The church in our Western context exists in an increasingly marginalized corner. From one end of the spectrum to the other we find people incredibly frustrated with the church. One group says the body of Christ isn’t doing nearly enough, the other says it’s sticking it’s sanctimonious nose where it doesn’t belong, and others, perhaps the most offensive, don’t even acknowledge the church as anything in our culture; it is relegated to the ranks of any other fringe social organization.
This, however, is not true. Whether people wish to acknowledge it or not, the church, from the first century onward, has been a defining and powerful force in the shaping of the world as we know it. Sometimes, admittedly, she has handled herself foolishly and improperly, but be that as it is, the one thing the church is not is impotent. Though it may seem to be pointless at times, particularly in the wake of Enlightenment thought and Post-Modern reconstruction, the church holds firmly in place as the mediator between earth and heaven. We have an enormous task as the body of Christ as we have been called upon to be the channel and conduit that the Creator and Redeemer pours His grace through to the rest of the world.
At the end of Ezekiel’s prophetic writings he is given an image of a river that is rushing and overflowing its banks. Ezekiel comments that he cannot walk across this body of water and God asks the prophet something interesting, He asks him if he understands. To be quite frank, there is very little that is understandable to me in Ezekiel’s writings, it is the most difficult book in the canon for me to comprehend, but here, thankfully, God explains something in words that even I can understand. He says this:
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah,[b] where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea.
12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”
Ezekiel 47:6b-10, 12
God offers this incredible suggestion that the water that flows from the Temple into the rest of the land is the source of life in the land. This is an incredible notion and claim. But I believe that we see this quite clearly in our world even today.
If there is any marginalization that the church is experiencing in our world then it is not because some other entity has overwhelmed her, or some new logic or philosophy has stumped her. The fact of the matter is this: all of the church’s wounds are self-inflicted. In the same way an engine, or better yet an ecosystem, finds its strength, balance, and effectiveness when all parts are working together, providing their unique strengths, and concentrating on the same goal, so the church is an unstoppable force for goodness, peace, and justice when this is the case. But when the church diverges into silliness (some of which Paul warns Pastor Timothy about) and nonsense causes that are neither Gospel-centered or Christ-elevating we find that trouble is not only at the doorstep, but in the house. And the problem with that kind of trouble being in the house is that it has an uncanny ability to begin to “stop-up” the flow of water from the Temple to the culture, and then quantity and quality of life is slowly strangled.
I’ve made no secret about the fact that I am frustrated by the politicization of the modern church. I would be thrilled if I could get a pledge from pastors around the nation to stop running down political leaders they don’t agree with and keep their armchair economic theories to themselves. The Gospel supersedes economic theory, political intrigue, and the fear that can accompany both. But it is this kind of loss of focus that has not helped the culture but stunted the “life-growth” of the culture by marginalizing the core message of the church from one of “glorious resurrection” to “government refund”.
Today’s post is not a rant as much as a plea. I choose the example of politics carefully, knowing it will generate an emotional response. But I do it because there is far more thinking being done with our tax rate in mind than our sanctification. And there are many other examples of ways that the church has hamstrung herself throughout history by making something central that at best is peripheral – and quite honestly maybe not even that important.
The take away is simply this: you and I, as blocks that make up the Temple of God on earth, the church, must unclog ourselves from foolish peripheries and let the healing, living water of God, coming down from the City above, flow into our neighborhoods, cities, and nations. We are the channel God has chosen, how tragic if we put our own foot on the access points of grace to this world.
As always, comments are welcome and encouraged.