Good News! The Church Works After All!

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“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12),

In this foundational passage about the functioning of the New Testament church, these men are “laymen,” non-professionals just like us, who are gifted by God to equip us to go into the world. These gifted men lead with their own weakness, loving all they meet into the Kingdom.  We have seen over the past few weeks how that happened in the New Testament, and we have seen that it is happening again today, behind the scenes, gradually, unnoticed, stealthily, like leaven at work, hidden in a lump of dough (Matthew 13:33). This will continue, while, unnoticed, the next few verses in Ephesians 4 tell us what is happening:

“Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, 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” (Ephesian 4:13-16). 

Wow! This tells us that the following will happen when we God’s people, living by faith, return to the New Testament pattern for church:

1. First result of the ministry of the body in the church – unity of the faith

When the body functions as we have seen, with each member giving his or her perspective—based on the teaching and vision of the equippers—the first result mentioned here is the “unity of the faith.” Extraneous, fallacious concepts will be rejected; truth, like cream, will rise to the top and be recognized. This is why it is mandatory that all give their insights and input to the church. We must remember that the corporate body, not just individuals, is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He superintends our gatherings, prompting each member to make contributions for the understanding of the body. 

If the equippers are allowed to function, and the church members receive their equipping ministry and function as well, the eventual result will be a consensus in matters where there was previous disagreement, or as Paul says, “a unity of the faith” and of our understanding of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13a). I have been a part of a church that was learning to function in this way, with sometimes uncomfortable and incomplete but always exhilarating and profitable results.

2.Second result of the ministry of the body – a mature church

Paul says that the second result of the body ministering to itself is a mature church; and that maturity has three characteristics—doctrinal stability, deception resistance, and loving honesty (Ephesians 4:14, 15).

Doctrinal stability means that church members are not prey to every false doctrine that presents itself as the latest version of “God’s present word to the church.” The church in America has strayed from its doctrinal heritage during the past century, leaving its members without a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches doctrinally, leaving them to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (14a). 

This has occurred partly because single-minister churches have not had a full range of ministry gifts to protect from the incursion of false doctrine. The pastor has often not been very theological because he thinks that “theology divides,” and he often brings messages based more on experience and emotion than the Bible. He has not recognized other ministry gifts around him, such as prophet or teacher. 

Each member has not seen himself as an able minister, responsible to test all things against the Scripture, but has simply believed what he has been told to believe or what has felt good to him. Corporate leadership and a functioning body that tests all things against the Bible guard against this error.

The second characteristic of a mature church is deception resistance (vs. 14b). Churches that are doctrinally stable are far less susceptible to wolves who seek to ravage the flock. If people are taught to test everything against the systematic teaching of the Bible, strange new doctrines that appeal to our emotions or intellect, or even our desire to know the future, will not gain a receptive hearing.

The final characteristic of a mature church listed here by Paul is loving honesty (vs. 15a). The hardest feature of church life is for the members to “speak the truth in love.” It is difficult for us to receive without defensiveness and excusing ourselves, and also difficult to speak in genuine love without being angry or irritated. 

However, if we do not, soon we have a church that is not walking in reality. Just beneath the surface are unspoken animosities that preclude the spontaneous growth of the church about which Paul writes in this passage. We must be willing to look at ourselves, welcoming input about blind spots that will allow us to do so. Resistance to honesty and an unwillingness to walk in the light strangles the life of the church and makes church nothing more than a huge game.

3. Third result of the ministry of the body – “every joint supplying”

What if those nameless Christians who were scattered by the great persecution after the stoning of Stephen in Acts 8 had waited for an evangelist to come to Antioch to lead the Gentiles to Jesus Christ and for an apostle to come and actually plant a church? The apostles had forgotten what Jesus had said about taking the gospel to all Judea, Samaria and the world, so they were still holed up in Jerusalem some seven years after Pentecost

As every member functions, no matter how insignificant that member may appear to be, in meetings and in informal interaction together, each with a piece of the picture, a piece of the Lord. Corporately, we are a reflection of the fullness of Christ. Paul says in verse 16 that through every joint in the body flows a supply. 

Spiritual life flows through every member in the church. This is real ministry, a ministry that each member is not even aware is occurring. When I am with you, and we are not doing anything religious at all, but simply going about daily life as a part of the church, and the Lord is alive in your heart, expressing Himself through your gifts, my faith is built and I grow, even though you are totally unaware that such a phenomenon is happening. 

The ministry of the church is not the preaching and teaching of the equippers. That is the specific ministry of the equippers, but it is the preparation for ministry for the whole church body. Paul says that each member, doing its share, is the church’s ministry, and that is the way the body grows for the “edifying of itself in love.” Look out world—here we come!

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