Posts Tagged ‘church’

He Wants to Build What?

You are likely familiar with the quote from Jesus: “on this rock I will build my church…” (Matthew 16:18) and, of course, we all know what a church is. But what if you were in that group, nearly 2000 years ago, that first heard Jesus say it? What would you have thought he meant? What expectations would he have raised? Hearing Jesus’ promise through the ears of his first hearers gives us a new and helpful perspective.

As I said, we all know what a church is. We hear the word church and think of the white steepled building we pass on the freeway and the stained glass adorned brick building downtown. Not that we are focused on the building. We are focused on the people that meet there, their creed, and their religious affiliation. That is what the word means to us in our society.

But, just as Jesus certainly was not talking about building a physical structure, neither was he speaking of some sect or denomination as we think of church today. When Jesus said “church” his disciples did not think of a religious group that meets down the road. That’s our interpretation. Their interpretation would have been based on their experience of the word. In the Greek and Hebrew languages, it stresses the idea of a group called together for some specific purpose. You can look at Acts 19 where the same word is used of the Ephesian townspeople assembling, both as an angry mob and as a legal forum (vs. 32, 39, 41). The word in these instances is translated “assembly” rather than “church” because this was certainly not a church!

So Jesus’ phrase, “I will build my church,” is synonymous with “I will call together an assembly.” And that fits the religious background of the Jews. The prophets had often spoken of the time to come when God would make a great assembly. Frequently the Lord mentioned gathering Israelites back from captivity (e.g., Isaiah 11:11-12). He also spoke of gathering “yet others to him” (Isaiah 56:8) and making a people for himself where there once was “not my people” (Hosea 1:10, cf. Romans 9:25-26 and 1 Peter 2:9-10). So the Jews were expecting a Messiah that would gather people from all nations into the house of the Lord (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:2).

That gives me a different way to look at the word church. Yes, I know that it still has the meaning of a religious institution or even a religious meeting place to those of the society around us. But I also know that Jesus and his apostles who carried his message to the world were trying to build a very special entity: a gathering of all who love God and accept their place as his people in submission to him. Jesus built one gathering for one people who will disregard all worldly barriers to fellowship and harmony.

The Church Christ Envisioned

“This church (the local church that each Christian should join) must look like the one that Jesus envisioned when he built the church.” (Howard Norton, longtime missionary in Brazil, in The Christian Chronicle, August 2011, available here) This quote led me to think of the following:

That is our plan. To build, be, develop, grow and belong to the church Jesus envisioned. That is one of the reasons we choose the name Church of Christ. That is why we base every decision on what Jesus and his apostles said and wrote.

And, since we base our practices completely on what is written in scripture, we have some practices that differ with the majority of churches. The conviction to follow the Bible only, completely, and absolutely has led us to teach adult baptism as opposed to baptizing infants, a capella music for worship as opposed to any mechanical instruments, and congregational autonomy as opposed to organization in synods, dioceses, etc.

We look strange to some, but the church looked strange to those who saw her first built, too. The breakaway from Old Covenant ritual and the avoidance of societal habits estranged the early Christians from other religious folks. Note that Peter called them strangers, foreigners, aliens (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11).

Not that we are different just for the sake of being different. But because we do not allow the world around us to change our allegiance to what the Bible dictates, we will continue to look strange. Let’s just make every effort to have that look mirror the vision Christ had when he built his church.

Buying a Church

The Associated Press reported May 18 the story of Dwyane Wade and his mother. Wade plays for the NBA’s Miami Heat and has recently used his large paychecks to purchase a few things for his mom. Most people wouldn’t think this worthy of national press coverage, until they find out that one of the items Wade purchased was a church.

Now, there is a whole host of things wrong with this picture, but first, in fairness, let’s notice the good thing. The reason he purchased a church for Jolinda Wade is to support her in her new life. Ms. Wade did not raise her son. She was the stereotypical junkie, using and selling drugs, hiding from the law and not fulfilling her responsibility to her family. But she was converted to a religious life and got herself turned around, even to the point of ministering to other inmates. She continued her ministry after jail, hosting church meetings of her group, mostly ex-cons, in a small rented room.

Her son had not felt it proper to give gifts to his mother until her new life. He then gave her transportation, a roof over her head, and a place for her ministry to expand. As the news report puts it, he bought her a church. It’s a great human interest story. I’m not at all surprised it made several sports pages (e.g., ESPN, NBC Sports, Fox Sports).

