But how does this communion, the Church, come into being? Very simply, through the Word of God.
Before you skip ahead, thinking you know what I mean in talking about the Word of God, hold on.
When you saw that phrase, Word of God, you probably immediately thought of the Bible. And, of course, Christians believe that the Bible is the Word of God. My own Lutheran tradition says that the Bible is the "authoritative source and norm of our life, faith, and practice." The Church dares make no claims about the will of God that aren't supported by what is revealed about God's will in the Bible.
But the authority of the Bible, its "Word-ness," isn't self-referring. The Bible can be claimed to be the Word of God only because it faithfully and unerringly presents The Word of God, Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity.
Employing language that would have been familiar to both his Jewish audience steeped in the Torah and to his Gentile audience knowledgeable of Greek philosophy, John wrote in the overture to his Gospel about Jesus Christ, the Word of God:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, 3through him. And without him not one thing came into being that has come into being. 4In him was life');" onmouseout="return nd();" and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.The entire Bible is the Word of God because, it displays the Word of God: God the Son, Who was a the Second Person of the Trinity when God created the universe and Who entered the world to give new life to all who believe in Him.
10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, to his own home');" onmouseout="return nd();">* and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, the Father’s only Son');" onmouseout="return nd();">* full of grace and truth. 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son,It is an only Son, God, or It is the only Son');" onmouseout="return nd();">* who is close to the Father’s heart, bosom');" onmouseout="return nd();">* who has made him known. [John 1:1-5, 10-14, 16-18]
Paul, obviously writing about the Old Testament, the Bible he knew in the first century, said that, "all scripture is inspired by God [breathed or Spirit-ed by God] and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" [2 Timothy 3:16]. Inspired by the same God Who inspired the Old Testament writers, the Church has come to see what we call the New Testament as on a par with the writings to which Paul referred.
That phrase, inspired by God, is key to understanding the uniqueness of the Bible. Without the inspiration of God, the Bible wouldn't be the Word of God. It would just be writings on a par with a Sue Grafton mystery, the latest issue of People magazine, or a report on pork bellies.
To describe anything as being inspired by God is to say that it's God-breathed. It's infused with the Spirit of God.
In the Old Testament Hebrew, the word translated as spirit, which can also mean wind or breath, is ruach. In the first of two creation accounts found at the beginning of Genesis, God's ruach--breath, mighty wind, Spirit--moves over a primordial chaos and life comes into being. In the second creation account, God breathes His ruach--Spirit, breath--into stuff and human life comes into being.
The Greek New Testament word, pneuma, has the same multiple meanings as ruach. Before His crucifixion, Jesus promised that He would not leave His followers orphaned; He would send the Holy Spirit. This Spirit breathes new life--the life of God--into believers. The Holy Spirit is the One Who imparts faith and the power to live to Christ's followers even today. Christians today live the truth of what Jesus talked to Nicodemus about:
...5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. same Greek word means both wind and spirit');" onmouseout="return nd();">* 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You Greek word for you here is plural');" onmouseout="return nd();">* must be born from above.” anew');" onmouseout="return nd();">* 8The wind same Greek word means both wind and spirit');" onmouseout="return nd();">* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ [John 3:3-5]Fine, you may say, but what does all of this have to do with the Church? Sometimes, sadly, it seems very little. When you consider all of the strange and even sinful things that the institution we call "the Church" and indivduals who identify themselves as Christians do in the world, you can't help wondering if anyone is paying attention to the Word of God, be it Jesus or the Bible, at all.
But if you've read the Bible, the reality of sinning, erring Christians won't surprise you. Yesterday, remember, we said that one definition for saints is forgiven sinners. The Church, as I've said elsewhere, is a fellowship of recovering sinners, people learning to give up their addictions to self or to the things they can see, hold, control, or manipulate, a gathering of people learning to rely totally on Christ. But we Christians are only learning these things. Sometimes even the most well-intentioned of believers forget. They sin. Or they err even while making good-faith efforts to follow Christ.
There are even, Jesus warns us, pseudo-Christians who hang out with the Church folk, but who are really far from God. That's a point of Jesus' parable about the wheat and the weeds. Out of kindness, in the hope that true faith in Christ will take hold in all people, inside and outside the Church, Christ lets the weeds grow beside the wheat. But there will be a reckoning.
In the meantime, old believers are sustained and new believers are created by the powerful Word of God, the good news about Jesus presented by words and actions. Paul writes:
...faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of [or the word about] Christ. [Romans 10:17]The Church, not a building or an organization, but a living organism, is brought into being by the living, Holy Spirit-sustained Word of God. The Church happens wherever Jesus Christ is truly proclaimed. The Church happens wherever the Spirit blows and brings refreshment to those desperate enough to receive the Word of God.