On June 16, 2022, I commented on Chapter 8 of John Stott’s book Basic Christianity. That part of his book dealt with what Stott calls the main goals accomplished due to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One goal was to reconcile God to man and liberate man from self-centeredness and then to bring us into harmony with our fellow human beings. Stott’s primary focus regarding harmony was on how we are supposed to get along together as we worship God [i.e. as we “d”o church]. As I reread the post, I was struck with how negative the comments were; that church was often a place where people did not act as Christians. My closing comments indicate how critical the post was: “The church is full of hypocrites. The church is full of sinners…the church is full of beggars trying to tell other beggars where to find bread.”
I find it extremely unusual as I transition to The Cross of Christ that Stott begins the fourth and last part of his book entitled “Living Under the Cross” with a chapter entitled “The Community of Celebration.” It is almost the opposite of my June 16th post.
What should church be?
Stott says the church [the community of the cross] is “not just a badge to identify us and the banner under which we march; it is also the compass that gives us our bearings in a disoriented world” . He calls the Christian life “a continuous festival” with sacraments of the Gospel at the center of that life. He refers especially to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Baptism is the symbolic act of being born again in a life of Christ. The Lord’s Supper is the drama of “taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and the taking, blessing, pouring and giving of wine”. We don’t administer the elements of the Lord’s Supper ourselves; we receive them. Spiritually we feed on the crucified Christ in our hearts. It is all an expression of our faith.
Unlike the Old Testament idea of God being unapproachable and unreachable [except through the petition of a High Priest and the sacrifice of innocent animals], the Christian God is a reconciled God. He sent His Son to us to show how much He loves us, to assuage His anger with us and to forgive us of our sins. We have been made right with God [justified and redeemed].
Two words describe the new relationship that Christians have with our Father: access and nearness. What is the impact of this new relationship within the church?
Stott lists three very positive things that should characterize the church.
The first word is boldness. God is not some distant entity. God is within us via our Holy Spirit and we can pray directly to Him. The apostles loved to use the word parresia which means “outspokenness, frankness and plainness of speech.” We have parresia because of Jesus. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us so we can look forward to life without fear and we can proclaim the good news with strength. For the saving grace of our faith to get out to the world, we need boldness of speech. The church is that special location where we not only get instruction in the rudiments of our faith but we can get inspiration to spread the word [to make disciples of all nations].
Secondly, the church is a place of love. Whereas the Old Testament presented a God that was difficult to approach and difficult to love [Stott writes “previously, we were afraid of Him”] now we have a new relationship with God that is characterized by love. First John 4: 19 says it best “We love because He first loved us.” God’s love has driven out fear for we now know that love begets love. The church is the central location for us to receive God’s love but it also is the location that inspires us to spend our lives loving “our neighbors as we love ourselves” [Mark, 12: 31]. That (after all) is our new mission as a we “Go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” [Matthew 28: 19].
The third word Stott uses to characterize the church is joy. This is a word which means a lot to me since I sing in a church choir. When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem their mouths were “filled with laughter” and their tongues were filled with “songs of joy.” Stott writes “how much more should we rejoice in the Lord who has redeemed us from a much more repressive slavery” . The time we spend together in church on the Lord’s Day is intended to bring us together with joy. Stott cites theologian W.M. Clow who writes “the great faiths of the Buddhist and the Mohammedan give no place either to the need of the grace or reconciliation. The clearest proof of this is the simplest. It lies in the hymns of Christian worship.”* Buddhists don’t cry out in praise. Mohammedan worshippers never sing. When Christian worshippers come together it is impossible to keep them from singing. Stott says “The Christian community is a community of celebration.” The Jewish people celebrate the Passover to rejoice over their redemption from Egypt. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper to rejoice over Christ’s shedding of His precious blood to set us free. “Because the worship of God is in essence the acknowledgement of His worth, we unite with the heavenly chorus in singing of His worthiness as both Creator and Redeemer” [Stott, 252].
Maybe my June 16 post was a bit negative. I can get that way very easily because I have been disappointed with Christian behaviors from time to time. Mahatma Gandhi rejected the Christian faith, never again to consider the claims of Christ. He was so turned off by Christian behavior that he said the following: “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.” I have never been so disappointed that I was ready to totally throw away my faith in favor of something else. This post [unlike the one on June 16] points out the beautiful reasons to hold on to church and fellow Christians. The worship of God in the Christian community should be a festival in which the boldness, love and joy shine through as we celebrate what Christ has done for us. Stott writes “In this celebration we find ourselves caught up in the worship of heaven, so that we join ‘with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven’ in giving God glory”.
I know that God wants our praise; He deserves it. It is in church where we unite in singing praises to His worthiness as Creator and Redeemer.
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” [Revelation, 5: 12].