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.
Jars of Clay – They will know we are Christians by our Love http://www.jarsofclay.com/
Liz Vice – Entrance http://www.lizvice.com/
This episode originally broadcast live on September 18, 2015 on KXEN 1010AM in St. Louis, MO