Jul 24 - Who's The Church

Who's The Church

July 24, 2016

Ephesians 4:11-12

 

WHO’S THE CHURCH?

July 24th, 2016

Ephesians 4:11-12

 

An elderly lady, who had attended the same church for 25 years, resolutely approached the pastor in the foyer after the service.  She obviously had something on her mind.  “Pastor,” she said, “if God were alive today he’d be shocked at the changes in this church!”

 

As you can tell, I am broaching the subject of “the church” today … and I guess that in some churches it may seem as if God were dead. 

 

Keep in mind that when we speak of the church, there are different ways to use the world.  For example, when I say, “I am going to church,” then I am likely thinking of the church as a church building. 

 

Quite apart from a building, however, we may think of “the church” in terms of people, which is reflected in the title of the sermon, “who”, not “what.”  However, depending on our religious background, we may answer the question, “who’s the church” differently.

 

If you attend the Roman Catholic Church, you may think of “The Church” as the pope and the other powers to be who reside in the Vatican and who basically set the policies and directives that will affect every RC church in the world. 

 

If you have an Anglican background, (Episcopal in the US, Church of England), you may think of “The Church” as the Diocese led by a bishop, (in Victoria Gary Gordon at St. Andrews).  The Bishop basically sets the policies and guidelines for the churches in that Diocese.  [This is where the term Episcopal comes from the Greek, Episcopos, a word in the NT that is often translated overseer or bishop – the rule of bishops.[1]]

 

Others may think of the Anglican Church as their chief governing and legislative body called the General Synod. 

 

Similarly, if you attended a Presbyterian church, you may think of “The Church” as either the session, consisting of the elders in a local church, or perhaps the General Assembly.

 

If you came from a Brethren background, you may think of “The Church” as the elders in a local congregation, usually consisting of males only, who basically make all of the decisions and set all the policies for that local church.

 

If you have a Baptist or Congregational or Church of Christ background, you may think of “The Church” as the staff and board, or, if you’re familiar with the voting process, as the voting membership of any giving local church who meet at one to three business meetings during the year. 

 

If you’re completely new to church, you may think of the church as the people who attend or are involved in some way.

 

Whatever their religious background, those who attend church sometimes complain about “the church,” this entity that does not include the complainer. 

 

Or perhaps, someone will say, “the Church” should do this or that.  And again, those who say this, think of the church as an entity outside themselves.  

 

In fact, the church does indeed consist of the leadership, so, for example, when the church began, those who attended looked to the apostles for leadership.

 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer ….                                                                 Acts 2:42

 

Decades later, when the apostle Paul wrote his letters, the leadership included others as well, including prophets and teachers. 

 

In the church, God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracle workers and those who have the gift of healing, those able to help others, those with the gift of administration, and those speaking in different tongues.     

1 Corinthians 12:7,28

 

In the NT letters that were penned later, the common terms for church leaders seemed to change to elders, shepherds [=pastors] and overseers (1 Pet 5:1-2; 1 Tim 3:1; Tit 2:5,7).

 

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed:  Be shepherds [pastors] of God’s flock that is under your care.  Serve as overseers, not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.                         1 Peter 5:1-3

 

In this passage, those who brought oversight to the church were to do so with the right attitude and motives … they were to be willing servants, examples to others, not feeling forced to do what they were, or because they were greedy.  

 

The elders are shepherds, a term which is synonymous with “pastor”, which indicates that they were to care for others in the church with love and compassion. 

 

In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul tells us that the church leadership is to serve others in various ways but toward one end goal.

 

It was he (Jesus/God) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be shepherds [pastors] and teachers, so that they will prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the whole body of Christ may be built up …                                                                                                       Ephesians 4:11-12

 

The goal of the works of service done by the church leadership is help and prepare everyone in the church to also do works of service.

 

Note also how Paul describes the church: it is the body of Christ.  When you see this expression in his letters he is speaking of the church consisting of believers.

 

What that indicates, is that there’s more to the church than just the leadership.  Really every believer is part of the church.  So while the leadership is responsible to govern and serve the “flock” using whatever gifts and talents they possess, everyone in church should be doing “works of service.”

 

In other words, every believer is to be involved in helping and serving others in some capacity.  They are to be part of the overarching goal to build up, encourage, and help others.  This can be seen in other passages in Paul’s letters as well.

 

 

The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one of us so we can help each other…. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 

1 Corinthians 12:7,27

 

As each individual member of the body (of Christ) contributes in its own way, the whole body grows and builds itself up in love.                                 Ephesians 4:16

 

In essence, that is the answer to the question in the title of this sermon.  The church is not a building, not a denomination, it is not confined to denominational or congregational leadership, nor does it consist of only of those who attend a Sunday service. 

 

In reality, the church consists of each and every believer since each and every believer is to contribute in a positive way to others … both other believers and unbelievers.  So if you are a Christian, you are the church … even when you’re alone, or you worship God on a mountain top.

