17 December 2010
Why the Church? Bill Eddington

Why the Church?

Christ declared, "I will build My church". Where and what is the Church Christ built? Who is a part of it?

The following transcript is edited for grammar and readability

The United Church of God - Australia is part of a much larger organization, the United Church of God an International Association, with ministers and congregations in Europe, North and South America, Canada, New Zealand, South East Asia, Africa and other places.

Well you might ask –

  • What is a church?
  • Why does a Christian attend a church and become part of a body of people, each of whom holds to similar beliefs and principles?
  • What is the purpose of a church anyway?
  • Where did the idea come from in the first place?
  • Can a person meet his or her spiritual responsibilities and obligations without being part of a church?

I’d like to briefly address those questions today.

What is a Church?

To most people “the church” is the building on the corner of the street - bricks and mortar. But that is not the biblical meaning. Numerous commentaries and writings point out that the church is an assembly of people. 

Crudens Concordance describes it as:

  • the body of Christians in general;
  • a body of Christians with the same general creed;
  • any body of worshippers of God

Acts 7:38 refers to “the church in the wilderness”.

In Hebrews 10:25 Paul exhorts the people to Forsake not the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the day approaching.”

In Hebrews 12:23 he refers to the general assembly and church of the firstborn.”

The assembly of people meets in a building. However it is not the building that is the church, but the assembly of people. Religions have constructed magnificent buildings but they are meeting places not churches.

Significantly, it was Jesus Christ who first referred to “the church” and we find that  reference in Matthew 16:18

 “And I say to you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

So we see from those words that Christ was going to build an assembly of people, a “church”. And that it was going be an everlasting institution – not something that would have a limited life or usefulness.

The chief corner stone, the point of reference from which the church was to be constructed and grow into a holy temple in the Lord, was Jesus Christ himself. Christ said “I will build My church”.

In Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul describes the body of believers at Ephesus as the household of God”.

19Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,

The corner stone of a building is the point from which all measurements are taken. Like-wise, Jesus Christ is the point of reference for His church and those called to be a part of it.

Dictionary Definition – “an indispensible part”

Psalm 118:22  The stone which the builders rejected  Has become the chief cornerstone.

So Jesus Christ Himself is the architect and builder of the Church; He is the project manager; He is the one we turn to, to see where we fit into the overall scheme of things.

A Christian is a part of a living, breathing spiritual organism and has a real part to play in the work of the Church.

Paul continues in Ephesians 2:21-22, saying the whole building is joined together, not a multiplicity of separate parts each doing its own thing, but joined and working together as a dwelling place of God in the spirit.

21in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

He emphasizes this purpose in Ephesians 4:15-16

15but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—16from whom 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.

So, whilst we understand that the calling of God places a responsibility on individual Christians to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), there is also a collective responsibility that can only be accomplished by “the Church”, the assembly of people working together in a cooperative way.

What is the Purpose of the Church?

Jesus Christ gave His Church – this body of transformed believers – a responsibility to carry out a mission; to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God and make disciples throughout the world, teaching them exactly what He had taught them. This work, or this commission, is described in general terms in the book of Matthew.

Matthew 24:14  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to the nations …. .”

The work of God's Church is to do that.

Matthew 28:19-20  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all things that I have commanded you …. .”

It is the responsibility of the Church to do that – to baptise those God calls to be a part of His Church and provide a spiritual home for them.

The work of the Church continues; it did not cease when the original apostles died. The Church’s mission has been passed on to each generation of God’s people. Jesus promised to be with His followers as they accomplished that work until He returns at the end of the age

(Matthew 28:20  “… lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”)

The work, the preaching of the gospel, is taking to the world God’s message of how salvation will be brought to all mankind. That has been the work of the Church since it began on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

It is not a work that can be accomplished by individuals working in isolation. It is a work that requires organization and structure. That is one reason the Church exists.

From the beginning there was organization and structure

We read of a conference being held and the proceedings described in Acts 15 to determine a particular doctrinal issue. As a prelude to that conference, Paul and Barnabas reported on the work they had done in preaching the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the gentile nations.

On their way to Jerusalem they told the congregations in Phoenicia and Samaria of the conversion of the gentiles and it says “… they caused great joy to all the brethren. That is, to the assemblies of people who had joined together to carry out the instructions of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew 24 and 28.

These were the beginnings of a work that was to continue until the return of Jesus Christ, when the Kingdom of God will become a reality, established on earth and ruled by Christ and His saints for a 1000 year period. It was a work that required, and still requires, organization and structure. The beginning of the organised church (remember Christ said in Matthew 16 - “I will build My Church”), is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28:

“And God has appointed these in the church; first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations and varieties of languages.”

