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:: Teaching Booklets - Church - The Way Things Were meant To Be ::

 

 

The Church:
The Way Things Were Meant To Be

A Study Booklet By Dr. Steve Highlander 

Copyright 2002 - 2009

Introduction

As we look around Christendom today, we see an overabundance of churches and a shortage of practical Christianity. Could it be that we have become so focused on 'going to church' that we have failed to 'BE' the Church?

I am not advocating doing away with going to Church, nor am I saying that church attendance isn't important or necessary to strong Christian lives. I am saying that 'going to church' isn't the totality of what God had in mind when Jesus died on the cross.

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Heb. 10:24-25

The point of this study is not "to go or not to go;" It is, "what we are to do when we get there and what we are to be when we are not there."

As Christianity becomes less and less practical its power to impact lives decreases. It isn't the doctrine ascribed to, but the life lived that testify to the power of the risen Lord.

When Christians become more focused on the structure of the service than on people, we have left the domain of the Spirit and have entered the arena of religion.

Does your Christian life seem to revolve around "going to church?" Is church the only place you practice worship, prayer and bible study? Is "Christian fellowship" synonymous with "fellowship dinners," or do you get together with Christians for fellowship outside the four walls of your church building? If the church in America was suddenly outlawed and you couldn't "go to church," would it disrupt your whole idea of Christianity?

For all those Christians who sometimes find themselves wondering if there is more to the Christian life than just "going to church," I offer the following thoughts, and with them an encouragement to stop just "going to church" and start "being the church."

The Church Defined

A person's definition or view of "Church" is going to impact the way they relate to "The Church." Is church someplace you go? Is it an organization you belong to? Or is the Church something you are. The Greek word for "Church" is Ekklesia, which means "called out."

The reference is to the people, and to the purpose for which they have been called out. In the truest since of the word, we cannot "go" to church, because we are the Church. The Church can assemble together, hence the reference in Hebrews 13 concerning not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. The church is not a building, organization or denomination, it is made up of every person who has made Jesus Christ their savior, by faith in Him.

As a member of the church, or "called out ones," you have been called out of something, but also called into something.

Called Out of Death Into Life.

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." John 5:24

The Church is made up of people who have been given new spiritual life by Christ. The Bible speaks of being "dead in sin" and the book of the Revelation tells about the "second death" or spiritual death.

When a person is born again through faith in Christ he/she receives spiritual life and becomes a member of the church which is the body of Christ. The Church then is characterized by an inherent life. The life imparted by God has both quantity and quality.

Concerning quantity it is "Eternal life.""...the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23b.

Concerning quality, it changes and impacts us in a positive way. Jesus said, ". . . I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly . . . "John 10:10. The gospel message not only declares our sins forgiven (providing for eternal life), but also informs us that the power of sin over our lives has been broken that we might live to walk in newness of life. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." II Cor. 5:17

The first characteristic of the church is new life. As members of the church we should be focused on experiencing it and sharing it with others. The church has been called from death into life.

Called Out of Darkness into light.

"But ye [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." I Peter 2:9

The second thing that you have been called out of is darkness. Therefore the second characteristic of the Church (the people of God) is spiritual light, or understanding. Before a person can understand God to any degree, they have to have spiritual insight given to them by the Holy Spirit. Many people try to read the Bible, but testify that they just don't understand it or get anything from it. The problem is trying to read a spiritual book without spiritual insight that can only come from the Holy Spirit. However, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" - but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit." I Cor. 2:9 NIV

The Bible declares that darkness is the domain of Satan. Jesus told Paul that he was sending him to the Gentiles, "to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God . . . " Paul said, "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." II Cor. 4:4. Wherever you find spiritual darkness, you find the power and work of Satan. Jesus was sent by God to deliver people from that realm and power.

The ability to begin to understand God and see things with spiritual eyes has been given to every member of the church of Jesus Christ. However, many people who have been taught to "go to church" have never been taught that as a part of the real church they have these privileges. As Christians begin to "be" the church, they will find their ability to understand the Bible and other spiritual things increasing dramatically.

Paul prayed this powerful prayer for the Church at Ephesus 1:17-18:

"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being enlightened . . ."

How our lives and churches would be changed if every Christian prayed and believed this prayer.

