Church is the gift of a community of Christians in which we rehearse and orient ourselves in the practice of resurrection. It is never an abstraction, never anonymous, never a problem to be fixed, never a romantic ideal to be fantasized. (emphasis mine)
I pray that these two sentences will forever change my ministry. They are from the pen of Eugene H. Peterson, found on the next to last page of his book Practice Resurrection: a Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.
Through the words of New Testament scripture–particularly in the second chapter of Acts–I believe the Spirit gifted me with a sense of what the Church is supposed to be. I can’t necessarily articulate it in a clear and compelling manner, so I prefer to speak of “sense” rather than “vision.” Semantics perhaps. But this sense has been strong in me for 20 years and has become as comfortable as my marriage. I can’t imagine life without it. (A fitting analogy, according to Apostle Paul!)
But after reading those two sentences from Peterson’s book, I am struck by the realization that I may well have fallen into the trap of a romanticized ideal…meaning my concept of what is perfect, but not likely to become a reality this side of the Second Coming of Christ. And in so doing, I’ve been tempted into seeing the church as a problem that needs fixing and myself as one whom God has ordained to fix it.
In the previous chapter, Peterson has much to say about relationship to and within the church. I commend it to your reading, but for the purposes of this blog, suffice it to say that it’s all about relationship–relationships of trust and adoration with God, relationships of righteousness and love with one another (p. 238). The kind of relationship that is not abstract, that does not objectify others. The kind of relationship that understands that my maturation in Christ is inextricably linked to the maturation of those with whom I am in community. I can’t reach maturity on my own, and neither can anyone else in the church. God has graciously given us the gift of each other, that we might share this journey to maturity in Christ. I am to share the gifts I am given in order that we grow together, rather than using those gifts with the intention of fixing, of creating my romanticized ideal of the church.
Ephesians 4 paints the picture, and it is truly the Spirit-inspired vision.