As we crossed into Colorado from New Mexico I thought about when my kids were little and were learning about the four seasons. For a while, they assumed the first day of summer would be warm enough to swim or the first day of winter would have plenty of snow to build a snowman. I thought of this because it seemed the moment we crossed into Colorado, the mountains were instantly blanketed with evergreen pine trees that seemed to say to my heart, “Welcome back to the west. It’s been almost a year, hasn’t it?”
When we arrived at our lovely, wooded RV Park in Pagosa Springs, near the congregation where Mark was invited to preach the next day, we had to chuckle because we had no idea the RV Park had hired a couple of local guitarists called the Retro Cats who were playing the theme song from James Bond when Mark rolled in with his cool black van. Nice timing.
We were warmly welcomed at the little congregation we visited in Pagosa Springs. They were meeting at a community center because they had used the money they had saved to buy a building, to instead support about 5 or 6 preachers around the country. I found that quite admirable in their situation. I was happy to learn that Ken Dart would be coming in the Fall to stay and help awhile. He was the preacher that preceded us in our 28 year stay in Beaverton, Oregon, and we know he and his wife Bette will be a great encouragement to them. If you are ever in Pagosa Springs, do stop by and connect with some strong Christians who are willing to stand together for the glory of God though they are few.
I’d like to share today the lesson that we studied during the Bible class before Mark’s sermon. Perhaps those who are new to the patterns in the New Testament related to the church will find this foundational material quite eye-opening in contrast to what church looks like in the denominational world. It comes from a book we highly recommend as an introduction to New Testament Christianity called The Foundation Of Our Faith by Chad Ramsey published by Gospel Advocate that we would recommend for those interested in practicing a Christianity free of the additions and subtractions of manmade religious doctrines.
“Descriptions of the Church: Introduction
It is not unusual for the Bible to explain a particular concept by likening it to something that is better known. For example, although God is a Spirit (John 4:24), He is frequently described with physical attributes. In one such passage, Isaiah wrote, "Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear” (59:1). The prophet's point was not that God literally has a weakened arm or that He turned His ears from His people. Rather, Isaiah was saying that God is neither incapable nor unconcerned. The analogy simply helps us to understand the reality of God's care.
Given the important position the New Testament assigns to the church, it is not surprising that it is also described through various analogies. From this we learn the church has characteristics that are similar to the various figures it is compared with.
To illustrate this point, consider that the New Testament describes the church as the bride of Christ. On at least three occasions this parallel is drawn. Paul used the allusion in 2 Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." Among the other parallels that might be drawn, it seems Paul was concerned with the church's devotion to Christ. The meaning is clear: Just as the bride must keep herself pure for her husband, the church must maintain its purity and allegiance to Christ. Purity is a chief consideration when this analogy is used elsewhere in Scripture as well (cf. Ephesians 5:25-29; Revelation 19:7-8). The church is clearly exalted in Scripture. It is the body of the saved (Ephesians 5:23). Christ built the church (Matthew 16:18), and it was "purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). What else might we say about the church? As our lesson texts proclaim, it is the body of believers (Romans 12:4-5), it is a building of God's construction (1 Corinthians 3:5-11), it is the family of God (Ephesians 3:14-15), it is the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13-14), and it is the house of God (1 Timothy 3:14-15). The church is all of these things and much more. This we believe!
Body (Romans 12:4-5)
One of the most common analogies used to describe the church is that of a body. Paul explained the church to the Romans using this illustration: "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another'' (Romans 12:4-5). This description is powerful for a variety of reasons. First, we are familiar with the human body. Although the body is a single unit, it is composed of various parts. Each body part has a particular function, and when the components of the body function properly, the body prospers.
The church is similar in nature. We are one body (Ephesians 4:4). Nevertheless, many members, possessing a variety of talents, compose the one body. This does not mean one person is more important than anyone else, for each body part is important to the total well being of the individual (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26). Thus, just as each part is necessary for the body to function properly, so each individual is necessary for the church to function as God desires. Congregations will prosper if they emphasize the importance of each member doing what he can. Paul made this point to the Ephesians and described how "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" (Ephesians 4:16).