Called From the Kingdom  of Satan to The Kingdom of God

"Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated [us] into the kingdom of his dear Son . . . "Col. 1:12-13

Yet another characteristic of the true church is the power to overcome Satan. As we learn to "be" the church, we discover the power and authority that Jesus has delegated to the church to fight spiritual battles.

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:10-12

The Bible declares that a person is blinded and under the power and dominion of Satan until he/she is saved by God through faith in Jesus Christ. After salvation Satan still harasses Christians. Although legally Satan's power and authority over a believer in Jesus Christ have been broken, we generally experience the reality of that freedom over a period of time, rather than all at once. That means that throughout the Christian's life he/she will need to deal with spiritual battles, both in their personal lives and in those around them that need spiritual help.

The Church has been delivered from the power of Satan and now abides in the Kingdom of God. Basically there has been a change of authority. Satan no longer has right nor power to control a Christian. A Christian can have the confidence that spiritual battles, whether in their own lives or those around them, can be won.

People can "go to church" without ever experiencing the liberating power of God. However, as we strive to "be the Church," it will become natural to fight spiritual battles and win.

If we have been called out of Satan's power, we have also been called into God's kingdom. Being the Church means that we now operate with a different set of principles and values. A kingdom infers a King and a domain. A government if you will. A government has laws and principles, a structure of government and an economy. All these apply to the Kingdom of God.

In the world system the rights of citizenship come with birth. So as with the Kingdom of God – we are born into it. Being the Church means that we increasingly see and understand this kingdom and that we are striving to operate within its scope of purpose and authority. Privilege and responsibility go hand in hand. Citizenship in the kingdom is not optional–neither is the responsibility to be an active citizen. When we stop "going to church" and start "being the church," we will discover the power contained in both privilege and responsibility.

Called out of the World into The Body of Christ

"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Acts 2:41-42

We have been called out of the world and into fellowship with other believers. The Bible tells us that we are in the world but not of the world. In other words, some fundamental things must change about the way we think and act. The world's philosophy, which is dominated by the sinful nature and darkened thinking, just doesn't jibe with God's kingdom. The "world" according to the Bible has a tremendous amount of influence on a person. When a person becomes a Christian he/she must leave the things of the world behind and adopt a new system of influence.

"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." I John 2:15-17

"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts . . . For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." I saiah 55:7-9

A person can go to church and discover that the church does things the same way that the world does. "Being" the church requires that we develop new ways of thinking and doing. The disciples often got into a discussion about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. Jesus told them that His kingdom didn't operate the same way the world did. If you wanted to be great in His kingdom, you would need to become a servant.

Yet in the church we find the same structure of government as in the world and the same ambition to "climb the ladder" of success or recognition. To be effective in the kingdom of God we must learn to leave the ways of the world to the world and do things God's way.

There is another thing about being called out of the world into the Body of Christ. That is the fact that we are called into the Body of Christ. God didn't save you to leave you unattached.

I have often heard people say, "I don't have to go to church to be a Christian." While this a true statement, I question its validity. You can be a Christian without "going to church."  However, the majority of the New Testament is devoted to how we should operate as a church. Remember what Hebrews 13:25 said, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

There is no justification for not "going to church." The problem is twofold.

Some people who say they don't have to go to church to be a Christian simply aren't Christian. There is something about becoming a true Christian that calls you into fellowship with other Christians. The passage in Acts 2 tells us that those who received the word "continued steadfastly" in some things, one of them being fellowship.

The second problem is that people have been to church and see little spiritual value in it. Unfortunately, regarding many churches I would have to agree. They have been in churches that had little spiritual reality. Not knowing the difference, they assume that "Church" is just like that. Herein is the difference between "going to church" and "being the Church."

"Being the Church" means that we have developed an attitude of forsaking the way of world while embracing the fellowship of the saints at the same time. It was never God's intention for someone to "get saved" and just exist alone. He has called us into relationship with the Church which is His body (Col. 1:24).

Called Out of Disobedience Into Obedience

"What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness." Romans 6:15-18

We've been called from disobedience (sin) into obedience.

Obedience to God, His word and the leading of the Holy Spirit are not an option in the Kingdom of God. It is a part of the genuine package. Consider this statement about Abraham, the father of faith.

