This short series is being prepared for presentation at a new work with which I am involved. It is to stimulate attendees to consider what kind of
church we should be.
Part 1: God's building.
Part 2: The Bride of Christ.
Part 3: The Body of Christ.
Part 4: Government & Ministry.
Part One: God's Building.
The first of a series of teachings by Gareth Evans.
I have been asked to teach a series on the church. Each week I shall present a different aspect of this subject for our consideration and discussion. Many today are calling us back to the ‘pure’ church of the C2nd (or their interpretation of it) but I confess I am not particularly interested in imitating that church but, rather, in finding out what the mature church of the C21st should be like. “Not the child but the mature man.”
What did Jesus say about the church?
Matt 16:18 “ I will build my church”. “The gates of Hell will not prevail against it”. “Upon this rock”.
The picture presented to us is that of a building, so it is that picture I want to consider today. Other pictures we have in Scripture are those of a bride – (speaking of intimacy, relationship, destined for marriage, reigning with the King, etc.) and a body (unity, living organism, interdependency, activities, etc.)
A building speaks of structure, dwelling place, presence, etc.
I want to take you back to an interesting story in the OT. It is recorded in several places so I will paraphrase the story.
David wants to build a dwelling place for God. (represented by the presence of the ark) (2 Sam.7:1-13; 27. 1 Chron.17:10-12).
Through the prophet Nathan, God tells him not to. Note particularly the reason (“I have never dwelt in a house made with hands”) and the promise (“I shall build you a house.”) Each subsequent time this story is told through the mouth of David or Solomon both the reason and the promise is changed! (See 1 Kings 5:3-5 and 8:19 and 1 Chr.22:6-11) The promise continues, “I will raise up your ‘son’ and he shall build a house for My name and his kingdom shall be everlasting.” Of whom is he speaking? I suggest David’s ‘greater son, Jesus.
A further interesting thought is that at the dedication of this new temple, destroyed a relatively few years later, the ark was brought in with this interesting comment – “and there was nothing in the ark but the tablets of the Law.” (speaking of the judgment of God). Where was the manna speaking of His faithful provisions and the rod that budded speaking of the new life and priestly authority He gives? No wonder His presence was seen in a thick, dark cloud! (2 Chr.5:10-14). It is true that God does agree to 'dwell' in this temple in response to Solomon's plea, but that was not His intent. So today, He will meet us in our buildings and programs, but His desire is to dwell in a temple not made with hands - His church.
Let us consider the blueprint for this building. Its architect and builder are of that great creative company, God & Son. Jesus said He would build his church. This is a future tense but indicates no stated time. Some would teach that He built it in one event at Pentecost but this I refute. The purpose of Pentecost was not to build a church but to empower it for His service. As God created man from the dust of the earth and then breathed into his prepared vessel; as Jesus was prepared for his ministry (“A body you have prepared for me” –Heb 10:5), so the church was prepared before it was indwelt by the spirit of God. God always prepares His creation first before breathing life into it.
This is literally, “the church of Me” indicating that the church must always be under His control and authority. It is not a man-made organization.
Its chief corner stone is Jesus.
Matt 16:18 “Upon this rock” – petra (a large slab) not petros (a little stone – Peter).
Promised in Isaiah 28:16 “I am laying in Zion a stone, … chosen and precious, … head of the corner.” Paul speaks of him as “a rock of offense, a stumbling block…”
Jesus is the corner stone of the foundation – the first stone in the building.
[1 Cor 10:4 “ …. and that rock (petra) was Christ.”]
Ephesians 2: 20. The foundation is built of the apostles and prophets. Evidently, Jesus began to build his church when he choose those first disciples. After a long night of prayer, he began to choose them (Luke 6:12). The Greek word for church is ekklesia [from ek (out of), and kaleo (I call)] – the called-out ones. A better understanding might have come from his words to the disciples found in John 15:16 “You did not choose me but I choose you.” [eklexamenos – selecting for myself – for my own interests – not for yours!] He has chosen the foolish things of this world, etc. (1 Cor 1:26-30). The church is made up of ‘the chosen-out ones’.
