We’ll be looking at a biblical view of church function by starting with examining the false gospels at large in America today.
But before that, let’s look at some idea’s for structures and functions of the local church:
the gospel – what gospel is preached? How is it lived?
Membership – what are the requirments, markers, training, etc?
spiritual and physical nature – How does the church embrace its dual nature?
leadership and structure – What does leadership look like?
Communion – what does it mean and how is it performed?
Baptism – What does it mean and how is it performed?
worship gatherings/evangelistic gatherings – How does the church gather? Why?
spiritual warfare and spiritual gifts – Is the church battling with weapons in both hands?
the church functioning in the world – How does the church engage and minister to the world?
False Gospels in America
The Ticket to Heaven Gospel – Popularized by Dwight Moody and Charles Finney focusing on a personal savior and the Sinner’s Prayer. Repent of your sins and confess with your mouth and you will be saved, and end up in Heaven when you die. This puts the focus on getting to heaven and bypasses your life here on earth. Sort of a distortion of the gospel of John the Baptist, which was, “Repent!” But repentance is the start, not the fulfillment. The Gospel of Jesus was about the Spirit of God being returned to us, to have fellowship with God. Adam and Eve “died” at the fall, but they did not drop dead in the dirt. They lost something. So what did they lose? How do we get it back? Anxiety about our “final destination” doesn’t lead us to the Lord; it doesn’t lead us to our Ephesians 2:10 works.
Genie in the Lamp Gospel – If you turn to God, He’ll fix your problems. This enslaves people to a new law. It shrinks God down to a manageable size. It puts the focus on God doing something to make your life easier. It puts your will at the center, instead of God’s will. And it puts the relationship into the context of a transaction that is earned or unearned. You’re not healed because you lack faith, you’re poor because you don’t give, you’re not blessed because you’re too sinful. This logic breaks down when you look at rich or healthy people who hate God. It breaks down when you look at righteous people in the Bible who suffered in poverty. This gospel encourages pretending, to pretend that things are better than they are so people won’t think you are sinful, doubtful, selfish, etc.
The Acceptance Gospel – Everyone and everything is ok because God is love. This bypasses the eternal attributes of God – it denies His justice, judgment, and holiness, and redefines love. This desires a God that doesn’t judge or harm in any way. Usually, this is tied to pride on the part of the person accepting this Gospel. It gives them a pass for all their flaws, and demonizes those who would speak out against sin.
The Gospel of the Kingdom
The Gospel of the Kingdom is sell all your possessions, be separate from the world, be separate from the world, follow Jesus, live in the power and dominion of the Holy Spirit. Through this Gospel, we see and understand what others do not see and understand. What is the proper response to this gospel? Live for others and not your self. This is a difference from the false gospels present in America today. This contrasts with the hypocrites of Isaiah 58 trying to impress God and earn His response with their religious actions. Jesus’ Gospel completely changes us, not just our behavior, or our political beliefs, or our traditions. Jesus’ Gospel does not call us to ignore the evil around us, but to overcome it through the Spirit. Jesus’ Gospel calls us to walk in His ways – giving up of our status, position, and privilege to serve those who have not. Our lives are exchanged for His. It is a Gospel of rest – of resting in Grace, in the work of the Spirit, in humility. Jesus’ Gospel is one of transformation. Jesus is the only way to have eternal life – which is to know Him and the One who sent Him.
Derek Webb – A New Law
Madison Greene – The Turning
This episode originally broadcast live on September 25, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO
We will continue our discussion of function and purpose by looking at some analogies of the Church and Christ that we find in Scripture. These pictures display the relationship between Christ and the Church.
Colossians 1:18 – Christ is the head, the church is the body
Ephesians 2:20-21 – Christ is the cornerstone and the church is the temple
2 Corinthians 11:2 – Christ is the beloved and the church is the virgin
1 Peter 5 – Jesus is the shepherd, the church is the flock
Ephesians 2 – Christ is the firstborn, the Church is the household
Revelation 19 – Christ is the bridegroom, the Church is the Bride
Ephesians 2 – Christ is the creator, and the Church is one new man built from two, and built for peace
Matthew 16:18 – Christ is the builder and the Church is His church
The Church is obviously central to God’s heart, to His creation of the universe. And yet he communicates about it more frequently in pictures than in blatant instruction for procedure and positions. As the church, we should take this to heart. We should not neglect the things that are clearly instructed, nor should be divide over the things that are not clearly defined in Scripture. If God wanted the “pastor” to be the focal point of church function, He probably should have mentioned it more than once, and should have given some explanation. We see way more discussion of the “apostle” in scripture, and yet few people could point to one today. Same goes for prophets.
Every local church will be a unique expression of the Lord Jesus Christ in their community. This doesn’t mean “anything goes,” but it does mean that we should focus on our Lord and allow freedom in how He leads.
So let’s re-examine our churches in the light of God’s clear priorities, and His pictures that speak of relationship more than defined systems. If the Church is made up of those who have been born of the Spirit of God and been baptized into the one body of Christ by the one Spirit, then the question is, does that describe your church? Or is your church more accurately described by its meetings, events, buildings, as a group of people (believers and unbelievers) present in the same room at the same time? There is only one church, and only God can add people to it.
