"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:2-3)
The covenant to Abraham represents one of the main themes of the Bible, that God fills and blesses us so we are not to ourselves, but are called to share it as the primary purpose for our existence, blessed to be a blessing! It started with Israel, and continues through us today. The church is born and continues to live by the people God chooses, and the response we give: "I will be your God and you will be my people," this is the relationship God calls us to, to Himself and then to others. God is our God and we are called to be His people, so let's do this.
What started as a system of sacrifices performed by a specific chosen tribe of priests, which were the primary teachers and caregivers, moved and transitioned through God's covenants to the modern church today. The early Jews had exclusive rights to the things of God, including the writings of Moses. The main part of the sanctuary was accessible by the high priest only, and that inner sanctuary journey happened once a year. By the work of our Lord, the old church was broken down and became accessible to all that would accept and believe, by the work of our Lord, not by any human effort. The Lord was accessible to one nation who had the responsibility to spread His Word to all nations. This is why the land of Israel was and is so important, in that day just about every group of people in the world would travel through Israel to Egypt and back. As the principle trade route, Israel had the opportunity to be the evangelists of the Glory of God to the world, and when they did it, they were blessed, such as in Solomon's time.
The cross replaced the old way of the church, and the veil of the temple was lifted up and became poured out by the Spirit to us, the body. Thus the ministry and responsibilities became real and relevant to all and not just a handful of priests. So the experience of the church was for all, and the ministry for all believers became our call.
The Temple veil separated the priests and the holiness of God from the people, it protected God from our sin, and protected us from the wrath of God. Since the veil has been lifted, or actually torn in two, Christ paid that debt, and we now have access to God without fear of retribution. The division of responsibility of the specific chosen priests also has been muted for the most part. God still chooses people into the ministry as a call and vocation, and their responsibility is to administer the Word and Sacraments. They are responsible to equip and train the lay people, and do the priestly things of marriage, burial, the Lord's Supper, and proclaim the Word.
The problem we run into is that most churches have forgotten that the veil has been torn, and expect the pastor to perform everything, while they sit as spectators. So they do not have to fulfill their responsibility and call.
We must ask the question, do we have a healthy understanding of the purpose and mission of the church and the role of the lay person versus the pastor? Since the end of World War II, the church has finally but slowly adopted more of a role for the lay person, and a mentality that most of the ministry is not the sole responsibility of the pastor. Calvin and Luther clearly taught the ministry of all believers, and the Catholic Vatican II of 1962 also has a similar proposition to it.
We still have a deep rooted sense of ministerial obligation to the paid professional, and this is good, as long as it is a respect for the office the pastor holds, and we yield to our responsibility. But when we lift them up as the only available and willing caregiver, we will have a lot of hurt and wounded people in our church. The pastor cannot do it all, especially when the congregation puts on the bathrobe of laziness and not the armor of Christ.
The local church must place a high value on the lay person to be the feet of the ministry. The church leadership needs to take the ownership that they are not there for the sake of the meeting, but for the sake of the Lord, and to release the gifts and power of the congregation. Then the church can assess the gifts and train and equip the people for the Lord's service, with ongoing encouragement and training. When we fail at this essential task, that Calvin and Luther spoke of so much, then we have a failed church and a stressed out and over worked pastor.
"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:4-8)
The lay person must be continually trained and supported by the pastor and church leadership to carry the ministry burden of the church. We are called to be the participants and not the spectators. Ministry of the church is not to take place in the church solely, remember we are the church, and thus where ever we are, so is the church. So when someone is sick at home, the lay person can give comfort, prayer, and care to the person. The ministry of the church takes place in the context of the need, not the location, where ever the people are in the world is where the need is. If we venture out of our planet some day, then the ministry takes place there too. The body of Christ needs to keep the focus of their call to Christ, each other, and the world. Thus the ministry no longer takes place by the few chosen priests alone, it has been franchised out to the rest of the Christians with the various gifts and abilities to do the Will of God.