Peter recognized that they were chosen for a purpose. In his testimony before Cornelius in Acts 10:41 he speaks of the apostles as those ‘chosen beforehand to be witnesses’.
Did these disciples have eternal life then? (Consider David, Abraham and other OT saints. Did they have eternal life?) How could the disciples have eternal life if the Holy Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified? (John 7:31). Assuredly the disciples did, for they were told to ‘rejoice because their names were written (already) in heaven. (Luke 10:20). They had eternal life even then as the Comforter was with them in the person of Jesus. God had enrolled their names in heaven and had fully prepared them to receive the spirit life as soon as Jesus was glorified at his resurrection. He returned to breathe that life into them (John 20:22) and to give them power (Acts 1:8 and 2:4).
[See Matthew 18:15-17 for more evidence of an already existing church prior to Calvary and Pentecost. “Go (eipe – present imperative - cannot have a future meaning in classical Greek) tell it to the church. If Jesus had wanted to speak of a future church He would have used the future tense as he always did in such cases.]
Continuing Eph 2:19-22: “We are God’s house(hold); being fitly framed together; growing into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
We are its living stones.
Which is the most important stone in the building? Is a window ledge more important than a roofing tile?
Peter writes, (1 Peter 2:4-5), “… living stones, a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices …”
Jesus will build his church from chosen stones, which he started to call out for himself at the beginning of his ministry on earth. This is the church against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. We are co-builders “employed” by the building firm, God and Son. Paul recognizes this, calling himself a ‘wise, master builder.’ (1 Cor 3:10-17) Let every man take care how he build upon the foundation. What am I? Do I assist in the building or am I a hazard? Am I fitted correctly into the structure?
Part Two: The Bride of Christ
The second of a series of teachings by Gareth Evans.
This week we shall consider the church as introduced in Revelation 21:9.
“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
As we study the remainder of that chapter we find certain characteristics of this future glorious city, come down from heaven, that reveal it as the culmination of Christ’s built church.
V14: its foundation stones bear the names of the apostles. (see Eph.2:20)
V23: the Lamb dwells there in glory.
V27: its ‘occupants’ are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life. (see Luke 10:20)
When you consider a bride, what aspects of church come first to mind? Let me suggest some.
(A) Intimacy. A love relationship. Assurance, Purity.
(B) Preparation. The work of the ‘goel’ – the best man.
(C) Destiny. Marriage, reigning,
(D) Invitation. ‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”
How do we put these into the context of the local church? How can we demonstrate our ‘brideness’?
Surely one of the purposes we meet together is to develop intimacy with our bridegroom. The motto of YWAM is a good one. To know God and to make Him known. We might well make that our own.
(A) How do we develop intimacy?
Consider Moses: “God’s friend.” He had such a relationship with God that his face shone whenever he returned from the mountain top. Yet this face-to-face encounter created a hunger for more. He cried “O God, please show me your glory!” He longed for an even deeper intimacy with God.
Do you long to see God’s glory?
God’s reply is revealing. “I know your name so I will tell you mine!” (Ex.33:19). Intimacy with God, knowing Him, is conditional upon my ‘name’ – my character as God alone knows it. He wants to make Himself known, to reveal His name, but its measure is limited by my name. Is it faithful one or unfaithful? Trusting one or doubter? Man of Integrity or Hypocrite? He knows!
(a) So, also, our intimacy with Christ is dependant on our character. As a bride is expected to be ‘pure’ for her husband, so we are called to purity. He that hath this hope in him (Christ’s soon return) purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:3.
(b) John gives us another condition for intimacy in his first letter. (2:12-14).
“Fathers” have come to know Him ‘who is from the beginning’.
“Children” have their sins forgiven and know God as Father.
“Young men” – growing in maturity and in intimacy – are those who are strong, for the Word of God abides in them and they are overcomers of the evil one.
So intimacy – knowing the Lord – is nurtured by a challenge to holiness (accountability) and a growing foundation in the word (teaching and dialogue) and being ‘overcomers’.
(c) Intimacy also speaks of ‘sweet whisperings’ between lovers. This should be the goal of all worship. In the NT the word used almost all the time for worship – and always by John the beloved’ – is proskuneo which literally means to blow a kiss toward.
