At Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation. We remember the Word became flesh, when God clothed Himself in the person of a man, the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus was the perfect representation of God, and the reason for the incarnation was to reveal who God is, and His love for mankind.
When you receive Jesus as Lord, you become another incarnation. God Himself comes to dwell in you and His purpose is to reveal Himself to you and through you.
Then there is the church. The church is another incarnation, and God has purposes for it that many in the church fail to understand.
There used to be a toy called, “Tickle Me Elmo.” When you tickled the thing it would let out some obnoxious laughter. In our day, a lot of churches do little more than tickle their people. The people come and expect to be fed or entertained, and then like an Elmo doll left alone, they act lifeless and do nothing for the kingdom.
Church serves a bigger purpose than just having a place to meet on Sunday. Consider what was revealed to Peter:
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:18-19).
These verses suggest explosive power! The gates of hell shall not prevail against it! The church has the keys to exercise incredible authority over the earth and in heaven. Yet it seems like the church is more often irrelevant. Was Jesus mistaken when He made these statements? Or have we been clueless? We know Jesus wasn’t mistaken.
So we need to consider what the church really is. We all have different experiences with church. I’ve been associated with different churches at different times. But guess what! There is really only one church.
What is the church? The answer is in the little children’s rhyme: it’s not the door or the steeple. It’s not the building. It’s the people.
The church is people, not a building
Jesus was speaking about building His people. He wasn’t referring to building an ornate structure upon this rock.
What is “this rock” referring to? It is the revelation of God. Please see Upon This Rock.
The true church is a people who believe and act on the revelation of God. It is interesting that when Acts 2:44 refers to the church, it does not refer to people who worshipped, but “all that BELIEVED were together” (see also Acts 5:14). Not worshipped, but believed. Many come to church to do their weekly act of worship, and yet fail to believe God’s Word. They may believe intellectually or mentally, but they don’t let it interfere with their lives. They don’t respond to it. In so being, they deceive themselves (see James 1:21-25).
The Greek word for church is ecclesia. Technically, the word means “called out” or “called from.” It means an assembly or congregation of those who have responded to God’s call to enter into a new life and mission with Him. That’s much different from seeing it as a building or worship service.
My friends from Bulgaria told me that when they moved to America, they were so excited because they saw churches on every street corner! Then they came to understand the reality. The reality is that many churches are not The Church. It’s not about buildings. Paul said in 1Corinthians 3:9: “You are God’s building.” It’s about the called out people of God.
A Special Building
Anyone outside might look and see just a bunch of Sunday morning churchgoers. But that’s not you if Jesus is your Lord. We are to be accounted as “the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1Corinthians 4:1). We have to see ourselves as God sees us, and He sees us as an elect order to whom God has revealed His plans and agenda. That’s special.
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy (1Peter 2:9-10).
Some preachers talk about how it’s good to be in the House of God. That’s okay, but if they are only thinking about their church building on Sunday, they are mistaken. WE are the house of God (1 Peter 2:5).
The church is a mission, not a religious service
The mission is to show forth praises, and as those called out of darkness, “that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life…” (Philippians 2:15-16). The Church’s job in this world is to reveal their Lord, even as God vowed to reveal Himself through Israel: “I will show myself holy among them in the sight of the nations” (Ezek. 28:25; NIV).
Some people say during a service, “we are having church.” No, we are the church, and we are having church when we engage in the mission God has called us to. The world needs the assembly of the “called out” to reveal the glory of God.
But the mission isn’t just to the world. It’s to our own spiritual growth as well. Ephesians 4:13: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” Not, “unto a perfect worship service.”
We have been called out to come into!
Called out from the world to come into perfection, and the fullness of Christ.
How to Grow a Church
It’s not about getting people to come to your services. It’s about fulfilling the mission. We need to grow personally, and to shine as the light of the world: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Have you turned on the light switch? You have to be intentional about it. Peter exhorts the called out: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1Peter 2: 11-12).
Paul of course speaks along the same lines: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called… There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:1,4). There is only one body, one Church. So many problems have come forth from a failure to walk worthy, and a failure to understand what the true Church is.
There has been so much confusion through history because of the heinous acts of “churches.” The Catholics persecuted and killed Protestants. Some Protestants persecuted and killed those who disagreed with them. Calvinists persecuted Arminians. There was anti-Semitism against the Jews (and modern day Lutherans had to distance themselves from that!). All kinds of vicious history based on creeds and doctrines, while the love of Christ was set by the way.
There is only one body. And if it doesn’t look like Christ, it’s not the church. We are one with those in the Spirit of Christ, whatever denomination or church they attend. But let’s not confuse the denomination or attended church with the true nature of the Body of Christ.
It’s not about getting a bigger church building, but about growing bigger in your own spiritual walk. How does that happen? Paul explains:
He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers… God has given these to help the church be the church… For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, not for the blessing of having great services. Not so that the pastors and teachers can do all the work. It is for the equipping of the called out saints, so that they can do the ministry.
This means the church is for contributing, and not just receiving. Some people never give out, they only take in. They are missing the blessing and privilege of serving their Lord, and fulfilling the great calling we have in Christ.
All are to work the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (vs.11-16).
There it is- the church as the incarnation! Christ is the head and we are the body. As the body, we need to be growing, or there is a problem. Many people come to church and never grow. Growth comes by speaking the truth in love and working. If you don’t work the body, it will lose its ability. A healthy body gets things done.
Why is there so much frustration, division, and confusion within the church? Satan tried to kill the first incarnation. Has tried to kill the church ever since. But he has not prevailed! Even in its corrupt state, and even if many churches have become irrelevant, hell has still not prevailed! The church is still around. Good works are still coming forth, many are still blessed, and lives are still being changed.
Yet think of how mighty a force the church could be if we lived up to our true calling!
Satan only prevails because we let him. There are so many “worshipers” but few who believe and take seriously their role as the body of Jesus Christ. Many don’t care that they are not growing, and many need to be born again.
The Lord is waiting for you. He loves you and wants only the best for you. Just receive Him and enter into the highest calling there is on earth- to be a member of His Body, a church that storms the gates of hell!