Sunday School Notes: Church 1

THE CHURCH: Its Time and Place

“…Place is the a priori condition for anything to be at all. To talk meaningfully about something we must be able to situate it within a place context.”[1]

“To dwell means to make a house for oneself in a place. Making a home often entails building a house…”[2]

The Church (visible) is here and now: it is of this world, we have this treasure in earthen vessels(Ex. IPC, CBC, St. John the Baptist, etc.)

WCF XXV.2-4 – “The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world…

This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible…”[3]

Creation: the realm common to men (Common Grace) which is essentially time and space, a building with a purpose (to provide the raw materials for the church, the innate “signals of transcendence”[4]) and a builder (see Hebrews 3:3-4).[5]

“It is certain that as long as man stood up, he had the knowledge of created things and through their significance, was carried up to God, to praise, worship, and love Him. This is what creatures are for, and this is how they are led back to God. But when man had fallen, since he had lost knowledge, there was no longer any one to lead creatures back to God. Hence this book, the world, became as dead and deleted. And it was necessary that there be another book through which this one would be lighted up, so that it could receive the symbols of things. Such a book is Scripture which establishes the likenesses, the properties, and the symbolism of things written down in the book of the world. And so, Scripture has the power to restore the whole world toward the knowledge, praise, and love of God.”

– Bonaventure, Collations on the Six Days, XIII.12

 

Genesis 1:

–          Time (v. 3-4; 14-19): these things create the rhythms by which we experience the phenomenon of time.

o   Day and Night: distinction and division, God separated the light from the darkness…

o   Sun, Moon, and Stars – these are described as rulers (one that governs) in their respective spheres, spheres created by the God who made the distinction.

  • Seasons is the Hebrew word (מוֹעֲדִ) used to refer to the tabernacle or tent of meeting (tent of seasons or gatherings, אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד), which implies both place and time.

–          Space

o   Earth/Land (v. 9-10): distinction and division, waters… gathered together into one place… dry land appear…

o   Plants (v. 11-13): organic/natural order

  • Yielding seed according to their own kind inferring a certain inherent law (order, 1 Cor. 14:33, 40) at work within the plants. They grow according to a pattern, not at random or by chance.

o   People (v. 26-31): an imposed order, extrinsic to the environment but in no way intended to be religious. This is simply humanity being.

  • Government (4:14-17; Rom. 13:3-4): the power of the sword
  • Society (1:27; 18-25): marriage and family are instituted, “God created the institutions of marriage and family for the purpose of reflecting the reality of His own self-definition.”[6]
  • Culture (1:28; 3:17-19; 4:3; 20-22): man exercising his dominion by transforming the raw materials of nature. Here we should have in mind farms and tilled fields – the very beginnings of culture.
  • “The production of non-material culture has always gone hand in hand with man’s activity of physically modifying his environment.”[7]

The Mystery:

–        Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen. – Romans 16:25ff

–        …The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. – Eph. 3:3-5 (see also 1:9)

–        The church is a paradoxical entity that defies logic and wisdom in this world, not unlike the doctrine of two natures of Christ or the Trinity.[8] It is two things at one and the same time, depending upon how you look at it.[9]

o   Because of this we of necessity cannot describe it directly, there is no direct correlation to any one thing in creation. Instead we are forced to use many things, many images and types to fully communicate its reality. Thus God provides us with a place full of pictures.

The Church (invisible) is not here and it is not now: “The true church is not limited to a denomination.[10]

WCF XXV.1 – “The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.”

New Creation, see Hebrews 9:8-10; 13:10.

–          Eternal: This aspect of the church is hinted at in the texts above which speak of the mystery, for there is something of the church present in the mind of God before he even creates.

o   Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Eph. 1:3-10

–          In every, or in no, place: where is heaven?

o   The heavenly aspect.

  • For you have not come to what may be touched…22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. – Heb. 12:18-24
  • This is the essence of our faith. We walk by faith and not by sight, just as the saints of old who walked according to something that they did not see but perceived by faith in what they saw (see for example Ps. 2:6; 48:1-3; Is. 2:2-5; Dan. 2:35).
  • This is the essence of our sacraments, where somehow we are united in our place and time with another place and time (Rom. 6:3) and even the hearing of the word (1 Thess. 2:13).[11]
  • As above; in heaven and… on earth
  • The great cloud in Heb. 12:1, we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (see also Lk. 20:37-38; Matt. 17:1-3). The saints of the past are still alive and we are united to them by the one faith.

[1] Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 38.

[2] Wirzba, Food, 42.

[3] Terry Johnson, Why We Need the Church, (unpublished draft), 21 (chapter 5) notes, “In the book of Acts the word ecclesia appears 19 times, all of which are references to the visible church. The church fears (Acts 5:11), is persecuted (Acts 8:1, 3; 12:1), prays (Acts 12:5), gathers (Acts 14:27), sends missionaries (Acts 15:3), welcomes guests (Acts 15:4), chooses messengers (Acts 15:22), is strengthened (Acts 15:41; 16:5), greets (Acts 18:22), has elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17) who oversee and care for it (Acts 20:28). 13 It has specific locations such as Jerusalem (Acts 8:1; 11:22); Judea, Galilee, Samaria (Acts 9:31), and Antioch (Acts 11:26; 13:1).”

[4] Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1990), x; 120-121. “The infinite manifests itself within the finitude. When it does the finite is revealed to be a symbol of the infinite. Even our little symbol-machines are then revealed to be modest, sometimes painfully modest, attempts to imitate the vast symbol that is the cosmos.” See Psalm 19:1-2 and Isaiah 28:23-29.

[5] “The Bible sees the Churches origin in the mind of God before the foundation of the world…” Brian Habig and Les Newsome, The Enduring Community: Embracing the Priority of the Church, (Jackson, MS: Reformed University Press, 2001), 67.

 

[6] Habig and Newsome, The Enduring Community, 66.

[7] Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, (New York, NY: Anchor Books, 1990), 6.

[8] The Definition of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) affirms of Christ: “Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation; the distinction of natures being in no way annulled by the union, but rather the characteristics of each nature being preserved and coming together to form one person and subsistence…”

[9] A concrete example of this can be found in the way the risen Christ addresses the seven churches in Revelation. He writes to the “angel” of each church, each church that is equated with a lamp stand and even a spirit (see 1:4, the seven spirits who are before his throne…).

[10] Terry Johnson, Why We Need the Church, (unpublished draft), 19-20 (chapter 5). He gives 3 common uses of the term church used in today’s conversations, the above is number 2. He further writes, “Understanding that the true church is invisible and cannot be limited to a particular time or a particular place guards us from destructive factionalism.”

[11] “The ablest minister of the gospel that ever lived was no more than a means by which it pleased the Lord Christ to build his church.” R. B. Kuiper, The Glorious Body of Christ: A Scriptural Appreciation of the One Holy Church, (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 38.