Resurrection Life. Living with an understanding and transformation caused by the reality that our God not only came as a human, died…but rose from the dead. All of that is staggering. I know that I do not know this deeply enough in my soul. I’m not sure if any of us ever will completely…but we catch glimpses, don’t we.
We have those moments when the reality of eternity sneaks up on us, or grabs our attention…those moments when the reality of following Jesus overwhelms our inadequate minds and souls and we become enlivened in ways we can never manufacture ourselves.
Continuing in Chapter One from Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection. I need to make sure to highlight the subtitle:
Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.
This is not just some formula to set ourselves up to encounter the Resurrection. This is about a life that encounters God and is transformed…into maturity. And for Peterson, this happens only in one way…in the midst of Church.
Seriously, I know there are so many who are immediately thinking either that this is going to be boring, or that there is no way this will translate to our actual congregational situation. Some have been bored by the church, some have been annoyed, some have been frustrate, some have been abused.
But this, argues, Peterson, is right where we encounter Resurrection Life. Not because of accident…this is God’s design.
Maybe the church as we have it provides the very conditions and proper company congenial for growing up in Christ, for becoming mature, for arriving at the measure of the stature of Christ. Maybe God knows what he is doing, giving us church, this church.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 180-182). Kindle Edition.
This Church. Named people in a specific place, in specific congregations. This Church.
Peterson challenges us to look at the similarity between the coming of our Savior (Luke 1-2) and the coming of our salvation community (Acts 1-2). There are great similarities.
In the same way that God could have chosen to come in glory, to come doing miracles that drew enormous crowds and swayed the nations to follow him…he could also have chosen to establish a Church where there was success and where there was power and where the world would want to come.
We talk a lot about Christ killed on a cross as a scandal, “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23). I want to talk about church, this actual congregation that I attend, as stumbling block, as scandal, as absurd. The Holy Spirit could have formed congregations out of an elite group of talented men and women who hungered for the “beauty of holiness,” congregations as stunning as the curvaceous Tirzah and as terrifying to the forces of evil as the army with banners. Why didn’t he? Because that is not the way the Holy Spirit works. We know that is not the way the Savior was brought into our lives. Why would the Spirit change strategies in bringing the salvation community, the church, the congregation, into our lives?
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 327-331). Kindle Edition.
So, this church with all its inadequacies and all of, well, us. This is the place we are to grow into maturity and to know what it is to walk in Resurrection life.
That is, possibly, a little disappointing. I have been involved in fellowships where there just seemed to be a lot of people there because they felt obligated. Or a lot of people who were pretty messed up. Like me. This is the place? Really?
Yes, really. Because it is not all about us. Our salvation was not about what we could do or work or accomplish. Our growing up in Christ, being the Church…is not about our abilities. The power of the Church comes from God.
but the essence that is behind the appearances: God’s will, Christ’s presence, the Holy Spirit’s work. This, not what we do or do not do in belief and doubt, in faithfulness or betrayal, in obedience or disobedience, is what we simply must get through our heads if we are going to understand and participate rightly in any church that we are part of.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 191-193). Kindle Edition.
Resurrection life is to be found in the local congregation. With all our insufficiencies and all our problems…even there….and Peterson uses the letter to the Ephesian church to help us “get” this. He explains that this was the congregation Paul was with for 3 years, and this is the only letter to a church that is not addressing a problem. Not that there weren’t problems there…but this letter is more about the true identity of the church, and in it we find a vocabulary we need:
But the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in church – no church is exempt – but to explore God’s glory that gives the church its unique identity. The letter also gives us an adequate vocabulary and large enough imagination for living in the fullness of God’s glory, living to “the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14).
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 206-208). Kindle Edition.
We are a little handicapped, though…we have actual faces looking at us, and voices talking to us…and people who annoy us or who delight us. People who form our understanding of Church, and it is sometimes hard to separate our marred congregation from the intention of God to use this place to establish His kingdom.
When we who follow Jesus enter a church and participate in its life, our understanding of the place and company we are in is strongly conditioned by what we observe and experience in this congregation and its local history, these people with their personal and collective virtues and faults. That means that none of us ever sees the church whole and complete. We have access only to something partial, sometimes distorted, always incomplete.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 213-216). Kindle Edition.
Some, as I have come to know through my friend Michael’s blog, have been deeply wounded by their church. Wounding, abuse, disillusionment…these stack up against our seeing the church as something where God is establishing His glory. Sometimes it is hard to think with imagination and wonder when we pull into the parking lot.