So then, what about membership?
Today, we have varying church membership requirements. Some “churches” have no memebership recognition, some require that members be baptized in that church building in a certain manner, some require letters from past churches, some require tithing, some people have to sign covenants, some require classes. Where do all these varying requirements come from? The Bible? Or have we invented them along the way?
The most significant sign of of “membership” in scripture is having received the Holy Spirit. So then, can you receive the Holy Spirit and NOT be a member of God’s church?
Membership in the church, which was entrance into the community of the Church, was based on the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. There is no other church membership requirement listed. The church is a community of Spirit-transformed people. There are many people in Scripture who are not baptized, or have no baptism recorded. Baptism isn’t a requirement, but a response. It is displayed as a response to the reception of the Gospel in Scripture. It should be a shared, celebratory event, not a legalistic requirement.
The danger here is not necessarily in what you do or don’t do. It is how you view what you do, and how you view membership. Do your laws apply to Jesus, to Scripture, to the heart of God displayed in the works of the Spirit we see in Acts and elsewhere? Or can we agree on God and the things He makes clear, and give freedom and grace to those who vary on things God never bothered to nail down?
Why do theology and ecclesiology matter? Because they affect our definitions, our language, our thinking, and our expectations. The Church we find in Scripture is communicated by God most often by relational pictures, and exressed as a people transformed by the Spirit, living life together in a fallen world, to steward the mysteries of God and care for the entire creation. Do our physical tools help us be the church, or do they consume our time and treasures on an unbiblical organization? How can we discern this? Discover what the Church is supposed to do to see of the tools fit the job. Let’s see if our tasks, function, and purpose all line up.
The Church is primarily spiritual and eternal. Physical tools are not eternal. We must indentify the world so that we can be separate from it but minister to it, without falling prey to its ways. We can’t have a vague, amorphous definition, because we can abuse that as liberty to do anything. If there is confusion here, it can lead people into fruitless endeavors. With the prevelance of event-based ministry and friendship evangelism, it is easy to assume that your current passions are always a valid pathway for ministry. The problem is that this is self-focused. God’s works for you might have nothing to do with your present passions and interests. Or your present passions and interests could be informed by sinful desires and false ideas. It is better to lay down your will at the foot of Jesus and ask Him to transform your mind. To identify the enemy and get to know the heart and ways of your Master. When we commit corporately to indentify the ways of the world and separate ouselves from them, to serve God by serving others, then we establish a filter to view our ministry efforts. We have commited to sacrifice, consecration, seeking the will of God.
For those seeking revival, take note. We will never find revival if we participate in low-cost ways of ministry. The power in the early church was that the commitment cost your life. It required a severe reprioritization. It required commitment and sacrifice. It desired a thirst for God’s truth and love that pushed past our flesh and the world’s demands. When we commit as a church to the sacrificial way of Christ, then we will deter people set on fulfilling their own desires. God’s will and character will be declared in the presence of costly love, instead of in the presence of an event-filled organization that requires little sacrifice.
Have you added faith to your life? Or have you “lost your life” in order to receive the hope of Jesus?
The Gospel is an exchange of life – your life for Jesus’ life. You’ve been bought with a price. You cannot add Jesus to your life. You cannot hold on to something else. Jesus is not here to take care of your problems so you can pursue what you want. Jesus wants you to pursue Him with all of your mind, soul, and strength.
So how can the church get fixed? This is a trick question. The assumption is that there is a broken thing that needs fixed. In fact, there is a false thing that needs abandoned. If it were a matter of “fixing”, here is what that to-do list would look like
leave its denomination
dissolve its corporation
remove all unbiblical staff positions, programs, and events
stop its open sunday services
For many churches, these very things define its nature. So in effect, it would have to cease to exist. We must come outside the camp to minister how Jesus did (Hebrews 13).
“Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.” This picture is carried in Galatians 4 (two covenants/two women/two mountains/two cities). One is about doing and one is about being. We whould be a place where the Holy Spirit dwells. The New Jerusalem comes down out of Heaven.
When we go to the Bible to find the description of how to structure the church, we do not find what you would expect. There is not a lack of information, but a lack of information concerning a system. Most of the information describes a group of people sharing life. The instruction is about empowerment, sharing, loving, sacrificing, fellowship, teaching.
In this tension of being and doing, we must make sure our doing is birthed from our being. Do not simply switch your activities and assume that it is better. You are still focusing on your activity. Do not become pridful in your actions, regardless of how righteous they may be. Rest in being the church, and do what flows out of that. The Holy Spirit should be our central motivator. He can motivate some to do something, and not others. Or He may motivate all to do something, but participate in their unique way.
