We don’t always think of Church as a blessing.
Sometimes we engage with Church as a cold institution. Or we might see the Church as a judgmental, fractured, political group of individuals. Some people experience great pain and disenfranchisement within the Church, and as a result, make a conscious decision to be a Christ-follower without being a church-participant. Others may be apathetic towards the Church; they find that church has no impact, and instead seek meaning in other communities or choose to live privately “spiritual” lives.
Whatever our hurts or disappointments, I encourage all of us to read the first three chapters of Ephesians to see how the apostle Paul describes the Church. I hope that, through Paul’s eyes, we will start to view the Church as a blessing.
In Ephesians 1:3-14, Paul praises God for the many “spiritual blessings” that are given us in Christ. These blessings include our having been chosen by God to be holy and blameless, predestined for adoption, and redeemed through Christ’s blood. Our sins are forgiven, we have had God’s grace lavished upon us, and we have been given understanding of God’s plan. We have been included in Christ and marked with the Holy Spirit. We are “God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.”
We tend to think of these blessings as having been given to each of us as individuals (and we often experience them in that way), but Paul is speaking to a community of believers in Ephesus—whom he calls “the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). In his list of spiritual blessings, we find a multitude of the pronouns “we,” “us,” and plural “you.”
We—the Church—receive the blessings of Christ, and, in turn, we are a blessing—blessing God and blessing one another. In Eph. 1:15-21, Paul thanks God for the local church community in Ephesus because of two things: their faith in Jesus (I think of this as a vertical expression of the Church) and their love for all of God’s people (horizontal). He prays that the church there will be built up in wisdom, knowledge, and enlightenment in order to know Christ and the inheritance and power given to “his holy people.”
Then he makes this beautiful statement about the Church: “God placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:22-23).
Wow. The Church is the fullness of Christ. The Church is his Body.
In The Cost of Discipleship, theologian Dietrich Bonhoffer says: “The Body of Christ is identical with the new humanity which [Jesus] has taken upon him. It is in fact the Church. Jesus Christ is at once himself and his Church… To be in Christ therefore means to be in the Church.” He continues, “Since the ascension, Christ’s place on earth has been taken by his Body, the Church. The Church is the real presence of Christ.”
As the Body of Christ, we have been made alive with Christ, given the privilege of participating in his mission and work, and are recipients together of his blessings (2:1-10).
We are brought near, through the blood of Christ, to God and to each other (2:11-3:6). We are one People, united in Christ. We are Citizens and Family Members. We are a Building, rising up from the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief Cornerstone. Together, we are being built into a Temple in which God lives by his Spirit. We are Heirs of and Sharers in the promises of Christ.
It is through the Church that God intends for “the manifold wisdom of God [to] be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (3:10).
And it is in the Church that we “may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (3:18-19).
Yes, Church can be disappointing. Mainly because the Church is full of disappointing people (myself included).
But I encourage you, if you aren’t currently joined to and participating in a local church, to find a community of believers with whom you can be built up and filled. If you are already in a church body, look at your church—whatever its faults—as a blessing.
And, even if deep wounds or ongoing frustrations make it “immeasurably more than all [you] could ask or imagine” (3:20-21) that Church would be a blessing, God is able. His power is at work within us.
“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”