Thursday, February 08, 2007

Church as gym

"You need to have the expertise and
the guidance of someone else.
You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way
about Christianity and about what the church is:
The church is the gym of the soul."

Sylvester Stallone

It’s hard to imagine such a quote coming from an actor previously not known for profound thoughts. But here is something that I would endorse heartily. (Hat tip: Ron Reed)

The church is indeed the gym of the soul. (Yeah, people get battered there all the time!) Relationships are testy stuff but they are also the stuff of life, critical to wholeness and holiness, even. In a church where believers claim to share a personal relationship with Jesus, (and where it’s easier to give intellectual assent to church as ‘Christ’ Body’ than to truly live as one), where else to build spiritual muscles then in a local church? After all the Church was God’s idea, birthed in eternity, covered by the blood of the Lamb, and heir to every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1).

Interestingly, gym as metaphor for church does not suggest passivity spent waiting in a departure lounge while quietly imbibing spiritual energy . If that’s your point of view, then Brian McLaren thinks you ought to sniff out Jesus’ secret message about real life in the Kingdom (interview with Brian about his latest book here): There is interaction, an ‘interactive relationship’ - to quote Dallas Willard’s language for eternal life – with God the King, and the King’s subjects. (Then again, aren’t relationships supposed to be interactive anyway?) Dare I say that Stallone sounds like Willard who wrote that, “Churches that took seriously the kingdom of God would look a lot like training centers—training centers for life, a life interactive with God”?

The thing is, of course, to be a church that’s also a place of refuge - where believers find safety and acceptance, guidance and nurture, to grow into God’s new society. We are edified as well as edify. The form is secondary (although no less important, to my mind). All this demands as much humility as it does grace. Surely if we cannot live as one, we have nothing to offer our divided world. As a film reviewer said in another context, we begin with honourable intentions, but end up with a prayer for mercy. Notwithstanding what critics say about hypocrisy within and blemishes galore, why should anyone give up on the Church when God hasn’t?

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Eph 1:10,11)

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