Reflections on Discipleship – Evil in the eyes of the Lord

My job at the moment is developing discipleship in one Anglican diocese, so as you can imagine I do quite a bit of thinking about what discipleship is, what it means, and what it looks like. Here are some random thoughts, gleaned from my reflection on the Bible and current thinking …

Funny how things work out. Last week in this series I had a rant about parenting and discipleship, and elsewhere I’ve been blogging about the Deuteronomic history and the decline and fall of the Israelite empire. What an exciting life I lead! Then this morning we were reading about Manesseh, the king of Judah who led Israel into occult practices so that ‘they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before them’. The interesting part of this tragic tale, though, comes in 2 Chronicles 33:3 where we discover that Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah. Reading on, we discover that after his radical turn-around and repentance following Assyrian torture, he was succeeded by his son Amon, who again ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’.

I made the point when writing about this era of history that although there were some high points and some godly reforming kings, the general trend was downhill and where there were reforms they were usually short-lived and only lasted as long as the good king in question. So Joash, who repaired and re-opened the Temple, was succeeded by his son Amaziah, who, while he tried to follow in his father’s footsteps, failed to stamp out idolatry. Hezekiah, as we have seen, was followed by Manesseh, the nadir of evil, and the other great reformer, Josiah, was succeeded by his son Jehoahaz, who lasted in his evil practices for 3 months, before being succeeded in turn by Jehoiakim, who again ‘did evil in the eyes of the Lord’.

I couldn’t help but think that wonderful though their attempts to renew and reform the nation were, as parents these godly kings left a certain amount to be desired. They had clearly failed totally to form their children as godly people, with a heart for the Lord and a desire to see the nation blessed and prospering through its faithfulness to God. In fact we see this quite a bit in the pages of Scripture, and again it screams out at me about the vital importance of discipling our kids. What’s the point of being godly and wise, of seeking to bring health to our communities, if within a whisker of our death things revert to how they were, or worse?

I sense from the evidence in last week’s blog that we have a serious problem in the church, a massive loss of nerve among parents, and a lot of work to do among young couples on the edge of being parents. One commentator on 2 Chronicles says that we shouldn’t be too hard on poor Manesseh, because the political scene at the time made godliness very difficult. Does that let us off the hook, because we live in a time when political correctness has eaten away at stable family life almost to the point of extinction? Or do we not need to bring much further up our agenda in the church the equipping of parents faithfully to disciple their kids? The life of our nation might just be at stake.

(That’s enough parenting rants. Ed.)

What ‘s Church for? Church as Bride

Having looked at the Greek and Hebrew words which refer to ‘church’ we move this week to look at another term in common usage: church as the ‘Bride of Christ’. How useful is this in the self-identification of a church community? And how biblical is it actually?

The references (and they are not very explicit) come only in the Gospels and at the end of Revelation. Nowhere is Paul’s clear statement that ‘you are the body of Christ’ made of us as bride. In the Gospels the emphasis is much more on Jesus as the bridegroom: this picks up on much Jewish imagery about the new age of the coming Messiah being described as a wedding. There are two key motifs here: waiting and urgency. ‘Why aren’t your disciples miserable like us?’ ask the Pharisees of Jesus. The answer is that at the moment the bridegroom is here: this is no time for fasting and mourning. But he is about to go, and ultimately come back. In the meantime we wait, but we wait with a sense of urgency, because he might come back literally at any moment, and we need to be ready. This is the thrust of several gospel passages.

File:Bride getting dressed.jpg

There are two isolated references in the epistles: in 2 Cor 11 Paul fears that the Christians to whom he is writing might have lost the plot. He promised them to Christ as a pure virginal bride, but they have instead ‘committed adultery’ by adopting false doctrine. This picks up an OT prophetic image of false religion as adulterous. And then in Ephesians 5 the point is made that wives are under the authority of their husbands as the church is to Christ. This idea may seem to us as quaint as the idea that brides are virgins, but we’ll tiptoe past that one.

But most of the references are from Revelation, and only really from chapter 19 when the battles have been fought and won, and God’s people are ready to enter the new creation. But if we look carefully the church is never here described as the ‘Bride of Christ’ – that title is reserved for the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem. As is his wont John is setting up a contrast between the tarty woman of Rev 17, dressed up to the nines in all her seductive gaudiness, and the pure bride dressed in white linen. The prostitute, we discover, is the archetypal evil city, manifested at different times as Babel, Babylon and now Rome, so her purified counterpart is the new Jerusalem.

What does this mean for a church which thinks of itself as the Bride of Christ? It is both a call and a promise, with a bit of waiting in between. The call is basically to live with purity, not perversion. The promise is of a renewed creation, when all blemishes and wrinkles will be removed. And in the meantime we wait, living faithfully in a love relationship with Jesus.

The Bride is not the predominant model of church, and it certainly isn’t a very blokey one (we’ll be remedying that later in the series). But it does present us with that challenge and that promise. Next time we’ll go for a less sitting-and-waiting model as we consider church as pilgrimage.