What is the Church?
We don’t want to miss what God has for us as Christians, so today I want to share God’s vision and purpose for us through some pictures of the Church; as I ask the question in this sermon entitled “WHAT IS THE CHURCH?”
Contrary to popular supposition, the Church is not a building, or a group of buildings, it is not a denomination, it is not a religious institution, neither is it a community centre, a leisure centre or a museum. The Church is a living body, it is a large body, it is a lasting body and it is a loving body. It is the body of Christ, it is an open body, inviting all and excluding none.
It is a multi-lingual multi-cultural body, stretching all over the world, all over the last 20 centuries, and is growing every day, and touching every nation under heaven. It is not designed by men, nor destined of men, but was founded in the heart of God, formed in the hearts of men, bought by the blood of Jesus and will finished (completed) on the streets of Heaven.
THE CHURCH is mentioned first in Matthew 16:15-19
as God’s Governmental Assembly:
Jesus said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this ROCK (the confession of faith in Jesus Christ) I will build My CHURCH, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in
Heaven.” The Lord Jesus is building His Church. It is not being built by the decisions or devises of men or religious bodies, the Holy Spirit is calling the lost to Jesus every day and is thus building the Church brick by brick, one soul by one soul.
Let us reflect today on some of the Pictorial Images which the Bible gives us concerning the Church.
The Bible in Revelation 21:2 likens the new Jerusalem, the eternal dwelling of the Church to THE BRIDE OF CHRIST and John the Baptist in John 3 likens himself “friend” to the bridegroom, Jesus who gets the Bride. All this is speaking of our DEVOTION to JESUS. The Bride is genuine and sincere in her devotion and commitment to Christ and prepares herself in sanctification for her Presentation to Him in the glory.
First of all then as his Church – we must be devoted to Christ. We must not hold back on our WORSHIP. Don’t get so sophisticated and restrained that you can’t come to God in pure worship and love. We come to God first of all to honour and worship Him. We may be busy, not feel like it, have other things to do, but by coming and worshipping regularly we are establishing Jesus in first place. He comes before all other things. He should be a top priority for us.
Paul, the apostle writes:
‘I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity in Christ’ (2Cor 11:1-3).
Remember Christ is devoted to us. He loved us first (Eph:5:23-32). ‘Christ is head of the church; and the Saviour of the body….Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He
might present her to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and
without blemish.’ This leads to our devotion to Him: ‘For this reason a man shall LEAVE his father and mother and be JOINED to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.’ So as His Bride, we must LEAVE the things that previously had first call on us, in order to CLEAVE to our new love,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then another Picture we see is
AS THE GREAT or large FAMILY OF ONE FATHER
As Brothers and Sisters in Christ we must be watchful and prayerful for each other, living together in love and unity as God’s children, led by our elder brother – Jesus. Paul the apostle says: ‘The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself … He has made
us accepted in the Beloved’ (Eph1:2-6)
and in the next chapter we read …
‘For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God’ (Eph2:18,19).
As brothers and sisters we are to WATCH (out for each other) and PRAY for each other: ‘praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints’ (6:18). If anyone is in trouble there should be someone they can turn to.
We should be available to help and to bless each other. If someone is missing from Church find out if they are O.K. We are all part of this one big family, irrespective of our denominational differences. Once we have been “born again” into this new family relationship with Jesus, we have responsibility one for the other. God’s purpose for man is to dwell in FELLOWSHIP with Him forever, closer to God than even the angels – so in Christ He has made us part of His family to share His love and glory!
Listen to how the apostle Paul describes that family.
“I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole (church) family in heaven and earth (those dead and alive) is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus to all generations …” (Eph3:14-21) So we are a Big Family!
The next picture of the Church is that of THE TEMPLE OF THE HOLY-SPIRIT (Eph2:20-22)… but not a stone building?
We are all living stones fitted together as a building dedicated to God. ‘You are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people’ (2Cor 6:16). His purpose for the church is to be the eternal dwelling place for God’s power and glory. ‘built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets,
Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the
whole (human) building, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit’ Eph2:20-22.
We need the presence and anointing of the Spirit. The main key for this is UNITY: ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in UNITY! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down … like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the LORD commanded the blessing – Life for evermore’ (Psalm133).
I used to tell my students that “unity is the cement that holds the church together”.
The most destructive thing for a Church is strife and division, for it breaks the flow of the anointing. Jesus said: ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand.’ There has to be authority in the Church and decisions made for what is best for the Church as a whole, which doesn’t always suit every individual. Those who get involved in gossip and criticism are foolish for they hurt the church and their own lives, bringing them into trouble with the Lord: ‘Do you not know that you (the corporate church) are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the Temple of God (by bringing strife), God will destroy (judge) him. For the Temple of God is holy, which Temple you are’ (2Cor 3:16,17).
We must guard this unity: ‘I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep (guard and protect, because Satan is always trying to get hold of someone to use their tongue) … So
Paul says “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope’ (Eph4:1-4).