"By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise . . ."Hebrews 11:8

Notice how faith and obedience work hand in hand. Obedience is the fruit of faith. In fact, it is hard to have one without the other. Real faith will result in obedience, because you will act on what you genuinely believe. And obedience without faith causes burnout. After a while you will stop doing something if you really don't believe in it.

"And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him . . . "Heb. 5:9

"Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied ."I Peter 1:2

"If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15

These and other verses make it obvious that "being the Church" means obeying the head of the Church, who is Jesus Christ. You can go to Church and never obey God. Individuals and congregations must make a decision to obey God, first in the fundamental things of the Bible, then in the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I had a conversation with some lady years ago who went to a particular denominational church. The subject was baptism, and while we agreed on several points, her church was practicing an unscriptural application of it. I started to say, "But the Bible says . . . "and she cut me off with, "I don't care what the Bible says, that's how we do it in our church."

Here is a person that will not grow very much. The church has some problems too, if their tradition is unscriptural and they are unwilling to change. Jesus told the Jews that they had made the Word of God of none effect by their traditions (Mark 7:13).

The Word of God is powerful and to believe it and obey it releases that power into our lives and our churches. The opposite is true also.

This is extremely important in the issues of church government and leadership. Many churches today operate with an unscriptural form of church leadership and expect God to bless something He has not set in order.

God didn't tell us to start churches and figure out how to keep everyone happy. He laid out a pattern for New Testament Church life and expects the Church to follow it.

God can and will bless our error for a time, but as we grow, we have a responsibility to adjust our ways as we grow in wisdom and understanding.

It is very hard to call Jesus "Lord" and tell Him "no" at the same time. Obedience is a part of the gospel message and indicates the condition of the heart of an individual or a congregation. We've been called from self-will unto obedience.

Church = Change

The very world translated "Church" carries with it the idea that we are called out of something and into something. There are spiritual changes made. One cannot be truly saved without these fundamental changes taking place in their lives because they are the essence of the gospel and the kingdom of God. However, each area of change must also be accompanied by an ever- increasing desire and understanding if we are to walk in its fullness.

Having understood that the Church is not "where we go,"but "who we are," let's go on to look at some other areas of "being the Church."

The Church: The Body of Christ

"For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Romans 12:4-5

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many . . . . (27) Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." I Cor. 12:12-14 & 27

"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." Eph. 4:15-16

"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body." Ephesians 5:23

Organization Or Organism?

Paul declared THE Church to be THE BODY OF CHRIST. This typology makes for wonderful teaching and preaching and a multitude of illustrations can be wrought from it. There is a danger here however. This is not just a literary device used by Paul to convey a thought. It is a spiritual reality.

Paul did not declare the Church to be 'like' the Body of Christ. He declared it to be the Body of Christ.

While the Church must have some organization, it is not, never has been and never will be an organization.

The Church--The Body of Christ--has an organic unity, both with Christ as the head and with every member of the Body.

Two Dynamics of The Body of Christ

Please read 1 Cor. 12.

In 1 Cor. 12 Paul explains the function and relationship of the physical body in the context of spiritual gifts. He shows how that each part of the body has a special part to play, and a special place in the body in order that the whole body function properly and to full potential.

One can "go to church" and never experience the fullness of the Body of Christ. But to "be" the Church means that we understand the dynamics of life in the Body of Christ and that we find our place and fulfill it.

There are two dynamics that we must understand and yield to if we are going to fulfill our place in the Body of Christ. The first is RELATIONSHIP and the second is FUNCTION.

Relationship Is Central to The Church

Christianity is about the only religion that places such a high degree of importance on relationship. Most other religions can be practiced with or without others being involved. Not so in the Body of Christ. By it's very nature we are called to operate and cooperate together with God and with each other.

There are, of course, two aspects to the relationship issue.

The first aspect is that I must be properly related to Christ as the head or I have no spiritual partnership in the Body of Christ. In a parable about the vine and the branches in John 15, Jesus said that unless we "abide in the vine" we can do nothing of ourselves.

There can be NO spiritual fruit born in our lives unless we get properly connected to Jesus and stay properly connected to Jesus.

The second aspect is that I must be properly related to the Body of Christ, finding and fulfilling my place within the context of the Church. I must say without an apology that it is impossible to be properly related to Christ without also being properly related to the Church, which is His Body. Consider this verse in I John.

"If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments." I John 4:20-5:2

Attached to The Head?

