Thursday, August 16, 2012

How do we live and teach Ephesians 1-3: Cosmic Christ and the Unified Church

My last few posts were about the meaning of Ephesians 1-3. You can read them here and here if you would like. For a starter on how Ephesians 1-3 could help with a discussion on Race and Church, you can read that here.

But seeing that this is the word of God for the people of God in all ages, contexts, tribes, and places, how do we apply such a specific meaning to our lives and churches?

First, a summary of Ephesians 1-3 may help catch us up:

Summary:

  • In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul is writing to a mostly, if not exclusively, Gentile audience.
  • He is not writing about individual salvation, but about how Christ brings the Gentiles into God's covenant/people. This conclusion is come to from 3 major sections:
    • Ephesians 1 - Paul talks about the work of Christ as revealing the mystery of God.
    • Ephesians 2 - Paul talks about the cross of Christ uniting both Jew and Gentile into one body.
    • Ephesians 3 - Paul reveals what the revelation was he received from God, tells us what the mystery is that Christ reveals, and a major implication of what the gospel is: the inclusion of the Gentiles as "fellow-heirs" as the people of God.
So, what do the people of God today, have to do with the Gentile inclusion into the covenant of God? Here are a few ways to go about teaching this text/ some lessons we can take away from this text:

Sometimes, it is not about you, it about the Church!
Ephesians 1-3 three is very centered on Christ, risen and ascended. This picture of Jesus has sometimes been called the "Cosmic Christ" as Jesus is seen as in heaven and working through his church. Though we call the church the body of Christ often figuratively, in this passage, the church is literally seen as the body of Christ doing the work and will of Jesus while he is away.  Moreover, one of the main works of the church is to be united. A church that is unified is a church that stands against the powers and principalities.

We need to be far less concerned with our own selves, lives, actions and much more devoted to the family of faith. Church is not about what I get out of it, what I like, how I liked the sermon, how it effected my spirituality, but rather, Church is a community of people coming together as one to carry the gospel forward, to fight injustices, to break down evil in the community, and build up those around them. In a word, the unified church of Christ (I hope that isn't a denomination) is supposed to be Jesus on earth. This is why we shouldn't leave our church because we don't like the music or the pastor's teaching or even the people in it. The church has a spiritual/cosmic dimension much greater than the individual parts of the church. We are one people fighting and building and breaking chains and loving our enemies and neighbors. There are times to leave a church, but leaving too soon or for trivial reasons only intensifies the problem and shows an utter lack of a theological understanding of what church is.

This discussion could easily move to one about ecumenism and the ecumenical movement, something that is sorely lacking in the evangelical movement today. It could lead to a discussion about what the church is and does and why we do what we do. It could lead to a discussion about what it means to be an individual Christian and the role the Church should play in one's life.

Ultimately, I see Ephesians 1-3 placing the center of attention on the body as a whole. This passage is not about what it means to be saved or what individual salvation is about. This passage is highly informative for who the Church is to be, and from there we may be able to deduce our individual role in that setting.

The focus verse for this sermon or devotional could be Ephesians 1:20-23.
  • Cosmic Christ verses: 1:3-4, 9-12, 20-23, 2:6-7, 
  • Unified Church: 1:22-23, 2:13-22. 
  • Emphasis on Church specifically mentioned in: 1:22-23, 3:10, 3:21
This is about salvation on a large scale, conveying to the world and to the church what a people of God should look like living under the rule and reign of God in the Kingdom of God. The church is important because it was God's design from the foundations of the earth. God chose the church as the operating way to transform the world from old creation to new creation. God desires us "to be holy and blameless before him in love."

Read this section in light of the salvation of a group of people (Gentiles) coming into the God's ordained body to be Jesus' hands and feet while he is sitting at the right hand of God. Then you should gain a much better understanding of what Paul is encouraging us to do. For it is not too much of a leap to rejoice in the Gentile inclusion, because for most of us it is the birth story of our inclusion.

What does it mean to be the children of God? What does it mean to be apart of the Church? What is the role of the Church? What does unity look like today within our own churches? Within the churches in our city? Nation? World?

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