May 25, 2009

The Omega and the Alpha (more thoughts)

Adding to the previous post, I think there is an overarching principle to take away from this teaching on the Church. We should understand the Church to be the 'culmination' of God's work in Israel. Too often we understand the Church to be a totally separate 'thing' from Israel. As if the Lord had to go with plan B. The common thinking goes something like this: "God used to have a people called Israel, but now He has a people called the Church". 

This common thinking creates a false dichotomy between God's people of the Old Covenant (OC), and God's people of the New Covenant (NC). The fact is that God's people are God's people. Name any OC saint and know that they are as much a part of the Body of Christ as you or me. God's people are God's people. Our groom has always had and will always have only one bride. God's people are God's people throughout all of time.

The teaching of the NC scriptures are clear; we, the Church, have been engrafted into the tree (Kingdom) which already was. We who were "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope without God in the world ..... have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2). Near to what? -- Near to that which already was. God did not plant a brand new tree. He matured the tree which He had already planted! 

In Christ God has kept His Promises to His people. He has planted, He has watered, He has caused the tree (Kingdom) to grow and mature. This continues even to our day and will continue until our groom comes back for His bride. Then, and only then will we fully realize who we are. May we be granted eyes to see and ears to hear. 

Wade B.

May 24, 2009

The Omega and the Alpha

From time to time I would like to post "stuff I learn" from sermons, SS,  books, etc. . If nothing else it will help me sort out my own thoughts as I write it down, and if anyone stumbles across this blog they might be able to add some helpful insights to open the Scripture up even more.  

Today my Pastor preached from Matt. 13: 24--43. While explaining the parable of 'the kingdom and the mustard seed' beginning in v.31 he offered some perspective that I think is helpful to understanding the Church. He showed how Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, but is also the "Omega and the Alpha". When Jesus' life and ministry are viewed in historic perspective we see that He was first the end (Omega) of the old Covenant, before He was the beginning (Alpha) of the New Covenant. 

Jesus as the end:
Jesus' use of the mustard seed, the "least of all seeds" reminds us of Israel being the "least of all people" (Dt. 7.7). God planted them (Ps. 80.8-11; Ezek. 17.23) and they became a tree which grows up into its fullness in Jesus. 

What was most helpful to me was his pointing out that we should understand this "ending" more as a culmination. Jesus is the culmination of the story of Israel! In Christ the purposes of Israel find their fulfilment. 

Jesus as the beginning:
Just as Jesus is the culmination of the story of Israel, Jesus is the inauguration of the story of the Church. Don't miss the importance of this. The story of the Church has been inaugurated, but it has not been fully consummated.  This language (and the parable) teaches us that it is the nature of the Kingdom of God to grow, to mature.  

Jesus takes a remnant from Israel, plants them, and they will become a great tree in which the nations find rest. (Ezek. 17.23, Dan. 4). 

Stuff I learned from the parable of the mustard seed:

1) This mustard seed (The Kingdom/Church) is planted in His field (v.31). And His field is the earth .............. now. 

2) The nature of the Kingdom is organic: The Kingdom is not something that comes in fully mature, all at once. It begins small and grows/matures. Sometimes this growth will not be perceptible from our perspective, but as surely as the Word of the Lord stands the Kingdom grows.

3) Ultimately this Kingdom (tree) will be the greatest in the world. Under this tree (Kingdom)".......will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord, I have spoken and I will do it." (Ezek. 17.23-24).

Wade B.

May 21, 2009

Goin' To Church

"Going to Church" has become like attending a class. We go, assume one posture (sitting), face the lecturer (preacher), receive our information download (sermon), and then go home.

The result of this is that far too many Christians have been taught (by common methodology) that the Christian life consists mainly of intellectual exercises. This teaches us that being a 'good Christian' is measured by how you think, not by how you love.

How we worship together also teaches us!

Wade B.

May 17, 2009

A Question

Question: Is the gospel about saving individual souls or is it about building a Christ honoring culture (Kingdom) on the earth?
Answer: Both.

This type of question creates false dilemmas that I believe are responsible for disagreements in many areas of evangelicalism today. Most (not all) disagreements come about because the parties involved take opposing sides of an either/or dilemma ("It's either the Word preached or the Sacraments", "It's either the family or the Church", etc.). If only we could recognize that to some degree the truth usually involves both, and we have probably placed too much emphasis  on one side or the other. 

I think this is what has happened with the question posed above. In our modern hyper-spiritual, individualistic, introspective, even hyper-evangelistic Church culture we have gone too far in focussing on the individual and if we can "get them saved".  For these new converts and even for our own children, our focus in discipleship normally consists only of making sure they go to Church, read their Bibles, and have their personal "quiet time". The modern Church's focus is almost totally on what we consider to be personal piety.

We have forgotten that the gospel, while it certainly includes the salvation of individuals, is more about the restoration of man as a community. The gospel is more about restoring how we, as the people of God, relate to God and to one another. The gospel is about how God, in Christ, through Christ, and for Christ has kept His promises to reconcile fallen humanity to Himself. We, the Church, are that new humanity! 