Let me paint two word pictures to illustrate my point.

Picture a head with some toes where the ear should be, and a leg dangling from the chin. You observe a hand coming out the top back of the head and see one eye gracing the right cheek. Fingers grow from the nose and internal organs hang here and there.

We laugh at the absurdity of this or recoil in horror at the ugliness, yet this is exactly how we act concerning relationships in the Body of Christ. While we give mental assent to the way things should be, we really don't see it in practice that much.

Now picture this: A hand unattached to the body. It is a hand, but to what purpose? It draws no strength or life from the body, nor is it of any use to the body. Too many Christians approach Christianity this way.

While we must have a personal relationship to Christ we must also be properly connected to His body to function as we should.

Too many Christians today have a "Lone Ranger" mentality. That is, they don't want to be connected or committed to anyone or anything.

Ministries go about with no accountability or input, receiving no correction or instruction.

Church members hop from church to church, avoiding relationships, commitment and accountability. It is, however, the bonds of love and commitment that hold a church together and cause it to function as the Body of Christ in the fullness of the Spirit.

We must understand and yield to both of these aspects of relationship within the Church, first in vital relationship with Christ, then in functional relationship with the rest of His Body.

Strong Relationships Make Strong Churches.

In I Cor. 12 and Ephesians 4 we find Paul dealing with the practical issues of relationship and function. Look at Ephesians 4:15-16

"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."

Paul says that as we speak the truth in love we will "grow up in all things." We will grow upward toward the fullness of Christ and we will grow together in spiritual unity.

Paul wanted the Church to have ever deepening relationships. In these verses he tells us that the "body is fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth."

A joint is not a bone, but rather a point where two or more bones come together. It is in essence a relationship--a functional relationship at that. So let's replace "joint" with "relationship" in this verse.

"From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every [RELATIONSHIP] supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."

Have you ever had a sprained ankle or a dislocated shoulder? The pain is terrible and the body doesn't function as it should. The arm doesn't have the ability to access the strength of the muscle that is present. The man who could lift 50 pounds with one arm can't lift 5 pounds with a dislocated shoulder. Did he lose his strength? Technically no. The muscle is as strong as ever, but the improper relationship in the joint makes it impossible to access the strength available to it. So it is with the Body of Christ.

When relationships are "sprained" or members become "dislocated," the whole body suffers from the lack of strength. The power and presence of the Spirit may still be there, but the Church is unable to access it do to improper relationships.

This is what Paul means when he speaks of "That which every joint (relationship) supplies."

I have been in churches where this problem was evident. The Spirit of God attended the services and the presence of God was evident, but there was very little power. These same churches had some serious relationship problems.

A Close-Knit Church

"That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love . . . "Col. 2:2a

God doesn't want a loose-knit group of people. He desires that we be closely knit together, caring for one another and operating in the same mind and Spirit.

Let's put this in a modern illustration. Consider the difference between a shirt that has an iron-on transfer and one that has the same design embroidered on it. The iron-on transfer is connected, but not really woven to the fabric. As a result it can peel and flake after some rough use. The embroidery is interwoven with the fabric, becoming part of it. It is more difficult to separate. The iron-on transfer takes a matter of seconds, while the embroidery might take some time.

Relating this to church relationships we can see why there are so many "flaky" Christians hopping from church to church. God desires that we get interwoven with the people around us, forming strong relationships that will weather the storms of life and the attacks of the enemy.

Only as this happens will the Church began to experience the reality of the fullness of the Body of Christ spoken of in Ephesians 4:13:

"Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . . "

Unity in Diversity

God loves variety. Just look at the world around us. There are hundreds of varieties of plants. Consider the animal kingdom. Even within the species there are various breeds. And within the breeds there are various colors and markings. The world is filled with people who have all kinds of ethnic features.

How mundane life would be without the wonderful variety God, in His creative power, gave us.

How unfortunate it is then, when it comes to the Church we want everyone to be the same.

We have our pet styles of preaching or teaching and tend to only listen to those ministers who "preach with fire," or " teach line upon line."

We want Christians to look alike and act alike. And usually the standard of appropriate conduct is the big "I."

Since most of us would hesitate to vocalize it, I will say it for us all. We want people to be like ourselves for the most part. How boring!

