Ode to the Church

Sunrise

Every seven days a rebirthed humanity, inflamed with a shared Spirit, gathers around a common table to hear the true story of the world.

Church isn’t merely steeples and Sunday School classes, pulpits and pews, praise bands and bulletins. The church is a risen and rising humanity of ex-corpses and ex-slaves testifying to the Messianic power that raised us and the Passover price that freed us. The church is a gathering of grace-saved saints who testify together that our sin is nailed to the cross and we bear it no more, that it is gloriously well with our souls, and that one glad morning, when this life is o’er, we’ll fly away.

The carpet may be older than the deacons, the praise band may not make iTunes, and the sermon may not entertain you like last night’s game. But if you listen closely enough, there’s an ancient text with a present voice coming from that pulpit. If you look closely enough, there are tongues of fire all around. If you taste deeply enough, there’s flesh and blood behind that tabled bread and wine. And if you feel deeply enough, there’s family blood coursing beneath the skin of each hand you shake.

These churches who worship Jesus Christ the Son of God; who believe and teach the Bible; who hold and are held by the faith once for all delivered to the saints; who are unashamed of the great apostolic doctrines; who worship in spirit and in truth; who share in the sacred symbols of baptism and communion; who manifest the Spirit’s manifold fruits — these churches aren’t just places you go. These churches are living organisms, flourishing families, children of God who are learning to walk in their Father’s footsteps and whose hearts are fresh and flaming even as they flounder.

These churches are embassies of the kingdom of God and outposts of the new creation. They are the presence of the future, glorious tears in the veil between the old creation and the new, sacred communities whose regenerate people are shining slivers of heavenly light into the present age.

It’s for precisely this reason that the church doesn’t hold privatized truths. The sun cannot rise without shining. The truths we hold dear are truths for the whole creation, truths for every nation under heaven, truths that serve as final arbiter between the real and the fake, truths embodied most fully in Jesus Christ to whom every knee will one day bow. These truths, as true and real as the rising sun, hold the keys to a reordered creation. And in these truths are etched the moral blueprint for any human kingdom that seeks to flourish between now and then.

The groaning of the creation, the groaning of a thousand cultures, the groaning of our very own bodies — these earth-deep sighs can only be answered by the truths of Christian Scripture and the hope of the Christian gospel. This gospel alone can answer the groaning of every transgender teen, every homeschooled prodigal, every bedridden widow, every cancer-stricken husband, every unwanted foster child, every drunk-dialing weekender, every scandalized pastor, every fleeing refugee, every empty-souled celebrity, every hollow-hearted jihadist, every broken divorcée. All our sin and all our suffering can be absorbed and finally extinguished only when simple faith surveys the wondrous cross and counts its richest gain as loss.

If these claims seem outlandish, then we must either abandon the Christian faith for more palatable principles or recognize that ours has always been an alien faith. When a man looks me dead in the eye and tells me I’m upside down, I must agree with him on at least one thing: he’s right about one of us.

Like a Spartan warrior, the church surrendered is no church at all. Surrendering the grace, the truth, and the love that holds the galaxies together is no option for those who cannot deny the very truth that makes us seem crazy: the truth that the unified series of God’s mighty acts, climaxing in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, is the very hope of the world.

So although we will gather this morning with friends of God and with brothers and sisters in Christ, our gathering will not be met by outside applause. We cannot expect rapprochement when we disagree on issues as fundamental as who uses what bathroom and whether we should kill our preborn children. But neither should it surprise us, says the apostle Peter, when we feel the same heat Daniel felt (1 Peter 4:12). Fiery trials should be expected for those who, while residing in Babylon, have their hearts in Zion.

So this morning, as we do every seven days, we gather once again to fuel our fellowship as we continue marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God. After all, we must remember that we’re pausing not just to celebrate the past and orchestrate the present but also to anticipate the future. Because we know that there’s a greater Sunday coming when a rising throng from the dawning east sings a mighty song at a royal feast. The crown of thorns will become a crown of glory, the trail of tears will become a finished story, and all that is holy and good will win, and win forever.


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