Originally posted on Laura’s Writings. Updated 012306
Laura K. Springer
Talbot School of Theology
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians provides what may be the New Testament’s clearest and deepest picture of the church. Written in a context of struggle with spiritual powers, this letter describes the church and her connection with Christ in order to equip the church to live for Christ in a culture much like our own. The church’s understanding of itself cannot come from mere human sources, because she is not a human institution. The church’s understanding of herself must come from the Word. The images of the body, the building, and the bride employed in this letter provide a foundational understanding the church needed to live in and respond to a cultural context permeated with concern for evil powers.
Understanding the identity of the church is a powerful tool for godly living in such a context. First, vertical connection with God and horizontal connection with fellow believers provides the power support needed for the struggle. Second, believers participate with Christ and fellow believers in the growth of the body and are not mere pawns in the struggle with spiritual powers. Third, understanding the church as being in process gives hope for the future and comfort in present setbacks. She has not yet arrived and she is safe.
Everything the church is flows from and toward her connection with Christ. As his body, the church is his presence in the world. As such, the church does the will of her head and draws upon his power as she works in the world for his sake. As his body, she is the one new humanity, created and growing into the image of Christ, demonstrating God’s wisdom to the powers (3:10).
As God’s building, the church is and is becoming the dwelling place of God. Christ himself is the origin of the building, the source of power for the process of building, and the goal toward which the building grows. The church finds her shape in Christ, the chief corner stone. She is founded upon the teaching of his apostles and prophets. She is supplied with gifts and trainers that make the building process possible.
As bride, the church submits to and is loved by her husband, the Christ. The church willingly submits to Christ by choosing to be and to do for his good. Christ loves the church by choosing to be and to do for her good.
It is imperative for theologians in every camp (fundamentalist, evangelical, reformed, emerging, and whatever else) to look deeply into the biblical understanding of church and to begin to separate the biblical from the merely traditional. There are valid ecclesiological questions on all sides and these questions must be considered. The state of our culture demands it. The state of our church demands it. The state of our theology demands it.