“Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, ‘Thou art my glory, and the litter up of mine head.’ ” —Augustine, The City of God
There were multiple apostles, but there is only one gospel. Peter was entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised, Paul, to the uncircumcised, but this speaks not of two gospels, but of the one gospel being preached by both despite distinct ministries. Phil Ryken comments, “The church can allow diversity of mission only where there is unity of message.”
Today this has been inverted. So many act as if we are all on the same mission despite the variety of messages. Paul is at pains in the first part of his letter to the Galatians to establish his apostleship and the gospel on which it was centered. In 2:1–10 he goes on to demonstrate that when the apostles compared notes, it was clear that were all sitting under the same teacher—Jesus Christ. Their gospel math was identical. Jesus is everything. Add anything to Jesus, and you lose Jesus.
There is the gospel and there are other gospels, which are no gospels. When one preaches Christ, even out of envy or ambition, Paul rejoices (Philippians 1:15–18). When one preaches a perversion of Christ, Paul pronounces a divine curse on them (Galatians 1:8–9).
The apostles didn’t lay multiple-choice foundations, but one foundation, perfectly square with the cornerstone Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:19–20). A shared name on the church sign doesn’t mean there is a shared foundation. With our eyes glued to the screens, we’ve failed to look down and see the cracks beneath and the abyss visible below. We are spectators instead of inspectors. If the crowd is big and the show is good, we assume all is well. Neil Postman was afraid that Western society was amusing itself to death. I’m afraid the western church is entertaining itself to hell. Yes, the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but as I look at much of the modern church, judging by the foundation, she’s not the church anymore.
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” —1 Peter 2:4–10 (ESV)
Who are you?
How did you answer that question? With your name? Your vocation? Your heritage? Your ethnicity? Your nationality? Your alma mater?
There are multiple ways this question could be rightly answered. Context will determine much. In the workplace you won’t answer by explaining who your great uncle is. At the family reunion you will not reply with your job title. But in a vague context, where your mind goes first can be revealing. When you think about who you are, do you ever think “saint” or “child of God?” Beyond this, do you find yourself only thinking in individualistic rather than corporate categories?
Ours is an age that emphasizes the individual at the expense of any corporate identities. Yet we wonder why we’re so lonely, detached, and isolated and we continue to gasp at rampant consumerism and selfishness. Church, Peter’s aim in these verses is clear. He wants us to know who we are. Being a Christian has implications for each of us individually, but you cannot think of who you are as a saint independently, apart from the body of Christ.
While it is clear that Peter wants us to know who we are, what is less clear is why? Why does Peter want us to know who? Peter doesn’t spell this out, but I think we all realize something of why as we look at who, and it is that who speaks to why. Who determines purpose. When your identity consists of being “elect exiles” (1:1) this has radical implications for why and how you live.
How many of the church’s problems stem from a failure to understand who she is? She is full of people acting like individuals, approaching church and spirituality as consumers looking to fill their personal needs. The church corporately responds to this by marketing herself to this individualism. How often do you get the sense that what really makes a church tick is the desire to express her individualism? It is not enough to simply be the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. We must be a unique one.
Jesus has adorned the church. She doesn’t need to doll herself up. Any such effort won’t be an improvement. The church’s make-up identity skills suck. She hamfistedly globs on the mascara trying to attract the wrong kind of guy. What the church needs is to realize who she is in Christ and act accordingly. Instead of behaving as a prostitute whoring after the world, let us strive to be faithful to the one who has loved us into beauty. In Him we are a temple, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a treasured possession. If we realized this, we’d quit trying to tout our uniqueness and start offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable in Christ. We’d start declaring the glories of Him who called us out of darkness and into His light.
We cannot think of Christ properly apart from the church. All the offices he exercises as head over all things, he exercises on behalf of the church. If we think of the church apart from Christ, or transfer to the church prerogatives that belong only to Christ, then we are guilty of idolatry. But if we think of Christ apart from the church, then we are guilty of a dismemberment that severs what God has joined together. We are divorcing Christ from his only bride. The central doctrine of the Christian faith should remind us of the evil of such divorce, for this doctrine is that ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for it’ (Eph. 5:25). —John Murray, The Church—It’s Identity, Functions, and Resources
Length: 126 pp
Author: Mark Dever
There is a sea of books that end with “church” telling your church what it should be. For the most part it is a sea of stupidity. Not so the books ending in “church” by Mark Dever. Mark Dever has had a more profound impact on my thinking concerning the church than anyone else. I want him to impact you thinking too.
I have recommended time and again different books by Mark Dever. Why recommend books on the church? If one is going to be a member of some organization, wouldn’t you want to know what the organization is about and what membership entails?
I am thankful that much of Devers’ material has now been compacted in the tiniest of packages so that even the member with the most sever of allergies to reading can have a solid understanding of the church. I may allow a member to opt out of reading 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, but I will implore them to read What is a Healthy Church?.
A healthy church is a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his word.
Friend, what are you looking for in a church? Good music? A happening atmosphere? A traditional order of service? How about:
a group of pardoned rebels . . .
whom God wants to use to display his glory . . .
before all the heavenly host . . .
because they tell the truth about him . . .
and look increasingly just like him–holy, loving, united?
One church-growth writer recently summed up his strategy on growing churches by saying, “Open the front door and close the back door.” By this he means that churches should make themselves more accessible to outsiders while also doing a better job of follow-up. These are good goals. Yet I suspect that most pastors and churches today already aspire to do this, and to a fault. So let me offer what I believe is a more biblical strategy: guard carefully the front door and open the back door. In other words, make it more difficult to join, on the one hand, and make it easier to be excluded on the other. Remember—the path to life is narrow, not broad. Doing this, I believe, will help churches to recover their divinely intended distinction from the world.