In light of Pastor Joel’s letter that mentions the fact that many people attend First Baptist regularly and for long periods of time without joining the church, we’ve spent some time in the last few weeks talking about the whole idea of church membership.
We’ve been looking at the twelfth chapter of I Corinthians and Romans 12: 5 that emphasize the idea – no, not the idea, the fact – that he who is in Christ is a member of the church. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ, that is, into His body, which is the church. We considered whether the formal registration of that membership in the local body – in our case, First Baptist Church – might be seen the same way we see Baptism – as an outward sign or recognition of an inner, spiritual reality.
We spoke of our inclusion in Christ’s body and then we spoke of the idea of the metaphysical as something higher and greater and even more real than the physical. That is, the spiritual is not less real or substantial than the physical, it is more so.
I said that the Bible teaches that there is a spiritual world that is greater and more real than the physical world that we can see, hear and touch. I didn’t consider that a controversial statement, but I was nonetheless asked to find passages in the Bible that supported this idea. I couldn’t come up with anything there on the spot.
But a couple of hours of reflection suggest that we might find the most direct support for this idea in the story of Elisha and his servant. [all at II Kings 6: 13-21] They find themselves surrounded by powerful enemies and Elisha’s servant is about to lose heart. Elisha tells his servant not to be worried:
“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
(Remember, right then, as far as the physical eye could see, it was only Elisha and his servant, surrounded by the king’s “horses and chariots and a strong force.”)
In this context, Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened “so that he may see.”
Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw “the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
We may find further support in the words of our Lord on the night of His arrest. When the Roman soldiers approach, Peter draws his sword and lops off the ear of one of the members of the arresting party. Jesus tells Peter to put away his sword. This is supposed to be happening, He says, that all may be fulfilled. Besides, He says, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” [Matt 26: 53]
These are in fact fine examples of the reality of the spiritual world and evidence that the world we cannot normally see is more real and more powerful than the physical world around us and the powers that have sway in it. But all of this is just spooning water from the ocean. The whole of the Bible, the whole of the Christian faith, is about the miraculous – about the intervention of the spiritual world into this mundane world of ours. Paul is bold to tell us that the whole of the Christian faith turns on a supernatural event. If there is no resurrection – “if Christ is not raised from the dead, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain” and we are “of all men most miserable.”
If we try to separate Christianity from the miraculous, from the idea that there is a spiritual world that is greater than the physical and impinges on and invades the physical, we have nothing left.