Imagine with me if Big God decided to enter our world to communicate that with us about this idea of healing an extremely sickly world through an antibody called The Church. How would He do that?
Suppose we wanted to communicate with a colony of ants in a giant anthill on the Serengeti. It seems it would make the most sense to become an ant ourselves and communicate to them in ant-language and ant-movement they could relate to…otherwise our overwhelmingly powerful human bodies would do nothing but scare the daylights out of them.
In our universe, that’s called the Incarnation: Big God becoming a humble human being. Paul the apostle—the man who once hated Christians and had them jailed and executed—tried to help the early Church understand how powerful this Big Idea is. It’s at the center of Christian theology. For instance, to his friends in Rome he writes about the role of Israel and his own Jewish heritage and then clearly states the real identity of Jesus:
Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9:5 NIV).
Paul picks this up even more when he describes Jesus and His purpose in a letter to the Colossian church. He writes:
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:13–20 NIV)
Did you catch what He said in the middle? He’s going on and on about how big this God-Man Jesus is—Creator of all things, visible and invisible, the One who establishes power and authority. And then Paul points out this organization—this organism—that is actually directly connected to God. Writing about Jesus, he says:
…And he is the head of the body, the church… (Colossians 1:18 NIV)
Paul is establishing a big thought here. Not only is Jesus God, but He is also the Head—the strategic-thinking authoritative leader and brains—of a movement on earth called The Church, which is actually functioning as His Body. In other words, what Jesus wants to do on earth today is going to be done through the Church. Ordinary people like you and me.
Now that’s a Big Idea. And that changes everything about how I see the Church. And if we don’t get that revelation, we’ll tend to see this little thing that happens on the weekend as “going to church” and our little divisions and squabbles and Christian subculture as what the Church is all about. That’s bigger than denominations and factions and Protestants and Catholics and church suppers and potlucks.
Why do we take a big, God-sized idea and miniaturize it?
That’s why Paul later writes to a dysfunctional church in Corinth that was arguing with each other and divisive and says to them: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s house and that His Spirit actually lives in you now?”
He’s so upset when he hears that they're dragging each other into court and filing lawsuits against each other that he angrily says, “Don’t you know you will actually judge the world in the end times? Don’t you know that you’ll judge angels and spiritual powers?—and you can’t settle little arguments among yourselves now? You’ve got to be kidding?—You’re the Body of Christ on this earth!”
When the Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts Chapter 2 and birthed this movement called the Church, it transformed these scared men who had been hiding behind locked doors after the crucifixion into men and women who would lay their lives down for this one message: Jesus is the Resurrected Lord—so change the way you think and let Him save you!
That message alone was radical to the monotheistic Jewish mind: only God could save. Therefore, the implication was huge. And so they could only talk about one thing: Jesus…and His resurrection. And they were martyred by the thousands.
It was Jesus Himself who said, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13–19 NIV)
The obvious question is this: what happened? How did that self-sacrificing passion end up doing ridiculous things throughout the subsequent centuries? How could a movement like that produce an Inquisition or Crusades or denominational wars?
Keep this in mind: Jesus said that in the end He Himself will separate the real from the unreal, the legit from the play-actors…and that there would be many who come to Him and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.”
Or that there will be some who say, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
He said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father.”
This revolutionary movement of surrendered and transformed servants is God’s Big Idea to usher in His rule and reign: the Kingdom of Heaven. To stand on the periphery and take potshots at the Church is hardly helpful; a critique is only effective as much as one is a lively part of her. The former atheist turned prayer-and-social-activist Dorothy Day once poignantly wrote:
“As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”