Act Five: The Church — The Vocation Shared

Act Five: The Church — The Vocation Shared

 As we continue on with our examination of the Bible in the form of a six Act play, this week we now come to the fifth Act of our story. This act is very important to us, not just because of the role it plays in the overall story, but also because this is the part that you and I currently live in, if we choose to do so. I am calling the sixth act, “The Church: The Vocation Shared,” which indicates to us the role the church now has in God’s greater story. The church takes up the original creation vocation, not in full, as Christ has done, but in anticipation of someday sharing the completed human vocation with Christ for all eternity. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

It may be true, because of present circumstances, that this is one of the more misunderstood parts of the Biblical story. Depending on how you were raised and what kind of experiences you’ve had, people generally have a love or hate relationship with the Church. If you grew up in a church and your experiences were largely good and supportive, it is very likely you think highly of Church. If, on the other hand, you were hurt by someone in the Church, it is quite likely you feel ambivalence or hostility toward it; especially if you perceive, and correctly so, that those in the Church should be like Christ. Still others may have observed the Church from the outside and not feel particularly strong one way or the other. But before we talk about what the Church’s role is supposed to be in our own modern context, let’s take a moment to examine from scripture how the church originated.

The story of the origination of the Church is found in Acts chapter two and takes place 50 days after the death of Christ. You may recall that Jesus was crucified during the Jewish festival known as Passover, but the beginning of the Church takes places during the festival of Pentecost, which was a Jewish celebration of the giving of the law. During these festivals it was common for Jews from all over the ancient world to travel to Jerusalem on pilgrimage to worship at the temple. In the wisdom of God, it was during one of these festivals that the news about Jesus was first preached by the apostles.

In a strange and fantastic event, Acts 2 tells us the story of how the apostles were filled with God’s Holy Spirit and began to preach about Jesus to all those who had gathered in Jerusalem from various places. Each of the people was able to hear the message in their own language as the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to preach to them in their native tongue. The main speaker that day, however, was Peter, and he preached about the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. When the people heard the message they were convicted in their hearts that Jesus really was God’s Son and that something terribly wrong had been done to him. When they asked Peter what they should do in response to his sermon he gave them a very simple answer: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and you too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

The Bible tells us that about three thousand people responded to Peter’s call that day and were baptized into Christ. But in the next few verses of the same chapter, we are then told what these people did who had repented and were baptized—they devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, they gathered together in fellowship and to share meals, and they prayed. (Acts 2:42) It was as simple as that. There were other signs that something different was taking place. All those who were baptized decided to share everything in common. People began selling some of their goods to gather a fund to see to it that everyone in their community had their needs met. There was obviously a pervasive sense of hope and love as people shared their lives with one another. In short, what you saw were a people who had been “redeemed” from sin. No longer were anger, contempt, lust, manipulation, and other such things the defining characteristics of their community; now it was faith, hope, and love. At root, this is who the church is; they are a people who have been redeemed by Christ, and who now anticipate what will one day be true holistically. They do this primarily through worship, and by gathering together to learn how to put on the character of Christ.

In my experience there are often two mistakes that are made about the Church. The first mistake is to believe that the Church is a body of people who are perfect. One only has to reflect on their own personal experience with people who are Christians to know this is not true. Unfortunately, this fact is often used against Christians as they become very easy targets for the charge of hypocrisy. Certainly, hypocrisy has always been a problem among those who profess to attain to a higher way of life, and we all know someone for whom the title is very appropriate. But it is also important to understand that the Bible never claims that Christians (or the Church) will be perfect. As a matter of fact, if you read the letters of the New Testament that come after the book of Acts, you will find letters that are written to churches that are having all sorts of moral problems. Whether it be racial tensions (Jew/Gentile), sexual immorality, or issues of jealousy and anger, the first Christians had to struggle to overcome sinful habits.

There is a simple reason why this is true. Inside the Church itself there are many different people, each of whom is at a different place on the spiritual journey. Some, thank God, are very far advanced and their character is consistently expressed in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and so on. But not everyone in the church has achieved this quality of character. Even though God promises in Acts 2:38 that the gift of the Holy Spirit is one of the many blessings of our relationship with Christ, that does not mean that a new character is immediately given to us by God. For some, a dramatic change may be experienced at conversion, but for most the process of releasing old ways of thinking and acting takes a lot of time, as well as grace provided by God. That is why when you walk into any church building you will find things that both inspire you and disappoint you. The Christian life is a learning process and every church is filled with people at different stages of learning.

But having said that, there is also another mistake made that is often portrayed on bumper stickers. You may recall seeing the phrase, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven”? In one sense, this is absolutely true. No person can be in right relationship with God based on their own perfection of life; it is always based on forgiveness. But the sentiment that goes along with this bumper sticker slogan is often misguided. A common attitude in the modern Church says that because we are forgiven by God’s grace then no effort toward growth is necessary. This is not true. While the teaching of the Bible is clearly against earning, it is not the least bit opposed to effort. The Christian life is a dual process of God providing grace so that people can change, and people implementing that grace through their own learning, diligence and hard work. The end result is meant to be a change in character that allows a person to very naturally carry out the teachings of Jesus.

So the Church was never meant to be perfect, but it is to have a qualitatively different life than those who do not seek God. All of this is in anticipation of our future role with Christ which will once and for all bring the full human vocation to fruition under God.

 

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  • By marketing opportunities on September 16, 2018 at 6:03 am

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    Act Five: The Church

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