The Sacred “Inner” Space Between (Eph 3:16): Church as Revelation of God's Reconciling Mystery and Its Potential for Church Growth Outcomes (5 of 5)
IV. The “Inner [One New] Humanity” Temple (aka "Inner Man") and the Revelatory Nature of the Church
There are enough hints, allusions, word plays, and inferences to draw the conclusion that “the saints who are at Ephesus” (Eph 1:1) are indeed God’s temple (2:18–22; 3:6, 8–10, 14–19) in contrast to the plethora of pagan temples in the region and who are the fullness of God in Ephesus et al. They are God’s temple, with Messiah Jesus as its cornerstone (2:20), a building created and being built, not by human hands (2:11) of stone, wood, and metal, but by God’s words, through his apostles and prophets, made effective and filled with his Spirit, ever expanding, right there in (a) place (and the next place and then the next, etc.).
The church (a local church) is being built as a house-temple to reveal the mystery of God’s reconciliation work in Messiah Jesus (Eph 3:5–10; cf. 1:9–10; 2:10). The reconciling work of the cross becomes the reconciling of flesh (i.e., people and systems and institutions, 2:11–16; 3:10; 6:10-15) in (a) place; the deconstructing of social and institutional powers, heavenly and earthly (cf. 1:10). The local church, as God’s temple where his fullness is housed (dwells), is to be a revelation of God, his mystery in Messiah.
Set in contrast to contemporary (ANE) “temple” life, a corporate inference to Paul’s “inner man” seems most reasonable. In the previous paragraphs (Eph 3:1–13), Paul frames the following prayer (vv. 14–19) by, first, explaining the nature of his ministry and of the church as the revelation of the “mystery of Christ,’ which he already had alluded to as the “one new humanity” (2:15c), the incorporation of the Gentiles into church(es) (i.e., the promises of Christ through the gospel,” 3:6c). Thus, a fair reading of Ephesians 3 as a whole suggests that the church (a church) itself is a revelation of the gospel.
Understanding the polemical temple backdrop to which Paul utilizes, there is further reason to read the revelatory nature of the church (a church) as appropriate to grasp the intent of his Ephesians 3 prayer. In other words, the church (a church) is a “thin place” where the mysteries (i.e., the revelation of the gospel) is revealed. The “thin place” is that sacred space, the place where the unseen mysteries of the heavenlies and the concrete places of the earth touch, cross, meet. A thin place is where one can walk in two worlds at the same time, the two worlds fused together, where the differences can still be discerned. As someone explained: “A thin place is a place where the boundary between heaven and earth is especially thin. It’s a place where we can sense the divine more readily.” This is why Paul prays as he does for the “saints who are at Ephesus” et al in verses 14–19 and offers the benediction in vv. 20–21 concerning ekklesia and all future generations of churches. The “one new humanity” (Eph 2:15c) is the very expression of the temple, the inner sanctuary where God is housed, where he speaks, and is revealed. The “inner man” (more so, the inner humanity) that is gathered in house-temple-churches (literally, in the homes and at the supper tables) are the revelation of the gospel of Christ. The church (more so, a church-gathered) as God’s temple is this “thin place.”
V. The Corporate Church Implications: Revelatory Church Growth Outcomes
1. The habits of church life need to move away from the building-centered experience to be the church in (a) place: i.e., non-building-centered outcomes to determine church growth (it is the reconciling element of the cross among people that is being joined together and growing into a holy temple in the Lord, that is being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph 2:20b–22): God’s new revelatory temple.
2. The habits of church go counter-cultural, moving away from a privatized Christian experience toward a corporate application of what it means to be the church in a place, a gathered-house-temple, with a concrete home (a neighborhood) address, where strangers and unequals (note the reconciliatory aspect I am suggesting) participate as church around a supper table [unlike a building-centered church experience, where neighborhood is absent].
3. Since the stress is on the inclusion of Gentiles as fellow heirs and fellow-partners with believing Jews, part of the church’s revelation exists, as a gathered-temple/church, to be a visual (flesh of a neighborhood or community) that demonstrates reconciliation outcomes (based on Ephesians 2:11–22 and 3:1–13).
4. Church growth outcomes should reflect the realities of what it means to be God’s temple in (a) place: Outcomes measured in the language of neighborhood, reflecting the reconciliation of actual people (i.e., strangers and unequals, etc.).
5. Church growth outcomes should reflect the decision-making that removes barriers to accessing the Father and promoting what draws people into free access to the Father (as opposed to accessing a building).
6. Think cosmologically. Act locally (develop outcomes related to the local neighborhood and wider community).
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.