Monday, October 26, 2009

A Pitiful Answer

This past weekend I ventured with my wife up to New York City. On Saturday as she hung out with her sister who had taken the bus down from Boston, I ventured around Lower Manhattan, taking in the sites, including Trinity Church, a historic Episcopal parish on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street.

I walked around the graveyard and admired the beautiful architecture and art both inside and outside the church. I love seeing how God is glorified in the beautiful artwork that adorns sacred spaces intended for the heralding the Gospel.

But of course, the Episcopal Church USA these days is not generally -- especially in liberal urban centers -- a fearless defender or even proclaimer of the historic Christian faith, so it was a bittersweet visit, all the more confirmed by a visit this evening to the "What We Believe" Web page for Trinity.

It was the following portion from the FAQ that prompted this blog entry and its title, because anyone who believes the answer the parish provided is truly to be pitied:


Are you the church featured in the movie National Treasure?
Yes.
Is there any treasure?
Yes, but probably not the kind you are thinking of. Trinity’s greatest treasures are the people who make this a vibrant place, working every day for a world of good.
It's not only that answer is cheesy, which it is, but that it's man-focused, man-exalting, and Christless. After all, there are plenty of "good" people "working every day for a world of good" in all kinds of institutions, sacred and secular. But in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the people are NOT the treasure, Christ is!

In the church, the people are but the earthen vessels bearing within the greatest treasure (2 Cor. 4:1-7, emphasis mine):
Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.  For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Yes, in some sense the Lord's church is a treasure. It is a treasure to Christ, who redeemed it with His own blood, and all who are truly born again of the Spirit are those for whom the Lord Jesus Christ gave His life.

In that sense, it's true that every saint is a precious treasure to God.

But let's not think that we individually or corporately in a church setting are a treasure to the surrounding community because of anything we have done or presently do. Our worth before God is solely a function of His grace poured out on unworthy sinners. Ultimately, that's the only good the church is to lost people as well: as heralds of the surpassing greatness of Christ.

Any church that fails to proclaim this humbling truth does a grave disservice to sinners who need to hear the pride-deflating truth of the Gospel so that they can repent of their sins and trust in Christ unto salvation.

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6 comments:

Leo B. VadalĂ  October 26, 2009 at 9:35 PM  

The Episcopal Church has been a bit of an enigma to me. On the one hand, it had a tawdry beginning, owing its origins to political machinations and Henry VIII's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon; on the other hand, it has been home to some of the best theologians and Christian thinkers I have had the pleasure of reading" John Stott, J.I. Packer, C.S. Lewis, etc.

Tertius October 26, 2009 at 10:28 PM  

True, the Anglican Church had a tawdry beginning, but was the vehicle for many solidly orthodox English Reformers. Just more evidence of God's sovereignty over the church and how He works even through tawdry circumstances for His glory and the spread of the Gospel.

For example, the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church are a solid Reformed confession of faith and the Reformed and evangelical camps within the Anglican communion have given us great minds like Stott, Packer, and Lewis.

Aside from that, there's a lot of rich liturgical and devotional history with the Book of Common Prayer and Anglican music, like the evensong services.

Anonymous,  October 27, 2009 at 5:22 PM  

How does your definition of what it is to worship Christ differ from pure idolatry? Christ was a teacher and lead by example. He looked to his fellow men and women and saw what was good in them and loved them. I think that you can aspire to be a "good" Christian by committing yourself to exploring, and adhering to, the more difficult and esoteric biblical teachings, but it does not necessarily make for an actual understanding of God and a life of devotion and love.

Tertius October 27, 2009 at 5:43 PM  

Anonymous:

Jesus is worthy of worship because he is truly God, as well as fully man (Col. 1:19) He's worthy of being worshiped because He was slain, and by His blood has ransomed men and women from all tongues and tribes and nations (Rev. 5:9).

And we worship Jesus because His death in our place for our sins is how we know love (I John 3:16; I John 4:10).

Anonymous,  October 28, 2009 at 10:04 PM  

These aren't your actual thoughts, they are your brain sputtering out. If you asked me what patriotism was and I started reciting bits of the Constitution, I wouldn't be of much use to you would I?

Leo B. VadalĂ  October 28, 2009 at 10:22 PM  

It would be nice to be able to respond to you, Anonymous, but it is hard to know where you are coming from, whether you are a nominal Christian, a follower of a different world religion, a universalist or an atheist, or perhaps even a genuine Christian whose vocabulary is a little different and therefore we are having trouble understanding each other. Lacking any other information, the only way to respond is with the Gospel, which centers around who Jesus is and His incredible sacrifice for sinners like us. I think this is what Tertius has attempted to convey, and these are by no means just sputterings of the brain.

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