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POST DATE: 2007-06-30
I Corinthians 3:6
I Corinthians 5:12-13
I Corinthians 5:4-6
I Corinthians 6:17
I Corinthians 12:12
1 Timothy 3:1
1 Timothy 3:5
In this study, I am not concerned to look at the way in which the church works, the way in which it ministers to itself and to the world, but rather to examine the biblical understanding of what the church is. What is its nature, rather than what is its purpose.
First of all, we need to know that the church is a-definite organization. It has insiders and outsiders.
In I Corinthians, Chapter 5, Verses 12 to 13, Paul, defending his apostolic leadership of the church, says that it is not his job to judge those who are outside the church, but those who are inside, and so he sees a definite difference. The church has insiders and outsiders. The insiders are called to be joined together inseparably. The verb that is used is the verb "to glue." As the Prodigal Son, who went up into the far country with all his wealth, joined himself to the people in that country, he glued himself to them. Here in I Corinthians we have the same verb. Likewise, when Philip was called by God to the Gaza Road to meet the Ethiopian in Acts, Chapter 8, Luke says concerning Philip, that he joined himself to this chariot. He became glued for the time that he was there, in ministry to this particular Ethiopian.
In the same kind of way Paul writes in I Corinthians, Chapter 6, and Verse 17, warning against immorality, that when you join yourself to a prostitute, then you are in an inseparable relationship with her.
So, the early church in Acts, Chapter 2 and Acts, Chapter 4, Acts, Chapter 5, Acts, Chapter 6; we read over and over again that the early church joined themselves together. In Acts, Chapter 5, Verses 12 to 14, it says that the people, the outsiders, watched these early Christians in Solomon's Portico doing various kinds of ministries, but none of them dared join themselves to them, but held them in high honor.
Now, very often good, righteous kind people will hold the church in high honor, they will attend it, they will speak of it, they may even speak well of the Minister, as well as the people that minister around the church, but they would never join it. Many people who say that they belong to such and such a church, in fact, hold it in high honor, but they are not joined to it -not in the way of which the Bible speaks.
The church is a definite organization that we join inseparably. The church is a mutual group that we join. It is a group for support and for membership, with a definite leadership. Ephesians 4, Verse 11 tells us that God has given us Gifts that we may support each other until we reach full maturity and when writing to the Galatians in Chapter 2 and Verse 4, Paul says some people have come into the church to create problems, but the purpose of the mutual group, that is, the church, is an honest and helpful membership. And then writing to Timothy in I Timothy, Chapter 3, Paul says, "Elect yourself leaders who will reflect the godliness of a Christian. Look for the kind of person who will lead your congregation in faith and who will teach them."
So, there's a definite organization; the church is not just a group of people who happen to get together whenever they feel like it. It has a definite purpose. We join ourselves to it and we mutually support each other in the membership.
Secondly, in the nature of the church, the New Testament gives us seven different pictures. Seven different pictures? Let me tell you briefly what they are: The New Testament talks about the church as a temple, as a body, as a family, as a vine, as a flock, as a bride, and as a Priest. I want to deal quickly with just three of those pictures that give us a good idea of the nature of the church, of what the church is.
In Ephesians, Chapter 2 and Verse 21, Paul speaks of the church as a temple: "So then, you are no longer strangers and sojourners. But fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone and in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also built as a dwelling place for God the Spirit." The way buildings were put together in those olden days just by drystone - drystones of all different kinds and shapes. And the builder would skillfully fit the stones close together, and then rub the stones against each other until they sort of settled in, layer upon layer, until the building was built.
You are also, says Paul in Ephesians 2, Verse 22, you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God. We all are those stones that are having the sharp edges rubbed off, as it were, until we fit together to be God's building.
Paul also describes the church as a body in I Corinthians, Chapter 12 and Verse 12. As a body is one and has many members, so is the church. There are many in one body. So it is with Christ. We are the body of Christ, himself the head of the Church, and our purpose as a body is to work in coordination. Anything that gets between the head and the rest of the body will cause a malfunction of coordination.
So we are to seek by prayer and by service and by study to be a coordinated body of Christ.
The other picture that we are given of the church is that of a family. Let me turn you to I Timothy, Chapter 3 and Verse 5, where Paul pursues his talk about leadership in the Church, by talking of the church as a family: I Timothy, Chapter 3 and Verse 5. If a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God's church? God's church is a household that needs to be cared for. Let me take you back to an earlier reference I gave you in Acts. In Acts, Chapter 2 and Verse 42, they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. What a lovely picture there of families in the church.
Now, I'm going to take you to Acts, Chapter 4 and Verse 34, where it says there was not a needy person among them, for as many that had possessions and houses sold them, and all the proceeds of what was sold they laid at the Apostles' feet til the distribution was made to each as any had need.
So what have we said about the nature of the church? First of all, we've said that there was a definite organization with insiders and outsiders. The insiders glue themselves to each other, as it were, they joined the church in the sense of being glued to it and what they were glued to was the membership, the mutual membership group that worshipped God and Christ, and after that worship, grew to support each other in ministry. We say it was a definite organization. We've said that the church is given to us in different pictures, of which we looked at three: a temple, a body and a family.
The third thing that we need to consider in the nature of the church is that the church was a living growth. There was nothing archaic here, the depository of all that was old and useless, as I've heard the church cynically described. The church was a living growth.
