C’mon Man is a segment of ESPN football coverage in which sportscasters highlight bad plays or even bad acts off the field. It’s saying to the individual or team, You know better. You can do better.
My daily Bible readings of the last week have included chapters from the Letter to the Ephesians. This book of the New Testament includes some striking language and images of the church, exhorting Christians with verbs like grow, stand, wrestle, and build. C’mon Man came to mind, certainly in the sense that we can do better but also, with a bit of inflection, as a heavenly cheer for struggling mortals: Come on MAN! (My apologies to those who prefer inclusive language. Come on PEOPLE just doesn’t have the oomph.)
Anyway, back to Ephesians. A couple of things struck me:
The church (a body of faithful people hearing God’s Word and ministering the Lord’s sacraments) has cosmic significance.
For all of our foibles and failures, Christians are God’s specific means for showing a corrupt creation that it is being made over through Christ. Yes, that’s for sinful human beings, but there’s much more (emphasis added):
Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. (Ephesians 3:7-12 ESV)
The church doesn’t often feel that significant. We can barely get our “active members” to show up sometimes; we don’t reach our neighbors with news of Christ; we tie ourselves in knots about things which in hindsight prove to be trivial.
But there we are, God’s declaration of a counterattack on all the cosmic forces that rebelled against Him and corrupted His creation. The stuff at which the world scoffs, like prayer and preaching, have cosmic power. So God cheers C’mon MAN! – …wrestle…against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12 ESV)
As much as it aggravates us, “organized religion” is God’s design for the saving work of Christ.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV)
There’s a conundrum here. On the one hand, this passage shows the emptiness of those who, claiming to be Christians, reject “organized religion.” The work of Christ given and designed by God has visible form, order and work.
On the other hand, the organized/institutional church often succumbs to the temptation to perpetuate itself by propping up or appeasing worldly order. This is as true of a conservative church seeking to “win back America” as it is of a progressive church claiming to be “on the right side of history.”
And so it is that the church winds up “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
Corruption like that compromises our witness to others, but it does not invalidate the church as God’s own plan and design to carry out the mission of Christ until He returns to make all things new for eternity.
Ultimately, we (the church) must learn and relearn, preach and preach again, that the love of God in Jesus Christ is greater than our failures, and that the hope of the universe is Christ, represented by a bunch of mercy-marked mortals. That God is cheering Come on MAN! –that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19 ESV)