Everyone wants to belong. We all desire to be a part of something. It is why we join sports teams, clubs, and social groups; perhaps its why we choose the jobs we have, or even why we go to church. So often we define ourselves by the groups we are a part of. Who we are, and more importantly who we say we are, is based on the friends we keep, the groups we identify with and the status we think those groups give us. “I am a hockey player,” “I am a dancer,” “I am a CEO.” “I am a teacher.” You see so often our identity is rooted in one or more of these things.
It makes we wonder, when someone says, “I’m a Christian,” what do they mean? Or when we say, “We are the Church,” what do we mean? What I hope to look at here is the fact that our identity as the Church is rooted in the mission of God and is something that God is continually making us to be. God builds up His Church.
One of the songs we sing during worship is “Build Your Kingdom Here,” by Rend Collective.
Here are some of the words:
Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
You can listen to the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbdJXKqVgtg
The song reminds me that God is in the business of building His Kingdom; redeeming and reconciling the world, it’s the mission of God, and therefore the mission of the Church. The Church exists to serve this mission in the world and not vice versa. In order to serve this mission, God builds up and equips the church. As part of its being, Jesus gathers the Church together, and builds it up for the purpose of sending the Church out into the world to participate in the mission of God. It’s something we see in scripture and—continuing our series—throughout the theology of Karl Barth.
One scripture that speaks about the building up of the Church is 1 Peter 2:2-5 which reads, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Peter describes Christ not only as a cornerstone but a living stone, which reminds us that Christ is not some historical figure who has no relevance to our community; rather, Christ is alive and continues to impact the church today. As the living cornerstone of the Church, Jesus builds up His Church so that it can perform its task in the world. We are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, and to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus. And as the Church it is our responsibility to grow and position ourselves to be built up.
Ephesians 4 talks about the gifts that God provides to the Church for it’s upbuilding in unity and love:
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
So as we gather, the challenge is to build each other up, and together, as the Church to be built up. In faith. In Unity. In love. In Jesus.
In Dogmatics in Outline Barth writes, “The Church lives as other communities live, but in its Church service its nature appears—proclamation of the Word of God, administration of the Sacraments, a more or less developed liturgy, the application of a Church law…and lastly theology. The great problem, which the Church has again and again to answer, is this—what happens in and by all these functions? Is it a question of edification? Is it blessedness of individuals or of all involved? Is it the cultivation of religious living, or quite objectively an order which must simply be achieved as the opus Dei (work of God)? Where the life of the Church is exhausted in self-serving, it smacks of death; the decisive thing has been forgotten, that this whole life is lived only in the exercise of what we called the Church’s service as ambassador, proclamation, kerygma.”
What Barth wants to make clear is that in its gathering; as the Church lives and moves, works and worships, the Church is being built up not for it’s own sake, but for the Church’s calling as an ambassador in the world. And that, is where we turn next week. The Church is sent out.