Christianity 101: The Church
Here’s the last lesson in the series. Hope it’s been useful!
Last week, we talked about personal disciplines, actions we can take to grow in holiness. We know that it’s the Holy Spirit that changes us from the inside out, and disciplines simply help us cooperate with what He’s doing.
Now, holiness isn’t just an individual matter. God is a God of holy love, and He wants us the world to become holy again. And He wants us to help Him accomplish that. That’s why He created the church.
To be clear, the word “church” can mean a lot of things. It can mean the building we’re in, or the property we’re on. It can mean the people we’re surrounded with. It can mean the collection of churches that we’re a part of. It can even mean the collection of all the churches of all time.
Today, we’ll be talking about the church largely on the local level. We’re talking about the group of believers you spend your time with. it’s not really about the building: it’s about the body of Christ. Why do we call the church the body of Christ?
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.
-1 Corinthians 12:27-28
This verse is where we get that idea. This chapter is a great description of what the church is all about and how it works. Paul uses the metaphor of the human body to describe us. Like the parts of a body, we all have different functions. We have a variety of gifts and abilities and even perspectives that we bring to the body as a whole. Each of us is unique, and together we form something truly great.
When we come together, we form Jesus’ body on Earth. To do His work. Here’s how Paul puts it earlier in the chapter:
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a] and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.
-1 Corinthians 12:7-12
The church is meant to carry out Jesus’ work. It’s for the good of those within the church, and for everyone else, too.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
When we follow Jesus’ model for what the chuch should be, amazing things happen. When we follow the Holy Spirit together, we become what we should be. We gather together so everyone’s gifts can benefit everyone else. When we come together as the church, our gifts find their proper place. Teachers need people to teach; prophets need people to hear them; encouragers need people to encourage.
God gave each of us our gifts for a purpose: as Paul wrote, “for the common good.” As the church, we can bring our resources together so that the Holy Spirit can coordinate them. We’re unified in God’s purpose. That’s what Jesus wants for us. In fact, He prayed that specifically for us:
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John records a prayer that Jesus prayed not for them, but for us. And of all the things that He could have said, that’s what He prayed for us: unity. When we’re together, guided by the Holy Spirit, we can accomplish what God meant for us to do.
The church is a means of focus. We can concentrate our gifts to serve God. We can focus our attention on Him in worship. We can coordinate with each other to serve one another and the world. As Pastor Michael would say, the church is a collection of resources for God’s work.
This may be a good time to bring up a difficult fact: sometimes the church doesn’t do its job very well. A lot of us have been hurt by the church at some point. Some of us are judged unjustly. Some of us have had confidences betrayed. Leaders that should protect and nurture us end up hurting or betraying us.
And besides that, we don’t always do a great job of living holy lives on an individual basis. That hurts the image of the church, too. When we are known for hate, rather than love. When we serve ourselves before we serve others. When we hoard wealth while complaining about how materialistic society is. When we make our own culture to be separate from the world, then act like everyone else on every day but Sunday.
Jesus says that the church should be easy to identify, but not by any of those things.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
To that end, God has given us disciplines that we can engage in together. As with our personal disciplines, the purpose of corporate disciplines is to connect better with God. We engage in worship, recognizing God for who He is and praising Him for it. We do that not just through song, but merely by meeting together and giving Him our focus. We serve people by gathering our gifts and money, and giving them generously. In this way, we show the love of God to people inside and outside the congregation.
And together as the church, we can help one another grow in personal holiness.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James reminds us to pray for each other because it’s powerful. Again, we can attest to that. But look at the first part: there’s also power in confession. When we’re real with each other and hold each other accountable to greater personal holiness, it helps us grow. That’s the kind of thing that takes the love and unity that Jesus prayed for. But I can tell you, it’s amazing how helpful a fellow believer’s perspective is when you want to grow.
Our mission at Crossroads is — we hope — the distilled essence of what church is all about. Connecting, teaching, multiplying, and reaching. We connect people directly to God. We teach them to follow Him. We help unbelievers become believers, then followers, then leaders. And we take the message of truth into the world by every means we can. And we as the leadership really hope that you don’t think of us as the church. No, we want you to think of yourselves and everyone else here as the church.
Posted on April 4, 2012, in Christianity, God, Holiness, The Bible and tagged beliefs, Bible study, Christianity, Church, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, religion, spirituality, The Bible. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.