What Is The Church?
Pastor Steve Schlissel, (Chalcedon Report, Jan. 1997, p. 7) had this to say about the church: "We'd have a hard time coming up with a topic that creates more bitterness and strife in the church than the doctrine of the church. Isn't that cozy?" Why is that? Because at a fundamental level, Christians don’t understand the nature of the church. Too many Christians are trying to live–out their faith without understanding the bigger picture. In part, the language we use betrays our limited understanding: we talk about “going to church,” instead of talking about how best to be the church. In fact, for most people, our understanding of the church comes through what we have experienced in other human organizations such as service clubs, unions, and volunteer societies. But the church of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with those human organizations. In fact, what we need to understand from the outset, is that the church of Jesus Christ is a living organism, not an organization.
There are many challenges facing the church of Jesus Christ in Canada as we move into the next millennium, but there is perhaps no greater challenge and no greater need, than to re–discover the identity and character of the New Testament church. As I said last week, if we do not know who we are, if we have an imperfect or flawed understanding of the Church, then we will be unable to function as Christ desires us to. We need to look long and hard at what the Bi-ble says the authentic Church should look like. Noted Christian author Chuck Colson writes:
“We have a scandalously low view of the church. We have been so suckered in by the radical individualism of American culture that we’ve stripped the church of its proper role, but God created the church for the redemption of humankind, and to be a witness to the coming kingdom. Despite the fact that 81% of the American people say they can find the truth about God without reference to church or synagogue, I now believe that you cannot live the Christian life apart from the church.” (Chuck Colson in an interview with Christianity Today, Nov. 23, 1992)
He’s right. Scripture says that Christ died for the church. So, what is it? The church is that body of believers whom God has called and gifted to work and grow together in love and unity, with the goal of becoming fully mature in Christ. Look at Ephesians 4:1–16.
1. The Church consists of those who are called vv. 1–6
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1
The first thing that we learn from this passage, is that we do not choose to become a part of the church, but rather it is God who chooses us! Earlier in Ephesians, Paul wrote:
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will… Ephesians 1:4,5,11
We don’t find God, he finds us! We don’t choose God, he chooses us! But not everyone responds to God’s call in their lives. Jesus said, “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Mat. 22:14). So, what are we called to? The NT teaches:
- And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints... Romans 1:6-7
- …to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those every-where who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… 1 Corinthians 1:2
- You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sin-ful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13
- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
- But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 2 Timothy 1:8-9
Note that we are called by Him, we are called to Him, and we are called for Him! Our calling is something that we must live up to! To be a part of the Church is to become a part of Christ Jesus! As Peter reminds us, we are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peo-ple belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us]out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once [we]were not a people, but now [we] are the people of God” (1Pe 1:9–10). Our purpose, our identity, our future, is now inextricably linked with God’s Son, and we belong to Him.
The Greek word ekklesia – church – means “those who are called out.” God has called us as Paul says in verse 1 of our text, to “live up to, live worthily” of that calling. Phillips says, “live lives worthy of your high calling,” while the NKJV says, “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” We need to “walk the walk” for no other reasons that we are The Church! We are the Bride of Christ! We belong to the Living God, for as we are reminded in Corinthians, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians. 6:19-20). We also must learn that as the Church, we are called into relationship with other believers. Paul writes in verse two:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
The church consists of people; it is not about buildings or denominations, it’s about community! We are called to be united, because God is united!
“There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6
Let’s put to rest the lie that says we can be a Christian without being in relationship to other believers. To be part of the church is to be part of a larger whole, the invisible, world–wide community of Christ. Author Tim Bascom talks about the importance of community:
"Community can rescue us from ourselves and help us to become ourselves. In the end, the size and strength of a community depends on the willingness of its members to give themselves to living in relationship. You can't stay part of a community and make all your decisions based on purely per-sonal goals." Tim Bascom in The Comfort Trap (quoted in Moody, May 1994)
One truth really hit me hard when I was preparing for this sermon: we don’t get to choose who belongs to the Church, that’s God’s choice. So the only option available to us is what Paul writes about, to bear with one another and keep the bond of unity. “You don’t get to choose your family” as the saying goes. The church is God’s family! And since God has called us, the only choice we have is to love one another, like it or not! The Apostle John writes:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. 1 John 4:19–21
And in this context, love is not an emotion, but acts of service and compassion. We are called to be part of the church, the believers whom God has called and gifted to work and grow together in love and unity. We must also understand that…
2. The Church consists of those who are gifted vv. 7–12
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Ephesians 4:7
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4:11-12
The next thing that we must learn about the church, is that each and every member of the church has gifts that are to be used in building her up. Each and every one of us is given spiri-tual gifts that we must discover and develop and then use for the good of the entire church. God doesn’t give us gifts to keep or ignore, but to use in service! Once again, this is something that we do not have a choice about. You have gifts, find them! You have gifts, use them!
What is your gift, or gifts? Paul writes “each [person] has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1Co 7:7). Note that these gifts we receive are supernatural in origin, they are more than just aptitudes or natural ability: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1Co 12:7). That is what Paul means when he says that “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Eph 4:7). God’s grace is the outpouring of the Spirit into our lives, resulting in supernatural gifts.
