(Cont’d from the previous post The Rock of Ages.)
‘I in them and you in me that they may be made perfect…’ (Jn.17:23)
In this intercessory prayer of the Lord we get a glimpse of the nature of God and the Church. It is I-Thou relationship. Perhaps it is pertinent to know that the Church is compared to the body in keeping with the personal relationship implied between body and the head. Of this we read thus, ‘For no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.’
The concept of the Church is implied in the very nature of God. ‘That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us. (Jn.vs.21)’ The triune nature of God establishes a certain order where God is the Father, the Son and the Spirit. This heavenly pattern is a type for earthly churches and as such we are to be effective witnesses of a relationship to which the Son of man testifies in his prayer. The key to the Church is I-Thou relationship of the redeemed on this earth with the risen Lord seated on the right hand of God. This relationship Jesus at another place compares to the vine and the branches for example, where every believer is nourished from the head.
Relation of God is signified twofold in the very Godhead. Glory of the very substance which in Hebrew is denoted by the word kabod. In Ex.3:14 God speaks his Name as thus: ‘I am that I am’. Second is his glory which is his revealed goodness.’The heavens declare the glory of God( Psa.19:1)’’ In the Chapter 6. of Isaiah we read of the vision. Moses at the burnish bush is one instance. Such revealed glory as in the case of Isaiah was through a vision. Such is the grandeur and awesomeness of it that Isaiah is instantly convicted of his unworthiness. ‘Woe is me!’
Another idea we can find in the Bible is the glory of God is in his Word. When Jesus speaks of glory the awesome quality of Word is implied. ‘The word of God is living, and powerful’ instrument. It can help us to discern of thoughts and intents of the heart. (Heb4:12). Jesus in taking the human form bears this quality of God. Word was made flesh (Jn1.:14) and the glory of which the apostle bears witness, is glory of God as revealed.
There is another relationship of I-Thou which is of the fellowship of the Highest order ie., that of triune God. It is in terms of office. God as the Father holds the sovereign majesty of his divine Will which the Son by his earthly ministry has perfected by one sacrifice. In terms of their office I-Thou relationship they are God, the Father and God, the Son. In this relationship what is the role of Holy Spirit? Holy Spirit as the Counselor, Priest and his revelatory role has to do with the Word and its meaning. We see how Holy Spirit puts the divine will in terms of vision, prophesies and parables. These are to be spiritually discerned and earthly churches rely on such revelation from the Holy Spirit. The will of God and the means by which it is set is motion make the office of Holy Spirit on equal footing. This threefold revelation of Godhead points to the unity of the Church. This Church as Jesus reveals in his prayer was in the mind of God. ‘(Thou) lovedst me before the foundation of the world.’(Jn.vs24). Jesus Christ is the foundation and also the body that is the Church. There is no single church on this earth exclusively set apart as his body. ‘In my Father’s house are many mansions etc., (Jn 14 :2) ‘For the body is not one member, but many…’ (1 Cor.14-12-13) The churches of the risen Lord on the earth are like different members of the body.
These churches may have their own different outreach programs and are effective or indifferent according to the member’s abilities. Earthly churches if nothing else give a broader framework for the members to come together and glorify God and hear the word of God. In expressing their Christian faith in their work and service towards the community is like the child’s offering of five loaves and two fishes. Notwithstanding it would not mean that they are made perfect. A believer must remain connected to the Savior and the person’s growth and perfection can only be guaranteed in this personal relationship. ‘Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he (the Father) taketh away.’(Jn.15:2) Our personal relationship implies Jesus Christ is our personal Savior. He is the vine. The Risen Lord who intercedes for us in the heavenly place is our source. The earthly churches are far from perfect and yet they are many members of the body.
In the book of Hebrews we get another insight about the preeminence of Jesus Christ. He is after the order of Melchizedek. He was a priest-king that makes him a type and Jesus Christ is the antitype. It is apt that while writing to the Hebrew reader the writer should rely on Levitical priesthood. Aaron under the Old Covenant was merely a shadow of which Christ was the substance. (Heb5:1-4;4: 14-16) The Aaronic pattern was no more perfect than the temporal churches with their form of worship. But since we have the risen Christ whose relationship is secure by one sacrifice that he offered on our behalf we may boldly approach unto the throne of grace, not trusting in our own righteousness but by faith. In the apocalyptic vision of St. John the seven churches serve is representative in nature and are compared to seven golden lampstands. These form a template of earthly churches retaining in varying degrees something of the glory of God imparted by Lord Jesus to his disciples. Glory of God was imparted to those who believed in Him through the Son(Jn.17:22) What was the glory? ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men whom thou givest out of this world.(Jn 17:6) This glory is nature and quality of those who have kept the word. (From the testimony of Jesus we know ‘they have kept thy word.)’ No man may know whom God has given out of this world but the Son. Thus we may be members of a particular church but we may not unduly pride ourselves that we shall be saved because of the affiliation.
‘Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken and the other left’.(Mt.24:40-41) Jesus said this to enjoin his disciples to be watchful at all times. However we may borrow this to illustrate how believers are gathered from earthly churches. The call of our Savior is gone out and is for all nations and races. But we are nevertheless warned to make our calling and election sure.