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Who is My Church?

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The common question that we usually get around to when we talk with others about our church affiliation is “Where do you go to Church”? And though it is not meant to imply that our churches are only locations or buildings, it’s often hard these days to separate an institutional inference to a church from the people who meet there who are in fact … “The Church”. “People” … are the “Church”, not locations, buildings, institutions, organizations, programs, or many of the other aspects of our industrial/commercial culture that we use in the conducting of our religious life.  So shouldn’t we be asking something like, “Who is our Church?”.  But we don’t, and such a question does seem awkward and foreign in some ways. Why? …are we more in the habit of thinking that “Church” is more like a programmed event at a certain location like a movie at a movie theater? Or do we think of church as meeting with … “people” regardless of where or when…, to fellowship, share, encourage, and commune with each other, pray for one another, seek the Lord’s wisdom and instruction together, and to give thanks and praise to Him together. Is our church more of an institution, location, and time, than meeting with our spiritual family? Is our church a family gathering of spiritual brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers who take care of us and we of them, or a program that we check off from our calendars like meetings at the PTA. Have we somehow succumbed to re-creating the family gatherings of the church into the image of our commercial culture? It certainly would not be a hard thing to do, we are programmed to operate in the materialist, commercial, efficient, accomplishment manner that our culture values and rewards. And if we operate our church organizations as businesses and programs, it would not be surprising if turned our church gatherings into shows and efficient mechanisms rather than gatherings of extended spiritual families and weekly reunions? So, if we look at our church gatherings and find indeed that the world has pushed us into its mold more than we would like or if we are looking for greater authenticity, simplicity, and spiritual family, then what are we looking for?  It is in this series that I hope to explore some of those questions.

 

 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"Who s my Church?" #2  It starts with a Person – God is a PERSON!

-or-The importance of persons-people.

I believe that to correctly understand the church we must first get this right ...#2 in the series "Who is my Church?"

It may seem strange to describe God in this way, but if we think about this deeply, I believe we will conclude that God is indeed a Person. The fact that He is THE SPIRITUAL PERSON before and behind all things, is a foundational axiomatic revelation about God to us beginning in the opening chapters of Genesis and then in the Gospels. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden as a person, God dealt with Moses a person, Jesus came as a Person. God speaks, acts, creates, communicates, has a plan, a will, creates us after His own Image, incarnates Jesus as a Person who is both fully God and fully man the full revelation of the Father, and all this reveals to us that God “IS” indeed a Person. The PERSON from whom our own personhood is derived. Yet He is not a person like us, we must not anthropomorphize, He is before us, above us, we are like “Him”, but not like Him in all ways. But we do have or are souls, the evidence and embodiment of Gods living Spiritual image and Personhood in us. 

Yet throughout history and throughout the world, humanity has corrupted our understanding of the incorruptible Person of God into images “in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures’ Rom. 1:23, substituting forces, philosophies, spirits, nature, etc. Any way that humanity can reduce or obscure God’s Glorious Personhood, fallen humanity has tried. And even in the Church we have substituted and broken the second commandment by making graven images of theologies, ceremonies, rituals, habits, orders of worship, institutions, laws, emotions, truncated partial or favored passages of scripture, emphasizing one member of the Trinity to the near exclusion of the others, or even worshiping the Bible (works/ Pharisees) instead of seeking the living Person of God through His Words to us in the Bible (Faith)! And granted all of these may have their own proper places but not when used to lower God to our level and to our control in order to gain some foothold of influence or control over Him. He is transcendent above all these, He is His own Sovereign, Holy but infinitely near Person that we cannot manipulate, control, or fully know, but that we can fully trust, communicate, and interact with.

So why is this so critical for the church? Because as A.W. Tozer once said, “We tend by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God”.

So, if we do not understand this aspect of God correctly then we will by default not understand ourselves, other human beings, the church, or Gods plan correctly, and we will carry it out incorrectly. We understand ourselves and all of humankind in terms of our relationship to Him as our Creator and Father the ultimate “Person” in this universe and our trustworthy example of what it means to grow as “persons” through our relationship to Him. And we understand His plan as having our own personhood and that of others as being central to His plan of creation, redemption, and re-creation. Persons are central, persons- people because of their derived value in the Image of God the Person, come before institutions, plans, programs, rituals, meetings, etc., with their own value and their own protected sovereignty. The value of just one soul made in God’s Image is more valuable than the whole world Matt.16:26. In fact we may almost say that God’s whole plan “IS” persons-people. So, now does the question “Who is my Church”? sound a little less odd?

