The Church is God’s Idea

Oct 14, 2013 3432


by Edwin Zackrison

Dayton Community Chapel

October 5, 2013

TEXT: Ephesians 1:3-10


I have entitled my talk, “The Church is God’s Idea.” I have chosen for my text, Ephesians 1:3-10, RSV.

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 5He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace 8which he lavished upon us. 9For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

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If someone were to ask you what the meaning of the church was, what would say? Where would you direct him? Where would you begin an answer? How big would your answer be? Do you have a grasp of the big picture? Or would your answer reflect a very parochial view of the church?

Traditionally Adventists and other evangelical denominations have thought of church as identified by a creed.  For Adventists, who believe the Bible is the only legitimate language by which to identify or express truth, the church has traditionally been presented as those “who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” So the church for many traditional Christians has been identified by beliefs. And people need to search for the true church that matches this description.

Other denominations identify their uniqueness by their traditions and heritage. And the older the Adventist denomination gets the more it is doing the same thing.

I suppose at the low end of the spectrum reside some of the radio talk shows I used to hear in Los Angeles when I commuted to work 42 miles each way each day. I would hear Wayne Resnick or Bill Handel, or John and Ken on KFI, Los Angeles, More Stimulating Talk Radio, when I would go and come from the college in Monrovia where I taught. When these men dealt with religion they were almost always on a polemic. Critical bordering on the profane, using language that was barely allowed on the airwaves, or even stepping over into that raw land, they would throw everything bad in the church bag and I don’t remember ever hearing them send one compliment the church’s way. The South is a little more charitable on that score, as are the more conservative talk show hosts—many of whom are Catholics.

Defining Church

It may be that many of these people represented the most irrational and extreme view of the church, but if they were anywhere near the center on what our society thinks of the church we are in really tough shape. I could hear their baggage—what had brought them to their view of the church—their infantile experiences with priests and nuns and their perceptions of the arrogance of institutionalized religion. I would wait with baited breath to hear a hint of bigness in their views of church, but I was never satisfied. Instead I got a depiction of the church that was clearly borne of their deep emotional feelings, originating in childhood, which came out in often irrational negative forms.

Often we sense that the church is an outmoded thing, an archaic institution. With simple elementary understanding of the church we would know that the gangs fill a vacuum that many prevalent attitudes toward the church have created. The need for association and fortification, unfulfilled in the home, misunderstood because of prevalent concepts of the church, drive kids to negative extremes.

In pop psychology there are two kinds of attention factors. We call them warm fuzzies orcold pricklies. We all respond positively to warm fuzzies—when people are nice to us and compliment us and give us emotional and physical strokes. Cold pricklies are those reactions we get when we demonstrate anti-social behavior or when we do things others don’t like. Cold pricklies, by the suggestion of the term are not enjoyable. But human nature being what it is will settle for cold pricklies if warm fuzzies are not forth-coming. It is better to get negative attention than to get no treatment at all.

When we hear about screwed up homes and families, manipulative parents or children, dysfunctional family systems and messed up lives, we could also think how much different things would be if God really had his way in these homes. As we give opportunity for that kind of thinking we would begin to appreciate the meaning of the church.

When we hear about neighborhoods that are plagued with serial killers or rapists, or people who go insane and kill their fellow employees or bosses or families we could see that the elements of personality that an authentic view of the church provides have broken down in these people’s lives. It is the very elements of equilibrium included in the notion of church that are absent where society is breaking up. And we just intuitively know that if God had his way there would be no serial killers.

Yet, in spite of what we intuitively know, the church is the whipping boy of western culture. I doubt that any other institution or idea on earth is subject to more ridicule and misunderstanding than the church. And there is a cosmic reason for that which transcends any little irritation that the church may have caused in our lives. You see, the church is the apple of God’s eye and the one idea most hated by the powers of darkness.

This morning I submit to you that the church is one of God’s ideas and that you can only appreciate the church as you allow his big ideas to permeate your thinking to have their day in your mind. Some of the big ideas of God are found in our passage, Ephesians 1:3-10, this morning.

What are the Big Ideas?

Several years ago a movie was released by the name “Contact.” This film was the life-long dream wish of the famous astronomer Carl Sagan. Rather than resorting to the alien invasion motif where misshapen creatures from outer space with grotesque features and exaggerated eyes dominate the landscape of the theatre screen this film presented a space odyssey that staggered the minds of its viewers.

Just the opening trip through the universe to a distant galaxy is enough to expand your mind past the typical grasshopper invasion of the thrill movies. Out past the moon and the red planet to the swirling gases of Jupiter and through the rings of Saturn, we are whisked past the swirling nebulas and black holes of space to view creation from God’s vantage point.

When the little girl in the movie looks up at the night sky and asks her father, “Dad, are there people on other planets?” Dad tactfully answers, “Well, Sweetie, I don’t know. But if there aren’t it sure is a waste of space.”

What a simple, profound suggestion. That statement tugs at your innermost emotions and thoughts. You begin to appreciate the arrogance of humankind that dares to think only of itself and its centricity. We usually think so small. To dare to think that we are alone in this universe is an insult to the intellect and an almost absolute slap in our emotional faces. And yet we love to dance with the mundane and the stupid. It takes courage and time to think about big ideas like the universe and its implications, like God and his purpose.

The human mind didn’t make up God; it couldn’t make up God—that idea is too big for the human mind to make up. That idea had to be implanted into the human psyche. And the idea of the church is in the same category–too big for many even to want to grapple with.

