Editorial: A gathering, a bride, and divorce

It was late high school when someone changed my perception of reality.

I can’t remember who it was, but they were a leader on a holiday conference. I was part of a group of students who were spending several days working through a passage in Hebrews, nutting out the context, the flow of the passage, what the main point was, how to express that to someone else, and so on. This guy helped me to read the Bible carefully, and to see the picture painted in Hebrews 12: I am part of that congregation of believers gathered not at Mount Sinai in fear and trembling, but in joy and glory around the throne of Jesus in the heavenly Jerusalem.

As my youth group guys would say: Mind. Blown.

Sometimes, thinking through what church is—what it’s for, what place it has in our lives, what place it has in the plans of God revealed to us—is a dislocating experience. Church is something that is very close to who we are; a particular congregation forms a significant part of our lives. At the same time, there’s incredibly rich theology throughout the Scriptures concerning who we are as the people of God. How do those glorious pictures match my everyday, sometimes (often?) mundane, experience?

The richness of the doctrine of church is extraordinary. God calls his people, he gathers his church around our Lord Jesus Christ. The metaphors used to describe the church give us tastes of this glory: a family—as adopted children, with God the Father our father, and co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:15-17); a building—with Christ as the cornerstone and building his church through the work of the gospel (1 Cor 3:11; 1 Pet 2:4-5; Eph 2:19-22); a bride—the bride of Christ himself, beautifully prepared for her husband (Eph 5:28-32; Rev 21:1-4); a body—with Jesus as the head, and each part serving the rest (1 Cor 12; Eph 4:15-16). And that’s just barely scratching the surface.

All of this is enormously important, so we’ve decided to spend a fair bit of time talking about the church. In this issue, Phillip Jensen considers what exactly the church is for: Evangelism? Worship? Edification? Secondly, Mark Thompson looks back at the way Donald Robinson and Broughton Knox helped us to think about church, in particular the relationship between the glorious heavenly assembly and the group of other Christians you and I spend time with on a Sunday.1 There’s more to come in the next issue concerning the practicalities of running church, starting new ones, and assessing the current church landscape… but I’ll tell you about that next time.

We’ve also got a couple of articles coming very soon to fuel discussion on an important concern for our churches: divorce and remarriage. Amongst evangelicals there’s a spectrum of opinion on this issue. We want to get some discussion started so we can better understand the problems involved and better care for those affected in our churches. Michael Paget works through some biblical passages and argues for the possibility of divorce and remarriage under certain circumstances (this will be online as of tomorrow), while Tim Thornborough chats to Andrew Cornes about his position that remarriage is not an option for a Christian (check back next week for this interview). Sensitive stuff, but worth the time to work through. We’d love for you to interact with Michael, Tim, Andrew, us, and others.

  1. Note: there’s a ‘short’ version of this article that we’ve printed in the January/February issue of The Briefing. If 5000-odd words isn’t enough for you on this topic, Mark’s original paper, presented at the NEXUS conference on church in 2011, is also available.

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