Tuesday, January 9, 2007

It's About Him

OK, so I looked at my last post "It's About the Individual", and realized that while that made sense in the context, there's a greater point that I really missed: it's all about Jesus.

I think this is an important point that's not just theory: it needs to be our reality.

The fact is, that we as believers have been called to something that has been unknown previously: Christ is our life. "When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Col. 3:4 ESV). In fact, this relationship is to completely define our focus: "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory." (Col. 3:1--4 ESV) And it's this relationship that provides the motivation for personal holiness (see v. 5).

What is striking about the passage in Col. 3 (by no means the only one, but perhaps the clearest) is the totality of effect this relationship is supposed to have on us. It details several effects we are to see as a result of this relationship:
  1. our focus is to be in Heaven because Christ is there
  2. we will be revealed with Him in glory because our life is hid with Him
  3. we are to mortify our members on the earth: lust, etc.
  4. we are to put on the new man
These are all presented as effects of our having Christ as our life. We are risen with Him, having died and been buried with Him. This separates us from sin, from the world, and from the men and women we were.

At least as far as Colossians is concerned, this is to be the guiding fact of our lives.

So far, this is all individual, which brings up again the point I made in the last post: it is the individual relationship with the Lord that we so sorely lack.

And we can look at another aspect of this: the Lord Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the end. It is for His glory, His honour that we are to live here. It took me a long time to realize that God didn't call me and save me so that He would have another "good" man here. As far as He is concerned, there is only one Man who matters in that regard. No, He called me purely out of love. Not with a goal to perfect me per se (although that's part of the plan), but with the goal of showing His love to me. Thus, my life, my growth, my attainment of godliness---these things are not the central thing. The main thing is, that I learn to love Him. It is my place to love and honour Him. The rest of it is all just by-product.

One brother said it like this: "it's more important to bask in Christ's love than to serve Him".

To be sure, loving and honouring Him have the effect of driving us to the spiritual growth and personal holiness and maturity we all crave. But it's easy to confuse the goal with the means to get there. Or with the outcomes and by-products we get along the way.

Christ is to take the same central place in the assembly: the corporate gathering. If Christianity were merely individual, then Colossians 3:1--4 would really sum it all up. But it isn't: the baptism into One Body really characterizes the other side of things: Christians are part of a new work of God.

As an aside, there is a corporate vs. individual tension all through the Christian world. Each Christian group takes a position somewhere on the spectrum: on one extreme is the "only corporate" camp that is exemplified by Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, on the other extreme is the "only individual" position typical of Evangelicals. Somewhere between them you have most liturgical churches (Anglicans are certainly more individual than Catholics, but Lutherans are probably more corporate than Presbyterians). So-called "plymouth brethren" lie somewhere in the middle too, with "exclusives" much closer to the "corporate" side, and "opens" close to the "individual" side.

This, incidentally, is one reason why I don't consider myself to be Evangelical. I'm much more liturgical in my beliefs than my Evangelicals. I suppose that would put me in a similar position as "Evangelical Anglicans" or "Evangelical Lutherans".

So there is a tension that all Christians have between our individual walk with the Lord and our corporate calling as members of the One Body.

But in Scripture we see that tension too---there is the place Christ has to the individual: He is our Life, He is our Lord, He is our Saviour. But there is also a role He has to the Assembly. He is her Bridegroom (and Lover). This is not ever stated in terms of the individual believer: it is a corporate truth. He is to be the Center of our gathering: "For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them." (Matt. 18:20 ESV).

So no matter what the aspect of the Christian life is under discussion, the Lord Jesus is to be the Center of it.

I think one place where a lot of churches or assemblies fall down is, they focus on good things that are not the Center. Our Center ought to be the Lord Jesus, not doctrines (however correct), policies (however Godly), or the people there (however good). In effect, we ought to be going to the assembly (not the building, the actual gathering of believers) to meet with the Lord Jesus in a way we can't as individuals.

I think a lot of churches on the extreme "individual" end of the spectrum (like some Baptist churches I have seen) see the assembly as nothing more than a support group for individual Christians. There's a sermon or so every week to equip the saints, Sunday School to teach the kids, and maybe some other programs or activities to encourage some socializing in a "Christian" environment. But really, these are all insufficient reasons for the gathering. It's not merely to be taught that we ought to gather, but to worship. And teaching---no matter how good---isn't worship. Consider 1 Corinthians 11--14. There is a place for teaching, but there is also the Lord's Supper, singing, praying. These are all part of the corporate gathering. In fact, the Corinthians were to come together
to eat the Lord's Supper. How many churches do that?

I think if I were ever to leave "brethren", I would seek out some sort of liturgical church for this one reason: liturgical churches have a "worship first, teach second" attitude that lines up with Scripture.

Now, don't take this as a "brethren are right, everyone else is wrong" thing. I think this is one area where "brethren" have the right idea. But as I mentioned before, we tend to completely ignore the other side of things: individual responsibility. You need both oars in the water to get your boat where you're going.

But the point of bringing up the Lord's Supper and worship is this: the assembly ought to be consciously Christ-centered. We are called as priests to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God, and to show forth the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness. These are both Christ-centered activities, where we take the lower place to Him. We fade out of focus, as the Lord Jesus is raised up to prominence.

There is a place for ministry and teaching. A big place, and we are sadly lacking in them (that's another topic for another post); but we need to have our priorities straight. First we gather to honour the Son of God, then we minister to one another's needs and teach one another.

And that's no different than the all-consuming passion for Him that ought to mark our individual lives.

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