The questions that the priest or the pastor had alone were how could I minister effectively to my neighbor in all of life's situations? How can I live out the truths of Scripture and God's will in society? What are my role and gifts for my life, and how do I please God with them? What is my responsibility to my local church and the neighbor across the street? The baton has been passed, not the role of head equipper and minister of the Word and Sacraments, but the baton of the responsibility to care and to live out our faith effectively to one another. These are the questions we must all diligently answer with the Word of God, and the follow through of our will to conform. Christianity is no longer a spectator sport, we are not Monday night couch quarterbacks, we are the people of God, called to do His will.
When we start to function as a cohesive group, you will be amazed at the impact you will have and the incredible increased effectiveness for the building of the Kingdom of God. God's Word tells us that we have "diversity," yet in it all we have "unity." We are not to allow the diversity to be our focus, but we need to embrace it, train it, and focus it to the call, goal and purpose our Lord has for us. We will have a healthy form of codependency and cooperation filled with encouragement and love. Bitterness, strife, and the unhealthy codependency that ruins lives instead of building them up will no longer consume the ministry.
We all have different gifts and abilities given to us by the Lord for His purpose and glory. Doing ministry means we are to exercise the gifts that we each have received for us to be able to accomplish His purpose. And until the Lord calls us home or comes back, we are to keep plugging and persevering on.
I recently heard a radio interview with Billy Graham, who is 80 years young. He was asked why he does not retire. Billy responded that he had a dream that he was in his coffin, and people were viewing him as Billy shook their hands and preached the Word. He went on to say he will not stop preaching the Word until the Lord takes away his ability to do so. So how are we to respond? Just follow Billy Graham's example and the call the Lord has given you, because there is no retirement in the Kingdom of God. So until we are called home, we still have the responsibility to serve the Lord. I was on staff at a church where the only consistent Bible study was taught by a 99 year old lady, who was an ex-missionary, but was not retired. The rest of that church felt they were too busy or too old to do any serious Bible study!
Yes, we need breaks, at times I know I do, but when we get out of the habit of church, we will soon replace it with an assortment of activities pulling us away from our Lord as we saw in the previous chapter.
A look at COLOSSIANS
"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation-- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant." (Colossians 1:15-23)
What does this passage have to do with the responsibility of the church? A lot. Because this passage is about reconciliation, and the church's responsibility is to mirror the character of God who reconciled us to Him! Christ has and is revealing the invisible God to us, and we cannot and must not look for God anywhere else. If we look for God in ourselves or anywhere in the world, we will fail as a church and as believers. This is because the church is the body of Christ, and as believers we are to believe. We are to follow and lead as examples surrendering to His Lordship and not our own.
One of the big issues and problems is that most Christians just do not get this passage. Our Lord is the head, thus our churches are run as if we were in total control and reign supreme. As far as the responsibility of the church goes, what more can we say, other than Christ is the head and our lead, thus the vision and call can only come from Him and not of ourselves and our effort. If Christ is our "all in all" then we must respond to His teachings as marching orders and not a list of probable suggestions and ideas. We are to see and know Him as our Creator and Lord, as our Redeemer and Savior, as our God. Then we can respond, and be the church that our Lord died for.
We must do this in all we do from worship, to relationships, to our thought process, to how we make decisions, and how we institute and instigate the work of the church. It all must flow and come from Christ our Lord, Leader and God, and nowhere else. When we stop having Jesus as our Lord, and He becomes only a figure in the sanctuary, then we will go nowhere as a purposeful and called Church for our Lord. When we are singing praise choruses and hymns that point to His Holiness and Greatness and as Head of our lives and church, do we mean it? Or is it rhetoric and repetition that has no meaning behind it?
The church exists as a response to the grace of our Lord. Because of what He did, we are to glorify, magnify, praise His name, and then respond further from our worship of Him to our works for Him. Remember that works have no saving construct, they are only the gratitude and response we are give to His majesty and redemption. So that grace working in us will produce the work and will of our devotion and holiness, to be set apart for His plan. Thus our response is to bend and accept His teachings and love, with joy and excitement, and replicate it in our lives, thoughts, and actions. And to grow and perfect the relationship and work He gives us.
