Attentiveness: Church

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist


I believe North Americans think far too little of the Church, and of their own local church.

In fact, local churches are God’s strategy, plan, political philosophy, and idea for both personal and social transformation. God puts a lot at stake in the Church. It is true. In Jesus Christ we have the beginning of the movement for “Thy Kingdom (to) come on earth as it is in heaven.”

The greatest renovation that will ever occur in all of creation comes through the Church.

God’s plan for the transformation of wickedness into righteousness (a fundamental theme of the Psalms and Proverbs) is the Church. Counseling, politics, summer camps, retreats, even seminaries may be related to this cosmic work becoming “known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). Hopefully they do serve the Church. But they are not God’s plan. They are not the Church. God’s plan is that the Church, rooted in faith in Jesus Christ, will reveal to the powers seen and unseen that Jesus is Lord of all.

Paul’s statements on the church in Ephesians are foundational for what the Church is really all about: “…so that through the church, the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10).

Last Sunday we came a few minutes late to worship with two of our children and eight of our grandchildren. We arrived to music of praise that was strong and uplifting. The liturgy was profound and transformative. When I recited the collect of the day I was stunned by these beautiful words: “O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity…” What a remarkable phrase: power is seen in mercy and pity, not judgment or destruction.

I was glad that our grandchildren heard (and some recited) those inspirational words. How remarkable: the creator of the universe, who has all power to create or destroy, shows his power in showing mercy and pity.[1] The next phrase should have been a command to us: “Go and do likewise.”

How necessary for our society today and at the same time how absolutely counter-cultural. To have power and then to use it to show pity and mercy is almost unheard of. Except in the Church. Power today—military, political, social media, advertising—seldom is mentioned in the same sentence with mercy or compassion.

After attending worship, I went back to reading a new book by Dr. Justin Barrett of Blueprint 1543.[2] As an experimental psychologist (and a very good anthropologist) Barrett’s new book Thriving with Stone Age Minds: Evolutionary Psychology, Christian Faith, and the Quest for Human Flourishing (BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity) is very important.[3] The book is built around the question of human thriving. Do humans thrive simply because they have no conflict and their basic needs are met? No.

What most intrigued me in the first chapters is the description of what makes humans unique. It has to do with the ability to develop complex communication, socially creative and interesting relationships and self-control.

Yes, self-control. Patience and self-control are essentially human characteristics reflecting the image of God.

To show mercy or compassion requires self-control. To properly show love requires self-control. In fact, as I have discussed on other occasions, patience and self-control are “instrumental virtues.” Without these two, other virtues cannot be properly expressed.

I believe the Church in North America needs to zero in on developing this basic virtue of self-control, so that the world might believe.

Again, “…so that through the church, the wisdom of God…might now be made known…”

[1] The Greek word that the liturgists are clearly basing this on is Splagchnizomai. It is a strange sounding word that refers to being moved deeply in your gut with compassion for others.
[2] About Blueprint 1543.
[3] Read Thriving with Stone Age Minds.

Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.

 

 

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