Why Is the Centrality of the Church in the Plan of God So Surprising?
Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
In yesterday's reflection, we discovered a surprising twist in the mystery story of God's plan to restore and unify all things: "through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" (3:10). The surprise for us is the centrality of the church in the cosmic work of God.
I realize that some of my readers will not be surprised by the crucial role played by the church in God's plan to redeem all things. But, many of us would not expect the church to matter as much as it does. For example, I was raised in a fine church in which my family and I were very active. Yet, I was taught that what really matters in the Christian life is not church, but rather my own, individual, personal relationship with Christ. Everything else, including church attendance, was extra credit.
Now, let me hasten to add that I do believe that an individual, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ is absolutely essential, not only to being a Christian, but also to experience life in all of its fullness, both now and forever. Yet, as I study Scripture, and as I encounter passages such as Ephesians 3:10, I realize that God cares deeply, not only about individual Christians, but also about the community of Christians, that which we call the church. God's saving work, as we have seen in Ephesians, is not just a matter of delivering individuals from eternal death. It also includes unifying all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10), thus restoring the cosmos to what God had intended for it from the beginning. The church is an essential part of God's saving work. It is a result of Christ's death on the cross, every bit as much as your personal salvation comes from Christ's death.
The more we recognize the centrality of the church in God's plan, the more we will look differently at our lives and our participation in the church. We will understand that God has saved us, not only for relationship with him, but also for relationship with his people. In community with God and his people, we, the church of Jesus Christ, will show the world—and, indeed, the entire cosmos—that God's plan for restoring all things is working.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What are your core beliefs about the church? Do you tend to think of the church as an essential part of your life? Do you see your faith in Christ as necessarily connecting you to the church?
PRAYER: Gracious God, help us to understand clearly and truly the centrality of the church in your cosmic plan. Help me to see how I might be more deeply connected to the community of your people. Keep me free from an individualism that reflects my culture more than the Gospel.
Bless your church, dear Lord. May we become all that you have envisioned and planned for us to be. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.