The Church | Part 1

churchAs we embark in our study series of the Biblical picture of the Church, I want to be absolutely clear that I am not trying to “call out” any specific churches, or fellowships, or pastors. I’m not trying to convince you to leave your church, or join mine (a point I hope to make very clearly soon). I will endeavor to keep these discussions on prescriptive passages in God’s Word, plainly written for us to follow. If you take umbrage with any of my assessments or commentary, I ask that you take some time to share your thoughts or questions with me (either via comment below or personal message). If you take issue with what the Scriptures say… well, I leave that to you, your elders, and God the Holy Spirit.

There is only One Church

Just as there is only One God  (who exists eternally in three persons: God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit) there is only One Church for whose sin Jesus Christ died as an atoning sacrifice and was resurrected so that in Him the Church might have everlasting life. Forgive me the repetition, but I fear that point is too often glossed over. There is only ONE Church. That church is neither Jew nor Gentile, Catholic nor Protestant, Lutheran nor Pentecostal, Reformed nor Arminian, Orthodox nor Charismatic. Do I have your attention now? Good. I’m not talking about what you call your “home church” or what the media might consider “the Church”.

Ephesians 2:11-22 (ESV)
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Amen. I thank God for His servant, Paul, and his writings (inspired by God, of course).  So the church is the household of God, build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone. I am reminded of what Jesus told Peter in the book of Matthew:

Matthew 16:13-20 (ESV)
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Someday, we will take a look at this passage in a (CTT post) because there is so much packed in here (and some bad theology uses portions here as proof-texts). For now, let me say that while “Peter” does sound like the Greek word for rock, Jesus isn’t saying that He will build His Church on Peter; rather, on the confession that Jesus is indeed the Christ, son of the Living God. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Law and the Prophets and the Promises of God to Adam & Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Israel,… etc. In Him also we have new promises, promises of His return, of everlasting life, reigning and ruling with Christ as heirs and joint-heirs to the Kingdom of God. Therefore in Jesus Christ we are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by God the Holy spirit.

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (ESV)
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

The Church is the Body of Christ

As there is only One Christ, He has but One Body, His Church.

Ephesians 4:1-16 (ESV)
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The Apostle Paul refer to the Church as the Body of Christ often in his letters. I think he does a great job expounding on this analogy in 1 Corinthians 12.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (ESV)
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

And that more excellent way is the subject of Chapter 13. Does this mean that each of the divisions of man that call themselves “The Church” is equal and simply different parts of the Body of Christ? Well… no. I wish I could say that but I cannot. From a “denominational” standpoint, we are not all in the unity of Christ because we do not share the same confessions of Christ, and many hold to their own declared apostles and prophets. So what then? I’ll try to address that point in a bit, but for now, let’s focus on what the Word of God says, rather than try to sort out the doctrines of men. I think you will find it comforting to know that such divisions were already taking root in the early Church, divisions not only of false teaching (read the Epistle of Galatians) but also division by personality despite being taught the same Gospel.

1 Corinthians 3 (ESV)
1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” 20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Paul really doesn’t pull punches, does he? Even when the same Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached, fleshly men will find cause for strife and jealousy. With respect to the question of our present-day denominations (divisions), I believe Paul makes quite clear the answer in verses 10 through 15. In the Day of Christ’s return, He will be coming for His bride. Not by creeds or denominations or associations or fellowships, but to each individually. For the role of the Church is not to save (Christ alone saves), but to build up the Body of Christ to do the work of the ministry of reconciliation (preaching the Gospel).  God makes clear to Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV) 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.Therefore, as long as our faith is in Christ for our salvation we are in the Body. What Paul addresses here relates to the work of the Church, to take care on how he builds upon the foundation. If what is built survives the Day of His return, he will be rewarded. Clearly not all that will be built (even on the sure foundation of Christ) will stand the test of fire on the Day of His return, and it will be burned up. He will be saved by faith, but his works will have been for nothing. You may strive the rest of your Christian life working to build on the solid foundation of the prophets and apostles in a local church that has drifted into winds of doctrine, or has allowed fruitless traditions of men to consume the work of the ministry. Such things will be burned up in the Day of His return, but if your heart remains in Him, you will be saved, but only as through fire. Warning: as Jesus warned of false christs, and false prophets, we must guard against building upon false foundations. For such foundations will not save a man. Guard your hearts against false teaching by testing the spirits, judging the fruit, and silencing/rebuking false teachers of false christs.

The smallest unit of the Church is the Family, not the Individual

Each of us, in this present age, has been given access to God’s Holy Word. We have access to all of the Law and the Prophets, the Teaching of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and the foundation laid by the Apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone. However, it is unwise to think that the individual is self-sufficient. Yes, the Holy Spirit leads and guides us, but while we walk on this earth our flesh is still sinful, carnal, and operates contrary to the Spirit. Remember in the Parable of the Sower there are 2 soils that take root quickly, only to be burned by trials or choked out by weeds. The Body of Christ has many members, and each member needs the other for growth. There is a reason that Paul so often refers to the brothers and sisters in Christ, or the brethren. What we see in Ephesians is Paul transitioning from the foundational concepts of the Church, the Body of Christ, is a move toward the family as the basic component of the Church. Husbands and Wives, Children and Parents, Fathers to their Children, even bondservants and masters. There is a great deal to be said of the family being a picture of the Church, and we will explore this in detail over the next few posts.

Before we close this post out, a word to the husbands and fathers reading this. Regardless of which church you attend, which school/sunday school/youth group/small group/home group your family participates in, you are the spiritual leader of your family. That responsibility rests on you. It cannot be delegated to anyone else, not even your wife. You are the head of your family, as Christ is the Head of His Church. Praise God for His Grace and Mercy in providing each of us with His Word. He has also provided you, fathers, with His Church… a place of equipping, of teaching, of correcting, and of encouraging the fathers to be the priests of their homes. You who are in Christ, are a royal priesthood. If you aren’t spending time in the word, your family isn’t. If you aren’t prayerfully seeking God in prayer and study, your family suffers. You need to engage in church, become a disciple of the Word and submit to the leadership of a local church whose foundation is built on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If where you are now does not rightly preach the Word of God (we’ll get to that later), it is your responsibility to speak up, to question, and (if needs be) step away for the sake of your family and seek out a fellowship more firmly rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your choices are not for you alone, but for your family. Let us close with a prayer from Ephesians 3.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (ESV)
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Amen. Be blessed today and this weekend.
In Him,

Series: The Church | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5


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