Sunday, 19 May 2013

God Isn't Building A Church Of Living Bricks

One thing I must confess is that I used to be a Star Trek: The Next Generation fan. It was just a phase I was going through. One of the books that I really liked was Survivors, which gave much of Tasha Yar's backstory - a character who got deaded too early on in the TV series so we never got to know much about her.

Tasha's backstory in the book is undone by the later episode Legacy. But one thing that stands out in the book is where she is set a challenge and is then told that her colleagues are individuals - it's not "how would you do this with 3 generic security officers?" but "taking into account their individual skills, which 3 security officers would you choose and then how would you do this with 3 specific security officer?"

I was walking to Tesco yesterday afternoon and looking at the houses and the walls. Bricks. Yes, there may be variations - some slightly chipped, some a slightly different colour - but a brick is a brick is a brick. No one building a wall, or a house, gets fussy about which brick to use. A brick is interchangeable with another brick.

One of Jesus's Apostles, Peter, writes a bit about building a house (I Pet 2:4-8). This house is described:

As you come to [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”


“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Pick up a stone. They can be small pebbles. They can be massive ones like the one thrown through my bedroom window a few years back coming centimetres from killing me.

If God is building a spiritual house of living stones, why then do we want Him to build His house out of living nearly-identical bricks?

There are various extremes of bricky Christianity. But basically it boils down to wanting other Christians to be in our image, not in God's.

Whether it is a twee middle-class Christianity with its quasi-Victorian emphasis on people "improving themselves" (socially) or the Christian bloke's movemeent with its obsession with Christian men being blokey bloke blokes, there is the attitude of Christians having to be living bricks. More-or-less identical. The church door has to be (metaphorically) slammed in the facr of Christians not bricky enough. The right hand of fellowship should not be extended to such a person. And beneath it all, the ugly message of "I'd rather Jesus hadn't died for that person".

And probably there is that element hidden in all our hearts.

About 20 years ago, I was part of a team that did door-to-door evangelism in Plaistow. And one conversation I had was with a lady who believed people were only Christians because they were indoctrinated by their families - which is the opposite to reality for me. The thing is I was the only person on the team not brought up as a Christian, and I was the only person on the team able to have that conversation with her. I was the right stone - in other circumstances I would not be the right stone.

We were stones, all with our own histories, personalities, backgrounds etc. We were not a bunch of nearly-identical interchangeable bricks.

You don't need 3 Christians for that task. You need 3 specific Christians. The lesson Tasha learned has implications for the Church.

The thing about stones is that, not only are they different, but when building a house out of them, they all have that right place to go - no stone can go where another one should go. A stone lying on the ground isn't of much use - in a building its right place is alongside the other stones that should be around it.

Don't start getting into a grass-is-greener-the-other-side-of-the-fence mentality. You are where God placed you, surrounded by the other people God placed around you. You may not think much of the stones around you, but if they weren't there you would quickly fall out of place and tumble to the ground.

We hear of Isaish's vision of God (Is. 6) and of Isaiah's obedience:

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Ms?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (v.8)

Now, God wasn't sitting there with a list. "The shephard in that field said he was too busy, I'll try Isaiah and if he says no, there's the potter." No, Isaiah was the correct stone for that task.

There's more to this than Isaiah's obedience - he was the right person for what God planned to do.

Today is Pentecost, when we recall the Holy Spirit descending on the early disciples, empowering them to do what He wanted them to do.

A few years later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the unity of the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12) - interesting that these aspects are placed together, almost like two sides of the same coin.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as He wills. (vv. 4-11)

So this is not a church of identikit Christians, able to be swapped with each other. It is a church of individuals, given different gifts as the same Holy Spirit decides.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (v. 12-31)

We are on dangerous ground if we ever say we don't need another Christian because they are different - and there is the implication when we say that that God has no need for them.

God's children are not all called to be middle-class professionals. God's sons are not all called to be football-obsessed blokey bloke blokes.

At Pentecost the Church of God was founded - with God calling people from different nations and different socio-economic backgrounds to build a new community.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

“When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4. 1-16)

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