Paul dealt with this tendency in I Cor. 12. He first discusses the various gifts of the Spirit, pointing out several important issues.

1. In verses 4-6 he declares that there are not only different gifts, but different ways in which a person might operate in those gifts. Still, in all this diversity, the unity of God remains. Notice Paul brings each aspect of God into play here, "he same Spirit . . . the same Lord . . . The same God."

The simple fact is that God may give 10 people the same gift and cause it to operate differently in all 10 people.

When we reject the gifts of the Spirit in a person because, "they don't do it like I do, "or " that's not how I was taught it should be, "we shut off an avenue for God to minister to us. And we are not the only ones that lose out. When we squelch the gift in someone or even fail to encourage it, the person God wants to use is hindered. As a final result, the Body of Christ, as a whole, is robbed of a gift given to it by the Spirit.

2. Paul makes a second point. God gives different gifts to different people. Notice I Cor. 12:7 & 11:

"But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal." (verse 7) "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." Verse 11

We must realize that God wants to use EVERY person in some way. That means God wants to use me and God wants to use YOU. No exceptions. It is God's desire to use every person in the Body of Christ. The Bible tells us here that God HAS given gifts to EVERY man.

The issue isn't HAS God given you a gift(s), but rather, are you allowing God to develop and use the gift(s) He has already given you!

Here is where relationship and function are inseparable. I must recognize and develop my giftings for the good of the Body of Christ. Likewise I must encourage, respect and receive the giftings that God has placed in others who I am in relationship with.

Another point in these verses concerns the giving of gifts. They are given "as He wills." God, by the Holy Spirit, imparts gifts to His people at His discretion, not ours. This causes a couple of common problems that we must grow past.

I may see a particular gift in someone and desire that gift for myself. It may or may not happen at my will. To function properly in the Body you must find, accept and develop the gifts God has given you, instead of sitting back waiting for the one you might desire.

The other problem is God may give you a gift or ministry that you don't particularly want. Sometimes we must "step up to the plate" and accept God's will, finding joy and satisfaction in doing God's will.

You can "go to church" and never give what you have or receive what you need. But "being the Church" opens up a whole new realm of giving and receiving as the Body of Christ learns to minister to itself, by the Holy Spirit in love.

Hands, Feet, Eyes, Ears and Noses

In verses 15-21 of I Corinthians 12, Paul deals with two aspects of relationship and function. These are the two common attitude problems that the Church must overcome in its goal to realize the reality of Ephesians 4:13. "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

The first attitude that must be overcome is summarized like this: Because I am not like someone else, I am not an important part of the Body of Christ. The second is summarized this way: Because someone else isn't like me they cannot be an important part of the Body of Christ.

Obviously, both of these attitudes are wrong and hurtful to all involved. The first belongs to a person with a poor self esteem. The second to a person with, shall we say, a "healthy ego."

The underlying concept is unity in the midst of diversity. I don't have to be like someone else to be an integral part of the Church. Likewise I cannot insist that everyone else be just like me before I accept them and their giftings.

To be complete the Body of Christ needs the totality of the various gifts, functions and ministries Christ has given her. Romans chapter 12 lists a variety of motivational gifts. I Corinthians 12 lists nine gifts of the Spirit. And Ephesians chapter 4 lists five ministry gifts.

For a church to be complete in the ministry of Christ, she must seek to have all these gifts operating in her midst. Trying to function on less is like having an eight-cylinder engine trying to run on six cylinders. It will run, but not like it was designed to.

The Same Care One for Another

It is important to remember that the unity of the Spirit is not a cold, organizational agreement, but rather a warm, living, loving relationship. Paul ends I Corinthians 12 by reminding the believers there that there should be "no division" in the body, and that each should have the same care one for another."

You can "go to church" and never be touched by the triumph or trial of the person sitting in the same room. But when we "become" the Church by developing and maintaining relationships we will be affected by what affects others.

"Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another." Romans 12:15-16

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Christ was touched with the feelings of our weaknesses and because of it He became a faithful high priest.

Likewise God desires for us to be touched with the feelings of others in order for us to minister to them properly.

To say, "I know how you must feel," when we really don't have a clue is a reproach to Christ and makes for a very ineffective ministry.

Jesus felt what you and I feel. He experienced it and His comfort is born of empathy not sympathy.