A little earlier in the same chapter Paul wrote that… there are varieties of gifts, but the same spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NRSV)

Paul explained in Ephesians 4 that these functions and responsibilities in the Church are established  “ … to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” 

The Church is referred to as the body of Christ”, “the household of God”, “the family of God”, “the planting of God in various places in the Bible - emphasizing the Church as a called-out assembly – a group of believers invited to come out of the world for God’s special purpose.

I would like to go back to 1 Corinthians 12 for a moment because as that chapter concludes and we read on into chapter 13, we are told that even though we have different responsibilities in the organization that is the Church, there is another common characteristic, which if it is not extant throughout the Church, threatens its ability to do the work.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

27Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. (And now I will show you the most excellent way – NIV)

 1 Corinthians 13:1-8

1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body £to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

4Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

 1 Corinthians 13:13

13And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 12:24-25 (NIV) “ … God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.”

The bond of love and concern for each other is to be a distinguishing characteristic of God’s Church.

John 15:12, 17  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”  and “These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Or 1 John 3:11 “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”

Any practical application of all these instructions shows that for the work of preaching the gospel to be accomplished, individual Christians scattered around the world, united in a common mission, need to operate in a coordinated and organised manner. That is why an individual Christian attends church and becomes part of a body of believers – to have a part in the work Jesus started almost 2,000 years ago.

But there is another, equally important role for the Church that is complementary to its principal task of preaching the gospel

A Christian is one who has received the Holy Spirit, and strives to live his or her life following the example left by Jesus Christ as recorded by His inspired writers.

Whilst the Christian gains great personal blessings and peace of mind in this way, there is also the example one sets in dealing with the challenges and trials of daily life; an example that should set the Christian apart from the ways of the world. We are told to be Christians not in name only, but in deed also.

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world.... let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

In His prayer before ascending to the Father Christ said - John 17:14-16 

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

Christ said the way of the Christian may not be an easy one. We are told that in the world we will have tribulation; that the way to eternal life is difficult and the gate narrow. Conversely, the way that leads to destruction is broad and the gate is wide. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The exhortation of Peter was that Christians should conduct themselves honourably amongst unbelievers, so that even though they may not believe, and may even malign and ridicule, that because of the fine example set, when God comes to judge, or they also are called, that example may be remembered. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

Romans 10:14-15 refers to the preaching of the Gospel to those outside the Church but it can be applied to the teaching role within the Church community as well.

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”

We read earlier that God appointed teachers. Their role is to teach within and without the Church. One of the purposes of not forsaking the gathering together mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, is to be instructed by God through His teachers.

Their role is to shepherd the members of the spiritual body so that they may ”come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)

The Christian lives to a different set of standards; he or she lives to God’s standards, as outlined by the Ten Commandments, magnified by Jesus Christ throughout the four gospel accounts and by the words of the authors of the New Testament books.

If Christians are to live by the example of Jesus Christ and separate themselves from the way of the world, they must know what is expected of them. The Church has the important role of teaching the way of God to those He has called.

Let’s recap to see if the questions we posed earlier have been answered.

  • What is the purpose of the Church? – we have seen the purpose of the Church is to preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the world and to make disciples in all nations. To do that effectively requires organization, structure and cooperation. God’s Church is organised to faithfully carry out its commission.
  • Where did the idea come from in the first place? – We have seen that Jesus Christ began the building of God’s Church with His teaching and instruction of His first disciples and that they carried on that work after His death and resurrection; implementing the organization and structure that has continued in varying forms to suit particular circumstances through the centuries.
  • Why does a Christian attend a church and become part of a body of people, each of whom holds fast to similar beliefs and principles? – we have seen the necessity of Christians banding together to provide the collective strength to preach the gospel in a way that cannot be achieved by individual effort, to build strong loving relationships and support one another through life’s trials.
  • Can a person fulfil his or her spiritual responsibilities and obligations without the need of meeting with others of like mind? – We have read the exhortation of Paul to continue to meet together and encourage one another through difficult times and have identified the important role of the Church in teaching the way of God to those He calls. We have seen that the life of a Christian may be difficult and the support of brethren within the unified and spirit lead Body of Christ, each one contributing according to where God has them in that body, provides a strength that cannot be achieved by an isolated individual.

Conclusion

If you want to go into this subject more thoroughly read or re-read the booklets:

The Church Jesus Built” and “The Gospel of the Kingdom”.

You will find much more material there than I have covered today.

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