Feast of Saints Simon & Jude, Apostles, The Living Church Foundation Annual Meeting

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).

Our reading from the Letter to the Ephesians this morning begins with an appeal to live an upright life: “a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1), as St. Paul writes. God’s call to us in Christ is a morally serious one, in which our intentions and our actions matter: “be careful how you live” (Eph. 5:15), as the Apostle says in the fifth chapter. St. Paul is concerned as well with the formation of Christian character. “Put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11), he writes, as he identifies the interior equipment that we’ll need.

This call to new life takes a form that is not capricious, but grounded in a vision of Christ that runs throughout the letter.  St. Paul begins by greeting the Christians in Ephesus, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:2). Then again, in the next chapter, he shows the theological grounding, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). Again and again in the letter, as he does in our reading, St. Paul returns to the vision of the ascended Christ. “He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). There is no doubt that Jesus is the source of the gift, the source of the grace, that makes it possible to live a life worthy of the call.

Yet among all this (a call with moral clarity; a vision of the risen and ascended Lord) we also find the church, an ecclesiology avant la lettre. As Paul writes, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). Apostolic ministry is a gift from God, no less, as each of us is “given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7).

This nascent doctrine of the church is also part of the stitching of the letter. The church is Christ’s body, “the fulness of him who fills all things” (Eph. 1:23), as St. Paul writes in the first chapter. It is “the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph. 2:20), as he says later. “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Eph. 4:4-6). The Spirit of God animates the body. When we consider the moral clarity of the call of God, and the one hope of our calling that is founded on Christ, we are forced to consider the church as well.

Part of the work of ministry, especially the ministries that St. Paul articulates in our reading today, consists in building up the body of Christ. The particular ministries are like ligaments, as Paul says, joining and knitting together the body of the church, whose head is Christ. The image is one of organic growth, of a community that is responding to God’s call and is in the process of becoming what it is called to be.

As Christ’s body, of course, it is already complete and animated by the Spirit the dwells within it; yet there is that something more ahead for the church that remains to be perfected. Dr. Pusey once wrote that “to feel what the church should be, is to long that it be so” (Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, 1842). Apostolic ministry exists, in part, to increase our longing for what still lies ahead.

Is it too far a stretch for us to consider the work of this Foundation as one way in which God is supplying the ligaments for binding together the church in our day and age? Are we building up the body of Christ? Are we increasing its longing for what lies ahead? I hope that we are doing so; that we are willing to stretch ourselves in the service of the one body, the one faith, the one baptism of Christ. I believe that the Spirit of God is at work in our fellowship, in the Anglican Communion, and in the one church whose head is Christ the Lord.

The Living Church Foundation: may God continue to bless its work, and to bless its members, until that day when we all stand before the throne of God, having been perfected in that Divine Life and by that Divine Love whose perfect expression is Christ himself.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee