Head First: The Church I want to be.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Church I want to be.

Mrs. Dorsey handed me this several minutes ago. I immediately wanted to share it with you. It crystallizes some of the thoughts I've been dancing with, but which have, until now, refused to coalesce into coherence. I'm really starting to choke on what can often be rightly construed as self-righteous disdain for people God loves, despite whatever hypocrisy I might perceive.

The Church as Witness
by L.T. Jeyachandran

As an apologist, I am often engaged in conversations that involve the philosophical, theological, scientific, and historical reasons by which one could reasonably conclude that Jesus is exactly who he said he was--the eternal God now come in the flesh. But interestingly enough, Jesus tells us in John 13:34-35 that the final apologetic by which this world will recognize that he was sent by God is the demonstrable love-relationship that will be seen in the lives of his disciples.

Why is it that the unfathomable truth of Word made flesh can only be conclusively understood in a living, verifiable community of believers? Why is it that of all the methods that the evil one could invent to thwart the purposes of God, none would succeed so spectacularly as the disruption of relationships among the members of the body of Christ?

There is one simple but profound answer. God is a Being in relationship and any truth pertaining to Him, in the final analysis, stands attested by exemplary relationships among his creatures.

To the clever lawyer who questioned him about the greatest commandment in all of Scripture, Jesus significantly refrained from giving religious or ritualistic requirements; instead, he had only two simple relational injunctions to offer: "Love your God" and "Love your neighbor" (Matthew 22:34-40). By placing these two commands at the same level, Jesus brought relationships into focus. Thus, worshipping God is not about mere observance, but relating to Him in love. He is likewise the one who liberates the individual from the self to love others. The first commandment thus becomes foundational and makes the second obey-able. But by the same token, obedience to the second commandment becomes the evidence that the first has been obeyed. The brilliance of this summation is polluted by the pluralist cacophony assaulting us at every turn.

Yet it is in this context that the Church finds itself entrusted with the onerous responsibility of speaking about the relational nature of God. What better way could there be to communicate this blessed reality than by a model which would uncompromisingly demonstrate it before a watching world!

In this, no contemplation of the beauty and glory of God within a community of believers can be complete without some understanding of the relationship between the Three Persons of the Trinity. The image God has given us in the Trinity is an image of three co-eternal, co-equal Persons giving themselves to one another in eternal self-effacement. The glory of our God is not a thunder-and-lighting quality, but a self-giving love within the Trinity. And Jesus's prayer for his disciples (and us) is that this same glory may be given to us that we "may be one" even as they are one. Is there any question why servanthood and relationship-building is no longer an optional extra for the Christian but essential to reflecting the glory of the Triune God?

In a society that is increasingly fragmented and individualized, it is easy to develop a theology of the Church as a collection of perfect individuals. But a right understanding of the relationships within the Trinity would militate against such an interpretation. We do well to remember the powerfully acted parable of Jesus as he washed the disciples' feet. The feet of all the disciples were dirty, but as they would submit themselves to cleansing by one another, they would emerge as a perfect community (John 13:14). We may fundamentally have no difficulty having ourselves cleansed by Christ, but to submit to ablutions by another is virtually unthinkable. The disciples (and we as well) would have been very happy to wash the feet of Jesus, but his injunction was that they should wash one another's feet. It was a strange but effective way of communicating the importance of relating to one another by forgiving, cleansing, and accepting one another in perfect mutuality. In other words, two imperfect individuals can synergistically portray a perfect relationship--the very antidote so desperately needed to correct our individualistic privatized spirituality!

It is an issue within Scripture that cannot be overemphasized. The hallmark of the Church of Jesus Christ is a relational testimony which serves as a pointer to the reality of the Eternal Triune God. May we, under God, consciously discern every trap that the devil sets for us to rupture relationships, and trust the Holy Spirit of love to breathe his healing and remake our fractured bonds.

L.T. Jeyachandran is executive director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.

© 2007 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. All Rights Reserved. Used without permission, but with a prayer that they won't sue me.


Kc said...

Excellent quote and desire! I know the threat of pluralism is real but we cannot act on fear and expect to accomplish Christ' desire for our unity. I'm convinced that our unity cannot be based on our willingness to overlook each other but on our love to oversee one another. That's not possible if we have our backs turned.

