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…

Our Lady of the Rib: The Making of the Type of the Church

The Church, The Gospel, Theology

(By: Chris Marley)

Read Part 1: Introducing the Princess Bride

Read Part 2: Prototype of the Ideal Husband

ribHaving used the Bride of Christ metaphor to revisit the Pactum Salutis in Introducing the Princess Bride and the creation of Adam in Prototype of an Ideal Husband, we now turn to a different kind of Creation.

Genesis 2:20-25 recounts an act of what we call Creatio Passiva or Creatio Secunda, wherein God creates something out of something, as opposed to the first part of creation where he created out of nothing (Adam’s creation falls into this category as well). After the type of Christ in Adam is made flesh and blood from the dust of the earth, the type of the church in Eve is formed from Adam’s side. While tradition has translated this as “one of his ribs,” the most literal rendering is just that she is taken from out of his side. There is no other ancient Near-Eastern creation narrative that parallels this. In and of itself, the rib-woman is a phenomenon that holds many facets of application as a metaphor of the church.

Eve created from a rib taken from Adam teaches of gain from loss. He loses a rib to gain a wife. As Adam’s bride was gain from loss, so was Christ’s bride gain from loss. Christ descended from the glory of heaven, endured the wrath of God, and even surrendered his spirit in order to gain for himself a people to call his bride.

Eve from a rib showed much being made from little. Certainly this is a small matter for the God who spoke and created from nothing, but it is impossible for man to create a hundred-pound anything from something that is only a few ounces. Yet we see that Christ took Adam and Eve and produced from the whole human race. From Abraham he produced all of Israel. From the disciples and a murdering Pharisee (Saul/Paul) he produced a church that would span the globe. He made his beloved bride from worthless sinners.

Eve from a rib taught Adam that his completion was outside himself. The world is filled with people seeking to discover happiness within themselves. They seek wisdom within themselves. They think that through self-confidence and ego they can become complete in and of themselves. There are even “religious” people who believe that they are capable of saving themselves. Yet, the scriptures teach that salvation, joy, and peace that surpasses understanding are found in God who is completely other than us.

Eve from a rib points to Eve’s identity deriving from Adam. Calvin writes, “In this manner Adam was taught to recognize himself in his wife, as in a mirror…”[1] and in the same way, Eve saw herself in Adam. Likewise, it is essential that the Church derive her identity from Christ from whom she is derived. There are many assemblies calling themselves churches that derive identity from philanthropic interests, human heritage, or even race. A true church should have an identity founded solely upon her savior and husband, Christ. Her understanding of him in terms of who he is, how he saved her, and how he labors in and through her should shape her identity. The identity of the church is in the very gospel that created her.

When the Eve-rib was taken from Adam’s side, he was under divine general anesthesia of sleep. Adam felt nothing as God took the rib from his side. It was a painless creation of the bride in a world into which sin had not yet entered. In the pre-fall world, the creation of Adam’s bride required no pain. This contrasts drastically with the identity of the Bride of Christ formed after the fall. For that bride, the bridegroom did not lose a rib during sleep, but was crushed in the body. Adam’s account would serve a more peaceful foreshadowing of Christ’s passion with a surprising number of correlations. As Claude Chavasse states, “Christ’s Death and Passion would thus be prefigured by Adam’s sleep, and the opening of his side to take out the rib; his Resurrection, by Adam’s waking again. Round the Rib was built up the new Bride, who may thus be said to have slept and woken again with the new Adam.”

Finally, Eve was taken from life to perpetuate life. This woman would be the mother of all living men and women. This is why Adam would call her Eve in chapter three. Her life would produce life, which ties into a subject I will deal with in a later article regarding the meeting of the husband and wife producing life, but it serves well to briefly address some aspects here. God chose not to create Eve in the same way as Adam. She was not formed from dust to have life breathed into her. Adam was formed in an event unique to only him, but Eve was created from the first Adam.

Christ was born of Mary as a virgin. Scripture gives us a limited account in the prophecy by angel in Luke 1:35. His birth was as unique to history as Adam’s was. From Christ’s life, his bride’s life would be produced. His side would be opened by a Roman spear following his real death, paralleling Adam’s figurative death. Her life would be the source of life of children beyond count or measure. In the world we know, and all of history excluding Adam and Christ, life follows a consistent pattern. Cells are formed by mitosis (where a parent cell gives of itself to produce a new one), and people are formed from an already present and living mother.

