Ephesians 3 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
Um, what?! Through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God, or the many and various facets of God’s wisdom, are going to be made known? In the last few years, I’ve looked at the westernized church, the conservative evangelical world made known through social media and the internet in particular, and I have NOT thought, “Wow, God’s glory is so clearly revealed through the ways these people in these congregations interact with one another.” I have read and reread this passage from Ephesians the last few days, and I am continually struck by verse 10 precisely because it directly challenges my perception of the Church, particularly the western reformed church.
Now, my little church is wonderful. But I also have a twitter feed. I read popular evangelical blogs, and I get the clear picture that much of the public reputation of the Church reflects very poorly on the character of God. I am burdened by the facts of abuse in the church made known of late, but I am even more burdened by the lack of repentance among leaders who did a poor job of shepherding in the midst of said abuse. We poorly reflect the character of God when we do not esteem the “least of these” in God’s kingdom, shoving their wounds under the carpet. But we add insult to gospel injury when we do not embrace the gospel in repentance when such things are exposed.
Though I am deeply troubled by the state of segments of God’s Church, Paul teaches that it is through this broken and dysfunctional instrument that God is going to show others the variety of His wisdom. It is good to note that this demonstration isn’t to unbelievers on earth according to Paul. He says a profound thing – that God is demonstrating His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm. I’m so self-centered at times that I struggle to understand the value of that statement. Why would God allow the Church to cause Him to be mocked on earth? Anyone read Ricky Gervais’ twitter feed? Ouch! And Christians set themselves up as easy targets for his mockery. Yet, unbelievers like Ricky Gervais are not where this particular battle for God’s glory is being fought. There’s a different battle altogether going on outside of our earthly line of vision. And there, God demonstrates something incredible about Himself through this broken, sometimes dysfunctional Body of His.
Here are some differences in the heavenly perspective of the Church and the earthly one.
1) While the works of the flesh are obvious (the sins of the church, celebrity pastor problems, public attention on abuse in churches), the works of the Spirit are quieter. The Spirit is subtle, and He does much work of profound value without drawing widespread public attention to it. While we on earth miss it, the heavenly realm does not. It blesses me to remember that for every public embarrassment in the Church, there are hundreds of private blessings – hearts encouraged, new believers drawn to Christ, wounded people helped, and sinners repenting and repairing with those they’ve wronged. The heavenly realm is aware of much that we are not, and that should encourage us.
2) Building on the last point, things we downplay on earth have great eternal significance. A cup of cold water given in Jesus’ name seems ridiculously small from an earthly perspective. It’s not just that we aren’t aware of small things, and the heavenly realm does notice small things. It’s that small things aren’t small in the heavenly realm. Satan recognizes great significance in a cup of cold water given to the least by earthly standards in the Body of Christ. Things we miss on earth are really, really beautiful and important in heaven. The day in, day out grace, love, and healing ministered by no-name pastors is monumentally important in the heavenly realm. I’ve often wondered as I listen week after week to my pastors, whom I deeply love and appreciate, how some guys get huge followings and others don’t. It totally confuses me. Yet, I think in many ways God is protecting pastors He is strongly using when He does NOT allow them to achieve notoriety. Small is small to us, but it is not small in the heavenly realm.
I find Paul’s words in Ephesians very encouraging. They remind me why I love the Church and why I stay engaged with it. There is no other way as a believer to live the Christian life. And though I get discouraged by the state of the western reformed Church at times, I am reminded by Paul’s words to look for what others miss. The works of the flesh are obvious in the earthly realm; the quiet moving of the Spirit, not so much. But His long term results are profound, and of that, all powers in the heavenly realm are well aware.
Love this and I totally believe in Ephesians 3:10… still. Someone once told me whenever there is a move of God, there will always be a move of the flesh trying to get in on it. I think that's really true and the issue of pride is as timeless as God himself and as long as we are in this world, we will have pride to contend with, thus leaders will fail and followers will fail but God and His word will always remain. It's worth tarrying, plodding and fighting through the despair when things don't go the way we think they should. Because even at our worst, God has a tendency to make His glory known.