Building (1 Corinthians 3:5-11)
Another familiar description applied to the church is that of a building. This is not surprising for building analogies are common to Scripture (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). In the context of 1 Corinthians 3, Paul is addressing the issue of division afflicting the Corinthians (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Rather than aligning themselves behind certain individuals, the Corinthians were to appreciate that many had labored for their benefit. Paul showed how he and Apollos had worked together in the establishment of the congregation (3:5-8). Just as more than one individual can work in the construction of a house, more than one minister had labored to make the Corinthian congregation what it was.
Paul explained: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ '' (1 Corinthians 3:9-11). Like a building secured to its foundation, the church is built upon Jesus Christ (cf. Matthew 16:18). No other foundation will do.
Family (Ephesians 3:14-15)
The church is also described in Scripture as a family. This figure is especially significant because it conveys the kind of care and concern members should have for one another. Paul depicted the church as a family as he expressed praise to God for revealing His wonderful plan for humanity: "For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named" (Ephesians 3:14-15). Importantly, one of the aspects of family life that is enjoyed by the church is that of identity. Just as a child wears his or her family name, so members of the Christian family wear the name of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16). Also, because families look out for the best interests of one another, the figure is even more appropriate. What a blessing it would be if members of the church always treated one another as family members should! Such behavior would remove all selfishness. Acting like a family would motivate individuals to show concern "for the interests of others" (Philippians 2:4). This is our task, for, as Peter put it, we are to "love as brothers." (1 Peter 3:8; cf. 2 Peter 1:7; Hebrews 13:1).
Kingdom (Colossians 1:13-14)
Students of Scripture will also recognize that the church is frequently spoken of as a kingdom. For example, Jesus promised His disciples that some of them would not die "until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power" (Mark 9:1 ESV). This language is also used in Colossians 1:13-14. In that passage, Paul described how God "has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins." It is important to note, Paul praises God for the opportunity to be in the kingdom. Thus, the kingdom was in existence at that time, and Paul and others enjoyed the opportunity to be citizens of it (cf. Revelation 1:9).
Too, it should be remembered that if the church is a kingdom, it must function as a kingdom would function. This includes adhering to the decrees of its ruler. In this case, Jesus is "Lord of lords and King of kings" (Revelation 17:14). As King, Jesus has every right to direct the church as He sees fit (cf. Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 1:22-23). Those who would change the practices of the church should beware. Our beliefs are not driven by the ever-changing world. We are ruled by the Son of God!
House of God (1 Timothy 3:14-15)
A final description to be considered in this lesson is used by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:15. Reaffirming the purpose of his letter, the apostle wrote, "but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." We normally understand the term "house" to refer to one's dwelling place. This conveys a part of the idea, but there is more. "To suggest that the 'church' is the 'house of God' is to indicate that it is his by virtue of the fact that he planned it (Ephesians 3:10-11), he gave his Son to purchase it (Acts 20:28), and he indwells it (Ephesians 2:19-22)" (Jackson, Before I Die, 104). If the church is the house of God, it belongs to Him! All of our actions should be designed to bring glory and honor to God.
We must be careful not to miss the meaning of each description assigned to the church. Like a body, the church succeeds when each member does his share. Like a building, the church benefits from the efforts of many laborers working toward a common goal. Too, it rests upon the solid foundation of Jesus. Like a family, church members show concern for the well-being of one another. Like a kingdom, the church is directed by the decrees of its King, Jesus Christ. And like the house of God, the church both belongs to God and is indwelled by Him. Although the New Testament uses a variety of terms to describe the church, we must not take liberty to make the church into something the Bible does not. As our lesson shows, there are many things the church is supposed to do and be. It could be stated, however, that there are also many things it is not. Instead of allowing our culture to chart the course for the church, we must diligently seek to do only those things authorized by God's Word.”