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The Church
By David B. Smith

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iBelieve: God's Incubator of Hope | PDF Version

Details are sketchy, but during World War II a commandant in one Japanese prison camp was particularly brutal. He ruled with capricious, unrelenting hate, and his persecutions were in plain violation of agreed-upon Geneva Convention rules. But there was a small ad-hoc Christian church struggling to survive behind the barbed wire, and the group rose up in righteous indignation to protest the tyrant’s ill treatment. Surprisingly, the moral authority wielded by this fragile spiritual community brought at least a measure of relief! Where one individual’s complaint was summarily dismissed, Christians who banded together found both comfort and corporate strength to improve a devastated society.

From the dawn of Resurrection Sunday, Jesus has continued to be represented in this world through one unique and global organization: the Christian Church. Christ is the foundation of the movement He began (1 Corinthians 3:11) and that movement is the Church. For the past twenty centuries, Jesus has continued to be active in this world: still healing, transforming lives, proclaiming the Calvary message, and leading new converts to embrace the heavenly kingdom and become mature disciples. All of Christ’s work in the world today is done through this dynamic, unstoppable society.

The New Testament employs a number of helpful metaphors to teach us about the importance of being a full member in the Church.

1. A Body. 1 Corinthians 12 uses this illustration repeatedly. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free. Ephesians 1:23 is emphatic that this is definitely Christ’s body! All legitimate Christian denominations proudly acknowledge and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church; so that in everything He might have the supremacy (Colossians 1:18). This means that we as members submit to the plain teachings Christ expressed during His ministry on earth and to the Scriptures He endorsed and obeyed in His own life.

2. A Family. We join a church and are immediately embraced by people who are now related to us through the Cross. Christ is our elder Brother; God is our common Father. So in a sense more literal than even the DNA we inherit in the delivery ward, we are brothers and sisters to the others in the Church. Paul always used family terms in his letters; here is part of the close to Galatians: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (6:10). The Greek word koinonia expresses this concept of fellowship that transcends just being in a fun social club. No, because of the precious bonds of love created by unity in Jesus, we truly do love our brothers and sisters who are in the Church. In the 1940s, a Dr. Clarence Jordan organized a farm known as Koinonia Partners, a Christian community designed to tear down racial barriers in the Deep South. Pastor Charles Bardford, a giant of Adventist ministry, amplifies this family imagery in describing “a caring church where people are loved, respected, and recognized as somebody. A place where people acknowledge that they need each other. Where talents are developed. Where people grow. Where everybody is fulfilled.”

3. A Bride. In this lovely metaphor, the Church is a thing of beauty, growing in holiness and elegant care. Ephesians 5:25-27: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Revelation 19:7 adds to the word picture: For the wedding of the Lamb [Jesus] has come, and His bride has made herself ready. This teaches all of us who are Christians that we should strive to make our services beautiful and perfect, our witness to the community an attractive and winsome testimony.

What are some of the functions and assignments Jesus has given to His Church?

1. Make disciples. Jesus commanded the men and women He left behind to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing in His name (Matthew 28:19, 20). This is more than quick one-week stadium events or TV blitzes on an Asian sky channel; this means to live among the local people, teaching and forming lasting communities and relationships.

2. Safeguard and proclaim truth. It is entirely possible for a denomination to misunderstand doctrine, but there is great protection in banding together with other sober believers and submitting our personal human impulses to the Spirit-led teaching of the entire body of faith. 1 Timothy 3:15 describes the Church as the pillar and foundation of the truth. An organized denomination may feel led by the Holy Spirit, during official gatherings bathed by prayer, to articulate their understanding of biblical pillars with new clarity and purpose. The balloting processes used to select Matthias as a replacement disciple for Judas (Acts 1) shows that the early Church trusted the Lord to guide this human mechanism.

While acknowledging that one church body will differ from another in certain teachings, Christians everywhere should pray for unity and a deeper grasping of God’s eternal truth with the hope of improving fellowship with brothers and sisters in other communions. John Calvin once spoke with sober intensity about the divisions that fragment God’s people and declared that he would gladly cross ten seas if he could assist in drawing the body of Christ into a closer understanding.

3. To encourage, rebuke, and discipline. It is a painful reality that while the church is a society of saints, we are also still red-blooded sinners! There are rebellious hearts still found in the church; Jesus’ Matthew 13 parable about wheat and tares warns us that there will be evildoers within the community; Paul gives abundant counsel — especially to a fragile church in Corinth — about disfellowshipping  a rebel or a person deliberately flouting the principles of Christian holiness. This protects both the church’s members and its outward witness to a watching world skeptical of scandal.

4. To administer sacraments. In most Protestant fellowships, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the major rites that are properly offered to believers through the Church.

The important thing for us is to join a Bible-believing church and be active. If the Church is Christ’s bride, we cannot love Him without also loving His wife! We should strive for unity within the Church, rejoicing that even though Lucifer hates it, the church will survive. God has promised that the Church will prevail (even “the gates of hell” cannot overcome it!) and be triumphant.

View related article: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

David B. Smith writes from California. (12 of 28) His web page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.