A Visible Church before a Watching World
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again?
Or do we need, like some people,
letters of recommendation to you or from you?
2You yourselves are our letter,
written on our hearts,
known and read by everybody.
3You show that you are a letter from Christ,
the result of our ministry,
written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you
to give the reason for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect…, 1 Peter 3:15
In Arecibo, Puerto Rico,
we find the largest Satelite dish in the world.
a satelite dish that sends and receives radio signals…
With this “cosmic hearing aid” –
if we want to call it that,
scientists are “listening” intensely
for signs that anyone “out there” in space
is watching us…
Well, as Christians we have always known
that we are being watched…
at the workplace,
at the community club,
in our homes and neighborhoods,
people are watching us,
and they demand to see the reasons
for our hope and our faith.
People throughout the ages have argued
about the nature of the church.
Is the Church a visible reflection
of the kingdom of God?
Or is the Church invisible and mysterious –
where you never know who is a true Christian
and who is not.
The most commonly held belief
about the visibility of the Church today,
is that all the members of the church
make up the “visible church”,
but that there is also an “invisible church”,
that is the “true Christians”
who are known to God alone.
Our Anabaptist forebears of the 16th Century
followed the understanding of the earliest Christians,
that faith must be visible to all.
Their’s was a very visible faith,
and many were persecuted and martyred
on account of what they believed.
Their faith was not something that they could hide
“for God’s eyes only”.
Our Anabaptist forebears believed
that the Church must be visible
if it is to be the true Body of Christ.
The concern of the church today is the same
as that of the Early Church
and of the Anabaptist Reformers.
It is not easy to be a Christian
in a post-Christian world!
I was talking to a high school student
about Religious Education in Public schools.
“you can’t do that;
you can’t impose your Christian religion
on a multicultural / multi-religious society.
That is a thing of the past.”
The same applies to the workplace.
If your boss wants you to work on Sundays,
or on Good Friday and Christmas
(some of our main Christian Holidays)
in many situations you just don’t have a choice
unless you’re in the market for a new job.
Also, our’s is a society that has little tolerance
for the church to take a firm stand
on moral or even political issue…
Many would argue
that the church should mind it’s own business and
not be involved in politics at all.
This may be a bit of a hot button
since we are headed for the polls tomorrow…
As Christians we are keenly aware
that the world is watching us…
The world is watching every step…
every action of the Church and its members…
seeking to damage the credibility
of the Christian witness.
speaking to the Church and to Christians, said,
“It is important to show forth beauty
before a lost world and a lost generation.
All too often people have not been wrong
in saying that the church is ugly.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
we are called upon to show to a watching world
and to our own young people
that the church is something beautiful.”
All to often we lack the love we’re supposed to have,
and instead what the world sees
is church conflict and disunity…
abuse of power among members…
poisonous backbiting and gossip…
and many other God-dishonoring qualities.
The world is watching us…
and our young people are watching us…
There are really two dimensions to this issue:
First, the witness of the individual…
And second, the witness of the Congregation as a body.
When we read the book of Acts
and the letters of Paul,
we notice that new believers were very visible
and very active in impacting their world for Christ.
The first few chapters of the Acts of the Apostles (4:20)
tell us that they “could not keep quiet
about what [they] have seen and heard”.
The impact of that witness was that
many came to faith in Jesus Christ
and the Church grew.
We can imagine that the Roman and the Jewish world…
the watching world of that time –
was puzzled about the success
of the Christian movement.
The Epistle to Diognetus,
which is a secular document,
written sometime between 100 and 150 AD,
describes the life of Christians
from the perspective of the watching world.
Allow me to read some portions of this letter
The writer says,
“the Christians are distinguished from other people
neither by country, nor language,
nor the customs which they observe.
For they neither inhabit cities of their own,
nor employ a peculiar form of speech,
they don’t lead a life
which is marked out by anything special.
The conduct which they follow
has not been invented by any great theologian;
they do not advocate merely human doctrines.
But, living in Greek as well as Barbarian cities,
they follow the customs of the natives
in respect to clothing, food,
and the rest of their ordinary conduct,
and yet they display a wonderful and striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries,
but simply as sojourners.
As citizens, they share in all things with others,
and yet endure all things as if foreigners.
Every foreign land is to them as their native country,
and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.
They marry, as do all [others];
they beget children;
but they do not destroy their offspring.
(Explanation: Pagans would often kill their babies (espeially girls)
because they were an economic burden).
They have a common table,
but not a common bed.
Explanation: They had all things in common,
food, property, posessions,
but, they held to strickt moral standards
of marriage and sexuality.
They are in the flesh,
but they do not live after the flesh.
They pass their days on earth,
but they are citizens of heaven.
They obey the prescribed laws,
and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives.
They love all men,
and are persecuted by all.
They are unknown and condemned;
they are put to death,
and restored to life.
They are poor,
yet make many rich;
they are in lack of all things,
and yet abound in all;
they are dishonoured,
and yet in their very dishonour are glorified.