In Ephesians you sense bigness—here is a trip through space where you marvel at the ideas you are seeing.

IDEA NO. 1: In Christ we receive every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Will you dare to believe this? The whole theme of the book of Hebrews is wrapped up in this simple statement. Will you dare to think about the fact that seated on the throne next to the Father is a human being? When I ask college-age Christians to describe heaven their answers remind you of a trip to the Wild Animal Park. The main difference is that in heaven the lions won’t be put in a separate part of the park from the antelope.

The spiritual blessings include our daring to approach God because of Jesus Christ. Most of us have a view of God that is miniscule—he is a policeman, he is a Latin lover, he is an accountant, he is a judge. Our views of God come out of our little world. The bigger your world, the bigger your God. But here we have a God who gives us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places because of the work of Jesus Christ. How dare you think small?!

IDEA NO. 2: He chose us before the foundation of the world to be blameless and holy.

Which is a bigger idea? To be able to see you before the world was created? Or to see you as blameless? Or to see you as holy? However you answer that, if this is true, this is a big idea from God. “Blameless” is better translated “whole.” God wills that we be whole persons. All fragments gone. All insecurities resolved. All naïveté informed. All reaction replaced by response.

“Holy” is better translated “different.” The believer is different. Some of these differences are external, some are internal. Probably the external is ruled by the internal.

The word holy means separate. Church refers to a group of people separated for God. Holy things are different from ordinary things. A temple is holy because it is different from other buildings. God is holy because he is different from ordinary people. A victim was holy because it was different from other animals. The Sabbath day was holy because it was different from other days.

And so God calls Christians to be different. And this difference does not take you out of the world—in comparison to other people in the world you are different here and now when you have committed yourself to Christ. The notion is not “better”—only Christ is better—the idea here has to do with separate from or separate to. We are separated from the worldly interests that possessed us and separated to the eternal interests that Christ through his Spirit has introduced us to.

William Barclay describes things this way: “It should be possible to identify the Christian in the school, the shop, the factory, the office, the hospital ward, everywhere. And the difference is this—that the Christian lives and works and behaves, not as any human laws compel him so to do, but as the law of Christ compels him to do.” (Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 90).

So a Christian teacher who has been set apart by Christ goes far beyond just keeping the rules of the educational code of the district. Her desire to satisfy the demands of Christ gives her a different attitude toward students. A Christian workman will go beyond a simple treatment of his workers indicated by minimum wages or minimum working conditions. When a teacher or a workman or an employer accepts the challenge to be answerable to Christ there are noticeable changes in the lives of these people. A Christian Doctor can never view a patient as a case. The patient is a person in need of wholeness. 

This very big idea is often enough to put a Christian in conflict with society and even in conflict with organized religion. I know organized religions, all claiming to be true churches,where you are not allowed to think differently from the person at the top of the religion. But I believe you are being truly church when you have the mind of Christ.

I was taught from childhood always to test the church to make sure it was the “true church.” Yet the criteria did not really measure whether the people were acting as “truly church.” Their own pride at being the “true church” negated these big ideas regarding being and acting “truly church.” It is a different concept but one that is far more biblical, I believe.

IDEA NO. 3: God destined us in love to be sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.

That means we are treated like members of God’s family but if goes beyond that: it means we are treated like members of God’s family because we are members of God’s family. Here is a big idea: to become a daughter or son of God. This goes far beyond most of our comprehension to believe. It may go beyond our willingness to believe. And yet it is thisstatus that forms this big idea we call church.

Church is not an organization even though we use the term to describe our organizations. Church is not a building even though we use the term to describe our building. Church is not a denomination, even though we use the term to describe our denominations. Organizations, buildings, places, denominations—these are not BIG ideas. These are little, scrawny uses of the term Church.

So what is Church? It is relationship. We began life estranged from God. We began life embittered and hostile to the things God called important. We didn’t find God. God wasn’t lost. But God found us. And he adopted us as daughters and sons. And when that occurred, church happened.

That is the big concept of church. To be “truly church” means to enter that covenant with God. It means to act and think in such a way that we are worthy of the name of church.We are shocked when presidents don’t act presidential. We are chagrined with royalty when it doesn’t act royal. We are concerned with role models that don’t model right.Church has to do with those things in relation to God. Church is the result of adoption.

Ephesians 1 has more big ideas, which you can read when you go home today. The book of Ephesians is sort of a theology of church. You want to know what the church is? Ask God about this idea. Sit on your back porch in the cool of the evening, out under those Bradford pear trees that never bear any pears and meditate on these big ideas:

We live to praise God.

We receive wisdom and insight in Christ.

We have the counsel of his will because of Jesus.

We receive the promise of eternal life through Christ.

We have been sealed with the promise of the Spirit.

We have been guaranteed salvation in the receiving of the Spirit.

And the ideas go on and on.

Which are the bigger ideas?

Some people want to quit sinning because of what it will do for them. Others want to quit sinning because of how it makes God feel. Which is the bigger idea?

Some people want to do right because a law tells them to do right. Others want to do right because of the blessing that will bring to other people. Which is the bigger idea?

Some people believe church is an institution to help you be what you should be. Others believe church is a community of people who have been discovered by Christ and now see who they are. Which is the bigger idea?

Church is God’s idea, and it is our privilege to enter the big ideas of God. Here is that big idea:

13In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,14which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ed Zackrison

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