In Matthew, Chapter 28 and Verse 19 and 20, Jesus commands the disciples to go into the world. Though so many of us once complained that nobody comes to church anymore, God might well complain that we, the church, his body, no longer go to the world. We're no longer a family in movement to the world. It is a divine command that the church should grow and disciple unbelievers into faith. It is a dynamic operation.
Matthew Chapter 13 and Verse 3, we're being told here something of the dynamic nature of the church. Matthew, Chapter 13 and Verse 3.
And Jesus spoke to them, many things in parables saying, "A sower went out to sow." And we know that as he sowed, seeds fell in different places. It was a dynamic operation and some of those seeds grew into life and multiplied. Let me take you to Galatians, Chapter 6 and Verse 9, where Paul is again, dealing with a similar kind of question. Galatians, Chapter 6 and Verse 9. "Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart." There is a dynamic operation. Well-doing is one of the operations of the church, not only sowing but also watering that we may reap. And again, in I Corinthians Chapter 3 and Verse 6, Paul, writing about the church, says, "I have planted, Apollos has watered, but God has given the growth." Do you see, this is all in the hands of a Sovereign God. There is no one-way to grow a church, God uses diverse operations, different kinds of people, different kinds of situations to grow his church. One plants, one blossoms, but God gives the growth. It's a living growth with a diverse operation; and there is for the church also, a definite purpose.
Let me take you again to a reference that we have looked at together quite a few times in this study. It is the Acts, Chapter 2, that lovely picture of the early church and how it grew. Acts, Chapter 2 and Verse 42: "They devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers."
The church has a definite purpose. First of all, its purpose is to worship. To worship, they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. They broke bread and prayed together as they put worship at the center of their minds, so they began to grow. They had a definite purpose. After the worship came fellowship. They devoted themselves to teaching and to fellowship, and as they fellowshipped together, so they began to understand each other and to share, we are told just three verses later, to share with glad and generous hearts, everything they had.
The definite purpose of the church was to teach the Word and isn't that interesting, that it comes very fast in this passage, they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching. What was the Apostles' teaching? It was the teaching about the words and works of Jesus. The prime task of the church is to preach the word. The prime task of the minister of the church is to be so prepared in the Scriptures that he can preach and teach the world of God. And the same is true, in their different ways, of all the members.
And then fourthly, the church had the exercise of Gifts, Verse 44, "... and all who believe were together and had all things in common, and they sold their possessions and good and distributed them to all as any had need." There was the Gift here of hospitality, as well as all the other Gifts.
So then, let me tie up for you again the three headings that I dealt with in this study of the Nature of the Church. We have said of the church that it was a definite organization. Secondly, that the New Testament gives us different pictures for the church. And last of all, the evidence we have of the church in the New Testament is this: That there was a living growth stemming from the command of Jesus, spreading out through a diverse operation, different kinds of ministry, and all of it being based upon a distinct purpose: to worship God. And after that worship, to have fellowship, to teach the word, and to exercise Gifts.
I Corinthians 5:12-13 - What constitutes the difference between "insiders" to the Church and outsiders"? What does it mean to join the Church?
Ephesians 2: 19-22 - What do we learn from the picture of the Church as a temple?
I Corinthians 12:12- What does the metaphor of the Church as "body" teach us?
I Timothy 3:5, Acts 2:42, 4:34 - In what ways is the Church like a household?
Matthew 28:19-20, 13:3-9, Galatians 6:9, I Corinthians 3:6 -What does the word-picture of plant-life tell us about the Church?
Acts 2:42 - How does your church embody this Apostolic pattern?
Some time ago a monk in the Order of the Holy Cross told me a story of when he was a missionary in Africa. They were moving some supplies across country and were being assisted with their move by some natives. They had been on the move for several days and had been making very good time. They had just finished eating breakfast and were preparing to break camp when the natives’ leader approached them. He told them that they had to stay where they were for that day. The missionaries responded; “why, we have been making such good time and in staying here for a day we would loose that advantage”? The leader of the natives said that his men believed that they had been moving so fast that they had left their souls behind. They believed they must stay in one place for a day to allow their souls to catch up with them. In our lives today we maintain such a fast pace that we do sometimes feel that we have left our souls behind. We need to stop and spend time with God so our souls can catch up with us. Or, we need to, “Be still and know I am God”.
For many years I made an annual retreat to an Order of Holy Cross monastery in Pineville, SC. I would spend the last week of December and the first week of January with them. What a wonderful time. You would be awaken before daylight, get dressed and go to the chapel for Matins (Morning Prayer). After Matins we would have Communion. We would all have breakfast together and the monks would start their assigned chores. If you liked you could assist them. At noon we would all go back to the chapel for Diurnum (Noon Day Prayers). The afternoon would be filled with completing their chores, study and rest. Around sundown we would have Vespers (Evening Prayer) and then Compline before bedtime. What a mountain top experience to join them in their rhythm of prayer, study, and service.
It is critical that we attend to our spiritual health. We must nourish our soul through prayer and study. We must exercise our spirit by bearing fruit through Christian service. And we must rest our self in the bosom of our Heavenly Father. Stay in one place and allow your soul to catch up with you. Be still and get to know God.