Summary: The Credible Christian church will be characterised by unity, humility, gentleness, patience and peace. Our primary task is to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth and our success will depend on our credibility.
If you were here 2 weeks ago you may remember that I posed the question, ’What is the church here for?’ That might sound like a straightforward question at first, but I think you’ll find if you ask a range of people what they think the Church should be doing, you’ll get a range of answers. Now probably most of those answers will express reasonable expectations of the Church. I imagine they’ll be things like the Church should be telling people about Jesus, it should be teaching Christians how to be more faithful followers of Christ, it should be teaching the bible, the stories of Jesus, etc. They might say it should be caring for those who have particular needs, it should be providing opportunities for worship, for fellowship, it should be caring for the poor and needy, it should be getting involved in politics, or it shouldn’t be getting involved in politics. The range of views and the number of activities and priorities that will be suggested, will be enormous.
But I want to ask today, what is our primary task? What was the main reason that Jesus called out that group of followers, the disciples, who later formed the early church? As I said 2 weeks ago, the primary reason the Church exists is to proclaim the gospel. The great commission in Matt 28 is this: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." Jesus’ last words to his disciples as recorded in Acts 1 are these: "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." So there’s little doubt what Jesus thought the primary task of the Church should be. Similarly in that passage from Ephesians 3 that we just read, we discover an amazing thing. God has chosen to reveal his wisdom in all its rich variety to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, but notice how he’s chosen to reveal them (v10): through the Church! Just look around you. This group of people here, you and I, are God’s chosen agents for revealing his glory, his wisdom, to the world.
So the question is this: how are we to live in such a way that our witness is seen as believable? That is, how are we to be a credible Christian Church? e.g. when we’re working at the market next week, wearing our name tags, of course, will people notice the way we work together and think what a great group of people there are here at St Theo’s? When we hand out our leaflets, will they be more inclined to read them because they’ve seen what a difference it makes to be a part of a Christian community?
Well, what I want to do today is to look at just 3 passages, that I think bring out at least some of the ways that we as a church might be more credible in our life together.
The first passage is that section from Eph 3:7-4:16. Now let me suggest that the whole of Ephesians, but particularly this section is concerned with the issue of Christian unity. It’s as though Paul sees that the degree to which we demonstrate unity in our life together will determine our effectiveness in preaching the gospel. Look down at 4:4-6. As we’re proclaiming the gospel, we’re proclaiming a message about a God for whom unity is of the essence. "There is one body and one Spirit, ... 5one Lord, ... 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all." Ours is a Trinitarian God. Three persons in one. Ours is a God who encompasses within himself all of creation. And what he’s done is to call us to join his family, to become like him, particularly in the way we express our unity, our solidarity.
So if we’re to be credible as a Church we need to be united. I’m in contact with a number of other clergy and of course this is time of year for AGMs to be held. And I hear various stories of other churches’ AGMs. Let me tell you they’re not all the friendly and encouraging meetings that we’re used to having. Some of them could be likened to a war zone. What does that say about the gospel they proclaim? It turns it into mere words doesn’t it? Rather than the expression of the power of God for salvation.
So how are we going to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Well, let’s look at this passage and see what hints there are here for us. I guess we could do worse than to start with Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. Look at the sorts of things he prays for in 3:16-18. He prays that they may be strengthened in their inner being with power through his Spirit. That’s not a bad place to start is it? If we start simply by resolving to be more united, we’ll be about as successful as most of us will be with our new year’s resolutions next month. We might make some progress, but our weak human nature is likely to win out in the end. But if we’re strengthened in our inner being with power through God’s Spirit, the possibilities are incredible. I spoke 2 weeks ago about how what we say and do depends on what’s in the heart. And the reality is that the only way for us to change what’s in our heart is for God to change it.