What Is A Church?
Good morning on this 9th week of “Stay at Home and Worship Via Facebook”
I pray that all of you are doing well this Sunday morning.
I’m looking forward to our being able to return to gathering together for worship.
In this weeks newsletter, I shared some of the things we’ll be doing to safely have worship together.
As the time gets close, I’ll post our guidelines for worship on our website under the COVID-19 response page and well as email everyone.
I’d like to finish up our series on “One Hour Theology” that we began three weeks ago.
The first week we looked at “What is the Gospel?” It is the good news announcement that God did for us in Christ what we could not do for ourselves in that He has redeemed us, He is renewing us, and He will ultimately restore all of His Creation.
Last week, we answered the question “What is a Disciple?” A disciple is a follower of Jesus that is learning to live out the realities and implications of the gospel by living like Jesus, loving like Jesus, and leaving what Jesus left behind.
Today, I’d like to focus on the question “What Is A Church?”
Just What Is The Church Today?
Just What Is The Church Today?
During this time of COVID-19, our world of church as we knew has been disrupted.
We can’t meet together for needed fellowship.
We can’t visit people that might be interested in the church.
We can’t baptize people due to social distancing rules.
The whole way we did church has been upended.
One of the thoughts that has been weighing heavy on me is “How do we do church during a pandemic?”
Will the church every be the same again?
Will be forever altered in how we gather together, minister, and take the gospel to the world?
How will it look?
It is easy to get so tied to our traditional way of doing things that when something like this comes along, it shakes up your whole value system, your plans, your understanding of the way things ought to be.
For many of us, church is the place we gather to worship our Lord with each other, we sing together, we have small group Bible studies, we do children’s ministry and youth groups.
In other words, we do church!
But is that what Jesus wanted us to do.
It’s not like that in many places around the world where they’ve been doing church like we have these past few months.
I read a story by David Putman who said, on one occasion he was a call with a leader from the Middle East. We were discussing an upcoming trip to her region of the world. We would travel from city to city, encouraging the church. As the leader described our mission, I asked her, "What's the name of the churches we will be working with?" She seemed confused by my question. Pausing and searching for her words carefully, she responded, "Jesus. The church is Jesus' Church. It doesn't have any other name."
As I read that I knew I needed to rethink church and now that the pandemic is forcing us to do things differently, it makes it an imperative to rethink church.
That church due to persecution was forced to meet in small groups, sharing the gospel with those they meet, and discipling them quietly out of sight.
That’s not how we do things here, but we are forced to now.
And, I’ve discovered, that we are good at doing church like that.
Churches come in all shapes and sizes.
At the same time, the church isn’t a place, a building, a program, or an event.
According to Jesus in Matthew 18:20, a church is where two or three disciples gathered in His name, He is there.
Don’t get me wrong, a building and programs are good, but that’s not what makes us a church.
A church is “a community of disciples, on mission together, advancing His kingdom.”
In light of our past two weeks looking at what the gospel is and a disciple is, let’s see what a church really is.
And we’ll look at what Jesus had to say about it.
In all of the gospels, the word church is mentioned only in two places by Jesus and both are in Matthew.
On This Rock
On This Rock
Let’s look at the first one found in Matthew 16:14-20
To best understand this passage you’ll need to know the context.
Jesus, along with his disciples, had walked some twenty-five miles north of Galilee to arrive at Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi was a Hellenistic city associated with the worship of Pan, the Greek's half human and half goat fertility god.
The city was built at the base of a rock cliff known as the "Rock of the Gods," where there were shrines to Caesar, Pan, and at least one other god.
Along the center of the "Rock of the Gods" was a large cave from which a bubbling stream flowed known as the "Gates of Hades."
The "Gates of Hades" was thought to be the gateway into the underworld where Baal and other gods would come and go.
Next to the cave was an open-aired shrine to the pagan fertility god, Pan, where his worshippers would come to worship him by participating in all kinds of sexual rites.
It is here, in this very place overlooking the pagan worship sites, The Rock of the Gods and the Gates of Hades, where Jesus first revealed to the disciples that He was the Messiah.
Standing there, at that moment, He proclaims, "…on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
This pagan place is not the location; one might expect Jesus to announce the coming of His Church.
What did He mean when He said, “…on this rock I will build my church…?”
Several interpretations, First Jesus could be referring to Himself as the Rock.
There is no doubt that Jesus is the rock or foundation of the church.
That foundation is His Life, death, and resurrection.
