Friday, September 7, 2012

Life Together III: Unity and Peace

Once upon a time, I started blogging through my church's covenant. As with so many things, this has been swept aside by a combination of teaching, dissertating, and laziness. But, with my teaching schedule this semester fairly light, and the end of the dissertation drawing nigh, I've been looking for something not related to Jonathan Edwards (my dissertation's subject) to spend a minute or two here and there working on. I've also been trying to be more disciplined with my writing (thank you Stephen King), and I really need something to work on that's not related to Jonathan Edwards.
Did I mention I need a distraction from Edwards?

So, I thought I'd pick up a neglected blog series and carry it at least a step forward, even if I immediately have to go back to Edwards afterwards, and I thought my series on the church covenant was a good one to get back to. (Possibly inspired by reciting it for communion the other morning during the service.)
Without further ado, onward to the covenant!

"We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

-Capitol Hill Baptist Church Covenant, Paragraph 2

As with the first paragraph of the covenant, this statement acts as a declaration rather than as a law. Christians are people who do this, it is descriptive of our life together as a church. We are not to read this as "if we work and pray, then we will have unity and peace." Instead, we should see this as a snapshot of the church in action. We know that the Gospel is at work when we see Christians living working and praying for unity and peace. To that end, there are three things going on in this paragraph:

  1. What we hope for;
  2. How we strive to achieve that hope;
  3. Where our hope is found;
  1. The Christian church hopes for unity and peace. Very often the world defines both of these concepts as simply being a lack of conflict. We as a nation are at peace with other nations if we are not fighting with them and unified with ourselves if we are not at each others' throats. Yet the church is called to a higher level of unity and peace based not on anything in ourselves, but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are unified and at peace with God and with each other because of the forgiveness that comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is pictured by marriage. Consider the writing of the Italian Reformer
    We know that the custom of marriage is that two become one flesh; and the goods of both become common, so that the husband claims the dowry of the wife, and in like manner the wife claims the house and all the riches of the husband... In the same way God has married his most dearly-beloved Son with the faithful soul, who having nothing of her own but sin, the Son of God nevertheless has not disdained to take her for his well-beloved spouse. And by the uniting and knitting together of this most holy matrimony, the thing that belongs to the one becomes the other's, so that Christ says then, 'the dowry of the soul, my dearly-beloved spouse, that is to say, your sins, the transgression of the law, the wrath of God against you... the prison of hell and all your other evils, are now under my power, and are mine to order, and it is mine to do with the dowry whatever pleases me, and therefore I will cast it upon the alter of my cross, and make it of no further effect.'
    God then seeing his Son all filled with the sin of his spouse, scourged him, and killed him upon a wooden cross; but he because he was his most dearly-beloved and obedient Son, he raised him again from death to life, and gave unto him all power in heaven and in earth, and has set him on his right hand. The spouse in like manner says with most hearty rejoicing, 'the realms and empires of my well-beloved husband are mine. I am queen and empress of heaven and earth, my husband's riches... his holiness, his innocency, his righteousness, his Godhead, with all his virtue and power, are my riches; and therefore I am holy, innocent, righteous, and godly; there is no spot in me... (The Benefit of Christ's Death

    In the same way, Christians in the church are united to each other as a group of people whose unity and peace are found outside of themselves and in the person and work of Christ. Because Christ takes our sin away from us, the obstacles to unity and peace are removed. And because he gives us his own righteousness, the foundation for fellowship is laid in heaven.
  2. Christians strive for these things by work and prayer.
    "Work" in this instance means that we obey the commands given by Christ to the church: we practice baptism, we celebrate the Lord's Supper, we exercise discipline, and above all we declare the Gospel to the world and to each other.
    "Prayer" in this context is the regular public acknowledgement of the absolute sovereignty of God over every aspect of church life, but especially over the unity and peace of the church. The very act of praying is a public declaration that we cannot hope to build this ourselves, but instead must rely on the mercy and power of God to do the work.
    By including both work and prayer, our covenant recognizes that the church is not a passive entity (work), even as it believes fully that God and God alone is capable of bringing to fruition his promises (prayer).
  3. Ultimately, our hope for unity and peace are found in the Holy Spirit. It is very difficult to talk about the Holy Spirit, since His primary function Scripturally seems to be to direct our attention to Jesus. Every time we think about the Spirit's role, our minds should to some extent slide off of Him and onto Christ. This may explain why so few books have been written on the Spirit (so few good ones, at any rate- to the best of my knowledge limited to Abraham Kuyper's, John Owen's, R.C. Sproul's, Sinclair Ferguson's, and Francis Chan's; if you know of any others kindly drop me a note as I'd be interested to read them). And yet, the Spirit is the means by which God binds his church together. Our unity and peace are built by and in the Spirit. He works in the hearts of believes to draw the church together or, in the case of judgment or trial, withdraws and allows it to fall apart. And honestly, I don't know that I have much more to say about the work of the Spirit in the church. Not that there isn't much more to say, just that I need to give the issue more thought and attention than I have in the past. (Hence- Kuyper's book is on my "to-read" list, as is Owen's.) 
All of this to say that a true church (and may that always be our church) will work and pray for the bond of peace and unity of the Spirit. Regular reminders that we should be doing so should serve to spur us on to further prayer and work both when gathered as a church body and on our own.

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