What is the church?

June 28, 2010 at 6:30 am | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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It seems like such an innocent question doesn’t it? Logic would say that there should be a simple definition for what the church is and that should be that. Unfortunately, there isn’t. Well, I take that back. There is a simple definition of what the church is. A large number of those who profess Christ even seem to know what this definition is. What’s odd is that, while they know the definition, it doesn’t match up with what they are living out. Taken to the next level, this same oddity seems to be true for local churches. Attendees can give the Sunday school answer for the question but, looking at the church/individual, there’s a discrepancy. Before I go where I’m going, it would be helpful to have the definition of what the church is according to the Bible:

ekklesia – From a compound of G1537 and a derivative of G2564; a calling out, that is, (concretely) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both): – assembly, church

This is the church. They are the “called out” ones. They are the ones who have repented of their sins and given their lives in service to Christ. There is nothing in the definition of the word that denotes that it is just a certain group or family of called out ones. Also, there is no prerequisite that someone must make a certain amount of money, have a certain job, or hold a certain level of prestige in the community. They have been forgiven of their past just as every other member of the called out has been. In the eyes of God, they are only seen through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is the only thing that makes them called out to begin with. Sadly, you wouldn’t be able to tell this by looking at the church. The “church” of today looks much different than the one found in the Bible. The fact that many no longer act on the definition of the church and have equivocated the meaning to be something that suits their goals and agendas can be seen in many different happenings.

In many churches, there is a certain group that controls the church. It may be a family or it may be a group that has been there since the beginning of the church. Either way, this group forms a clique that keeps the body apart. They have the final decision on everything and they keep tight control on what happens, how it happens, and who does it. If those not in the family/group are lucky, they will be “thrown a bone” and given a small ministry. The clique causes those outside of it to form their own and before long, instead of a unified body of believers, you have a number of small groups of people who come together on Sunday under the pretenses of unity and then gossip about the other groups at lunch after church.

Other times, those “leading” the church will put burdens on those gathering there. They will have to give so much money in tithe, go through special programs, or jump through some other hoops in order to really be a part of what’s going on. Still others will continue to be judged by their past, even though they’ve been forgiven of it. Regardless of their consistent record of Christian character their past still haunts them. The specter of who they used to be casts a shadow on who they are now because their “brethren” cannot overlook those things that God has already forgotten. Then, there are those in the church who have been hurt by broken promises, broken trusts, and facades in the form of friendships. None of this seems to reflect the church as seen in the Bible.

The definition of ekklesia also grates against the actions of many churches today. The church is made up of those who are called out, regardless of skin color, ethnicity, income, past, or level of maturity. As was said above, these men, women, and children have all repented of their sins and put their complete faith in Christ to save them. The other side of this coin should be apparent. If the church is made up of those who have repented of their sins and put their faith in Christ, then those who have not done this are not part of the church! This would seem exceedingly obvious, but I don’t think that it is. Look at the majority of what the church is doing today. In churches all across the country, there are “pastors” who “preach” on summer blockbuster movies, ’80’s hair bands, and secular TV shows. They lure the unsaved in with money, prizes, false promises, and “Christian” events. And when those people get there, they try to keep them with watered down “sermons” out of a kit that they bought from an online sermon store.

I can’t help but think that one of the reasons that the church is in the shape that it’s in is because it’s forgotten what it means to be the church! The church isn’t for unforgiven sinners. Read that again. The church is NOT for unforgiven sinners. Of all the descriptions given of the church in the New Testament, there is absolutely NOTHING that would denote that this is true. The church is called the “bride of Christ” and “the body of Christ“. That “of Christ” part is pretty important and is something that cannot be true of anyone who is not born again. And yet, the church spends so much time, money, and effort trying to lure these people into the church buildings. Why? I don’t understand. The pastor is supposed to be a shepherd to God’s sheep. He is supposed to be feeding them and nurturing them to grow in holiness, glorifying God through obedience to His Word. But because he spends more time trying to “bring people in”, he changes his sermon to suit the lost and neglects those in his care. These malnourished sheep get disenchanted and it’s the pastor’s fault, at least in part.

I know, I know. The idea is that if you bring the people into the church building they might hear the gospel and get saved. They might be convicted of their sins and repent. It happened to me. But, the question isn’t whether it works or not. The problem lies in whether or not that is the way that God told us to do it! Jesus said that we are to GO to the lost. We are to go out to them and preach the true gospel to them in hopes that the Holy Spirit will convict them and bring them to repentance. There is also an assumption that the lost that come in to the church will actually hear the gospel. I am increasingly concerned that pastor’s aren’t/can’t/won’t preach the gospel. Some fear the loss of numbers, others the loss of funds. What about the loss of souls?

The lack of church discipline is also evidence that something is wrong in the church. It seems like there is nothing that someone can do to get kicked out of a church anymore. Again, this looks to be the result of a desire to keep numbers instead of walk in obedience. If the sheep are disciplined it will help them grow closer to God. But, those who practice sin are not sheep! If someone is willfully living in sin, choosing to sin and rebelling against God with their lives, they are not saved.

Imagine with me for a moment. Instead of a church where sinners are lured with gaudy trinkets of worldly wealth, picture a church where there is a unified body of believers. These followers of Christ see each other as equal because that’s how God sees them. Although they have different roles in the body, they understand that each of them are necessary. There is no backbiting or gossip. The pastor is actually the shepherd of the flock, feeding them by expositing the Word of God line by line and precept by precept. Everything is explained so that the sheep can then apply that truth to their lives and reveal more of Christ to those around them. The elders understand that they are not in a position of power but of service and responsibility. They are looking to help teach and lead the sheep down the narrow path. The sheep are nurtured together, none of them attacking other sheep or trying to be more than what they are. The body is truly “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part” (Eph. 4:16b). All of them grow individually and corporately as a body, “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17b). This is shown in how they love one another (John 13:35). This is the type of atmosphere where those who have been saved through the evangelistic efforts of the church in the community can come to be part of the flock and grow with them as part of the body.

The sad tragedy is that this could be happening all over the country. If churches would just return to the Biblical way of doing things and drop all of the worldly things, this could happen soon. The question is whether or not “pastors” will bow to the will of the Lord or continue to do things their way. It should be noted that I would never consider turning away someone who isn’t saved if they found their way into church on Sunday, but they should understand that what is preached doesn’t apply to them in their current state. They should hear the gospel clearly and openly (as should everyone every Sunday) and then be shown their choices, all with the gentle heart of a pastor or the bold truth of a prophet or teacher.

There are people who need the church, not as it is now, but as it should be. Lives around the world are falling apart because of sin. People have burdens that bring them to suicide and unthinkable acts. They need the church….we all do….

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