April 17, 2016 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Doctrine
What does the word “Church” mean? You may not think that is a very important question. Someone might ask: “Look, with all the other major doctrines like the Bible and God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and Man and Salvation, isn’t church really a non-issue? Isn’t it ultimately not that important to my life?” Well, the short answer is NO. It is extremely important.
The church is important to God, and so the church should be important to us. In fact, all of the doctrines we have studied up to this point find their complete expression in the doctrine of the church. It’s where it all leads. We may not think of it like this, but God’s plan in all of what we’ve been hearing about salvation was not just about saving people. It was about creating something called the church.
Matthew 16:18 is the first reference we have to the church in the Bible. And Jesus says there: “I will build my church.” At that time, the church was something in the future. But it was part of Christ’s work and mission.
Acts 20:28 says that Jesus died to purchase or obtain the church with His own blood.
And Ephesians 3:10 tells us that God desires to make His wisdom known to the angels in the heavenly places, and He does so through the church.
The Church is a big deal to God. And if the Church is important to God, then it should be important to us. And if the church is important to us, then we should care about the doctrine of the church.
I’m not just about the doctrine the church teaches, but the teaching that is specifically about the church. The formal term for this is ecclesiology. The theology about the church. And that come from the Greek word for church which is ekklesía.
What exactly does the word “church” mean? What does the word ekklesía mean?
Whether you have verbalized your response or not, we all have an answer in our mind. Even people who are not part of a church have an answer to that question. And many times, without even knowing it, the way we talk feeds an idea of what church is.
Some people link the word “church” to a building. That’s the idea you get when someone says: “First Bilingual Baptist Church is at 9133 Mines Ave” or “I passed by church this morning.” That might sound familiar, and people know what you mean, but it’s not what the Bible teaches about what “church” means. In the Bible, the word “church” is never used to talk about a building. If you made a statement like that to any of the Apostles, they wouldn’t have known what you were talking about.
Some people use the word “church” to talk about a religious service. They might ask: “How was church today?” or say “Church starts at 9:00.” That’s also not really what the Bible is getting at.
A third idea about church is that it relates to a denomination or some other formalized system. You might hear someone talk about the Lutheran Church or the Presbyterian Church or the Church of England. Those, also, are not the way the Bible talks about church.
So what does “church” mean? What is an ekklesía? Well, in a secular sense, the word was used simply to point to a gathering or an assembly. Literally, it refers to people who were called out for a meeting, they were summoned. And there are instances in the Bible where ekklesía is used in that generic sense.
But after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, this word begins to be used in a more technical sense. This is what you see in Acts and the Epistles, and even Revelation. Ekklesía is used predominantly to talk about a people. This is a people whom God has gathered (or called out) for Himself, for His purposes.
In fact, our English word “church” is connected to the Scottish word “kirk” which is connected to the Greek word “kurios,” which means “Lord.” And it points to something that belongs to the Lord.
The church, the ekklesía, is group called by God that belongs to the Lord. That’s important. You don’t just belong to a church. You belong to Christ. You belong to God. He called you. He saved you. He placed you in this group.
And here is something important about the way the word is used in the Bible. “Church” can be used in a global sense, or in a local sense. It can refer to all those who believe in Christ around the world. And it can talk about believers in a specific area.
When Jesus said He would build His church, He wasn’t talking just talking about believers in Israel. He was talking about the global church, the universal church. The passage we read earlier also points to the universal church. Ephesians 1:22. God gave Jesus as head over all things to the church.
But we also have examples of “church” being used in a narrower sense, we have references to
the church of Jerusalem, the church of Antioch,
the churches Paul visited (using the plural),
the church at Corinth, the church of Ephesus,
the Colossian church, the Philippian church,
the church of Thessalonica,
the church in Priscila and Aquila’s house,
the church in Nympha’s house.
This is a big deal. This is a very big deal. Because when Paul talks about a group of believers meeting in a location, he doesn’t say they are PART of the church or A PIECE of the church. He says they are the church. What this means is that every local church possesses all the same biblical attributes as the universal church.
The universal church is the body of Christ. But so is First Bilingual. We are the body of Christ. We aren’t the leg of Christ or the arm of Christ. We are the body. It’s a mysterious and amazing thing. And it leaves no room for us ever to say: “Well, we’re a part of the body of Christ, and that other church is a bigger or more important part.” First Bilingual Baptist Church is the body of Christ. Pico Bible is the body of Christ. First Fundamental is the body of Christ.
The universal, or global church, is expressed in the local church. And here’s another thing to think about. It makes no sense to say you are part of the universal church, but aren’t part of the local church. Because that’s the expression of it. There is no room for that in the picture we get in the New Testament. We’ll talk more about that later as we talk in more detail about specific subjects.
But you have to understand this. The church is the people of God for the purposes of God. In the Old Testament, the people of God was the nation of Israel. Israel is not the church. They had a different method, a different strategy. And in God’s plan, Israel rejected Christ, and now the people of God includes all nations (Jews and Gentiles). God’s not done with Israel; He has a plan for them. But right now, God is using the church. You can read about that in Romans 10 and 11.
And it is this institution which Jesus promised to build and to bless for His purposes. And it took a while for people to catch on. Even the Apostles didn’t get it at first. They didn’t understand that God would call Jews and Gentiles alike. And you see that in the first sections of Acts. Peter had to get a vision 3 times to let him know that Gentiles are acceptable and useful to God by faith.
And in the Bible, Paul refers to the church as a mystery. It doesn’t mean it’s something we can’t understand. It means that it was something that what previously hidden, but now revealed. A better term might be “secret.” Nobody knew about it before. We only had hints. We didn’t have any explicit teaching of a church composed of Jews and Gentiles until the New Covenant of Jesus.
