Demystifying Church

In any society, cultural stereotypes dominate unhealthy churches. Whether it be the seeker-sensitive kind, or the seeker-insensitive kind, when a church forgoes the reasonable meaning of what it means to be a biblical church, she gets sick. We see this around us every day, how some churches try to fit-in culturally by bringing more of the world’s culture into the church, while some other churches we know would rather keep their people living in the 1500’s. Both, are lousy motivations, whether you’re trying to fit into the current culture, or the culture from a hundred years ago. The church was never meant to be culturally conformed, she is the bride of Christ. She’s meant to be biblically conformed, and the Bible is the same 500 years ago, and now, and will be the same 500 years from now. A lot of us tend to behave as though the Church belongs to us, that she’s our bride, and so we conform her to our expectations, failing to see that we are to conform the Church to the Bridegroom’s expectation.

All of us have our own opinions about the church, about what it is and what it is not, about what it should be and what it should not be. Whatever our opinions or confusions regarding the matter, the church is not a mystery. The entire New Testament establishes quite clearly what a church is.

And in today’s Gospel Daily, allow me to take you through an overview of the doctrine of the Church.

Church is the bride of Christ

No other description of the church more clearly and more seriously emphasises the sanctity of the church, as the phrase – the bride of Christ. The most sensitive part of any man, is his bride. You can cheat a man, and he may pardon you. You may steal from him, mock him, tease him, get into a fist fight with him, and even run a truck over him, and he may still pardon you. But if you play around with his bride, he will make you answer for it with a heavy price. The church is the bride of Christ. When you take that bride and adorn her with the jewels of this culture, and dress her up in order to make her more attractive to the carnal eyes of man, what hole in the ground will save you from God’s wrath for turning the bride of Christ into a prostitute of this culture? Tell me brothers and sister, who among us would like to meet with Bridegroom when he returns for his bride. There is a reason the final judgment is called the Great White Throne Judgment.

Church is the body of Christ

If the metaphor of the ‘bride’ shows us the intimacy with which Christ embraces the church, then the metaphor of the body in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 shows us the nearness with which he is acquainted with the life of the church. Each of us are hands and legs, eyes and ears, members of the body of Christ. Can you imagine the weight of that picture? When Jesus decides to do something in this world, he uses his hands and legs, members of his own body to carry out his will. He is building is Father’s kingdom through us. The ‘church’ is the body of Christ, not the ‘para-church’. So many Christians are happily dechurched, believing that para-church organisations are the real deal. Trust the Bible folks, for God’s intention will not fail and he has ordained that his will be fulfilled primarily in the life of the local church.

Church is the fellowship of saints

The ‘body’ metaphor also conveys the point of the body’s composition. We are ‘members’ of the body, not appendages. Church membership is a long forgotten biblical reality, where passages like Matthew 18 do not make any sense in most congregations anymore. The church is the fellowship of Christ’s members, those we call ‘believers’. The church is not the fellowship of unconverted men. Reformation in our day and age, would mean that many local churches have to do away with more than half their membership. A weak membership requirement plagues many churches that desperately aim to fill their membership register. Consequently, you end up with a mixed membership of proselytes and pagans, and realise that there’s no common point where light and darkness meet. Therefore, a church that takes discipleship seriously will have to call into question the identity of the goats. The sheep must remain, and the goats must either convert or depart. Disciples are committed, united and disciplined

However, unity is not inherent. There are two common categories of conflicts as describe by Paul, that often arise in such scenarios, one of insecurity and the other of self pity. Either you’ve got hands not feeling like they belong cause they are not the legs, or you’ve got the eyes heckling the ears that they don’t belong. Yet, the church is the community of people that are gathered by Christ from every nation, tribe and tongue. Every member of this community matters. The biblical culture of the church is one of humility and service, where legs are diligent in their efforts, while commending the hands for their excellent work. Each of us serving each other, to build up the whole body, of which Christ is the head.

The universal church is practically realised in local communities. We can truly say that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are spread out across the world, and throughout history, but this ‘universal’ church was meant to be physically realised by ‘local’ congregations, where saints gather together. This pattern is undeniably visible in the life of the apostles and disciples throughout the New Testament who established local churches as the primary means to reaching the nations.

not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near - Hebrews 10:25

To say that we belong to the ‘universal’ church, while avoiding our commitment to the local church, is bad theology. There were no free floaters in the New Testament. A lot of young Christians use the ‘there’s no perfect church’ argument to stay out of church. If I had a penny for every time somebody said that there’s no such thing as a perfect church, I would have bought myself a PlayStation by now. They use this argument so often as a means to justify the sinful and unhealthy tendencies in their churches, and their laziness to have to deal with addressing those issues. People! Stop culturally conforming, and come to the Bible, please.

Why?

Church is created by Jesus

No matter how man-centred the local churches that we’ve been a part of may seem, we have to understand that the church was not made by man. Jesus established the church with His own blood. The whole point of the sacrifice of Christ was to redeem a people, a community, the church. And this wasn’t a side hustle, or one additional point to his redemptive work. This was the plan since the beginning, to establish God’s Kingdom come, through the planting and nurturing of local churches. Christians, therefore, cannot neglect the work of the local church, because to do so, would be to go against the plan of God.

To set ourselves on a path of redefining church because a bunch of hoodlums and sloths polarise the local churches in our time, is a tragic misbelief. We need to wake up, and wake up fast. If Christ is the author and shepherd of the church, then our task is to reform broken churches and not to celebrate them. If I had a penny for every time someone told me that the reason they were staying behind in a severely broken church was in order to preach the Gospel and revive that church, I would have bought a PlayStation for every room in my house. I’m not advocating that everyone needs to abandon their posts, and leave their broken churches, but that our decision to remain or to leave must come from a biblical understanding of the doctrine of the church, rather than measuring the square space of our comfort zones.

That’s the great commission for which we were sent out by Christ.

Church, is the Great Commission

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 all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. - Matthew 28:19-20

When we quote Matthew 28, we often confine it to the work of the evangelist or a missionary to our great disadvantage. The great commission is accomplished by the church. The main verb in that verse is, ‘make disciples’, not ‘go’. The great commission is to make disciples, whether that means you go down to the lobby, over to the next door neighbour, or travel across states, or across the ocean. We make disciples by teaching them to ‘observe‘ all the commandments of Christ. In stark contrast, our discipleship programs tend to do much in the way of teaching the commandments, but very little in the way of training people to ‘observe’ those commandments. That requires us to go beyond the intellect and deal with the heart.

Discipleship is,

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1)

A disciple is one who follows his master, to become more like his master. So, if we are called to make disciples of Christ, they must be taught about Christ and about following him. We do this by leading with example. We who? Who is in charge of making disciples? The seminary? Tele-evangelists? Scholars? Yoda? Where does one go to become a disciple? The answer is simple and clear, the church. Jesus gave us the great commission, that we may take the Gospel to the ends of the earth, establishing churches where people gather together for worship, to serve one-another and to make disciples.

No one can genuinely and effectively pursue the Christian life or the Christian ministry without this biblical emphasis on the local church. The local church is the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, the fellowship of the saints, the fulfilment of the great commission, created by Jesus himself.

choose this day whom you will serve, … but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Joshua 24:15

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