Praise & Worship should have as its ‘goal’ that its participants come to a place of being “lost in wonder, love and praise” (Wesley) - intimacy.
(B) Another aspect of the bride is that she is being prepared for a glorious position. She is not yet the ‘wife’ but longs for the marriage supper to take place. Church is not a social club but a training ground. We are in a battle and ‘the local church’ is where we learn tactics, receive our weapons, receive our food and help in times of wounding. Its members are daily ‘on the front lines’ so the weekly meeting must be a place of refreshing and healing, equipping and training.
One day she will co-reign with Jesus over a kingdom. She needs to have a kingdom mentality even while in preparation. She does not exist for her own purposes but for the purposes of the king and his kingdom.
This is the work of the Holy Spirit to ‘lead us into truth’, to prepare us for the wedding feast, to clothe us in garments of righteousness, etc. As the best man (the goel) for the bridegroom, he is anxious that we be as prepared as possible, beautiful for our bridegroom's eyes.
(C) As her wedding day approaches, a bride might well be preoccupied with certain thoughts and deeds.
Will my Lord be pleased with me? I want to please him.
Have I done everything I can in preparation?
Have I forgotten any guests?
Are all the invitations out?
(D) This speaks to me of the evangelical vision of the church. The local church must be a place where we can invite others, comfortable in the knowledge that they will be welcomed, feel ‘at home’ and where they can be introduced to the bridegroom.
Thus, any local expression of the church that would identify itself as the bride of Christ should have the following characteristics.
Desire for purity, integrity,
Intimate praise and worship
Becoming strong in the Word
Attitude of overcomers
[A question for consideration: Are all believers members of the BRIDE? Consider that not all believers are overcomers, not all will be given a crown (necessary if one would reign as bride?) [Note the conditions given in the letters to the 7 churches in Rev 2&3.]]
Part Three: The body of Christ
The third of a series of teachings by Gareth Evans
Today we shall consider the church as ‘the BODY of Christ’.
This was a favourite metaphor for the apostle Paul who wrote of it in three of his letters.
Romans 12: 4,5
1 Corinthians 12: 12-27
Ephesians 4;4, 12, 16.
As we think of a body, several things spring to mind that should show us something of the character of the church: Interdependent organs; common life; unity of purpose and function; living organism (rather than organization); indwelt by the same Spirit; etc.
Many of these are the same as we saw when considering the church as a building for God’s habitation (teaching #1).
Paul presents the ridiculous picture of any part of the body refusing to recognize another part of that same body –“can the hand say to the foot, ‘I have no need of you?”’ Christ is the head of this body, dictating all its actions and controlling all its impulses. It exists to fulfill his will, not to ‘go off and do its own thing’!
We are to ‘grow up into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when every part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love” (Eph 4:15-16).
Unity: The church as a building expresses the unity of the church, but there is something more here. Whereas the bricks that make up a building may be radically different from one another, though ‘fitly framed together’, the cells that make up a body are essentially the same. They all contain a nucleus in which is found the same DNA that identifies the whole. This is what makes cloning a distinct possibility. Without a nucleus, the cell is dead.
Within each believer, of whatever denominational persuasion, there is the seedgerm of the likeness of Christ. We are ‘born again’ to be formed in his likeness as sons of the Father. Herein is our unity found – not uniformity to one style of worship, one form of church government or one doctrinal box! We are not called to all be ‘the same’ but to find unity in our diversity as differing members of the body of Christ, functioning in different ‘giftings’ or ministries.
I believe our unity is a priority upon the heart of Jesus – this was his high priestly prayer just before Gethsemene (John 17) and is, I believe, still his priority prayer before the throne of his Father. It is the foundation of evangelism and witness of the church. (See John 17:21&23). It is certainly a priority upon the heart of Satan to mar our unity. (Which he evidently does quite successfully!)
Consider this: What have you or I done this week to display or augment the unity of the body locally?
Charismata: What strikes me as I consider the three references above, is their context. These three chapters are also where we find Paul’s teaching on charismata – the gifts and operations of the holy Spirit.
