What is the church? What are the critical parts that actually make an organization the church?
- What the church is – A local church is a gathering of baptized, born-again Christians who covenant together in love to meet regularly under the authority of the Scriptures and the leadership of the elders to worship God, be a visible manifestation of the kingdom of God, and, ultimately, to give God glory (John 3:1-8; 13:34-35; Acts 2:41; 14:23; Eph. 3:10; Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Heb. 10:24-25)
The church, properly defined, consists of all true believers in Jesus Christ throughout all time.
- What the church does – A church must do only a few things to be a church:
the people regularly gather in gospel love to hear the Word preached,
and practice the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Members, those who have covenanted together, lovingly care for one another (1 Cor. 12:12-26), even through the practice of church discipline (Matt. 18:15-17).
- What the church’s mission is – The church is God’s strategic plan for evangelism with one overarching mission: to go to all peoples to make disciples, teaching them to obey everything Christ has commanded – including forming new churches (Matt. 28:18-20).
Church Multiplying Hint: If Jesus is building his church, and the church is the bride of Christ, then making disciples must including forming them into new churches!!!
The Bible’s Teaching About the Church:
- The Church Has No Prescribed Form
Notice that the church’s manifestation is not prescribed in any passage of the New Testament. The church is intended to take the shape necessary to continue to be like yeast in dough until the whole lump of dough is leavened.
The Scriptures tell us what a church is and does not how it is to look on the outside.
We often hinder the work of the church by unnecessarily prescribing or assuming external necessities rather than majoring on inherent function.
- The Kingdom Is Manifested Through The Church
The kingdom manifests itself through the church.
Experientially, the church provides a foretaste of the future reign of Jesus Christ.
The church exists only because of Jesus and is mandated with extending his mission to all nations.
- Jesus Builds His Church
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
The church is what Jesus is building as the community of the kingdom.
TRCC Statement of belief (Kingdom):
Therefore, “we believe that those who have been saved by the grace of God through union with Christ by faith and through regeneration by the Holy Spirit enter the kingdom of God and delight in the blessings of the new covenant: the forgiveness of sins, the inward transformation that awakens a desire to glorify, trust, and obey God, and the prospect of the glory yet to be revealed. Good works constitute indispensable evidence of saving grace. Living as salt in a world that is decaying and light in a world that is dark, believers should neither withdraw into seclusion from the world, nor become indistinguishable from it: rather, we are to do good to the city, for all the glory and honor of the nations is to be offered up to the living God. Recognizing whose created order this is, and because we are citizens of God’s kingdom, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, doing good to all, especially to those who belong to the household of God. The kingdom of God, already present but not fully realized, is the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world toward the eventual redemption of all creation. The kingdom of God is an invasive power that plunders Satan’s dark kingdom and regenerates and renovates through repentance and faith the lives of individuals rescued from that kingdom. It therefore inevitably establishes a new community of human life together under God.” (TRCC Statement of belief)
The good news of the kingdom makes disciples in domains of society and establishes a new community of human life together under Jesus Christ as King, the church.
- We are now new citizens of a new kingdom and a new community that determines our practice.
- The church is not a building, but the people of God who live by the values of his kingdom.
- The church gathered, equipped, and mobilized is the fruit of the gospel of the kingdom.
- The church Is God’s Agent of Transformation
Some examples of how God transforms in the church from Scripture:
- In the community of the kingdom we become great by being the least Mark 10:35-45
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
These kingdom values are only rightly lived out inside the community of the kingdom with those who share that system of kingdom values.
- In the community of the kingdom we are being built into a spiritual house as a holy priesthood that offers spiritual sacrifices acceptable to Father through Jesus and we serve one another in the gifting he has given us 1 Peter 2:4-5; 4:10
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…”
- The Church Is An Expression Of God’s Trinitarian Nature
“Professor Colin Gunton, in his seminal work, The One, The Three and the Many, points to the secular search for an ideology that can protect the individual while promoting community. Recent history, he suggests, had been ruled by two competing regimes. In the west, we are products of a world driven by the individual. An increasingly privatized worldview has promoted the rights of the individual above all else. In the east, communism exalted the many. What mattered most was the common good, the people and the nation. The result, Gunton declares, has been two equally oppressive and totalitarian regimes. The answer lies in the discovery of a worldview capable of honoring the one and the many, without either being at the expense of the other. The doctrine of the Trinity presents such an ideology. The God who is Father, Son and Spirit models this unity amidst diversity, and this community of equality. The church, through its relationship with the Triune God, is called to model this for the world.”
The existence of the church is not arbitrary but reflects the nature of the God who is its source.
Scripture defines the church in relation to the Father (his family – Eph. 2:18; 3:15).
Scripture defines the church in relation to the Son (his body and bride – Eph. 1:22-23; 5:25-28).
Scripture defines the church in relation to the Spirit (his temple – 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:22; Ezek. 40-48).
- This Trinitarian reality shows off the glory of the church.
