God is Resurrecting the Church

I want to share a modified version of my opening devotion from the Wartburg Seminary board meeting, and the metaphor I have been thinking about for some time: “God is resurrecting the church.”

I start this post with some verses from 1 Corinthians 15:

35 But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’ 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as [God] has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.

42 So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.

50 What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 

58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.”

In my view, this is a significant time in the life of the church; it is an opportunity to focus our eyes on the future, and the vision God is calling us to embody for the sake of God’s mission in the world. So, it is a moment for us to be clear-headed, and bold; to be wise and daring; and to entrust ourselves fully into God’s hands.

And in that vein, what I want to encourage us to think about, to dream about, to dare to imagine, is this reality:

God is resurrecting the church!

Perhaps you have heard that many people are saying that the church is dying. And, if you have a narrow definition of the church—if you think it is a building with stained glass windows and an organ, maybe it is.

But that metaphor, that image, doesn’t tell the whole story. A recent Atlantic article argued the following: “American Religion is not dead yet. Participation in traditional houses of worship is in decline, but innovation and growth are happening elsewhere.” There is, in fact, ample evidence that the gospel is flourishing, that people continue to turn to God, and continue to hunger for the things Christian communities provide: meaning-making, rituals, vibrant relationships, inspiration for prophetic action, and a sense of wonder.

Faith continues to matter. In a recent In Trust article, the data from a recent survey on faith and mental health of 10,000 young people aged 13-25 found the following: Of those who report that they pray daily, 74% say they are flourishing [compared to 59% who don’t pray]; and 79% who attend religious services regularly say they are flourishing [compared to 57% who don’t].

Therefore, I want to let go of the language of “death;” death is not the best metaphor for what we are experiencing now, in this moment. I want to suggest that “resurrection” is a better image!

Now, of course, “resurrection” does involve a dying, a loss, a letting go. It is, as 1 Cor suggests, a sowing a seed into the ground, and waiting, while all the action takes place underground, unseen. And, “resurrection” also involves change—change that we can’t really even imagine.

The “new body” of the church that God is creating? If it is anything like Jesus’ resurrected body, it will both have elements of the old [Jesus remembered his friends, his hands, feet and side bear the wounds of the crucifixion, he’s hungry and eats breakfast] and also show itself as something entirely different [his disciples don’t all recognize him right away, and he can walk through walls]. We can’t yet fully imagine all the church can and will be in the future.

But the most important point is that resurrection always, always leads to new life.

This new life is what God is doing now, in and among us: at Wartburg Seminary [where I serve], in the church, and in the world. I pray that all of us catch this vision, and follow where God is leading. As verse 58 reminds us, in Jesus Christ, our labor is not in vain.

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