The Church: what can we say about it?
How would you describe the Church?
· A collective of Jesus people
· Worshippers of the Living God
· Forgiven people
· A serving community
· Sharing together in the risen life of Jesus
· Empowered and equipped by the Holy Spirit
The Church is called the Body of Christ
· Jesus is at the head
· Each person is an important part with a role to perform
· Represents Jesus in today’s world
Acts 2 tells us about some of the activities of the early church:
· Bible study, prayer, worship, communion, hospitality, building relationships, giving, serving, healing
The Big Vision
In 1 Peter chapter 2, especially verse 9, we read a great vision of the church. In this letter, Peter uses a whole lot of old testament verses and concepts (that originally applied to God’s people Israel) to now describe the church of the new testament. This is because the church would be (in so many ways) the new Israel. Whereas God’s intentions and hopes had centred around the historical people of Israel, now this focus is on the church that has been founded by Jesus. The promises made to Abraham about the blessings coming to all nations will be ultimately fulfilled through the outwardly looking church of Jesus. As Jesus issued his great missional challenge, the church would go into all the world making disciples for Jesus.
Having said this, there is also a biblical continuity between the faithful people of the Hebrew Scriptures and the church founded by Jesus. In being obedient to God, heroes like Abraham and Moses (and all those listed in Hebrews 11) prepared the way for what would follow when Jesus came. Now Gentiles in large numbers would flock to participate in the church. Peter himself would have a great interest in this subject. Why? When Peter uttered those words, “You are the Christ, Son of the Living God”, Jesus replied, “On this rock I will build my church” [i.e. “on this foundation of belief/faith …”] (Matthew 16:16,18).
The church starts with Jesus, referred to here as a “living stone” (v.4). This is the Jesus who came into this world as God incarnate, and demonstrated in all his deeds and teaching what God was actually like. After three years of ministry, the opposition to Jesus built to the extent that he was crucified on a Roman cross. Ironically, this would open our path to forgiveness and salvation as we accepted this Jesus as our Saviour. As well, on the third day Jesus would rise from the tomb and lead us all into an experience of new life. Jesus would be the basis or the ‘foundation stone’ on which the church would be built. Hence, Jesus, the “living stone”.
The laying of Jesus as the “cornerstone” or foundation of the church is described in verses 6-8. Jesus is the “stone” that the entire structure is built upon … the first “stone” that is laid … the foundation “stone”. This “cornerstone” Jesus, is the only foundation that is perfectly safe, sure and true. For all who believe in Jesus and stake their life on him, he is the most “precious” gift to us imaginable, and in knowing him we will be wholly vindicated in our faith – we will “not be put to shame”. This means that our decision to follow Jesus will be ultimately and publically proven to have been right.
We need to digress to notice that there are others who will stumble over this “cornerstone”. Jesus will be the point of decision … through whom we say either yes or no to God. Some will say ‘no’ to Jesus, and this will be a real hurdle for them. Those who Peter is thinking about here, are not those who haven’t heard about Jesus, but rather those who have refused to believe even though they have been given enough evidence to do so; and not only refused, but also tried to subvert Jesus’ mission. Peter had personally encountered those who had had their minds set on Jesus’ destruction. These ones would also be those now persecuting Peter and his believing community as he writes.
So we “come to him, a living stone” (v.4). Now we should carefully notice what is said next – how Peter refers to us … “living stones” (v.5)! We are referred to in the same fashion as Jesus, making the assumption that this is our quest – being like Jesus. As we respond positively to the “living stone” Jesus, we become one of the many “living stones” making up God’s spiritual house. [When we rented in Point Cook in Melbourne for a while, we lived at 7 Livingstone Square!!] As “living stones” we are destined to be important and functioning members of the church, but sometimes barriers are put up to disrupt this. You might begin to think what some of those barriers might be. But the text says to “let yourselves …” or “allow yourselves …” i.e. let God have his way!
