Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 4/9/00
93 weeks ago (not counting holidays, breaks, and guest speakers) we embarked on a journey through Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians that some thought would never end. As we bring this series to a close, it is time to look back and ask what we have learned. I will try to pull the teaching of this letter together in Five Theses. They are 90 short of Luther's, but you can nail them on any doors you think appropriate.
This perspective involves a radical reordering of priorities for most of us. It is not that what we believe in or emphasize is wrong, but we have the center and the periphery confused, making salvation be about us first--our forgiveness, our escaping Hell, our fulfillment--rather than God. We start with forgiveness and then treat holiness as a kind of icing added to the cake; but in 1:4 Paul says that God started by choosing us to be holy and blameless before Him in love. Then forgiveness, adoption, eternal life, etc. were added as the means of getting to that end. Ironically, by taking ourselves out of the center we are better able to enjoy the benefits that salvation does indeed bring to us (1:3). The greatest of them is having God in the center. We should present the Gospel not first as the offer of eternal life, but as the offer of a cause to live for big enough to make eternal life attractive. And nothing but the glory of God can qualify.
This happens in at least three ways:
As 1:4 tells us, it was the manifestation of Christ's character in us that came first in God's plan, and everything else serves that end. The classic prooftext on salvation by grace alone received by faith alone (sola gratia and sola fide) is 2:8-10, which is there not just to support these biblical and reformation views but to show us the design. It precludes boasting--that is, it precludes anybody besides God sharing the glory. If salvation is by grace alone, not my works, then the glory is God's alone. So the whole plan of salvation is designed to acheive the end, i.e., the glory of God.
This is where we realize the implications of our humanistically skewed version of the Gospel. For the Church generated by our man-centered gospel is often the last place people expect to encounter Christlike character. There are a number of corollaries to this thesis:
What would such a Church look like? How would it differ from the typical modern American Evangelical congregation? It would not be a preaching point only with a community loosely attached to it, but a real community within which the preaching of the Gospel would make sense. It would move from the Entertainment model to a Participation model. Having hordes of folk passively watching a performance on the stage and then going home is not the NT Church--it creates no Community of Faith at all, simply a chance colocation of Religious Consumers. It would stop being narrowly focused on Decisions (after Getting Saved, Being Baptized, Joining the Church, and Redicating your Life, what is there left to do?) and apply the Whole Counsel of God to all of life. It would move from a Consumer mentality to a Kingdom mentality. In other words, it would be the kind of Church called for by a Gospel that is about God rather than Man, a Gospel whose end is the glory of God. It would be Christocentric, not Anthropocentric. In other words, it would be a Church in which everything in Heaven and Earth is summed up in Christ (1:10).
This is the true Church--the one true holy and apostolic Church. How do we get there? People are intrenched in the other way of thinking, and institutions more so. The old model has more inertia than I can budge; it has more than we can budge. But we can teach the NT vision; we can dream about it; we can work on it in our little corner of the Church. And we can pray to Him who is able to do far beyond anything we can ask or think, that there may be glory to God in the Church and in Christ Jesus, from now on and forever more. Amen.
Here endeth the Series.
Here endeth the Lesson.