God likes diversity. He created it. He calls us to celebrate it. And who’s us?
…….”The whole family on heaven and on earth…” (Eph 3: 15)
Paul has been speaking of what he calls a “mystery”: a revealed secret. And the secret was that the Gentiles would be fellow-heirs and sharers in the promise in Christ by the Gospel. It had been kept secret from former generations; it was a secret which the Jews had not even dreamt of. The young Paul had believed he should keep as far as possible from the Gentile. Circumcision taught him the duty of separation from the Gentile spirit and suggested hatred towards Gentile people, until at length, in God’s timing, the truth came out distinct and clear, that God was the Father of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews, for the same Lord over all is “rich unto all that call upon Him”. Look at that definition given by Paul of the Christian Church.
It is this, “the whole family in heaven and earth.”
First of all, this means that the Church of Christ is a society founded upon natural affinities: a family. There have been guilds, trade associations and unions for protecting the workers from oppression. We may join societies with people of similar taste: the bowling club, the pub quiz team, the local history society. These are external linkages, temporary, superficial.
It is upon another principle altogether that that which we call a family is formed. It is not built upon having the same interest, nor having the same opinion, but upon having the same nature. You don’t choose who shall be your brother; you cannot exclude your mother or your sister; it does not depend upon choice or arbitrary opinion at all, but is founded upon something deeper.
And precisely in the same way is the Christian Church formed upon natural affinity, and not upon artificial combination. The family, the whole family; in heaven and earth; not made up of those who call themselves brethren, but of those who are brethren; not founded merely upon the principles of a club, but upon the principles of kinship. Everything else is by choice.
So what does “denomination: mean? We unite ourselves with those of the same faith and opinions, forming.. what? A sect? The “church” is a much wider concept. You are born into a family, and is not made such by an appointment or by arbitrary choice.
Another thing which is taught by this definition is this, that the Church of Christ is a whole made up of diversity. We are told here it is the whole family, taking into it the great and good of ages past, now in heaven; and also the struggling, the humble, and the weak now existing upon earth. Here, again, the analogy holds good between the Church and the family. Never more than in the family is our true nature seen. All the diversities of human condition and character manifest themselves in the family. First of all, there are different genders: the two opposite poles of masculine and feminine, which contain within them all humanity which together, not separately, make up the whole of “man.”
Then there are the different kinds of affection: love, trust, respect…
And then there are different kinds of character: mature wisdom, integrity, tenderness , enthusiasm, humour, sadness.
Again, besides these, there are different kinds of conditions: rich, poor, ambitious, business, university, those in need of advice, invalid, old, infirm, invalid…
This is not accidental, but absolutely essential to the idea of a family; for so far as any one of them is lost, so far the family is incomplete. A family made up of one sex alone, all brothers and no sisters; or in which all are devoted to one pursuit; or in which there is no diversity of temper and dispositions……. the same monotonous repeated identity….. a sameness in the type of character…… this is not a family, it is only the fragment of a family. A celebration of differentness.
Man invented MacDonalds but God prefers a la carte.
And all these diversities of character and condition are necessary to constitute and complete the idea of a Christian Church. We are very prone to hero-worship specific qualities and to undervalue and depreciate excellences of an opposite character, the humble, meek, retiring qualities.
In God’s world, however, there is a place for the wren and the violet, just as truly as there is for the eagle and the rose.
In the Church of God there is a place for Dorcas making garments for the poor, and for Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, just as truly as there is for Elijah confronting a false religion by an implacablee opposition, for John the Baptist making a king tremble on his throne.
And more so, the Church of Christ takes not in one individual form of goodness merely, but every form of excellence that can adorn humanity. Nor is this wonderful when we remember who He was from whom this Church was named. It was He in whom centred all excellence a righteousness which was entire and perfect. But when we speak of the perfection of righteousness, let us remember that it is made not of one exaggerated character, but of a true harmony, a due proportion of all virtues united. In Him were found, therefore, that tenderness towards sinners which had no sympathy with sin; that humility which could be dignified, and was yet united with self-respect; that simplicity which is ever to be met with side by side with true majesty; that love which could weep over Jerusalem at the very moment when He was pronouncing its doom; that truth and justice which appeared to stand as a protection to those who had been oppressed, at the same time that He scathed with indignant invective the Pharisees of the then existing Jews.
There are two, only two perfect humanities. One has existed already in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the other is to be found only in the collective Church. Once, only once, has God given a perfect representation of Himself, the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person.
And if we ask again for a perfect humanity, the answer is, it is not in this Church or in that Church, or in this man or in that man, in this age or in that age, but in the collective blended graces, and beauties, and humanities, which are found in every age, in all churches, but not in every separate man. So, at least, Paul has taught us, Till we all come collectively, not separately in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man in other words, to a perfect humanity unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. 3.
The last thing which is taught us by this definition is, that the Church of Christ is a society which is forever shifting its locality and altering its forms. It is the whole church, the whole family in heaven and earth. So, then, those who were on earth, and are now in heaven, are yet members of the same family still. Those who had their home here, now have it there.
The Church of Christ is a society ever altering and changing its external forms. This is why history is so interesting: it shows the various stages of one family. Imagine being a pious Jew when Christianity entered this world; when all his religious system was broken up, the Temple-service brought to a violent end; when that polity which he thought was to redeem and ennoble the world was cast aside as a broken and useless thing. Must they not have been as gloomy and as dreary as those of the disciples, when He was dead who they trusted should have redeemed Israel? In both cases the body was gone or was altered, but a new spirit had arisen. And it is precisely so with our fears now.
Institutions pass, churches alter, old forms change and high-minded and good men cling to these as if they were the only things by which God could regenerate the world. Christianity appears to some men to be effete and worn out. Everything seems to be going wrong. Not like they used to be. But that’s like crying over a baby photo. Of course, the guy’s changed! All things change, all things outward change and alter; but the God of the Church lives on.
The Church of God remains under fresh forms the one, holy, entire family in heaven and earth.