The Church as World Theater
by Eric Watkins
Have you been to the theater lately? John Calvin often referred to the world as the “theater of God’s glory.” We might add to this idea that the church is a living theater that displays the glory of God, even through our weakness. This language is used several times in the New Testament to describe God’s people, notably in 1 Corinthians 4:9:
For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.
Here the Apostle Paul describes himself and the other Apostles as a “spectacle” (theatron in Greek). The language is taken from the ancient theater. The theater could be the site of artistic performance or shocking immorality. Either way, it was as familiar a piece of ancient culture as it is of our modern culture.
According to this verse, God Himself is the Master-Director of the Apostolic performance. God is not simply a spectator to the theater in which the Apostles work out their performance; He is also the Author-Director of their script. He directs them to the world stage upon which they give their gospel performance. In context, it is particularly the weaknesses of the Apostles that God has displayed in the world theater. Why? It would almost seem cruel that God should allow His servants to experience public humiliation. But this is not a malevolent act of cruelty. Rather, it is God’s way of demonstrating the resurrection power of the gospel in the lives of His people. For it is in the weakness of God’s servants that His strength is made evident.
The greatest performance of this resurrection power was obviously not found in the Apostles but in God Himself. Enter Jesus: He came into this world as the God-man, dressed in humanity (fully God, fully man, yet without sin) and became a spectacle before the eyes of the world. He endured sufferings that go beyond our comprehension, and was subject even to death itself. Yet He overcame all of this by His resurrection—His grand finale. Jesus gave the definitive performance that the Apostles were simply mimicking.
This theatrical role in the world is not restricted to the Apostles. The church is always on stage, not only before God, but also before the eyes of a watching world. Hebrews 10:32–33 describes ordinary Christians as being “publicly exposed” (Greek theatrizomai) to various sufferings before a watching world, and that their performance gives testimony to their faith, and also to the power of God at work in them. He encourages them to persevere by faith, with their eyes fixed upon Jesus. We often need the same encouragement. We need to be reminded that God is directing our lives, even our weaknesses, to display His gospel power in the world theater of His own glory.