Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Church Invisible

What I have come to see and participate in at least a little is the Church Invisible. The visible Church at regular intervals pays its respects to this invisible Church by calling them ‘unsung heroes, the uncanonised unknown saints,’ and the like. Sometimes they even drag out a story or a legend about one of these cross-bearers and extols them—but to what effect?

The Church Invisible

How do you know when you're approaching the borderlands
of the invisible church?

You begin to take on the state of invisibility yourself.

The best thing to do when you sense this happening is… 

Run even faster after Jesus!
Don't look back!

Strain ahead for what is still to come.
Accept the loss of everything
and look on all the advantages you have in the world
and even in the visible Church
as so much rubbish.

Because all these things are really disadvantages,
as holy apostle Paul declares in his letter
to the church at Philippi (Philippians 3:2-16).

Decide now and every day to follow the call of Jesus Christ,
decide once and for all that ‘all I want is
to know Christ and the power of His resurrection
and to share His sufferings
by reproducing the pattern of His death’

(Philippians 3:10 JB).

How do you enter the ranks of the invisible church?

By paying your tithe with more than money,
by not looking to be thanked,
by announcing the Word of God without charge, fear or praise,
by emptying yourself to assume the conditions of a slave,
by putting yourself in places
where faith is not only possible
but inevitable,
by serving those whom the world considers unworthy,
because by doing so you turn tables on the world—
the Word of God calls people like this,
‘those of whom the world was not worthy’
(Hebrews 11:38).

The author of Hebrews continues giving good instructions
for those who are willing to enter the ranks
of the Church Invisible

‘With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us, 

we too, then, should throw off everything that hinders us,
especially the sin that clings so easily,
and keep running steadily
in the race we have started.
Let us not lose sight of Jesus,
who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection’

(Hebrews 12:1-2).

 “Three times Jesus encourages His disciples by saying, ‘Fear not.’ (Matthew 10:26-39) Although their sufferings are now secret [invisible], they will not always be so: some day they will be manifest before God and man. However secret these sufferings are at present, they have their Lord's promise that they will be eventually brought to the light of day. … Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men. All preachers of the gospel will do well to recollect this saying daily. … We are in God's hands. Therefore, ‘Fear not.’

— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, "The Decision"
One final thought.

Yes, in the Orthodox Church,
the visible church is plastered with ikons,
that is, images of the saints, to remind us
of what the author of Hebrews wrote,
‘With so many witnesses in a great cloud on every side of us…’
When we worship there, we are visibly present
and the ikons are visibly present,
to incite us to look beyond them
to the invisible presence of the saints.

I almost wrote, ‘What if we took seriously…’
but instead, I want to say,

Just take God at His Word
and ‘throw off everything that hinders’ you,
‘especially the sin that clings so easily…’
What sin is that?

The sin of being satisfied with the externals,
with what can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted and touched
in the church visible.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus!
Then, follow Him, no looking back!
The visible church with its visible ikons fades out
as the Church Invisible with its living ikons
invisible to the world
reveals itself—and you among them,
a living ikon.

Yes, go with Jesus.

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