I believe the church today has failed to go to the Bible to discover its own prescribed purpose, structure and function. Oh, it has debated the church’s message (biblical or otherwise?), and who should do the preaching, teaching and leading (men, or both men and women?). But the purpose, structure and how it functions is never questioned. We have simply “had church” as those who came before us “had church,” in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions.
We are like the carpenter, who measured each of the twenty floor joists for the house he was building by the previous one he had cut. What are the chances the twentieth one is the same length as the original, measured one? We have done the same thing with the church. We have not measured church today by the original in the Bible.
That pattern goes something like this in most evangelical churches: There is a pastor in charge, generally a man who feels called to, and in some way trained for, the “ministry.” He is the one responsible for the “success” of this church. His goal is to eventually be a “vocational pastor,” who is supported by the tithes and offerings of the church. He delivers his sermon on Sunday, preaching and teaching what he feels the congregation needs to learn, so they can join in the church’s efforts to “preach the gospel.” If he is “successful,” his church will grow and he will appoint a staff of other “called to the ministry” people to help him build the church.
Is this what the Bible, our original standard of measurement, teaches about church, our third and final tool in our institutional toolbox (after the family and the civil government)? I would like to investigate that question over the next few weeks by looking at the church’s purpose, its structure, and its function, according to the Bible. But first l want to examine in this posting what the church actually is.
Here are some ideas many may have about church. even some church members. First, they see it as the building where Christians meet—no building, no church; or an association of like-minded people with similar interests, like the Garden Club; an activity performed to please God; an organization “good people” join to get “better;” a cultural tradition in America; an optional weekly activity; or an obligation or a duty that a Christian should fulfill.
These all miss the mark (the Bible) of what the church is. The Greek word for church in the Bible is ekklesia, meaning the “called out ones,” who “gathered together” to run the affairs of the village. The church is in the process of being called out today from the fallen world system, to gather together as the church to learn how to run the affairs of the world with God’s system, the task for which we were created! (Genesis 1:26-28). Read it. This is called the “Dominion Mandate.”
Since with the “calling out” there is always a “gathering in,” this one “universal church” is made up of all those in the whole world who have been called by God in such a way. On the other hand, the group of believers in Jesus Christ in any specific area, made up of those who have not only been called out but also gathered into an attendable, locatable church, is the “local church.” All these local churches, individually, go to make up the one universal church, corporately.
This universal church is a beautiful picture of the tension that exists everywhere in the world between the “one and the many.” How do I organize my personal goals, ambitions, and desires with the demands of the groups to which I belong—my family, my business, etc?. We see this same tension resolved perfectly in the Godhead itself: one God, but three distinct Persons, Individuals—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The church is described in the Bible with a similar resolution of this “one and many” tension. It is a family of many, unique, individual children of God the Father; a body with many different, individual body parts of God the Son, and a temple built with separate, distinct, living stones of God the Holy Spirit.
So, in this church we now have resides all we need to be equipped to do the task for which we were created. The three thousand brand new believers, who were converted on the Day of Pentecost, joined together with the 120 followers of Jesus who remained from His earthly ministry. Together they formed the first church, there in Jerusalem, and the first chapters of the book of Acts give a beautiful picture of their early church life.
The church in Jerusalem grew, and eventually, through the ministry of the Apostle Paul, continued to grow throughout the Roman Empire. It spread so rapidly because the gospel they were preaching was like a fatal, unstoppable virus with no cure!. It was deadly then, and it is deadly now—to Satan and his control over us, his former (now free), slaves. Our chains of bondage to sin were completely shattered at the cross, and our sins were all completely put away forever there (Colossians 2:11-15). We are now completely free, just like the early church, to begin to learn to do what we were created to do—to rule over the earth, with the law and love of God Himself!
Are you in? Stay tuned for the next posting that will begin to describe the church that will prepare you for the joyful, effortless task ahead of us.
Robert, the church in the beginning was hierarchical and liturgical. This is why your best friends Campus Crusaders, John Braun and Peter Gilquist, led 2900 other evangelicals into the Orthodox tradition. Would you comment on this in your upcoming posts? I covet your thought!
I’ll look at that in detail in the next few letters.