The NIV and other versions translate in a positive sense, that as we are coming to him … we are thereby already being built into a spiritual house. So therefore the emphasis is on our decision to “come” and be involved with Jesus. In so doing, our destiny will be as a part of a “spiritual house”. What that means is then further expressed in verses 5 and 9. Together we are a “chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own people”. But this is not so that we will feel superior or satisfied. This is not so we can revel in our own good fortune. This is not so that we can look down at others who may not be described in this way. This is so that we “may proclaim the mighty acts [of God] … the One who has brought us out of darkness and into the light. This is a call to ‘go public’! When we speak about God, we want to be overheard!!
As verse 10 points out, this is a big change – a “mighty act” if you like. From being bereft of God to becoming children of God, from being stuck in sin to being a forgiven people. Being estranged from God is here likened to not having any real identity. [We know the pain people suffer when they don’t have anywhere that they feel they belong; like being born in a refugee camp. This is why we see great big smiles when refugees to this country become Australian citizens; many have never had this sense of belonging before.] Coming to Jesus offers a radically new start, with a new home thrown in. Also, implicit in the statement “but now you are God’s people”, is the idea that from here we should never regress.
So what do the phrases in verse 9 mean (for us now)? What roles have we inherited?
· A “chosen race” – Israel was called to be a light to the nations, a nation which would allow the gentile nations to see the glory of God. They had mixed success with this. Now the church of Jesus is the light on the hill, the salt of the earth. Thus, a “chosen race” is a specially representative and missional people, who join God on His mission in the world. This is based on a truly faith-based loving relationship with God through Jesus, that is in turn nurtured and guided by the Holy Spirit.
· A royal priesthood” – priests in Israel facilitated the sacrifices for the atonement of people’s sins. This was a two-way process of bringing God to the people, and the people back to God. Now Jesus stands as the only ‘sacrifice’ acceptable to God for the forgiveness of sins. So, our priestly role is to support and encourage one another in our reception of God’s forgiveness through Jesus. We point each other to the mercy of God available to each of us. This would also mean that we, through our very lives, point all people that we are in contact with, to that mercy of God. We are all ministers of God’s grace (together), according to the spiritual gifts each of us have been given (for the common good).
· A “holy nation” – we can easily get this word “holy” wrong … it doesn’t mean some sort of spiritual elitism that we have to continually strive for. Rather it means that we are “set apart” for a purpose, and this is not something we strive to be, it’s just something that we are by definition. A “nation” is a people group; so therefore a “holy nation” is a collective of people set apart for God’s purposes! The church is distinctive, but at the same time engaged!
· “God’s own people” (or, “a people belonging to God” NIV) – as we live our lives we sense that we are completely and utterly God’s children who want to follow in the way of Jesus, doing exactly what God wants us to do. At the same time we appreciate on a daily basis God’s love and care for us, and God’s continual offerings of compassion and forgiveness. As we belong to Him, we are treasured by God. God’s own people will also be channels of God’s blessing to others.
Now in reflecting back to the “spiritual house” in verse 5, we should move our thoughts away from a physical building to a vision of God’s assembled people. In this sense, the glory of God is not seen in architecture, but rather in the beauty of transformed grace-bearing lives. And this is not just to be evident when the church is gathered, but also when the church is dispersed. As Gil Cann writes: The primary ministry of a church is the sum total of everything which every one of its members says and does in every situation on every day of the week (Courtesy of OIKOS Magazine).
Also in verse 5, the “holy” or “set-apartness” is attached to the “priesthood”, and then this is directed towards “spiritual sacrifices …”. This indicates, that if we are to conduct a positive and redemptive ministry amongst each other and in the general community, then we will have to be repentant people ourselves, always looking toward our own growth and maturity. According to N T Wright, “the call of the Gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world” (from Surprised by Scripture). By this he means living out how the risen Christ has endured suffering and death for our forgiveness and the forgiveness of the world, yet also risen back to life to usher willing people into a new life of salvation.