Romans 11:25 says the hardening of Israel to make way for the Gentiles is a mystery. Romans 16:24-25 says this mystery was hidden but now has been made known to all nations. First Corinthians 2 says the same thing. The church was like a secret of God, now revealed through the Holy Spirit.
Go with me for a second to Ephesians 3. Paul says it very clearly to a church that was struggling with it. Ephesians 3:1-10.
The fact that God’s people would include Jews and Gentiles was not fully revealed until Jesus and the Apostles. And Paul explains that same mystery in Colossians 1:26-27.
The Old Testament said Gentiles would be blessed by the Messiah. But it didn’t clearly communicate that Jews and Gentiles would be on equal ground, in equal standing, with equal privileges. That was a mystery that didn’t get revealed until the New Covenant—when the Holy Spirit came upon all people, regardless of race or culture, on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. That is what the church is.
And that’s what God calls you to be a part of. God commands you to repent of sin. To turn away from a life worried about your own self and entrust everything to Jesus Christ. To cast yourself on His mercy. And the beauty of Christ, and the beauty of the church is that He takes all who come to Him.
Jesus says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest... Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God...The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out.
This is the inclusiveness of the kingdom of God. No matter what you’ve done. No matter what you are like God welcome’s you into His family, into His eternal salvation, if you come with repentance and faith. If you come recognizing your own sin and begging Christ for mercy.
Human institutions makes distinctions. Colleges may close their doors to you. Countries may close their doors to you. Families may close their doors to you. But God’s door is open. It’s a narrow door because it means you come forsaking everything else. But it opens up into an eternal joy. And the only people who do not receive it are those who refuse to come. God will receive you.
Psalm 27 is a wonderful expression of this. The writer wants to dwell in the house of the Lord. He wants shelter. He wants protection. He is crying aloud. And in Pslam 27:10 he says this: My mother and my father have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.
This is the goodness of God, who takes is all who come to Him. Come to Him. Pray to Him. Confess your sins and ask for mercy. He will take you in. ...
I hope you’ve experienced that in your own life. I hope you’ve taken that step for yourself. Because you also need to know that throughout history there is what we call the visible church and the invisible church. The local church is the visible church. You can see it. But the true church, those who will be saved are invisible. Not everyone who is a member here will be saved. Not everyone who shows up regularly on Sundays will be saved. Only those who have truly and genuinely come to Jesus Christ.
Universally, globally, the church is those people who are part of the New Covenant of Jesus Christ. Those people whom God has rescued and called out of darkness and into His kingdom of marvelous light. Those people who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.
And the expression of the universal church is the local church. That’s what you’re a part of if you have received and embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Any church that doesn’t teach the true gospel is not a real church. They are not part of God’s family. They are, what Jesus Christ called, a church of tares, a church of weeds.
So we have true churches and false churches. And no matter how flashy a false church looks or sounds, it is not a church of Jesus Christ, even if that’s what they call themselves (Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.)
But among the true churches, there is a degree as to how pure they are, how faithful they are, how strong they are, how united they are. And our goal is to as faithful as we can to what God has told us. We want to be a faithful, God-honoring church. And we want faithful, God-honoring members.
So, for the next several weeks, we’re going to talk a little more about specific functions of the church. We’re going to talk about the ordinances. We’re going to look at the practice of Membership. We’ll talk about church discipline and church leadership. And we’ll talk about spiritual gifts. Again, they will just be introductions, but they are so vital to being a healthy church.
And once we’re done with that, we’re going to talk about seven specific areas of spiritual life. And it’s these areas that we want to outline in a new Membership Covenant.
Honestly, this is what I’ve been waiting to do. This is the reason I wanted to do a study of doctrine. Because I wanted us to see how doctrine gets connected to the life of a healthy church. I wanted to address the important topics of church life. I wanted us all to be impacted by the reality of what the church is and what it should be.
So before we leave today, I want to talk very briefly about the biblical purpose or function or ministry of a church. Because it makes no sense to talk about being in a church if you don’t know what a church does.
If the Lakers call you, asking you to replace Kobe Bryant, it doesn’t mean you get to wear a jersey. It means you have a job to do. So what is the job of the church?
The broad answer is to glorify God, but the specific answer is the great commission. Matthew 28:19-20 — Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
This was not a command just for the Apostles. It was Christ’s final marching orders for the church. That’s why He said I am with you always, to the end of the age. Every church, every generation has this charge. To disciple. To baptize. To teach. To evangelize. To ensure that people are learning and living the truth of Christ.
That’s why we pray. That’s why we sing biblical songs. That’s why we preach.
In the words of Ephesians 4, pastors, elders, teachers work to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
And the body is supposed to be known for and marked by truth. We are the pillar and support of the truth. The church is marked by unity. We work together. It’s marked by fellowship. We have things in common. We go through life together. The church is supposed to be marked by worship. We sing songs and sit under the word of God. The church serves one another. We meet needs. The church evangelizes. We call the lost to salvation.
And God’s design was that we do that together.
Moms and Dads, when you teach your kids about life, that’s Great Commission work. That’s supposed to be infused and steeped in the truth of God. Whether your kids are saved or not. Whether you’re evangelizing or discipling, it’s Great Commission work.
All of us, as we attempt to honor God through our thoughts and our actions and our words in a dark, unbelieving world, we are being obedient to the Great Commission. And the church is here to help you to do that better, more faithfully.
God did not intend for you to do life or Christianity apart from the church. God intended the church to work together. There are roles. There are gifts. But we work together. And being part of the church is more than just showing up. It is participation in the purposes of God, the purposes of Christ.
Because this is not my church. This is not the elders’ church. This is the church of Jesus Christ. He is our Lord. And He calls us to serve Him.
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