Is the Church?
Where is the church?
Which church is the true church? How do we define the church? Everyone
seems to begin at a different reference point to describe the church. The
names of different churches are indicative of this. When many discuss the
church of Christ they begin with Alexander Campbell because he wanted to
restore the church of the New Testament. The easiest thing in the world
to do in Christianity is to focus on what we are trying to do and lose
sight of our purpose. Think about several church names that describe the
There is the name Catholic
Church. The name "Catholic" means universal. The name was chosen because
of the universal nature of the church. Then there is the Lutheran Church,
which was named after Martin Luther. Martin Luther began the Reformation
movement when he nailed his thesis to the Vatican's door. He sought to
reform the Catholic Church and thus began the Reformation Movement. This
was also the beginning of the "Protestant" churches, in that they were
protesting against the Catholic Church. You must see the word "Protest"
in the word "Protestant" to really understand the differences between Catholicism
There is the Unitarian
Church, which derives its name from the desire for unity, which actually
means that anything goes as long as there is a "spirit of love and unity".
I notice as I drive around the St. Petersburg area that these churches
are so united that there is a time period set aside for "Contemporary Worship"
and a time period set aside for "Traditional Worship" offered. (?)
The Presbyterian Church
is named after it's church organization. When they protested against the
Catholic Church, they rejected the Pope, and chose to be organized under
a group of leaders called the "Presbytery" or elders.
The Baptist Church was
named "Baptist" because they practiced baptism. John was called the "Baptist"
because he went about in the wilderness of Jordan baptizing his disciples.
Everybody thinks that "Baptist" was John's last name, but it was only what
he practiced. "John the Baptist" really wasn't John's name, it was only
an adjective that described what John practiced. He was a baptizer. If
you type it "John the baptist", Microsoft Word 97 will flag "baptist" as
misspelled and give the correct spelling as "Baptist", the word processor
recognizes "baptist" as a noun rather than an adjective. I am discovering
as I type, you can't use the word "baptist" in anyway without the word
processor underlining it in red to mark it as misspelled. What John practiced
has become the focal point of his life, but John was much more than a baptizer.
He was an Elijah like prophet heralding the coming of Christ.
There is a weakness
that I see in all our church names. If we are not extremely careful, we
will get caught up in a movement, get lost in a cause and lose sight of
God. Movements often get caught up in personal desires and preferences,
no matter how puritan they may be in the beginning. Really, it is not all-bad
to become lost in a cause as long as it is the right cause and as long
as we haven't lost sight of God.
Calls Us to Recognize Christ
The first discussion
ever about the church began with one simple question: "Whom do men Say
that I the son of man am?" The discussion about the church ended with the
call "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his
cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a
man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man
give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26 NIV)
Sandwiched between Jesus'
question and Jesus' call, Jesus said, " . . . Upon this rock I will build
my church . . .." This is the first time in the Bible that the word church
is used. The word "church" is derived from the Greek "ecclesia", which
means "the called out ones". As Jesus taught the first lesson about the
church, it was only natural to proclaim the call that would make them the
called out ones, which would naturally make them members of his church.
Let us study in detail
the first discussion about the church of our Lord as we seek to understand
its full impact.
Who is Jesus?
The first discussion Jesus initiated about the church began with a paramount
question. Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man
is?" (Matthew 16:13 NIV) The discussion began with a general question about
what people thought about him.
"They replied, 'Some
say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or
one of the prophets.'" (Matthew 16:14 NIV) There were probably as many
varying views about Jesus as there were Old Testament prophets. It is not
much different from our world. Go down a street in Middle America asking
the same question. What kind of answers would you receive?
An open mind is priceless
as it allows us to view all sides of a question. We could spend the rest
of our lives just researching the different views about Jesus. But an open
mind is only priceless as it leads us to make a decision from all the information
received in our research. It is the courage of that final decision, after
receiving all the facts, which make an open mind priceless. It is that
final decision, which closes the mind for decisive action.
It may be true that
there are two sides to every question, but it is also true that there are
two sides to a sheet of flypaper, and it makes a big difference to the
fly which side he chooses.
When the angels announced
the good news to the shepherds the men took action. They went to Bethlehem
to see the Christ-child for themselves.
Supposing they simply
sat around discussing the brightness of the angelic appearance and the
wonder of the message.
Then, some 40 years
later, one of the shepherds tells his small grandson about that eventful
night. The youngster asks, "But Granddaddy, was what the angels said really
true?" The shepherd continues telling him what he has heard about Jesus,
even the reports of His resurrection. But when the lad keeps asking, all
the elderly shepherd can do is shake his head and say, "I don't really
know. I never went to see."
Many people are like
that shepherd. They have heard moving sermons about Jesus. They have contemplated
many views about Jesus Christ, but they have never made a personal decision
about Jesus Christ?
