Those of you who are subscribers to these Blog ramblings of mine might be interested that the last one I posted (What Are We Going to Do With “The Gates of Hell?”) drew the largest number of visitors I have ever received in the several years I have been writing these. That fascinates me. What would it be about such that would catch the attention of so many? But one of the questions, which also came, was: “Where are you going to go with this?” Interesting question, in that I had not thought through any follow-up. But there is a necessary question behind the question, isn’t there?

Jesus affirmation that upon the disciples’ testimony: that he was the Messiah, the one who unveils the mystery hidden for the ages, . . . that upon that reality he was inaugurating God’s eternal design to recreate all things into conformity with his own divine nature—into perfect Shalom—into the ‘peaceable kingdom,’ upon that reality he would build his church. OK? But the very word he uses is a Greek word that describes a people called out for some purpose (ekklesia). It is not a Christian word. It is rather a functional word having to do with a community called for a specific purpose. It is translated much later into English as church.

For our purposes then how is it that this church, this specially called out people, will overcome the gates of hell? It gets more interesting in that the apostolic writing appropriate the concept of warfare frequently in describing the role of the Christian community. Now, here’s the interesting thing: Jesus and the apostles do not focus on some dramatic action the church is to take, but rather on the integrity of their character as those who belong to Jesus—on their faithful demonstration of the divine purpose through the radical New Creation lifestyle and thinking, . . . through their daily praxis, which puts the lie to the whole dominion of darkness. The apostles will encourage the people of God to put off the garments of darkness, and put on the garments of light, or, to put off the old man, and put on the new. The gates of hell are not able to deny the reality of God’s New Creation demonstrated in the flesh and blood lives of his people—who incarnate the teachings of Christ.

My favorite of such teachings comes from the Letter to the Ephesians, which has to be one of the most awesome descriptions of the life and purpose of the church, i.e., “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” The church is his body, and the fullness of him who fills all in all. And it gets better. But then right at the very end of the letter, as though this might have been at the heart f his purpose in writing it, he tells them to be strong in the Lord, and to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the cosmic powers …” (the gates of hell). He doesn’t tell then anything to do, only what they are to wear in this life in the face of the malignant darkness. He doesn’t tell them anything battle plans, only what is to be their daily incarnation, their daily dress. The very integrity of their New Creation lives which overcomes the darkness is spelled out in these seven components: The belt of Truth (Jesus as the truth and his word as truth), the breastplate of righteousness, or of the moral and ethical character of God’s new creation; the readiness of the gospel of peace, i.e., their role as reconcilers and (to plagiarize St. Francis: Instruments of God’s peace; the shield of faith: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep me;” the helmet of salvation, i.e., New Creation thinking; the sword of the speaking the word of Christ; and prayer as our communication with the one who calls. Someone wrote that the early Christians overcame the world because they “out-lived, out-thought, and out-died their pagan counterparts,” i.e. defeated the gates of hell. Chew on that. We overcome the gates of hell by having the image of God daily recreated in us by the Holy Spirit. Not what we do, but what we are holistically as God’s New Creation folk.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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