Practising Ministry 14: New Heaven, New Earth

Christians believe there’s more to life than this. As we’ve seen in this series, God created the world (and us) to live perfectly, relating to both Him and one another. We, however, rebelled against God, which meant He had to come as Jesus, take the punishment for our sin, thus paving the way for us to return to Him. The Church, which is  made up of Jesus followers, share this Good News with others, while also waiting in anticipation for Jesus’ return, when He will finally set all things right.

What will that be like, when Jesus returns, and all things are put right again? That’s the purpose of this post: to think about the future, and what it is that Christians are waiting for and witnessing to.

The verses from the Bible which describe this are, in my opinion, some of the most beautiful and hopeful verses you could read:

Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21:1-4 NIVUK)

Certain aspects of this passage (and Revelation as a whole) are pictorial, and shouldn’t be taken literally. Other aspects, however, definitely are, and should be!! In this instance, it can be taken literally that God will one day come and “wipe every tear from [our] eyes, there will be no more death or mourning or crying for the old order of things has passed away”.

In other words, when Jesus returns, God will finally set the world right; something which was begun during Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Just as the Old Testament acted as a sign pointing to Jesus, so Jesus ministry points forward to the time when God will finally deal with the evils of this world. Those who put their faith in Jesus will also experience resurrection to this world: we will live with one another and with God in the way which He intended from the beginning.

This is the sure and certain hope of the Christian faith. The Bible makes many promises, most of which have been fulfilled so far. I therefore think it likely that this final promise will also be fulfilled.

What do Christians do in the meantime? I believe we are called to act as signs for the world which is to come. For example, if the New Creation is a place where tears are wiped away, then the Church should be a place where people experience comfort and support.

Our mission is to point forward to the New Creation. Obviously, what we experience now is but a pale shadow of what we will experience then, and anything we can do now, we only manage because of the grace of God. But we are still called to live out the reality of the New Creation in our world today; the hope being that some will come, experience this, and eventually believe for themselves that God has given each of us this wonderful hope for our future.

Practising Ministry 13: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper

In the last post, we thought about the Church: what it is and what it’s meant to do. In this post, we will think about two things the Church does, and why they matter.

The Church exists to share the Good News of Jesus. One element of this involves gathering together, usually on Sunday, to worship God.

During regular worship, there are two things which are of particular significance in the life of the Church: Baptism, and Communion. These are often called, “sacraments” or “ordinances” because they have a particular purpose. The Protestant Church only believes there are two sacraments, because these have a direct link to the instructions of Jesus.

Baptism
At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives this clear instruction:

‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:18-20 NIVUK)

Throughout Church history, people have fallen out over Baptism: who can/should be baptised, when should a Baptism occur, how is it administered, and so on. Despite this, there is, I think, general agreement about what Baptism signifies: it is a recognition of a person’s faith, and a way of welcoming them into God’s family.

Some might suggest Baptism begins someone’s faith journey. I don’t think that’s the case: Baptism is a recognition of someone’s declared faith (if an adult) or the expression of the hope someone will one day confess the faith of their family (if a child).

The act of Baptism is therefore an important step on the journey, but it is not the first step. The first step, I believe, happens when God reveals Himself through His Holy Spirit, and calls us back to Him through Christ. Being baptised in response to God’s grace is therefore a very special moment in a Christian’s life, and can often sustain us when we face difficult times.

The Lord’s Supper
This has many names in Christian tradition: the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper. But in each instance, the actions are broadly the same, and follow the pattern of Jesus:

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’ (Matthew 26:26-29 NIVUK)

Jesus words (as you would expect!!) speak for themselves. When the Church shares in bread and wine, we remember Jesus’ death, and how this He took the punishment for our sin, making it possible for God to justly forgive us and reconcile us to Him.

Both these signs, Baptism and Communion, were left for us in the Church as a help: visual images to help us understand a deeper spiritual meaning, but also as a way of sustaining us through our Christian lives. As Jesus Himself says, however, this is only until He drinks the new wine in God’s Kingdom: in other words, these things sustain us until Jesus returns. Bur more on that in the next post!

Practising Ministry 12: The Church

The Church is not a building, the Church is not a steeple.
The Church is not a resting-place, the Church is a people!

I am the Church! You are the Church!
We are the Church together!
All who follow Jesus, all around the world,
Yes, we’re the Church together.

If you grew up in and around Church circles, or attended Sunday School, you might recognise this little chorus.

I suppose it goes without saying that the Church is not a building. Not that we should become complacent. I have tried hard to get into the habit of referring to “the Church building”, so as to make it clear when I am talking about bricks and mortar, and when I’m talking about something much bigger, wider, and more stunning than even the most impressive Gothic Cathedral.

What is “the Church”? Put simply, it is the collective term for people that believe in God, and that He is known only through Jesus Christ. The fact that this is collective means you cannot be “the Church” on your own: the gathering and belonging together is fundamental.

That’s what the Church is. So what does it do?

Or, perhaps a better question is, “What is it meant to do?” Because, let’s be honest: the Church, over the years, hasn’t always been very good at doing what it’s supposed to do.

Firstly, the Church is meant to act as a witness to everything we’ve looked at so far in this series. In all my previous posts, we have explored some of the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith, and the Church is supposed to share this with other people. As a minister, I have a very particular role in sharing this faith with others.

The most vital aspect of the Christian faith that the Church is meant to share is the reality that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has created the means for us to be reconciled to Him, to enjoy the relationship with Him as it was meant to be, and to look forward to a time beyond death when we will live together, in the New Creation, with all who put faith in Jesus, and with God.

The second thing the Church is meant to do is act as a sign post to the future I’ve just described. In response to the belief that God will one day restore the world to how it was meant to be, we are called to offer help and support, and to show people what the Kingdom of God is like. It’s a place of healing, comfort and forgiveness. The ills of this world are dealt with, and people find rest, sometimes for their body, always for their soul. The Church is meant to achieve this by working against injustice in our world.

That’s what the Church is, what it’s meant to do, and by extension, what we as Christians are called to do as part of the Church.

If you’re reading this and this hasn’t been your experience of the Church: please know that I am truly sorry.

But know this: we in the Church are just the same as you outside of it. All of us are sinners in need of God’s grace. At it’s best, the Church is a collection of sinners who have found forgiveness though Jesus. So, of course we’re going to get things wrong, we aren’t perfect! But then again… no one is…! 

So, this presents a choice: you can either get things wrong on your own, and continue on your current path. Or you can get things wrong, and know there is One from whom you can receive forgiveness when you come to Him.