Thursday, May 21, 2009

Community Formation (2)

I need (urgently) to bring together a number of issues: I A biblical picture of building; II missional theology; III worship; IV the role of preachers. Maybe there will be more, but my next posts will tackle each of these.

I A biblical picture
Probably the most popular New Testament church metaphor is “body” (Rom..12; 1 Cor. 12, Eph 4.) Its picture of organic life, integrating every part into the whole, speaks volumes of how every member, each with their own gifts, belongs within one body. Further, it resonates with theological truth that the church is “the body of Christ”, growing up into Christ its head (Eph. 4:15). Warm, personal and visual, its imagery immediately connects. However, for all its great strengths, it inevitably identifies contrasts between believers with their gifts. This emphasis is understandable, for example in the divided Corinthian church. The body’s stress on unity in diversity, on mutual health or disease depending on how each part belongs together, powerfully addresses spiritual superiority in the Corinthian church. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you’…On the contrary those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor. 12:21, 22). Believers must not allow their different gifts to separate them.

Another metaphor identifies other aspects of the need for unity in Christ. The picture of the church as God’s building has especial significance for community formation, and the work of worshipful preachers. Found in Eph. 2:19-22, 4:12-19, 1 Peter 2:9-12, the idea of believers being built up together is evocative in several ways.

First, it emphasizes the likeness of believers – like “living stones” (1 Pet. 2:9). Some may contrast in size and color, but no big deal is made out of differences. Rather than emphasize different functions, this building metaphor expresses how they all have the same function. To be built up on top of each other in God’s construction work. Here the vision of the church envisages a solid structure in which each believer belongs with others to make a coherent design possible.

Second, it gives prominence to God the Designer in a graphic way. Great architects have powerful sway. Palladio’s 500th anniversary was widely celebrated in 2008 celebrating the Italian architect because he is credited with having had the greatest single influence on Western architecture since his birth. Jesus’ promise to Peter: “and on this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18) grounds God’s building of church community as integral to Christ’s ministry, with cosmic repercussions. It is designed to reveal the “manifold wisdom of God…to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Eph. 3:10).

Third, it stresses structural unity. Jesus is described as the “chief cornerstone” – “in him the whole building is joined together” (Eph 2:20). Most commentators see this stone as foundational. Interestingly, a technical building term is used for “joined together”- synarmologoumene is found only in Eph. 2:20 and 4.16. Its meaning “embraces the complicated process of masonry by which stones are fitted together.” Here is no haphazard arrangement but a skilful, complex building work around the cornerstone in order for the whole to have solid structure and do justice to the architect’s design.

Fourth, it emphasizes God as Builder. He is at work in every part, for this building is ‘in him” and “becomes a dwelling in which he lives by his Spirit (Eph 2:22) Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all involved in the building. Excellence of construction matters to the triune God.

Fifth, this building is a work in progress – “the whole building rises” (present tense Eph 2:21). As a massive project it continues to develop with contemporary ‘living stones”

Sixth, it calls for obedience and willingness by members of the church to be those “living stones” in his buildings plans. Committed to God’s design, dependent on his direction and strength for continued usefulness, the must be tightly fitted together, upholding each other, bearing structural stress. This need for togetherness is emphasized twice on Eph. 2:19, 20. For building work it is foundational and echoes with God’s passion evident throughout the New Testament for unity and peace among God’s people.

Seventh, it needs intentional leadership. Though Eph. 4: 12 describes the “body of Christ” its use of building language is important as the role of preacher/leaders is emphasized. Elsewhere I have urged the role of preacher as leader because of the transformational nature of the preached word (in 360degree Leadership). Proclaiming God's vision and will for hispeople necessarily involves them in leading. And for God's building project this means enabling intentional community formation. The list of early leaders: apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers are all communicators of God's word. The outcome is "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (verse 12). Later in verse 16 the technical word for joining masonry blocks re-emerges - "held together"(synarmologoumene). Not only must they be encouragers of living stones fitted together, keeping the community vision alive, but they must fight every present dangers of disunity and conflict with diligence and prayer.

This metaphor raises many evocative aspects of community formation, doesn't it?

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