The Elders Perspective - The Nature of the Church

BIO: Jim and Jane Siefert are charter members of Berean Christian Church in Murphysboro. Jim has been an elder since the founding of Berean in 1979. He and Jane spend thier time visiting children and grandchildren and treaveling throughout the Unitied States

By Jim Siefert

How would you describe the church? We all know what it is not. It is not a building. So, what is the church?

Thomas Campbell, a leader in the Restoration Movement gave the following definition of the Church, "The Church of Christ, upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to Him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians".

There is a poem titled "The Five Blind Men of Hindustan". According to the poem, five blind men go to "see" an elephant for the first time. Each one touched and described a different part of the elephant's body and so the five described the elephant in five different ways. One felt the legs and said it was like a "tree"; another felt the body and said it was like a "wall"; another felt the ears and said it was like a "fan"; the fourth one felt the trunk and said it was like a giant "snake"; and the fifth one felt the tail and said it was like a "rope". So the way you describe something depends on the way you look at it. Jesus described his kingdom in parts, not because he was unable to see the whole thing, but because we can understand it easier. Jesus describes his kingdom in the 13th chapter of Matthew. These are the "likes". The kingdom is like a mustard seed, small but it grows into a great tree. The kingdom is like yeast that is put into dough and spreads throughout that dough.

Lets look at some ways to describe the church. So, just what is the nature of the church? There are a number of approaches we could take in answering this question. We could study the parables Jesus used in Matthew 13 to learn about some of the aspects of the church he established.

We could discuss the mission of the church which is expressed clearly in Matthew 28:19-20: "Therefore go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

This is a two-fold mission. First, the church is to teach all men about Jesus and bring them to a faith in Him. Then they are to be baptized into Christ. Secondly, the church is to continue to teach obedient believers until they are built up and established in Jesus. This is the only task the church has, to bring men to Jesus and to build them into the His image.

But still, what is the nature of the church?
We could examine the organization of the church as seen in Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament considering the work of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph. 4:11), the elders(I Timothy 3:1-7) and the deacons in I Timothy 3:8-13.

We could read in Ephesians about the character of the members of the church because the character of its members determines the character of the church (Eph. 4:17-32). We could study the acts of the church: Doing good deeds (Eph. 2:10); Glorifying God (Eph. 3:20-21); And perfecting or maturing of the Christians (Eph. 4:12-16).

We could look at the dedication and commitment of the church, the Christians faithfulness to the Lord under the persecutions they went through (Acts 4:18-31; 26:10-11; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28).

We could read in Acts about the activities of the church: Caring for the poor (Acts 2:44-45); helping the needy (Acts 11:27-30); preaching the word (Acts 8:4); sending out missionaries (Acts 13:1-3); and worshipping (Acts 2:42-47).

In the Ephesians letter there is still another way of looking at the church. We can consider the names Paul uses to describe it. By statement or implication he presents it as a new creation, the body of Christ, the kingdom of God, God's household, a holy temple, the bride of Christ.

The church is a new creation
In Genesis God created man in his own image and after his own likeness (Gen. 1:26). He formed man out of the dust of the ground, and when he breathed into him the breath of life he became a living soul (Gen. 2:7).

Later God created a new man. Paul tells us He made him in His own image and likeness, "in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). God took Jew and Gentile, who were dead in sin, and brought them together in a new life in Christ.

So the church is a new creation. It is a miracle of the love, grace and mercy of God. Every part of it is new; every member is resurrected from sin, given new life, and receives the spirit of God (Acts 2:38; Romans 8:9). In Eph. 2:10, Paul says, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works."

The church is the Body of Christ
There are a number of illustrations in the New Testament showing Jesus' relationship to the church. He is the good shepherd, laying down his life for his sheep (John 10). He is the eternal king ruling his people in righteousness (Eph. 1:20-21). He is the general leading his army into battle (Revelation 19:11-16). We are part of the army of the Lord. Being in the army of the Lord has a tremendous responsibility. Every Christian must put on "the full armor of God": the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes of the gospel of peace, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. The weapon that is to be used is the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And as Christians we have to be ready to put on that armor and use the word of God.

One of Paul's favorite illustrations is found in Ephesians: The church is the body of Christ. Paul tells us that God exalted His son and, "appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body" (Eph. 1:22-23). This theme is developed further in the letter to the Romans.

"Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." (Romans 12:4-8)

These teach three facts: (1) The preeminence of Jesus; He is the head of the church; (2) There is only one body; and (3) These is diversity of function among the members of the body, but all are needed for the health of the body. The emphasis is on unity within diversity.

We are fellow citizens in Christ's kingdom
Paul tells us that before the Ephesians became Christians they were "foreigners and aliens". After their conversion they were "fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household".

The United States has been called "the melting pot of the world." The Church is even more of a "melting pot". The great host, which is the church, of Revelation 7:9 comes from "every nation, tribe, people and language". Jesus has brought Jews and Gentiles together under one rule by one King. Every citizen enjoys the privileges of this citizenship: Freedom in Christ; equality; blessings of an ordered society; and rewards for faithfulness. And every Christian accepts and shares the responsibility of this citizenship: submission to the king; maintenance of peace; consideration of the welfare of all; defense of the kingdom and instruction of new citizens.

We belong to the household of God
We are members of God's household. This indicates that we are a family. It means that God dwells in the church and He is Father of all. Jesus also dwells with us and is somewhat like our older brother. You know, when the big bully, Satan comes to beat up on you, Jesus is there to help you. Romans 8:17 reminds us that as children of God we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus. And what an inheritance that is, eternal life with Jesus.

We are the Temple of God
Paul calls the church "the temple of God". According to Paul, God is the designer of the church (Eph. 2:4-10); Jesus is the chief cornerstone; the apostles and prophets are the foundation; and Christians are the living stones making up the superstructure. Therefore the church is a living church. And it is an unfinished church because it keeps growing as new living stones or Christians are added to it. The "temple of God" describes the worship feature of the church. God dwells in His holy temple, the church, and is worshipped there. But where is it that he dwells? Not in a building. Peter says "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." The church then is a spiritual temple made up of living stones. God dwells in each believer through the Holy Spirit, which is given to each believer.

What happens to a person when they become a believer? Lets look at some before and after descriptions:

Before - You are dead in sins.
After - Resurrected to a new life.

Before - Walking in the ways of the world.
After - Created by the grace of God to do good works

Before - Without Christ
After - In Christ, a part of His body.

Before - Aliens from the kingdom
After - Fellow citizens with the saints.

Before - Strangers from the covenants of God's promises.
After - We are forgiven and granted a glorious inheritance.

Before - Without hope.
After - Having access to God by the Holy Spirit.

Before - Without God.
After - Having God within us.

Before - Separated from others.
After - Reconciled and made one in Jesus.

So, after the five blind men had described the elephant in 5 different ways, what was it? It was still an elephant. It's the same way with the church. So what is the nature of the church? There are several ways to describe it, but it is still the church, the Temple of God, the Family of God, the Body of Christ. What does it mean to belong to the Church? It means that we belong to God. And as members of the Family of God we will share in the promises of God.