Is Church An Event? A Bus? Rowboat?

Taken from Tim’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 12 on 23 June 2019.

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Depending on how long you’ve been around church for, you’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on what church is. So for example, I can think of at least four different paradigms we might have to think about the church.

1. Church Is An Event

In this paradigm, church is the place we come to sit in the audience and watch a show. With few exceptions, the paid ministry professionals are the stars of the show, and everyone else is just a spectator. In this way of thinking, church is a static event that happens once a week but that’s about it.

2. Church Is A Bus

The strength of this paradigm is that it recognizes that the church has an identity and a purpose outside of the static event. That being said, the church leaders continue to be the ones who do all the work in this paradigm. Cause they say to people, ‘Welcome aboard, grab your tickets at the door and then take a seat’. So church is basically a spiritual sight seeing tour, where knowledgeable tour guides show you around.

3. Church Is A Rowboat

The strength of this paradigm is that it not only recognizes that church is going somewhere, it also recognizes that in order to get there we need lots of people to work together. So when people get on board they dutifully grab an oar and start rowing. Now, they may not have any idea where they’re going, and they may not be rowing in time with anyone else, but in general, they’re happy to jump on an oar whenever the roster tells them.

4. Church Is A Body

This is the paradigm of church that Paul introduces in 1 Corinthians 12, because it’s the primary paradigm we’re supposed to have when it comes to thinking about the church. Now we’ll get into some of the details of it in a moment, but one of the things I love about this paradigm is the way it highlights the unity and diversity of the different members within the one church, and the way that we each work together in various ways to help the church move forward.

So let’s come to our passage and start by reading verse 12:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.

So Paul begins by introducing us to the metaphor of the church as a body, which he’s going to continue to use throughout the rest of the passage. He says in the same way that one human body is made up of many different parts (like arms, legs, hands, feet, head and torso), so too is the one church made up of many different parts (or members). Now you may notice that at the end of verse 12 he doesn’t say, ‘So it is with the church’ but ‘so it is with Christ.’ That being said, the context makes it clear that he’s talking about the ‘body of Christ’, which is one of his favourite metaphors for the church.

So he goes on in verse 13 to explain the source of our unity in the church.

For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

The word baptism simply means to be engulfed by something. So in the context of water baptism, it obviously means to be dunked or engulfed in water. But Paul here is talking about a Spirit baptism. We touched on this last week, so I won’t major on it for now. For today just note that baptism with the Spirit is simply a reference to what happens when somebody becomes a Christian, because that’s when God pours out his Spirit upon them. But according to Paul, the fact that Paul has done that to each and every Christian in this room, means that we’re not only united to Christ but we’re also united to one another.

Notice the emphasis on the one Spirit. We’ve each been baptised by one Spirit. We’ve each been given one Spirit to drink from. Because there’s one Spirit, we each form one body. Nevertheless, as Paul affirms in verse 14,

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

And so our unity doesn’t destroy our diversity. I think this is the major difference between viewing church as a rowboat and church as body. In a rowboat, aside from the person steering the boat everyone pretty much has the same job. You grab an oar and you pull it. If you want to be useful, that’s pretty much the only thing you can do. Anything else and you’re just dead weight. But with the human body, there’s all sorts of different roles that need to be performed. For example the eyes see, the ears hear, the nose smells and the hands touch. They each play a different part, but they all work together to help the human body function at its best. It’s exactly the same with the church! Church is a body with many gifted parts.

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Taken from Tim’s sermon on 1 Corinthians 12 on 23 June 2019.

Celebrating The Mums

Mothers Day

As we approach Mothers Day, meet Shell Varcoe, who has been part of church for 4 years. Her little boy’s name is George and she’s married to Matt. We asked Shell a few questions about her personal experience of being a mum. If you are mother, you are especially invited to Mothers Day at Grace City this Sunday at 9am or 11am.