 

However, you cannot “do” church alone (where two or more are gathered).

 

Whenever two or more Christians come together, every individual has the potential to be just as valuable in their service to others as the most valuable of the church leaders – even though theirs may be a word of comfort, giving wise advice, teaching, … both within the confines of a church building, in home meetings, in the community at large, or on the mission field.  So Paul can write:

 

We [the royal we, all of us including each one] are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

                                                            Ephesians 2:10

 

The view that all believers are empowered by the Holy Spirit to actually minister to others is sometimes termed “the priesthood of all believers.”  This phrase is derived from a passage in 1 Peter 2, a circular letter to the churches in what was then known as Asia Minor, and today is Turkey:

 

You are like living stones that are being built into a spiritual house in order to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God…. You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light.                                              1 Peter 2:5,9 

 

Every believer in every one of those churches is part of a priesthood, which was seen to imply that there is no longer the kind of delineation between priests and non-priests that was the norm in the nation of Israel, and incorporated into the Roman Catholic church.

 

 [only the descendants of Levi could be priest and serve in and offer sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem]. 

 

If every believer is a priest in his or her own right, which means that it was no longer necessary for officially declared priests to offer sacrifices or mediate between laity and God. 

 

Priests no longer are the only ones who have a special anointing to conduct baptisms, weddings, funerals, hear confessions, pronounce God’s forgiveness, or lead in communion. 

 

If every believer is a priest, then all have the ability to come to God directly to ask for forgiveness.   Further, there is no need to pray to deceased saints, or to Mary, the mother of Jesus, to intercede on their behalf. 

 

[By the way, because historically conversion and baptism took place almost at the same time, official church membership is limited to baptized believers.] 

 

But even if we are aware that the church consists of all believers, why is it that sometimes and in some churches we do not feel like we’re a part, that we belong?  Well, there are a number of potential reasons.

 

Why do I not feel that I am part and parcel of “the church”?

I am not committed to living out God’s will

 

Possibly we are not really committed to living out our lives for God.  We want to have our hell-fire insurance policy, but we really don’t want God to interfere or question our choices when it comes to our personal lives. 

 

Perhaps we are running from God. We really don’t want to hear from God and somehow be convicted that we may be doing something wrong.   

 

Why do I not feel that I am part and parcel of “the church”?

I am not committed to helping out others when it is my power to do so

 

If someone has enough material wealth to live well, and sees a fellow human being in need but shows no compassion - how can God's love live in that person?

1 John 3:17

 

We don’t feel a part of the church because we really do not want to serve others or help others.  We may be willing to take from others, to have others listen to us or comfort us, but, for whatever reason, we are not willing to reciprocate.  If we are unproductive in the body of Christ, we will not feel connected to it. 

 

Why do I not feel that I am part and parcel of “the church”?

I am not connected with others

 

We may not feel that we are a part of the church because we simply don’t connect with other believers.  Maybe we are shy.  Or maybe we’re stand-offish.  Or maybe others are shy to make any effort to connect with us.  Maybe they aren’t friendly. 

 

We can also feel left out when we don’t seem to fit it.  Whatever the reason, if we do not have friends in church, it is very unlikely that we will think of ourselves as a vital part of it. 

 

Why do I not feel that I am part and parcel of “the church”?

I (or someone I love) was hurt by someone

 

We may not feel a part of the church because someone on Sunday morning, or in some Bible class or home study, or the pastor, or a Christian friend, has said or done something to hurt our feelings, or hurt the feelings of someone I care about. 

 

Whenever we are hurt, we tend to resent the person who hurt us … and that resentment and estrangement can then be moved to all other Christians.  “Well, if that is what Christians are like, I don’t want any part of them.”

 

Of course there is a problem when we paint everyone with the same brush.  I have heard it said, “If being hurt by church causes us to lose our faith, then our faith was in people (or maybe one person), not in God.”

 

So, if the church really consists of all believers, then there is a tension in it, just as there is within every one of us.  On the one hand, the love of God moves us to contribute and build others up in one way or another.  On the other hand, our human nature sometimes causes us to disappoint others and let them down. 

 

Let me shift gears for a moment and talk about what the church is like.

 

One aspect of what happens in church is teaching.  In other words, “the church” is to be a place of instruction. 

 

However, it is not like a school or college or university because it doesn’t focus on imparting information or knowledge about the physical realm, it focuses on imparting spiritual knowledge – including the way that humanity is separated from God and how God himself has provided a way through Jesus Christ to be forgiven and reconnect with him. 

 

Those who teach in the church don’t just use a text book, but base their teaching on what is found in the pages of the Bible.  And the teaching is not just to be informative, but transformative. 

 

The Church is a place of instruction but it is not just providing information but is about encouraging transformation.

 

Christian teaching is to transform.  It is to equip and help a person renew their mind in the sense of desiring to be all that God made them to be and do all that God created them to do. 

 

Be transformed by the renewal of your minds.