They are evil spoken of,
and yet are justified;
they are reviled,
and they bless those who revile them;
they are insulted,
and repay the insult with honour;
they do good,
yet are punished as evil-doers.
they rejoice as if quickened into life;
they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners,
and are persecuted by the Greeks;
yet those who hate them
are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
To sum up it all up in one word -
what the soul is in the body,
that are Christians in the world.
The soul is dispersed
through all the members of the body,
and Christians are scattered
through all the cities of the world.
The soul dwells in the body,
yet is not of the body;
and Christians dwell in the world,
yet are not of the world.
Christians… love those that hate them.
The soul is imprisoned in the body,
yet it preserves that very body;
and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison,
and yet they are the preservers of the world.
The immortal soul dwells in a mortal tabernacle;
and Christians dwell as sojourners in corruptible [bodies],
looking for an incorruptible dwelling in the heavens.
The soul, when it is ill
and when it is provided with food and drink,
in like manner, the Christians,
though subjected day by day to punishment,
they increase the more in number.”
(So far from the letter to Diognetus).
I don’t know about you,
but I get goose-bumps when I read such a letter.
“What the soul is in the body…
that are Christians in the world.”
This Church, as described by a pagan observer,
is a true witness –
a visible manifestation of God’s presence in the world.
They could not keep quiet…
Their very lives…
not only their words…
but their every action…
proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord
and victor over sin and death.
They were convinced,
that you can’t keep quiet,
if God has marked you for Life
through Jesus Christ.
The life of the first Christians was characterized
by repentance, rebirth,
and new life in Christ.
They walked in the power of the resurrection daily.
They took their discipleship seriously.
They knew what it meant to follow Jesus
in a pagan culture.
The Anabaptists of the 16th Century
likewise believed that
the church is a lantern in a dark place,
a beacon to light the way
to those in the darkness of this world.
The church is visible before the watching eyes of the world,
because we live our lives in public
in obedience to Jesus Christ.
The Bible gives us a few hints
about the blimps that show up on the radar screen
as the world is watching.
1. Jesus said, “By this they will know
that you are my disciples,
if you have love one for another.”
This quality is so basic – so essencial –
and yet often so hard to live out
even in our own communities of faith.
Friends, let us love one another,
so that the world may see…
2. When followers of Christ break bread together
we are making a radical statement
about the nature of the Church.
In the breaking of the bread,
social, racial and economic barriers are broken down.
In Christ we are equal.
There is no difference in value between man and woman,
Free and slave,
Jew or Greek.
This was a profoundly revolutionary act
of the early Church.
What does the watching world see today
when we gather around the table of the Lord?
3. Another practice of the Christian Church
before the watching world,
is the practice of binding and loosing.
In Matth. 18, Jesus gives us a formula
for dealing with conflict in the church.
This is a model of Conflict transformation
that is radically different from the way of the world.
Conflicts are resolved through direct contact
and compassionate confrontation,
with the intention to bring the erring brother/sister back
And only as a last resort,
to deny fellowship to the unrepentant one.
4. Baptism is another practice of the church
that is highly visible in the eyes of the world.
In the act of baptism
we renounce the ways of the world,
and we make a covenant to re-orient our lives
to the will of God.
In baptism we promise to obey God
more than Caesar,
to honor God as our highest authority,
and to live a pure and holy life.
In baptism we also submit ourselves
to be accountable to each other
for our life-choices.
In baptism we die to sin and the way of the world,
and we rise to a new life in Christ.
There are many other practices of the church
that the world watches, and observes, and criticises.
So, what does this mean for you and me
in our daily lives
as representatives of Jesus Christ
in a world full of hate and immorality?
How are we to be visible
as individual Christians and as a Christian Church?
As individuals we must strive to follow to greatest command:
“Love the Lord your God
with all your heart and soul and mind,
and love your neighbor as yourself.”
If we do that,
there are many choices that are already made for us,
because we are citizens of heaven.
There are also many examples of what it means for the Church
to be a witness to the wider society.
The visible Church all over the world
Is actively involved in bringing about
The kingdom of God.
Let me ask you a personal question:
Are you a visible Christian?
Do other people recognize you as a follower of Jesus?
And if so,
How do you deal with conflict?
What do you do with your possessions and finances?
I met a man recently who is part of a Christian community
That holds its members accountable
Not only for the 10% tithe that they give to God,
But also for what they do
With the remaining 90% of their income.
Boy, that one would turn some heads,
Don’t you think?
In 2 Corinthians 3
Paul tells the Corinthians and us also,
“You are a letter of recommendation of Christ
to the world.
A letter written not on stone or paper,
But written on human hearts.”
So my friends,
My brothers and sisters,
go out into the world,
where your faith will be tested and mocked,
And let the world see
That you have been changed
through Jesus Christ.
2 Cor. 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God
among those who are being saved
and among those who are perishing.
Your witness makes a difference!