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What is Church?

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For the launch of Epsom Community Care

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Introduction: What is Church

(NLT)
(1) Praise the LORD! I will thank the LORD with all my heart as I meet with his godly people.
(2) How amazing are the deeds of the LORD! All who delight in him should ponder them.
(3) Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails.
(4) He causes us to remember his wonderful works. How gracious and merciful is our LORD!
(5) He gives food to those who fear him; he always remembers his covenant.
(6) He has shown his great power to his people by giving them the lands of other nations.
(7) All he does is just and good, and all his commandments are trustworthy.
(8) They are forever true, to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity.
(9) He has paid a full ransom for his people. He has guaranteed his covenant with them forever. What a holy, awe-inspiring name he has!
(10) Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom. Praise him forever!
What is Church?
When I was having a coffee with Don on Monday morning I shared with him that I wanted to preach about this new and exciting ministry Epsom Community Care.
However I did not know where I was going to come from, I had all of these ideas bouncing around, yet there was no clarity.
Then Don’s phone rang.
As he was talking with someone, God spoke to me.
What is Church?
Epsom Community Care is a ministry of the church, and it is primarily a ministry of us caring for one another.
What is Church?
When you think about church what do you think of?
What is Church?
· Is Church the building?
· Is the Church the people?
· Is Church the Steeple
· Is the church something else?
In the Psalm we heard read earlier, the psalmist sings:
(ESV)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
KN Paraphrase
Halleluiah – Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the fellowship of other believers, in my worshipping Community!
Halleluiah – Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the fellowship of other believers, in my worshipping Community!
This Psalm is an acrostic psalm with the first verse beginning with Halleluiah.
And then each of the lines acrostically follow the Hebrew Alphabet.
Since Acrostics were on my mind,
I thought I would answer the question: What is Church? with an Acrostic of my own

1. Community

The English word church has its origins in ancient Greek, but not in the way that I expected.
Our English word for church comes from the biblical Greek word kyrios – Lord.
The church is the “Lord’s House”
church
■ noun
1 a building used for public Christian worship.
2 (Church) a particular Christian organization with its own distinctive doctrines.
3 institutionalized religion as a political or social force: the separation of church and state.
■ verb archaic take (a woman who has recently given birth) to church for a service of thanksgiving.
—ORIGIN Old English cir(i)ce, cyr (i)ce, based on medieval Greek kurikon, from Greek kuriakon (dōma) ‘Lord’s (house)’, from kurios ‘master or lord’.[1]
However as a student of the original languages of the Bible, the word that the bible translators have translated as church in our Bibles is the word
Ecclesia. (In the original Greek and then the Latin translations kept ecclesia)
· Ecclesia is a gathering of people, an assembly, a community.
Jesus gives us this wonderful peace of wisdom that describes what an ecclesia is:
(NLT)
For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
When I think about what is the church, and those words of Jesus, Church is a little bit like a babushka doll.
· We have the global church we belong to.
· We have the church in Australia
· And the Church in Bendigo
· Then we have our faith community here in Epsom
· And within our church there are churches nested.
· Small groups.
· KYB
· Men that walk around the lake,
· And even in those groups there are sub gatherings. 2 or three may be talking and sharing or praying with one another.
Even our family unit is intended to be a church, a community.
In the creation story, God creates Adam, and says:
(NLT)
(18) Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.”
We are created to live in community, and the church is a model of that perfected community that God intends for us to live in.
Even when I come back to that passage in
(NLT)
For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
What we often fail to notice is the context Jesus quotes this passage in.
It is in the context of a kyrios community – The Lord’s community with Jesus preparing his disciples how to handle conflict and disagreement within the community – within the church.
If you have a Bible beside you what is the section heading that comes under:
· If your brother sins against you
· Restoring a brother
· Dealing with sin in the church
· Correcting another believer
(NLT)
(15) “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.
(16) But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.
(17) If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
(18) “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
(19) “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you.
(20) For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”
This might seem a little harsh for us today as we gravitate towards a non-confrontational lovey-dovey Christian community.
But a reality of Christian community is we are supposed to care about each other, both in this life and the life to come.
Do you think that warning and restoring believers who were living sinful lives or about to fall away from the faith is caring?
It certainly is caring!
This hard, confrontational and reconciling caring is a theme throught the Bible.
Here is a few examples from the New Testament.
(NLT)
(1) Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.
(NLT)
(20) But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit,
(21) and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love.
(22) And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.
(23) Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives.
When I think about Church I think about Community.
Like Jesus was and Paul was too, I am a realist, I know that Community – Church is at times going to be messy.
· There is going to be conflict
· There is going to be disagreements.
· Living in community is at times testing
Church is a community!

