Unto A Perfect ManGroping toward the formulation of a workable wheat and tares polity
In Hebrews 5 the admonishment is given for us to grow up in the faith, growing up being evidenced by our ability to eat doctrinal red meat. An appropriate measure of adulthood would, thus, show itself by less whining for milk. Personal maturity is further defined in the matter of taking our places as capable and experienced teachers, no longer desiring or needing to lag behind in the capacity of uncertain, eternal students or bickering novices.
Growing up, of course, is disturbing and hateful to the sinful heart. It hints of being unfair, of having too much expected of us, the harshness of a holy God. Childish freedom and irresponsibility is the favorite hiding place of the spiritual delinquent. The sweetness of imagined independence is the preferred immunity.
Ephesians 4:13ff delivers a like admonishment to the corporate body. Its application is that our Lord went through hell so that we would be brought into the “unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (mature) man. . . “ The apostle emphasizes the unity of the body. The word one is used repeatedly in his exhortation to grow up.
Is this much-emphasized point merely an eschatological sentence? Does it have reality only as doctrinal theory, a dream or a best-case future prospect, such as our promised glorification? Or is this oneness thing supposed to take place in the here-and-now?
If the reader will allow one more inquiry, briefly consider another line of questioning. Why does the subject of unity seem to imply liberalism and the effeminate, ecumenism caucus in the church? Why, at the same time, does purity and strict construction in doctrine seem to imply withdrawal, secession, smallness and weakness?
Let’s step aside and try to imagine unity as a pious dream for the moment. We sheepishly enter a reverie of silence and humility. Our senses are peaked to envision the living Christ, although only the effect of His glory is to be seen, as if He were just over the horizon. Our surprise is heightened, by instantly becoming conscious of His Bride, who moves about evenly, whisking her robes of white. She is seen as a huge company, a beaming fabric knit as one, flowing with a reflected grace and purpose. Yes, we are able to discern a few individuals. Many are people we have never seen, people from every walk and birth, and some that we are shocked to see, men whom we recall as hostile and contentious, but they too are in strange glistening clothing and they all are intent on the Savior, not even noticing our presence.
There is an unexplainable urgency to leave, but still we see revelers and we see clods, boisterous men and mild, those who seem overcome with the grandeur of the place and occasion. Others stand with empty hands, their arms raised as if pleading, flustered smiles on faces that are fastened to Christ.
I notice one who, for some reason, to me resembles David. There are men who had committed awful sins, even Pharisees, some who had tried to live with confidence in their morality, service and exactness of thought. These are bowed low. They murmur thankful prayers as they place fitting talents at the feet of Messiah.
The scene mists over, but we wonder about the harmony that seemed to be such a reality. Specific words were not discerned but everyone moved with purpose and cooperation. There was an obvious joy and evident teamwork that characterized the crowded area around the Lord.
There had been a strong desire to join in as we stared in awe, but the impotence of dreams subdued our urge. We had withdrawn and found a place in which to consider our own offering, realizing that our talents had become greatly diminished as we began to awaken. Having observed those we had thought of as witless or compromisers obviously engaged and concentrating on their service in the presence of Christ, we are now humbled further and made more ready to strive and work. Eyes blinking, we return to the world of relative discord and shameful distrust and mutiny.
Seeing the true body, even if it was a vision or dream, we realize more acutely the need to persist in working together. We would fear the tendency to gather our ecclesiastical marbles and head for the gate and would insist, instead, on making the courts of the church do their job. We would learn better how to fight and not to quit.
Heresy trials would be in vogue again. Presbyteries would be bound to searching out Scriptural answers and rendering Christ-honoring verdicts. Theological exams would take on a dramatic new importance. The watching world might get a sharper impression of the ecclesiastical forum.
According to Scripture approval is brought about by means of dispute and division. [I Cor 11:19] Because of sin, important matters often cannot be penetrated or established through peaceful discourse alone. Contention must frequently become the mother of research and discovery. This may be disagreeable, even a most disgusting feature of Christ’s Church. We tend to misjudge the matter, thinking that approval is supposed to come through other, more “genteel” process. Who can argue with success, the popularity of personality and compromise? Are these not more intelligent tools for the theological forge?
