Monday, August 06, 2007

1

1. The local church is the hope of the world.

CAUTION #1: I did not write this statement. I shamelessly ripped it from Bill Hybels because he captures my sentiments in his statement better than I can myself.

CAUTION #2: We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by church attendance or anything related to the church. Accordingly, the acknowledgment of the supremacy of Christ's Gospel remains more important than what I shall soon write. As Chris Pappa commented, we peak only at the Gospel. Still, given my personal history and the world's opinions, this lesson struck more forcefully and more poignantly than any other this year.

And with that, off we go. . .

I love the church.

I have never had the ability to honestly say this at any point in my life. Not as a youth. Not in college. Not as recently as nine months ago.

Friends told me I should, but I refused. Youth group simply provided more ridicule for a smart kid, so I did not attend. InterVarsity and my summer ministries gave me plenty of spiritual growth, so I only attended church because IV required it of leaders. Even at the beginning of this year, I attended out of obligation and not desire.

Then I took a membership class at my church. I wanted the name tag. Here, the teacher brought us to Ephesians 5:25 which states "that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." The verse likens Christ's relationship with the church to a husband and his wife. In my walk with God, I had striven to love the Bible because Jesus loved the Bible. I had striven to love people because Jesus loved people. I had striven to love evangelism because Jesus loves it when people follow him.

Yet, I did not love the church though the Bible unequivocally teaches that Christ loves the church.

I became unable to avoid this set of hypothetical questions: Could I really love a friend if I did not care for his wife? How could I claim to love him if I refused to love the one with whom he had become one? How could I love him but not the that which mattered most to him?

In rapid time, the Lord used these Scriptures and questions to develop in me a love for the church. I still cannot explain the transformation, only attest to the results. I love church.

Now love does not necessitate hope, and I boldly proclaimed with Hybels that the church stands as our greatest hope. I believe the church works in necessary tandem with every lesson I have written about so far: It provides grounding for our faith, it meets our needs and our gifts at every age, it calls us out of ease to sacrifice, it guides us in the redemption of our past decisions, it provides a safe community of believers, it motivates and provides opportunity for generosity, it provides an answer for the searchings of our souls, it refuses to acknowledge death's lies, and it proclaims and protects the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In short, in the world I have seen this year, it provides hope.

The Lord has uniquely equipped the church for this duty. He has provided the leadership structure in Paul's epistles and in the example of the early church in Acts, laying out qualifications for and duties of the offices of elder and deacon. Furthermore, he has provided the necessary funds with which to minister to the world's spiritual and physical needs. Can anyone imagine the pile of money a 10% tithe of every world Christian's income would create? We could do unfathomable good if everyone called Christian would simply return to God that which he requireth. He has financially equipped the church as the hope of the world if we will only obey.

Yet, any organization can have solid leadership and plenteous resources. The church finds a great start there, but it differs from every other entity because of the spiritual and largely unexplainable activities between God and his church.

First, the church originates from the mouth of Jesus. Well before the first church ever appeared in Acts, Jesus Christ told Peter he would build his church upon this rock. The word order remains stark, as Christ clearly denotes that "he will build." Nothing can stand in the way of that which Christ claims to build. As Christ continues on and says, "Not even the gates of Hades will overcome [the church]."

Secondly, Jesus gives the church the authority of the keys of the kingdom. He elaborates, saying that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in Heaven and what the church looses on earth will be loosed in Heaven. I confess, dear reader, that I do not know the specifics of that which Christ speaks. If you have any insight as to this binding and loosing, feel free to unleash in the comments. However, Christ clearly gives the church this extreme power which has consequences and repercussions in the heavenly realms. No other body possesses such outstanding authority or influence.

Thirdly, God has bestowed spiritual gifts for the edification of the church. Paul famously lays out a litany of spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12. His words toward the end of the chapter draw less attention where he claims that "God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." The Lord has certainly bestowed upon the body various and plentiful gifts but he does so by appointing them "in the church." In unsearchable fashion, the Lord has bestowed upon the church the perfect amount and combination of individual gifts that she may not lack and that her duties may not suffer.

Finally, Jesus Christ loves his church like a bride. Some of you know the love of husband and wife. Many of you know the love of boyfriend and girlfriend. Nearly all of us know the love of dream. Christ loves his church with that same intensity, fierceness, and commitment that a husband has for his wife, except this Husband loves perfectly. Just as a husband fights for his wife in all ways, so Christ battles for his church and will let nothing harm or abuse her. He looks out for her best interest and cares for her. He perfects her.

For what shall stand in the way of the love of Christ? Let the cross-crushed gates of Hell attest that nothing, nothing shall impede his fierce love!

Now certainly the church falls short of perfection and often even of goodness. It will continue to do so until Christ comes and perfects her members. Lest we use this as a fatal barb against her, if any of us required perfection, we would never marry. Still, the Lord has uniquely equipped his church to cure the ills of the world, both spiritual and physical. He has made claims about her which no other entity in the world may boast, and he has provided for her. What's more, he loves her.

In the face of a world which points to the church's sin and ignores her accomplishments, in our own experiences of disappointment within her walls, in our natural bent towards cynicism and despair, may we love her whom Jesus Christ loves.

She is the hope of the world.

5 comments:

Wilson said...

I really like Bill Hybels. I recommend his book "Courageous Leadership," It is really good.

Tasha said...

Good stuff! I definitely agree with you and your list could mirror my experiences this year except you said it all more eloquently than I ever could. God's blessings on your travel and your ministry! We'll be in touch friend!

Jeff said...

Amen brother.

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