Remember the Dead Sea; if all we do is allow Him to flow in us and not out, we will stagnate. If we just try to go it alone without our Lord, we will fail. And we cannot flow out what does not flow in. The responsibility is clear, we are to allow His Spirit to flow in and out, as we are His tool, His child, and His love!
When our faith becomes strong, we will not be moved from it, and that means not being moved from Christ. This is what steadfastness is all about, not being shaken from our beliefs and faith in our Lord. When we stray off our path, we will substitute the steadfastness with stubbornness that brings us far from the purpose and responsibility of the Lord's church. Being firmly rooted in Christ is to keep to the integrity of Scripture and His teachings, for when we stray from that path, we will stray our church away from the opportunities and call of our Lord.
Christ gives us the hope and opportunities to grow, learn, and be in Him, and our response is to anticipate with hope and joy and then respond to the call and opportunities He gives.
A look at EPHESIANS
"far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his 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.
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior." (Ephesians 1:21-23; 3:10; 4:15; 5:23)
Our responsibility is to burn with vigor in our devotions and surrendered will before our Holy God. If we are not poured out with passion as a response for who He is and what He did, then how are we communicating the purpose of the church to others? If there is no distinction between the Christ-centered church as compared to the fraternal organizations or social clubs, then what are we doing, who are we modeling, and what are we accomplishing? If we are not excelling for Christ, then we are not getting what the responsibility of the church is.
We must know the calling and respond accordingly, or we are nothing but Christian trash! By responding, we are actually seeking our Lord's hope and riches, which He gives freely to those who seek Him! It is God's mighty power at work in the church, so let us not block His flow with our evil desires and attitudes. We are to put our desires, aspirations, plans, and vision all under His feet, under His command and control. His dominion means that Christ is our power and lead. Then the fullness is the gift we receive by our service and obedience for His glory. His fullness will exceed over all our plans and desires a hundred fold. Our hearts must burn with passion for worship of our Lord and not ourselves. We must fall down and worship at our Lord's feet for us to be a real purpose-filled church, that is His purpose!
The church must exist from and through Christ, because it does in reality, and thus must exist in our will as our reply. The church fulfills the hopes of the brokenness that sin caused and that the new Testament pointed to. Hope is a call that Christ gives us that we can, in turn, give to others as peacemakers. The church is to promote peace and welfare, and not stir up strife and division. Yes, there are times we must take a hard stand and we are called to do so even past the point of sacrifice. But the relationships and teachings of Christ that bring division and conflict will bring peace too.
Peace is the positive hope of Christ clearly taught and given to others in loving and caring ways. The church is to be the beacon of light first before she can take a stand. A stand done out of chaos and division is a foolish endeavor, because the credibility will not be there nor will the true purpose of the church be communicated correctly. The church is the result of our reconciliation, thus our teaching and drive is to proclaim the reconciliation we received to those who have not received, and in turn remind us who have received. In Christ we are united, so do we set that example and show it publicly and to each other? Just as the Jew was united with the Gentile, we are to unite with one another for our Lord's purpose and to excel in His call.
We are to learn and to grow in our relationships and knowledge of our Lord. The wisdom of God is to be made known. And we cannot do that if we are too busy fighting with each other. We must realize that God will not allow His message to be thwarted by our pettiness. We cannot be hostile to our Lord as the Demons are, or as the unsaved are, we must be set apart to be a distinction and a mirror to His majesty. The love of our God is to be known and expressed by His followers and made known to others.
Our weakness and feebleness will not get in the way of our Lord's final purpose and will. So we need to take comfort in His purpose and holiness, that He will guide and lead, we need only respond. Yes, we will make mistakes and God knows I have made a boat full over the years, but our comfort is it all does work to His glory. The point I need to make is we can do better, and His plan is better than ours. Character is the outgrowth of our struggles and obedience that will be turned to further His Kingdom. We do this as a united body, rich in our Lord and committed to His cause. We model this with integrity, honesty, and care with love as our drive, and pointing to hope in His name. So our weakness will become our strength, because of His work in us.
Ó R.J. Krejcir 1998, 2001 excerpt from the upcoming book 'Pew Sitting'
Into Thy Word Ministries www.intothyword.com