In my last post I briefly mentioned a biblical principle regarding the purpose of the church, one that I didn’t develop. Although I’ve written on it before, some 3 years ago now, I think it’s worth taking a little deeper dive on it, first, because it’s a central biblical teaching, and second, because hardly anybody seems to know about it.
Its clearest expression is in Ephesians 3. We’ll get there in a bit, but first the big picture.
God has always had high plans for mankind.
He created the first man and woman in his own image, gave them dominion over the world (Ge 1.26-27) and made them capable of reproduction. It’s become obvious since then that their DNA was remarkably robust, containing information that has resulted in all kinds of different people—different melanin levels, different ethnic features, different heights, different body types, different hair color—and different hair quantity—different personalities, different abilities, different interests, different perspectives. These differences speak most expressly of the power and brilliance of the Creator, who placed all that potentiality into the first two people and gave them the ability to pass it on down the line.
From the beginning God’s people rebelled against him—as he knew they would—and from the beginning he had a plan to restore the relationship justly and powerfully and graciously (Ge 3.15). That plan included becoming one of us himself (Jn 1.14) and doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
As the plan proceeds, God’s intention to extend it around the globe becomes obvious early. When God identifies the specific ethnic group into which the Deliverer will come, he tells its patriarch, “in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen 22.18). This is a big plan, and it’s going to bring together a very diverse group of people—in fact, representatives from every type.
We have to read a long time before we get a clearer picture of how it will work. Israel, a single ethnic group, isn’t the end of the story; it’s not the mechanism for bringing everyone together. Only after the Word becomes flesh (Jn 1.14), and after he crushes the serpent’s head (Ge 3.15), does God reveal the mechanism.
It’s the church. On its founding day, Pentecost, it embraces people from all over the known world (Ac 2.9-11)—and then it expands to include Gentiles from Asia (Ac 10.1-2) and Gentiles from Africa (Ac 13.1) and Gentiles from Europe (Ac 16.14).
Think of it. Within just 20 years of Pentecost, the reach of the church has expanded to every known continent—the Americas and Australia, though populated, being unknown at the time.
And God is not going to be satisfied until his people include those “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Re 5.9).
It will happen.
And the mechanism is the church.
Now we’re ready for Ephesians 3.
Paul’s major point in this letter is that under the headship of Christ (Ep 1.22-23), the church unites Jews and Gentiles (Ep 2.11-22) in one body, breaking down “the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ep 2.14).
That statement doesn’t hit us very hard, because we don’t understand what the feelings were between Jews and Gentiles in those days. It was like the relationship between Jews and Palestinians today—or the Armenians and the Turks, or the Serbs and the Croats, or the Hutu and the Tutsi.
These people are never going to be friends.
And yet Paul says matter-of-factly that Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ, with nothing able to keep them apart. The centripetal force of unity in Christ counteracts—no, overwhelms—the centrifugal forces that normally, routinely, drive people apart. No social force can stand before the power of Christ to carry out his Father’s plan to unite all peoples in him.
At the climax of Ephesians 3, Paul writes that even the heavenly powers will be astonished at the power of God demonstrated by the unearthly unity of God’s people in the church (Ep 3.10).
What does it take to astonish somebody who goes to work in heaven every day?
By the grace of God, through the power of God, we the people of God can overcome barriers to unity that the world cannot—in ways that seize the attention and wonder of all who see.
There’s work to be done.