We have the Ephesian letter before us so that even though we are surrounded with immature and deficient and incomplete churches, we can acquire a feel for what maturity is, what growing up in Christ consists of. By means of Ephesians we get an accurate account of what God is doing and the way the Spirit is working at the heart of every congregation.
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 217-219). Kindle Edition.
Resurrection life. In the Body. In the Church…in my congregation. Growing up to maturity in Christ…right there, with my rear in a seat and the person next to me bumping into me and the other person hugging me and the other person singing behind me. Those actual people.
We are in this together. We are the Body….and we cannot fathom Resurrection life or maturity in Christ apart from these other travelers.
I have to admit…I was hoping for something more. I was hoping Peterson was going to wow me with some truth that would suddenly bring me to a new understanding of the Resurrection…something that would fix this longing I have.
He doesn’t. He points us to what God is doing in our midst…and just like the surprise and mystery of the Crucifixion and Resurrection redeeming us….there is mystery in how the Church will be the place we will encounter God and be transformed.
It doesn’t usually happen in a flash and in some spectacular way. God works in subtle ways and with patience.
Still…the Spirit is stirring something within me. I love my fellowship…I love worshipping together and I love interacting. Still, I do not know that I have fully grasped the reality that this is the place…this is the structure…for my maturity to establish. How about you? Does this spark your imagination for Church, or does it just irritate you because the expectation is too high? Does it ring true that God would work in a Church in the same way He came in the Incarnation…surprisingly humble and not in great power and show?
What does this mean for us when we gather together next? How do we internalize these truths in a way that impacts our approach to being part of the Church?
I havent gotten my hands on this book yet, but boy do I need to. Rob and I are still not calling any church home. After moving, I find it a long difficult process to close my relationship with one body of Christ, and try and begin again. But I need to, desparately. However flawed the “church” is, (and it is deeply flawed) I need the body. I need to see other believers struggle, succeed, pray, worship, learn, grow, live, die. I can feel my faith withering away, the longer I am away from church. I always think that my big “issue” that I need to work on is my time in the Word, but right now, I just need to go to church. Get my butt out of bed, get my family going, and get into a pew. It’s even harder now with 6 people to argue with, (I don’t like that church, this church is better, lets go there) right now, almost any church will do. But I know there are some criteria that have to be there for growth and maturity to occur. Not just any church will do I am realizing. Jesus needs to be front and center, and the Bible right beside Him.
Looking forward to taking this journey with you Sarah, Thanks for including me.
Jenn…I think one of the hardest things to do is find a church home. Maybe because we make it too difficult, I don’t know.
I know Peterson used to teach that you find the closest (in proximity) congregation that is preaching the Gospel faithfully, and you go there. He is very strong on being committed to a fellowship that is near where you are…so you are worshipping with people you live around.
Of course, we drive 30 minutes to our church, so maybe I don’t listen to everything Peterson says 😉 We have also gone to a local fellowship that was 5 minutes away, but we left for a variety of reasons.
Now, the congregation we are part of…it is such a blessing, a challenge and place where we can just be. We know people and are known, and yet there are a lot of people we just rub shoulders with. There are flaws, but the main thing I have seen in this fellowship is a desire to bring glory to God and to care for one another. Those are pretty good foundation stones.
Praying for you, my friend…funny that we met through church! Praying for your whole gang, that you can find a place where you will know you are part of this resurrection life and this process of becoming mature in Christ…and a place where you can relax and be known.
“But the dominant concern in this Ephesian letter is not to deal with the human problems that inevitably develop in church – no church is exempt – but to explore God’s glory that gives the church its unique identity.” Peterson is telling us that it is God’s Glory that should give the church it’s unique identity.
Could it be that some of the evangelical church misses this, in that the “unique identity” focus is on the latest sermon or conference given by the charismatic pastor, rather than Christ. Is church the place where broken people gather, confessing their need, being cleansed of sin by the washing of the word and through the bread and blood….all with the focus on what Christ has done? Or is it the place where the worship teamed “rocked out” today and the Pastor So and so really “brought it” today. ( These are terms I have picked up on FB from people as they talk about their church services.) Now I admit, I’ve lived overseas for 26 years and I’m “old, ” so perhaps this is merely a cultural and generational irk of mine. But when I read Peterson’s quote about God’s glory being the unique identity, my heart sang a little, and this is what came to mind.
Anita…my heart sang a little as well. His vision of the church is what I needed to hear, even though I came to this book hoping for something different.
He says this when talking about the training he received when he became a pastor:
“For me, these were new terms for bringing the church’s mandate into focus. The church was no longer conceived as something in need of repair but as a business opportunity that would cater to the consumer tastes of spiritually minded sinners both within and without the congregation.”
