This series of posts began a few weeks ago as a result of some thoughts that I had while mowing my lawn. Well, the lawn has been mowed a couple of times since then (and is needing it again) and I haven’t come to the end of the musings! I promise, though, we will be wrapping this up with this entry.
We have been thinking about what the church would look like if we thought of ourselves as a family instead of as an institutional entity. The idea of church as family certainly is evident in the New Testament. If we though of our relationship and responsibility to one another in these terms, what might happen? What would the church do? What would we become?
In our last post we began thinking about the responsibility of a family in the rearing of children and how this fits with the concept of the church as family. Parents want what is best for their children. They teach and train their children to the end that they will know how to live and achieve what is good and right – what is best. Before the age in which we live, parents taught their children not only moral principles and social skills, but trained them in spiritual values and in the family business as well. Parents who did not teach their children these things were considered to be failures as parents. It was their responsibility to prepare their children to live responsible, productive lives and not to be dependent on society.
But how is the church to “bring up” these children? We began in the last post to show how this is to be done. God has provided people – gifted people – to do this work. The work is to be done by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors/teachers as described in Ephesians 4:11. They are to train people for service, to impart the knowledge of Christ, and to bring them to a state of mature manhood or complete humanity as measured by Christ who is the standard.
In much the same way the church is to teach and train those who are young in the faith how to live in the world. People need to know both how to resist the evils of the world and also how to be a force for good – how to be a blessing to the people around them. By the evils of the world I do not mean just moral matters of modest dress, no profanity and permitting only wholesome entertainment. While these things are good as far as they go, they by no means prepare people for the “real world.” I mean that people need to be made aware of the danger of coming under the world’s way of thinking – of accepting the “world view” of the current age.
Contrary to religion being an isolated “churchy” kind of affair of correct rites and rituals performed behind closed doors, Christians are intended by the Creator to live in the world as lights held high, showing their relationship with God as the best, most desirable – indeed the only kind of life that can be successfully lived in this world. Indeed, it should be held forth as the only right way for human beings to live because it comes from the Creator himself.
It is a mistake to think that the church’s responsibility is only to teach people to “do church” or to just do “spiritual” things like worshiping correctly or to do personal evangelism. It is the responsibility of the family of God to teach its members how to live successfully in this world according to God’s standard. This is the bottom line of what Christianity is all about.
The responsibility of the older, mature and/or gifted ones is to lay a foundation of understanding that connects people to reality – the ultimate reality of God as Creator, Christ as Redeemer and the world as the arena of man’s life, but with God as the foundation of that life as well as its hope for the future. The world has long forgotten that reality is rooted in God’s existence and understood in terms of his activity. As a consequence man has tried and is still trying to live without a secure foundation. He is trying to live without God.
Attempting to live without God results in people doing what they desire, whether that be subjective pleasure as an individual pursuit or repressive domination and repression of other human beings by a supposed elite. History is the window through which we may witness the failures of every attempt man has made to live without God. The historical narratives of the Bible show explicitly what has happened over and over again. From the original attempt of man to live without God’s wisdom and empowerment to the present, the story is the same. Man has moved away from the foundation truth that God exists, that he has the wisdom and the right to guide man in the way that provides man with the freedom to live life as it is meant to be lived and that he has provided redemption for man even when we have strayed away from him. Without this foundation man flounders in a directionless morass of failed human philosophy and devastating debacles of grandiose, utopian experiments that have left multiplied millions of people dead and untold millions more in misery and despair.
With the foundation of faith in the eternal Creator and the freedom that comes with redemption through Christ man has a basis for life that will endure whatever changes may take place in the world of men. Without this secure foundation, man cannot understand that there is purpose and direction to life. Man is in the universe for a reason. His life has a purpose – a high and noble purpose. Human beings are not the product of random chance or purposeless accident. God made us in his image to be partners with him in ruling over and caring for the whole of his creation. That was true at the beginning and it is no less true today.
