.
All we are called to be is connected to the church.
We’ve been working with this picture. I wanted you to see how the New Testament fits in. All the New Testament books are likely written in the first century. They’re all written to the church.
Even books like First John or Hebrews that aren’t directly addressed to a church, you can’t read them without realizing he’s talking to a church.
It would be very difficult to navigate these texts and separate yourself from the church. It’s so integrated into our identity.
Today, I want to draw your attention to how the writers in the New Testament describe the church and what metaphors they use. They’re powerful and have implications for how we live.
These are all metaphors used to describe this community.
1 Corinthians uses the images of God’s field, building, and temple, all in the same passage to describe the church.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t just come to reside in the individual, but also in the community. We are a sacred space where God dwells. The strongest words for anyone who destroys the temple are in this passage.
The lump of dough communicates being holy and how our sin affects the whole group.
The “new man” in Christ is not individual language. It’s not describing the new nature of the individual, but a new corporate person. You become a new man because you become a part of a new community. It’s a character that’s created by that connection.
When Paul says in Ephesians that we become a new man, it’s a corporate image. Then he says to put on the man, to take on the character of the community.
There is a kind of Christian spirituality that cannot be experienced outside the Christian community.
He’s changing us from the outside in. He’s reworked our entire existence. That’s the power of the community that you’re in.
You need all these images for the church, because it’s so rich you need all of them. Each one describes our union with the church and reinforces our corporate identity. Each one describes a practice. If you’re not part of the church, how are you supposed to fulfill those responsibilities.
I want us to look at the body, the bride, and the elect lady.
Let’s start with the body. It’s one of the most filled-in images in the New Testament.
If you have a body, you can’t separate Jesus and the community. You can’t be connected to the head and not be part of the body. They’re just inseparable. It’s hard to describe anything more interconnected than a body. We all have a different part to play.
Whatever the Spirit’s work is doing in me, he’s also doing in us corporately. Notice what the body is. It’s a place of different peoples. It’s a corporate image.
We need everyone in on this. Everyone has to be some part of it. If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
Paul asks, “If all were a single member, where would the body be?” It’s ridiculous that any member would think of themselves in this way. It’s gruesome to not be a part of it.
All this absurdity is designed to show that it makes no sense to be apart from the body or to try to be more or less a part of the body than you are. We all need it to be fully functional. We need everybody. Any part that’s missing communicates some handicap. All you have to do is hurt your foot and the rest of the body has to compensate for it.
When we use crutches, we put all our weight on our arms. Your arms weren’t designed for that.
Paul is talking about gifts and abilities.
We all pitch in and serve the body in some way so that we as a community become a “mature man.”
We help each other as a community become all we’re supposed to be. And you can’t become this without that. You can’t be who you are supposed to be unless you are functioning in a community. It creates an interdependence.
Watch the interplay of what is happening here. He’s talking about a bride, because he wants the corporate community to be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.
We get a shift back and forth here between body and bride. No one really gets all that’s happening here in this next part:
He uses the image of marriage to drive the message that the church is the bride. It’s woven so beautifully and subtly. And what do you take away from this overwhelmingly mystical verse? The most intimate relationships formed by breaking away from one family and joining a new one. The almost inexpressible ways that a couple becomes one. Most of us aren’t even aware how different we are because of our spouse.
There are times you don’t even know what to watch on TV without your spouse. What am I going to eat? You don’t even know how many different ways you’re joined together. Now Paul is saying it’s very similar with Christ. He takes you from wherever you were and into this corporate dynamic that is intimately related to him. How could you imagine not being a part of that?
Tony Evan’s had this thought about the church and said, I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. I also don’t have to go home to be married, but stay away long enough and your marriage will be messed up. Can you imagine saying you don’t want in on that?
Second and Third John depend on First John. The church splits on Christological issues. They walked away from Christ being the Son of God and have to leave the community. So he writes Second and Third John to make sure the churches watch out for these people.
John is one of these very loving fellows. He calls himself an elder. He writes to the elect or chosen lady and her children. In v. 5 he calls her the dear lady. It pictures a sweet, endearing, and personal letter. Then he talks about the children, creating this parental, biological image. When he closes the book, he says he’s part of this elect sister greeting them.
There’s a spiritual, genetic, biological connection. These two churches are sisters. John is concerned of the welfare of his sister church.
Second John is the least read and studied book in your New Testament. It has a powerful image.
This is an Old Testament image in the New Testament. We are a pedestal for Christ’s light to sit on.
When we’re at our best, putting up with each other, helping each other––we’re a witness to the world. Even at the end of the world when the chaos is overwhelming.
Christ is saying I need you guys to be a light. When he’s reconciling the world to himself, where’s the bright spot in the darkness? I would love to give you the image of never driving to church without thinking I’m coming to make a public statement with my community. When we gather, it’s a visible testimony of people who live under the rule of Christ. We are a witness to Christ corporately in this community. We’re a place you can go when the darkness overwhelms you.
So the relationships in the local church prove to be more interconnected than a physical body, because there’s a spiritual connection to it. We’re closer than siblings, more sacred than a temple. And the world would never know anything like us if God hadn’t created it.
That’s why we say there’s nothing like the church. Partnership is really just formalizing the undeniable connection we have. You join a church and become part of this nation, and people, and bride. It’s hard to be any more connected than when you join a church. So it identifies you as a part of it.
You can’t talk about any group or team or family without talking about its members. When someone asks about your marriage, you bring up the people in it. Gail and I are good. You don’t talk about the Cowboys without bringing up Dak or Lamb or Parsons. You don’t talk about the Chiefs without bringing up Taylor Swift.
When you talk about the church, you talk about its members. Partnership just formalizes what you can’t miss in the New Testament.
We’re going to take communion together.
This church really messed up the table when they ate together. Some of them didn’t have money for the meal. Some of the people weren’t paying attention to those without food. Paul is saying these people are missing it by a mile. They’ve come together for a sacred meal, including the Lord’s Supper, and they are not thinking of one another. Paul is saying that can’t be.
When Paul talks about discerning the body, he’s talking about the elements and the church. You can’t take in Christ’s body and not understand the implications for the corporate community.
Paul is looking in and saying that what this church is doing is so horrible that some of this sickness has to do with how poorly they’re treating each other.
Paul tells them to wait for one another. Don’t be so fast to fulfill yourself and not consider others in the community.
The very same elements that unite us can destroy us. So Paul says to examine yourself in light of the body. If you eat and drink in an unworthy manner, it means who you are to the body.