The church – as a body – should be where the Holy Spirit exercises his gifts among God’s people – gifts that enable the “power to be my witnesses” that Jesus spoke of as the purpose of the Father’s promise. (Acts 1:4-8).
Sadly, these gifts have been so abused and misunderstood, that many in the church would rather deny their value or existence – how that must grieve the Holy Spirit, the giver of the gifts!
Let us list these gifts as recorded by Paul – though one would suggest the list is not exhaustive.
v3: Paul uses his grace (gift) of apostleship to justify his appeal.
v3: Each of us given a ‘measure’ of faith.
v6: Our gifts differ, according to grace (a free gift).
vv6-8: Prophecy, (preaching and foretelling?); Serving; teaching; exhorting; giving (financially); helping;
“Let your love be genuine!”
1 Corinthians 12:
v1: Concerning charismata (grace gifts):
v4: Varieties of gifts from the One Spirit.
v7: To each is given a gift for the common good.
vv8-10: Word of wisdom; word of knowledge; faith; healings; miracles; prophecy; discernment of spirits; various kinds of tongues; interpretation of tongues;
v11: All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually, as he wills … for you are one body.
(Now Paul outlines clear teaching on the unity of the Body with its different gifts and parts.)
v27: Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
v28: apostles; prophets; teachers; miracles; helpers; administrators; speakers in tongues;
v7: Grace is given to each of us according to Christ’s gift.
v8: He gave gifts to men (love gifts to His bride).
v11: His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain unity of faith, and of the knowledge of God …
1 Corinthians 14 is a chapter addressing the abuse of these gifts in the church at Corinth, and is well worth the study to see how the charismata were meant to operate in a local church. We must also note that Chs.12 and 14 are separated by Ch.13, that great treatise on love. How amazing that so many who treat Ch.13 as a pinnacle of the scripture, should ignore its context of Chs.12 & 14!
Thus a local expression of the church should demonstrate commitment to unity – both locally and kingdom-wide. This would be seen in prayer, concern, financial support, etc., for all the work and workers in the Body. This is a social mandate and a missions mandate.
There should be openness to the ministrations of the Holy Spirit in giftings, as he wills them to be present and operative. This means setting aside time for Him to minister.
“Lord, may your Holy Spirit, gentle as a dove, be welcome in our midst. May we glorify you as he moves among us.” Amen.
Part Four: The fourth/final of a series of teachings by Gareth Evans.
We are now at the last of this brief, simple teaching on ‘the church’. My question today is ‘how do we apply these teachings to our own assembly?’ ie; how does this work out ‘in practice’?
This requires understanding of church government, ministries, finances, goals, etc.
Historically, the early church developed into a political institution, due to the ignorance of its later leaders, persecution, lack of communication, strong individuals with little spirituality, etc. After three centuries of persecution under the Romans, Christianity became acceptable at the conversion of Caesar Augustine in AD 312. Christendom was born.
However Christianity had lost its evangelical zeal and purity, and soon became institutionalized. The eastern Orthodox church and the western church, based in Rome could not agree, and soon was born the distinctive Roman Catholic Church. The history of this church is not a commendable one with many intrigues, murders, and corruption – men entered the ‘dark ages’.
It was not until early in the sixteenth century when Martin Luther nailed his thesis to the door of the church at Wittenberg that we see light again in the church. The Reformation brought us back to the truths of the Word, at that time forbidden to the ordinary man, when only ordained priests had the right to read, teach or interpret the Bible
The Reformation however, still accepted the pyramidic structure of the church evolved through the years of Roman politicking.
Instead of a pope we had Martin Luther – and Zwingli and Calvin.
And today ? Most churches still have a hierarchal structure with a (paid) pastor sitting on “top of the pyramid”, making most decisions, aided to differing degrees by his co-leaders. Some churches (eg; Baptists) have a democratic government, where some decisions are voted on by the whole membership. What is the Biblical position?
