Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Why Church, Part I: “Church” in the Scope of God’s Big Plan

A friend recently asked me why I would bother with church – at all, or in its present form. So I sat down and thought. And thought. And then as you might suppose, I had some things to say. So enjoy yourself. It’s not as meticulously argued as some of my pieces, nor is it a formal apologia. It surely leaves out something I’d consider important, but it is what it is. We can chat about it if you like.

God’s intention toward the creation is redemption: restoration of everyone and everything to what it was or should have been before the Fall. Unfortunately, we fallen image-bearers are intrinsically rebellious and disobedient. Israel was a people created by YHWH’s saving act, and meant to be defined through obedience to him. As a people peculiarly his, the nation was meant to be as a city on a hill, providing their temple as a place of prayer for all the nations, that through their life with YHWH, everybody in the world would become his own. N.T. Wright argues that one of the reasons Jesus judged the temple was because, like Israel, it was no longer bringing people to YHWH, but busy defining itself in terms of being separate from those other people.

Jesus himself replaced the temple. He was the dwelling of YHWH on earth, and in his own body presented Israel to YHWH for judgment. He suffered for this as the Godforsaken, but then was vindicated by God, as evidenced in the Resurrection. This vindication applies to everyone baptized into the name of the Messiah. Because Resurrection was something that only happened to everyone at the end of time, this occurring only with Jesus in the middle of time really messed up prevailing ideas.

The Resurrection of Jesus, Paul says, is only the beginning. We will be raised up again to a physical life at the end of time, when YHWH rules the world directly. But the new age has nevertheless been inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ. The disciples of Jesus are a community of YHWH’s reign in the in-between time when the world is not ruled by him yet, but the Powers that Be have been routed by the Cross. Just as the teaching and risen life of Jesus provide the prototype for a redeemed life in Christ (sanctification is a process of returning us to what we would have been before the fall), the shared life of the Church is the prototype of God’s plan for the entire world.

The Body of Christ, then, is the instrument of God’s mission in the world.

Next: Part II, Living "Church" on the Ground

1 comment:

James Church said...

Again I totally agree. I wonder what you think of some of these responses-

We are not saved individually but rather reconciled to one another through the gospel of Christ. (NT Wright)

Without being claimed by the church (God's people) it would be hard to understand what it would mean to be claimed by God (Hauerwas).

Far from being incidental to God's plan for salvation the church is instrumental in God's work within the world (Newbigin).

I do not think these reponses are original to these authors nor do I think being original is a good thing for a theologian but these were the first people I heard put it in this way.