I fallibly pray for “my church.” Only Jesus prays perfectly for “His Church"

As a now “honorably retired” elder in my church (the PCA), I will not attend or vote in its annual (pandemic-postponed) meeting (June 28-July 2). But I will spiritually participate through my fallible prayers. The Lord Jesus Christ is the only head of His Church. So I am drawn to how He intercedes for His Church — in John 17.

I’ve re-read John Stott’s exposition of John 17 from the 1970 Urbana missions convention. This teaching was part of my spiritual formation as a young minister. For example, the church in relationship to the world must be “spiritually distinct … not socially segregated.” Or, to rephrase in current terms, Christ’s church is called to be “on-mission, but not in-silos.

The Son has returned to heaven to be glorified with his Father. Now the Son must be glorified through His church. Jesus glorified the Father by perfectly accomplishing what he was given to do. Now the church must imperfectly glorify Christ by fulfilling what the Son has given us to do, before a watching world.

Stott focuses on the four main prayers of Jesus for His Church: for sanctification, protection, mission, and unity. As Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth”“keep them from the evil one”“I have sent them into the world”“that they may be one.” Stott observes: “Of these four, truth predominates, for it is the truth which sanctifies, unifies, and compels the church to evangelize.”

As my denomination convenes, I note John Stott’s observation: “Christ’s vision for the Church is far more balanced and comprehensive than ours tend to be.” Ouch! That observation hurts so good! And I am been very encouraged by this Letter from former PCA General Assembly Moderators.

Looking back on graduate school, I recall American church history. During the First and Second Great Awakenings, Presbyterians divided between the “Old Lights and New Lights,” then the “Old Side and New Side.” Would the church align with the “missional” or with the “traditional” parties? I remember thinking: “But these groups needed each other! That is, to avoid missional compromise with the world, or traditional withdrawal from the world.

A wise elder, and a PhD psychologist, once said to me, “Psychology often hides behind theology.” God can use our dispositional differences to mutually benefit each other and balance the church. Analogy: vibrations in auto engines must be “dampened” to avoid destructive wobbles. We need each other to avoid destructive imbalances and oscillations in the church, so that we display the beauty of Christ, and glorify God the Father in this world.

Attractive Community

King David humbly wrote "I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me." (Psalm 131:1) Maybe less wisely, I'm pondering the Trinity. No one can explain the divine mystery, as Augustine of Hippo, in his On the Trinity, confessed.

But this much I know: God can't be defined (God's "incomprehensibility"), but God has been truly revealed: perfectly and historically, in the person of Jesus Christ (God's "incarnation").

God can be imaged in Christ's Body, the visible church before a watching world. The reflection is imperfect. When corrupted with lies or hate, beauty can be distorted and become ugly.

Reality is ultimately Relational. The divine Persons ("three-in-one") relate in an Ultimate Community of Truth and Love. And when God's people relate with Truth and Love, the world sees an (imperfect) reflection of mysteriously attractive community.

God's people are commanded: "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4:15) The Bible alludes to the beauty of the mysterious Trinity reflected in an attractive Christian community. Jesus prayed: "I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:22–23)

Abiding in God's LIGHT (truth) and LOVE (for each other), we cultivate eternal LIFE with God. The Letter of 1 John warns against the deception of the evil one. "We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:19)

In the Orthodox tradition, an iconic image of perichoresis (cf. choreography) depicts the relationship between the persons of the Trinity as a "dance." Since humans are created in God's image, Christ's people can reflect a relational reality that is attractive, inviting others into a dance of eternal life, light, and love.

But society today reflects an ugliness caused by Lies (not Truth). Post-modernism replaces God's Truth with "my narrative vs. your narrative." The person's story with the most political power "wins." Society is distorted by Hate (not Love). From inside preferred tribes and "silos," people lob missiles of hate toward those with whom they disagree. The world is robbed of a vision of attractive beauty.

My Christian denomination meets this month. I pray for an attractive community. I am grateful for over 600 PCA pastors and elders who have signed a Public Letter: an appeal for our church to be a community of TRUTH and LOVE, not Truth versus Love. That is, to reflect the beauty of the Trinity.

John R. W. Stott echos both the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul: “Love becomes sentimental if it is not strengthened by truth and truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love. We need to preserve the balance of the Bible ... to hold the truth in love, to love others in the truth, and to grow not only in love but discernment.” (What Christ Thinks of the Church, 1990)