So Tell Me, What On Earth Is The Church?
by Dr. Henderson Ward
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It can be argued that the church is probably the most misunderstood organization on earth and looking at the church from the outside gives credence to such a perception. The secular world just do not get is as far as the church is concerned and view it as a relic of the unenlightened past best forgotten. Even within the church there are those who because of their fetish with doctrinal purity and exclusivity are unable to see beyond the confines of their sterile beliefs and grasp the blessedness of the church. Interlopers, hypocrites, pseudo-Christians, false prophets, hapless clergy, faithless adherents, superficial believers, fair-weather Christians all form a band of eclectic worshippers that define the modern church. So tell me, what on earth is the church is our reflection on this important topic and as we shall see there is more to the church than meets the eye.
A very good place to start our reflection is to look at a well known verse of scripture in the Bible, “And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) In the context of this verse Jesus, along with his disciples, had now entered the coast of Caesarea Philippi and enquired of his disciples whom men were saying that he is. Getting a variety of answers, Jesus asked directly, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16: 15b) Peter responded with insightful precision, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God” and to this Jesus responded with Matthew 16:18 above.
Over the years there has been many arguments centering on whether the church is built on Peter or not and some affirm it is, taking the scripture in a literal sense. The correct interpretation of Matthew 16:18, when viewed against the original Greek, shows that Jesus said, “Thou art Peter (the Greek word for Peter “petros” meaning rock or small stone) and upon this rock (petra the Greek word meaning large stone; bedrock) I will build my church. Understood correctly Jesus is affirming that he will build his church on the solid confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. This accords with other scriptures for example, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11) This agrees with Paul’s interpretation, “[church]…are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). The reference here to the apostles and prophets refers to their teachings concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today in accordance with the promise of Jesus the church is firmly established and although it is bombarded on every side, as has been the case throughout its history, it keeps on functioning effectively. So tell me, what on earth is the church? The church has some unique characteristics that are exceptionally amazing as we shall see.
First we note that the church was divinely designed and instituted
The church is a divine institution and did not come about by the schemes and imagination of man. When we think of anything developed through man’s cognition we think of it as being faulty, temporal, of reduced reliability and requiring modification and improvement as time goes by. We can see this clearly around us as we notice how science and technology keep changing and correcting designs and systems because of man’s limited knowledge and ability. Not so with Almighty God for the opposite is true; God is error free in totality and perfect in his designs, processes and execution and the church stands as a fitting tribute to such excellence. Here we shall see the Holy Trinity, once again, combining efforts to assist fallen mankind by instituting The Church.
God the Father planned it
Like so many things to do with the existence of the world and man’s eternal salvation God the Father planned the “ecclesia” or called out assembly before the world was created. The Bible declares, “Blessed be God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:3-4) The church is not a reaction to events in bygone Palestine but an essential part of God’s redeeming plan for mankind.
Believers can have total confidence in anything God has planned knowing it will be well thought out, perfectly structured and effective!
God the Son purchased it
Throughout the Bible Jesus Christ, overtly and covertly, is the executive arm of the Trinity and in all endeavors Jesus, the Son of God, works closely with God the Father to realize God’s plans. As regards the “ecclesia” Jesus faithfully did his part, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:6-7)
Precious indeed is the church when it is purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.
God the Holy Spirit produced it
The total unity of God is here on display as each member of the Godhead carries out his assigned task with the Holy Spirit processing and sealing the “ecclesia”. We read, “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)
The church is complete in Christ and preserved for all time and the Holy Spirit bears witness to that fact.
Next we observe that the church has uniquely-devoted individuals
The church is heavily criticized because many see it as too broad and inclusive and it contains many who are strangers to God and still pretend they are in Christ. Alas this unsatisfactory situation will be corrected in due time when “the tares and the wheat will be separated” but in the meantime believers task is to tolerate and persuade. Never the less the true church stands proud as a testimony to righteous living, as an example to the world of caring, sharing, loving, praying people and this is so because the church consists of members who are totally devoted to Almighty God.
Church members are children of God
The wonders of God never cease and here God has done something truly wonderful in taking sinful human beings and transforming them into the church and adopting them as his children. Here is what the Bible says, “Neither can they die anymore: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:36) This blessed, elevated position is affirmed by the Holy Spirit himself who completes and establishes us in Christ, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” (Romans 8:16)
Church members are heirs of God
Being members of the “ecclesia” elevates believers to a special status which God has bestowed upon every repentant sinner, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Romans 8:17) Whenever we think of heirs we think of inheritance, of something coming to us as a beneficiary and Paul, in writing to the Galatians, reminded them of this special status, “Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:7)
Church members are sons of God
The patriarchal systems of the past revered children but sons were especially elevated for it was them who perpetuated the family’s name. As if to leave no doubt as to the special status of all committed Christians and demonstrate his love for us we are now regarded as sons of God, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” (John 1:12) The Apostle John, writing to the church at large, declared for the affirmation of all believers, “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God…” (1 John 3:1) Children of God, heirs of God and now Sons of God; their very name speaks to their devotion.
The church has the most delightful, awe-inspiring goals
However badly the church is organized and run – it is a fact that a lot of the contemporary criticism is justified – it nevertheless stands resolute on the foundation for which it was established. The church is characterized with delightful intentions because God knew that fallible man would stand in need of such services and the very nature of the church would require no less. The church functions primarily in three distinct ways as follows.
It serves to edify the saints
The church is not a static institution and consists of a range of persons including those who are juvenile and dependent and need encouragement and assistance. As a vital part of its function the church is admonished to comfort and edify each other in Jesus Christ, “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) It was for this reason, among others, that God gave believers different gifts, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12) Christians are cautioned therefore to be careful what they say for it will have consequences, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” (Ephesians 4:29)
It exists to extol the Savior
We owe Jesus thanks for all he has done and for enabling us to serve him in our various capacities as Paul affirmed, “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” (1 Tim 1:12) The saints of God are to extol and magnify him in everything they do for they owe everything to God’s mercy and grace, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
Jesus is worthy, we worship and praise him.
Jesus died for us, we appreciate and honor him.
Worthy is the Lamb, we love and exalt him. Even angels bow before him. And some day all knees will bow before him and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.
It operates to evangelize a sinful world
The church is put on earth as God’s representative to reach out, however difficult and risky it may be, and evangelize a sick and dying world. The Bible tells us, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19) The world may reject the gospel message, few are accepting, but we are to press ahead with our witnessing, “…and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The church has power to lovingly communicate to all mankind and to win such as will choose Jesus as their Lord. Believers should remember that the church is you, the individual; not the leadership or the clergy or some static institution out there but you individually and collectively and anything you do to help someone to commit to Jesus is helping to evangelize the world.
Praise God for the church, the “ecclesia” or called out assembly, which God himself created in Christ before the world was formed. Every born-again Christian is a true member of the church of Christ regardless of church affiliation. Believers share in the body of Christ just like any other member whether you are Jew or Gentile, bond or free for we all share the same privileges in Christ.
Praise God for all of you who have committed yourself to Jesus Christ; I salute you and pay tribute to you for standing firm in the face of unjustified criticism. Those who dishonor the church with their disgraceful behavior, and let me assure you that God will deal with them, are but few. To those who are sincere and committed I say well done and may God continue to bless you and keep you as you continue in the blessed church of Christ.
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