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What Is the Church? - Foundational Principles

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What Is the Church? - Foundational Principles

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Jesus said, “I will build my church and the power of the grave shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Church (the ekklesia, or “called-out ones”) is here—Jesus said it would be. It would never cease to exist this side of His return, no matter what the devil would throw at it. “I will be with you to the end of the age,” Jesus again reassures His disciples (Matthew 28:20). In giving these final instructions to the Church to preach the gospel to all nations, make disciples of them and teach those disciples to obey all that Jesus commanded, He is confident that through His power His disciples will be sustained to carry out His commands. They will complete the work He gave them to do!

The Church that Jesus established has been attacked down through the ages, understandably because it exists in a world that is hostile to anything God wants to do to further His purpose. It has been persecuted by its enemies down through the ages. It has also suffered divisions from within when factions were formed and disciples were drawn away by those factions. There have been times when false teaching was brought into the Church in an attempt to deceive the disciples.

The time in which we live is no different. We will experience the same attempts by the enemy to destroy the Church or disrupt its work. The devil does not want the Church to be successful in accomplishing the purpose Christ intended.

The “things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:27). Jesus Christ, the Head of His Church, will accomplish His purpose with His Church.

At this time we need to have confidence that Christ as the head of His Church will exercise His authority over the devil and will lead the Church to fulfill God’s purpose in every respect. What is the Church? What does God intend His Church to be in this world? Do we have confidence in how Christ leads His Church?

What is the Church?

The Church is clearly the spiritual “Body of Christ.” “And He [the Father] put all things under His [Christ’s] feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Christ will fill His Body with Himself.

Who then is in the Church and how do they get there?

Paul wrote, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jew or Greek, whether slaves of free—and have all been made to drink of that one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). We are made members of the Church when Jesus Christ baptizes us with His Spirit. John baptized with water, but he declared that there would come One who would baptize you with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11, Acts 1:5). Ministers cannot baptize anyone into the Church. They baptize in water for the remission of sins when a person has repented (Acts 2:38), and when Jesus Christ comes to dwell within us through the Holy Spirit, it is a spiritual body we are put into. The Church is His spiritual Body. A person therefore cannot join the Church by his or her own choice. He/she must be called by God for that purpose.

The Church therefore is that body of people in whom dwells the Holy Spirit as begotten sons of God.

Unity of the Spirit

Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:1-2 we are to “walk worthy of the calling with which we have been called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” Notice it is a calling—we then are told how we are to walk in that calling.

Verse 3 continues, “…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Endeavoring means to “make the effort, to be prompt or earnest, to be diligent.” We must understand that we have a calling that includes the highest priority to keep the unity of the Spirit. Please note that unity is “of the Spirit.” The Spirit that Christ gives us to make us a member of His Body is the key to unity. The Spirit produces in us a lowliness of mind, a gentleness, patience and forbearance with one another to resolve our differences.

And differences we will have. “Whether Jew or Greek, slave or free we have been made to drink of one Spirit.” Do you realize the huge chasm between Jews and Greeks, and also slaves and masters? The differences in the early Church were far greater than any differences we may have today. To be “in Christ” transcended worldly status, prejudices of former religions and even gender. We are “in Christ”—“For I am in My Father, and  you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20). Unity clearly comes through the Father and Christ dwelling in the individuals in His Church. How effective that unity in the body will be is directly proportional to how we submit to our Head, Jesus Christ, who dwells in the fullest sense in His own Body (Ephesians 1:23).

Unity Through Forgiveness of Sins and Obedience to Our Head

Those who have the Spirit of God are the sons of God. They will find a way to be together in one mind and one purpose. This is what people of the Spirit do. They will want to be aligned in that spiritual body of Christ with Christ Himself as the Head, who is one with the Father. And by being aligned with Jesus, they experience a oneness and trust with each other.

Notice the basis of our fellowship: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16a). The word “communion” in the Greek is koinonia, which simply means fellowship or sharing. We commune with each other in a close spiritual relationship that has its basis in the way our sins are forgiven. The sins of all of us are forgiven in the same way and on the same basis—through the blood of Christ. No one is deemed better or more important than another in God’s sight. There was division in the early Church over this issue. Acts 15 tells us how the Church came to understand that the sins of all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are forgiven through Jesus Christ—not through the law. I am in the body of Christ on the same basis as you are—my sins have been forgiven through Jesus Christ, just like yours have been. There is no respect of persons.

“The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16b). All are to be subject to Christ the Head according to the same standard. Again, we commune based on our commitment to live by the “bread of life,” Jesus Christ, to obey Him in all things, even if it means suffering. When we have people of the Spirit who are accepted in the same way and committed to obedience to the same Head, we will have unity. We all “drink from the cup of the Lord” and “partake of the table of the Lord” (verse 21).

Unity Through a System of Governance

Those who commune through the Spirit of Christ dwelling in them will find a way to so organize and structure themselves to serve the needs of the Body and the work of the Body.

To this end the United Church of God has devised a system of governance and a method of organizing and structuring ourselves to facilitate the spiritual Body of Christ to do what it should. Our structure of governance is not the Church. It is in place to assist the Church.

Our system is devised so as to give opportunity for all to contribute to the edification of the body. It is devised to allow a large number of people to participate within the body. The design is to give opportunity to the least without diminishing effective leadership. It has as its hallmarks fairness, justice and equity. Its members have a voice and they participate. Yet there is authority. And there is submission not just to authority, but to each otherwith love and respect.

In 1 Corinthians 14 we see Paul outlining for the Corinthian congregation how some may participate. “Whenever you come together…Let all things be done for edification” (verse 26). “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (verse 33) and “let all things be done decently and in order” (verse 40). Ours is not a perfect system. But it has a design where many can participate (verse 31).

We will continue to do our duty to amend our system so as to facilitate a more effective functionality of the body with these principles in mind.

Will any system prevent division or discord? No system ever devised will prevent self-serving tendencies.

The system is only as good as the people who are in it. The system will work when people work! Remember: unity is of the Spirit. Government of and by itself does not ensure unity and peace, no matter how perfect that government is.

God saw a third of his beloved angelic sons turn against him when God was ruling His universe with perfect government. God’s government didn’t prevent rebellion! Only the sons of God who are led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14) will live in unity and peace because the Spirit of God produces the fruit of peace within them.

We each must learn to dwell and work together in unity and peace now as a member of His Body. God’s purpose will stand. Christ will accomplish what He wants in His Church because His object is for those of His Body to serve with Him for all eternity. 

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