I have never done anything like this before – and mind you, I am not proposing this as absolute truth. You may consider this the mutterings of a maniac or the cogitations of an old coot if you like, and maybe I deserve that. These are merely some ideas that were going through my head as I was mowing my lawn the other afternoon. I didn’t come to any conclusions in my thinking, but my lawn does look lots better! So, let me pitch these ideas out to you and see what you think. (Sorry you can’t see how good my lawn looks! Oh, good picture of me, don’t you think?)
Time after time in the New Testament appeal is made both by Jesus and by Paul to the story of creation as being normative for different things. Notably when Jesus was asked by the Jews about the lawfulness of divorce, he held up the 1st and 2nd chapters of Genesis, the creation of man and woman and the institution of marriage as the standard defining marriage and the divine intent of its permanence (Matt. 19:3-6).
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
To Jesus this passage is authoritative. It is the first and last word about how God intends marriage to be. Any variation from this is not the divine intent for the relationship between a husband and wife. That being so, the family, originating out of this ideal of the joining of male and female in a permanent bond, is to be governed by this functional ideal also. And that in turn becomes the foundational norm for the formation and governance of every aspect of society. The same principles that bring functionality to the male-female relationship are the principles that govern the family, the clan, the tribe, the community and ultimately the nation. And the church as well. (This is ultimately where we are going. Stay with me until we get there.)
What are those principles? Fidelity. Commitment. Concern. Compassion. Love. And whatever else that makes for a strong, cohesive relationship of people who look out for the welfare of one another.
Look again at how the creation story figures into Paul’s teaching about the relationship of human beings to one another. In Romans 1 he argues that all men at one time (“ever since the creation of the world”) had a knowledge of God, but because men became proud of their own wisdom and accomplishments they kicked God out and began worshiping the creature (man among other things) rather than the Creator.
Now look at the consequences of leaving the original, normative standard.
Romans 1:24 “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.”
Look again at what this means, particularly in terms of the present raging debate in our country in regard to the normalization of homosexuality by legalizing same-sex marriage. Using the creation model as God’s normative standard Paul argues that homosexuality is against God’s original intent – it is against the nature with which he created us as male and female.
Romans 1:26-27 “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
At creation everything God made was said to be “good.” The Hebrew word used here has the connotation of “functional,” not just pretty or nice. Everything was ordered or in balance according to the divine intent at creation. Everything was working the way it was supposed to work. But man imposed his “wisdom” on nature and everything is turned on its head. It becomes disordered – not good – not functional according to its design or nature.
This same idea can be seen in the remainder of the list of sins the apostle gives in the latter part of the chapter. This idea illustrates what sin is. At creation God brought order out of chaos. Sin enters and everything becomes disordered. Creation becomes unbalanced. Sin, then, can be seen as tending to return to the primordial chaos and darkness (Genesis 1:2).
Now those ideas that were bumping around in my head as I was going round and round over a rough piece of ground …
The resurrection of Christ marked the beginning of a new creation. Listen to what Paul says about the first man (Adam) and the second man (Christ)
1 Cor. 15:47-49 “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”
Jesus has risen! Everything is new!
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Life in Christ is new! We are new!
No, we don’t look any different. We still live in the same houses, have the same relationships (family, community, government, etc.), the same jobs, the same debts and the same social obligations. But because we now live in a new relationship with God through our faith in Jesus as the Son of God all these have changed and been modified as well. We look at all other relationships and responsibilities differently – through new eyes. We measure everything by a different standard – God’s standard.
What does all this mean for the entity known as the church? The church is something different from anything that had ever existed before – and yet not all that different. Actually the basic concept goes back to the creation story in Genesis 1-2. It has to do with the purpose for which man was created and with the way God intended for that purpose to be carried out. The basic concept of the church is what is illustrated in Ephesians 5:32 …
“This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”
What the apostle is referring to is the analogous nature of marriage to that of Christ and the church. The way we are supposed to understand the church is it in light of the divinely intended relationship of a man and woman and their family (Ephesians 5:22-6:9).
The intent of marriage is the family as the fulfillment of God’s command to the first man and woman to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). The way God was going to fulfill his mission for creation was through the human family. The way he is going to extend his mission today is through his spiritual family.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 God presents himself as a father and we as his sons and daughters – his family. By maintaining our separation from the world we not only maintain our relationship with him, but we also have an influence on the world. We become light to the world (Matthew 5:14).
In what context is that light best seen? It is my firm conviction that it is seen, at least in part, within the context of creation just as God uses the original creation as being normative for marriage and for morality as we have already seen. The church is the family of God. How does a family function? I mean ideally – according to God’s original intent? How is the church to be the “good” creation of God?
I believe that instead of recognizing the family structure and functioning nature of the spiritual family of God men have for centuries imposed a foreign model upon the called out people of Christ – the ecclesia. Roman Catholicism adopted the form of the Roman Imperial government with it’s pyramidal power structure. They adopted the pagan form of assemblies and built their buildings to accommodate a Christianized adaptation of pagan worship. This was a spectator form of worship not a family, participatory form. When the Protestant Reformation came along, the reformation leaders simply borrowed the same forms and practices of church polity and worship they had known in Catholicism with little modification and with little thought.
What has come down to us is the idea of a group of people who build a comfortable, attractive building, outfit it with all the comforts of home, come together to “worship” for an hour or two on Sunday and maybe another hour during the week and for very little more than this. It is conceived of today as a group of individuals gathering for their own personal benefit and contributing to the church treasury to do “good works” and then giving little more thought to “church” until maybe the next Sunday – or maybe not even then. Whatever “church” is done beyond that is done by a professional staff of paid workers.
Somehow that image just doesn’t seem to comport with any kind of normative, “organic” creation model, does it? What I have just described is the 21st century conception of the institutional church. This is what “church” has become as a result of the imposition of man’s thinking upon what is, I believe, supposed to be a much simpler, much more functional arrangement.
We will look further into what the creation/new creation model of the church would have looked like in future posts.