Government: Rocognising that the Jesus gives gifts to his church and that these include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers; also administrators, helps, we need to seek to recognize who these are and then release them to perform that ministry. These leaders are called to be servants to the church and their work is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry”. The ‘ministers of the church are to be its ‘lay people’. How do they minister? In all they do! Leaders are to be at the ‘bottom of the pyramid” lifting up others and releasing them into all that the Lord would have them do.
The church is meant to be the canteen, arms depot, sanctuary, strategy centre, etc. for the warfare we all face each day in our workplace, home, recreation times, etc. and the church should be the place where we are refreshed for that battle. It should be a secure place where the ‘wounded’ can be nursed back to health.
Ministries: There are certain ministries demanded of all. We are to be “hospitable to the stranger, caring for widows and fatherless”. In today’s society that surely means all who are in need. That is our mandate to have a social concern. We cannot close our eyes to the needs of our community.
How can we demonstrate that concern?
We are called to be witnesses of the Gospel, by our unity, our words and our deeds. We should always have an evangelical vision. There should always be a welcome for the sinner!
We have all been given gifts by the Holy Spirit to enable us to carry the burden each one is to be given. We are to be ‘yoked together’ with the Lord in carrying that burden. Surely, we must seek to know what burden the Lord has placed upon each one of us and then to assist one another in carrying that burden.
Why should the Lord put His anointing on any program or person in the church when it, or he, is not doing what the Lord planned in building “His church”? He wants to put His anointing on each one of us but we will only experience that when we are functioning in the ministry he has called us to and equipped us for.
All our ministries should be “kingdom centred”. We should develop a vision for our city, all those around us, the needy and the lost, and should do all we can to support those who are actively involved in being light within that community.
Within the gathering, we are called to “wash one another’s feet” – to refresh one another. After coming together for fellowship, each one should be able to leave, encouraged and refreshed by the experience. We are commanded to “love one another” – no options given! This indicates concern, safety, true fellowship, etc. We are also told to “obey my word”. These three ‘commandments’ were those given to the disciples by our Lord the night he was taken to the cross. I suggest that they are therefore his priorities for us.
Of course, we also come together to meet the Lord! Therefore, we must spend time in seeking to hear from him. He wants to speak to his sheep but we have become so hardened in our busyness, that we seldom hear his voice and, when he does speak, we do not listen! We learn to hear his voice during times of worship, so this must give us opportunity to meditate and listen – not drive us from song to song. He also speaks through the preached (anointed) word, so we spend time in the preached or taught Scriptures.
Thus it is our simple aim to meet each time we do, with these three core objectives: a time of worship and praise to develop intimacy with the Lord who is worthy of our worship and delights in it; a time of listening to his voice through the word; a time of ministering to one another in his name, (washing feet).
Accountability: To enable one to perform that ministry the Lord has called, and equipped him for, it is necessary to give a certain measure of authority, appropriate for that responsibility. However, there can be no authority without accountability. Anyone who seeks, or is given a responsibility within the church must recognize their accountability to the rest of the body (usually through the chosen leadership) before they can exercise authority. Note that even Paul went to the apostles to seek their release before he went on his missionary journeys.
The church is to operate in unity not as individuals ‘doing their own thing’.
An additional thought concerning finances.
The early church leaders never sought financial returns for themselves – the apostle Paul even made this a mark of apostleship! He worked as a tentmaker to support himself while on mission. Is it wrong for a church leader to receive a salary? Of course not! He must also live.
In the Old Testament, the Levites were chosen by God to be ‘the full-time ministers’ of the Old Covenant. They were supported by the tithes of all the other tribes. On entering Caanan they were given 48 cities in which to live, and became the judges, teaches, priests, song leaders, advance parties for war, etc.
Today we still tithe but few ever seem to fulfill the promise of blessing God gave to Israel in Malachi 3:10. Is it possible that we, like them, have failed to use the tithe correctly? Who are the ‘ministering Levites’ in today’s world? Surely they are more than just the resident pastors in a church. Everyone who is in some form of 'full-time' ministry should be supported by the tithes of the people and not rely on the goodwill and private support of a few individuals. Each one of us is responsible for a correct ‘offering’ of our tithe before the Lord.
See my teaching on Ministers of the Covenant.