Friday, March 9, 2018

I Will Build!

This authoritative declaration has sounded down through the ages. “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. Matthew 16:18b” It has sustained the church through many dark and perilous times

Yet what we have today is a “crisis of ecclesiology” or “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”  For it seems that we have averted our gaze from this great formative truth.

The Church

This is the first use of the word “church” in the New Testament and it is recorded only twice as being spoken by our Savior. Since it is used so sparingly it would do us well to plunge into its import - for once having done so, we will be swept along by a surging current that finds it headwaters in Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring (seed) and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." NIV This verse is referred to as the protoevangelium or the first proclamation of the Gospel and that by God Himself. Let us keep that in mind as we consider Christ’s own words, “I will build my church;...”  

Our first parents having wandered from God were pursued and found by Him. And thus it is with Christ and His Church - we have been pursued and found by Him. "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10 

The Sacred Assembly

In contemporary evangelicalism our sacred assembly which we refer to as church is a curious admixture.  We see it as a place and time where we as believers are encouraged and equipped - yet we also expect unbelievers to be converted there.  What we are left with is a bit of spiritual schizophrenia - incapable of doing either job well. 

Christ’s creative words as found in Matthew compose the birth-stool of His church which would mature into “the bride, the wife of the Lamb." Her resplendency would be with the garments which only He could adorn her - “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Ephesians 5:27 As an emphasis - He will prepare and present her to Himself as His royal bride and co-regent. 

The Ekklesia

Of course the word church is an English word. The closest we have to the original manuscript is the Greek word ekklesia. The Ekklesia in Greek culture was the assembly of free citizens, to which belonged judicial and legislative power, and from which aliens and slaves were alike excluded. Thus it is a body of like-minded believers with a legislative responsibility - or one of decree. While Christ spoke Aramaic we do not have the original as spoken by Him. Yet the Aramaic word for church is knista (Swahili - kanisa).  Today, the assembly/Parliament in Israel is known as the Knesset. Once again it is a legislative body made up of citizens - not strangers or aliens.  English translation might be better - assembly or congregation. 

Another analogy for the church is that of “the family of God.”  Thus the church consists of the children of their Heavenly Father. There are no illegitimate heirs of His promises - only sons and daughters. 

The Diaspora

The primary purpose of the ekklesia is not that of an evangelistic service. That function should be the property of the diaspora. That is another Greek word used in the New Testament which means a scattering or a dispersion. There is a gathering together out of society and there is a scattering back into society. The church gathered (ekklesia) is on the defensive while the church scattered (diaspora) is on the offensive.  The church should walk on both legs. If you would like to do a bit of investigation you can find the church gathered in Acts 1:8 - but you will not find her scattered until Acts 8:1. 

Christ said the Gates of Hades would not prevail against the church that He would build harkening back to Genesis 3:15. He, and she, would be wounded on the heal, but such a wound is recoverable. The wound inflicted by Him, and her, upon the head of the seed of the serpent is fatal from which recovery is not possible. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:22-23 

The Battle

The Gates of Hades while meaning the seat of authority is not an offensive weapon. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  Ephesians 6:12 The battle is not won while crouching down in the trenches - it is won by taking it to the encampment of our enemy. 

The church militant is commissioned by the following marching orders: “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” 2 Corinthians 10:4  One commentator writes, “He speaks as if leading an attack on the strong defences of the powers of evil,...”

The Victory

Paul summarizes in this missional statement: “so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 These rulers and authorities noted here by him represent the Gates of Hades. The wisdom of God is the Imago Dei - revealed as a many-splendored precious stone (jewel) the brilliance of which scatters the minions of darkness.

The church that our Lord is preparing for Himself will be both gathered and scattered. She will occupy until He comes for His vow to her is as follows: 

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind (forbid) on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose (allow) on earth shall have been loosed in heaven."  Matthew 16:19 NASB 

The Doxology

From the modern Hymnist Stuart Townend:

And all Your children cry with loud acclaim; glory be to God

Sing O church Your sweet refrain; glory be to God

Glory, glory, glory, glory forever and ever.

Glory, glory, glory, glory forever and ever.




Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Breaking down the barrier wall between the sacred and the secular.


Please do not refer to me as being bi-vocational. That is an insult. I am omni-vocational. 

All that I do is to the Glory of God.  (At least that is my intent.) “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (Colossians 3:17; 1 Peter 4:11)

In another vein there is no such thing as para-church - it is all church! There is the church gathered (ekklesia) and there is the church scattered (diaspora) - Acts 1:8/8:1. Yet it is all one church. This treatise is directed to the diaspora

Martin Luther’s greatest contribution to the transformation of society may well have been what is called the Doctrine of Vocation.

