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The life-giving Spirit has come upon the people of Christ, and on the Day of Pentecost, Peter claimed that this blessing was not just for the original disciples, not only for his hearers that day, but (verse 39) “for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” For the first time in history, we have a varied group of people, people of different heritages and races and ethnic backgrounds, united by one life, one Spirit. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, baptizing people into Christ, created something new in the world: the Body of Christ, the Church.
Wherever you find the people of Christ – in Coldwater, Michigan or Selma, Alabama, or in Darjeeling State, India, or Canton Province, China; whether they be yellow, black or white, speak English, German, Urdu, Wolof, Russian or Spanish – you find people who share the same Spirit. They are Christ’s body – his eyes and hands and feet – in the world, united by his Spirit and sharing his life. This is God’s wide-angle plan. They are the one new man. Christ is their head, and the Spirit is their life—their soul.
This one new man is becoming “mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). This new cosmic, glorious person is growing up into Christ, the head of the body, even as we speak. This is God’s salvation at work, the undoing of the curse and the hope of mankind.
At Pentecost the Spirit brought to life a new creation which we call the Body of Christ or the Church. Pentecost is the birthday of the church! In the Church the life of Christ is now expressed not just through individual Christians, but through the corporate body of Christ. Salvation is not a purely personal issue. The Catholic Church has created a great deal of controversy, but is surely right, when it says, “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus – “Outside the Church there is no salvation.” That is because no one outside the church is inside Christ. If you have Christ, you are in the church! Eternal life is the church’s life!
What I’ve just written needs clarification. Being inside a church building on Sunday morning is not being in the church. Being on a membership roll is not being in the church. Taking part in rituals, attending worship, or sitting on a board is not being in the church. You can do all these things and still be extra ecclesiam – outside the church. The Spirit alone can place you in the true church. When you believe in Jesus who died and rose again, the Holy Spirit extends Jesus’ eternal kind of life to you. You are united spiritually to the body of Christ. (And when I say spiritually, do not do what many people do and mentally substitute the word “metaphorically.” This is as real and concrete as any physical act – delivering the mail or serving a meal – but it is spiritual, not physical.)
If this is true, then it is silly – and dangerous – for people who have trusted Jesus to stay away from the local church. They may have their reasons. They may have been neglected, hurt, passed over, or misunderstood. These are real reasons – but if it keeps them out of the church, they are reasoning their life away. You and I, if we have believed on Jesus, are not whole if we are detached from the church. Of course, the local church is not perfect. You and I – I alone, for that matter – are enough to guarantee that! But when a person is separated from the church, he is spiritually dislocated. His ability to serve Christ is compromised. He or she is like an injured shoulder or a broken finger. In such a state people need care and rehabilitation. But neglecting the problem until the pain subsides is not the answer.
This is such an important message as the church is suffering from the social distancing normalized by COVID. I cautioned some friends about the downside of promoting an “online presence” – making it okay to “attend” church remotely.
I wish English had a different word for “you” plural. I believe we too often entertain our natural individualistic bend and interpret “you” as singular in Scripture when it’s really plural. So, we reinforce an independent spirit that weakens us and the body of Christ.
My father was a carpenter all his life. Towards the end of his career he made a simple error and cut off the tip of his finger. Of course the severed fingertip “died” and was cast into the bio-waste bin. The rest of his finger remained attached to his body and it lived!
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English does have a plural for “you,” we’ve just lost track of it: “ye”. Of course, you know that, and of course it is unlikely we could succeed in getting “ye” back into contemporary American English. Perhaps we need to settle for the South’s “y’all.”
Your comment is spot on. Thanks!