For the apostle to state that the church is the dwelling place of God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22) …given our often-trivialized understanding of the church, sounds almost outrageous. But, putting aside our inability to comprehend such an awesome understanding, we need to zoom back and take a larger look at what is going on in the design of God, in which the church is so significant. We need to digest another of Paul’s insights, namely, that the church is to be where God’s glory resides (Ephesians 3:21). We’re not talking here about some ‘dink’ human religious institution—rather, we’re walking on holy ground. So, that as I have been trying to communicate in these recent blogs, that the church is to be the communal form of God’s new creation in Christ, of God’s new humanity, it is absolutely requisite that we get the whole picture.

Go back to the beginning of the Biblical documents, to the creation account (I don’t care whether you see those early chapters as folk history, or a founding myth, or literal history—the essence is the same). Why, we might ask, does the eternal sovereign creator of all things, at the beginning, create humans, a human couple, to walk in fellowship with himself in that primordial paradise? Does God need them? Is God lonely? Is God fulfilled in them? Does the true humanity of the couple depend on their being in joyous harmony with their creator? … many such questions emerge from that account. Why is it such a tragedy when they decide to listen to the temptation offered by the serpent, that they would be better off if they declared their independence, and tried to become their own gods?

It is obvious that God sees this coming, and the “mystery hidden for the ages” gets its first clue: “the seed of a woman” will mortally wound Satan the accuser, and God’s purpose would be irresistibly accomplished in the human community … as we know, and in hindsight understand it, it will be recreated, and there will be a community in which God will dwell and manifest his divine nature. Those millennia later, after many intriguing prophecies, there comes God’s beloved son, who reveals that his is going to call out a people, a community, who understand through Jesus, the reconciling love of God the creator.

But, then, back to our questions about God’s design, God’s need, God’s love for the human community. Look at the end of scriptures, at Revelation 21:3: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and they will be his people, and God himself will   be with them as their God. …” Ah! but that dwelling place was inaugurated by Jesus, by all that was necessary to reconcile an estranged (and guilty) humanity by is death and resurrection. It was a community that was created and empowered by the Spirit/Life of God, and so would be, itself, the ongoing incarnation of God’s design for the human community.

All that being so obvious, that it is tragic when an ostensible ‘church’ sees itself as a merely human religious institution. Rather, it is a community formed in adoration of God’s Son, and a community, that like the Son, in which each participant, each believer, by his/her repentance and faith, has God’s life in themselves, and expressing God’s love for one another in the community, … where God dwells through each believer, in love for those bruised and weary, and those still outside the community. It is a community in which God dwells by his Spirit, forgiving one another, confessing sins to one another, comforting one another, teaching and admonishing one another, seeking one another’s welfare, encouraging one another, displaying God’s love to one anothr. The church is a divine miracle in itself, because it is the dwelling place of God, it is where God dwells in sweet and life-giving fellowship with his people.

It is the human community that God created because, somehow, he wanted our company, and for which he paid the infinite price to make such an intimate relationship a reality. … to be continued ….

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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