Everyone knows what a church ought to be like. It really doesn’t matter whether a person has ever been a church goer or not, they have a definite opinion of what every church ought to be like. Even when I talk with those who are atheist I’ve found they are certain what every church should look like and are definitely convinced that there are no churches in existence that really looks that way. One might jump to the conclusion from all of this that everyone has the same opinions about what a church should be like, but that would be a big mistake. While everyone has an opinion on the matter, there are huge differences of opinion on what each church should be and do.
I’ve had the experience in the last month of meeting with a group of young people in their twenties on Sunday nights to visit and hear where they are and what they are thinking. At the same time I teach a Sunday morning class each week for people who are empty nesters and are anywhere from 50-80 years of age. Often it seems in listening to the different groups discuss things that they are coming from two entirely different worlds and can’t even understand what the other side feels.
In the last meeting I had with the young group as many strong opinions were being presented on what the church should be like, with very powerful emotions in expressing their views, I suggested to the group that we take a close look at the Book of Ephesians, the letter which talks most freely about what God wants in a church and see if what we want coincides with His wishes. Since the Bible most often refers to the church as “The church of God” it makes sense that His wishes for the church are the most important ones. If we are thrilled with what a church is and does, but the Lord is not pleased and actually angry at the church, nothing in our thinking will change what God thinks. He is the judge that one must face one of these days and so it is vital that we please Him.
Since I asked them to take a fresh look at Ephesians with a pen and paper writing down what they found, I have been doing the same thing myself. When one approaches the Book of Ephesians in that light it is astounding what a person sees.
One thing that stands out is that you can’t think of church without thinking and focusing on Jesus Christ. At the very beginning Paul lays out the fact that God had planned from before creation how he would save people when they failed him and turned to sin. That plan started with the reality that every spiritual blessing God would give would be in Christ. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world. He chose what kind of people we would be if we were right with him. We would live holy and blameless lives before him in love. In Christ would be redemption and forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit as a deposit on what God will give us in eternity.
All through chapter one he discussed the wonderful blessings to be found in Christ. Then at the end of that chapter, he ties it all together in how this relates to the church. In demonstrating his mighty power that is available to us as his children “God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him at his own right hand far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put everything under His feet and appointed Him as head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:20-23)
Look at the connection points between Christ and the church. Christ is the head of the church. It is His body. But I think the most powerful point is that the church is the fullness of Christ. In the Book of Colossians that is in many ways a twin to Ephesians Paul declares that “In Him dwells all the fullness of deity in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9) In the same sense as Christ is the fullness of deity, the church is the fullness of Christ. The notion that one can have Christ without the church is as far off as the thought one could have another person’s head without having their body. So, when people become overly critical of the church and what it is doing it might do us well to pause and consider Jesus Christ’s identification with the church as His body, and think again about what we were saying.
It is certainly true that the church is people and on that people side of things the church often makes huge mistakes in judgment. But the view of the church ought always to start from the God side of it. It is true that Paul referred to the church as “The church of the saints” in I Corinthians 14:34-35 and the writer of Hebrews called the church the “Church of the firstborn” in Hebrews 12:23. What is amazing about that description is that the word “Firstborn” is plural. It isn’t referring to Christ but to the idea that all who are added by God to the church become His firstborn children. In the Old Testament the firstborn child was special and received special blessings. So God tells us that we are all firstborn children in the church.
The church belongs to the saints in the sense that we are members of it or in the sense that a child would speak of his parents and siblings as “My family.” But when it comes to ownership then it belongs to the Lord who purchased it with His blood (Acts 20:28) and to the Father in the sense that He and Christ and the Spirit are all one and He planned the whole thing.
I’ll continue to look at things in Ephesians in the next post.