On This Rock (Christ Shaped Church Part II)

The Church

The church is central in the Bible. Most of the New Testament is made up of letters to churches and the parts that aren’t either tell the story of the church, lay its foundation, or predict its future. Even in the Old Testament, there is a way to understand Israel as God’s church in the world. From beginning to end the Bible is a thoroughly church-centered book, which means the Christian life is a thoroughly church-centered life.

This truth is often misunderstood. I am not arguing for some sort of ecclesiastical formalism, or depreciating the individual Christian life. I am also not defending everything that can be or has been done in the name of the church. Sadly, there are plenty of true stories of ecclesiastical abuse and unfaithfulness, but my plea is this: don’t give up on the church. Don’t lose hope in something that Jesus loves. The promise of the church endures, because Jesus guarantees the promise.

This series is a study of 1 Peter 1:22-2:10. Any number of passages would serve as excellent studies of the church, but there is something poetic about studying Peter’s writings. It was Peter, after all, to whom Jesus made the statement in Matthew 16:18:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

1 Peter 1:22-2:10 is a deeply rich section of Scripture concerning the local church. Several themes coexist and intertwine with one another in such a way that a quick reading risks missing the thrust of the whole. The passage begins with community (love one another earnestly, 1:22) and ends with community (Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people, 2:10). The heart of the passage is about community as well (As you come to him… you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, 2:4-5a).

Here’s the key theme of this entire series: The only answer to our longing to belong is found in Christ’s Christ-shaped community: the church. Our goal in the next article will be to give that phrase meaning.

(By: Nicolas Alford)

Longing to Belong (Christ Shaped Church Part 1)

The Church

Have you ever been in a place and among a people where you truly felt that you belonged? Can think back to a precious family memory, maybe a Christmas morning or a Thanksgiving meal? Have you experienced that deep sense of belonging through sports, finding it in the camaraderie of mutual victory (or common defeat)? Has there been a particular groups of friends that know you inside out, that laugh at all the same jokes and cry at all the same stories?

On the flipside, have you ever felt deeply and desperately alone? I think we often miss the point of loneliness. Real loneliness isn’t utter solitude. It’s not found on a two-week hike in a remote mountain range. It’s not hidden on the dark side of the moon. It’s not even a rainy afternoon without reliable wifi. The loneliest place in the world is actually a crowded room, when you believe you don’t belong. There is no isolation deeper than having community all around you and still feeling like you’re on the outside looking in.

The Inconsolable Secret

The Christian Philosopher C. S. Lewis captured something universal in his essay The Weight of Glory:

The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality is part of our inconsolable secret.[1]

Lewis touches upon a common reality, what he calls our inconsolable secret, the shared fact we all desperately want to have a place we fit in and belong. Communally, we long for community. The human heart is like a puzzle piece that will never be complete on it’s own, one that can be quite easily damaged by trying to force itself where it doesn’t really belong. The phenomena we call nostalgia testifies to the truth that we all, deep down, just want to go home.

There are millions of false or halfway answers to our longing to belong. There are crowds upon crowds that we can join to try and quench our inconsolable secret, but they never work because what we are really seeking is not a crowd, but a community. There’s a very important difference between those two things.

A crowd is a place to get lost in; a community is a place to be found.

A crowd is a place to visit; a community is a place to come home.

A crowd a place to be a stranger; a community is a place to be family

Christ Shaped Church  

The only full solution to our longing to belong is found in the Christ-shaped community of the church. That is an audacious claim, but a congregation is called to be a community that believes it and lives it out. When it does, even this audacious claim can come marvelously true, but only insofar as the unity and core of the local church is Christ himself. That is what sets the church apart from any other gathering on earth – only the church has the personal promise of Christ that he will be with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)

God’s mission for the world is bound up in his people, and he binds his people together in the church. In articles to come, we will explore the ways that Jesus’ presence reshapes his people into his own image on earth. In so doing, we will encounter the answer to our inconsolable secret, and finally fulfill our longing to belong.

(by: Nicolas Alford)

[1] Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory, available for free online at http://www.verber.com/mark/xian/weight-of-glory.pdf

The Parable of a Man and a Bride

Christian Living, The Church
(By: Nick Kennicott)
Cat-Reception-CakeToppers-Traditional-tThere was a man who had a growing interest in a young lady, so he patiently, slowly, prayerfully, but excitedly learned all that he could about her. He would visit with her every Sunday, and eventually was even visiting her in the middle of the week for an hour or two. As the weeks went on, he was meeting more and more of her family and began to sense that he was fitting in quite well with all of them. Before he knew it, he was doing everything he could with the young lady and her family, and he couldn’t imagine doing the rest of his life without her. So, he made a covenant with the young lady and they were married.

