I take secret delight in deciphering vanity license plates, and if I’m honest, I have significant skill in the work. That accords well with the state in which I live, Virginia holding the title of the greatest percentage of vanity plates. And even though I’ve at times thought of getting one of my own (JoeWahu), I find myself strangely disturbed by what vanity plates represent—the tilt of the human heart toward crippling, black-hole-ish individuality. Must our individuality extend even to the numbers and letters on the little metal plate on the bumpers of our cars, harboring secret and individualized messages for our fellow motorists to enjoy (as if texting and driving weren’t dangerous enough!)?
Am I being hyperbolic? Yes, well mostly. Are you a self-absorbed person if you have a vanity plate? No, at least, probably not, though maybe. I make my little vanity plate rant to prove a point about hope and the Christian gospel. Part of the joy we have as Christians is not just an intensely personal salvation but also membership into a corporate body, the church. In the church, we can be completely who we are without being self-absorbed about who we are, since, after all, self-absorption is a denial of who we are (2 Cor 5:15). And as we give ourselves to life in this local group of accountable Christians, we find that we display God’s love and purposes in ways clearer at times than we can as individuals. Take Ephesians 3:7-13 for example:
7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.
There is a ton of meaty truth in this text, but for a moment, consider the bolded text above. God’s gospel, wrapped up in his eternal plan, centered on Jesus, is made clear through the church. Would you have thought this passage odd if Paul had said a more individualistic “through me” rather than the corporate “through the church” in verse ten? Don’t miss this important truth. God’s plan to highlight the work of Jesus in the world is on clearest display in local churches. So, if you want the watching world to know the gospel of Jesus, it won’t be through your embracing rabid (baptized) individualism. Instead, it will be by your commitment to a local church.
So in conclusion, how does that truth affect what you do this Sunday? Is it just as good to sit at home in your pj’s with podcast-a-pastor on blast? Or is your participation in corporate worship a big deal in God’s economy? Church, a group, is a hearty invitation from God. Every time you attend worship on Sunday or meet with other church members during the week you get a little reprieve from the temptation to maintain your constant personal branding.
Bcuz Criit z d hed f d Chrch, nt u.