Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Church-the City of the Living God

Country Church [1]
Richard Conway, who is writing about his journey to find a church home, the first I posted last Saturday evening, has had some delays in providing more postings. I will continue when he is ready.

Since my church is in discernment, and many other churches in the midst of similar journeys I have been thinking about the Church in general and God’s care for his people. On this side of all the distress, yet with care to be in the right place, I think about how God sees us. The biblical picture is almost a J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or Charles Williams’ fantasy. With great encouragement the writer of Hebrews writes:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

But this is no fantasy rather God’s truth and promise. Charles Williams wrote his surreal novels from this point of view. God places humanity in cities (or communities) and works with, through and among them by use of the lens of the city of the Living God. Just as Lewis’ saw humanity becoming everlasting splendors or monsters, so Williams pictures the city of God mingling with earthly cities and communities changing the inhabitants—but it is always the incarnate One working through the Holy Spirit in the midst of our common life.

Ah, the general assembly of heaven and the church of the firstborn. John Calvin in his commentary on Hebrews sees the first born as the Old Testament Saints, but Donald Guthrie clarifies that Jesus Christ is the true first born and thus all the saints of God, reborn in Christ, those in the O.T. and those in the church age fit into this  category. They are among the angels in festal gathering.

God is still here the Judge of all. And Calvin reminds the reader that in the midst of this holy place that belongs to God there should be no pollution. He writes:

“This seems to be said to inspire fear, as if he were saying that grace is offered to us in such a way as to remind us that we have to do with our judge to whom we must render account if we have invaded His sanctuary with pollution or profanity.”

And Guthrie understanding that God’s judgment conforms to his nature writes, “It should be noted that God is not to be regarded here exclusively as a judge who condemns but rather as one who examines and discriminates.”

And then, in this city, we turn to redemption—“the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

In actuality the righteous are righteous because of Jesus and his death. They are perfect because of his perfection, (completeness.) (Hebrews 5:7-10) His blood is sprinkled on his people and they dwell now with him in his city. The blood washed sinners made saints are the Church. “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”

This is the Church—it cannot exist minus this quality of God’s holiness, care, and redemption. His people, sinners bearing the righteousness of Jesus, are on a journey being made perfect. They are surrounded by suffering and angels, or as Karl Barth put it in the middle of his list of the good God has done in the Church, “He allows righteousness to experience all anxieties.” The Church is in the world yet destined to dance with angels, fellowship with all saints, and look, forever, upon perfect beauty.
[1] The picture is of the country church I attended as a child living on a farm in Northern Missouri. We just called it country church.

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