The glory of the church

In his book Family of God: A Study of the New Testament Church, Batsell Barrett Baxter’s first chapter is entitled, “The Glory of the Church.” It’s a fine title and a marvelous way to begin the subject. Brother Baxter gave eight reasons why the church is glorious: its origin, its foundation, its beginning, its relationship, its universality, its simplicity, and its destiny. It’s worth reading and appreciating.

His chapter needs no rewriting or revision. So allow me to take another tack that complements the points above. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, and the first of many problems he tackled was that of divisiveness. In the longest section of the letter (chapters 1-4), he wrote,

Now we do speak wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are perishing. Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory, 1 Corinthians 2.6-7.

When Paul says “for our glory,” he speaks to the church in Corinth and about the church at large. Thistelton calls this phrase “profoundly moving.” If baptism is “for the forgiveness of sins,” we must recapture the truth that God’s wisdom in the church is “for our glory.” (The same preposition eis reigns in both phrases.)

Glory is God’s revelation of himself in all his splendor. He seeks to share himself with us. His glory is making himself present in our midst. But we must welcome him, John 14.23. We must seek out his wisdom, reflect his holiness, interact with his love. Then we will be a church for his glory.

Our glory is in the united church

Paul’s argument here seeks to motivate the Corinthians to put away their arrogant, divisive ways. He wants them to see how they are acting according to the thinking of “this age.”

Rulers act for power, position, and wealth. They divide in order to conquer. They weaken others in order to build themselves up. The wisdom of this age serves their ambitions.

God’s people act in the power of his Spirit. They move in the air of what has been determined “before the ages.” The magnificence of God’s glory overpowers their small ambitions and infuses them with awe and fear. They hitch their wagon to a far greater star.

Our glory is in the discerning church

We speak the wisdom of God. We reject the thinking of man. We have a divine source. We drink from the mind of God. His plan was “hidden in a mystery,” but now has been revealed for everyone to know and enjoy. In this, too, is wisdom and glory.

The mature recognize which wisdom is God’s. They know how to distinguish it from the philosophies and theologies of man. The knowledge of man puffs up, 1 Corinthians 8.1, but the wisdom of God revealed in his love builds up for eternity. The mature know what is perishing and what is eternal.

Our glory is in the eternal church

The rulers of this age and their wisdom are perishing. They are time-bound. God determined before the ages, in the light of eternity, that he would have a people. So many things in Scripture — besides God himself — are billed as eternal: the gospel, the kingdom, life, the day, salvation, redemption, inheritance, the covenant, hope, and, among others, “his eternal glory in Christ” 1 Peter 5.10.

The eternal church has glory because it also recognizes the other side — that there is eternal destruction as well, Matthew 25.46. And the difference that saves us from that eternal darkness is in love for the eternal God and his cause.

The nature of God’s church

In our divisive world, it is expedient to remind ourselves of the nature of this church. It is not a denomination or human construct. It is not the last-minute scheme of a rejected Christ. It is not a physical structure or power pyramid. It is the visible body of Christ. It is the acting power of God. It is the live movement of the Spirit in men and women who have committed themselves to God and each other. It is the united action of a Father who has called and saved people from the most diverse populations of the world.

To speak of the glory of the church is a fine way to begin a book. And a marvelous way to leave this world for life in Christ.

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