As to direction, without understanding God man has no way of understanding history and that history is going someplace. Everything since the beginning has been moving toward a definite end. Man either enters into the flow of history or he flounders in hopeless despair on the shores of meaningless time. The latter is where the masses of humanity are at the present.
But just as God brought all things into being, he is also moving all things to a predetermined end – the end he had in view from the beginning. The result of all this is that life has meaning and purpose – a glorious meaning and a grand purpose.
The time we have been given is ours to learn how to live. We need to learn how to live, not just for the time we are in this present world but because we were made by God to live forever. How we live and what we do now has eternal significance. Believers – the family of God – have the responsibility is to live life as God always intended it to be lived. It is to live as children of God – to show his glory and goodness in our own lives and actions. It is our responsibility to teach each succeeding generation how to live in this world. It is to show and teach that life has purpose and that it is moving toward the destination God has chosen for all of his creation.
The gospel, the good news of God’s redeeming love and grace toward man in Christ frees us from the futility of the philosophies of purposelessness and aimlessness that afflict our society today. That freedom is not just a “religious” thing of rites and rituals, but of the mind freed from the domination of popularly accepted human ideas and ideals. It is freedom from the rat race of materialism, from apathetic individualism, the “I don’t care, just leave me alone” attitude, rootlessness and meaninglessness that pervades so much of our society that leads to a denial of the value and purpose of human life. It means being able to live and fully express our humanness in the way our creator intended it to be expressed –with zest and joy and creativeness to the praise of his glory (Ephesians 1:12; 1:14).
So, what will that look like when it is realized? What will be the product(s) when the family of God prepares each succeeding generation for this responsibility by laying the secure foundation of faith?
Quite obviously it will be pure lives, moral lives, lived in consideration of others for their well-being just as much as for one’s own self – you know, the “love one another” thing. Christians will respect and accept others, no matter their national, racial, ethnic, social or gender differences. People will judge one another not on the basis of creedal distinctives but solely on the basis of their common faith and on the evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of each.
The ideal life of the child of God will encompass beauty and harmony in appreciation of the design that evidences the Great Designer. Out of this appreciation for God’s good creation there will flow music and art and creativity and industry of all kinds that comes with a sense of responsibility that recognizes our role as stewards of all God has given.
Understanding of man’s intended place in creation will encourage people to become scientists in order to “read” and explain God’s “other book” of his works in nature. It will point people in the direction of becoming doctors and nurses for the purpose of helping the hurting rather than enriching themselves. It will help those who either are unable to reach such levels of education and expertise to use their lives and their abilities in ways that acknowledge God’s goodness. It will help all who serve others with caring concern, whether as physicists or farmers, conservationists or chemists, engineers, pilots, naturalists, teachers or sanitation workers on to the providers of every service civilization requires for its operation to do what they do with the satisfaction of knowing they are doing the will of their Creator. To the one who is committed to the foundation truth of God’s existence and Christ’s lordship, everything one does will be done differently than if life had no point and no purpose. Everything will be done to honor the God on whom we all depend for our being and identity.
While the church may not be able to prepare each person specifically for all these particular jobs, we can – we must – build into people a respect for honest labor and pride in a job well done. We can instil in people’s hearts the reality and desirability of God-like love and compassionate concern for one’s fellow man that leads them to choose the paths in life that lead to this kind of selfless service. We can stand beside people who are striving to do good and encourage and support them in their efforts.
It can only do this when life in this world is presented as a reality that expresses one’s connectedness with and commitment to the Creator and redeemer of the entire universe. People need to see themselves as active participants in the divine scheme for that redemption. We are redeemed in order to live the kind of life we were always intended to live with a view of accomplishing God’s design for his creation. In other words, we need to see ourselves as partners with him in accomplishing his eternal purpose for his good creation. We are not here to just bide our time until we can be whisked off a doomed planet. We are here to point the way to our faithful God and to his purpose for his good creation.