Intro: What is the Church?
We have spent our lives trying to be good Christians that “go to church”. However, you would be hard pressed to find anything that looks like modern day American church anywhere in the pages of the Bible.
We are happy to support anything that seeks after God but what we do here on x44 is look at what is biblical and what Jesus prescribed and then try to align our lives with that.
WATCH THE YOUTUBE VIDEO HERE: https://youtu.be/T9MnO8plwFI
For questions on this post please email: Matt@expedition44.com
Special thanks to Frank Viola Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity and specifically to this post chapter 9 reimaging oversight
Where are we going in this series? We have a bunch of topics looking at the church
- What is the church?
- Jesus’ vision for the church as a kingdom and priests (7 churches in Revelation)
- “leadership”, authority, covering
- Elders and overseers
- Spiritual Giftings
- The “meeting”
Matthew 16:18 in the NASB- “Upon the Rock I will build my church”?
In the greek we usually see the word ekkelsia/ekklésia and in Hebrew the word typically translated as church is qehelah.
In the Old Testament we have Torah. Torah explains how the community of believers might live towards a life that points to holiness and purification and eventually to Jesus. There were 7 festivals that the family attended, 3 of which were pilgrimage large community meetings and then the idea of coming together as a family each sabbath to stay on track with what Yahweh desired of you. It was a great mosaic life picture to stay on track with God as a stop Gap until the Messiah would once and for all act as atonement for sin. But the Torah continually encouraged all of life to surround God.
In the New Testament we get similar pictures of keeping your family on track and functioning in one accord as the body of Christ. But what we have turned this act into, (what we refer to as church), is likely far from what Jesus was asking. Did his disciples regularly attend church as we know it? Was Jesus commissioning Peter to build the modern church brought to us by Catholicism?
We have all heard and probably studied that the word mostly translated as church in the Bible is is ekklēsía, an assembly, but you might find it interesting that this Greek word is more accurately described in Greek as a non-religious assembly. Consider its use in Acts 19:32 and other verses. So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. Acts 19:32 NASB It is described as an angry confused mob. Well that actually might be a pretty good definition for most people’s modern day church experiences.
When we read the word ekklēsía in Greek you find it starts with the Greek word kaléō which means to call or invite, which better translates to Hebrew as qārāʾwhich is the more common word for being called. In Hebrew religious assemblies were synagogues, but this carries a problem in the first century. Synagogues became associated with Greco-Roman pagan connections to the extent that most Jews stopped using the word to describe the place where Yahweh was met. In the Greek it specifically does not mean “a religious assembly.” Synagogue meant any religious assembly; it is used far more in first century literature to describe temples for Athena or Zeus than for Yahweh. As a result, the word synagogue just migrated into a Jewish term just like ekklesia, it wasn’t Jewish to begin with.
In the Greco-Roman context it was also a meeting or a congress. A thing where all members participated in. An example is in Athens, which was a democratic city, when they would gather to discuss the things of the city it was called and ekklesia. They would sit in a circle facing each other and work together and all would participate.
The reason the word ekklēsía is (rightly) used is because it meant “the called-out ones.” It is an invitation, particularly focused on God’s provision of salvation (which in Hebrew is better described as an exodus or rescue). To be part of the body that was summoned and invited by the sovereign God for the purpose of rescue from immediate danger. But Paul repeatedly uses the term such as in 1 Corinthians 1 to take on an exodus motif.
Before you start this, you might want to watch Pastor Matts sermon here: (message starts at 42:30) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbWOkU9vrXg
The reason we want to start our series with revelation is that it’s about 7 churches living in the midst of empire (Roman) and the religious (Jewish) world as called out ones. It gives some practical things to watch out for in the churches and also things we need to strive for to be a healthy church body.
- Tecnically it is “Revelation”, not revelations. It is the Revelation of Jesus (Rev 1:1)
- This is being recorded by John (the same John as 1-3 John and the gospel of John).
- John is writing from the island of Patmos.
- Oral tradition in the church tell us that John survived a political execution. He was boiled in oil and survived.
