Empowered For A Purpose
Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:21
Last Sunday, one day after the passing of Pope John Paul II, we were gathered here for worship. I think I surprised some of you when I made absolutely no reference to the Pope’s death during the course of our service. Perhaps, some of you were relieved that I made no reference to the Pope. Perhaps others were disappointed that I would neglect to mention such a significant world event.
The truth is, I have struggled to process the Pope’s death. There is no doubt; Pope John Paul II led a fascinating life. He was, in so many ways, a remarkable man. His positive influence upon this world has been far-reaching. And yet, as a Presbyterian minister, standing before a group of Protestant Christians, I find it extremely difficult to theologically process the death of this Pope.
My struggle has to do with the visible, and historical, divide between Protestants and Catholics. And with this visible divide comes the reality that our corporate Christian witness in this world is greatly compromised.
Indeed, we confess in The Apostles’ Creed that we ‘believe in the Holy Catholic Church’. We understand that we are but one branch of the grand Church Universal. We understand that throughout this vast planet, and within the countless denominations, there are true Christians gathering for worship.
Believing this, the practice of St. Giles Kingsway is to extend charity to all who profess Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This courtesy is measurable whenever we receive a membership transfer from a congregation of a different denomination. We see this courtesy extended whenever we gather for The Lord’s Supper. At the Table of our Lord, we do not make distinctions between the different Christian denominations. We simply ask that those participating in the Lord’s Supper examine themselves to ensure that an earnest faith and affection for Jesus Christ exists within them.
The Roman Table has a markedly different approach. According to the doctrines of the Roman Church, Protestants are not permitted to share in their celebration of The Lord’s Supper (The Eucharist). In other words, Protestants are excluded from the sacrament that formally identifies us as belonging to Christ and to His Church.
Unfortunately, this is but one among a myriad of doctrinal differences between the Roman Church and the Protestant Church. And these differences cannot be easily dismissed as peripheral distinctives either. Some of the doctrinal distinctives between the two groups relate to the core of who we are as the Church, and how the Church is to be configured.
A comment that you have likely heard repeated this past week is the suggestion that ‘the head of the Church has died.’ The choice of the word ‘head’ is not incidental, but intentional. And such a statement reveals a divide at a key juncture: What does it mean to be the ‘Head of the Church’? Who is the rightful Head of the Church?
This is what the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 1, verses 22 and 23, “(God) put all things in subjection under (Christ’s) feet, and gave (Christ) as head over all things to the church, which is (Christ’s) body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
In keeping with the teaching of the apostle Paul, Presbyterian elders and ministers are required to subscribe to the following statement: “The Presbyterian Church in Canada is bound only to Jesus Christ, her King and Head” (p372 from the PCC Common Book of Worship).
Now, let’s see if we can determine what it means for Jesus Christ to be our Head, and for us to be His body.
To be precise, Paul says that Christ is more than simply the Head of the Church; Paul asserts that Christ is the Head over “all things” (1:22). Christ, who has been made Head over everything in the Universe has been given to the church, “which is His body” (1:23).
Paul’s message is that the headship of Christ is over everything, and yet, His headship has a special connection to the work of the Church, His body. In other words, the Church plays a key part in the grand, cosmic, eternal plan of God.
Speaking frankly, I reckon that there are a lot of people that do not realize what it means to be the Church. Do you know how I know? Because, rarely, do I ever hear people talking about being the church, while all the time I hear them talking about going to church.
As we turn our attention to the Scriptures, it becomes clear that Church is not someplace you go; Church is something you are.
Let me suggest to you that, if we are to ever bridge the divide between Christian denominations, we will need to recover this truth. As the Church Universal, we have been made, part and parcel of a grand, cosmic, eternal plan. That statement only makes sense when we come to understand that Church is not someplace you go; Church is something you are.
Is that something you have ever considered? Have you ever thought about what is implied by such a statement? Because, it seems to me, that if the Church Universal is a part of God’s grand, cosmic, eternal plan, and if our congregation is the local expression this Church Universal, then we have been ordained from all eternity to make a profound mark upon the community within which we live.
The connection between Christ and the Church; the connection between the Head and the body, is not a tenuous one, but a vital one. Paul asserts that, as Christ’s body, we belong to the fullness of Christ who, in turn, fills everything (1:23).
