The Lord’s Supper isn’t a funeral dirge of morbid introspective guilt-motivated mourning but a joyful Jesus-focused feast of celebration.
The Lord’s Supper isn’t a funeral dirge of morbid introspective guilt-motivated mourning but a joyful Jesus-focused feast of celebration.
Once upon a time and for only about 8 long weeks, I was training to be a combat controller (I was medically disqualified because of my eyesight, but now I see God’s hand in that). Becoming a combat controller demands that all candidates be in world-class physical condition and one of the big philosophies ingrained in me early on is that you must focus on your weaknesses. If you’re a really great runner but you’re horrible at push-ups, then you need to double your training-efforts to get better at push-ups. If you can knock out pull-ups with no problem but you sink like a rock in the pool, then you need to spend extra time developing your form. It made a lot of sense, because all combat controllers need to be pretty evenly rounded when they’re out on missions.
Somehow, this mentality stuck with me for the rest of my military career and, even worse, as a Christian. While there is some merit to this approach, I think it’s significantly short-sighted when it comes to our spiritual gifts. This is the first lesson God has taught me in seminary. According to 1 Cor 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (Another translation I just learned about, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, puts it like this: “Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it.”) Later on, Paul develops this thought a little more specifically by saying that we’ve each been given very specific gifts for very specific reasons and that no one is a miniature body with all the gifts (1 Cor 12:18-20). This diversity is meant to cause unity and interdependence in the Church.
Coming into seminary, I thought “I feel like God has given me a gift and a calling to teach, so I need to supplement that with classes about pastoring and shepherding.” I had imported the combat control mentality that I needed to be “balanced” or “well-rounded” into my calling. This really doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Paul agreed in 1 Cor 12:17 when he points out how ridiculous it would be for every member of the church to try to have the same spiritual gifts.
I’ve realized that, instead of trying to compensate for areas where God has not gifted me, I should be focusing on the areas where God has gifted me. Instead of trying to be a flashlight and shine over a wide area, I should be like a laser and focus on the central area where God has gifted me. In Maximizing Your Effectiveness: How to Discover and Develop Your Divine Design, Aubrey Malphurs says about spiritual gifts:
“God has sovereignly made us just the way we are–God is the Architect, the Master Designer, the Potter. Whether you are an ear or an eye, 1 Corinthians 12:18 teaches, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Therefore, there is no need to be upset with our place or function in the body of Christ. Instead, there is much satisfaction in knowing we are ministering in accordance with God’s design and purpose for our lives. The key is discovering which body part you are, then functioning according to that design.”
So, the first big lesson that God has taught me is that it’s time to embrace the gifts He’s given me and realize that others in the Body will be able to minister in areas where I’m not gifted. This season of my life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness my spiritual gifts in preparation for full-time ministry. It would be foolish and wasteful of me to try to become the spiritual equivalent of a Swiss-army Knife when God has gifted me to be something far more specific and useful. I encourage you to pray for wisdom and discernment and ask God to reveal the gifts He’s given you; then serve in those areas mightily for God’s glory and your joy.
“Churchgoers all across the nation say the Holy Spirit has entered them. They claim that God has given them a supernatural ability to follow Christ, put their sin to death, and serve the church. Christians talk about being born again say that they they were dead but now have come to life. We have become hardened to those words, but they are powerful words that have significant meaning. Yet when those outside the church see no difference in our lives, they begin to question our integrity, out sanity, or even worse, our God. And can you blame them?”
– Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2009), 32-33.
(This is part fourteen of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)
I think this may be the most widely misunderstood line of the Apostles’ Creed. What does it mean to say…
“I believe in the holy catholic church.”
How many sermons have you heard on ecclesiology? Yeah, zero, right? That’s because many Christians, pastors included, take for granted the doctrine of the Church. Did you notice that I just used a big-C when I said Church? That’s the focus of this entry: the difference between a church and the Church.
The best definition I’ve heard for “the Church” comes from Wayne Grudem‘s Systematic Theology. He defines “the Church” as “the community of all true believers for all time.” A church is a building; the Church is an eternal group of believers. A church is built out of brick and mortar by the hands of men; the Church is an eternal community built by God. Therefore, there is the visible church (a building) and the invisible church (an eternal community); a church and the Church. To miss the distinction here is to miss the entire point of this entry and what this line is all about. Also, when we talk about the “holy catholic church,” the word catholic simply means “universal”. So in this line, we’re talking about the community of all true believers for all time; this is the universal church (however, this is not universalism).
That’s why, in this line, we also use the word “holy” to describe the Church; the Church is holy because it is not a work of man, but a work of God. So what about the horrible things that have happened in the name of God over the centuries? For example, what about the Crusades? In the Crusades their mantra was Deus vult or “God wills it!” Here’s the interesting part about using any of those historical examples; everyone knows on some level that the Crusades go against what the Bible teaches, right? We all know God’s desire for “the Church” does not match the actions of the Crusaders. At some level, we all have an idea of how the Church should look and how it does look. And we all know the Crusades are irreconcilable to Scripture, right? (And on a more personal level, we all have an idea of how our own personal conduct should look and how it does look.) This goes back to the visible church versus the invisible Church; which one was responsible for the Crusades? Were the Crusades a semi-political cause that was the fruit of widespread corruption within a visible, man-made institution? Or were the Crusades the will of God as His will was done on earth through His invisible Church? One consistent pattern throughout all Scriptures and all human history is that, when people get involved, things go wrong. Because of the taint of sin and because all of creation, including us, is subject to physical and moral decay (Romans 8:21) we need the Church. The need visible churches to fulfill their mission as the invisible Church. And, within the pews and seats of those churches, we need Christians to live their lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). We live in a world that desperately needs “the Church.”
