One of the things I’ve kept from my time as a Calvinist is my very strong dislike for the public invitation at the end of most Baptist worship services. My dislike of the invitation and the almost constant abuses that accompany it goes deep and won’t ever leave me.
Over the years, I’ve listened very closely to what invitationalist preachers say to their hearers about what is going on. It doesn’t take long to realize that what you have in those “altar calls” is a kind of strange parody on the Roman Catholic mass.
In Roman Catholicism, there’s never any doubt in anyone’s mind about where Jesus is or what your response is to be to him. There’s no pleading for people to make a decision for Jesus and come forward where Jesus will meet them, because almost everyone in mass plans to come down to the front and receive Christ as bread and wine.
Revivalistic evangelicalism, like my own tradition, is a good deal murkier on where Jesus is and what’s going on. For example, it’s not unusual to hear the announcement that Jesus is “here,” “here” being the worship service, among his people or down at the front where you are invited to come at the invitation.
What are you supposed to do with Jesus? If you come forward, he will touch you, come into your heart, bless you, go with you, change you, speak to you, show you the way and so on.
In other words, it’s not particularly clear in revivalism where Jesus is or what Jesus will do. This is one of many reasons invitationalism is confusing and it doesn’t surprise me that Roman Catholicism is appealing to many persons who are tired of hearing about a Jesus who can’t be located and whose representatives can sound like they will say anything to get a sale.
Let’s approach the first question: “Where is Jesus?” and answer that question from the letter to the Ephesians.
1. In Ephesians 1:1-14, believers are repeatedly reminded of what belongs to them as a result of being “in Christ.” It is significant that Paul initially here, and many times elsewhere, doesn’t put the issue of “Where is Jesus?” first, but instead repeatedly talks about “Where are you in relation to Jesus Christ?”
2. In the same passage, and throughout the epistle, there is a strong emphasis on the past tense, completed, God designed work of Jesus Christ that accomplishes everything God has set out to do in history and redemption.
This does not mean there is not a present encounter with Christ, but it does suggest that we are responding to someone whose work of redemption and rescue is completed, and is not dependent on our acceptance of it. To indicate that it is our desire to be “in Christ,” is to simply say “I want to be included in what God has done and is doing in history through Jesus.” So whether we are coming to Jesus for forgiveness, to know God, for eternal life or any other invitation of the Gospel, we are coming to be part of what God has successfully accomplished without any response from us.
3. The last section of Ephesians 1 gives the first detailed answer to the question “Where is Jesus?”
Ephesians 1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Two answers seem to be part of this passage.
a. Jesus has been exalted to the right hand of God the Father and reigns with him over all things.
b. Jesus is present in the church- his people gathered to him by the Holy Spirit- as his “body.” (It is very important to get a clear indication of the meaning of the word ecclesia. I believe the word “gathered” is essential to get close to the greek meaning.)
This will not be the first time we are confronted with answers that seem mutually exclusive. Clearly, they are not, but our understanding may struggle at this point.
The Christ who is in heaven- the realm where God directly reigns- is also present in his gathered people. The connection between Jesus and his people is expressed as a body in other passages, some that are obviously metaphorical illustrations of “body” concepts, some that refer to “body” in a less than organic way, and some that continue the idea that Christ is present in the church as, in some sense, his body. A good example is Paul’s reference to the reality of reconciliation in his body, referring to the suffering of Jesus and the reality of fellowship in the church.
4. Ephesians 2:4-7:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
Again, the question of “Where is Jesus?” is answered with Jesus at the right hand of the Father. Now, however, Paul says that we are, in some sense, presently with Christ in heaven.
This kind of language obviously cues us to the kinds of realities we must keep in mind when we ask “Where is Jesus?” We are asking the question, but we are also with Christ sharing his reign at present. The full story of Jesus includes us in those parts of the story that we do not yet fully experience.
This also cues us that scripture, not any human being, will direct us to Christ and that if we want to know Jesus in the present, we need to be “looking” in the right place, not those places where it benefits someone to promise us Jesus can be found.
Jesus, in fact, said to beware of those who said he is here or there, and to instead know that he is in heaven and will come to redeem his people and all of history.
5. Ephesians 2:18-22:
18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
Here, Jesus is the cornerstone of the people of God, his true temple in the New Covenant. He is with us as the foundation of the work the Holy Spirit is doing in building up the people of God.