It’s an interesting fact of sociology that people like to form groups. We do it for work, family, politics and on social media. However, there are at least two groups that we can be a part of that were set up by God – the family and the Church (three if you include Israel). This post focuses on the Church.
…people like to form groups…
Why did Christ feel the need for this group? He said, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Why this determination? What purpose does the Church fulfill that no other human organization can?
The short answer is that all human organizations are built on the shaky foundation of man-made plans and purposes. Whether it is to sell a product, promote a cause, or just to socialize, human institutions all have this in common – their chief aim is to benefit people, either the members of the group or others.
The supreme goal of the Church is the glory of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ
Some groups exist to benefit nature, but even those groups are almost always focused on people’s enjoyment of nature. What makes the Church different is not that it doesn’t have any benefits to its members (it does— in fact the benefits for being part of the Church are greater than any kickbacks to any other group!) The difference is in the main purpose. The supreme goal of the Church is the glory of the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ— “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
How does the Church glorify God?
To answer that we have to answer what it means to be a member of the Church. When you say “member of the Church” a lot of people automatically think of going through some religious ceremony in order to become a “card-carrying” member. In fact, that has nothing to do with being a member of the Church? Being a member of the Church is a term that originally stems from the New Testament description of the Church as the body of Christ.
“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 Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
According to this passage, every true Christian is a member of the Church. You can’t become any more a member than you already are—once you are saved.
“But wait,” you say, “I thought churches had members?” It’s true that most local churches do call the people that associate with them “members” but this is a bit of a misnomer. The Bible does not use the term “membership” in that sense. Rather it uses terms like “fellowship” (Acts 2:42), and “receive” (Romans 16:2).
There is a distinction in the New Testament between the universal Church and the local church. Although the terms “universal” and “local” are not used, they help clear up confusion between the two.
The universal Church is made up of all true believers. They become members of the body of Christ through the Spirit the moment they are born again. The headquarters for the universal Church is in heaven, because that is where the lord Jesus is. No human organization, be it a para-church ministry, denomination, or seminary, has the right to exercise authority over any individual (local) church. Each one is responsible to the Lord for how they operate. Local churches can have fellowship with each other, as we see in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, but there is no precedent in the New Testament for these churches forming themselves into a denomination.
Each believer is to identify with a local church.
This is done when they are received into the fellowship of that local assembly. “Fellowship” means participation, and that participation is in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus, symbolized in the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Our fellowship is first with the Father and the Son, and then with a local church that agrees on that fellowship (1 John 1:3).
This answers how the Church, universal and local, glorifies God. It fellowships with God, and that fellowship is made possible because of the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is called “the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23). He is the head and we are the body. We are joined to Christ because He died for us and rose again, giving us new life.
Someone who has called on Jesus Christ to save them from their sins because He died for them, is now living to glorify God. In order to help us do that to the maximum capacity, the Lord set up the Church, made up of individual churches, which are comprised of individual believers. Each believer is responsible to the Lord directly for how he or she lives, but the individual members are also responsible to each other.
Ephesians 3:10-12 explains how this works, “now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.” The wisdom of God is that He could take enemies and make them friends, unholy sinners and make them holy saints (and every believer is a saint). This was done by Christ’s death on the cross. The universal Church glorifies God by existing, it unites all true believers in fellowship around the Son. The local church expresses that unity by participating in the Lord’s Supper, where believers break bread and drink wine in order to remember that Christ gave His body and blood on the cross to cleanse them and give them new life.
The Church exists all for the glory of God, and God has totally devoted Himself to nurturing and building the whole Church, which includes each local church and each individual believer.
Parenthesis is a New Testament assembly work, created to inspire Millennials to look into the person of Jesus Christ, by looking into the Bible. Find out about (and register for) upcoming events here.