This brings us to a largely forgotten and likely unappealing Latin phrase: extra Ecclesiam nulla salus! In English, this means “outside the Church there is no salvation.” Notice it’s “the Church”? That’s what this phrase refers to! So why do I bring that up? Hang in there with me!
Have you ever met someone who says something like…
“Oh yeah, I believe in God just not organized religion!”
“I don’t need to go to some building for God.”
“I don’t trust institutions.”
“I have my own little church-like experience without going to a building.”
Well, if you hear someone say that, they’re revealing a deep ignorance of or apathy towards the Scripture. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but I’m just calling a spade a spade! Being connected to the Church, not the building but the true community of believers, is a fruit of being connected to God. People who say they connect with God by themselves are just making excuses for not being involved in a community of Christians; it’s that simple. How can you love God if you don’t love God’s people? First John 4:21 says that if we love God we will love our brother. Who is our brother? Our brother is our brother in Christ. Thus, if we do not love our brother in Christ, we prove do not love Christ (1 John 4:20).
For example, in John 10:14-15 Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd.” What does He lay His life down for? The flock! Sheep travel in flocks. In Acts 2:42, the newly baptized Christians devoted themselves to “the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They were devoted to the fellowship, not to themselves. True Christianity is not a solitary practice but something done within the context of community. In 1 Peter 2:4, the author describes the members of that church as “living stones” that are being built into “a spiritual house.” One brick by itself does not have a purpose; bricks are made to be used together. Peter continues by describing that church (and subsequently all Christians) as “a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people…” (1 Pet 2:9). The context here is very clearly a community; not individual people who never get together. Proverbs 12:17 says that “iron sharpens iron;” it doesn’t say that iron sharpens itself. We need one another to encourage and build one another up, to challenge one another, and to call one another out when we need to repent.
People who share common interests will gather. People who love to run run will form running clubs and will participate in races; people who love to swim will join swimming teams and attend swim meets; people who love to shoot guns (and want to protect the 2nd Amendment) will join the NRA and go to a shooting range; and perhaps the most notorious, people who believe in a political cause will gather together with hopes of enacting some type of change. (Before you argue that people can run, swim, or shoot guns by themselves, please take a minute to consider if you can baptize yourself or take Communion by yourself.) At the very least, people who share common interests will find one another and become friends; unless, of course, your single greatest passion is being alone! People who are passionately in love with God, desire to learn more about His Word, and hope to do His will in this dark, broken world will gather. They will feel compelled to find one another. It’s inevitable! If you love God, then you will want to participate in God’s mission. Guess where that is? The Church! God’s agent in this world is the Church. Thus, if you love God you will want to be involved in God’s Church so as to be part of God’s work in this world. Simple, right?
Let’s look elsewhere at Hebrews 10:24-25, shall we? How can we claim to be connected to the Head (Christ) if we are not connected to the Body (the Church)? Martin Luther, the catalyst of the Reformation, said this about the Church:
Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation.
The idea of a personal connection to God outside of the context of a community is, in the grand scheme of things, a very new concept. While we are individually connected to God through Christ, we become part of a body; no man is an island. It’s the result of post-Enlightenment thinking and its resultant individualism; two ideas that permeate Western thinking and the mentality of Americans. Be careful of those who claim to be connected to God, but not connected to God’s Church.
However, for those who are members of God’s Body, there is a beautiful connection, which is what we’ll be looking at in the next line of the Apostles’ Creed, so don’t touch that dial!
according to His eternal purpose: once again, God has had a plan since the begining.
which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord: Pretty simple: mission accomplished.
This verse is great for me and I wish I had more time to elaborate, but I gotta run.
Ch Hundley and the rest of the Protestant Advisory Council members (PACs) feel the only way to make that service healthy is by making it self-sufficient. The body can’t hold itself up if all the parts aren’t working together in harmony and mutually supporting one another. Obviously that applies to our 1700 service too!
However, we want to see the right people in the right spots too. We don’t want people to feel obligate and we don’t want people doing something they don’t have any talent for. If I’m a horrible teacher and I’m teaching the Sunday school class, then I’m kinda in the way of who God really wants to teach.
This verse reminds me that no matter what, we need to consult God first and foremost. The Holy Spirit will call the workers into the harvest field, and the Spirit will even call those workers to the right spots. That’s what I pray happens. I pray that we can see the right people called and serving in the right spots.
And why do we want to have a healthy service? Two reasons! First and foremost, to bring glory to God. And second, to see more people come to know Jesus.
Peace and love,