At first, the marriage was beautiful. The man was always serving his bride, doing everything he could to make sure she was taken care of. He was attentive to her needs, he was listening for ways he could be a blessing, he was even feeling more and more comfortable with finding ways to lead her and take initiative to see that she was doing new, creative, and different things to fulfill all the goals they talked about fulfilling when they first got married.

After a while, the newness wore off. He didn’t always agree with decisions she was making and he was beginning to see that her family wasn’t as perfect as he once thought them to be. In time, she just wasn’t the same beautiful lady that he remembered marrying several years ago. She hadn’t really changed all that much, but his perception and commitment did. First, it was the extra events that they had been engaged in throughout the week that he started setting aside. His bride remained committed to the same routine they had set out on before, but he was losing interest. Her family would lovingly and gently ask him if everything was alright, and if there was any reason why he seemed to be pulling away from his bride; it seemed so unlike him after being so faithful to her in so many ways over the years. Eventually, he was even finding more and more reasons to skip the regular Sunday time together that they kept up from day one.

Soon, the man was setting his eyes on another young lady. In many ways, she looked a lot like his bride did when they first met. This girl was welcoming, encouraging, and eager for him to meet her family. So, over time he spent fewer and fewer Sundays with his bride, and more and more with the new girl. Even when his bride suspected something else was going on, he regularly retorted that he’s just busy with life. But eventually he was spending all of his time with the new girl; It looked a lot like it did when he was first showing interest in his bride. Eventually, he convinced himself to break it off with his bride. This new relationship would be different. The problems he had before would go away because she’s a lot more of what he was looking for in the first place. Her family is better—less judgmental and a lot more loving—and he’s sure to tell everyone that he doesn’t regret, and is even thankful for the time he spent with his bride, but she just wasn’t helping him become what he wanted to become anymore. It was time to move on.

Now that he had found a new girl and entered into a covenant with her, it was all going to be so much better. But it wasn’t. A few years down the road, the newness wore off…

Leavers, Cleavers, and Covenant Union

Christ in the Old Testament, The Church, Theology

(By: Chris Marley)

Christ and His Bride foreshadowed in Genesis 2:24

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Proposal_(1872)After Introducing the Princess Bride to the Prototype of an Ideal Husband as Our Lady of the Rib, we are told, “…A man shall leave his father… and shall cleave unto his wife” in Genesis 2:24. Here, a general precedent is set for a man to leave his home, his place of origin, and cleave to his bride. The man is called upon to leave his father’s house, wherein he lacks no need and has the comfort of familiarity, out of a desire for a bride. In leaving one home, he must then undertake the responsibility of head of the new household, becoming the provider of his family, and lead in the new home. The now-husband assumes the debts and needs of his new bride.

In like fashion, Christ came from heaven, leaving the heavenly home and Father, and redeemed for himself a bride. He left heaven and Father where he held the glory and sovereignty which he shared with the Father  (John 17:5). He left an earthly mother, Mary, in order to endure the hardships of life in a fallen world. He lived a perfect life of obedience in order to clothe his bride and fulfill her debt. He would even be obedient unto the death of the cross, declaring vows that sealed the bride to himself. In doing these things, he assumed the debt of the bride and paid it in full. He took the Federal Headship, leaving home, father, and mother, in order to cleave to his bride.The second theme in this verse is that a man and his wife shall be one flesh. Now remember, this is God who is creating. He could have made

The second theme in this verse is that a man and his wife shall be one flesh. Now remember, this is God who is creating. He could have made us asexual creatures, but one of the major reasons he did not is in order to provide us with a metaphor of his relationship to us. On the pragmatic side of things, it is important to note that this is about “wife,” “girl in a committed relationship,” or “girl man has very strong feelings about,” but “wife.” This is about covenant relationship. Men and women are not meant to seek the physicality of marriage without the covenant of marriage.

On the other side of the metaphor, we should rejoice that Christ’s love is within the confines of a covenant. It is not seasonal, it will not fade, and it will not forget. It is the thing signified by marriage, and is greater than earthly marriage, because there is no “‘till death do us part” clause in the Covenant of Grace.

If we are meant to see Christ in every page of Scripture, why is this narrative being related to us? Because the bridegroom and bride will become one flesh, first by Christ taking on flesh, and then by our being born again in his likeness. How mysterious and beautiful is the union with Christ! The doctrine of Union with Christ is both delicate and volatile. Some would ignore it for fear of straying into error. Others may be too bold, even claiming that saints become God in some way as if they merge into some Christian version of Nirvana. There is a balance, and it is most easily found through this metaphor.