Man desires ease and economy. He mistakes the instant prize of concession and compromise for the more difficult and valuable fruit of true Christian unity. Managed tranquillity is the modern sign of success. The First Church of Increase and Tranquillity is the envy of most modern pastors.
My out-of-body, that curious and amazing apparition, very much agitated me. Nothing I had seen in the dream would fit. The reality of the church that I knew, that I had worked in for thirty years, had other goals and values. There had to be an answer. So I thought that, perhaps, there might be an underlying union, some kind of a basic harmony that existed, but couldn’t be seen or recognized by humans. Maybe it was the same as our being declared “just” even though our true sanctification hadn’t progressed very far at all. God was willing to receive us as legally righteous, even though we were still living and daily sinners.
Yes, that really had to be it. I decided that God must receive the Bride of Christ as though she were united and living in harmony. He must look at her now on some vicarious or purely representative basis. His descriptions had to be of the ideal, while those in the church of real history scrapped and fought for their own particulars, their trace of actual cooperation being counted for the whole. Everybody has their man. Redeemed churchmen, able to see only the immediate ground on which they are standing, defended or contested that distinctive spot with life and limb. Pentecostals liked another approach, Evangelicals and Lutherans still another.
I wanted to go back, to visit once more the bright ephemeral plane. So I tried to dream, an exercise akin to trying to write a poem before noon on any given day. Sleeping on my back, usually my best position for serious dreaming, I waited for another airy visit. The first few nights went by with out any night-fruit, at least not anything I could remember. Finally, on the third attempt, my rare and blinding vision returned.
There was the Bride, her clothing gleaming as a brilliantly lighted stadium. Deafening choruses of “Holy, Holy, Holy Is The Lord Of Hosts” rang out from the creatures that surrounded the Throne. I awoke, my memory stunned with the sight, but there was no audible statement. All the Scriptures on the Body began, once again, to come to mind.
The prohibition against “judging another man’s servant” bugged me. I thought of someone who once criticized my employee. The same scenario had occurred concerning my mother. I, myself, had made occasional complaint about the person and even about mom, but no one else could do so without provoking my wrath. This attitude reflects the jealousy of God who created us.
Along with this I pondered the many passages that extol the special construct of the Church. The Apostle Paul, whom we consider the top of the apostolic class, calls himself the “least” and, indeed, unfit for the office. [I Cor 15:9] King David, an adulterer and murderer, we receive as the sweet singer of Israel, the “apple of God’s eye.”
Speaking of David, the man never would have been put in nomination for deacon in any of our church boards. His poetry notwithstanding, he would have represented too great a risk, too bawdy of character.
I’ve considered writing a book about why the prophet Jonah, while on the evangelist’s speaking circuit, would have done what he did. His trail-blazing wasn’t only in surviving the giant fish. Cultural impact, concern for eternal souls and duty were not his first priority, though, because of his ultimate success, he would have been the envy of all modern evangelists.
His attitude aside, the triumph in Nineveh would be documented, packaged and presented in church growth seminars Mediterranean wide. Jonah would have also been highly sought after for his strict views of separation and church purity. He had good reasons for not wanting to bring the gospel to the enemies of his country. There was no way he could imagine the salvation of such dedicated pagans. He was so sure of God’s grace that He didn’t want the opportunity for mercy to even become a possibility. Some of his theology was deadly accurate.
Unity, that rare and illusive commodity, perhaps must be held on deposit in the righteous merit of Christ our Lord. Our practical investment, our valiant attempts to buy up scarce ingredients or to manufacture our own model is a pastime of dubious value. After all, the brotherhood of man, and all that, is not in our beloved theology.
In any case, it appears that we must maintain the quest, keep up our front. Official status must always be at the ready. Prayer is still our first and primary tool as we strive to fight the good fight. God, in His wisdom and mercy, will bring about the concord and growth that He desires.
Rev. Dale K. Dykema