I know it’s rarely (if ever) a good idea to start off with an apology [and a nod to Mitt Romney] but I’ll do that anyway by observing that “Congregations are people, too, my friend.” In other words, congregations are a social entity. You simply can’t have a congregation without people (unlike, say, corporations in a legal sense). Yet they’re also a theological construct. We’re not talking about just any random group of individuals and families; they exist for religious reasons.
If it were actually possible to chart congregations on a linear graph with “social” on one end and “religious” on the other, the resulting location on the line for any particular congregation would help determine not only its character but success, as well. I use the word “possible” here because I don’t think I’m qualified to make that determination and I’m not sure anybody else is either.
This week’s lectionary epistle passage is all about this social/religious balance and tension. The writer of Ephesians had this to say:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. –Ephesians 4:1-16 NRSV
These sixteen verses are loaded with theological content, but there’s also a lot of practical, down-to-earth counsel. In short, it’s not easy being a congregation of Christian disciples these days. That’s not to say it was ever easy or simple, but the challenges we face in 21st-century, pluralistic, postmodern, post-Christendom society are daunting.
So many congregations today are, frankly, tired–tired of fighting internal battles, tired of the struggle to pay the utility bills, tired of demands from denominational headquarters, and tired of the all–too-conspicuous religious “nut-jobs” who give us all a bad name among our more secular neighbors.
This passage from Ephesians 4 is a good thing for us all to read now and then, for it reminds us of both our calling and our foundation. Success, in God’s eyes, is far different from the standards of the world; God calls us to be faithful, just as Christ Jesus was faithful to the first promises of God to Abraham and Sarah.
*Reprinted from 2012 ForeWords archive
- 7/22/2012 We Are One (richbrownforewords.wordpress.com)
- The Concept of the Church in Ephesians (mgriffinrobert.com)
- Summon Courage to be God’s Child (steveatwood.wordpress.com)
- THE MYSTERY OF THE GOSPEL REVEALED – Barry Boucher (barryboucher.typepad.com)
- Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- Knowing Love (ising4god.com)