What is Church? by Philip John

Another sermon from my father-in-law Philip John, this one for the “Beta” service at Ashraya Church in South India.

What is Church?
Examine the following list and check if you identify with all or any of the feelings expressed below:
  • I feel more satisfied if an ordained Reverend administered the Lord’s Supper.
  • I feel we must have an Alter to remind us of the Lord’s sacrifice, because of which it is a Holy place.
  • In Church we must show more respect to God and sing hymns instead of have Rock Concert.
  • We must celebrate Christmas and have a special service on that day.
How does the Bible define “Church”?
The word Church is translated into the English Bible from the Greek word “Ecclesia” and from the Hebrew word “Qahal”
Ekklesia means an *assembly of called-out people.

The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. (Acts 19:32)

Also read Acts 19: 39, 41

And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.(Rom 1.6)

Qahal means “to summon in order to listen to or act”

He was in the assembly in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. Acts 7:38

He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” Heb 2:12

So the Church is not a building. It is a people gathered in right relationships.
Therefore in a complete Biblical sense the church may be termed an assembly of God’s redeemed people, living in right relationships with God and each other, gathered with a view to hear and do his will.
What are the Metaphors for the Church?
The Bible uses many metaphors to help us understand the corporate nature of the church. No one picture fully demonstrates this truth. Here are some of the metaphors we see in the Bible.
Body of Christ:

For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Eph 5:23

This metaphor illustrates that Jesus Christ is the “head” and that the Church is:
  • one body but has many parts (many members)
  • where every member is vital for survival
  • interdependent (not dependent nor independent)
  • diverse but united
  • where all are equal in God’s eyes
  • “organic” in nature — like cells that have life
Bride of Christ:
*For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.? This is a profound mystery?but I am talking about Christ and the church. Eph 5:31-32
This metaphor illustrates that:
  • we are espoused to Christ
  • we are to keep ourselves ready for marriage
  • we are to be faithful & devoted to our husband
  • we are to remain morally pure & holy
(c) Family of God
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. Eph 3:14-15

This metaphor highlights that we:

  • have a sense of belonging & relationship
  • God is our father and we his children
  • experience his protection over our lives
  • accept all whom Christ accepts as brother & sisters
(4) What are some of the goals of the Church?
Many Christians are caught up with going to heaven but the Church’s role is to bring heaven on earth – “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
To usher God’s Kingdom

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Rev 11:15
To restore God’s plan of “creation”

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. Rom 8: 19
To demolish satanic strongholds

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Eph 3:10-11

To encourage:
  • maturity of character
  • intimacy with God
  • unity among believers

12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:12-13)

To disciple people from all nations
Jesus said –

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.? (Matt 28:19-20)

(5) Why should we belong to a Church?
Let us look at how the Church began?
We see that the original team of about 120 disciples (Upper Room) was filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Then we read that after Peter’s sermon and prayer 3000 gave their lives to Jesus and were “added to the Church.” It may be noted that all joining is preceded by a leaving however painful it may be (Acts 2:40). Thereafter we see a pattern that as soon as people were born again, they were baptized in water and in the Holy Sprit and added to the Church.
Read Acts 2:41- 47 and note the following verses:
  • devoted to apostles doctrine (teaching)
  • devoted to fellowship
  • devoted to breaking of bread
  • devoted to prayer
  • saw wonders and miraculous signs
  • had everything in common (community life)
  • praised God (praise& worship)
  • many saved and added (witness & evangelism)
To grow spiritually we need to be an active part of a believing and worshipping community. Many have nil understanding of this and float around without being committed to any church. The strength of the early church lay in its commitment to one another. Without being joined together how will a living body grow?

From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Eph. 4:16

Jesus commission to his disciples in Matt 28:20 is to teach new converts everything about the Kingdom till it became their way of life (began practicing it).
Fellowship & Community life: “Fellowship” is a poor translation of the Greek word “koinonia.” It means to share, to communicate, to be partakers, have communion, partnership, companionship etc. Also study the action words accompanying the word “one another” in the Bible.
Love one another Bear one another’s burden
Prefer one another Submit to one another
Edify one another Confess faults to one another
Accept one another Be hospitable to one another
Instruct one another Wait for one another
Serve one another Be kind to one another
Forgive one another Be compassionate to one another
Greet one another Be patient with one another
Consider one another Encourage one another
Fellowship requires proximity, involvement, interaction, communication, openness, informality, intimacy, etc. The Bible teaches that in church life we must give and receive from each other, mutually stand with each other, and be part of the family.
Fellowship also involves walking in the light (speaking the truth).