- Revelation is a prophecy… now a biblical definition for prophecy is calling God’s people back to a covenant relationship with him when they have strayed. Less than 5% of the OT prophecies deal with future predictions and even when it does it’s usually about the punishment to come if the people don’t turn back. Prophecy is about the present!
- Revelation is prophetic in that it’s calling the church to action in a dark world. It’s calling the church to be like Jesus.
- Revelation is an apocalypse
- Apokalypsis- doesn’t mean the end of the world, it mean an uncovering or an unveiling. It’s getting a look behind the curtain into Jesus’ eyes on the church and the world.
- Remember this is primarily a revelation of Jesus not a revelation of the end of the world.
- John is revealing Christ to the churches
- This is written in a Jewish genre of apocalypse which was a way of writing in the first century. We have other writings that use images like this one.
- Usually, this style of writing was to critique hostile political powers, almost like a political cartoon we might see in the newspaper.
- Michael Gorman in his book READING REVELATION RESPONSIBLY calls Revelation a theopolitical work, meaning that it contrasts God’s way: his upside-down kingdom way of life (the way of the lamb), and the world’s way: the way of the empire (the way of the beast).
- Revelation is a *pastoral letter (we hesitate in using the word pastor, but our readers understand)
- John is writing to 7 churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey)
- Some in history over the last 500 years have tried to make these churches allegorical of 7 church ages leading up to the last days. If you take that view that’s fine but I don’t agree with that interpretation. Mainly because that approach only pays attention to the church in the west and in a European and North American context and ignores the East and the southern hemisphere Church throughout history.
- If God’s word is universally applicable this interpretation should give us pause.
- We believe these were 7 actual churches living in the Romans empire and Jesus is addressing them because their witness is not reflecting his witness properly. (Rev 1:4-6)
- the way the churches are ordered in this book is based on the mail route in Asia Minor.
- This letter was written to 7 specific churches but it’s meaning is also for us today. It wasn’t written to us, but it was written for us. The message deals with a choice of following the way of the world or the way of the Kingdom.
- Jesus is displayed with an attribute that applied to the Church’s issue
- Jesus gives praise to the churches (most the churches- Sardis and Laodicea don’t get praises)
- Jesus gives a correction (Most churches- Smyrna and Philadelphia do not get corrected)
- Jesus brings an exhortation to change with consequences
- A reward to those who “conquer”
- Jesus concludes with “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
The purpose of us starting with the 7 churches is that we feel the church (especially the Western) is stuck in a lot of the muck that these 7 churches were. Entangled to the world and its thinking and structures. It would be good to identify certain things that will come up throughout our series.
Note: We’re not trying to throw rocks we’ll just be looking at the texts around certain topics and let the Spirit speak and correct if needed according to Jesus’ words and if he does speak hopefully we have ears to hear it.
How did we get here?
Like most things the church became institutionalized by merging with the world. In the 5th century Christianity became the national religion of the Roman empire under Constantine. This led to a lot of problems.
- professional clergy- Instead of the priesthood of all believers and the focus on discipleship, we had a shift to ritual and religion
- the divide of clergy and laity- hierarchy (James Dunn says the clergy/laity divide has done more damage to the body of Christ than even the most destructive heresies)
- corporate buildings/temples- In the NT we are the temple and they met in houses
- the merging of pagan holidays with Jewish/Christian festivals
- the sermon- handcuffing the gifts of the body to elevate the gift of one man
The Protestant Reformation had good intentions to fix some of these problems but in reality they kept much from Catholicism but changed some necessary doctrine.
- There is still the clergy/laity divide but instead of priest they changed the name to minister or pastor
- The kept the need for buildings of worship- seeing the church more as a place than a people
- Zwingli removed communion as the center of the meeting and make the sermon the center which introduced more disunity because now the church is not about gathering for a meal around Jesus but about how your pastor interprets the Bible.
- And more…
In modernity we’ve come to the phenomenon of the mega-church. These are built more like Microsoft or other corporate entities than how the Bible describes the church. We have a CEO pastor and boards of leaders and the church of today looks more like the world than Jesus.
