Edification: Building a Community of Christ

Edification: Building a Community of Christ

Reflecting on the Importance of "Teaching" and "Relationships"

At the Opening Convocation ceremony of this new school year, I invited teachers and students to take on a new challenge. In the past six years, our focus has been on Preaching, Mission, Pastoral Studies, and the like. This school year, we would like to push ourselves to think about and explore more about church education.

Early this August, the faculty team enjoyed three days of congenial fellowship during the Faculty Retreat which had the following theme: "Enjoy Theology." As part of this, the first day focused on the theme of "Enjoying Teaching" which was conducted by Dr. Jonathan Lo. In one of the sessions, Dr. Lo mentioned Professor Gordon Fee, a well-respected teacher at Regent College, who taught him not only biblical knowledge, which enabled him to know his Christian faith more clearly, but he also taught him how to take teaching seriously and value interpersonal relationships. Dr. Lo also mentioned another memorable teacher, Professor Larry Hurtado from The University of Edinburgh, who was his PhD thesis advisor and mentor. When Dr. Lo struggled with his faith, this teacher prayed for him and offered advice. Prof. Hurtado carries a cross on a necklace with him every day; he takes it off at night and picks it up again the next morning to remind himself that he takes up the cross of Christ every day. His erudition, cultivation, godliness, and spirituality have deeply affected Dr. Lo.

The theme for the second day was "Enjoy Research Writing" which was conducted by Dr. Andres Tang. Having known Dr. Tang for more than ten years, I presumed that he would teach in his usual lecturing format. So, I accordingly brought with me a laptop to take notes. To everyone's surprise, Dr. Tang actually used the format of a game to discuss and share with us! His teaching method was a brand new experience for us all!

What also impressed me deeply was the Spiritual Formation Camp held from August 18 through 20. In the afternoon of August 19, Dr. Roy Chan led a demonstration which was called the "Integration of a Life of Consecration: A Demonstration of Life Coaching." A graduating student was willing to be part of the process and answer questions from Dr. Chan who acted as her mentor.

The first question was this: as a senior student, what would she regard as the most important thing she could tell a first year student? The second question was: what was the most difficult part of studying theology? The third question had two parts: what were three things that she would do differently? Among these three things, which one did she mostwant to change? To the very last question, she replied, "Interpersonal relationships."

These are just some snapshots of what was happening three weeks prior to the beginning of the new school term and the experiences we had serve as food for thought for us all. A year ago, I started to ponder the seminary's direction for the new school year. My intuition was that it was necessary for the seminary to have an in- depth discussion and conduct research and writing about the seminary itself and in particular, in the area of church education. I earnestly hope that our teachers can be more sophisticated in their teaching and that the church can be more focused on the education of all age groups, especially teens. What a great surprise to find that during the Faculty Retreat there was a convergence of our thoughts and feelings about teaching. Incidentally, in one of the sessions during the Spiritual Formation Camp, our students also mentioned that relationships are especially crucialwhile studying at the seminary.

I cannot help praising God's wondrous leading as we think with one heart about the importance of "edification" and "relationships" in the new school year.

Edification Is to Build up the Body of Christ in God's Love

What is edification? Edification comes from oikos and domeo in Greek. The former means "house" or "residence" and the latter means to "build up." Richard Osmer points out that edification most simply means "to build up the community of Christ as the residence of God's Spirit." The type of edification ministry helps brothers and sisters exercise their spiritual gifts and grow through service. The mission of edification enables brothers and sisters to recognize, receive, and exercise their gifts and to recognize that "love" is essential and that edification ministry must act under the guidance of love.

Osmer interprets two passages from 1 Corinthians, pointing out one important implication of edification ministry: edification is to build up the body of Christ in love. Osmer explains that Paul was dealing with a community troubled by strife as the lay people pledged their allegiances to different leaders (1 Cor 3:4). When facing this problem within the church, Paul taught them to build up the body of Christ in love.

In the third chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul portrays three images. Paul first uses the image of the field to show the "planting" and "watering" of life (1 Cor. 6-8). He says, "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth." (3:7) He points out that both planting and watering are one part of the work, his planting and Apollo's watering act in concert with each other to bring about life. For both are God's workers (synergoi) and fellow laborers in Christ, who belong to God and work with one heart under God (3:9a). They need to count on, cooperate with, and be of the same heart and work together as coworkers. Both to be interdependent and cooperative are the symbols of the community of Christ.

Then Paul uses the image of a house to reaffirm the point mentioned above, regarding the church as the house of God (3:9). First, a house must have a foundation and Jesus Christ is the foundation (3:11). This shows that the steward of the church should take it seriously to build the house on the foundation of Christ (3:10); if the church does not build on the foundation of Christ, it is not a church (3:11). For without Christ, a church is just an association. Second, different parts of the house must be interdependent— mutually connecting and supporting in order to be sound. This metaphor rules out the possibility of any individualism in the church and no tolerance of anyone acting independently on their own.

Paul goes on to talk about the builder of the house in 3:10-15. He regards himself as being analogous to an expert builder within the community of Christ who has laid a foundation while others have to be careful to build houses on this foundation (3:10). A builder can use different building materials like, wood, hay, straw, or gold, silver, and costly stones. A builder's work will be tested and the flame of judgment will decide in the end. Only when the materials are sturdy and it has been built on the foundation of Christ can it stand the test of the flame of judgment. Therefore, Paul gives these warnings: "each one should be careful how he builds" (3:10); "if the work is burned up, he will suffer loss" (3:15).

