Cultivating an Appreciation for the Church

If you had told me as a kid that I would spend my life pastoring a church, I may have punched you in the face. Not really, but I certainly would have thought you were crazy. (I suspect my friends would have as well, since they somewhat routinely tell me they can’t believe I’m a pastor.)

At sixteen, when I felt called to ministry, I never would have expected that I would be a pastor in this kind of cultural environment. No, I’m not talking about the decline of Christian values (though that’s true), but about the depreciation of the church among those who are (at least by profession) Christians. As I study the Bible, three things stand out to me as for why I should love and appreciate the church.

God desires to have a people. From Genesis to Revelation, it’s clear that God desires to dwell among a people and be glorified through a people. We see this in the opening chapters of Genesis (1-2), but we see it most clearly in God’s covenant with Abraham, what Paul Williamson calls the Bible’s “magna carta,” given its prominence in the biblical record.[1] God calls Abraham to be the father of many nations, and from him came a nation—Israel, God’s holy people. Additionally, throughout the OT we read of people coming from other nations to worship Yahweh (Ps. 67, 87). These texts make clear Yahweh is not some tribal deity. He is the one and only God who desires people from all nations to come and worship him alone. Hence, he “shall inherit the nations” (Ps. 82:8). And more specifically, he will exercise his rule through the Messiah, the descendent of David, established in Zion who will have “the nations as [His] heritage” (Ps. 2:8). The NT reveals unequivocally that the Messiah in the line of David is none other than Jesus Christ (Lk. 1:32-33).

Jesus came to earth “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn. 11:51-52). In Acts 20:28 we’re told that Jesus shed his blood not just for individuals, but for a people—a body of believers. Moreover, in the NT, passages that originally applied to the nation of Israel are now applied to the church (2 Cor. 6; 1 Pet. 2:9, citing Ex. 19:4-6). Promises made are now promises fulfilled. The church, therefore, to quote theologian John Frame, is “the continuation of Israel.”[2] In the new heaven and new earth, God will dwell among his people and be forever glorified as their faithful, covenant-keeping God (Rev. 21:3).

God’s desires to be glorified through his people. It’s somewhat of a truism to say that God desires to be glorified through his people since he does all things for his glory (Isa. 48:11; Eph 1:3-14) and desires for his people to glorify him (1 Cor. 10:31). But we read something incredible in Ephesians: God’s glory, Paul says, is displayed “through the church,” since through it “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11). Did you catch that? God’s glory is on display through the church. This should make us yearn to be part of God’s church.

Of course, we must also note that God is glorified through his people’s good deeds (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:12). As a body of priests (1 Pet. 2:9), we engage “in the priestly service of the gospel of God” as we bear witness to Christ through word and deed (Rom. 15:16). In this as well we see the continuity of God’s purposes among and through his people. Just as Israel’s calling was “fundamentally missiological,”[3] so also is the church’s (Matt. 28:18-20). Thus, Michael Morales notes, “Matthew 28, then, is but the embrace of the inheritance promised in Psalm 2.”[4]

God cares for his people. God cares for his people through the Body of Christ. To be sure, this happens through what we might call “the official ministries of the church”: Preaching, teaching, discipling, disciplining, counseling, and ministries of mercy. At the same time, this also takes place through the members of the congregation. Paul writes in Gal. 6:1 that those who are “spiritual” are to restore people who have fallen into sin.

While more could be said, it seems clear from biblical revelation that the doctrine of the church should be located within the larger framework God’s work of salvation.[5] Our discipleship takes place within the context of a local church.[6]

For these reasons (and many more) believers should join a local church and commit themselves to it.

Yes, the church is flawed and imperfect in many ways (it’s filled with sinners!) Yes, sadly there are mean and abusive people in the church. There are bullies. Such people should be confronted, as Jesus instructs us (Matt. 18:15-20), and called to repentance, and disciplined properly. God’s people should be characterized by humble service (Mark 10:43-45) not haughtiness.

Everything in this world is characterized by brokenness, but we have Jesus’ promise that the gates of hell will not prevail (Matt. 16:18), and we look forward to the day when the church, as the Bride of Christ, will be presented spotless to Jesus at the marriage supper of Lamb (Rev. 21:2). Until then, join the rest of us plodders.

 

[1] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 77.

[2] John M. Frame, Salvation Belongs to the LORD: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philipsburg: P&R, 2006), 235.

[3] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003), 76.

[4] L. Michael Morales, “The Great Commission in the Old Testament,” Tabletalk 38:4 (April 2014): 9.

[5] Some of this language is borrowed from Lyle D. Bierma, “Infant Baptism in the Reformed Confessions,” in The Case for Covenantal Infant Baptism, ed. Gregg Strawbridge (Philipsburg: P&R, 2003), 244.

[6] Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 24-26.

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