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.

Contend for the Faith

“…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 
For certain people have crept in unnoticed…
who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality
and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

(Jude vs. 3 & 4 ESV)

There are times when I’d like to have seen the other letter that Jude was planning on writing, the one concerning our common salvation.  Instead, we have this necessary letter, which dealt with the very pressing issues of the false teaching and corrupt theology of Jude’s day, but also sounds perfectly relevant for our church today (the sovereignty and provision of God is truly amazing).

Jude wrote to the church in response to the corrupt teachings of those who had crept into the community of faith and had perverted the grace of God into sensuality and thereby had denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  While it is impossible to know exactly who these false teachers were, or what they taught, we can make an educated guess.

These were teachers who crept into the church, not by stealth, but by deception.  They said that they believed, but as was evidenced by what they taught and by their actions, they did not.  They came in and taught destruction.  They said one thing in order to gain admittance into the church, to be accepted as teachers and leaders, but when they began to teach, their doctrine was a perversion of God’s grace and a denial of the Lordship of Christ.

Scriptures teach that the grace of God is that free favor of God which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ, wherein we are forgiven and liberated from sin and the condemnation of the Law.  Jude’s complaint is that these false teachers have perverted this grace into a license for immorality, (the Greek word translated here “sensuality” literally means “licentiousness, debauchery, and sensuality – sexual excess).  In other words, they interpret the Christian’s liberation by God’s grace as liberation from all moral restraint, twisting the grace of God into a promotion of all sorts of sinfulness.

Not only that, but they denied our only Lord and Master Jesus Christ.  After all, if there is no real Sovereign God in the church, anything goes.  If Christ is not ultimately our Lord, if the Author of life has no authority over life, then there is no moral law or imperative for those in the grace of God.  The promotion of sinfulness and the denial of Christ’s Lordship over us go hand in hand, they assume one another.

This is what Jude was facing in the church of his day, and this is why Jude wrote to the church to contend for the faith.  This word “contend” brings to mind a boxer in a ring, striving for the victory for fifteen rounds; the runner contending for the prize, enduring the race set before him.  As a matter of fact, the word here in the Greek where the English word “agonize” comes from.  While it would be more pleasant to encourage one another with conversation about our mutual salvation in Christ Jesus, the present situation dictates that we strive for our faith, contend for the truth, that we aggressively continue to defend the faith against false teaching.

Jude could just as easily have been writing about our church today.  From denominational leaders and from the pulpits and classrooms, the recent decision to remove the requirement that “those refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained” has been heralded as a great new day for the church.  The rationale in given in support of this change made it clear this would open the door for the ordination of self-affirmed practicing homosexuals.  How is this any different than when Jude wrote about perverting the grace of God into sensuality?  Sure, those in favor of this change will say that sessions and presbyteries still have the right to determine their standards for ordination, guided by Scripture and the confessions, but now that all clear and precise standards have been removed from the Book of Order, there is very little to guarantee that will happen.  This outright perversion of the grace of God comes hand in hand with the denial of Christ’s authority as Lord over the life of the church and the hearts and minds of its members.

Friends, there is an apocryphal saying attributed to Edmund Burke (although no citation has ever been given) that goes something like: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  That is exactly what we have seen in the church today.  Those who tired of contending against an entrenched progressive wing of the denomination have left.  Those who disagree but still remain are weary and don’t know how to fight.  And while we are reeling from this blow, more attacks to the Biblical faith and values entrusted to the Church through the generations are coming.  Next year at General Assembly, look for a motion to redefine marriage, and in the coming years for litigation that will require Presbyteries and Sessions to ordain practicing homosexuals, regardless of the standards set by the local body.

I don’t write this to cause you grief, but these things should upset you and cause you agony.  I struggle over writing this, and I am sure that there will be some who will use these words to say that I am not promoting the Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church, when in fact, those are the very things I am striving for.  We must take this time, for there may not be a tomorrow, to contend for the faith.  We must stand firm and make our voice heard that we do not agree, that we will fight for the truth of God’s word, for the preservation of the truth, and to proclaim the Good News of God’s mercy and grace in Jesus Christ which can overcome all sin in the world today.

So I encourage you to contend for the faith.  Pray for the Session and for me as your Pastor, that we may know the appropriate steps to take, and that I may “boldly proclaim the gospel” (Eph 6:19).  Pray that our congregation may grow in wisdom and grace, that the bond of Christ may hold us together during these difficult days.  Pray that the church may be purified and strengthened in the truth.  But most of all, pray that God’s glory may be exalted!