So should our ministry be born of empathy, not sympathy! How human it is to have personality conflicts. Pet peeves cloud relationships and we find ourselves judging more than praying. However, when we genuinely care for those who "assemble together" with us, we will have their best interests in mind, ever seeking to see them grow and prosper in the Lord.

Conclusion

The sum of the matter is simple. God intends for the fullness of Christ's ministry to be expressed in and through the Church, which is His Body. For that to happen we must make a priority of relationships, and from there encourage, use and receive the gifts God has placed within the Body. No single person or ministry can express the fullness of Christ's ministry, we need one another.

The Mission of the Church

Now that we have defined the Church and looked at the dual issues of relationship and function, we can now turn our attention to the MISSION of the Church. What is God's purpose for the Church? What are we supposed to be doing while we are waiting for the return of the Lord?

Two great dangers exist in the churches today. The first is becoming ingrown. This happens when we only focus on the people we have already collected and fail to reach out to those around us.

"But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth . . ." Acts 1:8

"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:18-20

These two passages express the heart of the two-fold MISSION of the Church. That is, to reach the world with the message of Jesus Christ and to make disciples unto Him.

You Shall Be Witnesses

Jesus left the Church with a promise and a commission.

It is possible to "go to church" all your life and never receive the promise nor fulfill the commission. On the other hand, "being the Church" means we will experience both promise and commission.

In these passages we find the key to fulfilling the great commission -- power. Jesus said all power was given to Him. The commission came from him who has power and authority.

This is where the promise comes into play. Because all power was given to Jesus, He has the authority to delegate power to the Church. It is this power that we need to get the job done.

Peter, James and John needed the power that came with the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Why is it that the church today doesn't believe they need the same power to do the same job?  The commission to the Church has never changed. God's promise of power to get the job done has never changed either.

Being the Church means that we understand the task and the means to fulfill it. It means that we seek God for the same power He promised the early Church. Being the Church means we seek to allow God to use us as instruments of that power to impact the world in which we live.

Go Teach

In the King James Version of the Bible, the word "teach" is used twice in the giving of the great commission. One comes before the command to baptize and the second comes after. While technically both words can be translated "teach", Jesus actually used two different words here.

Many other versions translate the first "teach" as "make disciples," which is accurate. The second time Jesus says teach, it means to provide ongoing instruction. These two words give the twofold thrust of the great commission.

The first is to make disciples, while the second is to continue teaching them everything Jesus taught.

As I have already said, it is possible to go to church your whole life and never experience the reality of what the Church is all about.

How many people sit in church, yet have never led another person to the Lord. They go to church, but have never experienced the joy of helping another person become a strong follower of Jesus.

Yet this commission and power was not just for the apostles in Jesus' day, it is for all who call upon the name of the Lord.

"...ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." Acts 2:38-39

What Does It Mean To Be A Witness?

Notice Jesus did not say, "You shall go witnessing." Jesus said "you shall be witnesses."

If you mention being a witness in some churches, they automatically think you mean you have to go knocking on doors passing out "Four Spiritual Laws" tracts. While this may be a part of being a witness, it isn't what Jesus had in mind when He said this.

The difference is the same that we have been discussing throughout this study. That is the difference between "going"and "being".

You can go witnessing, without ever being a witness.

A witness is a person who has first-hand knowledge about an event or subject. A person "witnesses" a car wreck, so he has personal knowledge. He receives a summons to appear in court to become a "witness" concerning the wreck. He is simply asked to tell what he knows.

The same is true about being a witness for Jesus. It isn't hard. You must first have a personal encounter with Jesus and then find someone to share what you know with. It isn't hard at all.

Jesus said He would supply the power to be witnesses. In other words, I don't have to convince anyone that what happened to me is real. That is God's Job. I just need to tell people that the same thing can happen to them. The rest is between them and God.

Evangelism or Discipleship?

What did Jesus tell the Church to do, evangelize or make disciples? Think about it again. And Again! We were told to make disciples, which is somewhat different then evangelizing.

Evangelism is a part of making disciples, but it is not the totality of what God expects from the Church. Our idea of evangelism today is very askew. We look at it as a traveling minister who comes to preach a revival in the church, or someone who leads people into salvation.

Many "evangelists" preach great soul winning messages and see great numbers of people respond to alter calls for salvation. What happens afterwards though?

