The Church: In Service to Humanity
Major Texts: Rom. 16:5; I Cor. 1:2; I Pet. 2:9; Matt. 28:19; John 17:21, 22; Acts 15:1-29.
This week the lesson looks at the idea and function of church. Interestingly, though this is a subject vital to the Christian faith, it is a part of Christian thought that is the least developed. in other words, it is an area of Christian theology and practice that needs some very careful and deliberate thought in order that the understanding of church, and the understanding of its function, can be well understood in a biblical sense. Truth is, a lot of what we think of when we think of church is quite highly culturally conditioned. It is not hard to see that “church,” from place to place, tends to follow societal norms and practices.
In the western world, the church is falling on hard times. Church used to be central to people’s lives not only in terms of attendance, but also in terms of morality and developing a sense of community. In fact, back in American Colonial times, the church provided more structure for society than did government, and that included not only instruction in civil and moral behavior, but also in terms of discipline. Not so any more. And yet, in view of the Bible, one is constrained to ask if the church is any less important now than it was years ago. Certainly, in kingdom terms, it is not less important even if, in societal terms, it may be.
Part of the unhappiness with church comes from the fact that the church, especially in times past, became over taken with things for which there is not biblical mandate. Church gave power to people, and people became corrupted by that power. As a result, there are many blemishes on the record of church, something that today causes people to be disdainful of what the church claims and does. For these reasons, it is important to develop a good and biblical idea of church identity and function.
We begin with the question of the nature of the church, what it is, or is supposed to be. One way of discovering that is to look at the major word used in the New Testament to designate church. The basic meaning of the word “church” is “called out ones.” The implication or intention conveyed is that the church is a community that has been called out of the world into relationship with God for particular purposes. We conclude that, in a primary sense then, that church is a community of believers. Everything else that we associate with church must not be disrespectful of the fact that the community of believers called to salvation is the church at its best. Of course, decisions made by the community will affect both the mission and character of the church, but the essence does not change - a group of people who associate together because they have responded to the callings of God.
Notice the major images or figures of speech used to describe the church:
Because the church is made up of humans who have responded to the calling of God, by its very nature, the church has both a human and a divine dimension. This makes for a tension that never goes away. It is why you can see some of the most amazing things in church as well as some of the most horrible.
Several points accrue here:
The mission of the church needs to be clear in believer’s minds. Careful study of the Bible - New Testament in particular - will reveal four great purposes for the church:
One of the questions that comes up repeatedly is the one of church governance. Governance simply has to do with the way things are done. And whenever there is a group, some way of getting things done must be devised. The big question is, how is that best done and how is that biblically done?
To the surprise of many, the Bible does not provide a blueprint for church governance. What we see, particularly in the New Testament, is believers struggling to create some means of official association between some very disparate congregations. Some things should be kept in mind here: