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On the Move

By Michael Roop

This blog is part three in a four-part series on the local church. Read parts one and two.

I have a fence in my backyard, and for more than half the year, it is covered in vines. Thankfully, my sons think it looks like the ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play, so cutting back those vines would be unloving, if not parental malpractice. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

Last week, we saw that the church is the body of Christ, a living, breathing, growing organism that continues the mission of Jesus on this earth while Jesus Himself is physically absent. That metaphor lands particularly well in the minds of 21st century westerners who have learned a skepticism of anything structured, planned, systematized. We have come to value authenticity as the greatest good, and authenticity can only be experienced in what is raw, spontaneous, unplanned, unstructured.

Yet for all the good of authenticity, relying totally on spontaneity and rejecting all forms of structure comes with its own cons. And, as we look at the second metaphor from Ephesians about the identity of the church, we find God’s design for the church, not excluding its organic nature, provides the need for structure as well.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19-21).

Turns out structure for the church is a good thing. Just like the fence in my backyard provides structure for the vines, the church both guides the direction of our growth and allows our corporate growth to be sustained! Eventually, a structureless vine will stop growing with nothing to hold it. So it goes with the church. Its institutional nature allows the church’s influence to outlive individual leaders or pastors, allowing its gospel presence in a community to be sustained across generations.

Again, Paul elsewhere refers both to individual christians and the local church as God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16, 6:19). No longer do the nations need to travel to one physical temple, one location, in order to worship God (John 4:19-24). God’s presence has gone mobile, going to the ends of the earth and calling all peoples from every nation to turn from their idolatrous ways and find forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).

What does this metaphor tell us about the significance of church involvement? Imagine any structure missing integral parts. A house missing a window, a building with a hole in the wall. The integrity of the structure is threatened when pieces are missing. And since the structure of the church is the trellis to the vine, directing and sustaining growth, the potential influence of the church is stunted when its people are disengaged.

God has given you unique gifts, a unique lived experience, a unique cultural heritage and expression of worship. He’s given you unique triumphs and unique pains. The church needs you, and all that you bring to its structure, if she’s going to be faithful in carrying on the mission of Jesus.
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