The Work of Jesus: Making Oaks of Righteousness

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.  Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards. And you will be called priests of the LORD, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.”

Isaiah 61:1-6

We read the first half of this passage with the image of Jesus in the temple, opening the scroll of Isaiah and proclaiming his purpose to bind and heal, release, bring favor, and bestow beauty. Jesus, the Messiah, adopted this passage as his mission statement for his three years of earthly ministry.

Then we reach that pivotal verse, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” The conduit of God’s Kingdom work has shifted from Jesus, to the people he has healed, restored, made into oaks of righteousness.

Isaiah 61.4

Now it is “they” who rebuild ancient ruins and restore devastated places. “They” who renew. Who is this “they” but the very ones Christ binds and heals.

The work of Christ is to take the poor, brokenhearted captives who wear ashes and to transform them into a display for Yahweh’s splendor.

Simplified, the Messiah redeems sinners for the Father’s glory.

The beauty of this passage is not just the wondrous works Jesus brings to undeserving sinners, but that Jesus then sends those healed people off to be “ministers of our God.” We are more than cleaned-up has-beens. We are commissioned-will-bes.

Spiritual Gifts: Instrumental in Church Life, Not an Afterthought

A few thoughts on spiritual gifts:

Given by God’s Spirit

“God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hebrews 2:4).

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men…All these [spiritual gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines…In fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (I Corinthians 12:4-6; 11; 17-18).

For God’s purposes

Spiritual gifts were not given for our entertainment, to provide us something to do, not even to make us useful or bring us joy. They were given for the sake of the Church, for the manifestation of God’s glory, and for witnessing the Gospel.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Equal in value

The image Paul uses to teach the Corinthians that all gifts are important and needed is that of the body.

“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (I Corinthians 12:12, 17-18).

Preachers and teachers might be the most visibly gifted; prophets and healers perhaps the most dramatically gifted; servers and mercy-givers maybe the most underrated and misunderstood. But God makes no distinction concerning value. In fact, Paul flips our instincts upside down: “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (22-25).

Grumbling and choosiness have no place within the body because each part is valued and important.

 All who have the Spirit have a gift

Paul’s detailed description of the body—many parts united together—underscores that everyone who is a part of the church, born again of the Spirit, has a gift and a place. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:7). There are no useless parts of the body.

Not gender specific

In Acts 2, men and women gathered in an upper room, awaiting the Spirit of God, as instructed. A sound like rushing wind filled the room and tongues of fire came to rest on God’s people. The initial anointing of the Spirit on the Church, an anointing never to be revoked. God had sent the comforter, the empowerer, just as he’d promised. These men and women threw open the windows and doors and went out preaching. What verses did Peter quote?

Joel 2:28-29, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”

What’s amazing about the instruction of spiritual gifts is that there are no gender restrictions. Paul, a thorough, passionate church leader, doesn’t say, “But to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given, to men…these gifts, and to women… those gifts.” This is not an oversight on Paul’s part. He didn’t slap his head in dismay after sending his letters to the Corinthians, Ephesians, and Romans, “I forgot to say the Spirit doesn’t give women the gifts of preaching and teaching!” No, friends. The Spirit gives the gifts as the Spirit sees fit, regardless of gender. Let us focus on the purpose of the gifts: God’s glory, the building of His people, the expansion of His kingdom. Let us not foist extraneous ideas on scripture or get distracted with petty arguments of who can do what.

Diverse

Let us not be narrow-minded when it comes to spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is the specific equipping of the Spirit of God within a person for the working out of His purposes. We see this in the Old Testament, even though the words ‘spiritual gift’ are not used:

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts–to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers– all of them master craftsmen and designers” (Exodus 35:30-35).

Likewise, without using the term ‘spiritual gifts’ Acts is all about spiritual gifts, beginning with the Spirit of God coming upon the Church. The witnessing, miracles, boldness, and church governing we see is done through the power of the Spirit within individuals.

We do find, however, specific gift listings, thanks to Paul:

1 Corinthians 12:7-10: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,  to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:28: And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

Ephesians 4:11: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,

Romans 12:6-8: We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.  7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;  8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

No Room for Selfishness

The spiritual life is first of all about Jesus Christ, and because it’s about him, it’s also about his body, the Church, of which He is the head. “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5). Here’s a sobering thought: within the church, you are not your own. You belong to “all the others.” You can’t pick and choose who you share yourself with. God has chosen for you, and it’s “all the others.”

That brings new meaning to the word submission. A concept which most Christians connect to marriage. That’s way too narrow a domain for submission.

