Christ’s Vision for the Church (3)
But you area chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once werenot a people but arenow the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2.9, 10
He calls them a chosen race, because God, passing by others, adopted them as it were in a special manner. They were also a holy nation; for God had consecrated them to himself, and destined that they should lead a pure and holy life. He further calls them a peculiar people, or, a people for acquisition, that they might be to him a peculiar possession or inheritance; for I take the words simply in this sense, that the Lord hath called us, that he might possess us as his own, and devoted to him.
- John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Peter 2.9
A holy nation
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of most beautiful and amazing engineering marvels of the modern world. It was the brainchild of John Augustus Roebling, who died before construction began in January of 1870. Roebling’s son, Washington Augustus Roebling, took over supervision of the project, following the design his father had worked fifteen years to create and have approved.
The Bridge took thirteen years to complete, engaging the work of thousands of laborers from a wide range of trades. Washington Roebling supervised the work from his apartment, since he had become incapacitated by an injury. From his window, one eye on his father’s design and another on the project and those who labored at it, he supervised and coached the Bridge to completion.
Similarly, from His throne at the Father’s right hand, the Lord Jesus Christ is building His Church, following His Father’s design, working by His Word and Spirit, and supervising a people of many backgrounds and varied abilities, who are a nation characterized by ministry, unity, and maturity, spanning every nation, culture, and generation. Christ’s work, when realized according to His plan, is a marvel not only of the modern world, but of all time.
The Church, and every local church, is, in the first place, a people who belong to Christ and whom He has redeemed and adopted to seek and advance His rule on earth as it is in heaven (the word, church, comes from the Greek, kuriokos, meaning “belonging to the Lord”). We are the temple and dwelling-place of the Lord, the staging-ground and outpost from which He is advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
In Christ’s vision for the Church, we are also a holy nation, the Lord’s nation. When we think about what our churches should become, the metaphor of a nation should factor into our planning and ministries.
Our purpose is to become what the Lord declares us to be: a holy nation, raised up by the Lord to proclaim His praises to the world. As outposts of a holy nation, local churches should think of themselves, what they would become, and how they should build, in terms of three important components.
First, as outposts of a holy nation, local churches require courageous and effective leaders. Roebling had his engineers, foremen, and master craftsmen. Jesus has His pastors and teachers, elders and deacons, and church leaders serving in various capacities.
Church leadersare called to be shepherds (Jer. 23.1-4; Eph. 4.11, 12; 1 Pet. 5.1-3), whose primary responsibility is to prepare the people of God for works of ministry. Not some of the people, all. In the holy nation of Christ – His Church – all the citizens are on active duty, all are called to the Kingdom and glory of the Lord, all have important contributions to make, and all must be equipped by their leaders to serve in proclaiming, by word and deed, the excellencies of the Lord. A local church where leaders are not equipping and engaging all their flock in works of ministry will fail as an outpost of the Kingdom of God.
Second, a holy nation also requires a holy law, even the Law of God (Rom. 7.12) and all His holy Word. The citizens of Christ’s nation must be instructed in the ways of righteousness, so that they may consider how to stimulate and encourage one another to walk the path of good works that Jesus walked, according to the Law of God (Heb. 10.24; 1 Jn. 2.1-16).
If we are building our churches without recourse to the Law of God, we are not following the design and plan of the Chief Architect Himself, and we cannot expect to know the kind of Kingdom greatness Christ holds out to us (cf. Matt. 5.17-19). Churches that neglect the Law of God cannot expect the Lord to hear their prayers or bless their aspirations (Prov. 28.4, 9). Superficially, they may appear to thrive, but they will contribute little or nothing to building the world- and time-spanning Kingdom of God.
Finally, like any nation, the holy nation which is the Church of our Lord Jesus possesses a sacred lore, by which it traces its history, declares its identity, and preserves its future.
The vast cultural heritage of the Christian church – in art, literature, education, theology, heroes, institutions, and good works of every kind – is ours to treasure, emulate, adopt and adapt, and pass on, so that the Lord’s nation might continue beyond our day (Ps. 78.1-8). Every nation has its “holy days” in which it remembers events, achievements, and people who have contributed to its being and greatness. Every nation has its cherished institutions, venerated heroes, and unique cultural contributions. This is no less true of the nation of God’s people; and it ill behooves us to neglect this vast and powerful heritage. Local churches that do not immerse God’s people in their heritage deprive the Lord’s nation of their true identity and future.
Building a nation
As we build our churches, therefore, we must embrace our calling as a holy nation unto the Lord – with leaders, a Law, and sacred lore by which we may establish our unique identity and mission among the peoples of the earth. The Lord Jesus, Who supervises the building of His holy nation, is glorified only to the extent that we follow His plan in pursuit of His goals, looking to His Word and Spirit for guidance and power.
As believers, we are the temple of the Lord, and we must devote ourselves to increasing in holiness, and worshiping the Lord in Spirit and in truth. But we are also a nation, a nation within and among the nations of the world, and we have more in common with Christians from all around the world than with our unbelieving fellow-citizens of the national entity we call our home. Jesus is advancing His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven; the Church is the span that will carry us over the river of time to the eternal here and now. We seek and advance that Kingdom as the Lord’s nation, only as we submit to His supervision and design.
Christ’s vision for the Church is that we should be a world-spanning nation of holy people, united in Him to declare His praises and embody His beauty, goodness, and truth. We are not building the Church as Jesus intends unless the vision of being the Lord’s nation looms large in our thinking, planning, and work.
“When people from different races and nations are called to abandon all their differences and to take on one mind, drawing near to him by one faith and one teaching, by which the soul and the heart become one, they are one holy people.”
- Andreas (7thcentury AD), Catena
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).