The Only Revolution in Town
After a series of revolutions produced one government after another but no change in his nation, a man said: “We don’t need any more new governments. We need new people.”
The true church is a community of people who have been redeemed by Jesus and are in the process of being transformed by Him.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17).
As new creatures in Christ, we are sharing in the only revolution that ever made anything new. Only Jesus can make new creations out of the old. Now we partner with Him in His work of new creation.
This is what a church is: new creations in Christ.
This is what a church does: sharing the life-transforming ministry of Jesus.
The church — it’s the only revolution in town.
After Jesus offered Himself as the holy Lamb of God for the sins of the world, after He rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples, He ascended to Heaven. But He left behind a group of people on earth to continue His Kingdom purpose.
That group of people is called the church. The New Testament word for church is ekklesia, comprised of two Greek words, ek, meaning out of, and kaleo, to call. The usual translation is church, congregation or assembly but the most literal translation is the called out ones.
What are we called out of?
We are called out of slavery to a world which seduces, oppresses and trashes people. We are called out of bondage to sin and self destruction. We are called out of the brokenness and dysfunction which we have internalized because of our own sin and the sins of others against us.
Called out also implies called into.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:13,14). We have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
We are called out of relationship with this world system, called into relationship with the living God; called out of rebellion against God, called into righteous fellowship with God; called out of sin, called into holiness; called out of a value system which results in self destruction, called into friendship with a God who saves, delivers, heals and restores our lives. Called out of death — the dying of hopes and dreams and gifts and eventually the death of the body and everlasting separation from God; called into new creation, resurrection, fellowship with the eternal Creator, sharing with Him in the ongoing work of new creation.
We are called out of this world system, called into a living relationship with a living God. This relationship is not lived out alone but with others who also have come out of this world system. We live our new life in Christ in the context of a community of faith — the church.
In the doctrinal confession known as the Apostle’s Creed, we profess, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” That is not a reference the Roman Catholic church — this is catholic with a little c which means universal. We believe in a church that is universal in space and time, a church that stretches beyond our own property, doctrine and generation, a church which includes believers across the world and across time.
We profess, “I believe in the communion of the saints.” Communion refers to relationship, the act of joining together for worship, prayer, fellowship, ministry. But this is a communion not merely with those in our own place of worship. We are connected to all believers in all places on earth. We are connected to all believers in all times and beyond time. Our communion reaches back to the Upper Room in Old Jerusalem. We reach beyond time into the New Jerusalem.
Because the church is universal, it is all inclusive. In Acts 2 we read of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost, after Peter preached his first sermon, three thousand believers were added to the church. Included in that multitude were men and women, young and old, Jew and non Jew, African, Asian, European — every race and culture were included in the church that God created that day.
The church is universal in space and time, including every tribe and language and nation. It is the community of those called out of the world system, called into living relationship with the living God and with one another.
Because the church is a community of living people formed in living relationship with a living God, it’s not surprising that none of the New Testament pictures of the church are organizational. They are always organic. The church is not an organization. It is an organism, a living entity.
Look at the different New Testament pictures of the church:
Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches” (John 15:5).
Paul said that we are the Body of Christ and Jesus is the Head (I Cor. 12).
Peter said that we are a tabernacle of living stones and Jesus is the cornerstone (I Peter 2:4-7).
Paul and the writer to the Hebrews add that we are the household of faith, Christ’s household (Gal. 6:10 Eph. 2:19 Hebr. 3:6).
The church is an organism, a living entity which derives its life through living union with the living God. We enter the church as we enter a living relationship with the Lord. We become members of the church universal when we come to Christ, placing our faith in Him as Lord and Savior. He then counts us as members of His church on earth and unites us spiritually and organically with His church.
Some people say, “That's right, I'm a member of the church universal so I don't need to go to any particular church.” They are wrong. If I am a member of Christ's church, then I do need to enter into relationship with some group of people somewhere. We find in that relationship accountability, restoration, the disciplines of discipleship, teaching and exhortation, nurture and encouragement, motivation, exhortation and transformation, all of which are necessary if we are to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.
God's purpose is not just to save us for heaven. He also wants us to partner with Him on earth in ministry. Fulfilling this partnership requires an ongoing process of discipleship. Because of the abusive impact of a fallen world on our lives, because of the destruction wrought in our being by our sin and the sins of others, there is a need for ministry that brings about growth.