Next #3, the temptations and failures of not building church upon the foundation of individual persons-people.

 

 

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

“Who is my Church?” #3 Depersonalization, a present problem and opportunity.

Persons versus Machines

The church is and should be the voice that proclaims the truth about what humanity truly is, persons/souls made in the “Image of God”. We should be the light that shines on our origins and connections with the Person of the Living God. Because we are made with Souls in the “Image of God” we each have “transcendent value” beyond that of the material things in this world. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matt. 16:26 But how did we get here?

Enlightenment, Industrialism, and Spiritual depersonalization.

We are in an era resulting from the unfulfilled promises of the industrial revolution and enlightenment philosophies that have regarded everything, including humanity, as mere machines, and products to be manipulated, used, sold, and discarded. This machine philosophy of productivity and its vision of a utopia based on materialistic and mental accomplishments are promises only made for human life in this world. They do not acknowledge or value the concepts of eternity, Spirit, or the Soul and cannot ultimately satisfy human needs. We are more than temporal material machines, and we intrinsically know it, if not by God's direct revelation, by God's common grace,” He has also set eternity in their heart…” Ec. 3:11. As a result, I believe that many people are seeking what I would call "authenticity", in what is real, warm, good, true, and lasting, in a cold and artificial world. As Jesus taught, those who are of the light, come to the light Jn. 3:21. So, if this "authenticity" is also sought by us, those who see that effort will be drawn to it. Real people, real God, real meaning.

Perhaps the great mistake of the Enlightenment was to be enlightened with false lights. …” If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” Matt.6:23b “.

Enlightenment philosophers generally made “graven images out of God’s “secondary causes”, such as man’s reason, and the worldly mechanisms of physics, chemistry, etc.., fueling the birth and amoral progress of the Industrial revolution. The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 5:2,3 Has a good explanation of the relationship between first and second causes in God’s Providence.

"2. God is the first cause, and in relationship to him everything happens unchangeably and infallibly. However, by this same providence, he orders things to happen from secondary causes. As a result of these secondary causes, some things must inevitably happen; others may or may not happen depending on the voluntary intentions of the agents involved; and some things do not have to happen but may, depending on other conditions.

3. God uses ordinary means to work out his providence day by day. But, as he pleases, he may work without, beyond, or contrary to these means."

“The main ideas that dominated Enlightenment thinking included: Deism – the belief in the existence of a creator who does not intervene in the universe.” “Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition.”  “It has been said that the Industrial Revolution was the most profound revolution in human history, because of its sweeping impact on people’s daily lives.” “Key inventions and innovations served to shape virtually every existing sector of human activity along industrial lines. The Industrial Revolution was the transition from creating goods by hand (personal) to using machines.” They substituted and assigned God’s “secondary causes” of governing the world, causes He invites us to participate in, such as physics, chemistry, and reason, for the prime or “first causes” of all things, (Himself) eliminating a moral God, the true first cause, for the amoral mechanizations of the world. Replacing the “Person”, God, and leaving only the mechanics as “god” (i.e. Darwinism) of which we then become like. Again, as A.W. Tozer once said, “We tend by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God”. And this error has continued and metastasized into many different avenues up until today.

In “The Century of the Self” (2002) Adam Curtis documents in a series of videos the effects of this on the last century creating the reign of the self, and the manipulated market economy. The promotion reads:

“To many in politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly, the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How was the all-consuming self-created, by whom, and in whose interests?” https://www.youtube.com/playlist...

So, it appears to me that in the big picture, surrounded by a world given to this philosophical and behavioral mentality that even the believing "church" has become (perhaps somewhat unwittingly) influenced by what I refer to as “the impersonal and amoral machine" of our culture.

#4 Next, where do we begin to find wholeness and satisfaction? Adoption and the Family of God.

 

 

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Who is my Church #4 The Church as a Family

The Implications of the doctrine of Adoption for the Church.

