Revealing Wisdom in the Church

“so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…”
(Ephesians 3:10 ESV)

 I’m not sure how much focus I can give on this passage during my sermon on Sunday, but I can say that this particular phrase has really been hard to work out this week.  In Ephesians 3:1-13, Paul gives a brief account of his mission to the Gentiles.  He demonstrates that by the grace of God he has been charged to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, to reveal the mystery of Christ (that rather than having to become Jews, the Jews and Gentiles have become a new creation, they are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise of Christ).  In summation, “Paul says that he was given grace to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known…”

There are days when I don’t see how this is possible.  When the church is divided, how is the manifold wisdom of God made known?  When the church wanders down the path of idolatry and license for sin, how is the manifold wisdom of God made known?  When truth and falsehood are put on the same level, and it makes no difference what a man’s opinion might be; when faith and practice are separated; when that which Scripture clearly calls a sin is readily approved and embraced by the church, how is the manifold wisdom of God made known?

I guess the real question is: What is the wisdom of God?

There is a sense in which we cannot know the wisdom of God.  Paul writes in Romans 11:33 “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”  God’s wisdom is not our wisdom, God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.  It is ludicrous to suppose that our limited, finite minds could ever grasp or try to contain the limitless and infinite mind of God our creator.  To think that we could contain or define the wisdom of God would be to reduce God and rob Him of His glory.

At the same time, God has revealed His wisdom in the person of Jesus Christ.  Consider Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption… (1 Corinthians 1:27–30)

Through Christ, God has shown that the wisdom of man (which equates success with strength and power, goodness with outward beauty and charm) is folly.  God chose what would be foolish in the eyes of the world, a crucified Messiah from an oppressed people, to reveal and accomplish His wisdom in righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.

And so we read in Ephesians that it is the mysterious wisdom of God that in Christ there would be a new creation, where no longer was membership in the covenant community based on heritage, gender, or social status, but by faith alone in Jesus Christ.  In the wisdom of God, the old way of life, following the passions of the flesh and the mind, has been put to death, and in exchange we have been given a new life, a sanctified life of holiness, righteousness, and godly living.  This is the manifold wisdom of God that God intends to reveal in the church today.

The question now is, has the church forgotten her charter?  How many churches have “making known the manifold wisdom of God” in their mission statement (mine doesn’t).  Instead, churches become preoccupied with social or environmental issues (which are well and good) and put the mission of proclaiming the mystery of Christ aside.  Though Christ has torn down the dividing wall of hostility, too often we find ourselves with brick and mortar in hand, letting political issues, class envy, even music preferences drive a wedge of division between us. 

The recent decision of the PC(USA) makes it extremely difficult for our church to live up to its calling to making known the manifold wisdom of God.  By removing the requirement that those who “refuse to repent of any self-acknowledge practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained” the church has obscured its message and muddied the water.  Does the gospel of Jesus Christ actually have the power to transform our lives and put to death the dominion of sin?  Does the new life in Christ look any different than the life apart from Him? 

The mystery, according to Paul, is that in Christ, those who were outside the covenant, and those who were within, have been made into a new creation.  Apparently, the mystery of the PC(USA), is that the church has lasted as long as it has while continually abandoning any sense of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Still, as one who believes in the sovereign and almighty God, I do not think that God has changed His mind (since he can’t) about choosing the church as the agent of revealing His wisdom.  Charles Hodge wrote, “This [passage] gives us our highest conception of the dignity of the church.  The works of God manifest his glory by being what they are.  It is because the universe is so vast, the heavens so glorious, the earth so beautiful and teeming, that they reveal the boundless affluence of their maker.  If then it is through the church God designs speedily to manifest to the highest order of intelligence, his infinite power, grace and wisdom, the church in her consummation must be the most glorious of his works.” 

When the church is at its best, it demonstrates the grace and mercy of God as we proclaim the gospel of redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation with God and one another through Jesus Christ our savior.  When the church is beset with sin, controversy, and schism and falls short of this glorious call, she demonstrates to the world most vividly our need for the gospel to be taught and the wisdom of God to be brought to light.

God is not powerless, even today in light of all that’s taken place.  We must remain faithful to His calling, faithful to His Word, faithful to His gospel.  So do not lose heart, even this is for the glory of God.

Follow up on 10-A

“Hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown…
(Rev. 3:11 ESV)

Today has been a difficult day.  Yesterday, the presbytery of Twin Cities cast the 87th vote in favor of Amendment 10-A to the Book of Order which removes the “fidelity and chastity” clause from the requirements for ordination, and replaces it with a call for each ordaining body to determine how it will be guided by the confessions and Scriptures in setting the standard for ordination.  While the motion does not explicitly say it, it was put forward for the purpose of opening the way for the ordination of self-affirming, unrepentant homosexual men and women who feel called to ordained ministry as Minister of Word and Sacrament, Elder, and/or Deacon.

There are those who are rejoicing over this decision, and there are those who are weeping.  Those who rejoice see this a step closer to full inclusion and participation of all people in the church.  One can imagine that next will come the requirement that presbyteries and sessions receive candidates for ordination regardless of their sexual preference, followed by a comprehensive and coordinated attempt to redefine for the church the covenant of marriage.  Those who weep feel this is a rejection of the historic principles of the Christian faith, one more concession to the influence of a sinful culture, and fundamentally, a rejection of the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Despite all attempts by the leadership of the denomination to tell us otherwise, this decision will be the watershed event that leads to the absolute demise of what we know now as the PC(USA).

This is a difficult time to be Presbyterian if you disagree with this action.  Leaders of the denomination ask that you “learn to live into this decision,” which I think is politically correct for “deal with it.”  Some who are reading and learning of this for the first time will be saddened, shocked, and ready to pull their membership from the church immediately – and no amount of posturing and patronizing from Louisville will assuage your feelings.

And let me say that I know how you feel.  I celebrate (if I can use that word) my 10th anniversary of ordination this month, and I am terribly conflicted.  I always told myself (for this debate has been going on in the church as long as I have been alive), that if this ever passed, I would be done with the PC(USA).  However, now that I am here, serving Christ in a congregation that I love, knowing that God has called me to be faithful, even when the denomination is not, the issue is not so black and white.  I know that this congregation needs a pastor who understands the times and knows what to do.  I have been called to shepherd this church while I follow the Good Shepherd, Christ our Lord.  So I am resolved to stay with you, as long as you will have me.

Please know, the Session of Memorial Presbyterian and I have been resolute in our opposition to this motion, which we feel leads the church further away from its faithful witness to the holiness and righteous lives that God has called us to in faith through Christ Jesus our Lord.  We continue to provide every opportunity for the proclamation of God’s great love for us in Jesus Christ; a love which was demonstrated perfectly in that Christ came for us while we were still sinners; a love which gives us new life that we may no longer walk in darkness but in light; a love which strengthens us to walk in holiness and peace with God.

Please know that if you have questions or concerns about this, or any of the recent decisions of the denomination, you can call or email me or the members of the Session.  We are prayerfully considering what it will mean to be faithful to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will look like from this point forward, and will do everything we can to preserve the ministry and work of this wonderful congregation.  I urge you to be steadfast in your prayers; for the Session, for your pastor, and for the denomination, that God’s will might be done in our midst, and that we will be found good and faithful stewards of the mystery of His grace.