A husband and wife become one in marriage. There are imputed values (like a balance-transfer) that take place. A wife is given all of her husband’s assets and/or debts. Likewise, a husband receives all those belonging to his wife. They share a last name, a home, finances, and possessions. There is a physical union in the marriage bed. They should speak with a united voice on decisions made for the household and the purposes of the family. Everything becomes mutual in as much as is possible.

Yet distinctions do exist. There are still two physical bodies, two minds, two souls, two sets of interests and opinions that will never fully merge. It is foolish to pretend otherwise. The wife of a surgeon may receive esteem and the financial stability of a surgeon’s paycheck, but she should never take up the scalpel and attempt a heart transplant (unless she goes through medical school herself). My wife is trained as a florist, but that does not miraculously make me capable of building a bridal bouquet.

Likewise, the union of the believer with Christ is extraordinary. By imputation, the believer is counted as holding the righteousness of Christ’s earthly ministry. How beautiful! How mysterious! The Bride receives only of Christ’s good while Christ assumes only her debt to be paid on the cross. The more believers grow in grace and knowledge of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the more their mind is conformed to Him and the more their heart desires that which is good and holy. The saint has the security before God that the Son does! However much the saint is one with Christ, though, he is still separate and distinct. The believer will not achieve the archetypal knowledge of God, nor the power to speak and create ex nihilo. Certainly the glory and honor owed to God will ever remain his own. Only Christ, being God, could claim before the Father, “…Yours are mine.” John 17:10. We can only declare to God, “What is mine is yours.” Yet, the believer is bound to Christ more securely than a wedding license can provide, more intimately than the wedding bed, more magnificently than earthly marriage can display. This is union with Christ.

When the two become one in the earthly marriage, life is produced. This is not perfectly consistent because nothing is in earthly marriage. But what we see is a kind of bizarre mathematical concept that the one plus one equals one… plus one. God used the intimacy of marriage as the means to produce new life. I will not belabor the earthly aspect, but the thing signified in Christ and church bears exploring.

It is important to note that this does not defy the monergistic nature of salvation (a technical term for stating that it is Christ alone who saves). Some would claim that man co-authors his salvation (synergistic), but it is God who saves. The Father chooses, the Son redeems, and the Holy Spirit quickens. The church does not co-author that salvation, but God uses means and secondary causes. God uses his bride to accomplish salvation through the general call to salvation.

Paul states that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the preaching of the word of God, Romans 10:17. This is the ordinary means of salvation. God works through the foolishness of preaching to quicken the spirit, regenerating the heart to respond in faith to the message preached. It is not usual, ordinary, or to be expected that God should speak in an audible voice as he did with Noah, Abraham, and Paul. Rather, God uses his already-awakened redeemed to share the gospel that awakened them. Not every sharing of testimony or even every faithful, clear, gospel-preaching sermon automatically results in sinners being saved. It requires the attending work of the Holy Spirit for redemption to be applied.

Here is where the metaphor applies. For earthly children to be born, the husband and wife are to meet together in intimacy. For earthly men to be born again as children of the kingdom of God, the bride of Christ must meet with her husband. When Christ chooses to so visit his bride through his Holy Spirit, new life is produced. Not every sermon attended by the Holy Spirit results in salvation, but a sermon cannot change the hearts of men without the Holy Spirit. Essentially, this means that every sermon through which the Holy Spirit chooses to save will save whomsoever the Holy Spirit intends. This is the nature of Irresistible Grace.

This article first appeared at Credomag.com and is used here with permission. Chris Marley is the pastor of Miller Valley Baptist Church in Prescott, AZ.

THE NEW COVENANT– KNOWING THE LORD: AN EXPOSITION OF JEREMIAH 31:31-34 (PART 6)

Christ in the Old Testament, Scripture, The Church, The Gospel, Theology

The Law and Teaching: To Know the Lord

We are continuing now with the second of three phrases in Jeremiah’s new covenant that we are exploring. The last two posts looked at the phrase, “I will put my law on their minds and hearts,” and its effect that, “They will be my people, and I will be their God.” We saw that the the language of both has rich OT background, and that both point to the idea that these covenant people are not only outwardly called, but inwardly called as well. This post looks at the second phrase, “They shall not teach saying know the Lord,” and its effect, “For they shall all know me.”

In the old covenant, you clearly had some people who were in covenant with God who were not elect, who died, and went to hell. Jesus refers to them as children of Satan, not Abraham (John 8:39, 44). A question in the baptism debate is whether or not this is also true in the new covenant. Are there some people in the new covenant who will nevertheless eventually be in hell? But this question should not be determined by presuppositions about who should receive covenant signs or by systematic frameworks that deal in continuity or discontinuity. The proper way to figure this out is through exegesis of the Scripture.

