The Church at Sunningdale
Just back from a marvellous weekend away at Sunningdale chilling out with church family while learning about the church.
Church isn’t a building but a gathering of God’s people, people who trust that the blood of Jesus Christ has saved them from the penalty for their sins. And what’s surprising is that it isn’t merely a group of people with similar interests, a support group, a good-to-have bolt-on after one becomes Christian. Nope – in fact, the church fulfils God’s plan for humanity.
All gospel presentations are inherently limited. So while the ever-popular Two Ways to Live is clear about what sin is and how we can be saved from the consequences of sin, it fails to accurately reflect the place of church.
God’s plan for humanity
Humans were made for dominion over the rest of creation. This was not because they deserved to (since they were quite insignificant in relation to the cosmos), but because God chose them to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every living creature.
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas. (Psalm 8:3-8)
But in man’s own rebellion against God, he allowed a serpent to rule over him (Genesis 3) and so, although he still has dominion over the rest of creation, it is a tenuous rule – the ground will not always produce the harvest that is expected etc.
God’s plan for humanity is fulfilled at Jesus’ resurrection
5 Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,
“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honour,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”
Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:5-9)
God’s plan for humanity fulfilled through Jesus’ body – the church
When we put our trust in Jesus, we are brought into the universal church (that spans generations and nations) and are part of his body. Being “in Christ”, we go wherever he goes. We died with him and will be raised with him to reign, as all humanity was made to, on the last day.
20 … he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:20-22)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-7)
For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles— 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 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. 6 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. (Ephesians 3:1-6)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
Currently, we express this heavenly and future reality of a universal church through membership of a local church. (Though mere membership of a local church is of no use if we do not believe that Jesus died to save us from the just judgement of God.) This is why the ultimate sanction is to be cut off from the local church:
9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)
So meeting with the church family isn’t something we need to drag ourselves to on Sundays; we have been saved individually to be part of Christ’s body, and it is corporately that we fulfil God’s plan for humanity.