Doctrine

Doctrine is a good thing - it is foundational, or at least should be - to all that we do as Christians. It becomes a problem when we hold as our doctrines the teaching of men - that is promoting customs to the level of sacred teaching.  Paul exhorted his young disciples as he neared the end of his race: “Watch your life and doctrine (instruction, teaching) closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:6 NIV (Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 3:15)  Without sound doctrine we have no moorings - tossed to and fro by every tempest. 

Vocation

But what is vocation? From the Latin, voco, vocare (“to call”), vocation is literally the “calling” which one enters into. This concept of vocation as a calling is broader than merely work for fiscal reward (paycheck). In this sense we should always see Almighty God as our provider, not our almighty job. His provision is His provision although it is spelled W.O.R.K.  It was the sacred duty and obligation of our original parent: “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” Genesis 2:15.  The sense of toil (sweat of the brow) only came in after The Fall - before, work was a sacred call with a sense of fulfillment.

SDG

Johann Sebastian Bach applied this doctrine in his use of music to glorify God. Whether writing music for the church or for popular use, Bach signed his work “SDG” signifying Sola Deo Gloria. All is to be done to the glory of God alone.

John Piper writes: “The glory of God is the holiness of God put on display. When the holiness of God fills the earth for people to see, it is called glory.”  God has promised to Himself, “But as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD.” Numbers 14:21.  This is the manifest commission of the Son prayed to His Father on behalf of His disciples and through them to us: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;: John 17:21 He has elected to use us as His instruments for His glorious purpose. 

Hear the Sound

We must hear the sound of the hammer breaking down the barrier wall between the sacred and the secular - for those who are the called elect of God all is sacred.  “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17.  The question we must ask ourselves is, “How much is all?”  

Martin Luther, “God doesn’t need our good works; our neighbors do.” God doesn’t need them, we don’t need them, but our neighbors do.

Justification

The Reformed theologian Michael Horton writes:

You know, a lot of people think of justification (by faith alone) as the material principle of the Reformation, with Scripture alone as the formal principle, but one historian has said, actually, that in terms of the greatest impact on the culture, it was the doctrine of vocation that made the biggest difference long term. 

They weren’t just working for the weekend. They had a transcendent view of things. R.C. Sproul has been saying for years, “Right now counts forever,” and they had a real sense of that. Even when a milkmaid is milking a cow, Luther said, “She is glorifying God just as much as a preacher in a pulpit preaching a sermon.” 

And the gospel wasn’t just, “Let’s all go to work with a greater sense of the grandeur of what we are doing,” but really a sense of, “You have no one to pacify anymore.” Everyone was so anxious and spent all their energy, if they cared about it at all, on climbing their way to heaven. Well, we don’t have to. God has climbed down to us. Now what do we do? We love and serve Him by loving and serving our neighbors.  

Work Ethic

Joshua T. Phillips also contributes:

Every area of life should be dedicated to the glory and honor of God in fulfillment of our created purpose. Psalm 90:17 says, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” This idea was central in the message of the sixteenth century Reformers who set the stage for the “Protestant work ethic” with their holistic view of labor.

And I would add that it is this foundational concept - motivating principle - that has made this nation great.  Our downward spiral is directly related to the degree in which we have drifted.

John Calvin taught that there is comfort in knowing “that no task will be so sordid and base, provided you obey your calling in it, that it will not shine and be reckoned very precious in God's sight.” The greater comfort, however, comes from the gospel, where Calvin says, “we are apprehended by God's goodness and sealed by his promises.”

Faith Alone

The Protestant understanding of vocation emerged from this already accomplished salvation. For Luther, the doctrine of justification by faith alone had everything to do with our status and place as workers. He complained “against” a false hierarchy of a spirituality of work, separating the “spiritual” from the “profane”—or to put it in modern terms, the “sacred” and the “secular.” Somehow, the priest and the bishop are more spiritual than the baker and the brick layer. But Luther, never to pull a punch, calls this sort of thing “guiles of the devil.”

The purpose of vocation then, Lutheran theologian Gene Veith says, “is to love and serve one's neighbor.” But the Christian is only free to love and serve one's neighbor when he is not working to justify himself before God. Justification by faith - and not by works - changes everything. 

Otherwise we have the creation of a welfare state - one group depending on another. And thus one ruling over the other.

Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.  “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;” Mark 10:42-43

Consummation 

“And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Revelation 5:10 KJV  

Whether a king or a priest we are called to reign on the earth - representing a Kingdom that now is and is yet to come in its fullness.