A Guest Post by Marian Nacpil
This is the third in a series of posts engaging with the sermons in Leaps of Faith: Sermons from the Edge. This post is a reflection upon a sermon entitled “Bodybuilding,” which was preached to a cohort of pastors and ministry-leaders studying in the MDiv In-Ministry program (now called “Church in the City”) at Tyndale Seminary (pp. 179-188). The Scriptural text for the sermon was Ephesians 4:1-16.
Paul says many different things in this passage, and with different emphases. Robert Dean, right away, rescues a challenged reader like me by pointing to the Triune God in whom all of the various pieces of Paul’s message connect and hold together. “The same God who led the Israelites out of Egypt, the same Lord who walked the dusty streets of Galilee calling disciples to follow him, the same Spirit who was building a temple out of the living stories of the believers in Ephesus, continues to be present to, and work amidst, his people,” he writes. Called by one God, united in one faith and one baptism, Christian is the name by which we are urged to live deeply in ways marked by humility, patience, gentleness, and mutual love. Our one calling is to be the church—the body of Christ.
The body of Christ is built up not by methods (as many are so inclined to do) but through the ministry of the Word by God’s gift of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11)—all teaching offices. Essential to the goal of growing the body of Christ to spiritual maturity is to equip and sustain the whole people of God for ministry. It is a blessing for the contemporary church to ‘hear’ Rob join voices with those (like Karl Barth, John Stott and Thomas Yoder Neufeld) who, with wisdom and exegetical skill, assert that building up the body of Christ is dependent on and not an additional task to the equipping of saints for ministry work (v. 12). Understanding the text in this way erases the clergy-lay distinction and rightly affirms the priesthood and ministry of all believers as sharers in the calling to serve in the church and in the world.
A new trajectory in church and theology points to a necessary blurring of the sacred-secular divide as the church, the whole people of God, fulfills its calling to witness to the new life created through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.1 The long-held belief that the clergy have priority over the task of building the church is giving wider way to embrace the “vision of an ‘every-member ministry’”2 that recognizes the essential role of the laity in the church’s mission. It sets aright that the missionary vocation is imparted by the Holy Spirit to all believers, not to ‘special’ pastors or priests. While this paradigm shift is welcome news, it challenges the church in a number of ways: 1) It compels the clergy to value their responsibility to equip the laity to serve both in the ecclesial context and outside—the everyday, familiar world. The Spirit that animates the life of the gathered church is the same Spirit that empowers the life of the church sent into the world: God is indivisible. 2) As the church in the twenty-first century tries to ‘reinvent’ herself and expresses new ways of being church, we must ask: What traditional practices can we shed, and what must we keep so that we remain rooted in Christ, Lord and Head of the church? 3) Just as the clergy are required to undergo theological education, so should emerging lay leaders be encouraged and supported to pursue some form of theological study. In an increasingly complex world (where deceptive methods and false doctrines abound), I concur with Rob that knowledge and the practice of sound theology are essential to the equipping of all believers if we are serious about building up the body of Christ to spiritual maturity.
Let us all, then, called by God in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit, spur one another to build up the church in love.
Marian Nacpil is the founding director of Called to the Marketplace, a ministry committed to Equipping Christians for Missional Living and Working for the Common Good. You can connect with Called to the Marketplace and learn more about the ministry at: www.calledtothemarketplace.com.