So what then do we do? We must remove the leaven of the pharisees. First, know your gospel! What did Jesus preach? What do you preach? Are you preaching the Good News of the Kingdom, as Jesus did? Jesus’ Gospel focused on death to self. It was not centered around sin, but on denying your self. Repentance is vital, and sin should not be taken lightly. But repentance is the start, not the center. His Gospel leads us to be separate from the world. It is central to the church; there is no church outside the Gospel. The Gospel of the Kingdom involves obedience to God’s commands. It requires sacrifice and suffering on behalf of those who hate you. The church is formed from Jesus’ Gospel. If we structure a church around our design, it distorts the gospel, and removes our source of power.
Do not miss the Gospel of Jesus by accepting and preaching a gospel of man. You will miss out on the fulness of Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 11 and beware.
We will continue discovering the purpose and function of the Church by looking at God’s images and patterns found in Scripture.
To recap, the modern American church is at its fastest rate of decline, and largely measures its success in physical terms (buildings, budgets, and butts). However, God’s church is spiritual and eternal, universal and local.
Critically examine your faith and church experience. Are the things you agree to in scripture evident in your life? Are you experiencing your theology, or are you disconnected from it?
Jesus Christ is building His church and it is not the result of human effort 1. the only true foundation of the Church is the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
2. All revelation is a work of the Spirit of God and not of man (1 Corinthians 2) 3. The Church of Jesus Christ is not the work of man but of God, therefore, the nature of the church should reflect this truth
We must check our goals and motivations. If the plan is to “plant a church”, what does that mean? Does it mean assembling a team, finding a building, etc? Or do you desire to be obedient to the Holy Spirit, preach the Gospel, and make disciples? The hard work required to “build the church” is of a spiritual nature, so it requires spiritual eyes and ears. It is costly work that requires love and sacrifice, and it is harder and more fruitful than crafting an event where you can invite people, believers and unbelievers alike, in the hopes they will like you. These physical approaches bypass the reality that there is a real spiritual war going on, that people are enslaved by satan in strongholds.
“Friendship evangelism” and related methods have all come into existance after the events and penning of Scripture. So we often find ourselves trying to implant that concept back into Scripture. When we assume our modern ways are good, best, or not modern at all, then we miss out on what we actually find in Scripture. We miss the disconnect between the ways of Jesus and the ways of modern man. We know three things for sure about what Jesus did:
He did all things out of love (1 Corinthians 16:14; 1 John 4:16)
He did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19)
He was obedient even unto death (Philippians 2:8)
Knowing these three things about Jesus’ actions should contextualize all He did. When He defended the woman caught in adultery and when He called people white-washed tombs, it was out of love, obedient, and reflected what the Father was doing. We should approach our own actions the same way. We should not find a methodology and try to fit Jesus into it.
What is the mystery of the Church? The mystery has to be revealed. Colossians 1:24-29 states that the mystery is Christ in you, the hope of Glory. Paul calls the Church “the fellowship of the mystery.” The church is not a building or organization, but people with Christ in them.
When Israel discovered they had “polluted the assembly” by marrying foreign wives, they mourned, they gathered, they took it seriously and made a plan, and they repented. What is your response to signs of polluting the assembly?
If you want to see your church the way God sees it, you have to first see His Church and the way He sees it. You must understand the real thing to recognize something that is off course. Let’s look at some of God’s patterns
Creation and Marriage of Adam and Eve – This denotes intimate fellowship. When we fill our assemblies with people who are opposed to God (prideful, unbelievers, etc), it destroys the intimate fellowship. The directive given to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful, multiply, subdue, rule. When we focus on church structure, it keeps us inwardly focused, instead of outwardly focused to rule creation
Tabernacle of Moses – This denotes God’s work in the sacrifice of Christ. When we are focused on self-preservation, then we are not a sacrificial presence on the earth.
Tabernacle of David – This denotes that God’s grace is extended to everyone. This picture of grace is distorted into inviting believers and unbelievers into the worship gathering, and not extending grace to people outside the church building. This sometimes turns into misguided and self-centered political activism, looking for that route to be the solution to our problems
Ezekiel’s Temple – This speaks of a spiritual priesthood. Two priesthoods are mentioned. Who are you ministering to?
We an also look at the New Testament pictures of the Church. These display the spiritual and organic nature of the Church; not referring to buildings, structures, events, programming, etc.
Body of Christ
Temple of God
Church of the Firstborn
Bride of Christ
Let’s examine the spiritual context of the Church.
The Universal Church, displayed in pictures of the Kingdom found in 1 Chronicles 12, the Kingdom. This is also the Historical Church, found in Hebrews 11, which dislpays the foundation that has been laid. Also, Scripture declares the church throughout the world, which is birthed from the Greate Commission taking the Gospel to all the earth.
The Kingdom of God is seen in God’s purpose from Genesis 1:26-28. We see it in the reproducing of seed in Genesis 12; the accomplishing of His pleasure in Genesis 24; and the seed being scattered and reproduced in Genesis 48.
The Great Commission focuses on disciples and reaching the Nations with the Gospel
God’s redemptive purpose – The church coming against the enemy to set captives free. We have to get back to opposing satan and his strongholds on a spiritual level in our community on a regular basis instead of through politics or on social media.