Zeke said...

Thanks for posting this. I have to say I am over a lot of my bitterness and disappointment with church stuff. Not all, but I think I'm ready to let the stupid stuff roll off of me like water on a dog.

Craig Bob said...

One of the nuggets in there is the idea that being made in the image of God refers to living relationally (like the trinity) rather than a physical or spiritual resemblance.

Me likey.

Aimee said...

thanks for that. i really needed to read that today.

SocietyVs said...

I totally agree Dorsey. I think relationships and the way the church is acting - these are things that portray Jesus in such a bad light that a lot of people almost seem to want 'revenge' at the church.

I think we as a coammunity of believers under the same God miss this and individualize ourselves (nothing wrong with knowing your an individual) from the community - meanwhile if the community gets together and becomes purposed it can be an authentic change agent in society. I just had this convo with my wife last night about the church and giving. I said of the church gave to projects they could get involved in and see some change in the community - they would. I was talking about some radical programs like a daycares, elderly programs, visiting prisoners and the sick, and basically making programs to provide and support the true 'poor' in society. I think if we see a change in this direction - we give, we work together, and we love another - it can't help but make us a good 'witness' and brothers/sisters in the end of the day.

Bruce Garrison said...

Nice post Dorse. I'm reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's little classic, "Life Together." In that Bonhoeffer said that those who are looking for the perfect church haven't read the New Testament! I guess our "market/product" society always wants things, and people, to be the ultimate package. It often just ain't so. Love and humility are foundation stones that have somehow gotten thrown to the side. Good reminder of what church life is really about. My post today kind of hit the same theme from a different angle.

Recovering said...

That was a great read. Thanks!

Charley Pi said...

Been away awhile. Very glad I returned to this post. It has taken far too long for me to catch on to the hairy tickle ideer that Jesus alone should determine just what His church must be.
If "God, in this manner< loved the world..." then why can't we choose to love each other?

seƱor jefe said...

In other words, two imperfect individuals can synergistically portray a perfect relationship--the very antidote so desperately needed to correct our individualistic privatized spirituality

Wow! (and Ouch!)

Chemical Erik said...

Awesome post! One small disagreement:
I do not believe the greatest commandment and the second greatest commandment are not at the same level, but are above all the other commandments. In practice this only has any meaning when we appear to have a conflict between the two commandments. Thus, when forced to choose between loving a person, and loving GOD; we need to choose GOD. However, as GOD told us to love our neighbor, this should be the exceptional occurance.

dorsey said...

I understand the distinction you're trying to make, but I don't think it's practically viable. How can you love God and not your neighbor?

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)

I've heard many times, from people in my own family that "righteousness is more important than relationship," and I've seen the hellish fruit of that kind of self-righteous bullshit.

I don't believe it's either/or, nor do I believe that Christ's commandments were meant to be part of a larger hierarchy. I believe these two replaced the law. We could never keep up our end of the old covenant, so He did it for us and offered us a new one.

First, He commanded, Love the Lord, your God, and the second command, He said, "is like it." Loving God is accomplished by loving the other. You can't have one without the other.

Charley Pi said...

Dorse; May I disagree with you?
The two commandments cited did NOT replace the law or anything else; rather, they are the embodiment of ALL the law/commandments, etc. We have made a mess out of God's simple laws, as did our forebears, Adam and Eve. By co0nstantly interpreting and reinterpreting what God said, we've confused ourselves to Hell.
Jesus, as the simple statement of God in human terms, restated the fundamental law by which we will be judged. The first looks UP to God; the second looks AROUND to Humankind.
How much better that our lives be judged by these two simple standards, which are fused in Christ, than to have to get "religious" and do all that crap required by our fellow sinners who are usually trying to prove that they are better than us in the sight of God.

dorsey said...

Charley, I hope you know you're always welcome to call me on my crap. In fact, I count on you to do so.

Of course, you're correct. Christ's commandments certainly were not a replacement for the law. I chose my words very poorly. The point I was chasing is that, if we spent our lives focusing on those two, there would be little need for the rest. Thanks for the correction.