Jesus and His Church
Over 2000 years ago, Jesus boldly declared that he would build his ‘church’ (Matt.16:17-19). The church was his idea and there is nothing else that he said he would build. It is his master project and all of his energies are focused on completing it. It is part of his eternal purposes (Eph.3:10-11). But what is the ‘church’ and what did Jesus really have in mind? There are many different opinions about what the church is meant to be.
Today when people use the word ‘church’ they are most often referring to a place of Christian worship or to the institutional aspect of the Christian community. We say things like, “Let’s go to church” or “Look at that nice old church” OR newspaper articles might refer to “The Anglican Church” or “The Catholic Church”, in which they are talking more about an organization than anything else. As a result, most people today think that a church is a building on the corner with a cross or a steeple, or an institution that you belong to. These meanings have strayed a long way from what Jesus had in mind.
When Jesus chose the Greek word ecclesia (which we translate into the English word ‘church’) to describe what he was going to build, he was taking a pre-existing term and investing it with new meaning. It literally means “the gathering of called-out ones”. It was used to refer to a gathering of people who would meet regularly to discuss and deliberate over a variety of social and even political dilemmas facing a community. Today this would be similar to a meeting in a local town hall, of a group of community leaders and members. It was a gathering of people, brought together by their common vision for the harmony and well-being of the wider community. Jesus is saying that he is going to build his own community, yet it will be a community of people who have a mission and a purpose to carry out in the wider world.
Let’s re-imagine the church by going right back to the beginning – to our origins. The book of Acts tells the story of the beginning and expansion of the church of Jesus Christ. As we read it, we start to get a clearer picture of exactly what Jesus had in mind. The church is “a community of Christ-followers empowered by the Spirit to participate in God’s mission in the world.” Let’s unpack this definition a little bit …
- A Community
God, in his very nature, is a community of three persons united as one, existing in loving relationship. When God created human beings he created them to also do life in community. When Jesus came to earth he lived out this value of community and priority of love. He did not do life in isolation. He was born into a family and he grew up in a family. When he began his ministry the first thing he did was choose twelve disciples to be with him. They ate together, walked together, talked together, travelled together, and ministered together during that entire time. He established a community and he infused it with his kind of love, so that it would be a continuation and a reflection of the community he had always experienced with the Father and the Spirit, before coming to earth. When the church was birthed, this same kind of community continued (see Acts 2:42-47). Placing your faith in Christ was not just about beginning a new relationship with God but it was also about becoming part of a new community – a new family of brothers and sisters in Christ. In the first century, there was no such thing as being a Christian without being part of a community of other Christ-followers. Church is NOT a building that you visit from time to time OR even an event or meeting that you go to. It is a family or a community that God wants you to be a vital part of.
- Of Christ-Followers
When Jesus called his first disciples, it was not just about community. He was calling them to leave what they were doing and to follow him, and eventually to become like him. His goal was to change them from the inside out. This involved a full surrender of their lives to his leadership. Throughout his time with them, Jesus was re-shaping their values, their priorities, their way of interacting with people and the world around them. He then told them to go and do the same – to ‘make disciples’, or to call people to follow Jesus and pattern their life after him. As the church began, thousands of people joined the disciples not just to be part of their community but to begin living their lives as Jesus would in the world. This new community devoted themselves to a number of things, including the apostles teaching, which was everything that Jesus had commanded them (Matt.28:18-20). Becoming a Christian places you in a new family but it also puts your life under new leadership – under King Jesus. We enter and become a citizen of a new kingdom. The goal of every true disciple is to be like their Master so the goal of every Christian is to be like Jesus. Our very calling and destiny is to be conformed to the image or likeness of Christ.
- Empowered by the Spirit
One of the most important keys to Jesus’ life and ministry was the fact that his entire ministry was empowered by the Spirit (Mark 1:10; Luke 4:1, 14, 18-21). This infilling of the Spirit is to extend to his followers too. Jesus clearly declared that the power of the Spirit was an indispensable requirement for their lives (Luke 24:49. Acts 1:4-5). The fullness of the Spirit is to affect our character (the fruit of the Spirit) and it provides us with an anointing or enablement for life and ministry. Prayer is a key link to receiving and releasing the Spirit’s power in our lives (Acts 1:14; 4:31).
- To Participate in God’s Mission in the World
God was not comfortable to continue for eternity with the amazing loving community he has always experienced. He decided to spread this community by creating human beings. When human relationships broke down and community fell apart, God did not remain aloof. He came and lived among us, taking on human form. He left the comforts of heaven to come into the brokenness of earth to make a way for people to be restored to God and to each other. God is a missionary God! He loves and has a passion for those who are outside his love. Jesus came for outsiders, those far from God and his love. As Jesus called his disciples to be with him (community) and to become like him (discipleship), he empowered them with the Spirit, not just so they could feel good, but so that they would have the boldness and the wisdom to reach out to people ... locally right nearby them, as well as eventually in all nations of the earth and all sectors of society. The church is NOT a closed group. Right now God is reaching out to this world. Mission begins and ends with him and his heart for people. When we engage in mission, we simply participate in what God is already doing in our world.
This describes what the church is and what it exists for. The FORM that the church takes will be different in different cultures and contexts but these ingredients are the essential ones. If these ingredients are present then any form is an expression of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus left a lot of freedom when it comes to shape, structure, and form of church.
The church is extremely important to God. He loves the church and it is central to what he is doing in the world today. In fact, the local church is the hope of the world because it has been entrusted with the gospel, which is the only thing that can change a human heart – both now and for eternity. Jesus’ intention is that the church be united (John 17:20-21), glorious (Eph.5:25-27), and victorious (Matt.16:17-19). We are not there yet, but God always finishes what He starts! This leaves us with some important questions: Am I part of Christ’s community? Am I following Christ? Am I empowered by the Spirit? Am I participating in God’s mission in the world?Sample Discussion Questions
- Share your experience with ‘church’. What do you think of when you hear that word? What churches have you been a part of? What positive memories do you have? What painful memories or disappointments do you have? How have these affected you?
- Most Australians aren’t part of a church. What do you think are some of the main reasons?
- How can our LifeGroup experience a greater degree of community this year?
- How can our LifeGroup help each person to become more like Christ this year?
- How can we experience a greater degree of the empowerment of the Spirit?
- How can our LifeGroup participate more in God’s mission in the world around us?
- How might church look different in 10 years time?