In the last post, I said that there are the two missions for God’s church: (1) to guard and keep the garden where God meets with His people, and (2) filling and subduing the earth to make the whole thing a garden.
This will come as good news to those with a right worldview. Everyone assumes certain things when they look at the world and from those assumptions, they draw conclusions about what’s wrong with the world, what’s right with the world, and how it can be made better. The talk before mine at Veritas was in part about how the only result of godlessness is sin, pain, and suffering. That is, if we ignore God: His law and His gospel, we will inevitably just make things worse. A Christian worldview essentially says, “God made this world; He probably knows how it works.”
The thing we need to understand is that godlessness isn’t always obvious. Sometimes sin is hidden or called something that makes it sound better than it is; sometimes we call rebellion against God’s Law “marriage equality” and we call murder “being pro-choice.” Even before we get to that, though, there is a pride that says “I want to see the world made better and, as the Frank Sinatra might put it, I’ll do it my way.”
What we forget when we think we can solve the world’s problems our own way is the desperately sinful state of mankind. All we like sheep have gone astray, and we each think we know the best way. There is a way that seems right to a man, but it ends in destruction. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked, but as Proverbs 18:2 teaches us, we don’t want instruction, we just want to say and do what’s on our sinful hearts. Our situation is so dire, only God could solve it.
And He is solving it. When Jesus came, He atoned for our sin before God—He took the punishment for all the bloodshed that doing things our way caused. Beyond that, though, He also started the New Testament church, God’s plan for turning a wretched culture of death into a garden of life and blessing.
Remember the river that brings life wherever it goes in Ezekiel? It flows out from the presence of God and His people. That is to say, when we assemble as God’s people on Sunday to hear the Word preached and observe the sacraments, He is working in our hearts to equip us to become streams that flow out into the four corners of the earth and make the world a garden.
The most common error among Christians today is to think we can turn the entire planet into a garden while neglecting the garden that God has started—the church. In this spirit, we start our own programs to solve the problems of sin and suffering, forgetting about God’s plan for the world. Let me be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting a soup kitchen. The problem comes when we’re so busy feeding soup to the poor that we neglect the food that Jesus provides for us in communion on Sunday.
When we step out of God’s garden into the world to make it a garden, we need to make sure we are stepping back into God’s garden often enough so that we don’t forget what gardens look like. Besides that, if we neglect to work and keep God’s garden, we quickly find that it becomes overrun with weeds and past progress is quickly undone.
We need to live in the garden and work in the world. It is God’s modus operandi to start things in gardens. Adam and Eve started in a garden. Noah planted a garden after the flood. Jesus began the work of redemption in the garden of Gethsemane and then He began applying that work through the resurrection in the garden outside His tomb. Scripture is telling us over and over again us that change for God’s world flows out of His garden—where He meets with His people.
When God instructed Moses how to build the tabernacle, He did this by showing him the tabernacle in heaven after which it was to be modeled. Building out God’s garden works the same way. When we come to church, we hear that we are sinful and we hear that we are forgiven. We offer sacrifices of prayer and thanksgiving to God in song and in hearing the Word preached. We are instructed how to worship God and our hearts are enlarged by the proclamation of His gospel in the sermon. Oftentimes, we share in communion with Christ and His body, which reminds us that He is with us. Sometimes we also watch as people crucify their old selves in Christ and rise to new life in Christ through baptism.
This teaches us, week in and week out, how God is to be worshiped and served in our daily lives. When we get worship in church right because it is well guarded and well kept, we are taught by example how to worship God in our daily lives at work, at school, and in our families. We are taught to remind ourselves of our sin and God’s grace daily through the weekly reminder at church. In the sermon, we hear God’s Law which tells us how we have failed and need to improve—we also hear the gospel and are reminded of the work Christ did to forgive our sins and enable us to fight our sin. We are taught that God is with us through His manifestation of His presence in the Lord’s Supper, and we are reminded of our death to sin and life in Christ when we watch other people demonstrate their death and life in baptism.
Right Church worship teaches us right life worship.
These are the ways that God has established for us to worship Him and they are the ways that God has established to change the world through us. There is no way to save the world apart from the means that God has appointed. If we neglect His church, we will begin to hurt the world and our own souls rather than help them. We will forget the right worship of God and we will begin to worship something else.
But when we meet together weekly to encourage and teach one another to worship God rightly—we remind each other of what God’s garden looks like. That’s why the author of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24–25)
Our temptation is to think that the world is so messed up that we need to figure out a solution fast. In reality, what we need to do is believe Jesus and His promises, and then obey what He has told us. We need to believe Him when He says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
,Jesus has promised to build the church, His garden. As this garden grows, it will destroy the gates of hell. Satan himself can’t stand against what God is doing. If God wants to save souls and change culture, He will do it and no one can stop Him. Moreover, He’s promised to do it and He’s doing it through the church.
This is why the church is so important. The church is the institution that God has established to apply the redemption that Jesus Christ accomplished on the Cross. There is no other way to be on the right side of history then to meet with God in His world-dominating garden, the church.