Body-Building-Bride: A Theology of Church in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians
A Biblical Theology Paper Submitted to Clinton Arnold, Ph.D.
In Partial Fulfillment of The Requirements of the Course Exegesis in Ephesians TTNT 644
by Springer, November 16, 2005
How do these images relate to the contextual world of Ephesians? 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.
How do these images support Paul’s epistolary argument? First, these images show that the essential connection with Christ is both the source and goal of the church’s life. There is no need to fear or rely upon the spiritual powers. Second, this essential connection is the ground upon which the Ephesian believers could stand as they lived in and responded to a culture permeated with concern for spiritual power.
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 (Jesus) 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.
Questions on the nature of church need to be asked within and among the traditional, seeker-sensitive, emerging, and evangelical camps. A theology of church drawn from the images in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians can provide an important foundation from which to seek answers. There are several key understandings. First, the church is one. Human divisions are just that—human. There are real theological issues to be discussed, but there is also a real unity. We must find a way to hold passionately to our beliefs while holding passionately to one another.
Second, the church is in the process of maturing. We will not be complete until the consummation in the last day. Because we are incomplete, we must listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters. We must consider their questions. We must all do our part.
Third, the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Experience is important. The writings of our theological mothers and fathers are important. But an intimate understanding of God’s Word is essential. We must start there.
Finally, the church is intimately connected to Christ. This is our current reality, though our experience of it is incomplete. Everything the church is and everything she is to become exists in and grows toward her relationship with Christ.
It is imperative for theologians in every camp to look deeply into the biblical understanding of church and to begin to separate the biblical from the merely traditional. This is especially true in the current discussions (and too often conflicts) between evangelical and emerging churches. There are valid concerns in both camps. The evangelical church is concerned about the emerging church’s understanding of truth. The emerging church is concerned with the evangelical church’s reliance on human structures and methods. There are valid questions on both 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.
We end as Barth ended his call for unity in 1936:
[Teaching and preaching are] the fundamental postulate and presupposition of Church union; it is vital that once more in every church, in its own special atmosphere and thus with an ear attentive to Christ, real sober strict genuine theology should become active. [i]
for BIBLIOGRAPHY see introduction
i Barth 92