In the section 2:11-22, Paul writes on the incorporation of the Gentiles into Israel. In the passage before us he speaks of their membership in the House of God, 2:19-22. Paul makes the point that the Gentiles are full members of God's family.
v19. Initially the Gentiles felt, and most likely were treated, as if they were second-class citizens in the Christian church. It was only natural for Jewish believers to relate to the Gentile converts in much the same way as they related to the God-fearing Gentiles who attended their synagogues. Paul sought to break this view down, for he understood that the Gentiles were "no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people (the Jews) and members of God's household."
v20. Paul now describes a building where the apostles and prophets are the foundation and Christ is the cornerstone. The building is the eternal assembly, the heavenly city of God, the heavenly temple, where believers are even now gathering with Christ. The local assembly of believers, the church, is actually a visible image of this eternal building, a building where Gentiles are an integral part.
v21. Jesus, as the cornerstone, defines and ties the whole building together and becomes the architectural defining point from which the building takes shape. So, the heavenly assembly, as with the church, evolves from Jesus into a complete entity, a complete whole.
v22. This building, this house, this community of believers, initially consisted of the remnant of Israel - the apostles and Jewish believers. This community is now extended to include "you too", ie. Gentile believers. Believing Gentiles are included in this new building, they are incorporated into this "holy temple", this "dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit". God has always "tabernacled" with his people, and now "through" the Spirit of Christ, he dwells with his gathered people, a people made up of both Jews and Gentiles.
The Christian church can be viewed from many different angles. We can view it from the aspect of history, or architecture, or socioloty, or even organization and management. In our passage for study, Paul the apostle gives us three particular ways of looking at the church:
The church is a society of "fellow citizens", members of a "household", a community where the barriers of race and religion are no more. So, we may view the church as a society of friends.
Sadly, there are a number of factors which work against church as community, for example:
i] Size. Group dynamics tells us that a group larger than 12 has difficulty maintaining meaningful contacts. Most churches are larger than that so we are often driven toward the impersonal.
ii] Selfishness. Sin, of course, does its thing, moving our eyes onto self such that we see little of the needs of others.
Once we begin to see church as community we can begin to look beyond ourselves to those who sit about us. The barriers will start to come down when we see ourselves as a society of friends.
Believers, members of an often fragile and faulty human organization called the church, are actually part of an eternal organization, a building which incorporates Christ and the apostles and all believers from all ages and all places. This building, this heavenly assembly, is even now gathered and every little congregation, gathered throughout the world, actually images it. So, we may view the church as a shimmering reflection of an eternal reality.
There are lots of distractions in church life that draw our eyes from the light to the shadows. Issues over the color of the church carpet, finances, committee appointments and the like, even worries over size (did Jesus really mean "two or three"?). Yet, with a little concentration on the words of a hymn, light playing through a stain-glass window, a sermon, the oft repeated words of a liturgical prayer, and all of a sudden we can see again that we are part of an eternal society.
The local church is the earthly dwelling-place of our living God. The assembled people is the "holy temple" of God, the place where he dwells. So, we may view the church as a community indwelt by the Spirit of Christ - a spiritual society.
The business of recognizing Jesus in our midst is not an easy one. When we come together we often forget in whose presence we have gathered. The tendency today is to meet for fellowship, or to meet for outreach (accessing unbelievers), but the essential reason for our gathering together is to meet with Jesus. Once we recognize that Jesus is present in our meetings, it is then that we become a truly spiritual society.
1. Discuss practical ways of implementing the image of "fellow citizens" and "members of God's household".
2. Discuss the elements that both hinder and promote the numinous.
3. If the church is the "dwelling" place of God, list those things which you think are inappropriate for our meeting with Christ, but which are commonly found in a church service.