Could it be that we have the “Church” mixed up with the legal fiction, a 501c(3) corporation which the IRS defines as a “church” – a government registered business?
Anonymous, that idea can be used as a cop out to justify disengaging from the Church. Of course, not all non-profits defined as a church are truly part of the Church (as not all are truly non-profits). Yet, a lot of the ugly we do not like in the church is still, like it or not, part of the true Church. God says He will one day present her beautiful, but He gives us no illusions of her goodness here on earth. And He tells us to stay engaged with her anyway.
Anonymous, if you are going to leave a rebuke, please have the courage to use your real name. See the comment policy for this blog.
Sorry dear, I actually wasn't thinking of it as a rebuke, but just some encouragement. And not leaving my name is not really a courage issue 🙂 My name is Susan.
I guess I had two questions about the what the church was, exactly.
I am a child welfare worker because I think God has called me to be it right now. I sometimes hate my job and sometimes I really am offering a cold cup of water in His name… but not necessarily out loud, due to being paid by the state. As a member of the church, is this His work too? What do you think about this?
On the other extreme, macro-wise, do you count the Catholic church as part of the church? I know that you have very defined doctrine, which is part of why I love your blog so much. But at what point is doctrine more important than unity? And if the CC is not part of the church, then how can you include some clearly crazy people, just because they label themselves evangelicals. I know this really is only very tangentially related to your question, but when you say the church, Jesus's bride, it makes me think of the Church, i.e. the Catholics. I would love your opinion on that, if any.
Thank you for your blog. I love reading your updates. I have since 2010. 🙂
Lotsofquestions, I think any work done in Jesus' name by a believer is Church work.
As for the Catholic church, I have known individual Catholics whom I was utterly convinced had the same saving faith that I have. The institution itself is just that, an institution, with some troubling doctrine. But I do believe that some (many?) who identify with Catholicism are certainly a part of the Church.
This is a very helpful thought, Wendy. I too scratch my head over the fact that God chooses to work through flawed and often way-too-worldly churches. Big church budgets, buildings and personalities seem to be where the evangelical action is, and I believe God can and does use such action for his glory. But He has been known to do his most powerful work through unlikely and unknown people on the outer fringes of earthly and organizational power. I love your thought that God could be protecting people from power and earthly influence so that they may produce greater heavenly fruit. In response to your comment about the Catholic Church, could not the same reservations apply to evangelical institutions depending on one's perspective? I do not agree with “troubling” Catholic doctrine, but I wouldn't go so far as to treat Catholic believers as exceptions, representing the Church within an “institution.” Every church institution, Catholic and evangelical, can feature misplaced doctrinal emphasis and “believers” in name only. They also have the same potential to be the powerful people of God.
I find great encouragement in your second point regarding the small things.
This explains why satan attempts to bring discouragement to the least of us as we attempt to bring that cup of water in Jesus' name and why in 2 Thessalonians we are told not to be weary in well doing. In natural war the fallout is often death and carnage. Amazingly and to God's glory, the fallout of our battle against satan as we do the small things is that people are loved, helped and healed.
“Small is small to us, but it is not small in the heavenly realm.”
Wonderful wonderful words..
“It’s virtually impossible to miss the intensity in Jesus’ voice when he says, “It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Since we have little evidence that Jesus spent a lot of time in church and abundant evidence that he went about doing good, and since compassion is not about feeling sorry for people or nodding “Yes, yes” behind the daily paper while someone stands in front of us trying to have their heart “heard” (to use Benedictine nun and author Joan Chittister’s example), it seems safe to say that the will of the Father is to spend each day loving in deed, as Jesus did.”
-Quote from Brennan Manning in “The Wisdom of Tenderness”
Brennan Manning was a Roman Catholic and is one of my favorite authors. While it is true that we cannot accurately judge an individuals spiritual state, I would venture it safe to say Brennan Manning was a brother in the Lord and is now in His presence.