I read a blog the other day about the Christian church. The author of the blog was arguing that there was no point in going to church, and that the church, as it has existed, was obsolete. The author said that there was better preaching to be found on the internet or on television than what he received at Sunday services that he had attended and that getting dressed for church and driving back and forth was too time consuming. He said he had a supportive community on facebook and that he didn’t relate with the people that were in the churches he attended. Sadly, I think this young man has a point, but it is clear that he does not understand the meaning and purpose of the church, and perhaps even sadder that some of the churches he attended did not understand the meaning either.
It is critical for the believer to understand “church” and our part in it as explained in the Bible.
What is the CHURCH?
The word “church” comes from the Greek word, ekklesia, which is a combination of two words, ek meaning to go out, and kaleo which means to call, so it can literally mean “called out ones.” Often is can be translated as an assembly or congregation. It is NOT a physical building, but is a name used to denote the believers in Jesus Christ. We are the ones who are called out from the world by Jesus Christ. The church is US.
The history of the word can be traced to 500 years before Christ when it was used to call out an army to assemble for war. IF we think about that a little bit, we could say that Christ has called us out as an army to assemble for him and against the powers of darkness.
Let’s look at the first time the word is used in the New Testament. Jesus is speaking in Matthew 16:13 and following:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
There is a lot of power in this passage. Jesus is saying that if you know who he is, if you have that revelation, that you are solid as a rock, and it is upon this solid foundation that he will build his people, his congregation, those who he has called out as an army. And when he builds his people, the gates of hell cannot defeat it.
I don’t know about you, but to me, when Jesus says the gates of hell will not defeat his people…, those sound like fightin’ words.
The disciples were hearing this word from Jesus for the first time. They would have understood that he was talking about a congregation, an army of followers. And what does an army do? They fight and in this case he says that the army will fight against hell and win.
So, when Jesus is talking about a church, he is not talking about a building, he is talking about his army.
Later, the apostle Paul uses the word “church” in another manner, and it is his manner that we normally use today. He said, “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Romans 16:5 NIV). In this way, Paul used it to mean a specific church congregation.
We, all believers, are the church of Christ, but we come together in different “church” congregations.
So, where is the church? It is where we are, where believers are and where believers gather together.
Who is part of the church?
Peter preached a sermon about Jesus and the Holy Spirit, found in Acts 2:14 and following. At the end of his sermon, many believed and wanted to join those who followed the Jesus way. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (NIV).
This verse states that there were two requirements to become part of gathering of believers. First, accept the message—in other words as we have taught before in Romans 10:9, 10 “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” (NIV).
And second, those who accepted this word were baptized. Baptism is that public proclamation that you are one of HIS. There is more about baptism in a future discipleship lesson.
What is the church? Jesus used three different metaphors or images to explain the church.
Let’s take a look at the metaphors Jesus used. First, he called the church the Body of Christ. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:12 NIV). The illustration of a body drives home the point that the church is made up of many people, and each person may have his or her own function, but we need each other to be complete. Look at verse 14 and following:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be: If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be: But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (NIV).
There is to be one body of Christ, but yet there are different functions. This applies to different denominations as well. Clearly, one body means that we are all part of Christ. Differing denominations does not mean one is better than the other. Each of us have preferences and the desire of God is that the denominations work together, as one body all working with Christ as the head. (See Eph. 4:15).
So, within each church congregation there are different tasks, operations, and/or jobs that each individual is to have. Together we accomplish the work of God and bring the justice and salvation of God. Each person has a purpose to fulfill. And within the many churches, within the many denominations, we are united as the body of Christ to do the work of the Lord.
Verse 27 says: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
In the prior verse Paul says, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (v. 26 NIV).
A second illustration of the church is one of a building. This is a metaphor, the church, as you remember is NOT a building. 1 Peter 2:4, 5 says, “As you come to him, the living Stone (Jesus)—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood…” We are living stones, each part of the whole, being built into a spiritual house. Like the body, a building cannot exist without all the stones.
And like Christ is the head of the body in the prior illustration, Christ is the “chief cornerstone” of the house that the living stones are building. (See Eph 2:20).
A third illustration of the church is that of the bride of Christ. Eph 5:25-27 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” He is talking here about husbands but referencing the church as the bride of Christ or as his wife.
In all illustrations WE, the church, are partners with Christ, while he is the head.
All images point to the fact that we are one, working together. All of us have a part in the church and we need each other. We rejoice with each other, we suffer with each other, we pray for each other as a community, and we work with each other for Christ. This brings us to…
The purpose of the Church.
Let’s return to Acts 2:42-46.
The devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and o the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV).
Clearly, the sermon was NOT the sole focal point of the church. There is a place for that (read Ephesians 4:11) to be sure. Here the apostles are teaching. But look at how much more than that is going on. Fellowship among believers is critical to the growth of a church. The breaking of bread can refer both to eating together and to the taking of communion. And there were miracles being done.
When we look back at where we started with the article that said that there are better sermons on the internet, we can surely say that the sermon is not all church is about. The believers in the first century church sold their things so that those who had need would not go without. They sacrificed for one another and they praised God together. That cannot happen on the internet!
And what is the result, God added to their number. This too cannot happen on the internet. Church is more than a sermon. It is a place we come together and minister to each other. It is a place we rejoice with each other and cry with one another. It is a community with a purpose to learn together and to pray together and even to provide for each other.
Together the church is devoted to prayer (Mt. 21:13) and to serving each other (Gal. 6:10); to grow up together into a maturity in Christ (Eph 4:11-14), and to make disciples together (Mt 28:19) and also to attack the gates of hell and defeat the enemy together (Mt. 16:18).
The church congregation is a community of intimate relationships with each other enjoying our intimate relationship with God together.
Finding your part: So how do you find your part within the church? Start with these four essentials to find where you belong and what you can do for the church and for God.
- Talk to the Pastor
- Study the Bible
- Begin with service to the church as a whole and to each other.