Putting Your Faith in Action

The organized church is torn with strife and distrust. Ultimately, the battle is not so much between conservatives and liberals, evangelicals and activists, or fundamentalists and modernists. The issue now is between belief and unbelief: Is Christianity true or false, real or unreal?

What is deadly to the church is when the external forms of religion are maintained while their substance is discarded. This we call practical atheism. Practical atheism appears when we live as if there were no God. The externals continue, but man becomes the central thrust of devotion as the attention of religious concern shifts away from man’s devotion to God to man’s devotion to man, bypassing God. The “ethic” of Christ continues in a superficial way, having been ripped from its supernatural, transcendent, and divine foundation.

Biblical Christianity knows nothing of a false dichotomy between devotion to God and concern for man. The Great Commandment incorporates both. It is because God is that human life matters so much. It is because of the reality of Christ that ethics are vital. It is because the cross was a real event that the sacraments can minister to us. It is because Christ really defeated death that the church offers hope. It is because of Jesus’ real act of atonement that our forgiveness is more than a feeling.

The church’s life and her creed may be distinguished but never separated. It is possible for the church to believe all the right things and do the wrong things. It is possible also to believe the wrong things and do the right things (but not for very long). We need right faith initiating right action. Honest faith—joined with honest action—bears witness to a real God and a real Christ.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Examine your heart today: Are you believing the right things, yet doing the wrong things? Are you believing the wrong things while still trying to do the right things?

Embracing the Truth

Openness to truth where truth may be found is a long-standing virtue that worked on the assumption that there is such a thing as objective truth, to which we should be open. Students of higher education now taught one overarching virtue: to be “open.” The purpose of their education is not to make them scholars but to provide them with a moral virtue—an openness, a relativism that eschews any form of fixed objective values or truth. Its simplistic creed is that there are no absolutes.

Without objective standards of truth, we are left with feelings, impressions, and intuitions that can never be judged as either false or bad. The bottom line of such an approach is not merely ignorance and skepticism, but the ultimate dehumanization of persons. If everybody is right, then nobody is right. If every viewpoint is equally valuable, no viewpoint is valuable.

As members of the body of Christ, we face twin enemies, both of which are deadly. First, we are tempted to embrace the thought patterns of the secular world in order to be modern and relevant in our thinking. We are terrified of being perceived as being “out of it.”

Second, we may be tempted to a new form of monastic isolationism, in which we surrender science, logic, and education to the secular world while we try to live an empty, discontent faith on an island of religious feeling.

Either option ends at the cemetery with a morbid funeral service for truth. A burial is a decent thing to do for a body that has been left where it was slain.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Examine your own life: Are you tempted to embrace the thought patterns of the secular world in order to be modern and relevant in your thinking? Are you living an empty, discontent faith in monastic isolation?

Emulating the Supreme Model

God has given great men and women to the church. The biblical giants serve as valuable models—despite their imperfections. Were we to elevate Paul, Abraham, or David above Christ, we would be guilty of idolatry. The same would be true if we exalted Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, and others above Christ. We respect these saints, but only insofar as they are faithful to Christ and point beyond themselves to Christ. This was certainly the style of the apostle Paul, who labored tirelessly for the cause of Christ. We love and honor him for that labor. Likewise, we honor the giants of church history. But even the theological “giants” are sub-apostolic, never speaking or writing with an authority equal to an apostle.

At the same time, we recognize that a vast gulf separates Augustine from Jim Jones. People like Augustine and Luther have contributed theological insights of such magnitude that their names are representative of key thoughts. Few in church history are worthy of such recognition. The suffixes “ian,” “ist,” or “ite,” (e.g., “Calvinist”) are valuable to identify truth but have little positive and much negative value when applied to personalities. We know that Augustine, Luther, and Calvin were not crucified for us.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Thank God for role models who have influenced your life; then thank Him for the Supreme Model who died for you.

Understanding Relationships

In the Bible, the supreme feminine image is ascribed to the church. Before the church is ever seen as mother, though, she is first revealed as a bride. In the Old Testament, the commonwealth of Israel is the bride of Yahweh. In the New Testament, the church is the bride of Christ.

