The Theatre of God’s Wisdom

“To me… this grace was given… to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”

Paul’s words in the third chapter of Ephesians are breath-taking. He’s saying that God uses the church (ekklesia) as a theatre to display His multi-faceted wisdom. You would think that because God doesn’t need the church, He would show His wisdom without them. But to grasp this truth is jarring to say the least. What a privilege it is for us to participate in such a high calling! Therefore, if the church is significant to God, then it must also be significant to us. I think it’s relevant to explore what the church is, how it functions, and why these are important.

What the Church Is

We can define the church as essentially being “God’s gathering”. Here, it’s assembled in two ways: visibly and invisibly. 

The visible church relates to the ekklesia that can be seen. In other words, the local church. This is where Christians gather to hear the preaching of the Word and to receive the administration of the sacraments (The Lord’s Supper and baptism). Of course, there are unbelievers in the local church who will not ultimately be saved. However, this doesn’t dismiss the fact that the visible church is God’s assembly. It’s here that He dispenses grace to His children, and primarily manifests His presence on earth.

The invisible church relates to the ekklesia that we can’t see. If salvation is primarily a work that’s done within by virtue of our union with Christ, then it follows that it’s impossible for us to identify with certainty who is a Christian. Therefore, the invisible church is the full number of God’s elect. In other words, it’s all of those who were united with Christ in His death and resurrection.

It’s both a visible and invisible organism that will culminate in the return of Christ. Here, the false believers will be removed, and the invisible church will finally be seen.

It is extremely important that you know this for two reasons. Firstly, if we elevate church to be invisible only, this produces neglect of the visible church. In other words, the heavenly gathering ends up consuming the earthly gathering. Here, we see some professing Christians meeting with others in a café and calling it “church”; others refuse to gather at all because they claim to “be” the church. But this is rooted in a failure to understand the nature of the visible church. Do you take the visible church seriously? Are you committed to your local gathering?

Secondly, other professing Christians collapse the invisible church, and treat the visible church as the ‘be-all and end-all’ of life. They forget that church is messy, sinners need to be changed, and even unbelievers gather in our midst. The visible church is a means to the end of the invisible church. It’s an expression of the true and perfect church above. People who dismiss the invisible church are setting themselves up for disappointment. On this side of eternity, church will be imperfect. The visible church may be true, but it is the invisible church that is the root of the church. When one is emphasised over the other, we are prone to all types of error. Do you think your church gathering will be the perfect? That’s far from the truth.

Together, the visible and invisible church exist to know God and to make God known. We not only hear God’s Word, we also preach it. We not only experience God’s grace, we also help others to experience it. This is why we exist as the assembly of God. Are you making an intentional effort to know God and make Him known in your world? Understanding the big picture will help you focus on what’s important.

How the Church Functions

Let’s continue unpacking our understanding of the church by discussing how it functions. Here, we will emphasise the ministry of the visible church.

God has not abandoned the church to figure out its own way around the maze. He has appointed a way for the church to grow in Christlikeness and remain healthy. Through the preaching of His Word and the administration of sacraments, the church is given a fountain of grace to grow in their heavenly journey. Further, church discipline is a blessing to the church’s order and stability.

This is tremendously important for the church. Without these appointed means, the church becomes an unidentifiable entity. There must be established truths promoted and exercised by the church. It has to know and preach about who it is, what it does, who it serves, how it gathers and why it exists. This is precisely what these means and methods accomplish. Have you been baptised? Do you partake of the Lord’s Supper? Do you come to church to engage all your energy in hearing the Word preached and sing together? This is so important to individual and communal growth.

However, with the above means, we assume that there must be people to enact them. God has not only appointed the means, but also the ministers of the church who implement these means. They are to shepherd the congregation into Christlikeness by preaching God’s Word well, conducting church discipline with wisdom, and administering the sacraments biblically. Such men are qualified for the office by displaying exemplary godliness and unique teaching abilities. They are selected by God through the church and placed in a position of authority and responsibility in order to keep it healthy and bring it back to order when it strays. This is how the church functions.

Understanding this is vital. Surely, we don’t think that people will baptise themselves? Or that the Word will preach itself? Or that discipline will happen automatically in a black hole? Indeed, there are many professing Christians who deny the need for pastors altogether. However, how will the church be steered biblically, or brought back to the centre when it’s straying, without an appointed team of men to do so? That is why pastors and elders are crucial to the life of each congregation, and to your spiritual growth. Do you honour your pastors? Do you understand that they have been appointed by God Himself? If not, then you won’t see the importance of the sacraments. And if that’s the case, you’ll be hindered in your heavenly journey.

Conclusion

Therefore, it becomes clear that the church is important to God and should also be important to us. We have seen what the church is, how it functions properly and biblically, and why these are important. And we can be confident that God is displaying His glorious and manifold wisdom through the church – what a riveting and heart-exploding thought!

