Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Church
Our intern, Ryan, answers the question that he's been asked most these days, “How has the internship been?"
The question I am always asked these days is, “How has the internship been? What have you been doing?” Here are some possible ways I could answer it:
1. I have been reading many good books! Here are some I have found particularly helpful:
2. I have been attending various meetings and public gatherings, helping when I can.
3. I have been meeting different groups of people, taking time to get to know them.
4. I have been eating, while sharing my life with others. I have enjoyed chicken rice, popiah, bak kut teh, sausage mcmuffin, sesame oil claypot chicken, ramen, thai food, mexican food and even durian with some of you.
I must say that I have enjoyed all these four aspects of the internship, and these are mostly good reasons (except point 4) to join the internship! In fact, they have taught me three key things about ministry and the church.
What is God doing in the world?
Short Answer: Uniting all things in Christ (Eph 1:3-10).
Long Answer: In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we see that God is reconciling people to Himself in Christ. We who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and now both Jew and Gentile have access in one Spirit to the Father through Christ. It is through Jesus’ death and resurrection that sinners like myself, are redeemed and forgiven. I was once dead in my sins, but now have been made alive together with Christ. Such good news for the world!
In our readings, we have seen the importance of the gospel. God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts taught us that the whole biblical narrative is one big story about God rescuing His people who continue to sin against Him. A particularly challenging read on the gospel was The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson. He argues that the gospel is the solution for two forms of erroneous thinking: the view that we need to do more than repenting and believing in Jesus to be saved and the other view that we are free to live lawlessly because we are saved. As Paul writes in Titus 3, we have been saved not by our good works but according to God’s mercy, and we have been saved from lawlessness to devote ourselves to good works. The gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe. Whoever we are, we are sinners who need the gospel.
In Center Church by Tim Keller, he writes that doctrinal truths about 1) Jesus Christ coming as a servant, 2) accomplishing salvation, and 3) inaugurating the “not-yet kingdom” are applicable in all areas of life. Keller refers to these as the 1) upside-down aspect—reordering of worldly values, 2) inside-out aspect—accepted by God and able to obey as gratitude, and 3) forward-back aspect—live in light of the kingdom coming but not here yet. We need to have our hearts continually transformed by the gospel so that we will view the world with the right lenses—understanding the world in light of God’s plan to unite all things in Christ.
Where in the world is God accomplishing His plan?
Short Answer: In the Church, the body of Christ! (Eph 1:15-23, Eph 2:11-22)
Long Answer: In our “Foundations” sermon series, we learnt that sin has indeed scattered and isolated us. The Fall has resulted in both separation between humans and separation from God. Thankfully, Paul shows us a solution in Ephesians 2! We were once separated from Christ and alienated from God’s covenant people, but God reconciled us to God as one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. This body, the body of Christ, is the church!
The most academic book during this internship was Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches by John Hammett. This should not discourage you from joining the internship, even if you are scared of academic readings—my reflection paper was a list of questions for the staff and other interns to answer! We learnt about some biblical images of the church and their respective implications, which I attempt to summarise in this table.
While the biblical identities are true of the universal church, joining a local church allows you to visibly live out these identities, while being in awe of the work of the gospel in your local church and in the many churches around the world.
How does that challenge or encourage me?
Short Answer: Disciple one another (Eph 4:1-16).
Long Answer: Being included in the body of Christ is not something we did, but what God has done. Paul then urges us to live out this identity—“walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”. He explains that people have been given to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry, which is the building up the body of Christ. The aim is to grow up in every way into him who is the head of this body—Christ Himself! We, as believers, are the “saints”! Thus, we are ALL involved in the work of ministry!
A helpful book on this has been The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne. The authors’ exposition of the Great Commission shows that it was an instruction to the eleven in their roles as disciples—something which all of us disciples should thus listen and follow. The emphasis on “making disciples” sets the stage for the rest of the model introduced in the book, which I summarise as disciples making disciples who make disciples. The Great Commission also reminds me that disciples are all in full-time ministry, all equally commissioned to go (move from where they were physically with Jesus—which I read as go everywhere), baptise (lead people to repentance and submission), and teach. God is growing the vine, as we disciple one another. Trellises, which are structures that vines grow on, are things we put in place to enable and help discipleship, like programmes and events. We should be focused on God’s vine work, making use of trellises to accomplish that.
Back to the title
What does the title of this article have to do with anything I have mentioned thus far? In Thor: Ragnarok (the best movie in the Thor trilogy), Thor realises he has to unleash Ragnarok to defeat his evil sister Hela. However, unleashing Ragnarok also destroys Thor’s home, Asgard. When deciding whether or not to destroy his home, Odin (Thor’s father) gives him some invaluable advice—“Asgard is not a place; never was. This could be Asgard. Asgard is where our people stand.”
In the same way, the church is not a location or a place. It never was. The church is a gathering of God’s people. In this season of safe distancing and masks, we need to be reminded of what church is. The public gathering of the church during our services is essential as it is an outworking of our identity as God’s gathered people. However, we do not have to limit our gatherings to 17 Mattar Road! Let us continue the work of ministry during the week, wherever we are, finding opportunities to gather and disciple one another.
”And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”