The third image is of God's temple; only the Spirit of God can make the church holy, so that it can be a temple of God (3:17). This image underscores the metaphor of the "body" that chapter 12 talks about. While the role of the temple of God is God's residence, Paul points out that the church is the temple of God which has an amazing view, meaning that the community of Christ supersedes the temple of Jerusalem. "For God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple" (3:17b). "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (3:16) Paul means to say this: whether the church is God's temple, whether it is holy, relies on whether the Spirit of God lives in the people of God. If anyone brings harm to the church, he is to confront the Holy Spirit; if anyone tarnishes the holiness of the church, he is trying to demolish God's temple. Any divisive hostility or boastful flattery will constitutethe sin of destroying God's temple. Therefore, this kind of hostility or flattery is not only a sin against a personal relationship, it is also a sin that offends God.

Cultivating a Relationship with God and Humankindthrough the Love of Christ

On this basis, Paul expounds on the usage of the gifts of the Spirit in love in 1 Corinthians 12-14. In chapters 3, and 12 to 14, Paul emphasizes the Holy Spirit and points out that the Holy Spirit lives within the community of Christ. In fact, the primary action of the Holy Spirit is to build up the community of Christ; the Holy Spirit distributes different gifts to members of the church (12:4-11) with a view to benefitting the whole community of Christ. In chapter 13, Paul points out that love is the basis of all spiritual gifts. "Love is patient, love is kind." (13:4a) This is just like God's love which is eternal, patient, and full of loving kindness. A sign of love is unity in spite of diversity which is also the antidote to factionalism and pride.

That this kind of love is spiritual in nature implies that love is the work of the Holy Spirit: our whole life—our whole being—is transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit which enables us to act through love. We are called by the Holy Spirit to act. Our actions and the power of the Holy Spirit become united. This union cannot be taken on alone. The kind of strength which cannot act through love must be renewed through the power of the Holy Spirit so that a new being with a new mode of life can be formed within ourselves. When the former way of life is discarded, we can begin to grow in our new life which is marked by love.

Therefore, the teachings conducted at the church should not only pay attention to knowledge of the Bible, theology, and church history but also attach importance to the cultivation of relationships, helping brothers and sisters to love God and each other more. This implies that teachers' teachings not only transmit knowledge and beliefs, but also helps brothers and sisters recognize, receive, and exercise their spiritual gifts while assisting them as they cultivate their relationships with God and with each other through the love of Christ. This love from God can build up brothers and sisters who highly regard their own relationship with God and with each other.

According to the teachings in the Bible, the relationship between humankind and God must be closely related to interpersonal relationships. We cannot be Christians on our own; other Christians have gifts that we do not have. Other Christians can help us know more about God and see how poorly we understand God; other Christians can help us see the deficiencies and limitations of our own lives and challenge us as we grow together. In other words, if we long to build a more intimate relationship with God, we need the assistance and support of other Christians who will let us enter into their lives and wisdom. If not, then teaching is liable to simply be made of icy beliefs or simple adherence to moral codes, making our faith dogmatic and/or moralistic.

Act as God's Coworker and Build a Community of Christ

Therefore, within the teaching ministry of churches, an important vocation of teachers is to encourage brothers and sisters to share not only erudition but also their personal lives and struggles during the lessons in order to deepen their relationship with God and among themselves so as to build up a community of Christ. A teacher will have a lot to reflect on: if students cannot deepen their relationships with God and each other, where else can they seek help? Are there other aspects of church life where there are the opportunities for spiritual growth? However, if they are not willing to share and exchange amongst themselves, then this indicates that their relationship with God has not grown. In this regard, a teacher needs to teach students to exchange and share their erudition and personal lives. In this way, each person not only receives knowledge but is also pleased to share their own gifts, wisdom, and lives within the community.

To teach brothers and sisters to have fellowship and share, a teacher must exercise their teaching skills to promote this kind of sharing. One of the skills that promote sharing is discussion. Through discussion, a student changes from a passive receiver into an active contributor within the learning community. In this kind of dialogue, members can share their thoughts and lives and listen to the thoughts and lives of others. Genuine sharing can help to enhance the relationship between God and humankind.

Hence, a teacher will have to learn how to lead group discussions. This implies that he or she must ask good questions, follow through with them, and use them to make a point. However, a teacher also needs to understand that they cannot do it alone or force a good discussion to happen. To create a good discussion, the teacher needs to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit which will help brothers and sisters enter into sharing that enables them to become a community of Christ. In this way, the mission of a teacher is not to control the work of the Holy Spirit but to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit and let God decide the time and place He wants to create a community of Christ. A teacher's mission is to do his or her best with respect to teaching, serving within their limitations, and being coworkers with God to build a community of Christ so that a relationship can be built ―leading to thebuilding a community of Christ.

In the new school year, I sincerely hope that our faculty team can utilize this concept and practice as outlined above to further our quest for excellence in teaching, not only by imparting knowledge but also by teaching students to build a community of Christ together under the Holy Spirit so that this community can be the residence of the Spirit of God. In other words, a teacher not only teaches knowledge, but teaches about relationships: how to build a relationship with God and amongst ourselves. As such, we can have better discussions, exchange more erudition, and more from our personal lives, allowing us to discuss God more and share God's gifts and grace in the classroom, canteen, prayer meeting, or even while waiting the bus or walking to the MTR together.

Similarly, our students must learn to think of preaching not just as ministering in church, but also as teaching not only knowledge, but also relationships—building relationships between us and God as well as interpersonal relationships. I earnestly hope that our students' teachings strive for excellence, not only teaching knowledge but also teaching brothers and sisters to build a community of Christ together under the Holy Spirit so that this community can be the residence of the Spirit of God.

Nov 2015

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