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In the preface I begin by looking at the content or meaning that we fill a word with, as this is so important. 'Is Allah God?' is an important question... We can instantly assume the answer is 'no' and also assume that the answer to 'Is the Christian 'god' God?' to be an automatic 'yes'. Seems to me it depends. (Allah being the Arabic word for 'god'.)

And to push it further close to home, 'Is my 'god' God?' We all have a 'god' that is probably a (distorted) image of God, our god looking a bit like God but also being less than God. This is why 'Jesus' has to fill our word 'God' with meaning. He is the 'Jesus-like God'.

[Note on male language. Language about God (volume 3 of this series will look at this)  is problematic. To use 'she' seems to imply God is female; to use 'it' to avoid gender is worse; to use 'he' at this stage of the writings seems a sad compromise, but by choosing to do so I am implying Personality, but not gender. Later I will use s/he; she; her; etc.]

Thankfully Jesus came to show us who God was, being the exact representation of the image of God. So we must remember that the Trinity is not split, such as some presentations of the cross present. Jesus is not different to God, as if he alone is the loving member of the Trinity!

I do not rule out that there are those of other faiths who have a knowledge of God. They probably have to stretch to the limits of their faith and beyond. I also, sadly, consider that there are genuine Christians who come up short concerning knowing God. Jesus was not the way to 'god' but to the One who is God.

If the very word 'God' is problematic so is the word 'church'. After all we know what it means! We know what Paul was planting, and why he was doing it - for the reason that we have been told, or come to believe as we see through our own lens, or we have never asked the question so just assume that 'church' was fairly similar to ours... just without the OHP / computer screen!

With the three expressions of church, it is the third that I profess to line up with. That is a challenge as many Pentecostal / Charismatic groups seem to fall short of. Wherever the Spirit comes that becomes the focus of what God is doing. Makes this view dependent on the Spirit and therefore also dependent on the context, as the Spirit works within the environment where she (maybe really appropriate?) This implies that there is no pre-formed shape!

What was Paul doing? That will be one of the questions we will try to answer.

Finally I outline that there are two healthy aspects of a group. When there is not health the 'Babylonish' aspect will come through: self-survival at all costs. The two healthy elements are:

Community or

It is the latter (without denying the former) that I will be suggesting is at the heart of the groups of believers that Paul worked with - he also seemed to work beyond those groups, as any movement group must engage with the wider world.

Questions to consider:

  • 'Was Jesus God?' I suggest might be of theological importance or interest but at one level is the wrong question. It assumes we know who God is. The question starts at the wrong end. We can make the statement 'Jesus was God' and tick the correct box, but maybe in the process not even have a good image of Jesus! Likewise I suggest if we say 'The church is the body of Christ' we tick the right box, but run the danger of distorting what the body of Christ is as we know what church is! So how about reversing it... The body of Christ (values and activities of Jesus by the Spirit) is the church.  How does that fit for you?
  • How does the community / movement aspect resonate?
  • Further, if we do not see movement as existing so that what is non-movement joins, but that movement is there to influence and transform the non-movement... In other words - and this is what I will be suggesting - the body of Christ (church) is there to enable the world to be the best world possible. How comfortable are you with that? (This is what I will try to open up in the next chapters, based on Israel is not elected so that there is a clear line of in (saved) / out (damned). But called to be responsible for the world.
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