Friday, January 11, 2013

Wisdom Through the Church?

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I read these verses, Ephesians 3:10-11, in my quiet time the other day. Though I have read this passage so many times in my past 36 years of faith in Jesus, the words still struck me.

You might think that the angelic hosts would be revealing God's truth to the church, and I'm sure they do in some ways. But the emphasis here is on how the church reveals God's wisdom to the angels. Wow. Let that sink in a moment.

Many of you reading this blog (where one of the main topics is abuse of authority in churches) have been wounded by your experiences with local churches and organized religion. Maybe you are cynical about the value of church. Maybe you have even dropped out.  

So to you, like me, these verses come as a surprise, even a shock! But I remind myself of a few things. These are just my observations, not complex theological doctrines.

A village church in Malawi

It shows the wisdom of God that he is able to redeem such flawed human beings and cobble them together into something even more redemptive. Any dumb god could deal with perfect people. Any dumb parent could deal with perfect kids.  It takes a really wise God to know how to deal with us. He puts us together to shape us. And we learn from mistakes, ours and others, as we travel this rough pilgrimage side by side. We need each other. We spur each other on. We teach one another.

Perhaps we might also want to look at our definition of church in three ways? 

  1. We might think of a particular religious organization or congregation and all the damage it has done, but maybe it isn't a real Christian church. Maybe it's a cult that uses the Bible to enslave its members. In contrast, a healthy church equips and empowers its members in the love of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
  2. The church is not just one congregation or denomination.  It's the whole thing, the universal church (all nations and generations) of which all Christian believers are a part. Not a single group can fully reflect the wisdom of God. Since I became a believer in 1976, I have been a member or regular attender of many kinds of churches: some Reformed and some Arminian, some that practice infant christening and some that do believers baptism, one tiny house church, one huge megachurch and lots of medium size, some exuberant and some mellow, some charismatic and some cessationist. In each church I saw flaws. In each I found a measure of grace and truth. I learned from each. I was stretched in my faith at each. I loved people at each. And yes, I am truly thankful for each one, warts and all (or scars and all, as the case may be). I have to say I am now a bit more fluid in where I can fit in, though I would say that I am generally Reformed, believers-baptism, and charismatic in my beliefs. Moderate doctrinal differences don't throw me too much as long as the leaders and the laity love the Lord, his word, and other people.
  3. Even a local church is not the equivalent to its pastor and other leaders. It is a whole congregation, a potluck with each one bringing something different to feed each other’s souls. (See On the Church: Potluck, Pedestals & Pr'arrows.)

A quick flip through my massive volume of A History of the Christian Church, written by Williston Walker in 1918, shows me that the church through the ages has gone through major change and conflict. And yet we're still here. Jesus is still working through and working in his Bride.

This isn't a complex article. I'm just trying to get us to think and be thankful. I'd love to spur you on to read the entire book of Ephesians, which talks to much about God's wisdom for the church.

You might also like to read something I wrote several years ago about why we still need the church: Why the Church?

Virginia Knowles

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