The church is the place where that discipling, restoring process of ministry takes place. In a covenant relationship with other new creations in Christ, we grow spiritually as they grow. There will be accountability for the way we live. There will be a flow of healing love and encouragement. There will be admonishment and correction. The teaching of the Word will provide nurture, light and life to our spirit. We share in a community of study, worship, fellowship, outreach, prayer and intercession.
All of this is as necessary for our growth and well being as followers of Christ as food and air is necessary for our physical growth and well being. Just as a branch must be connected to the vine or a foot connected to the body in order to grow, so each member of the universal church needs to be joined to an accountable relationship with Jesus Christ in a local church.
In this ministering fellowship known as the church, we discover our own particular place in God's great kingdom purpose. That purpose includes the following categories.
1. We are ambassadors for Christ:
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:17-21)
God was in Christ reconciling a lost world to Himself. Jesus was the visible expression of God's ministry on earth. The church is the visible expression of the ministry which Jesus has commissioned us to continue on earth. He has entrusted the ministry of reconciliation to us.
2. We are a witnessing priesthood:
“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ ... But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:4,5, 9,10).
To an idol worshipping world, a world groping in darkness, we are witnesses of the excellencies of the true, living God who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
a. We witness through the preaching of the Word.
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’ However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our report?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17).
b. We witness with our worship:
“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to Him” (Heb. 13:15). This sacrifice of praise is not just a Sunday activity. It is our life.
"Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor. 10:31). True worship involves our whole being, all that we are and all that we do giving glory to God all of the time. Our entire life can be an offering of praise unto the Lord, a witness of worship in a world that gives glory to its idols.
c. We witness with works of mercy:
“Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isa. 58:6,7).
3. We are a house of prayer.
Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 when He said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’” (Matt. 21:13). In Ephesians 6, after Paul reminds us that we are in a spiritual war, he exhorts us to pray, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints and pray on my behalf” (Eph. 6:18,19). We are called out of the world and into unceasing prayer for the kingdom purposes of God to be realized in our time.
4. We are a testimony to the world and to the powers of darkness.
“To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:8-10)
We are not only witnessing to the people of this world. The church is also God's instrument for proclaiming to the invisible demonic powers and principalities the wisdom of God. Through our prayers, our worship, the preaching of the Word with uncompromising power and clarity and through the living of our lives as a visible witness to the presence of Christ, we are joining in the triumph of Christ over the unseen rulers of darkness.
We are ambassadors for Christ, a witnessing priesthood, a house of prayer, a testimony to the powers and principalities of darkness.
So that we can each fulfill this Great Commission, the Lord has assigned ministry offices to His church (Eph. 4:11-16). One of those gifts is pastor / teacher. The purpose of the pastor / teacher is to equip the saints (holy ones, redeemed, priests) for the work of ministry so that the church can be upbuilt.
What happens as pastor / teachers exercise their ministry? The saints are equipped for the work of ministry and the body of Christ is built up (Eph. 4:12). Built up in what way? We attain to the unity of the faith, the knowledge of the Son of God and the mature conformity to Christ (4:13). As the church matures, we are no longer being blown back and forth by every wind and scheme of the devil (4:14). Rather, speaking the truth in love, we grow into deeper, fuller union with Christ our Head (4:15) and we are joined as a body with each individual part contributing to the growth of the whole body (4:16).
In this fellowship of those called out of the world and called into fellowship with Christ, in this living entity, the church, we discover that we are each priests gifted by God and anointed by His Spirit for particular ministries. The goal of pastoral ministry is to assist each priest in finding their gift, their ministry and their anointing from God. As this happens, the church is upbuilt and we are able to carry out our commission as ambassadors and witnesses of reconciliation.
Which brings us to a closing question: why doesn't the all powerful God, by Himself, destroy demonic powers and put away evil on earth and proclaim His kingdom? Why does He need a church?
In the beginning when God created man, male and female, He gave them authority on this planet, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness and let them rule over (the creatures of the earth)” (Gen. 1:26). And also, “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it’” (1:28).
“Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). The word cultivate, abad, has to do with service. The word keep, shamar, has to do with protecting.
Humanity was created to rule and subdue the earth in the sense of cultivating, serving and protecting God’s creation. Infused in this commission is the concept of stewardship.
The Psalmist reminds us,
“What is man that you take thought of him and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than God and crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:4-6).
“The heavens are the heavens of the Lord but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115:16).
Humanity was created to be God’s stewards on earth. When humanity fell to the temptation of the Evil One, authority on earth was passed over to Satan.