But the idea that someone can buy a church is just wrong. It’s an example of improperly using language. Of course, words are used improperly everywhere. But we need to be sure we are not falling into the trap of believing that the church is a building that sits at the corner of Balfour and Walnut. It isn’t. That would be using the term church incorrectly. The church is not established by someone putting up a building. This can be easily understood by looking at what happens when another entity buys what was once church property. I know of several that have become office buildings, some homes, etc.

Another problem with this scene is the idea that a group is not really a church until it owns a building. The AP article is worded in this way. It shows a worldly misunderstanding of a Biblical idea. A church may be looking for a place that will make its work easier or more profitable. But the place isn’t the church. The people who are following Christ are the church.

But even if one knows that it’s the people that are the church, some think a person can own that church. It’s “Pastor So-and-So’s” church. When you read of influential preachers of the past, it is often reported that “his church” was at some certain place. Often this identity becomes so strong that it is called his church long after the person has passed on.

But sometimes, it actually is true. “The Crystal Cathedral” houses a church that was founded by Robert Schuller. It may be run by a board of trustees, but most people consider him the owner and director. I was acquainted with such a group in Illinois. The “founding pastor” made all the decisions and set the direction for the group. He passed ownership of the pastorate on to his son. It truly is his church just as “Praise Temple” truly is Jolinda Wade’s church. She (and an associate pastor) sets the rules as to what that church shall be.

And that last sentence really gets to the heart of the matter. The church belongs to the one that establishes its doctrine. The true church belongs to Christ. He sets her doctrine. You can tell if a particular church is Christ’s church by looking at who sets its doctrine. If it is not fully led by him, it is not his church.

Now, it’s true; some person or group has to make the decisions for a church here on earth. But that doesn’t mean Christ can’t establish that church’s doctrine. He has spoken to all the doctrinal matters with which a church needs to be concerned. One simply needs to study his Bible to see what Christ planned. The inspired writers of scripture were led by the Holy Spirit to give us precisely what we need. Let’s all turn there and make all of our churches truly belong to him.

Jesus and Slavery

I was reminded this morning that many have criticized Jesus because he did not confront the institution of slavery during his lifetime or through the leaders of the early church. Undoubtedly Jesus knew that a myriad of evils were associated with slavery, yet he found himself focused on another subject. So he never said anything about slavery.

In view of Jesus’ silence on slavery, it is interesting how the inspired writers of the New Testament treated the subject. Mostly I find it interesting because modern religion has chosen to treat it much differently. Modern religion has decided to be the driving force of social change and slavery is one of the issues they feel must be addressed.

Jesus and the writers of the New Testament did not see the church as the catalyst of social change. They instead saw the church as a separate and vastly different society where people could relate to one another in God defined ways no matter how society defined their role. The church is designed as a place where the slave knows freedom and the master learns servitude. The church is a place where the weak find strength and the strong confess weakness. The church is the place where all are equal in hope, in need, in love, and in requirement, no matter what the world says about them.

It would be grand indeed if all the world accepted every person with equal rights and privileges. There would be no ownership of human beings. There would be no discrimination in hiring or housing. There would be no deceptive business practices.

Some of these problems have lessened and it is greatly due to the example given by the church. But we are not going to completely eradicate these diseases by campaigning in the social arena. As long as there are people that won’t join God’s family and strive for perfect living, these blights will remain.

We must continue to provide a place where none of those things exist. Jesus did not die to create a perfect earth. He died to create sinless people. The gathering of those sinless people is the church.* It is there that we can show the world what is the proper way to live. It is there that pure love can be practiced. People will think we are strange; so much so that the apostle Peter declared us aliens in the world!**

Jesus taught people how to be a part of that new society, how to find peace of mind, joy of living, and freedom of heart. They could have all of those blessings even while they were slaves. We can have all of these blessings even while we suffer from illness, deal with poverty, or whatever other of the evil human conditions you find yourself in. If Jesus had attacked evil social institutions, we would feel that they were the cause of our unrest. It’s not what others do to us. It’s not our physical or social circumstances that cause our emotional turmoil. It’s the absence of God due to our own sins.

That can be changed. We can be so high that nothing in this world can bring us down (Romans 8:35-39; 2nd Corinthians 4:6-10). I do pray for evil to be stopped. But so much more I pray we can know God’s joy in spite of this evil world.

Footnotes:_____________________________________

*Sinless only because Jesus’ blood washes us clean.
Those washed clean (saved) are added to the church by God (Acts 2:47) and are expected to continue in fellowship with each other (1st Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 2:14, 19, 4:2-3; Hebrews 10:24).

**1st Peter 2:11, NIV; King James says “strangers and pilgrims”