Basics is a series of short and hopefully easy to understand sessions, looking at some of the basics of the Christian faith. This isn't a section about proving things or arguing things - we have a section for that called 'Questions'...
The Church - a people not a place
The church. Back in the old days in the UK, many people thought and were wrongly told that the church was a building. They were looking back to the temple that was built in the Old Testament, forgetting that Jesus told us that the people of God are now the church. God lives in us, not in a building.
Romans 16.5 - "Greet also the church that meets at their house."
Incredible Cathedrals and churches were built with the best of intentions - wanting to glorify God and express how great God was by creating great buildings. They were awe-inspiring places which showed how big, how powerful and how grand God was. But they kind of missed the point that the church is not a building - the church is the people of God. Unfortunately some of the buildings made God out to be distant and far removed from the ordinary people. This ended up alienating people. Today in Britain we sadly have loads of old and empty church buildings. But the church is very much alive! Many churches, such as my church meet in a school or community building. It doesn't matter where you meet - it matters that God is at the heart of what you do and who you are!
The Bible often refers to the church as a 'body' - a group of people coming together as believers in God to worship God..
Romans 12.4-5 - "For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another."
Church - based on Jesus
In Matthew 16.13-18, we see the first mention of the word 'church' and it's Jesus who says it. He's chatting with Peter, asking who other people say he (Jesus) is. Peter has a lightbulb moment and he says, 'You're the Christ, the Son of the Living God!' Jesus responds by saying that God has shown this truth to Peter and 'on this rock I (Jesus) will build my church.'
Jesus wasn't talking about building the church on Peter! (When Jesus spoke about Peter which means 'rock' he used the word for a pebble - when Jesus spoke about the rock he would build his church on, he used the word 'rock' meaning 'the bedrock of the earth' or a 'huge boulder'). Peter was just a man and someone who got a lot of things wrong! Jesus was saying that on 'this rock' (speaking about himself) that he would build the church. Later on in the Bible, we read that Jesus is the central part of the church - the cornerstone.
What Jesus was saying is that the church would be built around who Jesus is and around our response to who Jesus is - the Son of God and the Living God.
What should happen in church life?
Ephesians 1.22-23, “And God placed all things under the feet of Jesus and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way."
So at its heart, the church is the 'body' of Jesus - the living earthly expression of who Jesus is. Jesus is still alive but we are to be God's hands, feet, mouth and love letter to the world around us. If you want to know what the church should look like - take a look at what Jesus did while he was on earth and the fact that he told us to keep on doing what he did and even more! We also need to know that Jesus is in charge of our churches. He gives us ways of people carrying his authority but at the end of the day, a church should never be controlled by any man or woman or group. It's Jesus who is in charge and we follow him!
John 14.12 - "whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father."
The church is a place where people can meet together and worship God. People can get encouraged and equipped to live life for God. We can get teaching from the Bible and hear what God is doing in people's lives. It's a place where we can sharpen each other and work together to be even more effective for God. It's a place where things happen. It should be a place full of life, energy, truth, hope, passion, God's love, God's presence and a place where people can come to be comforted, helped, be provided for and to get to know God for themselves.
The church is a place of mission - telling people about Jesus, helping the lonely, the last, the lost and the needy. It should be a place where lots of things are happening to demonstrate God's love in real, relevant, practical and spiritual ways. It's a place of training and of sending people out. It should be a place where you can do what God's made you to do and get better at it - a place of creativity, music, colour, fun, laughter. It's a place of putting God first, of prayer and of supporting each other. It should be a place where the Bible is taught well, in a relevant and right way.
It can often be the centre of the community. In my city, a church took over an old youth club and kept youth work provision in an estate alive, plus other community events. Churches work together to feed the hungry and help the poor. They work doing Street Pastors every Friday and Saturday night - a service that the people of the city need and enjoy. The church is not a club for members-only! Someone famously said that the church is the only organisation that exists for the benefit of its non-members. God created the church to be salt and light - to be life in a dark world.
Seven Pictures of the Church
A famous writer and speaker called Derek Prince once wrote a book called 'Rediscovering God's Church'. In this book he wrote about seven pictures or ways of seeing the church. All these pictures and ideas come from the Bible book called Ephesians.
1. An Assembly (not like a school assembly!) Another word for 'church' (the Greek word is 'ekklesia') is 'assembly' or a kind of governmental authority. Despite how things look, Jesus is ruling the world and in charge of things and he gives us some of his authority so we can see things happen here on earth as it is in heaven, up until he returns as The King. The church is also a place of authority where we should serve each other and where we obey our church leaders (as long as they're not doing evil or being out of order!) It can also be a place of discipline, gulp!
2. The Body of Christ. The church is God's people, working together. We discover our gifts and our calling (the things God's made us good at and passionate about) and we then work together to do God's work. Part of this is about giving ourselves completely to God (the song from Bethel Church says, 'You can have it all Lord'), allowing God to help us think like he thinks and then do what he wants us to do.
3. God's Workmanship. Ephesians 2.10 says that "we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand for us to do." The Greek word for 'workmanship' is the same word used for the word 'poem' so in a way we are God's poem - we are God's work of art - his masterpiece. And what are we to do? To do the work that God wants us to do - unique for each one of us! We should follow God's plan not our own.
4. The Family. When we know God as the one in charge of our life, we become part of God's family. Ephesians tells us that we're no longer strangers but part of the family of God, together with all the rest of God's people. We can also can know God as our father - the perfect father - always good, always loving and always doing what's best for us. Finally, we are also called to love each other as God's family. We may not always get on or agree but we can love, serve and do good to each other. This is one way that people know that we're Christians and will come to know Jesus.
5. The Temple. Ephesians talks about Jesus as being the cornerstone of the building - the heart of the church. It also describes the church as being like a building and a place that God is putting together - a place where he can live. In the Old Testament, God 'lived' on earth in a physical building (a temple). But today God lives on earth inside of his people by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God in us. Each of us is like a 'living stone' in a building that God is putting together. We should live our lives in a way that is pleasing to God. The Bible calls this being 'holy' - living for God and being pure.
6. The Bride. In Ephesians 5, Paul talked about the relationship between a husband and wife and about how two become one when the marry. Paul then related this to the relationship between Jesus and the church. The world started with the marriage (union) of Adam and Eve and one day the world will end with a great feast and marriage between the the Lamb (Jesus) and his bride (the church). This isn't a physical marriage like we know but just as their should be 'fruit' in a physical marriage, so there will be 'fruit' as the church lives for Jesus - this fruit is good works and lives that grow in love for God and live more and more for him! And we can work towards that day when Jesus returns to the earth and makes all things new!
7. An Army (spiritual one, not one that goes to war like the military!) The last picture from Ephesians is from chapter 6 where the Bible tells us to put on our 'armour' and stand against the enemy, the devil. God gives us spiritual weapons to fight spiritual battles - in prayer, in action, in power! In another book of the Bible, Song of Songs (chapter 10), we see a picture of the bride and a picture of an army. This is how God sees us. We are in a battle against evil in this world and as we stand together as God's army, we can see God's kingdom and good come in our world!