- This Trinitarian glory makes the church a non-negotiable.
- The church must be married not dated, and the church must be discipled into Christ. The church must be honored not prostituted.
- The church Is God’s Dwelling Place
1 Cor. 3:16; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22
1 Corinthians 3:16 “Do you not know that you (plural) are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you?”
We often read this passage and read the “you” as singular and make application as if it’s singular, and that then makes our application be off.
Illustration: If I want to take off from RMG and fly to KCHA (Lovell field in Chattanooga) and I’m off by just 2 degrees in my heading, will I hit Lovell field? No. 2 degrees is not a lot off, but 2 degrees off over that distance will put me many miles off course and I’ll miss my target.
When applying Scripture we can’t make it say what we want it to say. And we can’t apply it rightly when we’ve missed it’s meaning.
However, this “you” is plural. This means that the whole church is God’s temple. Does that mean that the Holy Spirit does not reside in us individually? No. He does. But it does mean that his residence in us individually is not intended to keep us isolated. Rather his presence in us is to draw us together.
Therefore, if we harm the body of Christ or neglect the body of Christ we will fall under the condemnation of verse 17 that says, “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
- We, together, are Christ’s dwelling, so the gathered body matters.
- We dare not neglect or damage the church.
- Jesus will not stand for his church being hurt.
- The church is bigger than the Radical Life group, the Sunday gathering and our little denominations. She is the universal bride of Christ that must be cherished and fought for.
- The Church Displays God’s Manifold Wisdom
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold (varied, diverse, multi-colored)_ wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,…”
- The church is the vehicle through which the manifold / multi-colored wisdom of God is made known.
There are other organizations that have purposes to do great and good deeds on our planet for people and for nations, but only the church contains the special presence of Jesus Christ (see Revelation 1).
This is not to say that we don’t experience the presence of the Lord daily when not gathered. We do.
***But being covenanted to the body of Christ is special and carries with it supernatural realities that church discipline removes, which is why Paul says to remove the unrepentant sinner from the fellowship.
The disciplined sinner, once removed, no longer has access to the supernatural protection and presence of the Lord.
Therefore, the “Christian” who does not covenant with a body but refuses to covenant with a body refuses, in a real way, to come under the influence of the Chief Shepherd and his supernatural shepherding.
- God’s manifold wisdom is made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places through the church.
Note that this is probably the whole host of heavenly beings; not merely angels or evil powers, but both (see 6:12). These heavenly beings, fallen and faithful alike, are assembled witnesses before whom God vindicates his wisdom (D.A. Carson, NBC).
God vindicates his wisdom through the church, which is the expression of his wisdom. And even deeper, verse 11 affirms that this is according to his eternal purpose that was realized in Christ. According to 1:9-10 and 2:11-22 the eternal purpose realized in Christ that vindicates God’s wisdom and shows it to be so glorious as to call it manifold / multi-colored is the unity of all things in Christ (1:9-11) and this unity is brought to expression in a local / global church where Jew and Gentile live and worship as one body in harmony with God and with each other in Christ. And this unity emphasized in chapters 4-6, to Paul, is the central witness to the powerful gospel. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 emphasized this unity under God purchased by Christ as the powerful witness to the work Jesus was about to accomplish on the cross. All this through the church!
How do we live the church out locally?
- As the family of God we grow in our love for and fellowship with each other
1 Timothy 5:1-2
- Attend regularly to encourage one another and grow together across demographic lines (Hebrews 10:25)
- Attend a RL group with members who share the DNA and multiply that DNA in others who can impact others.
How do you determine partnership? Vision / Relationships / Collaboration / Family
It’s hard to have deep fellowship with people who don’t share the vision. You just end up arguing over the vision or circling in the wilderness without ever multiplying until the darn thing dies.
A TRC Application: We value the kingdom, and the kingdom multiplies. If you are in a group of people from various churches who just want a bible study, what are they going to do when you start talking about multiplication? So, in order to stay part of that group you have to sacrifice a value you say you are covenanted to.
- As the bride of Christ we seek greater love for Jesus and submission to him
2 Corinthians 11:2-3
“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
- As God’s new temple we increase awareness of his presence among us
1 Peter 2:4-8
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’ So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
- As the body of Christ we increase interdependence on each other’s gifts
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
- Gather as a RL group, in covenant with other TRC folks
- Pray together
- Discuss the sermon, texts from the sermon and applications the Spirit gives you
- Expect each person to contribute
- Anticipate Ephesians 4:11-16 gifts to be manifest (apostles – see the big picture and push for the vision; prophets – speak the word of the Lord as the bumpers for the vision; evangelists – bring in the lost, tell the lost; shepherds/teachers – guide, counsel, instruct)
- See the church body equipped to grow up into Christ
- As a priesthood we have an increasing sense of God’s joy in our praise and good works
1 Peter 2:5
“…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The Church Worships
Psalm 147:1 “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.”
 Mack Stiles, Evangelism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), p. 71.
 Ibid. p. 71.