I love the church. I love Christians. I even have a fondness for the foibles of both the church and Christians.
Because I've found that when I really love someone or something I love all of it, the good and the bad; it's just that I always want what is better for the object of my love. My heart cries out to see the church thrive, expand, and be all that she can be in this world. I want to see Jesus lifted up, and His cause advanced.
I'm not blind to the fact that there's much disillusionment with the church today. There have been times when I've been discouraged by what I've seen and experienced in the church. I've read several thoughtful posts out here in Blog land on this very topic; some of my favorite posts being from Matt at The church of no people, David at Fire and Grace, and Bill at Thin edge.
Today I read a promo for a book entitled Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide by Brett McCracken that's got me thinking about this whole topic again. McCracken's book is supposedly an in-depth journalistic look at this phenomenon of cool Christianity in the 21st century. Chuck Colson gave this book a good enough review in an article entitled Wannabe Cool Christianity to have me wanting to read the book for myself.
But it's also got me asking those same questions that have been on my heart for these last few years: What exactly is the church? What does the Bible indicate is God's plan for the church? How can we carry that plan out? How can I be a more effective part of this whole process?
These questions don't produce simple answers that are always cut and dried. But today I'll give you a few of my thoughts on the first of these issues, and then I'd like to hear yours. So that any one post isn't too long, over several days next week I'll give you my thoughts on one or more of these questions and then illicit your feedback.
What exactly is the church?
The word "church" comes from the Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia is a compound world meaning "ek" out of, and "klesis", a calling. (W.E. Vine, vol. 1, pg 83). When I think about Jesus' earthly ministry as recorded in the gospels, he came advancing God's Kingdom here on earth. God's way of life. He was calling people to Himself.
In Matthew 16:13-20 we've got that famous passage where Jesus is asking who are people saying that He is, and then He asked Peter who Peter thinks He is, and Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God. Jesus responds by saying that upon this rock He'll build His church. There's a lot of debate about if the King James translators got it right by using the word "church" here, and I've heard Catholics say that Jesus spoke here about the formation of a religious organization, that became the Catholic church or belief system. To be candid, neither of these interest me. What interests me here is that Jesus indicates that there are those who are going to follow after Him (call them "church" or however else you wish to say it) and that He, Jesus, is the foundation for these followers - this I find significant! From Genesis to Revelation it's all about Jesus.
I see three metaphors used in the New Testament to describe the church. There is the "Bride of Christ" (John 3:22-26 2 Corinthians 11:1-3, Ephesians 5:22-33, Revelation 18:21-25, Revelation 22:10 - 20) which refers to universal, invisible, mystical body of Christ made up of all of the redeemed from the time of Christ until the rapture. There is the "Body of Christ" (1 Corinthians 12:7-26 ). There is the "Building of Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:9, Ephesians 2:19-22 ). Many believe that both the body and bride of Christ references refer also to that same invisible, mystical group of all saints throughout time. Others believe that these two metaphors refer to the the local, visible, organized gathering of followers of Christ. I've read and can see the merits of both schools of thought regarding these two metaphors (Great discussions as to why these two can be seen as the local or universal church can be read here, as well as here, and here). Personally, I see the body of Christ as referring to the local, organized, gathering of a group of Believers because of the 1 Corinthians 12:7-26 passage that describes how God has set it up so that His followers can meet together, and use gifts He's given them, to benefit one another.
So I see in the Bible two types of "church". That universal, invisible, mystical body of Christ made up of all of the redeemed from the time of Christ until the rapture. The group of followers who meets in one location to benefit the group.
What do you think "church" is?
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