These gifts are not for your use or enjoyment, but intended to be used for the greater good of the Body. God hasn’t called us to be the church just to get together once a week to sing some hymns and greet our neighbours and friends, but to use our gifts to build–up the Church! Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a lifestyle! A Christian is what we are, people bought and paid–for by God’s Son, and to us has been given spiritual gifts that are designed primarily for the growth and strengthening of His Body, the Church! Paul told the Corinthians church – who were having a great big feud about spiritual gifts – this bit of wisdom: “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church” (1Co 12:12). Peter agrees with this assessment and says “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1Pe 4:10).
The gifts God has given to his Church also consist of the gifted people whom He has called to serve Him. Paul lists five kinds of gifted people for us in Ephesians 4:11: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…” Just remember that your next Pastor has been called, gifted and given by God to the church! A pastor is ordained, set apart and called to shepherd the flock, and enabled to use his gifts in that capacity. That’s the Pastor’s part! But the Church consists of everyone who is part of the congregation working together to accomplish God’s will, God’s plan, and without you using your gifts, Centre Street will never be the kind of congregation that Christ designed it to be. Note verses 11 and 12 of our text:
It was [God] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…
The job of your pastor is to prepare you for works of service! Some versions say to “equip the saints.” That word “prepare” is a medical term for “the setting of a bone.” So your Pastor’s primary job as a teacher and enabler is to help you help you find your proper spot in the body, so you can “fit in” in a positive, healthy way. The Pastor’s job isn’t to visit so much as teach you to visit. The Pastor’s job isn’t just to teach the Bible as to teach you to teach the Bible. Show me a pastor who is does everything in a congregation, and I will show you a church that is spiritually stunted and spiritually misaligned. Show me a congregation where leaders are nur-tured, and people develop and use their gifts, and I will show you a growing, healthy fellowship.
The church is that body of believers whom God has called and gifted to work and grow to-gether in love and unity, with the goal of becoming fully mature in Christ.
3. The Church consists of those who are maturing in Christ vv. 12–16
You know, if you’re not utilizing what God has given you, if you’re not involved in this fellow-ship more than just Sunday mornings at 11:00 a.m., then the Body can’t be built up. It’ll be too weak from too few people trying to do too much. This congregation might stay alive, but it’ll never be built up, the way God desires! Why should we develop and use our gifts in ministry?
… so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowl-edge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:11–13
As spiritually gifted believers, we are to minister using the gifts of grace God has given us until we all attain/reach (used of travellers arriving at their destination) three goals:
1. “Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.”
Unity is always a goal; we must be one as God is one. What do we believe in? In “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Our faith should unite us. Our unity is also based on knowing Christ:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. Ephesians 1:17-19
2. “Become mature.”
We have to grow! We are not called to stay the same! If we are not growing in our faith, then we are in trouble! The author of Hebrews was blunt:
Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the ele-mentary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity… Hebrews 5:12–14
3. “Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
As the Jerusalem Bible puts it, our ultimate goal is to “become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself” (v. 13). The ultimate goal is to become more and more like Christ, and the only way to do that is to grow and change! As Paul said to the Romans, “those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Romans 8:29). And so as we grow, as we become more unified in our faith and in our knowledge of Christ, as we use our gifts to serve one another and build up the Body, then we will become more spiritually stable and sound:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. v. 14
There’s a lot of bad teaching, bad theology, and just plain worldliness out there, and unless we “grow up” spiritually, we’ll never be able to see it for what it is or resist it. But if we do grow, as verse 15 puts it, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” We do not seek to deceive, but to proclaim the truth. As we do that we will become more like Christ, and that is exactly who God wants us to be like. I love how Phillips translates the last verse of our text:
“For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts, and so builds itself up in love” (vv. 16 PHILLIPS).
Once again we are reminded that each and every one of us must take our place along side our brothers and sisters, and utilize the gifts God has given us for the common good (1Co 12:7). This entire passage puts the lie to the philosophy that says that we can be Christians through an individual expression of our faith. We either grow together, or we don’t grow at all. We either build each other up in love, or we remain spiritual babes who are subject to every whim and teaching that becomes fashionable. We are called to be part of God’s Church, the body of be-lievers whom God has called and gifted to work and grow together in love and unity, with the goal of becoming fully mature in Christ.
So, what is the church? Author Neil Anderson has this to say: "The church is like the ark. You wouldn't be able to stand the stink inside if it weren't for the storm outside." What is the church?
- The church consists of those who have been called by God to be a part of His Body.
- The church consists of those who by God’s grace have been gifted to serve the Body and build her up through the use of those gifts.
- The church consists of those who are growing and maturing in their faith and in the knowl-edge of Jesus Christ, becoming more unified with other believers as a result.
What is the church? The Church are those people who have been called together by God to love and serve each other in community, and all in the name of Jesus Christ. The church begins with Him and finds its ultimate purpose and fulfillment in Him. In a few moments we will celebrate to-gether in the memorial meal that reminds us exactly who we are, and why we are here.
The church is that body of believers whom God has called and gifted to work and grow to-gether in love and unity, with the goal of becoming fully mature in Christ.