Advanced Bible Studies
14. What About Church?
What About Church?
Religion needs two things – Text and Community! Both bear witness to God. Both are ordained by God. Without these two elements “religion” becomes empty and meaningless. More and more there are those who attempt to do “religion” without “Text” and without “Community.” There are many who think they can be “religious” with neither. What they become is ultimately a religion unto themselves!
There are too many rogues and renegades in religion. There are too many who have a basically “do-it-yourself” mentality when it comes to faith and practice. There are too many who think they can go it alone and do it without both Text and Community. They become both “Bible” and “Church.”
Surely we understand the importance of “Text” because God has spoken. See Hebrews 1:1-3 and II Timothy 3:14-17. Thus “Text” becomes the basis for all authority in the practice of faith and religion. (For more on the importance of "Text" go here!) But, do we understand the critical importance of “Community”?
So, do you think you don’t need “church”?
Perhaps we need to get a clear definition of the term “church.” It is probably one of the most misunderstood terms in religion. When most think of “church” [ekklesia] they identify it with a building or some institutional organization or ecclesiastical hierarchy and structure. Or worse, when many think of "church" they think of some man-made denomination. Wrong! (For more on the problem of denominationalism, go here.)
The term “church” in biblical thought finds its origins especially in the Old Testament idea of the community or congregation of God’s people, Israel – as they stood before the Lord. See Acts 7:38. In the Old Testament the term that stands behind the idea of "church" is found in a Hebrew term [qahal] that means, "an assembly or gathering; a community, congregation, company." This term is found in Deuteronomy 5:22; 9:10; 10:4; 31:30 ... Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 8:3,4,5; 9:5; Numbers 10:7; etc. This term and related words serves as one of the most important backgrounds for understanding "church."
In the Greek world, long before the First Century, the term for “church” was used in Athens of the “popular assembly of citizens of a city-state” who gathered together to conduct the affairs of state. Acts 19:32,39,41. While it is popular to define the term “church” in terms of its etymology as “the called out” it is probably more correct to understand the term “church” as it comes to be used in the New Testament (by way of the Old Testament) as, “the new community of God’s people.” It could be used in either a universal or a local sense with the idea of "an assembly or gathering; a congregation or community."
To see a more in-depth study of the term "church" go here!!!
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "I will build my church ..." In light of the background and setting of Matthew's Gospel and its relationship to the Old Testament, Jesus is telling us that he is creating The New Israel of God! Just as there was a church in the Old Covenant, there is a church of the New Covenant; just as there was an Old Israel, there is a New Israel. Our God has thus created the church to be a new community of people who stand in the assembly of the Lord in salvation and service.
One of the most critical passages that shows the importance of “church” is found in Ephesians. The book of Ephesians places tremendous emphasis upon the church that belongs to Christ – the church that is his body! See Ephesians 1:18-23 (Colossians 1:18,24) and Ephesians 3:8-11 and Ephesians 3:14-21 … Ephesians 5:23-32!!! How in the world can anyone come away with the idea that the church is incidental, irrelevant and unimportant? The church is the central focus of the kingdom of God here on earth and into eternity! Christ died for the church. He is the Savior of the church. The church is the body of Christ. How can one separate Christ from his body? But that is what some attempt to do when they think that they can love Christ and have nothing to do with his body. That is what some attempt to do when they think that they love Christ but will have nothing to do with the local church belonging to Christ. It is by the One Spirit of God that we are baptized into the one holy body of Christ. See I Corinthians 12:13. In this we are made to drink of that One Spirit. Fellowship with God as we will see, ultimately means fellowship with his people.
But, someone may say, "Wait a minute! The church talked about in Ephesians is the 'ideal' church, not the local church." Well, in Ephesians Paul is indeed talking about the heavenly church in the purpose and the plan of God in salvation, but what makes anyone think that the local manifestation of the body-church in the form of individual congregations of believers on earth is any less a part of the purpose and plan of God? What is true of the universal church is basically true of the local church in terms of its critical importance in God's plan and purpose. The fact is when Jesus said, "I will build my church" what we see in Acts is the establishing of local communities of believers throughout the world. Thus the ideal, heavenly church is realized on earth in and through local churches that belong to Christ.
In the New Testament the local church is the natural expression (i.e., the practical and necessary outworking) of the universal church. In Acts 9:26-31 we actually see that when Saul (Paul) became a believer and thus became a part of the body-church of Christ (Galatians 3:26-27 cf. I Corinthians 12:13) he sought to "join" the local fellowship of believers in order to worship and work with them. Thus he was not only a member of the universal body of Christ, but he also purposed to be a part of a local church – a local community of believers. The truth is the New Testament everywhere assumes that those who are saved will be an active and involved member of a local church that belongs to Christ. Dear friend, are you a member of a congregation that truly belongs to the Lord?
