Monday, August 20, 2012

God Of Tents (part 4 of 4)

All of this movement, from Adam to Jesus, can be thought of as examples of exodus (along with appropriate applications of exile), which is the way that God effects His purposes.  God reveals Himself, through the example of those that He has ordained to represent Him, as a God of “going-out”---as a God of exodus.  This, of course, is why Scripture and its story exists---to represent God.  They exist not primarily to serve man and to inform man how to live, but rather, they exist primarily to reveal God, and in that revealing, to bring Him glory.  This revelation for the purpose of knowing God is given so that those who are supposed to bear His image might be able to do so rightly.  This, of course, is why we undertake and so highly value theology, for we cannot serve our Creator God with a knowledge of His purposes for us if we do not know Him. 

We do not approach the Scriptures so as to first learn about ourselves, or to gain encouragement for ourselves, or to find out what God has for us.  All of these things take place as secondary results.  We approach the Scriptures in order to learn about God.  Because we are made in His image, it is in learning about God that we learn about ourselves.  This is encouraging because we learn that God has a purpose for us as His image-bearers, and the Scriptures provide us with a hope that He is at work, quite faithfully, to bring about those purposes in us, for us, and through us.  If we ever take a moment to consider why it is that we gather together as Christians, in church, it is in this that we find the answer. 

The author of the letter to the Hebrews is adamant about the regular gathering together of those that call Jesus Lord, as he writes, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, not abandoning our own meetings…encouraging each other” (10:24-25a).  When looked at on the surface and from the outside, by those that do not yet call Jesus Lord, we would have to be compelled to admit that our regular (predominantly Sunday) gatherings as individual church bodies is quite the peculiar practice.  Naturally, it is as peculiar as the very message upon which the church is built, which is that of an eminently shameful and ghastly crucifixion, the extraordinarily ridiculous notion of a man’s resurrection from the dead, and the somewhat ludicrous idea that those two things, taken together and then punctuated by an ascension, prove that the crucified man was the very embodiment of God and is the sovereign and ruling Lord of all in a kingdom that has been inaugurated on earth and awaits its final consummation in the coming together of God’s realm of existence (heaven) and man’s realm of existence (earth). 

So why do we do it?  What is the primary function of “going to church”?  Is it for ourselves?  Of course it is.  Why?  We do it to escape the pressures of the world for an hour, as something akin to a temporary rescue from foreign subjugation within our larger rescue from foreign subjugation.  We gather to be encouraged by a message of God’s love in Christ.  We come together to sing songs of praise as a correct response to the grace of God.  We gather to hear the preached Word of God.  First and foremost, we gather to hear the Word preached in some way, shape, or form, that we may learn how to play our parts in the grand drama of God’s creation and new creation project.  All other reasons take second place, for it is the divine proclamation that is of paramount importance. 

We can see the evidence of this throughout Scripture.  God speaks and brings the created order into existence.  God speaks to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and so forth.  The prophets make proclamations.  John the Baptist proclaimed the near advent of the kingdom of God.  Jesus fused His doing with teaching.  Jesus sends His disciples out to tell His message.  The church springs into existence and thousands are ushered into the kingdom when Peter and the disciples begin to preach the message of the Gospel.  Paul points out the crucial elements of hearing and preaching as the way that faith is implanted and the power of the Resurrection takes root within the hearer.  Revelation is a series of pronouncements.  One could go on and on.  It is in the proclamation of the Word of God that God is revealed, and this is the fundamental and primary purpose of the church’s gathering. 

The preacher preaches (the teacher teaches) so that God may be made known.  The preacher preaches so that his hearers can learn about God and know more about God.  Knowledge about God is transmitted so that those that are made in the image of God, who are called to be covenant bearers, might be able to correctly and effectively bear that image and covenant, so that they might be a blessing to all peoples, that God may receive the glory that is due to Him for His mighty acts.  While God is acknowledged through our praises, knowledge of Him is conveyed through preaching.  The primary subject of proclamation in the time and places of regular Christian gatherings for worship must be God, and the primary activity must be proclamation.  Yes, in accordance with the way and the story by which the Creator God is revealed to us, the primary activity that must take place at these regular appointments must be preaching and teaching, for it is in this that the power of the Resurrection is sent forth, and it is in this that knowledge is seated. 

This instruction in knowledge, which has and always will require great discipline and diligence, is of paramount importance, and should not only inspire the hearers to a constant desire to learn more about God, but also to live lives of praise to God.  Living this life of praise will not result in a withdrawal from the world around them, into a self-imposed and ungodly exile that has the believer erecting their own temples.  If learning more about God causes the hearer to retreat from the world, in separation, isolation, and condemnation fostered by an “us versus them” mentality, then that preaching has gone woefully astray from that which is modeled by Jesus, and springs not from a diligent study of Scriptures so as to learn more about God, but from a subjective and self-satisfying interpretation of Scripture designed for little more than the gaining of personal control over the lives of the hearers and the all too familiar pursuit of power.  Instead, living a life of praise will result in the erection of tabernacles, as a symbol of constant exodus, in which, like the one claimed as Lord, the believer goes out to show forth the blessings of God’s kingdom to “tax collectors and sinners,” to the sick, to the thirsty, to the hungry, to those lacking clothes, to those in prison, and to the places where pain and evil are corrupting God’s creation and thwarting the advance of His kingdom.      

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