I’ve been rediscovering the essentials of the faith, a discipline I should be doing regularly. Right now, I’m digging into what Jesus called “My church.”
To begin with, I am reading through Charles Colson’s classic Being the Body. Last night, I read a good chunk in it and tonight I am taking notes. My hope is to go through this with our community in September.
Here are some excerpts about the definition of the church. It’s not even close to everything, and does not fully define it like Colson does throughout the book.
In direct response to Peter’s confession, Christ announced: “On this rock I will build my church.”
And to that church He promised a vast grant of authority, which He called “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
“Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” Jesus said, “and whatever you lose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The church was to be His instrument on earth, and whatever was done in His will would have eternal significance and consequence.
Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession was to announce that He would build His church. And from that declaration we learn four crucial lessons about the church.
First, the church is not a building. An ekklesia was a gathering of people. For the culture at large, ekklesia meant a public assembly of citizens. It was used when they were “called out” of the city to vote. Through its Hebrew counterpart, it also meant those whom He brought together and called by His name. The people of God.
All references to the church, including the metaphorical “body” and “holy nation,” refer to God’s people.
Second, the church is more than simply a collection of people; it is a new community. Many modern Christians see the Christian faith primarily, if not exclusively, as the gospel of “Jesus and me.”
According to Scripture, Christianity is corporate. This is why we speak of a body with its different parts, the community of the redeemed, the holy nation and royal priesthood—or, as Carl Henry calls it, “the new society of God’s people, the new society of the twice-born.”
The church is not a civic center, no social club or encounter group, not Sunday morning meeting place. It is a new society, created for the salvation of the lost world, pointing to the kingdom to come.
And if we properly understand the exchange between Peter and Jesus and the rest of Scripture, we come face to face with a truly staggering truth about the nature of this new society: It is so dear to our Lord that He purchased it with His own blood.
If we really comprehend that awesome, terrifying fact, it will cause any petty divisions or self-centered focus to fall away. We should fall to our knees in gratitude.
For we are part of the Body for which Christ died!
Therefore, the church belongs to God. He bought it at a most extravagant and painful price. But how often have you heard of a pastor or a board of elders or deacons say “my church” or “our church”?
“I will build My church,” said Jesus. Those unequivocal words should be posted over the entrance of every church building on the planet.
By His power, the church will triumph. “The gates of hell will not prevail against it,” Jesus promised. Ultimately, Christ’s new community of called-out people will triumph over the forces of sin and evil.
But this also has to be taken as a commission. We can’t sit back and wait for final victory. This is a call for the people of God to be a holy people, to stand against evil, and to fulfill their Sovereign’s demand for justice and righteousness in the world today. Right now, wherever we are.
When the people of God understand this commission, then the church becomes the church.
How do we define the church? To most of us, the church means our own denomination or the congregation where we worship on a Sunday. So how does that relate to what we have just been talking about this called-out community of God’s people? What’s the relationship between the worldwide church and the particular place where we worship? And is everyone sitting in the pews on Sunday morning part of the church?
The word ekklesia does not help us with these distinctions because in some places in the New Testament it refers to all of God’s people in a particular region or city or worldwide, in others it designates a local congregation meeting in a private home, and in some cases it means a collection of representatives of local churches meeting to conduct business. No distinction is made in Scripture because, unlike modern Christians, the New Testament writers believed that to be part of the church in one aspect was to be part of the church in all aspects.
Christians, from the earliest creeds onward, have confessed to being part of “one holy, catholic, apostolic church.” This is the Body of Christ, all true believers of every denomination and tradition.
Only by belonging to a visible community of faith can individuals truly make visible the reality of the Church.
From the beginning it was clearly God’s plan that the Body would be made manifest to the world by gathering into confessing communities to fulfill His mission—that is, to administer the sacraments, preach the Word, and make disciples. Thus, immediately after Pentecost, He established the pattern: Individual believers were to gather in particular communities.
*Excerpts from Pages 40-44 | Being the Body: A New Call for the Church to be Light in Darkness By Charles Colson