In the last post on this subject we saw that the Robinson-Knox view is that ‘church’ is to be understood primarily in terms of the ‘gathering’. Although Robinson and Knox then go in different directions from here it appears to be agreed, and is certainly taken on by others, that Church is primarily the gathering of God’s people around God’s Word.

The purpose of this paper is not so much to engage with Robinson or Knox per se, but rather to look at the idea that ‘church’ is principally about a more specified ‘gathering’.

It is my contention that although ‘church’ is not less than the gathering, it is in fact gloriously more than the gathering. In my view the ‘gathering’ is determinative of what it is to be ‘church’ rather than exhaustive of its meaning.

In this post I want to look at the issue of God’s people being holy and blameless and how that affects our understanding of what the church is.

In Ephesians 5:25-17 Paul tells us that Jesus loved the church and gave his life for her. It seems clear that ‘church’ here is synonymous with God’s people. The things that are said of the church are true of God’s people. The church is his body (v23), the church submits to Christ (v24) and the church is the object of Christ’s passion (v25).

But to what end does Christ give himself for the church? Paul says it is to ‘make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless’ (v26-27).

So there you have it. The church is a people who are changed by God’s word, into a holy and blameless people. This is in fact where Paul starts his letter. It is the saints, the faithful in Christ, who have been chosen before the creation of the world ‘to be holy and blameless in his sight’ (1:4).

But what does this look like? Paul tells us in chapters 4-5 of this letter. In chapter 4:24 Paul writes that these Christians have already been taught to ‘put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’ To do this they must first ‘put off’ their old self (v22) where they were driven by our ‘deceitful desires’. Our old way of living could be summed up in one word – ‘selfishness’. We would lie (v25), use unwholesome talk (v29) where we would put other people down and thus build ourselves up, we would indulge in bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander and every kind of malice (v31). All of these things place us firmly at the centre of our lives, and they belong to the old way of living.

But Paul says – you’re now a new people, called to be holy and blameless. And that looks like the complete opposite of our old way of living! Now we are to speak truth (v25) because we are one body, we should work hard so we can give (v28), we should always seek to build other people up (v29), we should be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other (v32).

Being ‘holy and blameless’, being ‘imitators of God’ (5:1) is all about how you live your life (5:15). It is about living other person centred lives, loving each other in the way Christ loved us (5:2). Holiness is clearly not something you can do on your own, but is something worked out as a community.

So if Christ is seeking for his church to be holy and blameless, and Paul says that we are to live lives that are holy and blameless then clearly being the church that Christ has rescued and is washing through his word is about the whole of life. We cannot be holy and blameless simply when we gather in some larger setting. It is in the nitty gritty of life that we forgive, because it is only in the nitty gritty of life that we are likely to offend! The church is the people of God that Christ has rescued who are to live lives together, loving each other. As such they are the light that exposes the darkness of lives lived without Christ (5:8-15). It is about that word washing us as we talk about it with each other, as our lives are marked by thankfulness and willing submission and humility before each other (5:19-21).

If that isn’t clear enough from Ephesians you only need to scan through the rest of the Bible to see that holiness and blamelessness are to be the marks of God’s people living their lives as God’s people, which we have seen in Ephesians 5 is his church…