At the time of this post, I am in Turkey taking in the culture and life of a storied nation – currently caught between Syrian refugees, internal waring factions, and Russian threats. And in the midst of this, I take in the antiquity of the early church where the pioneering beginnings of the life of the “body of Christ” would learn to live by the Word and the Spirit of Christ.
Take for example, The letters to the Seven Churches found in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation. In the vision of the Apostle John, Jesus dictates letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor that are relevant to the church in any age.
Messages to the Seven Churches for us today:
The church at Ephesus is called back to her first love – by returning to that seminal starting point – the pure love of Christ – and the pure love for Christ.
The church in Smyrna is called to be faithful through the inevitable persecution they would suffer.
The church at Pergamum is told that those who have ears to hear will be given “a white stone with a new name written on it – known only to the one who receives it” – a revelation of one’s true identity in Christ as an expression of unspeakable spiritual intimacy.
The church at Thyatira is reminded that God “searches the hearts and minds”, and beckons us to “overcome” temptations that are inevitable. With echoes of Psalm 139 – we come to trust the One who knows us fully, and still loves us none the less.
For the church at Sardis, a warning is given to those who think they are alive – but unaware of how dead they are. “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die.” Can there be a more timely word for the West whose sunset appears imminent?
For the church at Philadelphia, God directs His words to those who overcome – on whom He “will also write a new name”: the revelation of renewal and identity.
To the church at Laodicea, Jesus reveals Himself as one present and waiting for us to hear His voice, open the door and let Him in to fully commune with us.
The Church – the Body of Christ in this world
As I travel the Turkish terrain, changed a hundred times by conquerors and tribalists, I consider the bigger idea of the Body of Christ that took among its earliest steps on these lands. And though the Body of Christ has stepped beyond Turkey into virtually every corner of the globe, the Church does not travel far from its nature to live what Alan E. Lewis calls a “Holy Saturday” existence:
Truly, the Body of Christ, commissioned to baptize in the triune name (Mt 28:18) was “born on the cross from the side of the saviour whence flowed the water and the blood” (Jn 19:34; Karl Barth)…
Only as the church that exists for the world, comes close to the world, and enters into it, can the church be the body of Christ, who’s divine identity was fulfilled in coming close to us, subject to the world’s weaknesses and hungers and finally surrendered up to its killing fields and burial grounds. It is therefore into our own decaying world, hanging as it does by an Easter Saturday thread of despair, dislocation, and dissolution, that the Christian community today must go, letting itself be the sent and buried church which makes its grave with the wretched and the wicked, the victims and the perpetrators of our culture’s termination and society’s collapse
More Enigma than Dogma
I suppose I can reference the dogma of the doctrine of the Church, but I prefer by far, and by my own deep affection, to reflect on the mystery of the Church being the body of Christ – His hands and feet, His face and embrace, His heart and mind filled by His Spirit. For whenever we forget this – whenever the Church lives in amnesia to its ultimate motive, the world suffers for her loss of purpose, and the church may as well be buried among the Turkish tombs, or be washed up on her lonely shores.
To reflect on the prophecies directed some 2000 years ago to these ancient churches, now displaced and hardly remembered in place, is to sound an apocalyptic warning into the fog of our culture. This is more of “that.”