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 281-283). Kindle Edition.
This so resonated with me, and I know you have had the discussions as well. There are so many fellowships where the discussion is all about being relevant…which meant being attractive. Peterson goes on:
“I was astonished to learn in one of these best-selling books that the size of my church parking lot had far more to do with how things fared in my congregation than my choice of texts in preaching. After a few years of trying to take all of this seriously, I decided that I was being lied to.
This is the Americanization of congregation. It means turning each congregation into a market for religious consumers, an ecclesiastical business run along the lines of advertising techniques and organizational flow charts, and then energized by impressive motivational rhetoric.”
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 295-298). Kindle Edition.
and finally this, which I really should have ended the post with above, but it is a bit long. I wanted to shout amen:
“I realized that this was my place and work in the church, to be a witness to the truth that dazzles gradually. I would be a witness to the Holy Spirit’s formation of congregation out of this mixed bag of humanity that is my congregation – broken, hobbled, crippled, sexually abused and spiritually abused, emotionallyunstable, passive and passive-aggressive, neurotic men and women. Men at fifty who have failed a dozen times and know that they will never amount to anything. Women who have been ignored and scorned and abused in a marriage in which they have been faithful. People living with children and spouses deep in addictions. Lepers and blind and deaf and dumb sinners. Also fresh converts, excited to be in on this new life. Spirited young people, energetic and eager to be guided into a life of love and compassion, mission and evangelism. A few seasoned saints who know how to pray and listen and endure. And a considerable number of people who pretty much just show up. I wonder why they bother. There they are. The hot, the cold, and the lukewarm, Christians, half-Christians, almost Christians. New-agers, angry ex-Catholics, sweet new converts. I didn’t choose them. I don’t get to choose them.
“Any congregation is adequate for taking a long, loving look at these people. It doesn’t seem at all obvious at first, but when we keep at it, persist in this long, loving look, we realize that we are, in fact, looking at the church, this Holy Spirit-created community that forms Christ in this place. But not in some rarefied “spiritual” sense, precious souls for whom Christ died. They are that, too, but it takes a while to see it, see the various parts of Christ’s body right here and now: a toe here, a finger there, sagging buttocks and breasts, skinned knees and elbows. Paul’s metaphor of the church as members of Christ’s body is not a mere metaphor. Metaphors have teeth. They keep us grounded to what we see right before us. At the same time they keep us connected to all the operations of the Trinity that we can’t see.
This is what is involved in realizing and embracing the Holy Spirit-created realities of church. We take a long and loving look at what we see right before our eyes in our chosen or assigned or last-chance congregation. And then, persisting in what we see, internalizing in our prayers as church takes form in worship and baptism and eucharist, we give witness to what we gradually but very surely know the church is in the only terms in which the Holy Spirit forms it – on this earth, this ground, this local San Diego, Wichita, Chicago ground, with these local and named saints and sinners.
Who else other than a baptized Christian has such continuous access to the story that keeps us attentive to what the Holy Spirit brings into view, into awareness – church as it actually is?”
Eugene H. Peterson. Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Kindle Locations 339-355). Kindle Edition.
I just wrote a big honkin comment and lost it…we’ll try again.
We’ve been studying an almost parallel passage in our church.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
(1 Corinthians 12:14–27 ESV)
It’s so important for each person to understand that without their full participation and inclusion in the life of the church, the church is incomplete and unable to fully reflect the glory of God either vertically or horizontally.
When you add to that what Peterson is sharing…that the church is the vehicle God uses to grow us up in Christ… then our participation in the life of the church can become filled with glory and expectation instead of dullness and repetition.
That phrase “you are the body of Christ” should be where we begin in our understanding of our true identity.
I think that is the underlying current of this chapter. Peterson says a few times “named people” worshipping in a specific place.
The body of Christ…named people. Not a vague grouping, but named people.
Also….I don’t know why, but in reading this at this point I was so struck by Peterson’s emphasis that the Church mirrors Jesus’ ministry. The fact that we are always hoping for success or for the world to sit up and notice us…when that was so not what Jesus did.
Jesus worked in the midst of the ordinary and the normal…amazing, miraculous things happened, but it was in the sandbox of the ordinary. The church is the same. Amazing moments happen. Resurrection life happens, but it is in the sandbox of runny noses and job losses and babies and deaths…and all of life.
In that ordinariness….we all have a place. We do not have to be polished and amazing and have some great talent…we just have to be. It is the work of the Spirit anyway…not our work…that makes it amazing.