The Church – Athol Barnes
Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
Today there is much confusion regarding the church. What is the church, is it a building, is it a community, how many people constitute a church. Part of the misunderstanding is the multiple uses of the word church. On September 13 1911, the members attending a Wednesday meeting voted to constitute Swope Park Baptist Church, which became Grace Point. Was that when the church started? Do we need to have a 501c3 corporation to be called a church?
The church is known as a large group of people in a building set aside for the purpose of worship, or the church is a small group of people meeting in the home, and then you have the entire collection of believers around the globe also being called the church. So what is the church?
Much of the emphasis today is on what the church does in relation to social change and mission rather than on focusing on God and the essence of worship. Thus more emphasis is on the mission than on the identity of the church. In fact, today the church is viewed by many as being dynamic and flexible, changing with the culture and times. The church is seen as an event rather than a complete entity.
However if we frequently change the church identity to adapt to the world, rather than the church being a change agent in the world, how can we call ourselves a church that is based on the Bible and the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Paul was writing this letter to the Ephesian church while imprisoned and awaiting trial in Rome.
Let us look briefly at 3 images that Pau uses for the Church, namely the People of God, the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit.
The people of God; the church is the people of God, because God chose them (Romans 9:24-26).
There are several implications to being called the People of God; – God takes care of them, – takes pride in them and protects them. He also expects that his people will be devoted to him without divided loyalty. The people of God must be holy and pure.
It goes without saying that the church is not a building. Although we designate the building as a church building, it is not the church. We do not “go to church” we go to a building where the church meets. Praise God for this beautiful building, but it is not the church. We are the people of God, those who have made the personal decision to make Jesus Chris the Lord of their lives.
The Body of Christ; this is the most common image of the church. This image emphasizes that the church is the center and focal point of Christ’s activity now, just as was his physical body during his time on earth (1 Corinthians 12:27). Christ is the head of this body; (Colossians 1:18.) The image of the body of Christ also talks about the interconnectedness of the persons who make up the church. Each member needs the other. Members of the body are meant to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
The body is also characterized by fellowship. The body represents unity. All ethnic and social barriers have been removed.
Paul spells out one implication of the body analogy. It is love that holds the body together. It is each person doing his or her part—exercising his or her gift within the body—that produces spiritual growth. Every person has an important role to play in the church.
The Temple of the Holy Spirit. The church was started by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Now the Holy Spirit indwells the church , both individually and collectively (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).Dwelling inside the church the Holy Spirit gives life to the church. The Holy Spirit conveys power to the Church. Acts 1:8. The results of the early church and any church are attributed to the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to experience unity in the Church ( Acts 4:32).
In the twentieth century and in our current century, there has been a shift away from the theoretical view of the church towards a more realistic approach to the doctrine of the church. We have the theory of what the ideal church should look like, but in reality we also understand that it is dynamic and changing, based on the culture and location of the church. Problems or dynamics in certain locations affect the makeup of the specific church, as it seeks to be relevant. Many theologians see this flux as normative and even desirable. The world is in a constant state of transition, this applies to language, cultures and the church. The church is viewed as an ongoing work or an incomplete project.
However this is a very real danger, if the church is seen as a developing project without a fixed foundation, it can easily lose its definition and become nothing more than a social institution. But as we know the church is way more than a social institution. There are areas that need to change with generations and culture, but we need to ensure that the core message is not compromised. If the core message is compromised and the church becomes another social institution, then why call it a church at all.
A healthy church will be focused on reaching the lost for Christ, and church growth will result from that. Church growth is not a goal, it is a natural byproduct of evangelism. True church growth is the result of the members of the church being obedient to Christ.
Rick Warren has stated the following; “I believe the key issue for churches in the 21st century will be church health not church growth.”
So what are the evidences of Spiritual Growth?
The first evidence of spiritual growth is Christlikeness.Pastors are supposed to equip the saints unto the work of the ministry that leads to the building up of the body of Christ. I sincerely hope that you did not call me to be your pastor so that I personally will be able to evangelize all of South Kansas City. Rather you called me follow my leadership as I, through the Word, equips you to do the job (2 Tim. 3:16–17).The members of the church grow by feeding on the Word and ministering to each other. The pastor-teacher is to nourish the saints with the Word of God and equip them for service; the members of the church, in turn, perform the work of the ministry. As each Christian grows and wins others, the entire body grows in Christ. Everyone shares in the growth of the church. Churches are not built up and strengthened through man-made programs, entertainment, recreation, or “drives.” The church is a body and must have spiritual food; this food is the Word of God.
The second evidence is stability. The maturing Christian is not tossed about by every religious novelty that comes along. There are religious quacks waiting to kidnap God’s children and get them into their false cults, but the maturing believer recognizes false doctrine and stays clear of it. Are you stable? Are your feet secure on the firm foundation of the Word of God?
The third evidence of maturity is truth joined with love: (Eph. 4:15). It has well been said that truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy.
The body – this church – grows as the individual members grow, and they grow as they feed on the Word and minister to each other. Note once again the emphasis on love: “showing tolerance for one another in love” (Eph. 4:2); “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); “building up of itself in love” (4:16). Love is the circulatory system of the body. An isolated Christian cannot minister to others, nor can others minister to him, and it is impossible for the gifts to be ministered either way.
So know as we close, in order to see the church grow, remember this is a by-product of the mission of God, we need to lift Jesus up. John 12:32 ; “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Let us lift up our savior, let us make much of Jesus. Jesus is the head of the Church, Colossians 1:18; “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”