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 Jn1:7

I cannot over emphasize the role “fellowship” plays in the life of a believer, because:
Christ is present when we fellowship together (Matt. 18:20)
I belong in God’s family with other believers

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Gal.6: 10)

I need encouragement to grow spiritually

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another?and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb 10:24-25)

We need to be accountable to someone to grow spiritually. An Elder has an awesome responsibility before God!
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving 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; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.
(1 Pet 5:2, 3, 5b)

I am obligated to serve others

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)

There is great power when people pray together (Matt.18: 19)
Incidentally, there are 2 types of Church meetings:
Celebration — The Large group that meets on Sunday morning.
Fellowship — The small groups that meet at regular intervals during the week.
We call these Home Groups.
I believe our church must grow larger and smaller at the same time!
During times of worship spiritual gifts are released where God communicates with his people. In a Home Group setting everyone enjoys greater freedom to develop the spiritual gifts God has given us. Refer 1 Cor 12.
The Great Commission — a major focus of the Church
The New Testament uses the word “believer” only twice, the word “Christian” thrice, but it uses the word “disciple” 282 times. To restore the church to her place in God’s scheme of things would require a major readjustment in our strategy. Jesus commanded his disciples to — “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20); but over the years we have reduced it to mean “Go and make converts to the Christian religion” or even “Go and make believers.” Our ministry should not be limited just to “decision-making”” but to “disciple-making.””
Who is a Disciple?

Look at the following definitions:
A disciple is one under the training and discipline of another for day to day fellowship and instruction to produce spiritual maturity and skill to get a certain job done? (Charles Simpson).

“Discipling” is training a follower who has come under discipline (of his or her own volition) for the purpose of instruction, in order to produce maturity and ministry.

*Christian discipleship is a teacher-studentship relationship, based on the model of Christ and his disciples, in which the teacher reproduces the fullness of life he has in Christ in the students as well, that the student is able to train others to teach others? (from his book, “The making of disciples” by Keith Philips).
*Discipleship is the yoking of one immature to one more mature person, as an effective means of impartation and learning.
Very important: The purpose of discipleship is not to permanently fix someone in a relationship of subordination but to prepare the person for leadership and usefulness – nor is it intended to produce carbon copies but to release the divine purpose hidden in the heart of the learner.
What are the benefits of Discipleship?
Just because a person has made a commitment to follow Jesus Christ, it does not automatically mean that he/she has erased all the influences that have molded him/her during the previous years. There is often a wrong value system under which that person was brought up. The new disciple’s mind needs to be re-programmed with Kingdom values, Biblical practice, and the work of the Holy Sprit.
What are the attitudes that hinder Discipleship*
A non submissive spirit —
We need not claim equality or promotion but wait until it is given to us. A lot of frustration in Church and our place of work can be avoided if we remember that promotion comes from the Lord and not from any human source.
Inability to receive discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it?. Hebrew 12:11

What are the attributes of a Disciple?
a) A follower

I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you. Paul to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor 11:1-2)

b) A learner (Matt 11:29)
b) A do-er

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

Being teachable is being moldable like soft clay. It is a work of the Holy Spirit “mold me, make me.”
Proof of teachable-ness is “doing” not just “hearing”
What is the purpose of Discipleship?
a) Maturity

12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4:12-13

b) Ministry & function

14 He appointed twelve?designating them apostles?that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. Mark 3:14 -15

c) Multiplication

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)

d) The ultimate intention

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death?that is, the devil* Heb 2:14

10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father
. Philip 2:10-11
4 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matt 24:14

What are the Hallmarks of a Disciple?
a) Loving others (Read I Cor 13)

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
I John 4: 8

34 *A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:34 – 35

b) Fruitfulness

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. John 15:8

c) Obedience

If you love me, you will obey what I command. John 14:15

d) Good Works

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Titus 2:11-15

Whose Disciples are we?
Primarily we are disciples of Jesus Christ and Him alone. However God uses ordinary people to disciple us. They may not be perfect but God gives them grace for the job entrusted.

11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. (Eph 4: 11-14)

Examples of – Moses/Joshua, Paul/Timothy, Paul/Titus are a pattern.
Read 1 Peter 5.
Only the “super-spiritual” refuse to acknowledge the human factor involved in the divine mission of discipleship. Actually God had given to us gifts to equip the church. Those who claim to be directly discipled by God are actually suffering from a strong case of pride, arrogance and rebellion!
Developing leadership in the Church is the KEY to sustained growth and realization of the Lord’s Commission of making Disciples.
In other words, to be part of a church is not merely attending the church services or holding a paper membership, but it demands active participation from each and every one who attends regularly. Each one must function and contribute for the whole body to grow. This is not optional but is the Lord’s command!