While it is important to emphasize the nature of salvation as by God alone, he uses the church as an instrument in his hands to bring about new life. We are born again by Christ through the church. This is why Scripture emphasizes evangelism and preaching. If you look back to your own conversion, it was not by God speaking in an audible voice, calling you to repent and believe. After the Apostles and Paul, Christ always used human servants to spread the Gospel. Whether by the proper preaching of the Word or by the testimony of a believer, every Christian comes to new life through the church.

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[1] Calvins Commentary Vol. I, p. 132

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.

 

Prototype of the Ideal Husband

The Church, The Gospel, Theology

(By: Chris Marley)

Read Part 1: Introducing the Princess Bride

PrinceGod’s Word begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth. The very word Genesis comes from the Greek word for beginning. This is where it all started. God speaks, and whatever he says is. It is not that it shortly will be, or the angels will rush out and accomplish it straightway, but it is. He created everything that you and I have ever known out of nothing, ex nihilo. The most important elements are very clear in this controversial first chapter of Genesis: that God is the source of all creation, and he is omnipotent. God is sovereign, all-powerful, beyond comprehension.

I draw attention to this because the starting point of theology must always be God in his transcendent glory. To meet the lady working behind the counter at the local fast food restaurant inspires little awe, but to meet the Queen of England would be an astounding event. We cannot appreciate God’s immanence (his closeness through Christ) without transcendence (how far beyond comprehension he is as enthroned creator). God becoming man in Christ must be understood in light of him first being God, or his being man does not matter.

So God creates man on the sixth day, along with pigs and earthworms. God makes him out of dirt, and breathes life into him. Notice how the first chapter of Genesis declares the majesty and sovereignty of God, while describing us as originate as dirt clods. Perspective is important. Now, Adam is alone as far as intelligent, image-bearing creatures go. God declares in chapter 2 that it is not good for man to be alone, to which many bachelors’ apartments testify. So God takes Adam’s rib and makes a wife for him. God establishes the first marriage in creation through Adam and Eve.

Before dealing directly with the creation narrative for Eve (this will be dealt with in the next article), it serves to deal with the concept of man needing a helpmate. There are entire devotional books written for women on the subject of being a helpmate/helper/help-meet. There are specific aspects that should be acknowledged here, though, given the metaphor of Bride of Christ. Namely, there is something to be learned about earthly marriage by Christ’s example.

Christ accomplishes salvation, provides all means, and yet calls upon his church to labor in a portion of the redemptive work for her sake. He assumes the responsibility, and in what little he calls upon the church to do, he equips her at every stage. She is the helper of Christ in this sense.

How does this apply to earthly husbands? It is all the husbands work, obligation, and responsibility. The husband’s job is not just to go to work and then come home to his wife. It is not immediately the wife’s job to raise the children, tend the home, cook the meals, wash dishes, etc. It is the husband’s job directly to care for the family in all aspects, but it is the wife’s job to help/obey her husband in whatever capacity is needed. This is why it is the husband’s responsibility to tend and maintain the marriage, lead his household, and raise all members of the family up in prayer and the Word of God (i.e. loving her as Christ loved the church). Practically, this may not change a great deal of how the home functions, but it should drastically affect the husband’s attitude toward his wife and family.

On the flipside, the wife should own those endeavors of help-meet-ness and treat them with sober mindedness. Likewise, the church must treat their delegated responsibilities with the utmost diligence. The husband-wife ratio of labor is not 50/50, or we become consumed with whether the other is really giving 50%. Each should be striving to fill the 100%.

God declared that it was not good for man to be alone. This was not because Adam lacked the creativity to name all of the animals on his own. Humorous comments aside, it was not because Adam could not cook or clean. This declaration of God struck at the fundamental principle of this series. Humanity could best understand the unfolding redemptive history through metaphor. Eve would provide Adam a living means of comprehending the nature of God’s love for humanity and Adam would serve the same for Eve.

In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth (chapter 11) is one of the more controversial passages of scripture. My concern is not to unravel the validity or invalidity of head-coverings, but to get at the heart and underlying doctrine of the passage. In verse seven, Paul declares that man “is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” There is a very real sense in which man is meant to learn about his relationship to God by examining the relationship man has to woman. It is a two-way street of sorts, because man learns about heavenly marriage from earthly marriage and about earthly marriage from heavenly marriage.

Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22-33 work in this way. The wife is to submit to her husband, the head of the family, as the church is to submit to Christ, the head of the church. This troubles many people, but it is not even the more demanding of the two charges. The husband is commanded to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. The perfect example of love in sacrifice, care, and preservation is the standard for husbands. Men are to love their wives this way; this is God’s command through his servant Paul. The closer a husband is to loving his wife as Christ loved the church, the easier it will be for the wife to submit to her husband.

Thus the stage is set for the creation of Eve, the production of types and shadows, and the progressive revelation of the mystery of the Gospel. As John Owen says, the reason it is called mystery is because it requires God to reveal it to us, or we could never find it out.

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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.

Introducing the Princess Bride

The Church, The Gospel, Theology

BrideofChrist(By: Chris Marley)

This will, Lord willing, be the first in a series of posts on the subject of the Bride of Christ in Genesis. It is the most extensively used metaphor in Scripture, providing a through line connecting covenants and uniting God’s people. It is the metaphor from which two other highly used metaphors stem, namely the Children of God and the Body of Christ. The Bride of Christ also sheds a great deal of light on our ecclesiology (the study of the church) and the nature of Christ’s immanence to his people. Understanding this metaphor affects how we live our Christian lives, how we do evangelism, and even our view of eschatology (the study of Christ’s return). Basically, my conviction is that if Scripture spends a great deal of time on it, so should we.

All that being said, the narrative actually begins outside the reaches of human history. Perhaps it seems ridiculous to find a starting point before the beginning, but in this case it is necessary. The beginning would be Genesis 1:1, but our narrative begins even before Scripture in a doctrine only alluded to by various passages. This is the pactum salutis, or Covenant of Redemption. Assuming the doctrine of election of which Paul and Christ spoke so often, the real narrative begins outside of time within the Trinity. God determined what would be created, how it would be created, and for what purposes. God chose, before the beginning of the world, who would be His.

So what bearing does this have on the Bride of Christ? It means the marriage is an arranged one. Those whom the Father chose, the son redeemed… The Father in glory, before the beginning of the world, chose who would be the Bride of the Son.

Understand, I am not arguing for a return to arranged marriages for culture, but in this case it is beautiful. Even within Scripture, we see an instance where even arranged marriages were atypical by calling for the approval of the children for the wedding. The issue in earthly arranged marriage is the fallibility of the parents and inherent disunion with the children, but in this case, the parent is perfection itself in perfect harmony with the perfect Son and changes the heart of the imperfect bride.

Why is this significant? This means that the intimate love of a betrothed husband originates before the world began. God’s love for His people, Christ’s dedication to the elect, began in perfect unity of the Trinity before the earth was created. For every Christian, Christ’s love began before He spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. There is intrinsic value in longevity. People are fascinated by pyramids, Stonehenge, and other such ancient structures because of how they have withstood time. How much more rest and assurance does the Christian, in knowing that the love and dedication of God for and to them, is older than the universe itself? As A.W. Pink says, “What assurance would be ours if, when we approached the throne of grace, we realized that the Father’s heart had been set upon us from the beginning of all things!”

One of the major issues seen in the arranged marriages of history, especially in the ruling class, is that they are often marriages of convenience, mutually beneficial for the parents. A prince in England is married to a princess of France in order to build alliances and fortify empires. However, with the Bride of Christ, it is a marriage of inconvenience for the one arranging. God had no need in and of himself, but desired to display His grace and love through a marriage of His perfect Son to an imperfect and sinful bride.

There are many reasons why people get married to a specific person, regardless of whether they are proper reasons. People marry for money and security, attraction, esteem, or even just good companionship. Edward Pearse asks his readers if they “are for” such things, only to go on and declare how Christ fulfills all the things that people seek in a spouse greater than any human could. In the segment on riches, he speaks of how the marriage is not one of mutual benefit, but of extraordinary benefit to the believer. “You are poor, miserable and naked; and will you not embrace this Christ offering Himself with all these riches toward you?”

Though we cannot know the mind of God and the nature of the Trinity in fullness because we are so limited as created beings, perhaps an imagined dialogue is helpful…

Peace, Father

Peace, Son

Peace, Spirit

Peace to all in one

Son, you know whom I have chosen; on whom I have set my heart. Does the covenant please you?

Yes, Father, I love her.

You know what will happen, what she will do, and what you must do to have her?

Yes, Father, but I love those whom you have given me.

Spirit, you know what you must do to apply the Son’s work, dwell within, and endure their grieving of you?

Yes, Father, but she will be loved in spite of herself.

Then when the LORD has sworn by himself, he shall not repent of it. When it is spoken, then shall it be.

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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.