The Church — a necessary visible company

My current theological book is a collection of essays called Theological Perspectives on Christian Formation. This is a really good collection. Too bad it is out of print. Today I read Craig Dykstra on the church’s educational ministry. Dykstra quotes Ephesians 2:19-22. Let me remind you of what that says:

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. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Did you read the Bible verses? If not go back and read them. If so, you might also do well to read them again.

Dykstra argues that this is a word to us, gentile Christians in the present. He then makes an argument from Karl Barth that the church is not some glorious invisible mysterious thing that we cannot see, but is the visible and particular (or peculiar) gathering of people in some local place. This makes these verses powerful, Dykstra claims. The verses take on a concrete meaning for us.

They mean that you and I, through being taken up by, through being built into, the particular congregations of which we are members, have had and are having something done to us that changes us. They mean that through this very process, we are no longer strangers and sojourners, no longer aliens separated from God’s presence and God’s living Spirit, no longer foreigners to God’s redemptive activity in the world. Rather we are ‘fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.’

This means Christian education, formation toward Christian maturity, discipleship, happens in a specific setting — the church, a particular and peculiar local congregation, where we are formed into maturity. We grow up together as a later verse in Ephesians says (4:15) into maturity, into Christ. Exciting! Local churches are not optional, but are a vital part of Christian maturity.

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