Our Faith is not a formula or philosophy, not merely a way of life, list of commandments, set of rules, a social status, community, or an institution. It may include many of these elements and we often get these out of balance, but all of them are dependent on and flow from our relationship to a “Person”. He is a Divine Person, but a real Person nonetheless who revealed Himself in flesh and blood having a body, face, voice, and personality in the Person of Jesus Christ. And because we were made in His Image, we innately know how to relate to Him and to others made in His image. Through our conscience and the perception of our spiritual need, we know that He is a “Divine Person” and has superiority over us. He is the ultimate “Person” in the universe and the trustworthy example of what it means to grow in our own “personhood”. So, our apprenticeship in His example is with a “Person” in a never-ending and eternal relationship, not merely in a goal to be accomplished in this present life. This “relationship” is what it’s all about and the tutelage in that relationship is what it will all be about throughout eternity. Through our spiritual rebirth and adoption into His family, this “Person” has become our good and everlasting Father.

 No one expresses these thoughts better than J. I. Packer in the chapter on "Adoption" in his book Knowing God. So, we will quote extensively from it on pages 200-210 and Evang. Mag 7, pp. 19-20.

 “As our Maker is our Father, so our Savior is our Brother when we come into the Family of God. Now, just as the knowledge of His unique Sonship controlled Jesus’ living of His own life on earth, so He insists that the knowledge of our adoptive sonship must control our lives too.”

"What is a Christian? The richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as his Father…”

'You sum up the whole of New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. ‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.”

"…Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. …The revelation to the believer that God is his Father is in a sense the climax of the Bible.”

“The whole spirit of Old Testament religion was determined by the thought of God’s holiness. The constant emphasis was that human beings, because of their weakness as creatures and their defilement as sinful creatures, must learn to humble themselves and be reverent before God….”

“…But in the New Testament we find things have changed. God and religion are not less than they were; the Old Testament revelation of the holiness of God, and its demand for humility in man, is presupposed throughout. But something has been added. A new factor has come in. New Testament believers deal with God as their Father. Father is the name by which they call Him. Father has now become His Covenant name -- for the covenant which binds Him to His people now stands revealed as a family covenant. Christians are His children, his own sons and daughters, his heirs… To those who are Christ’s, the holy God is a loving Father; they belong to His family; they may approach Him without fear and always be sure of His Fatherly concern and care. This is the heart of the New Testament message…”

“… God intends the lives of believers to be a reflection and reproduction of Jesus’ own fellowship with Himself... All this extends to God’s adopted children. In, though, and under Jesus Christ their Lord, they are ruled, loved, companied with, and honored by their heavenly Father…”

All this is possible because of our Adoption into God’s Family

“…adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. This may cause raising of eyebrows, for justification is the gift of God on which, since Luther, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress, and we are accustomed to say, almost without thinking, that free justification is God’s supreme blessing to us sinners. Nonetheless, careful thought will show the truth of the statement we have just made.”

“That justification, by which we mean God’s forgiveness of the past together with His acceptance for the future, as the primary and fundamental blessing of the Gospel, is not in question. Justification is the primary blessing because it meets our primary spiritual need. As sinners, we all stand by nature under God’s judgment, so we need forgiveness of our sins, and assurance of a restored relationship with God more than we need anything else in the world. The Gospel offers Jesus' blood to us before it offers us anything else so that God may look on us sinners without condemnation and wrath.”

“But this is not to say that justification is the highest blessing of the Gospel. Adoption is higher, because of the rich, personal relationship with God that it enables and involves.”

 “Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as Father. In adoption, God takes us into His family and fellowship, and establishes us as His children and heirs! Closeness, affection, and generosity are at the heart of the relationship. To be right with God the judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is greater. The entire Christian life has to be understood in terms of it. Sonship must be the controlling thought because all of our Lord's teaching on discipleship is cast in these terms.”

“It is clear that, just as Jesus always thought of Himself as Son of God in a unique since, so he also always thought of his followers as children of His Heavenly Father, members of the same divine family as He Himself. As our Maker is our Father, so our Savior is our Brother when we come into the Family of God. Just as the knowledge of His unique Sonship controlled Jesus’ living His own life and mission on earth, so He insists that the knowledge of our adoptive sonship must control our lives too. “

We are called to be Disciples in the Church not merely to be obedient servants, but for the high purpose of learning to be the very Son's and daughters of our Father in Heaven. We have come home to a Family and are learning the Family character and ways.

Next #5 Becoming Persons again, considering the Church as Family.

Click here to continue: https://www.jonnywhisenant.net/who_is_my_church_____continued

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