My cultural lens that colors everything with American individualism made me once again blind to the fullness of
While leading a bible study at a camp, whose theme was the beloved community, I made the classical American mistake. I switched “we” with “I” changing the verse to “For I am God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” And while that’s not wrong, it’s not right either.
I am God’s handiwork. He did raise me up to sit by his Son in the heavenly realm. I am made to do good works that God has prepared for me. But I want to focus on the individual is because I’m scared to hope for the collective.
It’s easy to believe in the one exceptional person. We are taught that in our culture. We have superheroes, CNN’s 100 Everyday Heroes, Celebrities that fight for causes and champions of human rights. American culture has permeated church culture, and we see that by our fascination with Christian celebrities. Our culture celebrates these people – rightly so – because they exhibit the very best of humanity.
But we also celebrate the collective’s depravity. Lord of the Flies and Walking Died shows that we depict the depravity of the collective. Cable news rolls continual footage of crowds turning towards hate. Twitter appears to be a universe that is bent on disproving Martin Luther Jr’s word, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In today’s world, it seems easier to believe in the exceptional person made by God, then to believe in his holy bride.
But Paul wrote, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Paul wrote this to a struggling church that was dealing with racism within its walls, and he still had the faith to write ‘we’.
Ephesians continues, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus made himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the LORD And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
The church is the body of Christ, and it is the whole body that God created to do good works. We are one temple, one building, and the Holy Spirit lives within that temple.
But to believe in that, I must have faith.
It’s easy to believe in one exceptional person who rallies against injustice. But to believe that an entire community would care about justice seems impossible. We see pastors care about the poor, but what would it look like for entire denominations to give sacrificially? How do we believe that God is housed in the church, when so often the church is more known for standing for hate than for love?
To have faith that God made our church to do good works, means that we must have faith in God. We must believe more in scripture and Jesus’ words than what we perceive around us.
To believe that the bride of Christ is what is meant to do good works means we also have to forgive. Too often, I don’t want to believe in the body of Christ because I have been hurt. I’ve seen the ways the body of Christ has turned against women. I’ve experienced the chauvinistic behavior of the mob of the church. The individual brothers who have stood by me are easier to believe in than that God could do a miracle among the church. To believe in that miracle, I would have to forgive. And there on some days that I don’t want have the faith to forgive.
To believe in the holy catholic church would also require me to roll my sleeves up and work.
Believing that I am God’s handiwork, just requires me to say yes. But to believe that we are God’s handiwork forces me to support the church. I can’t just be an anomaly; I must work for the whole church. To believe that God works in the church means that sometimes I must take a back seat and support my brothers and sisters. It means that I must do the demanding work of teaching people about Jesus and supporting them as they stumble along this journey. It means I must admit when I am wrong and allow the community to give me grace.
While believing in the individual exceptionalism is easier, it has yet to bear God’s kingdom. Maybe it’s time to believe in the Church. Because if the church could act as though it were God’s handiwork, created in Christ, to do good works, we might.