Back to the Start
In the NT we see 2 primary metaphors for the church- a Body and a Family
- Wrong ideas: The church is something separate from Jesus Christ himself (Just an institution, meeting, or a building)?
- 1 Cor 12:12-30- Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. (The church is the living expression of Christ)
- Jesus to Saul… “why are you persecuting ME?” (Jesus was in heaven on the throne here)
- Paul wrote to the Corinthians… “You have divisions among you, is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13)
- Just like Eve came out of Adam, so is the relationship of Christ and the church.
- why do we have a body? It is to express the personality and the will of the head.
- The church exists to express Jesus
- Eph1:22-23- And He put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
- Col 1:24- Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
- Family is the chief metaphor for the church that dominates the New Testament.
- Wrong ideas: Christianity is an individual solo pursuit? You are saved as an individual. You read the Bible and interpret it as an individual. You apply it to yourself as an individual. This whole concept of the individual was completely foreign to the early church. They were a community and an extended family. They were intentionally corporate and had a corporate mind.
- Every New Testament letter with the exception of Philemon was written to a congregation and not an individual. Timothy and Titus were written to church planters and applied to the whole congregation. So, if we are reading our New Testaments for just individual application, we are taking it out of context. Yes, we can glean ways to live more like Christ, but it is impossible to do so without the whole “body of Christ”.
- This is why the Christian life doesn’t work for most of us… because we are trying to do it as an individual. This is why in Hebrews we see the call not to forsake the gathering of believers.
- God purpose from the beginning has been to have a corporate expression of himself… “let US make man” and “Let THEM…” (Gen 1).
- Side note- pretty much every “you” in the New Testament letters are “Ya’ll” 2nd person plural.
- God is after a corporate expression of himself.
- The church is described as New Birth, Children of God, sons of God, brothers and sisters, fathers, and household in the New Testament: Gal 6:10; Rom 8:29, Eph 2:19, 1 Tim 5:1-2, 1 Tim 3:15, 1 John 2:12-13, 1 John 3:14
- How should the church family act?
- The Members take care of each other. James 2:14-17, Eph 4:28, Gal 6:2, Rom 12:13
- Spend time with each other. Acts 2:42,46
- Show affection towards each other.
- Grow: internally (spiritually) and externally (in numbers)
- Share responsibility
- Reflect the triune God in their relationships 1 John 1:1-3,
The bulk of responsibility for pastoral care, teaching, and ministry in the ekklesia rests squarely upon the shoulders of all the brothers and sisters.
In fact, the richness of Paul’s vision of the body of Christ stems from his continual emphasis that every member is gifted, has ministry, and is responsible in the body and in the family (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:1ff.; Eph. 4:7; 1 Peter 4:10). As a consequence, ministerial responsibility is never to be closeted among a few.
This explains why the word adelphoi, translated “brethren,” appears 346 times in the New Testament. It appears 134 times in Paul’s epistles all the Christians in a local assembly are alone. In most places, this word is Paul’s shorthand way of referring to all the believers in the church—both women and men. By contrast, the
word “elders” appears only five times in Paul’s letters. “Overseers” appears only four times. And “pastors” appears only once.
The stress of the New Testament, then, is upon corporate responsibility. It’s the believing community that is called to carry out pastoral functions. To be more specific, called to
• be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
• honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
• live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8)
• love one another (Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11)
• edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11b)
• accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
• instruct one another (Rom. 15:14)
• greet one another (Rom. 16:16)
• agree with one another (1 Cor. 1:10)
• discipline fallen members (1 Cor. 5:3–5; 6:1–6)
• organize the church’s affairs (1 Cor. 11:33–34; 14:39–40; 16:2–3)
• care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25)
• prophesy one by one (1 Cor. 14:31)
• abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58)
• serve one another (Gal. 5:13)
• bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
• bear with one another (Eph. 4:2)
• be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
• speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19)
• submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
• forgive one another (Col. 3:13)
• teach one another (Col. 3:16)
• admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
• encourage one another (1 Thess. 5:11)
• warn the unruly (1 Thess. 5:14)
• comfort the feeble (1 Thess. 5:14)
• support the weak (1 Thess. 5:14)
• exhort one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
• incite one another to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
• pray for one another (James 5:16)
• confess sins to one another (James 5:16)
• offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9)
• be humble toward one another (1 Peter 5:5)
• fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7)
The modern corporate institutional structure of the church makes it extremely difficult to live out the “one another’s” of the NT.
