In the last few weeks we have been talking about calling. The term itself is considered by many to be a noble, towering term that belongs to certain professions – teachers, nurses, ministers and missionaries. In this sermon series I am trying to dismantle the unhelpful way in which calling has been elevated out of reach of most – if you really are committed to Christ and want to follow him with your whole heart then you have three options: minister, evangelist, or missionary.
Everyone is called by God. Everyone has a unique make up. RECAP: BE-DO-GO. Your calling is NOT primarily the spiritual gift you discovered you had because you filled out a well-intentioned spiritual gifts survey 10 or 15 years ago.
It is a mystical thing that you are going to have to grapple to figure out. This morning I want to look at the calling of the church. We have set our statement: ECCC exists to make the grace of an invisible God visible. We do that in three way: (1) family that shares life, (2) disciples who grow, (3) missionaries who are sent.
I wholeheartedly promote and endorse those statements and Biblical and helpful for a church. What I do not support is the way we have used them to institutionalise our calling.
The book of Ephesians gives us two pictures of what the church is called to be – a body, and a temple.
2. Church as a body (1 & 4)
Ephesians 1:22-23 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 4:15-16 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
God, through Paul has given us this illustration so that we can understand our vital connection with one another and with him. Christ is pictured as the head and we, the church, are his body. It teaches us that:
- Christ is the source and the centre of the life of the church. The wonder of the illustration is that Paul had no medical understanding of the central nervous system and the brain being the source of all life in the body.
- The life of Christ is in us. The same life of Christ is found in every part of the body. The same life blood flows to each part, the same nervous system functions in all parts. As Jesus said, I am the vine and you are the branches – vital connection.
- Each person has a part to play – 1 Corinthians 12 makes is explicit, but each has an important and distinct role to play.
- No part can temporarily disconnect from the body – when you become part, you are part for life. It is one of the strongest arguments for the centrality of community in the life of the church.
The church should be the full expression of Jesus Christ, who himself fills everything there is. How? Christ is in us. And we are in the world. Paul’s prayer for us today is that we would have wisdom, revelation, knowledge, enlightenment and hope so that we would perceive power of God that is in us. Read Eph 1:17-23.
The passage ends with the promise that we have the fullness of Christ in us, and the commission that Christ fills all the world through the church because we are full of him – “everything in every way” (23).
3. Church as a temple (2)
Ephesians 2:19-22 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Paul says that we are a building, not a building. If you were to ask me, “where is the Leaders Forum happening on Tuesday evening?” What would I say: at church! And therein lies the problem. The living stones (1Peter 2:5) are the bricks from which the church is built. And Christ is the cornerstone – in other words, his unique person and work (life, death, resurrection and ascension) are the foundation and the apostles and prophets testify to it.
The word used in the Greek here for “Temple” is not the general word (hieron) that was used to describe the whole Temple precinct, but the narrow word (naos) used to describe inner sanctuary (holy place and most holy place). So what does that mean about the church? It is the holy meeting place of God and mankind. It is far more than, “we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit”. The community of Christians is where the world finds that presence of God on earth.
4. The idea of proxy
George Washington was the first president of the United States of America. To become the president, he did not need to win an election, he had to fight a war. The British were in power in America. Washington was a brilliant strategist and leader. But consider the odds against him and the defeats he faced. He had devastating losses, face a brutal winter and extreme discouragement among the troops. He was up against the most well-resourced army in the world at that time.
In the end the key difference was proxy. Proxy is the authority to represent someone else. The British soldiers were a well-trained, better equipped fighting machine. But they were there by proxy of the British Empire. They had travelled across the ocean, lived in a foreign land, and were deployed on behalf of the British Empire thousands of kilometres from their homeland.
Against them was the ragtag Continental army (made up of 13 colonies at that time). They were not fighting for the Empire, they were fighting for themselves, for their family and for their neighbours. Do you think the commitment and tenacity would have been tougher and more resilient when you are fighting to defend your own farm, your own town, your own wife, your own freedom? How would it change your perspective? Do you march further, reload quicker, and fight harder?
A. Personal responsibility
The passion and impulse of personal responsibility will always outweigh institutional proxy. Are you fighting for your success or for the success of the organisation? And the bigger the organisation gets the harder it is to fight! The problem is that what ministers often do is that they try to revitalise the institutional proxy of their congregation. Which is a completely unbiblical idea. But we were never meant to delegate Christians work and service to ministers, missionaries, leaders or the church as an institution.
The key is this: Jesus delegated calling and service to me and I get to do it in the community – a body and a temple. You are primarily not responsible to me, you are responsible to Jesus. Jesus has given you unique gifts and abilities and a calling and prepared works in advance for you to do. In John 20:21 Jesus says to the disciples, “as the Father sent me, so I am sending you”. Certainly, it is in the context of mutual support and fellowship.
So it is NOT: Jesus delegated the responsibility to the church or which I am a part. Even the language we use obscures the clear teaching of the Scriptures: How do you serve at church? How can you use your gifts at church? Rather: how are you using your gifts for Jesus – the church is a helpful context/vehicle!
B. The loss of passion
Is it possible that this happens in our heart: it is difficult to get passionate about ECCC? I can find 100 things wrong with ECCC. It is easy to get passionate about Jesus, and it is hard to find even one thing wrong with him!
Questions: is it the calling for the church is to make disciples? It depends what you mean! If you mean by proxy, then NO, NEVER. If mean each is called to do it personally in the context of community, then YES MOST CERTAINLY. But in reality it what has happened is like the Spur only serving Spur Burgers at Head office! We have allowed the church to become the primary channel for communicating the message, to carry the primary responsibility for discipleship and outreach.
If there is a calling for the church then it is to facilitate the community in which Christians are to make disciples. And don’t say I am against the church, I am not. The church has an important role for mutual support and encouragement, unity and joint mission, accountability and partnership. I am just against the church becoming an institutional veil that covers nothing
- Can anyone report any “prepared in advance” moments that you had this last week?
- Remind yourselves what the BE-DO-GO framework means.
Read Ephesians 1:15-23 and 4:14-16
- What do we learn about Christ and his body (the church) in this passage?
- What do you think it means, “the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (23)?
- What is the church commissioned to do?
- What does it mean to be the “fullness of Christ”?
- Where are we meant to be the fullness of Christ?
Read Ephesians 2:19-22
- Paul says that we are a building, not a building – discuss.
- The word for temple (naos) describes the holy place and most holy place. What does this mean for the church?
- Should we call the church “the sanctuary”? (leader: be careful – this could be a lengthy discussion!!)
- To whom did Jesus delegate the responsibility of makings disciples wherever we are – the church or the Christian? What is the problem with Christians giving their proxy to the church?