I have always been willing to encourage unity amongst Christians, and am always happy to share with and speak to those who make it there aim to unite the body of Christ.
However, Christian Unity and Church Unity are not the same thing. Church unity and those movements which encourage it, have over the years been trying to build inter-faith relationships.
They aim at bringing all “faith” groups and even “non-faith” groups together. But it is impossible to mix light with darkness.
Without the central and over-riding focus being upon Jesus Christ, there can be no unity with those who are “in Him”?
Consider the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal in
1 Kings Chapter 18. It would have been impossible for Elijah to have become united with those who followed and served and worshipped Baal. These were genuine, sincere, loyal, faithful worshippers of a foreign & strange god, but Elijah worshipped and served Jehovah. The Baal worshippers were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong. They walked in the dark as far as the power of the true God was concerned. So Elijah had to set about shedding some light into their darkness. You know that story, and if not, read it for yourself in 1 Kings 18, how Elijah called down fire from heaven and it not only consumed the sacrifice on the alter, the alter itself, the stones and even the water in the trenches around it. How on earth could Elijah who had tasted of the power of Jehovah, settle for anything less and unite with the powerless useless idolatry they called Baal worship? As I said a few weeks ago regarding the apostle Peter, “once you have walked on the water, it is impossible to stay sitting in the boat!”
The Apostle Paul writes about these same issues to the early
Christian Church at Corinth. Listen to what he says:
‘Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or
‘I am of Apollos’ or ‘I am of Cephas’ or ‘I am of Christ’
(1Cor 1:10-12). There were divisions at Corinth over leadership. Paul also surprisingly rebukes the group who say
‘I am of Christ’, for these are the ones who believe they have a ‘hotline to heaven’ who don’t submit to human authority because they just do ‘what God tells them’. But God does not work that way and they end up deceived just following their own heart and will in rebellion. In v:1-7, he says those in strife are still babies (flesh-ruled): ‘I could not speak to you as unto spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babies in Christ …you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?’ When strife is removed God can give the increase. Does your “Sanctuary” have the presence and power of God in it? It ought to! Blessings cannot be “worked up” they must “fall down” they must come from above, from God. Once you have tasted of life in a relationship with Jesus, you could never and should never abandon that for the “deadness” of mere religion, whatever name it takes.
The next picture I see of the Church is as
PARTS or AS MEMBERS OF THE BODY OF CHRIST
Your body and mine has many parts, – hands, feet, eyes, ears, and so on, all having differing functions but all vital and important to the whole. Ephesians 4:1-5: tells us that we are
All to make our contribution to build the Church. We grow together by God’s grace as each does his part in loving service. We are becoming ‘a perfect man of the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; no longer children, tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine, but, speaking the truth in love, that we may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love’ (Eph4:13-16). We all must play our part to supply life to the body. Find your place of service, prayer, help, encouragement, witnessing, giving. As a body we learn to move and flow together under the head (the authority). What if every part decided to do its own thing? What if the whole body was an eye? Don’t try to be like others but serve according to your ability. The Body is Christ’s hands to do His work, His mouth to speak His words, and His feet to go on His errands. Remember that “there’s a work for Jesus none but YOU can do”.
Then the Scriptures give us the picture of the Church – As the ARMY OF CHRIST. (Eph. 6:10-20 instructs us in dressing for the battle) We are to pray and to witness to the lost, standing together in the victory of Christ and marching together to win souls for Him – exercising dominion over Satan. Paul says: ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil’ The Church is for ever in “battle mode” we are in a fight with the world the flesh and the devil over the hearts and lives of those around us. We have to fight for the faith for our salvation and healing, as well as fight with the temptations and trials of life. This Christian walk is not a walk in the park, it is a walk through minefields of explosive encounters that could pull us down and take us out, if we were not dressed in the armoury of Gods supply. There are evil and sinister forces at work today to discredit the Church, disarm the Christian and disgrace the Clergy. We are at war with the unbelieving world, and we must not be found off-guard. Satan is out to defeat and destroy us, and when we do succeed, it will only ever be with Gods help.
NOW THIS FINAL PICTURE
My last portrait was that of a struggling army, with weak and weary fighting soldiers, tired of the battle and longing for rest … and that is where the greater part of the Church is today? Yet there is another picture of this army given in the Book of the Revelation, in Chapter 19, and this final picture of her is –
as a Victorious & Glorious Army.
Turn to Revelation 19 at verse 11 (At the time of Armageddon)
“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. (v14) And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and
wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written,
KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”
Verse 14 uses the word Armies in the plural, showing that Heaven has two armies, the one the Angelic Army, and the other the Churches Army. Yet on this occasion when they return with the “King of Kings” the are coming only as spectators, for the victory is already in the mouth of Jesus – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The point I am making is that the Church has triumphed, and the redeemed ones are glorified with their Saviour for ever. We read …
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away”. Rev 21:4
Aren’t you glad that you’re a part of His Church, His Bride, His Family, His Temple, His Body, and His Great Army ….
At any rate, I hope you are part of it?
May God Bless this word to all our hearts for His dear names sake. Amen