Wade B.

May 13, 2009

Citizens of The City

I guess you can't talk about "the Church" without addressing the Greek term ekklesia. This is the term most often used in the N.T. for the Church, .... but why? What were the N.T. writers trying to teach us about ourselves by picking this term? 

This term was used in the Septuagint (LXX) to describe the assembly of Israel in many different contexts. It is used for Israel as a religious, social and political body. In the Greek world it was used to describe the citizens of a particular city when they gathered for "official" business. To put it bluntly, ekklesia was and is an inherently social and political term.

When Paul went to Gentile cities and proclaimed the message of the gospel, he was announcing to the leaders and citizens of that city that a new city was being formed and in this new city we bow the knee to King Jesus. In this new city, we have our own story and are governed by our own King. The Church was not being offered as a club or sect that existed along side or under that particular city, but as a clear alternative to that "city of man".  

Wade B.

May 6, 2009

We Sure are Spiritual

The modern Christian conceives of Christianity as an internal religion, existing in the spiritual realm of the 'heart'. This mindset insures that the Church has nothing to say about all of the physical stuff in the world like education, our judicial system, politics, etc. . In short, this mindset makes us think that most of the world in which we live is outside the realm of the Church. 

Wade B.

What Battle?

If the Church is to be a new culture (which she is), doesn't it seem likely that we would be at odds with any culture that 'competes' with us? If we are proclaiming the gospel rightly, then isn't a battle inevitable? Didn't Jesus tell us that the world would hate us?

As we have it, the Church is at peace with the world around us. What does this say about the manner in which we are proclaiming the gospel?

Wade B.

May 3, 2009

Tell Me the Old Old Story

Every culture is defined by its stories. For any culture to survive it is imperative that these stories be passed on to the next generation. Take our national culture as an example. Our calendar is organized around special days which commemorate, memorialize, and help tell the story of who we are as a nation. It's these 'stories' that define us as a nation. Telling and retelling the stories of who we are and where we have come from helps create a sense of common history and common purpose which bind us all together as 'Americans'. This sense of common history and purpose creates in a cultures' citizens the single greatest attribute necessary for its perpetuation -- loyalty

One question in my mind is; 'How have we come to the place in the modern Church where there seems to be so much confusion over who we are '? The answer to this question, I am convinced,  has much to do with the story of the Church, which ultimately defines us. One thing we must be aware of is who is telling our story and thus, who is defining the Church?  We have allowed modern society (the world) to define the Church for us , and so we think that the Church is supposed to be a private, religious club that we tack on to all our other weekly activities. And as long as the Church doesn't interfere with the lives of those who don't belong to 'our club' we are allowed to live peaceably with the world around us.  We have allowed the government to define the Church for us, and so we believe its normal for the Church to exist at the margins of American culture. We have been convinced that the government exists to take care of "public/corporate" concerns and the Church exists to take care of "private/individual" concerns.  As long as we behave and stay where they want us, the government will let us keep our 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. If we're not a 501(c)(3) then we're not really a church, right? We have too often confused the story of the Church with the story of the USA. So much so that some of us actually think that the spread of "democracy" and the spread of the gospel are the same thing. 

Make no mistake about it, the Church of Jesus Christ is meant to be a culture. And like other cultures we have a story. The problem is, as Christians, we don't know our own story anymore. We have forgotten that our story starts in Genesis and not in Matthew, therefore most of our local congregations are only taught one third of their identity.  We have forgotten that it is our triune God Himself who defines us. We are what and who He says we are. He has given us His written word which tells us exactly who we are and what we have been created to do. His written Word is not a systematic theology textbook. It is a book which tells a story. Properly understood it is The Book which tells The Story. If you are one of His, if you are a part of the people of God, a member of the Body and Bride of Christ, then this is YOUR STORY.

Most importantly, we have forgotten how crucial it is that we know the whole story of who we are so that we can pass on our story faithfully to the next generation. The story of the Church must be told and retold to our children and our children's children. We must know our common history, embrace our common purpose and pledge our loyalty to our common King, King Jesus!

Wade B.

May 1, 2009

Who did you say you were?

Some of the confusion in the Church comes about because we simply don't know who we are. And because we don't know who we are, we don't know what we are to be doing. I realize there is a lot in those statements, much more than can be covered in one post, but here is where I am convinced we can begin to unpack some of what is foundational to our understanding of who and what the Church is.

I am certainly not trying to give an exhaustive definition of the Church. I've heard it said of artists that when they begin painting a picture they start with the background and finish with the detailed portions of the foreground. I think its most helpful to do the same with understanding the Church. Start with overarching principles, then move to the details. So, overall, who are we?

The Church is the new creation. The Church is a new humanity, created in, for and by Christ Jesus. We have been recreated in Christ to live together before God the way humanity was always intended to live before God. 

Wade B.