By Father Peter Farrington
“that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” What is the Church for? The Scripture [Part 2]
In part 1 “What Is The Church For? | The Business”, we discussed the Church root, purpose, and growth.
What else does the Scripture teach us about the Church? In Acts 20, St Paul calls together the presbyters of the Church in Ephesus and says to them… Take heed therefore unto yourselves and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood. For I know this: that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them.
What does this mean? It surely speaks of the great responsibility which rests upon those who have pastoral care of the Church. In the first place St Paul says, take heed unto yourselves. It is not possible to have a pastoral ministry in the Church, either bishop, priest, deacon, or servant in any ministry, without having taken heed to ourselves, to our own spiritual life.
“It is not possible to be a fruitful member of a congregation, let alone have any service, if we have not made our own spiritual condition the priority of our life.” What is the Church for? The Scripture
The Scripture | The Condition
We cannot give what we have not received, and we cannot teach what we have not learned ourselves. Our own spiritual condition matters, it matters more than anything else in our service, whatever that service is. Often we are tempted to imagine that when we have completed our service we will make some time to be spiritual. But in fact there is no value at all in any service if it is not performed in the grace of the Holy Spirit by spiritual men and women. Indeed we can properly extend this necessary correlation.
It is not possible to be a fruitful member of a congregation, let alone have any service, if we have not made our own spiritual condition the priority of our life. It is not possible to be the husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, child or grandchild that God would wish us to be unless we have made our own spiritual condition the priority of our life. It is not even possible to be that employee, or employer, that manager or worker, that teacher, or physician, or engineer that God would want us to be unless we have made our own spiritual condition the priority of our life.
“The flock belongs to the Good Shepherd, of whom every pastor is a servant.” What is the Church for? The Scripture
The Scripture | The Flock
How much more this is especially the case for those who have the care of others, whether spiritual or practical, whether within the activities of the congregation or outside. But after we have taken heed of ourselves, we must as our second concern, take heed to the flock of which we are servants, pastors and members. To have heed to the flock does not essentially mean to be engaged in activities. It means above all to be concerned for the spiritual welfare of those among whom we are called to live and serve.
If the Church is a flock then we should have several concepts in mind at all times. The flock belongs to the Good Shepherd, of whom every pastor is a servant. The flock does not belong to any man, not even a bishop. But those with a pastoral ministry are responsible for the well-being and care of each member of the flock of Christ. If we belong to the Lord then our first concern must be the nourishment of the flock of the Lord, and this nourishment is spiritual rather than worldly.
Why are we concerned with our own spiritual state and that of the flock in our care? It is because our service is essentially one in which we are called to feed the Church of God.
“Christ, who has purchased the Church for himself at the cost of his own blood, entrusts the well-being of his own Church to those who serve.” What is the Church for? The Scripture
The pastoral service is not one in which the members of the congregation are to be entertained, or indulged, or satisfied with worldly nourishment. Much of this is poison to those who consume it. But that bread which is to be provided to the spiritual and rational sheep of the flock of Christ is essentially the Bread of Life, which is Christ himself. Christ, who has purchased the Church for himself at the cost of his own blood, entrusts the well-being of his own Church to those who serve, so that they might nourish the Church of Christ with the life and grace of Christ, which forms the Church into the flock of Christ.
The Scripture | The Disunity
We should not imagine that everything which takes place in a congregation is according to the will of God. St Paul himself warns that there will be even those within the Church herself who spread false teachings, harmful nourishment, and lead away some of the flock. How can we discern? It is surely that when the Church is healthy there is a preoccupation above all things with spiritual life and growth, and this is expressed in personal holiness, humility and obedience, and in a corporate holiness, humility and obedience.
Where there is division, disunity, self-will, and the intrusion of alien teachings and practices then we may be sure that something has gone wrong, and the flock of Christ is not being fed and is failing to be the Church as God intends.
“We are made holy in Christ, now we need to become holy ourselves, by the grace of God.” What is the Church for? The Scripture
The Scripture | The Ambition
Then in 1 Corinthians 1:2, St Paul greets the Church in Corinth saying… Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours. Even though the Church of Corinth was in a mess, with division and argument, he addresses them as the community they should be, and as God desires for them. He says that they are those who have been made holy in Christ Jesus, and are now called to be holy.
Do we imagine that we ourselves are called to be saints? This is what the Greek says. Do we excuse ourselves, and our congregations, as though such an ambition was only for monks and nuns? Yet this is what St Paul says is the requirement for all who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. We are made holy in Christ, now we need to become holy ourselves, by the grace of God.
To be continued, with the question: How else may we measure the health of a congregation or community?
Delivered to you by COPTICNN™ | Coptic News Network on 2020-03-25 from Liverpool, England
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