There is a discipline in philosophy known as ontology. This is the study of the state of being. It deals in questions of existence and identity. Essentially ontology is the question of what IS really true about a being or entity or group. Despite most of our understandings of the world, there is a difference between what is real and what is deemed true by empirical evidence. The latter are those things that are seen and experienced and known through the five senses. It is this that we use to define “reality,” the way things are. Ontology, though, requires us to question things beyond measurable datum and ask about what is really real about someone, something, or some group.
Ok... that was not near as clear as I hoped to make it. Let’s move on.
Here is how this applies to the Jesus follower. When I look in the mirror and at the group I call the body of Christ, I see that we all are “biblical through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconstant, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralizers, glamourous secularizers...” (E Peterson). The church is divided. We have the big 3 - Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant - and within them, especially my own Protestant family, there are divisions of divisions with lots of dividing divisions. The church is secular. Every new trend, idea, or cultural philosophy that pops off the marketing conveyor belt seems to be swallowed hole without question or pause. The church has turned into the enemy. When you read the Gospels, there were people disturbed and angered by Jesus because he threatened the way they had come to practice their faith. We’ve used Jesus to create once more what Jesus fought against and was killed by.
You get the point (other than how easy it is to line up with all the other critics out there), which is that perceived reality based on empirical evidence is that the church has failed, it is broken beyond repair, it is a shameful, pale, anemic shadow of what once was. This is what many say is the REALITY of the church today. Ontology, though, takes us to Ephesians where the Spirit says, “No, you do not know the first thing about what is really REAL. Let me show you!”
“I pray that the eyes of your heart my be enlightened to know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints, and the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe... (1:18-19)
“God, who is rich in mercy... even while we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive... raised us up... and seated us with Christ in the heavenly places...” (2:4-6)
Paul speaks of all these things - hope, inheritance, power, aliveness, resurrection, heavenly seating - as present, accomplished realities. This is what is REAL about us.
As Bonhoeffer said in Life Together - “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize, it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
The church is ONE. The church is PURE. This church is JESUS communally incarnated.
The same temptation to believe in the gluttonous amount of evidence at hand is in how I view myself. I am selfish. I am prideful. I am lustful. I am insecure. I am fearful. I am prayerless. I am loveless. Where I to go on trial for this, a 4 year old could win the case convincingly against me. The evidence is too great to deny the above. But.... ontology to the rescue. Or, better, truth of the Voice of God to the rescue.
I am PERFECT. I am PURE. I am BELOVED. I am JUSTIFIED. I am POWERFUL. I am RICH.
The great challenge of my life right now is to learn how to live into the reality that already exists by way of Jesus Christ, rather than pitifully trying by my own energy and intellect to manufacture a facade of the Christ-life.
Peterson (again) said it like this:
“In fifty years of being a pastor, my most difficult assignment continues to be the task of developing a sense among the people I serve of the soul-transforming implications of grace - a comprehensive, foundational reorientation from living anxiously by my wits and muscle to living effortlessly in the world of God’s active presence.” (from, Practice Resurrection)
Our God, the Father
of Virgin Birth
and of Dry Sea Beds
We come to you
by the evidence that contradicts
every promise you ever professed
every dream you’ve tried to declare
and every story you’ve attempted to sell us
So, we need you to spit on our blind eyes that we may
ignore all the contrary evidence so gloriously on display
embrace the realities created for us by you in Christ
and live into what is really real
So that we
become who we are
taste what we’ve eaten
and possess what we own
In the Real Name of Jesus,
- - -
May I remember you, understand you, and love you. Increase these
gifts in me until you have re-formed me completely. ~Augustine