THE CHURCH: A BLUEPRINT
A blueprint is a visual representation of how something should be built and operate. In that sense, the images and metaphors used of the church in the New Testament (NT) provide a sort of blueprint to help us understand our identity. The primary word used to describe the people of God who belong to Him as a New Covenant people since the death, resurrection and giving of the Holy Spirit is ‘church’ or ‘assembly’ (Gk: ἐκκλησία). The NT uses various images/metaphors to help us understand our identity before the watching world. There is an evident delight expressed in this ‘mystery’ since it is through the church that ‘the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…according to his eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus’ (Eph. 3:10-11). These different metaphors illustrate to us various aspects of the identity of the church in the world from God’s perspective.
A LIVING PICTURE
Most images are characterised by the idea of living (therefore, growing & reproducing) metaphors.
- The flock of Christ (Jn. 10:1-18) shows us the care Jesus has for his people.
- The bride of Christ (Eph. 5:25-27) shows us the intimacy and value that Christ places on his people.
- The body of Christ (1 Cor. 12: 12-14) shows us that He directs his people in doing His work and that we belong to Him.
- The vine (Jn 15:1-11) shows us that we are to be dependent on Him for our sustenance, life and growth.
- The fellowship of the Spirit seems to focus on the Holy Spirit as the guarantor of our being kept in this world, (Phil. 2:1; 2 Cor. 13:14).
- The building or temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17; Eph. 2:20-21; 1 Pet. 2:5) shows this is how God is present in the world today.
- The church as the family or household of God (Eph. 2:19; Gal 6:10) shows us that our relationships with each other are likened to the family unit as God’s method of relating to all the families of the world (Eph. 3:14-15)
AN INANIMATE PICTURE
Perhaps one picture that stands out is Paul’s use of the phrase ‘For we are God’s fellow workers, you are God’s field, God’s building’ (1 Cor. 3:5-11). The building stands out as Paul’s description of the church is inanimate and focuses on people being ‘co-workers’ or ‘fellow workers’ with God in what He is doing. In this sense the church here on earth is not only something that is directly God’s work but also something that we are involved with. We should always be searching out for what God is doing and then join Him in it, just as Jesus did (Jn. 5:19), since He doesn’t need us, but does want us (Acts 17:24-25)
Paul uses this picture of a building to show certain aspects of a ‘church’. The foundation was laid (1 Cor. 3:10), and then a building is formed on the foundation with various materials (1 Cor. 3:12). This analogy helps us understand the nature of buildings: foundation, structure and even furniture. Clearly all of these are important for the ‘identity’ of the building. This useful analogy of the church shows that Church Planters are involved in shaping human aspects of the local church’s identity. The God-given identity of a people ‘blood-bought’ by Jesus (Acts 20:28) is clear, but that we as humans have a responsibility to see it shaped within a certain time and place (culture) is also important in forming the ‘identity’ of a church and its consequent ministry.
THE PRACTICAL OUTWORKING OF METAPHORS
As pastors, these are not just theoretical images, they have practical applications. For example the idea that we are ‘living stones’ (1 Pet. 2:4-5) and are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, means that we must care for each other; we are all important in the church. The text goes on to say that we are a ‘holy priesthood’ so each individual person has direct access to the Lord and is his representative to a watching world. That implies that we need to teach and practice intercession and prayer, to have times of corporate prayer, as well as actively exampling a personal walk & intimacy with the Lord.
THE WHEEL: AN ANALOGY
In view of our role as Christ’s co-workers and Church Planters, we’ve considered different images and analogies to use in helping to think and plan and pray about a church.
We didn’t just want a ‘straight line’ diagram. But something that would portray both the whole identity and also the parts which make up identity. Something that is both simple in concept but could be profoundly complex. Something which shows how the unseen values and beliefs influence our thinking and also shows the practical outworking of these in terms of ‘obeying and doing’.
We’ve found that the church described as a wheel, which has 3 essential components: the Hub, the Spokes and the Tyre is able to help us analyse the identity of a local church in different cultures and potentially help a local fellowship be effective in its calling. The Hub corresponds to our Core Beliefs – that which we believe, the Spokes to our Core Values – that which we want to practice, and the Tyre to our Core Rhythms – how we ‘obey and do’ that which we believe and desire to practice. We think this analogy of a ‘wheel’ is a useful way to to help understand our engagement with His work and we will be fleshing out this analogy in subsequent posts.