Statistics show that only a very few people "converted" in evangelistic meetings today still actively follow God after the first year.

What is wrong with this picture? This in not what God intended. While it is unrealistic to think that every person we "lead to the Lord" will actually stay committed, I think the problem lies in the area of discipleship.

I think that is why Jesus said, "Go make disciples." Our responsibility to the great commission is not fulfilled with evangelism alone.

It is one thing to lead a person to pray a prayer for salvation, it is another to walk with that person as they make a wholehearted commitment to Jesus Christ.

This is where the two "teachings" come into play. We need to teach people what God has to say about salvation, but we also need to teach them that salvation means making Jesus both LORD and SAVIOR. This is discipleship. Discipleship is much harder than evangelism because it requires more personal time and energy. It requires that you get involved in another person's life and actually help them become established in the kingdom of God.

Evangelism can be fun and exciting. The fruit is quickly seen (or so we assume). We get to brag about how effective we are and what a great work we are doing. But discipling takes time and doesn't necessarily show quick results.

This is why most churches don't emphasis discipling new converts -- it's messy. Discipling takes time and energy and the "P" word (patience). It's easier to invite them to "GO TO CHURCH" then it is to help them "BECOME" a part of the Church.

This is exactly why we have so many people who "go to church," but never really experience the reality of God there. "Being the Church" means we must step up to the plate and accept our command and commission to make disciples of those we have led to the Lord.

A Word of Caution!

A great danger can occur when a Church begins to disciple people. If the leadership isn't careful the church will begin to make disciples to themselves. They end up making followers of the church, the pastor or its particular doctrinal views. This isn't what Jesus had in mind either. We are to make disciples for Jesus, not disciples for ourselves.

Setting aside the errors of the past, and the dangers presented, we still have a mandate to make disciples of the world, not just to evangelize it.

GO!

Our churches do not grow for two reasons. The first is because we do not GO! God never told the world to go to church, He told the Church to go to the world. It is unfortunate that much of evangelistic effort revolves around inviting people to "GO TO CHURCH."

While people do get saved at church meetings, I still have to wonder if this is God's best.

The second is they do not take seriously the command to make disciples. When this happens the new converts either quit after a while or they never grow to maturity to become "fruit-bearing" Christians.

The 20/20 Vision of the Church

Years ago I heard a sermon preached by a good friend of mine, Matthew Dow, entitled The 20/20 Vision of the Church.

In medical lingo 20/20 vision is perfect vision. It is balanced vision. Both eyes are operating together at optimum performance. Nothing is out of focus. This was precisely the point Matthew made in his sermon.

Using Acts 20:20 for the basis of his message he spoke about the need for the Church to have a balanced focus in fulfilling the great commission.

"And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, and from house to house . . ."

Public meetings were a part of the early Church and are still a major part of the Church today. However, equally important were the meetings in homes. Paul modeled house ministry to the churches he started. This is a lost practice in the modern church.

Much evangelism and discipleship can be done more effectively in homes. This would involve both meeting one on one with people or families and gathering in homes for prayer, Bible study and fellowship.

One great weakness of the church in America today is its emphasis on GOING TO CHURCH. As we have already seen in this study, relationship and function are key elements to a strong Church. These elements are best developed in small group settings such as occur in home fellowships.

Many of the problems that exist in the traditional church of the '90's are solved by teaching "house to house."

Evangelism comes much more naturally, as people will come to a home meeting when they might not come to a "church building".

Relationships are formed as people actually interact with each other in a small group setting. It has been accurately said, "it is hard to develop a relationship with the back of someone's head" (as everyone sits facing the front of the church where one or two people do all the work.)

Spiritual gifts and ministries are encouraged and developed in the home fellowship. Whereas in "church, the emphasis is on the ministries of a select few, with little time or place given for "body ministry".

Real questions and problems can be discussed and ministered to in the small group, where trust and confidence has been developed.

These are just a few of the benefits of having perfect 20/20 vision for both public and house meetings.

Conclusion

While there are other aspects of church life, these thoughts should provide ample challenge for those who are striving to be all they can be in the kingdom of God. We can be satisfied to continue "going to church," or we can determine that we will "be the Church".

For every person who has ever said, "There has to be more to Christianity than this," I say, "God Bless you as you BECOME THE CHURCH!"

 


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