 

1. What’s been a joy in motherhood? 

It’s been an absolute joy watching George grow and develop and learn new things for the first time. It’s amazing to see how many things that are second nature to us take so much thought and trial and error at the beginning. Take eating as an example. To know something is good, be able to pick it up, bring your hand to your mouth without dropping it, but then let go of the food when it is in your mouth, chew it and swallow it is surprisingly difficult! It so lovely watching his personality develop. It’s exciting to think about how that will continue to develop into his own uniqueness. He is fearfully and wonderfully created by God!

The other biggest joy has been watching Matt become a father. He has absolutely loved George and I with a love that is selfless, patient and joyful. It’s been beautiful watching him bond with George.

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2. What’s been hard about motherhood? 

I have found the uncertainty or little fears/anxieties really hard – why isn’t he sleeping? Is he getting enough milk? What if he gets sick? What if he dies?

Motherhood also brings a strange form of loneliness where you’re almost always with your child, but needing to feed/settle/care for them means you can’t always be with your friends having meaningful conversations.

At times I’ve also found it hard that George is completely dependent on me, and so I can’t just do what I want when I want anymore!

 

3. What’s one funny thing George has done recently? 

George has recently started to learn to crawl, and it’s been super fun, but also funny, watching him figure out how his body works to get him somewhere. Most of the time at the moment his best intentions to move forward have only resulted in moving backwards further away from what he wants.

 

Meet Shell’s husband (Matt) on the staff page

 

4. Are there are words in the Bible about motherhood that have helped you?

For me, motherhood has been an amazing insight into our relationship with God, and a reminder of what Jesus has done.

At different times in George’s short life so far, he has often not understood what is best for him and fights what he really needs – whether that’s refusing sleep when he is tired or breastfeed when he is actually hungry. I can get so frustrated at this, but then I’m reminded that we do the same thing with God! Jesus says “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), and yet we search for life everywhere but through Jesus! This doesn’t necessarily give me the answers in how to help George to do what he needs to, but has helped me to have empathy and patience for him, and helps me to turn to God to repent from rejecting his good gifts, and ask for the strength to accept how He has designed us to live.

The Bible also helps me to recognise that being a “good mum” is actually unattainable in my own strength. I fail every day – at loving Matt, George and others more than myself. I fail to be patient, organised, wise, kind… the list goes on! But the Gospel reminds us that in all things we are not good enough. We can never be perfect in our own right. But Jesus came so that we could have His goodness. His death and resurrection secures our forgiveness for all of our failures. This frees me up to not focus on and stress out about how I fail to be the “best” parent. Rather I can focus on God and His grace and the fact that He is making me more like Jesus. He is helping me to be a better parent.

 

Listen to a sermon by this church

 

5. What’s one misconception about motherhood? 

I think the biggest misconception about motherhood that both mothers (including myself) and others fall into is making “the mother” into the first and foremost (and sometimes only) identity a woman has. In reality, I’m a child of God first and foremost. I’m a wife, a friend, a daughter, a woman with interests and passions outside of motherhood. I think I forget this – and allow a season of life which is rightly filled up with lots of “motherhood” things to absorb my entire identity to the point where I can believe that some tasks are more important than 5 minutes reading God’s word. Others can forget this (and I do the same thing) by only asking how George is going, and forgetting to ask about how I am, how my walk with God is going or how my marriage is going.

 

Join us on mothers day at Grace City Church at 9am or 11am.

