“Christianity is more than simply a set of beliefs I hold so I can achieve salvation for my individual soul. It is also a distinct way of understanding and interpreting everything in the world.”
Timothy Keller, (b. 1950), is an American Christian apologist, author, speaker.
According to the teaching of the apostle Paul, the church is designed by Christ to be a continually growing, maturing body with the end in view being that of service. Thus, the objective of teaching is not just learning for learning’s sake. It is learning with an objective in view.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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, 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
It is so designed that by the functioning of every member this objective is obtained. Every member growing. Every member reaching stable, productive maturity. Every member speaking the truth in love to every other member and to those whom they serve. The result: the whole body is built up.
To what end? What is the purpose of this building up? Is it just that the members might accumulate a volume of knowledge? Is it so that we might be able to reproduce an external form of worship and organization – or an institution? Is it just so the members might be “spiritually strong?” Is it just for the purpose of “spiritual formation” or personal sanctification?
All of these objectives are good within themselves, but most Christians seem never to have connected all these things into an integrated vision for all of us as the people of God in the world. The result of this is that one congregation or one group (tribe) focuses on a few things, often without even any clear concept of how to achieve that chosen objective.
While many Christians do recognize the deplorable condition of division within the Christian religious world, yet there are very few serious efforts to change that situation. Some of those who are most vocal in their criticism of this condition seem to have done the least to change that situation. Indeed, some of these same groups have done the most to contribute to the divided condition.
Because of the magnitude of the problem of division among believers, very few have any grasp of what the whole business of Christianity is about. We tend to think of it in terms of “our church” with little or no thought beyond the interests or understanding of the group. The result is that the church is ineffective, given the lack of a comprehensive outlook as to the real nature of the church’s mission, the duplication of effort and the expenditure of huge sums of money to maintain the institutional machinery of the conventional church.
Much of this failure to develop a comprehensive outlook toward the mission of the church is due to the belief that the salvation of the individual is the church’s paramount responsibility. This emphasis is due to the culture of individualism that prevails in Western society. Government exists to give the individual what he wants and needs. The church and its worship and work must be attuned to the wants and perceived needs of the individual.
The concept of the church as a body – a living entity – is prominent in the writings of the apostle Paul. Individuals making up one body.
Romans 12:5 “…so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
1 Corinthians 12:12 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”
1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
Fundamental to the concept of a body is that it possesses life. It moves. It grows. It purposes. It works. It accomplishes things. The church is not a dead body. It does not just exist as an inert entity. It was not meant to exist as an institutional or organizational “thing.” It is designed to manifest the attributes of a living body. It is to be in motion. It is to move according to a well defined purpose. It is intended by it’s Creator to accomplish things according to His purpose. It was intended to work and accomplish God’s purpose for which He put man on the earth in the first place.
A figure the apostle uses that points in this direction is his comment made in reference to God’s work of bringing the Jews and Gentiles together in accordance with His eternal purpose.
Ephesians 2:15 “…by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…”
Humanity had become divided. Part of this was as a result of man’s rebellion against God as seen at the tower of Babel (Genesis 10:1-9). Part of the division of humanity was because God had separated the Jews from the Gentiles by means of the commandments He had given to the descendants of Abraham for the very purpose of keeping them separate.
The church is, according to the apostle in the above passage, “one new man” in contrast to the division that existed and had existed for generations before his day. Being one new man means that those who are “in Christ” constitute a new humanity. The old had failed and God has brought about a “new creation.”
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:14-15).
If God’s people today constitute a new creation or are a new humanity, then everything we learn, everything we become, everything we are and everything we do must be in some way connected with this tremendous reality. The world to which the apostle had been crucified was the unregenerated world – that which passes for reality – all that lies outside of Christ. All too often our interpretation of life and our responsibility is determined by this old world, not the new one that is breaking into the world that is.
But I am getting ahead of myself here. Next we will back up and get a different perspective on things.
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.