• Steven Marsh

Jesus Christ Is the Foundation of the Church: a Reflection on Acts 16:16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22

It’s all about Jesus. At least it’s supposed to be. Competing orthodoxies about Christianity seem to pit us against one another as opposed to bring us together. I find op-ed columnist David Brooks’ comment insightful, “So long as you believe that you are the captain of your own life, you will be drifting farther and farther from the truth.”[1]

Jesus is the foundation of the Church, but which Jesus? If Jesus is a private figure doling out salvation one person at a time, then our “followership” is highly individualistic. This Jesus provides us a pathway to heaven. However, if Jesus came to create a new community, a community that is about the collective whole and its betterment, we want to learn from him on this new way of living. This Jesus is the Living Teacher who walks among us.[2]

Dividing Jesus into two weakens the foundation and distorts God’s mission. “Mission is not what we do for God, but what God is doing through us in the world.”[3] It is the community of Jesus followers, the Church, that God uses to love others into the kingdom of God. As believers we are individuals, but we are most importantly a community, with one another and the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By faith, Jesus lives his life through us. In John 17:21 Jesus says, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Unity in the Godhead is essential for the foundation and mission of the Church. Notice John 17 verses 20-21 and verses 22-23. Each block consists of three hina clauses with a kathos clause separating the first and second. The first and second hina clause in each block involves the oneness of the believers while the third involves the effect on the world. The kathos clause in each block holds up for believers the model of the unity of Jesus and the Father. That they all may be one (21a). Just as you, Father, in me and I in you (21b). That they also may be one in us (21c). Thus the world may believe that you sent me (21d). That they may be one (22b). Just as we are one, I in them and you in me (22c-23a). That they may be brought to completion as one (23b). Thus the world may come to know that you sent me (23c).[4]

The foundation of the Church is Jesus not a particular set of beliefs or practices. He spoke of peace, reconciliation, and wholeness. Remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus is most critical. [5] The book of Revelation is clear in this regard. Our faithfulness will be rewarded; Christ’s enduring presence is with us; salvation is at hand; justice will be fulfilled; and grace is a gift.[6]

Unity, with brothers and sisters in Christ who have different interpretations of the Scriptures, is a fundamental principle in the Reformed tradition. Can we come to the place that our unity in Jesus Christ, the one who was obedient, suffered, died, raised from the dead and ascended into heaven for humanity to know new life in him, be the common ground on which we stand?

Union in Christ led Paul and Silas in the Acts text to deal with three types of captivities in order to demonstrate that there is really only one. Paul and Silas were captive to the Most High God. The slave girl was captive to a spirit of divination. And the jailer was captive to “duty.”[7] Jesus’ prayer demonstrates that we are bound, that is captive, to God. Jesus prayed, “I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one.”[8] Unity trumps schism.

Jesus is not divided. He is both private figure and living Teacher. The Gospel has two legs: personal faith and social justice. Progressive Christianity seems to rely most heavily on the leg of social justice whereas conservative Christianity the leg of personal faith. As followers of Jesus, we are called to make disciples of Jesus. That means we must stand on both legs! “Jesus taught us to do some really difficult things: forgive 77 times, feed the hungry, renounce violence, love our enemies, suffer for what is right.”[9] Like the psalmist, let’s embrace God’s sovereignty and “unmask our idols of consumption and warfare, turn away from what is expedient and seek to do justice, and live gratefully.”[10]

Jesus is the foundation of the Church. Jesus saves individuals, builds a human community, and ends injustice by making all things new. Remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus is not “a method of guaranteeing salvation” but “the acknowledgment and proclamation of astonishingly good news.”[11] It’s all about Jesus.

[1]David Brooks, The Road to Character (New York City, New York: Random House, 2015), 198-199.

[2]Ideas adapted from Jim Wallis’ On God’s Side (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2013), 25-42.

[3]Jennifer Haddox, “Whose mission?” in Presbyterians Today, June/July 2012, 4.

[4]Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI (Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966), 769.

[5]The phrase “…remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus is taken from Diana Butler Bass’, A People’s History of Christianity (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009). See Bass’ book for further development and articulation of the idea.

[6]Ideas gleaned from Joyce Hollyday in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, 535, 537, and 539.

[7]This idea regarding “captivity” gleaned from David G. Forney in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 526.

[8]John 17:23

[9]Todd Friesen, The Christian Century, August 22, 2012, 32.

[10]Marcia Y. Riggs in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, 532.

[11]John M. Buchanan, “Grace before anything” in Christian Century, June 27, 2012, 3.

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