Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” That same begrudging attitude seems to be the stance of many people toward the church. If they were to describe their relationship status with the church on social media, they would likely choose “It’s complicated.”
On the one hand, if you’ve spent quality time in a congregation with other believers, you can probably give a testimony about how God used the church to minister to you. Maybe you recall when someone in the church took an interest in your spiritual growth or led you to faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps a pastor or Sunday School teacher opened your eyes to a truth in Scripture you’d never seen before. Maybe church members supported you during a time of need or loss in your life. Or perhaps you can look back week after week and thank God for the spiritual refreshment you received when you gathered to worship with other Christians.
On the other hand, if you’ve spent quality time in a congregation with other believers, you’ve likely witnessed your share of power struggles, petty disputes, hypocrisy, and other un-Christlike behavior. At some point, you may have looked around the congregation and realized you have little in common with your fellow worshipers. But the bedfellows’ strangeness makes the church so uniquely potent. There must be supernatural forces at work because there’s no other explanation for why the church has survived and thrived for 2,000 years. As my mom used to say, “The miracle of Christianity is that it has survived the Christians!”
Some people might be surprised that the church’s doctrine is a core belief of Christianity. Many Christians consider the church a peripheral issue because it has become peripheral in their lives. They think of the church as just another nice organization that wants your money and time but is probably outdated and on its way to extinction. Yet, Ephesians 5:25 tells us that “… Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” If we are going to be followers of Jesus, then we will have the same attitude toward the church that Jesus did.
1. The Definition of the Church
Definition: The universal church comprises all people on earth and in heaven who have trusted Christ since Pentecost.
If you don’t have a pastor or deacons approved by the congregation, you may have a Bible study or a fellowship group, but you don’t have a church. Philippians 1:2, 1 Timothy 3, and Revelation 2-3 all tell us that God has established an organization for a local church that is not optional.
- The Two Offices in the Church Today (Philippians 1:1)
“Pastor” (1 Peter 5:1-4)
The pastor can be described in three words interchangeably: “pastor” (which means “shepherd,” and “poimen” in Greek) refers to his responsibility to his spiritual care of the congregation. “Presbyteros” or “elder” refers to the dignity of the office. And “episkopos” means “ruler” or “overseer,” referring to his responsibility to lead the congregation.
“Deacon” (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
A deacon is the second office in the church, whose qualifications are detailed in 1 Timothy 3: 8-13. The word “deacon” means “servant,” and his job is to take care of the practical needs of the church to free the pastor to fulfill his responsibilities.
“Doing God’s Will” (Matthew 28:19-20)
God created the church to DO something. However, the Great Commission in Matthew has become the great OMISSION in many churches.
2. The Beginning of the Church (Acts 2:1-3)
The church has not always existed. Neither Moses nor Abraham were part of the universal church. John the Baptist was not part of the church. During Jesus’s life and ministry, the church was not in existence. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus spoke of the church. He described it as a still future “upon this rock I will build my church.”
3. The Activities of the Church (Acts 2:42-47)
I said earlier that Jesus gave the church a singular mission: to go into all the world and make disciples. Not just converts, but “disciples”—followers of Christ who “obey all things that He has commanded us.” How did the early church do that?
My first sermon here 15 years ago was based on this passage. From these verses, I identified four activities of the early church that made it so effective in doing the one thing Jesus asked to do—make disciples. I used an acrostic that spells the word “WINS.” Do you remember those four components of a winning church?
4. Our Responsibilities to the Church (Hebrews 10:24-25)
- My Responsibility to Join the Church (1 Corinthians 12:27)
When we become Christian, we become members of the invisible Body of Christ—all Christians everywhere, which is why Paul says, “You ARE Christ’s body and individually members of it.” But we are to identify with a local body of believers with whom we become spiritually connected.
Without that connection to the church, we are like severed limbs. If you separated my hand from the rest of my body, that hand would quickly atrophy. The same thing happens spiritually when members of the body of Christ separate from the church. Our relationship with the Lord withers. God created the church not just to carry out His purpose in the world but also to supply spiritual power to individual believers.
- My Responsibility to Attend the Church (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Popular thinking is that the church exists for our convenience. The congregation will still proceed through the same order of worship, hear the same sermon, and sing the same songs, whether we take part or not. So we’re tempted to believe that our presence at church doesn’t make much difference.
But that’s not the case at all. Beyond our responsibility to our spiritual well-being, which suffers every time we miss an opportunity to worship, we have a responsibility to other believers. Now, at First Baptist Dallas, where I serve as pastor, hundreds of thousands of people watch our worship services online and participate in our iCampus ministry, especially those who are physically unable to attend church and have not yet been to a church. But we also realize that viewing a church service online is no substitute for being in God’s house with God’s people.
- My Responsibility to Serve in the Church (1 Peter 4:10)
We each have a gift; if we don’t use it, the entire Body of Christ suffers, and the church is limited in its effectiveness. For example, on the day of Pentecost, 120 disciples reached the gift of tongues—to speak in a language they did not know so that those in Jerusalem who spoke those various languages could hear the gospel in their tongue.
Yet what if the believer who chose not to exercise the gift was the one person able to speak Parthian that day? An entire group of people would have been left wondering. The Parthian visitors would have shrugged their shoulders and walked away. Every believer’s gift mattered at Pentecost, just as every believer’s spiritual gift matters today.
But beyond efficiency and effectiveness, there is a greater reason we give to the church—because the church is the only organization in the world that God created. The church has been given the highest purpose in the world—to go into all the world and make disciples.
The church should be central in our life because it was central in Jesus’ heart. Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.
That’s what every Christian should know about the church.
Full Passage: Ephesians 5:25