 

Easter Is Laughable

To the modern mind, Easter is laughable. At Christmas time, Christians claim that Jesus came through a virgin’s womb. Equally as laughable is the Easter claim – Jesus was medically dead and then returned to life. It’s laughable because it’s unscientific – we simply cannot repeat or observe this phenomenon. Further than that, it’s naive – we are putting ourselves in the same boat as those uneducated primitive people 2000 years ago. It’s laughable because it flies in the face of the regular rules of biology. Life-savers at Australian beaches regularly successfully perform CPR, but the Easter claim presents Jesus as rising after not 3 minutes but 3 days. If we are to believe Roman historical records, then the crucifixion process Jesus endured is enough to send the body into a state of trauma. If we are to believe the Biblical record of John 19:34, the guards checked Jesus was really dead by piercing his side with a spear and producing a flow of separate blood and water. Then they laid him in a cold tomb, embalmed for 2 nights. Ultimately, it is 100% laughable that he rose. Haven’t we progressed beyond such outdated myths?

ONE WAY AROUND

One way around the medical ignorant claim about a man rising again from the dead is simply to label it a metaphor. Maybe Jesus didn’t actually begin breathing again, but his memory lives on. Perhaps his ‘resurrection’ just means that his inspirational teachings still impact people 2000 years later. It’s possible that the Jesus-narrative of ‘overcoming’ is true locus of power.
Yes, that’s one option.
If we proposed that option to an early Christian called Paul (who wrote about half of the New Testament in the Bible), however, he would respond something like this: ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins’. We can even go one step further: It seems clear that the people who composed the New Testament didn’t simply believe in an inspiring idea of resurrection, they believed in a historical occurrence. We know that because of how they called eye-witnesses of Jesus walking, talking and even eating (see Luke 24:42). It would be convenient if Easter was simply a metaphor, but that option requires a bit too much mental creativity for most of us.

CHRONOLOGICAL SNOBBERY

C.S. Lewis, who wrote the Narnia books, warned against chronological snobbery. He explains that chronological snobbery is the

 ‘uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions.’

OPTIONS

As rational thinkers, we have only a few reasonable options:
1. His early followers faked the whole event,
2. His early followers deluded themselves and genuinely believed he was alive again,
3. Perhaps at one brief moment in time the regular rules of physics were upended and Jesus really did come alive again.

 

What Are 3D Affections?

Charles is our band leader (pictured with wife Ash and daughter Poppy and +1 child on the way). We asked him a few questions about music at church.

Q: What if I’m not a ‘singing’ kind of person?

A: It may surprise you to know that outside God’s gathered people, I’m possibly the least sing-y person ever. Karaoke is my worst nightmare. So when I got to a concert or a gig – we went to see Ed Sheeran for my birthday – I sit there with my arms crossed, sit back and enjoy. People think that I am HATING it – I don’t sing, don’t dance – I’m LOVING it on the inside. But I’m not a particularly sing-y person. So that’s me.
 

Q: You’ve recently been talking about ‘3D affections’. What is that?

A: Yep, I’ve been thinking hard about music and trying to view it in a fresh way. 3D affections is a framework that’s been really helpful to me. What if re-conceptualised our affections, which are connected to our emotions but are something deeper, in these 3 dimensions:

Depth

There is a depth to our affections. Do you know the song ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay? When that song comes on, everyone cries. It moves you. How much more reason do we have to be deeply moved by the gospel! The love of God, Christ’s death for us, the hope of the resurrection – that has such potential to move us so much more than Coldplay.

Width

We don’t just have one emotion in life. In life we go through different emotions. Part of the role of singing in church is to capture the spectrum of emotions. Joy – we want to be happy! But it’s also natural to lament and say ‘life is hard, and I just feel like crying, but God is still good’. And so you may not be smiling and chipper, but that is an affection that we have been called to be holy in as Christians.

Together

Another dimension that we sometimes miss is that we do this together. It’s not just me feeling and thinking these things. It’s us together.

 

4 Approaches to Meaning in Life: Which is Yours?

“You have your meaning, and I have mine.”
“I’m glad that your faith gives you meaning, but that’s not my meaning.”
“You are free to make your meaning and I’m free to make mine.”

Have you come across these thoughts before, when trying to discuss Jesus with your friends?

How do you respond?

