The Work of the Church

I’ve tried to highlight certain assumptions: (1) the church is made up of people; (2)that the church could only come about after certain historical requirements were in place; and (3) that the church’s leadership  is divine (in other words: God is the church’s leader). Following those assumptions (and an unmentioned fourth) I progressed to highlighting the Goal of the church summed up in glorifying God by glorifying Christ. Such a broad definition leaves the most vague of us floating helplessly through a foamy sky of ambiguous vapor. Therefore, I want to spend some time looking at how that purpose is evidenced by the overarching work of the church.

The Timeline.

After years of exposure to the law, the prophets, the psalms, and the covenants, at just the right time Christ finally arrives. Virgin born, according to a specific interpretation of prophecy, in the right place, he’s hailed as a King from early on. We see a couple of events from his early life but for the next thirty something years, we hear nothing. When he finally does reappear in the text, immediately after being baptized by John, he begins preaching the Kingdom of God. While He’s doing all this, He’s gathering followers, which includes a core group who He continues to teach.

He tells them that He’s going to build the church (either on Peter or Himself), He tells them He’s going to equip them by dying and going to God the Father and sending them a helper.

The Helper’s Work.

But what is the helper’s job? In the John 14-16, this Helper is to comfort them, bring everything they’ve learned (from Christ) into remembrance, teach them and is also to work in the world convicting it of sin (because it rejected Christ), of righteousness (because Christ’s death has been overturned and Christ went to the Father) and of judgment (because the ruler of the world has been judged).

Fast forward to Pentecost. The message that Peter goes out to preach–the message that winds up winning three thousand converts from the priest caste–is a message of sin (because they’ve crucified Christ), of righteousness (because Christ now sits on the right hand of the Father) and of judgment (because now the one They crucified is waiting).

A jaunt through the book of Acts and we’d notice Paul doing the same thing. As Paul speaks to the Jews he argues for the resurrection from the dead, as Paul discusses with the Athenians their waywardness in worship, he discusses the resurrection from the dead.

Even when you get down to the letters that Paul writes to the churches, he constantly brings their activities back to the cross and the resurrection of Christ from the dead. What is the gospel that he preaches? The Gospel of God based on Christ who is the son of David by lineage and the son of God via the resurrection of the dead. What is the message that Paul preaches? Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead which is a stumbling block for the Jew and foolishness to the Gentile.

Constantly, the repeated message of the church to those outside of the church is the historical crucifixion of Christ, His resurrection from the dead and the imminent judgment of God resting on Christ’s bestowed authority (Revelation 1-7, 19-21; Romans 8; John 5)

The Living Dead.

Paul then shows a very deep connection between the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of people (1 Cor 15) in a manner that is consistent with Jesus’ own preaching (John 11).  With such a resurrection in place, it becomes important for Christians to Grow Up. Why?

This Growing Up, argues Paul, is a complete unity of believers in Christ’s crucified death and resurrected life (Eph 1, Eph 4, Rom 6) and culminates in a unity in Christ’s glorification (Rom 8:17).The church universal (as in the entire church, not any single local gathering), says Paul, has been gifted with apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers for this very purpose. As if that were not enough, Paul mentions (in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 12) that believers have been individually gifted so as to support the entire body in this endeavor.

These gifts are to edify the saints (build them up as Jesus stated the Holy Spirit would do) and to equip them (to evangelize in the World: a task the Holy Spirit would help in). But the equipping is not merely a task of arming forces but actually focused on molding individuals in the model of Christ. Therefore, Paul would argue, that since Christ has equipped the church with these helps, God is in fact fully reforming humans with these aids (Romans 8) by ending one life and supplanting it with an eternal one.

This completely ties the resurrection from the dead with the church’s gifting. The church is made up of people labeled “A New Creation” (Romero might say the Living Dead). A creation formed in the image of God and reformed in the image of the son. This Image is molded to speak properly with God, to interact with God, to work with God and to rule with the Son. Paul would call them co-workers with God (1 Cor 3) who have a responsibility to continue doing these tasks (2 Tim 4). It’s the Fall Reversed.

Therefore, the church’s goal and purpose is crystallized by its two major works which are merely two sides of one coin. The church reflects the work of the Holy Spirit by bringing into remembrance Christ (via His teaching) and exposing the world to Christ (His love and mercy via his death and resurrection) until He returns. This can be reflected in her two ordinances: the Lord’s Supper and baptism.

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