2. Humans

The other thing about church is church community consists of humans.
That is why we saw Jesus a moment ago teaching his disciples how to deal with conflict and disagreement in the context of community.
You could say that the only perfect church is a church without humans, but humans is what makes the church.
God has chosen and included broken people to make up his church.
I love it that Jesus went out of his way to include real humans into his community.
Listen to this account in Matthews gospel.
(NLT)
(9) As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
(10) Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.
(11) But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
(12) When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.”
(13) Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
We as a community need to be inclusive and embracing of our own and others humanness.
Who has made mistakes in life?
We have all made mistakes.
We have all sinned
We are all broken
Yet God’s church consists of humans, broken people.

3. United (mission)

Church should also be united in mission.
What is that mission?
(NLT)
(19) Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
(20) Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This is a mission of creating community.
Expanding God’s community
Making disciples that make disciples!
Not only are we to live in community we are also called to create or grow our God centred community.
How do we do that?
How do we accomplish that mission?
Some of this stuff we want to work through over the next several months as a community.
How is it that ECC as a body, as a church is fulfilling this mission of making disciples?
How can we create alignment in all that we do so we can fulfil that mission?
In a book that I have started to prayerfully work my way through.
The authors say this:
Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process. Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process.
Alignment is the arrangement of all ministries and staff around the same simple process. Alignment to the process means that all ministry departments submit and attach themselves to the same overarching process.
Alignment ensures the entire church body is moving in the same direction, and in the same manner….
Without alignment, the church can be a multitude of subministries. In this case each ministry has its own leaders who are only passionate about their specific ministry. They rarely identify with the entire church but are deeply committed to their own philosophy of ministry.
In a church that lacks alignment, everyone is competing for the same space, resources, volunteers, and time on the calendar.
In a church that lacks alignment, it does not feel like one body. It feels more like a building that houses a wide variety of ministries.[2]
An effective church is a community of humans, who are united in mission.
And by being united, as a local body everything they do is aligned to that local churches calling, vision and distinctives.

4. Reaching and Responsive

When it came to R two words jumped out to me, and I could not decide which one to drop.
As a church, we need to be reaching out – that is our mission.
The Church must be reaching out.
I love the radical way Jesus continually reached out to outsiders.
(NLT)
(12) In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
(13) Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.
This is radical.
Jesus reached out and touched this man with leprosy.
For us today we miss the radical and revolutionary nature of this gesture.
For a Jewish person to touch another person with leprosy would have caused the Jewish community to treat Jesus as unclean, and exclude him from their community.
The closest I can parallel this to our 21st century church culture would be for me to go to the local gay bar, and reach out to a group of gay men and invite them to come and stay in my house.
The religious people in the church would be keep clear from that Kelvin, he is living with a group of gay men.
We won’t want that contamination coming into our community.
Stay back – unclean.
Reaching out, like Jesus reached out needs to be part of what it is to live in community.
I love it that this church has over its history reached out to Collingwood supporters. That is admirable.
As a Church, we must be reaching out, and including outsiders into God’s new community.
As you reach out and include those who are different, conflict and differences will arise.
The early Jewish Church reached out to and included Gentiles into their worshipping community.
This caused lots of conflict, lots of hard thinking on living with differences, lots of letting go to presuppositions.
The Church should be reaching out- extending our reach to people on the margins.
The other R was responsive
The early church also responsive to the needs around them.
I really enjoy an event in .
We see a fledgling Christian community
And in that community there is conflict, disagreement
But this community is also responsive to the needs in their own worshipping community.
(NLT)
(1) But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.
(2) So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.
(3) And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility.
(4) Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.”
(5) Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith).
(6) These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.
(7) So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.
· This early church was responsive to the needs of others.
And they were also reaching out, including others into their community.
Or as we glean from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, and in Romans.
The Early Church responded to the needs of the church in Jerusalem.
The Jerusalem consisted of a lot of poor and impoverished believers.
So other believers in Corinth, Macedonia and Achia to name a few places gathered funds to send to them to respond to their immediate needs.
(NLT)
(1) Now regarding your question about the money being collected for God’s people in Jerusalem. You should follow the same procedure I gave to the churches in Galatia.
(2) On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.
(NLT)
(26) For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem.
· The Church is a community
· The Church consists of people
· The church needs to be united in mission
· The Church needs to be Reaching and Responsive

