Some of you, it is conceivable, may be waiting for me to post something to this blog. I've not been doing so lately because I've been buried in writing for a couple projects. Anyway, I do want to share something with you to kind of tide you over until I can get back to regular writing. The following reflects some of the thoughts that I shared last Sunday night in house church at TIBM and is actually an excerpt from a chapter that I'm writing for a book the will come out next year. I hope you're an Ephesians fan! Enjoy:
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which served as the primary Scriptural focus of Cape Town 2010, one gets the impression that if a follower of Christ wishes to have anything approaching a meaningful relationship with God, they must become deeply enmeshed with the life of the Church in its wholeness. It is, in the language of the Apostle, the Church who has received “every spiritual blessing” (1:3) and that has become “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:23). The Church is his “body” (1:23), his “workmanship” (2:10), a company of “fellow citizens” and members of “the household of God”(2:19), a “temple” in which the Holy Spirit dwells (2:21-22), and Christ’s own bride, the object of his tender care and nourishment (5:32).
What is more, it is clear from Ephesians that at least three things, and those of paramount importance, are possible only within the context of the whole Church. First, making known the “manifold wisdom of God” to the invisible realm of evil spiritual “rulers and authorities” is something that God has purposed to do “through the Church” (3:10-11). This is accomplished as peoples from many divergent and often mutually hostile nations and cultures become one body through the peace-making cross of Jesus Christ (2:12-3:10). Consequently, the more wholeness is realized among the nations and peoples of the earth through the blood of Christ, and the more he himself is manifested as the peace of the Church that truly joins us together as one new humanity, the more awesome the resulting display will be of God’s wisdom to the demonic spiritual realm. According to John Piper, in his exposition of this passage at the Congress, “There isn’t anything greater that can be said about the global Church of Jesus but that, through the death of the Messiah, God has created a people in whom he means for his infinite wisdom to be manifest to the cosmic powers of evil”
Secondly, it is only “together with all the saints” that Christ-followers can find the strength to comprehend the multidimensional love of Christ and, through that, to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (3:18-19). Such love, we are told, “surpasses knowledge” (3:19) and thus lies outside the grasp of a divided and fragmented Church. But when Christians from every family on earth, “rooted and grounded in love” and indwelt by the Spirit, join together in partnership and communion, the breadth and length and height and depth of divine love is brought into full relief, God is glorified, and we are filled (3:14-21).
Finally, we see that outside the context of the whole Church, genuine spiritual maturity is likewise impossible. Paul exhorts us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” for a very practical reason (4:3). There is a single, universal Church and only one Holy Spirit (4:4), but the grace-ministering gifts of Christ are varied and have been distributed to Christians (4:7) far and wide. Doug Birdsall’s vision of Cape Town 2010 being an “international gift exchange”
(Birdsall, 2010) is exactly what Paul argues is always and at all times required. He says that all the saints are to be equipped. All are to attain to the unity of the faith. All are to become spiritually mature. But this is possible for none unless the whole body is “joined and held together,” “each part working properly” and thus promoting the growth of the Church in the love of Christ (4:16). I dare not presume that all the gifts and manifestations of God’s grace exist within the confines of my own local, denominational, or even national church. I need the whole body.