                                                                        Romans 12:2

 

Every person of God should be thoroughly equipped for every good work.                                         2 Timothy 3:16

 

[Let’s say someone takes a course on business ethics at university.  The course will provide the student with various theories when it comes to business ethics, it will encourage critical thinking, it will discuss case studies and the potential result of profit maximization, and it may even have the student explore his or her own ethical stance.

 

However, it will likely not motivate a student to higher moral behaviour or greater altruism in their personal life.  In contrast, that is one of the major goals of everyone who teaches in a church context.  ]

 

Also, the church is to be a place where business is conducted, mostly because the costs incurred need to be covered … salaries, hydro, property tax, mission trips, youth and children ministries, and a whole host of other things.

 

To what can we compare the church? 

 

The Church is a place where business is conducted, but it is not concerned about making a profit, but about paying the bills.

 

The church is different from a business in that the goal is not to turn those who attend into “customers” and “consumers,” with the end goal being to sell a product in order to raise funds. 

 

I know, with all of the “opportunities for given” that we sometimes are provided with in church, it may seem that fundraising is its primary purpose.  But the reality is that a church is not all about the bottom line.  We’re happy when we break even at the end of the year. 

 

I was here on Monday evening and thrilled to see the workshops in guitar, sewing and photography that we could offer for free to people in the church and the community at large.  What a blessing, what a joy.

 

In their greed [false teachers] will exploit you with false words.                                                  2 Peter 2:3

 

It is profoundly sad when certain evangelists on TV and radio are using hard sale tactics to enrich themselves.  So cynics can be forgiven, when they think that the church is only about getting their money.  This kind of ecclesiastical greed actually falls under the category of being hurt by others in the church – and can be one of the reasons why people turn away from it.

 

By the way, this is an age-old problem.  The leading priestly families in Jesus’ day enriched themselves by their access to the temple treasury. 

 

False leaders in the early church saw their position as an opportunity to get rich on the backs of others. 

 

The church is also not a business in that all people, regardless of income or social status, are to be treated as equals.

 

James, in his letter, encourages his readers not to show favouritism.  He gives the example of a rich man being seated in a place of honour in the church, and a poor man told to sit on the floor.  Those who would do such a thing he calls bad judges with evil motives (Jam 2:1-4), because both poor and rich who love God are full citizens of the heavenly kingdom (Jam 2:5). 

 

Regardless of what your financial state is, or whether or not you contribute financially to the work of the church, you are welcomed and hopefully empowered, encouraged, and challenged at FCC.

 

So imagine for a moment that the leadership and every believer actually acts in the way that the NT describes.  What would it be like?

 

Let’s say everyone uses their gifting and talents, their abilities and their measure of wealth in a way that God intended them to?  We see the Bible taught, prayers prayed, the lost are found, the marginalized are accepted, rich and poor are equally loved, knowledge and love of God increases, people who experience difficulties are helped, believers share and help both in the church and in the community at large. … You get the idea.

 

Would that not be a place where people find conviction, redemption, help, affirmation, encouragement, acceptance, comfort, courage, strength, confidence, rehabilitation, and restoration? 

 

As already mentioned, Christians are not without fault and they do have the potential to disappoint or be hurtful.  All of us say something stupid from time to time.  Or we roll our eyes at the plight of another.  Or we simply are too emotionally exhausted to be of much help to others. 

 

At other times, when we come to God we may be so broken, that we will misinterpret even a well-meaning offer of help as an insult, take advice as criticism, and think of silence as rejection. 

 

But the hope and promise is that all of us can have a new life, a new hope, a new start, a new identity, a place of service when we come in humility to accept the sacrifice of Christ as the payment for our sins and receive the Holy Spirit.  And that, in turn, makes all the difference when it comes to how we live out our lives and deal with others.

 

That is what it means to “be the church.”

 

The way that the NT describes the local church makes it clear that it was designed to be a community in which the people of God grow and flourish and serve each other and those outside the church.

 

I believe in the church because when it is the place where each believer encourages the other to embrace a mandate that will change everything:  love your neighbour as yourself. 

 

Who is the church?

 

Every believer, regardless of denomination, affiliation, race, age, background, gifting, talent, shape, size or looks.  In fact, if you and I are believers, then when someone asks us who the church is, part of our answer can be:

 

The “church” is not here to serve us.  Rather, you and I are the church, and we are here for each other and the world.

 

I am the church.  You are the church. 

 

My hope and prayer is that we truly are the church, we function as the church, and we will do so at an ever increasing level – because of how we live out our lives. 

 

 

DO I SEE MYSELF AS “OUTSIDE” OR “A PART OF” THE CHURCH?  WHY IS THAT?

DOES MY VIEW NEED TO CHANGE AND IF SO, HOW WILL SUCH A CHANGE TAKE PLACE?

 

May need to come to Christ.

May need to connect to the other members of “the body of Christ”

May need to discover how I can serve others either in or outside the church … or both

 

[1] Acts 20:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:2; Tit 1:7; 1 Pet 2:25