Jesus asks his disciples
a more penetrating question. "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you
say I am?" (Matthew 16:15 NIV) The question gets personal; it is always
personal. Everywhere the gospel has ever been preached persons are called
upon to make a decision about the identity of Jesus Christ. Jesus' times
were no different from our times. Pilate asked, "What is truth?" in a cynical
tone, as to indicate that truth cannot be known. In any age, even in our
age, where at times we have more questions than answers, we are still called
upon to answer the paramount question. "Who is Jesus?"
No, we haven't left
our discussion about the church, for the identity of Jesus Christ is at
the very heart and core of the church's existence. However, this is the
issue we tend to overlook as we discuss the subject of churches.
Call Goes Beyond Words
The words of Eleanor
Roosevelt ring true: "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words.
It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, our choices
shape our lives and us. The process never ends until we die. And the choices
we make are ultimately our responsibility." What we are today is the product
of all the choices we have made in our past, so the choices we make today
will determine what our future holds for us.
The call of the first
century church was to believe in Jesus Christ. "Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:16 NIV) Peter's
confession went beyond recognition and confession. Peter made a decisive
decision about Jesus. His confession permeated his life. He spent his proclaiming
the Christ he confessed. If we take a brief look at what Peter spent his
life proclaiming, we will be able to see full import of his confession
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Christ as one approved of by God.
"Men of Israel, listen
Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by
miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him,
as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose
and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death
by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing
him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep
its hold on him. (NIV)
Jesus' authority to forgive sins.
When the people heard
this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles,
"Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every
one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your
sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise
is for you and your children and for all who are far off-- for all whom
the Lord our God will call." (NIV)
It was the proclamation
of this message that led to the establishment of the church.
With many other words
he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt
generation." Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three
thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to
the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread
and to prayer. (NIV)
Every day they continued
to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes
and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying
the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those
who were being saved. (NIV)
As Peter proclaimed
the decisive message of Jesus Christ, those obeying were being saved and
added to their number daily. Some are still thinking that we have left
the discussion of the church, but we haven't. In the following verses,
we discover that the church is made up of those who have been cleansed
by Jesus Christ.
Husbands, love your
wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle
or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (NIV)
When those on Pentecost
were told to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, they were
cleansed through Christ upon their obedience in baptism. Christ added them
to his church.
At one time we too
were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions
and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one
another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared,
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of
his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the
Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our
Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become
heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV)
Call Gives Stability to Life
Simon Peter answered,
"You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied,
"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you
by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will
not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose
on earth will be loosed in heaven." (NIV)
Jesus Christ is the
eternal rock upon which the church is built. There is not another foundation
upon which to build the church. The creeds of men will perish. The solid
rock of Jesus Christ is eternal.
If we are being called
to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked
how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel:
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom
God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
He is "'the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.'
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven
given to men by which we must be saved." (NIV)
1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay
any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
So this is what the
Sovereign LORD says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious
cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.
There is an eternal
quality built into the very nature of the church. It is the eternal nature
of Jesus Christ that makes him a solid foundation for the church. Jim Jones
built his church but he and it are dead. Jesus suggests the church's eternal
nature in this chapter. Jesus foretells his resurrection.
From that time on Jesus
began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer
many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the
law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to
It was his resurrection
from the dead that sealed the permanence of his kingdom. The church of
the first century received its life from God. The first century church
was built upon the foundational teaching of Jesus Christ and given life
as God's Spirit lived within it.
"Brothers, I can tell
you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb
is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised
him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing
what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was
not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised
this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the
right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit
and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend
to heaven, and yet he said, "'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right
hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' "Therefore
let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified,
both Lord and Christ." (NIV)
Call Is Personal
Satan doesn't care how
many man made churches are established, but he doesn't want us to comprehend
the eternal nature and quality of Christ's church. Some are like Peter
before the establishment of the church; they only see the earthly nature
of the church and only have earthly desires for the church.
From that time on Jesus
began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer
many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the
law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. "Never, Lord!" he said. "This
shall never happen to you!" Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind
me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the
things of God, but the things of men." (NIV)
Christ is calling
us to recognize the church originated with God. The church is of
no earthly origin, but finds its life in God.
Consequently, you are
no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people
and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles
and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him
the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple
in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become
a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (NIV)
1 Peter 2:1-6
Therefore, rid yourselves
of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow
up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
As you come to him, the living Stone-- rejected by men but chosen
by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being
built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering
spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture
it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (NIV)
To become a member
of Christ church we must take up our crosses and follow him.
Then Jesus said to
his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and
take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will
lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will
it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or
what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
For the Son of Man is
going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward
each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who
are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming
in his kingdom." (NIV)
Luke's account indicates
that it is a daily call:
And he said, "The Son
of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests
and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be
raised to life." Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after
me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and
follow me. (NIV)
Peter replied, "Repent
and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the
forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--
for all whom the Lord our God will call." With many other words he warned
them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."
You are all sons of
God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into
Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek,
slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
Or don't you know that
all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that,
just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in
his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Baptism is where we
make the decision to take up our cross and follow, because it is obviously
a commitment to die to self. That is what Christ church is all about.