Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Everybody's wrong--but me, Moses, and Paul

Just joking! But it's to make this point: I don't think either evangelism or worship necessarily qualifies as the number one reason for being for the church, and therefore for the Assemblies of God. I think the central reason for being is as this age's chief manifestation of the "Immanuel" principle, the promise of "God with us."

It seems like the core Scriptural promise is this: "I will live among you, and I will not despise you. I will walk among you, I will be your God, and you will be my people" (Lev 26:11-12, also Exod 29:45). In the Old Testament this was first manifested in divine fellowship with humanity in the Garden, but sin interrupted that. After that, a few walked with God, such as Enoch, Noah, and Abraham (Gen 5:24; 6:9; 48:15). But it was really with the building of the wilderness tabernacle and then the temple in Jerusalem that humanity might once again experience the Immanuel principle, "I will live among you" (Exod 40:34-38; 1 Kings 8:10-11; 2 Chron 7:1-3).

Even in the Old Testament, Isreal knew that the earth couldn't contain the LORD (1 Kings 8:27; Ps 11:4, cf. Acts 7:49-50). Indeed, the prophets promised a greater temple (Hag 2:7-9; Ezek 36:26-28; Zech 14). And Isaiah promised a child named "Immanuel" (Isa 7:14). When Jesus came as the incarnate Logos, God was "tabernacling" among his people (John 1:14); indeed, he is the one in whom the fullness of God dwelt bodily (Col 1:19; 2:9).

In turn, Jesus promised an extension of the Immanuel principle when he promised a new temple to replace the one that Roman crucifixion destroyed (John 2:19ff). This made the stone temple obsolete (Luke 23:34; Acts 7:49-50; Heb 9). It had been only a shadow of the true heavenly temple that followed the resurrection. Eternally replacing the former shadowing human-made temple, the Body of Christ fulfilled all the promise that God lives with his people. Indeed, individual believers are God's temple (1 Cor 6:15-20; Eph 2:21-22) and the corporate body is the temple (1 Cor 3:16-17; 1 Pet 2:5). The church exists as the fulfillment of the Immanuel principle.

Of course, we still live in the tension between New Testament fulfillment in Christ's finished work and final consummation in the eschaton. John's visions promise further fulfillment (Rev 11:19; 15:5, 8; 21:3). So the New Jerusalem has no temple building, because the Lord God Almighty himself and the Lamb are the temple (Rev 21:22; cf. 1 Kings 8:27; 2 Chron 2:6; 6:8; Isa 66:1).

God dwelling with his people is the whole point--it never was about stone and timber, any more than atonement was about the blood of bulls and goats being offered by faulty priests.

So, we the Church exists as God's temple, as the end times manifestation of the Immanuel principle. That's our most basic and over-riding reason for being. And in that temple, worship rises to God, and from that temple, works of mercy should flow, and from that temple should issue the clarion call of evangelism.

DISCUSSION STARTER: What does this line of thought imply for the all-too common hope that there will somehow again by a stone and timber temple made with human hands?


  1. Not to intrude on an in-house discussion among Pentecostals (I'm an Anglican), but I think that eschatological watch-setting by the measure of events in the Middle East is exactly the wrong way to go.

    That said, I do think that the eschatological temple involves materiality and physicality, but only in the sense of the materiality and physicality of the glorified churchly body of Christ. This is what the affirmation of the resurrection of the "body" in the Apostles' Creed intends against docetisms and gnosticisms of the first and twenty-first centuries alike.

    Speaking for the present, the Resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost indicate that those who are "in Christ" have already come to the heavenly Zion (Cf. Heb. 12:22) and anticipate/participate in the life of the world to come by their vital, embodied union with Jesus. This is the whole point of baptism, Eucharist, and the experience of the Spirit's gifts in the Church.

    It is also the eschatological warrant for evangelism, worship and every other "sacramental" thing we do on pilgrimage to the consummation (Cf. Isa. 2:2-5). You've got to put the biblical-theological horse before the practical-theological cart, however, or it all devolves into the mundane pragmatics of human resource management and competition for market share.

    Blessings from your sometime student,

  2. Like that complaint about "mundane pragmatics of human resource management," Michael. It's a punchy way of critiquing an over-anthropocentric ecclesiology.

  3. I agree with your comments about the overriding purpose of the church. I can worship with out loving other members of the Body. I can evangelize with out loving sinners or the Body. Seeing ourselves as the Temple requires that mutual love be present. They will know we are Christians by our love one for another, not by our worship. I believe that the Body of Christ has been damaged by the thought that I can worship God without loving you. With your thought on Immanuel, how can the foot say I don't need the arm?