The resulting familial imagery is somewhat strange. God is the Father; Christ is the Son. As the Son of God, Christ is then referred to as our Elder Brother. The church is His bride. In the language of family, this would then mean that the church is our sister-in-law. But no one speaks of holy sister-in-law church.

We, both men and women, are given the title “bride of Christ.” I am male, yet I am part of a body that is described in feminine terms. What is stranger is that the same entity that is called bride, of which I am a part, is regarded as my mother. I cannot be my own mother.

These images are not the result of a jumbled mass of nonsense or confusion. It is not a matter of nonsense to refer to the church as mother. Though we are born of the Spirit, it is chiefly within the cradle of the church where we are birthed into spiritual life. If the church is not our birthplace, it is surely our nursery. It is in her bosom that the means of grace are concentrated. The church nurtures us unto mature faith.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Reflect on how God has used the church to birth you, nurture you, and mature your faith. Thank God for this divine process that is at work in you.

Discipling and Disciplining

There is a strange dichotomy in the language of the contemporary church. Much is said and written about the important function of discipling new Christians, while at the same time the function of church discipline has almost vanished. Today, discipline is a word used to refer to the instruction and nurture of the believer. It does not usually carry the connotation of ecclesiastical censure or punishment.

In one sense, this modern version of discipling is linked to the New Testament model. The term disciple in the New Testament means “learner.” The disciples of Jesus were students who enrolled in Jesus’ peripatetic rabbinic school. They addressed Him as “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” To follow Jesus involved literally walking around behind Him as He instructed them (the word peripatetic comes from the Greek word peripateo, which means “to walk”).

The New Testament community was forbearing and patient with its members, embracing a love that covered a multitude of sins. But in the New Testament, church discipleship also involved discipline. Part of apostolic nurture was seen in rebuke and admonition. The church had various levels or degrees of such discipline, ranging from the mild rebuke to the ultimate step of excommunication.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Do you accept discipline as well as discipling from your local church body? Ask God to make you more receptive to His discipline.

Being Clothed in His Righteousness

The church is our mother, but it is Christ’s bride. In this role, we are the objects of Christ’s affection. We, corporately, are His beloved. Stained and wrinkled, in ourselves we are anything but holy. When we say that the church is holy or refer to her as “holy mother church,” we do so with the knowledge that her holiness is not intrinsic but derived and dependent upon the One who sanctifies her and covers her with the cloak of His righteousness.

As the sensitive husband shelters his wife and in a chivalrous manner lends her his coat when she is chilled, so we are clad from on high by a husband who stops at nothing to defend, protect, and care for His betrothed. His is the ultimate chivalry, a chivalry that no upheaval of earthly custom can eradicate or make passé. This chivalry is not dead because it cannot die.

The bride of Christ is soiled but will one day be presented spotless to the Father by the Son who bought her, who loves her, and who intercedes for her every day. If we love Christ, we must also love His bride. If we love Christ, we must love His church.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Ask God to rekindle your love for members of the body of Christ, the true church.

Accepting Nurturing from the Church

“Holy mother church”—historians are not certain who first said it. The statement has been attributed by some to Cyprian, by others to Augustine. The assertion has survived since the early centuries of Christian history—”Who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his Father.” From its earliest days, the church was given the appellation “mother.”

The use of paternal and maternal language is an intriguing phenomenon in religion. We cannot deny the virtual universal tendency to seek ultimate consolation in some sort of divine maternity. We have all experienced the piercing poignancy that attends the plaintiff cry of a child who, in the midst of sobs, says, “I want my mommy.” Who of us, when we were children, did not utter these words? Among those who are parents, which of us has not heard these words?

The nurturing function of the church most clearly links it to the maternal image. It is in the church that we are given our spiritual food. We gain strength from the sacraments ministered to us. Through the Word we receive our consolation and the tears of broken hearts are wiped clean. When we are wounded, we go to the church for healing.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Spend some time reflecting on the nurturing function of the church. Is this evident in your church fellowship?