Submission is one of the most difficult disciplines to practice because it’s about more than the individual and God. It’s about the individual, God, and “all the others.” And the individual falls at the bottom of the order. First, we submit ourselves to God. And then we submit ourselves to “all the others.”

Submit: to lay down what we want to make room for what others want; to say, “not my way” but “your way”; to keep our mouths shut when we’d rather open them; to honor others by promoting their cause, their good, their ideas, when we’d rather flash the brilliance of our own brainstorms; to say, “I don’t have to be the one visible or heard,” when we’d rather say, “Look at me! Listen to me!”

Submission is a way we honor others in the body of Christ as image-bearers who have essential gifts to offer the Church. It’s the most selfless discipline we can practice, and every fiber of our pride fights against it.

For further study on submission as a discipline, I highly recommend Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, a beautifully titled book that truly presents the joy of practicing spiritual disciplines.

Blessings on your quest to submit to “all the others” in the body of Christ.

Church Language: Don’t Tarnish the Bride

I’ve never felt more beautiful in my life than when I walked down the aisle at my wedding. My husband’s eyes shone so much I could see them from the end of the aisle—in candlelight.

But honestly, more than the love-struck eyes, I loved my dress, a simple streamlined design. Rouching gathered behind the waist, and a row of pearl buttons extending from mid-back to hips, added soft sophistication. A band of lace across the neckline whispered femininity. And my veil—unadorned netting—rested atop my curls and traversed down to the floor, pooling behind me.

How can a bride not feel beautiful, dressed to the hilt and loved beyond limit? I haven’t always been a beautiful bride. In those eight and a half years since my wedding, I have complained, spoken harshly, angered, blamed, and pouted. Not beautiful. Not at all.

We, the Church, haven’t been a beautiful bride, always. We are still the bride, though. And the position of bride is one of influence and unchallengable worth.

This is why it bothers me when I hear Christian songs—well intended, I’m sure—pick on the Church. This seems to be a popular trend lately. (Can you imagine picking on a bride at her wedding?) A subtle attitude of condemnation comes through when artists write songs intending to challenge the Church to rise up, rid itself of laziness, and start serving. Or sometimes a song will suggest that the Church is judgmental. I recognize that intentions are good, and that many Christians may enjoy these songs. I don’t attack the artists or their intentions, but I do raise a question. What is the underlying message we are sending about the Church?

Let me put forth one example: If We are the Body, by Casting Crowns.

A traveler is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row
The weight of their judgmental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

This rubs me wrong. In defense of Casting Crowns, I understand they are issuing a challenge to the Church to be welcoming. It’s an important challenge. People are watching us, waiting to find something negative to say about us. And yet, I’ve been in the Church my whole life. His arms are reaching. Not perfectly, but it’s happening. The Church is God’s tool for Kingdom advancement. Many congregations are alive, missional, and welcoming.

Is there room for growth in the Church? Absolutely. Can the Church be judgmental? Definitely. The Church sins. We are still waiting for the working out of our redemption, the final act of salvation.

But please, let’s be careful in the ways we seek to challenge the Church to action, to purity. Let’s remember her beauty, her position as bride. Let’s not grieve the Groom who loves her.

Church Language: “I” am not the Church, “we” are

A man can climb Everest alone. A strong man can lift a car alone. A woman can give birth alone. And in 2003 we learned that a trapped man can saw off his arm with a pocket knife—alone. Some cultures have a rite of passage ritual where a young boy goes out into the wilderness, alone, and returns a man.

Some things cannot be done solo. A duet. A game of catch. Spiritual growth.

We can pretend that our spiritual lives are individual, and in many ways they seem so. We have individual souls that must trust in Jesus for salvation—a solo decision. We have private thoughts of confession, and much of our Bible reading is done alone. But beyond salvation, the spiritual life becomes a journey of “we” not “I”.

A man cannot be his own church.

The Church, by nature, is a place of community. Therefore, let us be careful about the language we use. Let us say “us” not “me”. Let us say “our” not “my”. When we are offended by someone in our congregation, such language as “I” vs. “them” denies the unity of the body, as if “I” am the Church, not “them”.

Playground of Grace

The church is full of . . . (do you know what comes next?)

hypocrites.

Have you heard this complaint? Maybe you’ve uttered it after being discouraged by a church members sin.

It’s true, in one sense. People sin. Unsaved people, and saved people. We can’t get away from sin, even in the Church. None of us can be that perfect example of ourselves we like to think we can be. We’ve all acted hypocritically.

That’s why being part of a church body requires grace–grace poured on others for their sinfulness, and grace received for our own mistakes. The spiritual life is a journey, and a journey, by nature, is movement from one point to another. We are all moving from imperfect to perfect, and we’ll not arrive until Perfection comes again.