 

The key secular idea here is what Tim Keller calls ‘assigned meaning’: each person needs to self-assign their own purpose in life. Each individual is entitled to her own raison d’être. It is therefore a waste of time to apply one person’s source of purpose to another: just because it works for one person doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.

Assigned meaning is one of at least four common approaches to purpose in life:

1) I’ve just never thought about it.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Many people have simply never considered meaning and purpose in any deep sense. When suffering comes, however, or major life decisions need to be made, humans do tend to at least subconsciously form opinions on meaning.

2) There is no meaning.

This sentiment is captured by this absurd story from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: a super machine is constructed to discover the meaning of life, the universe and everything. After much suspense, the computer-generated answer is revealed: 42. With comedic genius, the author Douglas Adams is expressing the impossibility of finding any kind of real meaning in our lives. Problematically for Douglas Adams, however, humans are meaning-demanding beings. It is simply unliveable to go on without any meaning. So what options are we left with? Rather than abandoning the quest for meaning, many people simply assign their own meanings.

3) I create my own meaning (assigned).

In this framework, my role is to assign or discover it for myself. I define a purpose that works for me. I may discover it by going travelling, doing some soul searching, or perhaps just bumbling along until it falls into my lap. Assigned purpose could most commonly be to cultivate a fulfilling career, create great relationships, align myself with a worthy cause, or perhaps a mixture of multiple purpose-sources. But there is at least one more option.

4) Meaning exists independently of me (inherent).

This is closest to the Christian framework. Since God exists independently from us, we align ourselves with him, who gives us objective purpose. Humans all have one inherent meaning in common – it is fixed and consistent across all people. Specifically, in Isaiah 43:7 we find that it is to glorify God. When John 1 speaks about “the Word”, John is employing a Greek philosophical framework (in the original language, logos) to identify Jesus himself as the meaning of life. Ultimately, this purpose is not a far-off concept but actually a person.

But is inherent meaning actually any better than assigned meaning? After all, assigned meaning allows me choice and also allows my meaning to develop as my life progresses. That being said, there are at least two factors to recommend inherent over assigned meaning, even to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus.

1) Assigned meaning can become narcissistic

Doesn’t the quest to live out a personally-assigned meaning end up with us gazing at our own belly buttons? Doesn’t the infatuation with subjective purpose have the potential to leave us self-absorbed? One of the great contributions of Western science is the investigation of a universe beyond this world—people are not the centre of the universe and I am not the centre of this planet. But don’t we abandon that wonderful outward-looking focus when we turn inward for meaning?

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2) Assigned meaning stumbles in the presence of suffering

Imagine you are playing make-believe games with a child; you are playing pirates or princesses or dragons or pretending to cook. You take on identities, knowing fully that you’re not actually a pirate or a princess, but happy to be that identity for the sake of fun. So you’re waving cutlasses and putting on glass high heels and prancing through the house—until someone falls or bangs their toe or accidentally whacks the other one too hard. At that point, the entire assigned meaning falls down. The bubble is broken and it can’t, nor should it, endure when reality kicks in.

It’s enjoyable to play in the shallows, but the depth of reality is unavoidable. And at that point, our assigned meanings, our subjective meanings, our created meanings need to be left to the side so we can put a bandage on the toe or an icepack on the arm. Assigned meanings tend to work best when it’s playtime. But we all need an inherent meaning to deal with the real world. We all need an objective meaning when life hurts.

So…

Understanding assigned and inherent purpose could be helpful next time a friend offers you one of the lines from the beginning of this article. Rather than feeling like you have encountered a roadblock, you could help your friend see that their approach to purpose is only one of at least four. Additionally, you could gently point them to the two problems with assigned purpose.

Although the gospel is the main topic we would love to discuss, pushing through this roadblock is a good first step.

For further reading on this, I recommend that you read chapter 3 of Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God, which I’ve greatly relied on.

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This article was first published on GoThereFor.com, an online resource library for disciples making disciples, and has been republished with permission.