Today’s post is by guest blogger Chaplain Mike.
In the first part of Practice Resurrection, Eugene Peterson writes about the church at Ephesus and the overall message that Paul communicated to them through his epistle.
“Growing up in Christ,” the big theme of the book, is not something we do alone. And so, Peterson begins with a consideration of “the textured context in which we grow up in Christ to maturity”â€”the church.
At the outset, he acknowledges that “church” is one of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian for many believers. Nevertheless, it is in and with the church that God has called his children to grow up into the full stature of Christ.
I like his definition of the church and the description of how its members should live:
Church is an appointed gathering of named people in particular places who practice a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines…
…The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the country of death. It is an open invitation to live eternity in time.
We all have our complaints about the church, and it certainly falls short of what most of us think it should be. In Peterson’s understanding, Ephesians differs from the other NT letters that deal with the real, human problems churches face. Instead, Ephesians
…is a revelation of the church we never see. It shows us the healthy soil and root system of all the operations of the Trinity out of which the church that we do see grows.
…the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in the churchâ€”no church is exemptâ€”but to explore God’s glory that gives the church its unique identity.
…Ephesians provides us with an understanding of church from the inside, the hidden foundations and structural elements that provide grounding and form to the people, whoever they are, and the place, wherever it is. Ephesians documents the Trinitarian realities from which congregations are formed, however incomplete or fragmented the formation. We have the Ephesian letter before us so that even though we are surrounded with immature and deficient and incomplete churches, we can acquire a feel for what maturity is, what growing up in Christ consists of. By means of Ephesians we get an accurate account of what God is doing and the way the Spirit is working at the heart of every congregation. As such, it is a great gift of revelation. Without Ephesians we would be left to guesswork, making up “church” as we went along, and we’d be easy prey to every church fad that comes along.
These words could lead to misunderstanding. The author is not saying that the church at Ephesus represents an ideal church that all others should copy. The NT portrays this congregation as messed up, just like other churches. There are no “successful” churches, Peterson affirms. They are, at the observational level, just what they appear to beâ€”congregations of fallen, broken, flawed people who often act poorly toward each other and their neighbors. Church at Ephesus included.
We do not have an example of an ideal congregation, in the Bible or in history. What we do have is Ephesians, an inspired behind-the-scenes look at what God has done and is doing to provide a context out of which his people may grow to maturity.