So, if the church is "a community of believers" who comes (i.e., joins) together to worship and work together in the kingdom of God, what kind of community are we to be?
The "One Another" Community
In the New Testament the term “one another” (allelon) is “a reciprocal pronoun meaning each other, one another, mutually.” Webster defines a reciprocal pronoun as a “pronoun used to denote mutual action or cross relationship between the members comprised in a plural subject.” Thus, the phrase “one another” is used in the New Testament to refer to the exercise of a mutual ministry. Perhaps this term ("one another") best captures the full spirit of what the church is all about! Consider it carefully in the study below and study each occurrence of the term "one another" in the context in which it is found. (There is another term [heautou] that is also translated as “each other, one another.” It too carries with it a reciprocal meaning. See Ephesians 4:32; 5:19; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:13,16; Hebrews 3:13; 10:25; I Peter 4:8,10; etc.)
The Teaching of Jesus – John 13:34-35; 15:12,17 (I John 3:11,23; 4:7,11,12; II John 5. It must be noted that in I John “love” becomes one of the main tests of life eternal!)
A practical illustration – John 13:14 ("wash one another's feet")
The Teaching of Paul – Romans 12:5,10,16; 13:8
A Practical Application
Life in the Body - Ephesians 4:1-6:9
- Ephesians 4:2 (“bearing with one another in love”)
- Ephesians 4:25 (“for we are all members of one another”)
- Ephesians 4:32 (“be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other”)
- Ephesians 5:21 (“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”)
Life in the Spirit - Galatians 5:13-26 (13, 15, 26)
- Galatians 5:13 (“serve one another in love”)
- Galatians 5:15 (“do not bite and devour or destroy one another”)
- Galatians 5:26 (“not provoking and envying one another”)
- Galatians 6:2 (“carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”)
- Romans 14:13 (“stop passing judgment on one another”)
- Romans 15:7 (“accept one another just as Christ accepted you”)
- Philippians 2:3 (“in humility consider one another better than yourselves”)
- Colossians 3:13 (“bear with and forgive one another”)
- Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16 (“sing to and teach one another”)
- I Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; II Thessalonians 1:3 (“love one another”)
- I Thessalonians 4:18 (“encourage one another with these words”)
- I Thessalonians 5:11 (“encourage one another and build each other up”)
- Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12 (“greet one another with a holy kiss”)
The Teaching of Peter – I Peter 1:22 cf. I Peter 3:8
A practical application –
I Peter 4:8,9,10 (“love one another deeply ... show hospitality to one another ... use your gift in serving one another”)
I Peter 5:5 (“clothe yourselves with humility toward one another”)
I Peter 5:14 (“greet one another with a holy kiss”)
The Teaching of James – James 4:11; 5:9,16
A practical application –
James 4:11 (“do not slander one another”)
James 5:9 (“do not grumble against one another”)
James 5:16 (“confess to and pray for one another”)
The Teaching of Hebrews – Hebrews 10:19-25 (Hebrews 4:14-16) It is important to note the threefold invitation: (1) Let us draw near to God; (2) Let us hold unswervingly; (3) Let us consider one another. All of this is based upon what God has done in Christ.
A practical application –
Hebrews 3:13 (“but encourage one another daily”)
Hebrews 10:24 (“let us consider how to motivate one another to love and good works”)
Hebrews 10:25 (“let us encourage one another, and all the more”)
Summary and Conclusion
It is only within the context of community that all of this can take place and the community that God has called us to is the body-church of Christ. It is only in the church and especially in the context of the local church that we can fulfill the obligations of the mutual ministry we have been given. Our relationship with God must and will bring us into a proper relationship with the community of God. If we don’t have a right relationship with “church” we don’t have and can’t have a right relationship with the Lord. If we have the right relationship with Christ we will be a part of a local fellowship of believers who belong to the Lord. If we don’t love the people of God we don’t love Christ. If we love Christ we will love the people of Christ – we will love the church of Christ. See I John 4:7-5:5 cf. Ephesians 5:21-32. It is as simple as that!
Point and Counterpoint
One of the things that “church” does is give us a faith grounded in the real world. The faith we have is a relational faith. Our relationship with God calls us to a proper relationship with others – particularly in the local fellowship of believers. Did you notice that many of the "one another" passages in the New Testament are in the context of "love"? (This is what the Greatest Command is all about! See Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34 and Luke 10:25-37 [Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and Leviticus 19:18]) Faith calls us to the obligations and responsibilities that are to be fulfilled not only with a view to the world but especially with regard to the community of God – the church belonging to Christ. In doing so we are called by God to a practical accountability as we learn to live our lives in faith. The question now is, "Are you a part of the body of Christ and an active and involved member of a local church that truly belongs to the Lord?"