Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Call to the Church to Grow Up

Most of us who have become disciples of Jesus have probably done so, at least initially, because of what we thought Christ and his Church could offer us.  We found a community that cared for us in a way that no other had.  A friend shared with us the work that God had done in their life and the joy they felt.  We thought going to church would make our parents happy or make our children more well behaved.  Or maybe we just thought heaven sounded better than hell.  As a broken and sinful people our initial reasons for seeking God will likely be mostly selfish so those reasons aren't necessarily a bad place to start but they would be an awful places to stay.

In his letter to the church at Ephesus it seems most likely that Paul is not writing to Christians who are just getting started in the faith.  According to Acts 20, Paul spent three years ministering among the Ephesians "declaring the whole counsel of God to them".  These are not babes in Christ.  Paul has instructed them thoroughly and has left behind a faithful and well established church.  Therefore, when we read the letter to the Ephesians we should recognize that we are not dealing with milk but with solid food.  In it is not only the gospel message but instructions about the consequences of that message for one's life.  Ephesians is for the Christian who is ready to mature in the faith.  Ephesians is a call to grow up.

That call begins with the first words after the letter's obligatory greeting, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".  Those words begin a sentence that is so long that it must be broken into multiple sentences in our English translations but in Greek runs continuously from v.3-14.  In that one long sentence a theme is repeated:

  • Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
  • who has blessed us in Christ
  • just as He chose us
  • He predestined us
  • according to His good pleasure
  • into the praise of His glorious grace
  • in whom we have redemption
  • according to the riches of His grace
  • which he lavished on us
  • making known to us the mystery of his will
  • according to his good please
  • which he planned
  • in whom we have an inheritance 
  • having been predestined according to his plan
  • so that we might be to the praise of his glory
  • in whom also you heard the word of truth
  • in whom you believed and were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit
  • to the praise of His glory
Repeatedly, it is God who acts.  God is the author of our salvation.  It is God who is to be blessed.  God set the plan of redemption in motion. Twice we are told that God did all this according to his good pleasure. Three times we are told everything that God has done for us is "to the praise of His glory".  There is no question we receive many benefits in the salvation that God has provided for us in Jesus Christ, many of which are listed in these verses.  But salvation is not primarily about us.  It is all about God.  All the benefits we receive in salvation are only meant to turn more honor, glory, and praise to God.  The mature Christian recognizes that salvation and the Church and growing up in Christ are about giving glory to God.  

But how many of us actually approach Church that way?  Sure, none of us would be so bold as to actually say that Church is all about us but just think about the ways that we talk about Church.  Think about the reasons why people, and not just any people but people we assume to be mature Christians because they have been in church for decades, leave a church: they don't like the worship style, they don't get along with the pastor, they don't like certain changes that were made.  And then they go shopping for a church that suits them and their own personal preferences: one that will keep their kids entertained, sings the right songs, where the pastor doesn't preach too long, and they are never asked to get too involved or sacrifice too much.

I'm not saying there is never a legitimate reason to leave a church.  I am saying that I think as Americans we are extremely skilled consumers.  We are quite efficient at getting what we think we need at minimal cost to ourselves.  In fact, I think we are such talented consumers that we begin to approach all parts of life that way, seeing things for what we can get out of them.  So we treat churches not so differently from grocery stores; we'll go to the one with the best service and the lowest cost until they raise their prices or change something we don't like and then we'll go to the one across town.  And we think there is nothing wrong with that because we think that churches, like grocery stores, are here to meet our needs, to serve us, and to do whatever they can to win and keep our loyalty which is really no loyalty at all.  

To the Church in America, to my brothers and sisters in Christ, to my own congregation, hear God's call through his Word: GROW UP!  

This is a call to be reminded that salvation, the Church, and growing up in Christ are not about us, not about what we like and don't like, not about our comfort, and not about how we can better be served.   It is about us serving God and serving others with his love so that we might bring honor and glory to the holy God who created us and redeemed us for himself.  Church is not about you and it is not about me.  It is about the blessed God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...

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