Thursday, August 28, 2008

Love the church: it's better together (with help from Tim Chester and Jonathan Leeman)

A common gospel summary, composed by Tim Chester:
“God made you to know him, but you have rejected God. Your sin cuts you off from God and brings you under his judgement. But God sent his Son to die in your place and reconcile you to God. Now you can know God and look forward to being with him after death”
1. This is ok except that it's utterly individualistic. We might assume because of our culture.

2. Jonathan Leeman argues that the issue is not individualism but our anti-authoritarianism. That's to say we think individually "me and God" because we don't want to be subject to the effects of other Christians upon our lives.

Some propose community as the solution, but all the people who believe the individualistic gospel above are probably church members. They go to church. They serve in church. But, they're most likely not to make decision with reference to church, and they'll probably like to sing with their eyes shut - just them and God. And when there are really only two people in the relationship it's easy to slip into assuming both parties are equal... and before long it's advantage me. Anti-authority, yet in the church.

Reacting against that kind of trend of individual, Jesus-is-my-boyfriend Christianity is the modern trend not to read Song of Songs as being about Christ. Why? Because we have songs that make it about Christ and me - not Christ and the church - and that just gets icky.

So we opt to say it's about marriage (which anything about Christ and the church will also be about) - yet Biblically Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5, two control passages on Christ/Church/Marriage lead with Christ/Church and have implications for marriage, rather than the other way around. And, as we see from Matthew Henry there is good reason in the language of the song to associate the man with the Christ, and the bride with God's people (and so by implication 'in Christ' the church).

If we can venture that the old guys from church fathers to puritans etc got it right on Song of Songs then we get to hear the Christ sing of how beautiful his church is. As a body, not as individual members. And his word can stir our hearts to share his love for his bride, and to embrace being a part of that body. Which in turn sets us free to enjoy true charismatic church life (1 Cor 12-14) though that's another post.

In view of this, Tim Chester offers this alternative (in Total Church, IVP):
“God made humanity to know him and to rule over his good creation. But humanity rejected God and ever since we have lived in rebellion against him and in conflict with each other. God chose Abraham and his family to be the beginning of a new humanity. He rescued this people from slavery and made a covenant through which they could relate to him and display his glory to the world. When the persistently rejected God, he promised a remnant who would continue the promise of a people who know God. He promised a new covenant with forgiveness for sin and with his law written on their hearts. Ultimately Jesus was that new humanity. And he rose as the first among many who would enjoy new life in a new creation. God is now gathering his people through the mission of the church and will present them, drawn from all nations, as the perfected bride of his Son”
Pointing us to the centrality not of 'me' in God's plans but of the church in Christ to the glory of God.