Resources for more in-depth research

Books

  • Grudem’s, “Systematic Theology”
  • Peter O’Brien’s, “The Church as a Heavenly and Eschatological Entity”
  • Michael Horton’s, “Pilgrim Theology”

Blogs

Videos

Why do you exist?

Why Do You Exist?

Have you ever paused to ask yourself, ‘what’s the point of my life?’ If you have, then maybe, you’ve felt lost and deeply terrified. And if you haven’t, then ask yourself now – ‘what’s my purpose?’ It’s an intimidating thought, but everyoneshould wrestle with it. We can easily go through the everyday motions and forget to ask ourselves the most important of questions. So push aside the chaos, snap out of autopilot and really consider it – ‘why am I here?

Is This It?

Some people say there’s no purpose. Others say we can never know our purpose. But everyone lives for something. Maybe it’s religion, enjoyment or money. Or perhaps it’s career, popularity, or family. But surely, these can’t be the reasons for our entire existence. They often leave us asking, ‘is this it?’ Either we feel dissatisfied; or these things are eventually taken from us; or we’re eventually taken from them when we die. This proves that they can’t give us ultimate purpose. So the question remains, ‘why do I exist?’

Made For More

The reason why you desperately search for purpose but feel unfulfilled is because you were made for more. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. It just doesn’t fit. You were made for something that doesn’t leave you dissatisfied; that can’t be taken from you; and that will remain after you die. The only possibility that makes sense is that you were made for God. You were made to enjoy Him in an intimate relationship. That’s why you exist. “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” – 1 Corinthians 8:6.

The Problem

The problem is that even though you were made for God, you’ve spent your entire life chasing after money, popularity, power, self and much more. He deserves your life and is the only one who can fulfil you. God wants the best for you – Himself. But you’ve persisted in rejecting Him. This is called sin. And God is greatly angered by sin. He’s warned that He will punish guilty sinners in hell forever. Therefore, your rebellion has provoked His separation from you. That means you can’t fulfil your purpose. As long as you’re separated from God, you’ll always be dissatisfied. And your dissatisfaction will only intensify with each passing day. “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” – Romans 2:6-8.

The Solution

But because of God’s love, He’s taken the initiative to rescue you from your dissatisfaction and future punishment. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ on a rescue mission. Jesus lived the perfect life sinners were required to live; He died on the cross and received the punishment of rebels, so that God wouldn’t be angry with them; and then three days later He gloriously came back to life. Jesus did everything necessary to save you. All you have to do is turn from your sin and completely trust in Him for salvation. By surrendering to Jesus, you’ll escape hell and finally have an answer to the question, ‘why do I exist?’ “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit” – 1 Peter 3:18.

You exist to know God, so come and know Him today.

Means of grace

The Avenues of Grace for Growth

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?” (Romans 11:34)

God is infinite. And being infinite, He is beyond our comprehension. There is no way our minds can process or exhaust the essence of God. He is in a category of His own. Even if God somehow tried to upload the infinite data of His Being into our fragile and finite frames, it would be an overload of information and we would likely disintegrate.

Is there any hope to know God, then? There is a tendency in our day to see mediation as a problem. People would much rather experience God through a direct revelation than spend one hour with Him in the Word. The means God uses to communicate Himself is minimised, and mediation is perceived as a cold and inferior spiritual experience. In other words, there is a fascination with immediate experiences of God, while mediated experiences are treated as a second-rate spiritual encounter. Of course, the solution is not sacramentalism – the practice of elevating the means as an end in themselves. But the remedy to the problem of how we can know God is not in abandoning the means either. It’s precisely the opposite; mediation is the solution. Jesus Christ is the very incarnation of this reality. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

God has allocated and set in place particular avenues which strengthen the faith of His people and mould them into the image of Christ. In other words, He has promised to reveal Himself through certain means that He has graciously given for their growth. And these avenues are not ‘inferior’ experiences of God, but God’s way of meeting with us in our finite, limited, broken humanity.

Christian: if this is the case, then why would you withhold or deprive yourself of growth? Why would you intentionally put yourself in the way of harm by not attending to the means of grace? Why would you shoot yourself in the foot? Therefore, don’t just attend to the means of grace, throw yourself at them with faith and priority. Spend a meaningful amount of time in fervent prayer; engage expectantly in reading the Word; attend the local assembly on the Lord’s Day; partake of the Lord’s Supper; hear the preaching of the Word with enthusiasm; actively seek to share your faith and plead with sinners to be reconciled to God; spend some time fasting.

Yes, the means of grace are simply a means to an end – but they are a necessary means. What a joy and a privilege it is to know our God, and to have the means of grace given to us for the purpose of becoming more like Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).