The statement is, “They shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’” (Jer 31:34). We will focus on “teaching” first. Under the old covenant, God sent mediators who would teach the law. Moses and the firstborn of the tribes of Israel did this under the Sinai covenant, and this was followed by the priests whose job it was to teach the law, as Ezra did, under the Levitical covenant. Other teachers included the fathers who were to teach the children, “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut 11:19). The important thing to realize here is that even under the new covenant, we still have teachers (1Co 12:28; Eph 4:11; etc.). Therefore, if the new covenant is somehow “not like” the old, then the “teaching” it has in mind isn’t merely helping people grow in knowledge. Rather, it is knowledge of a more basic kind.

The content of the teaching is to “know the Lord.” This is not mediated knowledge “about” the Lord. It is immediate, personal, and direct knowledge “of” the Lord. Therefore, the declaration is that they will “no longer teach, telling people to know the Lord.” This will now be done immediately by the Holy Spirit. He will circumcise the heart and write the Commandments on us as living tablets of flesh. The effect of this promise is radically different than it was in prior covenants: “They will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” “All” is an important word, for this is how the new covenant differs from the old.

“Knowing the Lord” also has a rich OT background and Jeremiah is drawing up it. First, like the laws on your heart, to know the Lord is to obey him. “They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:3). “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’– in doing evil! But how to do good they know not” (Jer 4:22). “Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the LORD” (Jer 9:6). “Do you think you are a king because you compete in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD” (Jer 22:15-16). It is evident then that this kind of knowledge of the Lord is, as the Proverbs say, “the fear of the Lord” (Prov 1:7).

But before this can happen, you have to have Christ revealed to you. In order to get to the point of the fear of the Lord, you have to have two different kinds of revelation happen to you. The first is objective, and comes from outside of yourself. “Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him” (1Sa 3:7). This knowledge comes to a person from the outside, not the inside. Samuel was called externally. He heard a voice. The context of the knowledge here is not mere head knowledge, but knowledge of a very specific person. Here, the One calling is called “the Word of the LORD.” The OT knows this person as the Angel of the LORD. The NT knows him as Jesus Christ. In the OT, very few people know Christ in this way. The Angel simply didn’t appear to very many people. They had to trust the prophets like Samuel who actually did know him and who spoke with him and talked to him. But in the NT, there is an objective sense in which everyone “knew the Lord,” because they could see him walking around all over Israel. He had followers, disciples, enemies, friends. He was physical, embodied, incarnated.

Now, today, he is no longer walking around. That is why it is so vital to tell people about him. The NT roots these events in the physical, the tangible, the sensory, and in history. People can only come to an inward knowledge of the Lord Jesus if they first recognize his outward coming, even as Samuel did with the Angel and then the disciples did with Jesus. He has to be revealed to people. In this sense, he was revealed to people–many people all at the same time. Because he has come in the flesh, the new covenant is clearly a better revealing of Jesus than the old was.

But new covenant knowledge of the Lord does not stop here! In the new covenant, necessarily, this external works its way into the internal. This is what the language means. We have already seen this with the “heart.” “The LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them” (Isa 19:21). Why are Egyptians sacrificing to him? Because they want to! Because they know him now. This is a prophecy of Gentiles coming to faith in Christ.

We have seen how Jesus takes a bride. In the OT prophecies, to know the LORD is to be married to him. This is an intimate knowledge of husband and wife. “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD” (Hos 2:20). To be married to him means that you have been called and equipped by him. “For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me” (Isa 45:4-5). Andrew once asked Jesus, “How do you know me?” “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (John 1:48). When you are called like this, you follow. Period. It is irresistibly impossible not to. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14). Can you hear the language of the new covenant in Jesus’ words? Are you hearing his voice even now?

People who are called and equipped and married to the Lord recognize his authority over them. Pharaoh didn’t. He said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover, I will not let Israel go” (Exod 5:2). He didn’t recognize Christ’s authority, therefore he would not obey. So God did mighty works in Pharaoh’s presence. Thus, people who know the Lord recognize his mighty works. “And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals” (Jdg 2:10-11). Is not the greatest work of all the resurrection of Jesus? “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him. Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth” (Hos 6:2-3).

In the “infant in the covenant” debate, sometimes people will say, “Yes, but there is the already/not yet of the covenant.” I completely agree. There is. But we are see the already/not yet in different places. Infant baptists see that in the new covenant, it is not “yet” true that everyone knows the Lord. They put this promise out in the future, basically in heaven. But this is not what Jeremiah or Hebrews say. Where I agree with the already/not yet is at this point: Not all of the elect are in the covenant yet. Why? Because not all of the elect have yet believed. Nor have many of them even been born. According to Jeremiah, you are simply not in the new covenant until you “know the Lord,” and knowing the Lord means fearing him, having faith in him. You are to look to Christ alone for salvation, not to election. That is for your sanctification.

(by: Doug Van Dorn)