The church is corporate and non-hierarchical in nature
Other metaphors for the Church
- A House
- We are the temple of the Spirit and living stones built on Christ
- A Bride
- All of the metaphors are about relationships – with God and each other
The big idea is that the church is not an institution … it’s an organism (it’s organic)!
- There was equality- No clergy/laity divide
- The giftings of the entire body were active to display Jesus
- They met face to face throughout the week in relationships
- Unity is based on Christ. People are accepted by God because they have repented and pledged their allegiance to Jesus. Rom 15:7. If a person is accepted by the Lord, he or she is part of the Body of Christ. On that basis alone we are to accept them into the fellowship.
- Sectarianism is a problem. 1 Cor 1:11-13. (Is Christ divided?)
- John 17:20-23. Are we taking this seriously when we divide over theological beliefs, eschatology, politics, race, bible versions, and other such things?
- Phil 1:27-28 says that our unity is proof of our salvation, and it shows the world they are under judgement for destruction.
- When we fail to be unified and have infighting the world can’t see Jesus but sees a bunch of hypocrites.
The Better picture we’ll be painting:
Throughout this series we’re going to be looking at what could be a better picture of the church. Invested in relationships rather than rituals, being a living organism rather than an institution, having all the giftings of Christ on display rather than a few gifts by a few people, making disciples rather then converts.
This cannot be done in rows… it must be done in circles, face to face
Church as we know it has become much of what Jesus spoke against. It is big business with a worldwide, organized hierarchy that resembles pharisaical tradition more than anything.
How do we get to a better place? Let me paint a picture.
Every day is completely, wholly given to Jesus and the calling to be a disciple and make a disciple by Jesus’ definition not the worlds
You don’t give your time, treasure, and talents to the world in any way, they are reserved solely for Jesus
You train up your kids as your primary responsibility and your core act of making disciples
You live intimately with Him and present deeper devotion to the king and His kingdom within your family and surround yourself with one accord of a body of believers that think the same way.
Don’t be immersed in the world, let the world find Jesus through you. Offer living water at each and every opportunity. You don’t need to drink the worlds water anymore.
Bring your gifts to and for the body each and every day
Meet regularly as a spiritual family communing with Jesus as a central strand of life together
Your best should be given to Jesus, everything points that way
Work repeatedly and regularly to present yourself completely devoted to Him (a living sacrifice) and your spiritual family of disciples
Get back to God’s ideals, perhaps 7 feasts for 7 days and each sabbath together; or perhaps that was just the beginning of what God wants. Eventually in a recreated heaven and earth we are going to be in fellowship not just 7×7 but completely. That should be the goal today too, not once a week, but wholly given in complete life pursuit. That is the thrust of the New Covenant disciple, not just a tithe, or a first fruit, but all in all the time.
What would it look like if your spiritual family lived this way. Can you imagine it? Could you survive in America? What if you had 10 families that made this commitment. Your gifts enabled housing out of debt. (pipedream, impossible? I think your limiting yourself and God) You shared what was “needed”; you provided for not only your own but the others. You all learned to live this way. I would actually venture to say that it is not only possible but is the ONLY Biblical model and is a recipe for amazing life in Jesus. You might conduct a business but it is surrounded together in Jesus. Maybe the Amish building houses together weren’t too far off from a New Testament picture of working together, they just got hung up on legalism along the way.
In short, whenever the church gathers together, its guiding and functioning principal is simply to incarnate Christ (1 Cor 12:12)