5. Caring

And coming out of the nature of being responsive
The church is also a caring community.
I love studying church history, especially the history of the church in the first 300 years.
One of the things we discover was the early church was a caring church.
I never tire of reading this quote of Aristides.
In 137 AD Aristides writes to the Roman Emperor about this growing movement of Christianity.
“It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth, for they acknowledge God. They do not keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them. They do not covet what belongs to others. They show love to their neighbours. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies. They live in the awareness of their smallness. Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing. If they see a travelling stranger, they bring him under their roof. They rejoice over him as over a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers after the flesh, but they know they are brothers in the Spirit and in God. If they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed for the sake of Christ, they take care of all his needs. If possible they set him free. If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs. This, O Emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this is their manner of life.”[3]
Or a little over 150 years later in around 360AD.
The Roman Emperor Julian, was alarmed at the decline in traditional roman religious practices and wanted to revive the amount of people worshiping the Roman gods.
What he noticed, and what alarmed him most was the growth the movement called Christianity.
He feared that they may take over the Roman Empire.
Eventually the Christians did take over the empire a few years after his death when Julian’s successor in seeing the way these Christians cared for one another, not only gave his life to Christ, but legalised Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.
But back to Emperor Julian.
Julian regarded Christianity as a sickness and called it “atheism” (because Christians denied the existence of pagan gods). To one of his pagan officials Emperor Julian wrote these telling words about the radically and questionable way Christians lived.
We must pay special attention to this point, and by this means effect a cure [for the “sickening” advance of Christianity]. For when it came about that the poor were neglected and overlooked by the [pagan] priests, then I think the impious Galileans [Christians] observed this fact and devoted themselves to philanthropy. And they have gained ascendancy in the worst of their deeds through the credit they win for such practices. For just as those who entice children with a cake, and by throwing it to them two or three times induce them to follow them, and then, when they are far away from their friends cast them on board a ship and sell them as slaves…by the same method, I say, the Galileans also begin with their so-called love-feast [open meals], or hospitality, or service of tables—for they have many ways of carrying it out and hence call it by many names—and the result is that they have led very many into atheism [i.e., Christianity].[4]
What stands out to me is the early Christians genuinely cared for one another.
Their care crossed social and cultural barriers.
As Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica
(NLT)
(9) But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another.
And when Paul writes to them a second time, he can see that they have grown in in the way the care and love one another.
(NLT)
(3) Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.
Or to the Galatian church Paul says
(NLT)
(13) For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
I truly believe that Epsom Community Church can be known as a church that truly cares for one-another.

6. Holy

The Church is a;
· Community
· The community - the church consists of humans
· The church is united on a common mission
· The church is also reaching and responsive
· The church is caring
What do you think the H is?
The Church is also Holy!
To be Holy means
To be sanctified, to be set apart.
Jesus simply says:
As believers
We are to be a light to the world.
(NLT)
(14) “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.
(15) No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.
(16) In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
(NLT)
(33) “No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.
(34) “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness.
(35) Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness.
(36) If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.”
(NLT)
(8) For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light!
(9) For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
(10) Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.
(11) Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them.
(12) It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret.
(13) But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them,
(14) for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, “Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
(15) So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.
(NLT)
(35) Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
God wants us to live in community.
And as a community we need to be shining brightly for Jesus
If we care for one-another like the early church did that will be a bright light attracting others to the way of Jesus.
When people look at us as a community as a church they need to see that we are different to the world.
That we as a collective have something special that they are attracted to.
They might not be able to put a finger on what it is but like moths attracted to a light they will come to the light, come to experience and meet Jesus.
As a church we are to be different – we are to be holy.
We are to be the positive alternative.
As Eugene Peterson translates
(The Message)
(15) Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night
Church is a Community
It consists of humans, in all of our brokenness
Church is also a community that is united and aligned around a common mission.
As a community it is also reaching and responsive
And it is a caring community, that is so attractive a place where people truly care for one-another.
And church is also a holy community, a light to the world.
A positive alternative, a community breathing life into darkness.
This is the kind of church that Jesus wants us to live in and experience
This is the kind of church that Jesus wants us to be part of.
It would be great if we can close in prayer,
Lets all stand and pray for one another the prayer that Paul prayed for the church in Thessalonica.
(ESV)
(12) and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you,
(13) so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
[1] Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
[2] Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger, Simple Church (Nashville: B&H, 2011).
[3] Shane Claiborne and Chris Haws, Jesus for President: Politics for ordinary radicals (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). 232.
[4] Emperor Julian, “Fragment of a Letter to a Priest,” in The Works of the Emperor Julian (Loeb Classical Library 29), 2:337-38.
in
John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More than Our Lips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010).
See also
James Stevenson and B. J. Kidd, eds., Creeds, Councils, and Controversies: Documents Illustrative of the History of the Church A.D. 337-461 (New York: Seabury Press, 1966), 58.
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