The local congregation should be the playground of grace. Having been saved (passive tense), we offer grace (active tense). We recognize that who we have become in Christ has not been of our own doing, but his.

Let’s get ourselves to the playground of grace and swing on God’s mercy, slide on his love. Let’s move beyond the excuse that the church is full of hypocrites.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25

When the Church Sins

Sometimes sin is corporate. It’s not hypocrites in the Church; it’s a hypocritical Church. We present ourselves in one way—we tout a religion of love, joy, and peace—but act in another.

First, let’s clarify: God has always had a remnant, a group of people, no matter how small, who remain true to him. Even when Israel rejected Yahweh and chased after other gods, a remnant remained faithful. So when I say, “The Church sins”, I speak of a corporate failure of the body of Christ, not the failure of every individual within that body.

How has the Church sinned?

On the large-scale, I immediately think of the Crusades—the period in Medieval times where Christianity became state-driven (referred to as Christendom, the start of which being Charlemagne in 800). I also think of times when the Church has failed to stand up for truth. Nazi Germany, for example.

On the small-scale, I think of members of churches I’ve been in who have been wronged by the majority of their home church body, their family—gossiped about, rejected unfairly, blamed unjustly, not stood up for when they were victims. Or what about when churches refuse to partner with other denominations because of theological differences or prejudices? Perhaps a group within the church slanders another group because of worship style preference.

When God’s people sinned and remained unrepentant, they suffered consequences. But God had a prescription:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Heal their land. The sin of God’s people was ruining their livelihood, their very existence. And after failing to humble themselves and return to Yahweh, God’s people were subjected to the consequences of their sin, just as God had warned.

But God pursued his people. This time, after war and deportation, his people answered the call.

“They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the LORD their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the LORD their God.” Nehemiah 9:3

God’s call to his Church remains: humble yourself and pray.

Unity in the Church: Hard, but Not Optional

Ever heard the phrase, “No pain, no gain”?

It’s easily applied to unity. We’re all one body, joined in Christ, and unity is beyond essential. It’s commanded. It’s part of the defition of Church.

But what makes it so hard? Pride. Unforgiveness. Theological differences. Prejudices. Selfishness. Laziness. You can add your own stumbling block to the list. Unity is hard, but it’s not optional.

My daughter is fond of saying, “This is no fun,” when she has to do something she doesn’t want to. I usually quip something like, “Life’s not about having fun.” Really, it isn’t. If we never clean up our house and clutter and germs pile up like flies on a . . .oh, that’s gross.

We do things because we need to, because they’re necessary, and in the case of church unity, because God commands it of us.

What’s hard for you today? What pulls you back from unity? Buckle your boot straps. We’ve got work to do.

One Body

Church is a singular noun. Despite the schisms, fractions, and multiple expressions of the institutional church, the driving image for the Church in the New Testament is one body.

 “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink,” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

One Jesus, Lord of the Church. One baptism makes us part of that Church. One Spirit, given to empower the Church.

All who are in the Church have the same Spirit and have been given a gift. It doesn’t make sense to say that only some of those who came into the Church through the one baptism, one death and resurrection of the one Lord, would not have the one Spirit that marks the identity of the Church. It doesn’t make sense to say so, but some do, and by doing so, defy that the Church is one body.

Perhaps the most foundational (and overlooked) gift given to the Church, through the Spirit, is the gift of unity. The members of the Church are to express its quintessential oneness. Unity is to be more than a theological reality, more than a characteristic, more than a God-ordained wish. Unity must take on flesh among us and move beyond a charter of essentials that members agree on. The source of unity must be living, active, and breathing among us.

The flesh of this unity—its expression among us—is none other than Jesus himself.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 15:5-6).

Following Jesus is the medium through which the spirit of unity is poured into the Church. The “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” is experienced as the Church is built up into the unity of the Son of God. Spiritual gifts were given for this very purpose:

“. . . to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13).

The Spirit manifests among the Church the oneness of the body as it stems from Jesus Christ.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

God’s umbrella of grace spans over the entire Church, and we exist beneath it as one body. We do not stand under this umbrella separated from one another, but as one body. We do not experience unity individually, but as one body. And one day, in heaven, we will worship as one body in perfect unity.

A Quick Distinction: The Visible and Invisible Church

The Church is the people of God, the body of Christ. All who trust in Christ for salvation automatically become part of the Church, whether they like it or not.

However, not all who go to church services, who become members of a church, are part of the Church. This is an important distinction. John Calvin referred to the public, institutional church as the visible church. We can see who attends services. We can proclaim our membership of a particular flock or denomination.

