scope creep

One of the honors my church has given me in the last few months is the privilege of writing study notes to go along with the Sunday Sermon. These notes are then available for use by home groups that meet throughout the week. We’ve been working through 1 Corinthians, and today I’m supposed to be working on the “how do you build on Paul’s foundation” part of chapter 3, but I’m stymied because of how hard this section pulls on my heartstrings. Build the church, man. That is what I am about.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

The second time I went to school to learn to be a minister was much better than the first. It was thicker, richer. And one of the first things that I realized was that my charismatic, independent, localized vision for the church was just too small. It didn’t even cover richness and breadth of the interconnected networks of secular society, and the church is greater than that.

Look, Nebuchadnezzar saw it. Daniel tells us his vision about the layered statue, with the golden head and clayey feet. The statue represented the governments of nations, and the stone which destroyed that statue was Jesus Christ. But what is the mountain that came from that stone, if it isn’t the church?

The shape of that mountain is important. It’s a single mountain that covers the entire earth. As I realized once in a conversation with some Mormon missionaries, it’s a single mountain, not a mountain range. So Daniel 2:” the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” No interruptions. That casts down any assertions that there was a true church, which stopped, and then an intermediate period with no church, or a false church, followed by a restored true church.

At the same time, the mountain is a good deal bigger than the statue. It’s a mountain, not a hill, so it’s taller than the statue, and it clearly covers more ground. I take that to mean that it lasts longer through the generations (hello? forever?), and that it touches more of society. Local congregations, private associations, friendships, national governments… all of these things, inasmuch as they are real and valid ways for people to relate to each other and work together and form a society, will be subsumed in the world-mountain that is the church.

All of it. I can’t read the news without my vision of the church getting bigger. I can’t read about economics without my vision of the church getting better. I can’t think about business, or logistics, or farming, without my vision of the church getting bigger.

And here’s Paul talking about building the church, like it’s all okay. Now, it’s not enough to be a component of God’s active retrofit of all of human civilization, he wants me (us) to build it. That’s exciting. It’s astounding. And it’s not too daunting, because as best I can tell, the church universal is still only made up of the church local. I build up the church by building up my church.

And, hey, look. I get to help build the church by writing review questions for a sermon about building the church. The challenge is following the sermon, and not the pictures in my head. (And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here…”) Talk about scope creep!

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