To illustrate this, Stuart Briscoe tells the story of how his congregation was seeking to build a new sanctuary. In preparation for this project, the architect invited members of the congregation to a meeting to get their input regarding what they felt would be necessary for the new sanctuary. The church members eagerly participated and the architect filled pages of his legal pad with these suggestions. Finally, the architect turned to Pastor Briscoe, and asked, ‘What do you think should be included in the new building?’
Briscoe responded: ‘Three things: first, the sanctuary should be circular since this would be the best use of space. Secondly, the pulpit should be in the geometric centre, since this would allow for the closest contact with the largest number of people in the smallest amount of space. And, thirdly, I would like a gallery built for the spirits.’
At that point, the architect stopped his note taking and looked up at Pastor Briscoe to see if he was being serious.
Briscoe continued, ‘I would like a gallery built for the spirits because, up to this point, everything we have been discussing has pertained to bodies. Evidently, we need to heat the building for the bodies; we need to cool it for the bodies. We need a roof so the bodies don’t get wet. We need a floor for the bodies to stand on. We need chairs for the bodies to sit on. We need windows for the bodies to see through. It’s all bodies; I would like to see something done for the spirits. It wouldn’t need to be very large; it wouldn’t cost very much, it wouldn’t need walls, it wouldn’t need a roof, it wouldn’t require a floor, and it wouldn’t need any chairs.’
The architect, still not sure what Pastor Briscoe was trying to do, asked, ‘Pastor Briscoe, what would you put in this gallery?’
‘Oh, I almost forgot’, Briscoe responded apologetically, ‘We’ll use it to accommodate the masses of people who approach me each week and say, ‘Dr. Briscoe, I’m sorry. I will not be able to attend service next Sunday, but I will be there in spirit.’
Looking quite puzzled, the architect nonetheless responded to Pastor Briscoe’s suggestion, ‘You must know that if you aren’t there in your body, you aren’t there period.’
There is a lesson to be learned from that statement: ‘If you aren’t there in your body, you aren’t there period.’
If that is true, we can safely infer that the body is the means whereby a spiritual entity functions in a physical environment (Briscoe).
Now, let’s connect that with what Paul is saying. We know that Jesus Christ is present in this world, and we know that He is present in the person of His Holy Spirit. We also know that He is not present in this world in His resurrection body. If, then, Jesus is present by His Spirit, and if He is not present in His resurrection body, is there a sense in which Jesus Christ, present in the world by His Spirit, (do I dare say) lacks something?
And could it be that which He lacks is . . . a body? And could it be that the Church, as the body, is the fullness of Christ who, in turn, fills all things? Could it be that in the grand, cosmic, eternal purposes of God, the Church is the means whereby a spiritual Christ functions in a physical environment?
Or, translated another way: St. Giles Kingsway is the means whereby a spiritual Christ functions in central Etobicoke.
If this is the case, I submit to you that we have been entrusted with the most startling, and the most wonderful, privilege in the Universe. Because, Church is not somewhere you go, it is something you are.
Remember what Paul says earlier on in Ephesians, chapter one—he answers questions relating to our origin: ‘Why are we here? Why have we been saved?’
According to Paul, we have been saved for the express purpose of bringing glory to Jesus Christ. And, now, we are being told that the channel through which we are to bring glory to Christ is the Church. Paul explains that as “the church” we are “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (1:23). And more explicitly, in chapter 3, verse 21, Paul says, “to (God) be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.”
If we didn’t know better, we might be inclined to tell God that His grand, cosmic, eternal plan is a risky one. Entrusting the reputation and glory of Jesus Christ to a collection of highly flawed human beings? How is this going to work?
I hear Paul saying that our success in representing Christ will depend upon our connection to Christ as our Head. If we are connected to any other source we will ultimately fail. For this reason, Paul’s prayer is that we might know “the surpassing greatness of (Christ’s) power” (1:19).
To say it another way, Paul wants us to know that the power that belongs to the Head is made available to the rest of the body. And this is why we can confidently represent Christ in the world. Our success in glorifying Christ is made possible by His power.
This power is vital because the Christian Church is the means whereby the Spirit of Christ functions in this world.
This power is vital because Church is not somewhere you go, it is something you are. Amen.