The invisible church is known only to God. It is “His prerogative”, using Calvin’s words, to know who is the elect, from beginning to end of creation. And in light of this, we are to withhold judgment. We can, however, recognize members of this invisible church by their confession of faith, partaking of the sacraments, and their profession of Christ. We know a tree by its fruit.

Recognizing this distinction between the visible and invisible Church breeds humility. Authority over the Church is God’s. No man can be the gatekeeper to the body of Christ, letting those he deems worthy in or out. Some people are content to do the religion thing, but not surrender to Christ. God will judge their hearts. It is our job to serve within the Church. We are aware that those who seem far from God may be called to him at some point in their lives. God will call those he’s elected.

We are also aware that God has placed upon man the important task of shepherding his Church. We are to disciple and to encourage the visible church. We are to guard the visible church, and by guard, I mean we are not to open membership to anyone and everyone, but to set forth the requirements of scripture for salvation: namely, confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

The early church was extremely particular in its membership requirements. During the startup of the visible church, in the first several hundred years after Jesus lived on earth, heresies were rampant, and the church fathers were correct in being protective of the Gospel. Requirements for church membership included a discipleship period of several years and a renunciation of former ways of living. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was closed to church members only, whereas the teaching and singing components of worship were open to the public.

The Church’s One Foundation

My senior year of college I did an internship with the pastor of visitation at my church. We served communion to elderly members who could not leave their homes. We visited those in the hospital. We conducted services in nursing homes and visited those there whose families were far away. And all the time we sang hymns. The pastor with whom I served carried copied hymn sheets around and we’d whip them out in a hospital room and start singing. One of my favorite hymns we sang, which I also grew up singing, was The Church’s One Foundation. It’s a good place to begin our month of discussion on the Church.

words by Samuel Stone, 1866

The church’s one Foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is his new  creation
By water and the Word:
From heav’n he came and sought her
To  be his holy bride;
With his own blood he bought her,
And for her life he  died.

Elect from ev’ry nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her  charter of salvation
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy Name she  blesses,
Partakes one holy food.
And to one hope she presses,
With  ev’ry grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore  oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed,
Yet saints  their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night  of weeping
Shall be the morn of song.

The church shall never  perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain and cherish
Is with  her to the end;
Though there be those that hate her,
And false sons in her  pale,
Against or foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

‘Mid toil  and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of  peace for evermore;
Till with the vision glorious
Her longing eyes are  blest,
And the great church victorious
Shall be the church at  rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With the God the Three in  One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won:
O happy  ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and  lowly,
On high may dwell with thee.

The American Church – Up Close

“For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:44-45. Picture from Wikimedia commons.

When I say “American Church”, what comes to mind? Materialistic? Afraid to suffer? Intellectual? Luke-warm? Unfortunately, you’re probably thinking something negative. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve noticed it’s in vogue for Christians to criticize the American church as a means of spurring it on to greater holiness. Although this prophetic voice is not without fair cause, I’m uncomfortable with it (even though I’ve been guilty of it). The church, after all, is the bride of Christ, precious to him. We may be rife with cultural influences and weaknesses (as is the church in every nation), but how can you paint a broad-stroke label over a church with millions of members?

I had a realization the other night, surrounded by beautiful women who love Jesus (in other words, they are part of the flawed American Church). After discussing the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we started sharing testimonies of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. One lady heard the Spirit’s voice clearly when she was four-years old, a warning, “Stop” as she was about to unknowingly do something dangerous. Another woman experienced the guidance of the Holy Spirit in making some difficult decisions. And yet another woman nearly avoided a car crash thanks to the overcoming need to worship. As we spoke, the palpable presence of the Spirit began to stir amongst us. Such a sweet and real peace settled in our hearts.

This is the American Church, I thought. It’s alive with people who want to follow Jesus with every fiber of their beings, who have ears open to the Spirit, who are committed to doing the will of the Father. When we look up close at the individuals who comprise this American Church, we see there are many faithful, repentant, seeking followers of Jesus.

I write this to encourage you. It’s tempting to focus on denominational issues that question the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or on church splits, or media stories highlighting the failures of Christians. As we ponder exactly who is this American church, it’s essential to remember Calvin’s distinction between the visible and invisible church. The visible church is the church that we see – memberships, church attendance, people who profess Christianity. The invisible church is the church that God sees – the committed hearts, the faithful service, the Christ-honoring souls. The point is that God judges the hearts of men, and knows who his people are. We exercise discernment as we “judge a tree by its fruit.” And as I look up close at those Christians around me, I see a lot of good fruit.

Let’s choose our words carefully the next time we talk about the church, remembering that the church is God’s beloved Gospel-bearing vessel.