Scripture, when looked at with a logically open mind and spiritually open heart defines “the church” as being created by God Himself. What, then, is the church? The Greek word for the church is “Ekklesia”, “Ek” meaning “out of” and “lesia” meaning “to be called. So the church is called to be a separate people. Much like Old Testament Israel the church is by definition the people of God. As Paul said to both Roman pagans and Jews who had put trust in Jesus Christ as their risen Messiah, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:15-16 NIV) He was talking of people of a Jewish background, the Judaizers, who wanted to circumcise Gentiles who were accepting Christ. Paul told them that it was not these outward signs of religious affiliation, or works, which made one righteous in God’s sight, but it was merely the sacrifice of Christ that covered the sins of any who would be called to Him and accept Him.
The church exists to glorify, honor and extol God. The church exists to enjoy the presence of and worship of God forever. Ephesians 1:12 states that the church exists in order that we, who (have) put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. It’s incredible to understand that Jesus came on a mission from God to gather people to Himself. It would be easy for God to force His glory upon all creation, but He wished instead to gather representatives. He wished instead to have His perfect love, mercy, truth, integrity, holiness, passion, grace, and peace shine through imperfect vessels which were birthed in His imagination before the beginning of time. We are His representatives, those who are the church, the people of God.
We as the people of God are supposed to live in love and unity with each other. Unity though we are a great diversity of all peoples, different backgrounds, issues, struggles, colors of skin, socio-economic statuses and biases. Romans 15:5-6 says it this way, that the God who gives endurance and encouragement (wants to) give (us) the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice (we) may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if we have a republican or democratic disposition. It doesn’t matter if we grew up in a tribe in the African Desert or are a CEO who lives in a mansion. It doesn’t matter what sexual, addictive, or psychological struggles we’ve had or will have within us. The call is the same for all, to lay this plethora of identity at the ground below the cross, and let the shed blood of Jesus wash over it and transform it into what God will have it be. This is why we as followers of Jesus share such a beautiful affection for each other, because Jesus and the Word of God cause us to have a transcendental love abound within us. We really ought to be the only society in the world that is truly able to unite all individuals under one King. This King is unseen for the time being, but will return on the clouds with fire. The new Jerusalem will be the only true utopia, beyond the ideal aims of communism, capitalism, or any other system that aimed at creating a consummate existence. All who dwell there will live in love and peace forever under the Kingship of the only perfect King Jesus.
We are all called to be examples of this light of love we live in to each other and the watching world. 1 Peter 2:9 says that (we) are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that (we) may declare the praises of him who called (us) out of darkness into His wonderful light. We have a duty to each other and the world to make these glories known. We all have a part in this whether we are scrubbing toilets, making music, running a business, flipping burgers, telling jokes, serving food, leading in a church, serving on a mission field, or giving our lives for the gospel. A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, emphasized this concept and mission on his last speaking tour in 1917. In this he said that “the primary objective of the Alliance Movement was the salvation of souls and the reaching of the neglected classes from whom the conventional methods of modern churches were steadily creating a distressing gulf of cleavage and separation.”[i] This is our function as priests of Christ on this earth- to overflow with constant, consistent, joyful truth, love purity and righteousness for all the world to see.
The thing that may be the most striking is that our purpose on this earth will not change in eternity! Revelation 7:9-12 talks of a day in the future when people of all nations will be gathered together to live in, labor and love within the Kingdom of eternal heaven, and they will worship in love, spirit and truth forever and ever. When Jesus talked of the Father’s will being done “on earth, as it is in heaven”, in one sense He meant that we would get a taste of eternity in this life, and be able to live out a heavenly existence as aliens and misfits amidst the violent darkness of our world.
The mission of the church has been dictated clearly by Jesus Christ Himself. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) In this light, the church does not exist for it’s own self-gratification. It exists to bring Jesus to those who haven’t known Him before, or don’t see clearly because of a plethora of false images of Him broadcasted in their mind. Some supporters of hyper-predestination could argue that Jesus can and will reveal Himself to whoever He wishes. Yet Matthew 28:19-20 shows that Jesus wanted us to go to all people, teaching them and baptizing them in His name. He could reveal Himself however He wanted to, and He chose to do so primarily through us, His people. We are not to seek to make converts, but rather to make disciples. This is something a tricky marketing scheme will not accomplish. It is rather the life on life mentoring of someone. It is walking into the murky dirt of someone’s life, and showing them how to walk, talk, live, and love like Jesus. We can offer the call of discipleship to those that completely don’t know Jesus, and also to those that do. This is our mission that we are to live out all of our days. It is a worthy, worthwhile mission.
Our relationship to Jesus Christ is one of dual nature. We are not merely His servants and we are not merely His friends, but because we are His friends we become His servants. This gives us great worth in the eyes of God and understanding of our own state of being. Christ is the head of the church. The church is Christ’s body on earth. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12) We are to be unified chiefly by the mission stated before- to make disciples and proclaim Christ to all. Any Christian can do this. We don’t need to have inordinate skill or unusual abilities to make disciples. We don’t need to be a successful pastor or a charismatic leader to make disciples. We don’t need to be great communicators or innovative thinkers to make disciples. That’s why Jesus says every Christian must do this.[ii] We are a diversity of people with varied strengths and weaknesses, and our leaning upon each other allows us to collectively manifest the fullness of Christ to the watching world.
We are also the beloved of Christ. Scripture uses the image of a bride to describe Christ’s relationship to us. In the New Jerusalem, the church, or those who belong truly to Christ are described as a Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Rev. 21:2) As cliché as it sounds, it is a true truth that Jesus simply loves us. He gave Himself up for us and desires an intimate relationship with us. Some have gone as far as to say that the sexual metaphors within the Song of Solomon where the husband speaks to his wife are akin to the way Jesus feels about His church. This may be a stretch, but the level of deep intimacy, romance and devotion are all there within this line of thinking. Jesus truly loves and longs for us in a way that we could never mimic without the power of His working in us.
There are not only greatly high qualifications for becoming a leader within the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7), but there are also qualifications for those who would submit under the leadership of the church. This is a synchronistic relationship. If the leaders are honoring the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, then we can “have confidence in them and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over us as those who must give an account. We are to do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to us.” (Heb. 13:17) Pastors, elders and deacons are firstly to submit to Christ Himself and the pure, holy Word of God. But also, they are to submit to other godly, qualified people. There is no man or woman who has walked this earth who is completely above reproach, except Christ Himself, the perfect, sinless Son of God. Those under the leadership of pastors and elders are to submit to their leadership, and trust that the Lord has put them there. If a leader errs, anyone has the right to bring gentle correction if it is grounded in the scripture and not mere opinion. So ultimately, leaders are to be teachable to all. Yet still, “congregants” are to trust those who lead them, pray for them, and encourage them.
At times, pastoral leaders must make difficult decisions that will not bring the entire favor of all people upon them. But they must seek the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength through prayer, and allow the Lord to lead them. It is easy as a leader to be led with a hook in the nostrils by those who complain, grumble and fuss. Like Moses, men of God need to be strong and courageous, able to stick up for and graciously defend the Word of God to any and everyone.
This is what the scriptures say about the church. If we live out what they say by faith, to the best of our ability, God will be glorified.