Second, in addressing Peter, whose name “Petra” means “little rock”, He may have been referring to Peter’s key role in starting the church.
Last, in light of the physical context of their location, He could be saying, on my authority (Jesus is the Big Rock), I am going to use ordinary people like Peter (the little rock) and build my church in the darkest and most pagan places on earth (Rock of the Gods)?
I am going to storm the "Gates of Hell" and ultimately prevail.
That He is the model of how a church should act.
Since He spoke so little about the church, modeling the church is more fitting an explanation for that.
To fully understand what a church is, let’s set aside our biases, our traditional understanding of church and look how Jesus modeled being the church.
A church is a community of disciples, on mission together, advancing the Kingdom of God.
Community of Disciples
Community of Disciples
The church is a community of disciples or to put another way, we are the church.
Jesus said in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.”
Here He is modeling what it means to be the church.
He and his disciples are an example of the church.
He simply invited them to “Follow” Him
They formed a small community that did life together
One on One, life together, and life on mission together
Now this doesn’t mean it should always be a small community
They were modeling what the church is for us.
They, Jesus and His 12 disciples, were a community of disciples on mission together advancing His Kingdom.
See how we as a church, large or small, can be a community of disciples.
Learning, growing, and doing mission to advance His kingdom together.
On Mission Together
On Mission Together
Let’s turn our attention being on mission together.
The word for church in the new testament is “Ecclesia” which means the “called out ones.”
In Jesus’ day and the Greek world the word “church” designated an assembly of people, a meeting, such as a regularly summoned political body, or simply a gathering of people.”
Thus, for us, the church is made up of the called, you and me, by King Jesus to do His official business of restoring all creation.
2 Cor. 5:17-21 tells we are now His ambassadors reconciling the world to Him.
He didn’t come to establish a religion, He came to start a movement continuing His kingdom of Israel, His people, to include all nations.
He came to launch a gospel movement of restoration.
Right before His ascension into heaven, he said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
His mission is a disciple making mission where the gospel advances to the very end of the earth and ages through His people.
Making disciples is our one and only mission.
The key though, is what kind of disciples are we to make?
We must make disciples that are learning to live out the realities and implications of the gospel by living like Jesus, loving like Jesus, and leaving behind what Jesus left behind - disciples that are make other disciples.
Jesus’ whole life and mission to was to do just that.
When we live, love and leave like Jesus we are fulfilling His mission.
His creation is ultimately restored as disciples are formed into His image and multiplying into the darkest places on this earth as we live work and play as gospel sharing disciples.
Thus far we’ve seen that the church is a community of disciples on mission together...
Advancing His Kingdom
Advancing His Kingdom
Jesus began His ministry by declaring, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.” Matthew 4:17
He invited others into a relationship with himself.
His disciples took Him up on the invitation and became His disciples and became the church.
After He ascended into heaven, they continued to be His presence on this earth by advancing His kingdom through us, His church.
His plan was for them and us, to extend His kingdom by being a people on mission together.
He call out each one of us from this world into His kingdom.
Listen to how Peter describes us in 1 Peter 2:10-12, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises, of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.
In Jesus’ kingdom, we are His administration and we should be turning the whole world upside down like the first church did.
We find new rules and values to guide found in the Sermon on the Mount.
We have a new ethic to live by when He told us to “Love your enemies.”
The new administration requires repentance and new birth to become a part of, and now as a citizen of this kingdom.
As the church, we are to advance His agenda for the redemption, renewal, and restoration of His creation.
Our Church Today
Our Church Today
What all does this mean for us today?
Jesus is calling us out of this world into His Kingdom.
That is what it means to be His Church: a community of gospel disciples, on mission together, advancing His kingdom (His plan).
In light of what we learned today, how does that change the way we see the church?
Can you look at the church through “Gospel Lens”?
This lens makes our understanding of gospel, disciple, and church in that specific order.
The gospel should inform our disciple-making mission, and our disciple-making mission informs our understanding and expression of church.
One author, Mike Breen, says it this way, "If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples".
We want to make disciples.
Would you pray with me that we will commit ourselves afresh to our calling as disciples to be disciple makers?
As we look forward to returning to being normal, if there is a normal, what would it take for us to transition our church from weekend only to a disciple making culture?
Would you commit to living like Jesus, loving like Him and leaving what He left behind - disciples who make disciples by sharing the gospel of what God did on our behalf through Jesus what we could not do for ourselves in that He has redeemed us, He is renewing us, and He will ultimately restore all of His Creation.