Jesus did not dispute Satan's claim to be the ruler of this present darkness. The Apostle John reminds us that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19). But on the cross Jesus disarmed Satan, broke His power. All who come to Christ in repentance and faith are redeemed from slavery to sin and death, delivered from the kingdom of this world and commissioned to go forth proclaiming and establishing the victory of God:
Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
The same creatures who fell from grace, who lost authority as stewards of earth, the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, are those commissioned to go and proclaim the Good News that we can be delivered from this world system and translated into the kingdom of God, born again as new creatures, as resurrection children of the eternal God.
The church is God’s instrument of ministry in this world.
A church was sensing a call from God to reach into the local university and share Christ with the students. There was a lady in the church named Ivah who had a ministry of prayer but she wasn't sure how to pray for the campus ministry. So the leader of the campus outreach shared their needs with her and explained how to pray for the ministry at the university.
There were students who wanted to be part of the outreach, wanted to share their faith but they were not sure how. So the pastor taught them how to share their faith with other students.
Every time anyone was getting ready to witness to another student, any time there was an outreach event planned, they would tell Ivah and she would immerse herself in prayer. One student, Wayne, said to Ivah, “Next Tuesday about noon I'm going to witness to a student named Doug. Could you pray for us about noon?” She prayed and Wayne witnessed.
Several months later a young man came down the aisle of the church and gave his heart to Christ. The pastor introduced him saying, “This is Doug. He's part of our family now.”
Who led Doug to Jesus? Was it Wayne? Was it Ivah? Was it the campus outreach director or the pastor? Who led Doug to Jesus?
The church, the body of Christ, led Doug to Jesus. The witnessing team was like the hand of Christ. Those who prayed were like the heart of Christ. The pastoral staff that trained them was like the back bone, communicating the thoughts of Christ.
That church was the body of Christ reaching into the university and sharing the love of Christ. In order for this to be done, every part of the body had to be in its right place and functioning together as a unified body. It was not an organization that reached that young man. It was a living organism, the church, the body of Christ.
A. So what is a church?
1. The church is the creation of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). It is Jesus who builds His church, puts it together, gives it life and sustains it. It is His church and His alone. This creation is called the body of Christ. It is a living body, an organism with many members (I Cor. 12).
2. Believers are placed by the Holy Spirit in the church, the body of Christ, like limbs and organs of the body (I Cor. 12:18). It is God who places us where we need to be. God knows the purpose He has for each of us, the gifts He has given us. He places us according to His wisdom.
3. Each member is gifted by Christ and placed in the body as a minister. Jesus wants to release His ministry through His church and He does this through each member of the body. Just as the human body has different members — eyes ears, feet, hands — each having a function, so with the church.
There are two potential problems that we need to guard against:
One is the spectator problem. There are no passive members of a human body or a church body. Each member has a function. Jesus wants every confessing believer to have an active place of ministry in the church. People who attend a church but are not involved in active ministry as members of that body are missing the most exciting, fulfilling part of knowing Jesus.
We also need to be careful to allow Christ to place us in the body where we need to be. When we get out of place we spread confusion and strife.
4. The members of the body are interdependent. Just as hands need the eyes and the eyes need the hands, so in the church the various members are dependent on one another. In the outreach we described, the outreach team needed to be trained and needed prayer support. One ministry could not function without the others.
B. Christ is the Head of the body and He raises up Spirit-directed leaders:
1. Leaders assist the church in identifying what God is doing in the world. God is at work everywhere and is continually inviting His people to share in His purpose. We don't look for things to do. We look for what God is doing and adjust our lives to join Him. Spirit directed leaders help a church to watch and listen, to discern the invitation of God and to make the necessary adjustments so we can partner with God.
2. Leaders equip people for ministry: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11,12). As leaders equip the members for ministry, the church is built up.
C. The church is on mission with God.
The living God is living through the body of Christ to accomplish His purpose in this world. Therefore, relationship with God is more important than ministry. Since we are on mission with Jesus Christ, since He wants to release His life through His body, then the quality of our relationship is more important than anything we could ever do for God. Jesus said, “Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4,5).
The church is God's creation, the body of Christ entrusted with the ministry of Christ. But it is not that we do anything for God. It is God living through His church, God accomplishing His eternal kingdom purpose through His church.
Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). When a church welcomes the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ in its worship, in teaching, in fellowship, in witness and in its daily living, a watching world will be drawn to Him.