In Part One of our look at the church, we took a peek at some of the currently accepted church norms that, in truth, are not scripturally normal at all. We discussed how it is often good to know what something is not as well as to know what it is. In this particular portion of the discussion I want to look at some of the scriptural points of reference to describe the positive side, i.e. what the church actually is. That beautiful Bride of Christ described in scripture is amazing and glorious, full of faith, hope, and power. It is a thriving organism, not a dead organization.
Recall that if it’s in the Book we want to do it, and if it is not in the Book we do not want to do it. With this as the backdrop of our discussion let’s take a serious look at the church as it is actually recorded in the new covenant.
We could start by taking a look at the origin of the word for church. It comes from a Greek word ecclesia which literally means the called-out ones or those who have been called out. We are told in a certain scripture that we have been called out of darkness into light.
(A point that needs to be made is that I do not intend this writing to be a religious document that is overly burdened with ecclesiastical verbiage. I am one who loves the study of words and languages but I do not want that to be a stumbling point for those who, like the old cop show on TV, want to stick to the facts. I want to look more at the spirit of the gospel rather than trying to dissect individual words and intricate meanings so that even those who are not so fond of reading may find it helpful. My goal here is the building up of the church and I desire that my words reflect that.)
So then if we are indeed the called-out ones, what exactly do the called-out ones do? There are many places we could start in the new covenant but a very good beginning would be in the book of One Corinthians (as opposed to Two Corinthians, as a certain famous person said, which always brings to mind the old joke about two Corinthians and a horse go into a bar…).
In First Corinthians chapter 12 Paul begins his analogy between the church and the physical human body. For all practical purposes when Paul refers to “the body“ He is referring to the church, i.e. the called-out ones. Just as the physical body has many parts that make up that whole thing called the human body, so the church has many parts that make up that spiritual entity known as the church, i.e. “the body.“ If we could just grasp this one concept and take it to heart, it would revolutionize that entity that we call the church and we might just begin to act like the real thing. We might even experience a Holy Ghost meeting like the one described in Acts chapter 4 where “the place where they were assembled was shaken.” Now that would be an exciting meeting!
When the human body is involved in a task, it is a given that the control center for that task is the brain (which is housed in the head). If a person is jogging, for example, as those who are familiar with anatomy and exercise will tell you, pretty much every part of the body is involved on some level. It’s not just the legs moving; it’s the lungs breathing, the heart pumping blood, the arms swinging in rhythm at the side, the eyes watching where you’re going, etc. Even at rest, the entire body (assuming that it is healthy) can quickly spring into action and perform a given task readily, all parts coordinated by the head, the control center.
We are told that Jesus is the head of the body. He is the control center and it is worth noting that this control center contains the mouth. This picture gives us some profound wisdom that few take to heart. Jesus through the Holy Spirit is the only one who has the right to give instructions, to “control” what goes on in a church meeting. The concept that a man assumes the position of the head (which, of course typically contains a much larger mouth then is necessary…oops! Did I say that?) is contrary to the scriptures. That body, largely a vocal organ, is deformed. Its other parts are atrophied and useless.
As an aside, the accepted church model is designed to keep its members dependent. If these members begin taking an honest reading of the word and begin to understand what they really are, that guy or gal at the top is immediately threatened. (You’re fooling with his/her source of income. God forbid the poor slob should have to get a real job!)
If we move forward to First Corinthians chapter 14 we get an outline for how a typical church meeting should go. We are told in verse 26 (and I am quoting from the Amplified Bible) “What then, brethren, is the right course? When you meet together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a disclosure of special knowledge or information, an utterance in a strange tongue, or an interpretation of it. But let everything be constructive and edifying and for the good of all.” That idea that the normal church service is composed of one man or woman standing before the entire congregation and speaking for a prolonged period of time is absolutely unscriptural. (There are some larger group gatherings mentioned in the Book of Acts where one person did most of the talking; these are the exception, not the rule.) There is no description in the new covenant of this one-man-show being taught as the normal church gathering.
The typical modern church structure has been taken from the Old Testament Levitical priesthood in which there was a high priest at the top with a hierarchy of “lesser” priests beneath him. Some even go further back to describe the congregation of the whole nation of Israel with Moses at the top who eventually appointed rulers underneath him, and the authority trickled down from there. (See Exodus 18.) This position will be “scripturally” backed up by stating something along the lines of “God is the same yesterday, today, and forever,” so, my brother, God has ordained that system and that has never changed!
There is no scriptural injunction that we as New Testament believers should be adherent to the law of Moses. For a detailed scriptural discussion of that thought, read chapter 15 of the Book of Acts. In First Corinthians 9:20 Paul clearly states that he is not under the Jewish law. (As an aside, if we are walking by the Spirit, we will fulfill that law written in our hearts without being bound by it).
If one wants to go back and look at the old covenant, then by all means let’s do it! We see in Exodus 19:6 : “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Before the priesthood was actually put in place, God had planned that the entire nation of Israel was to be a kingdom of priests, that is each and every person in that nation was to be a priest. If you then go on to chapter 20, you will see the occasion where God told Moses to prepare the nation of Israel to meet with him at the mountain. We have this scenario where all the people heard the thunder, they saw the lightning flashes and the mountain smoking, and they heard the loud sound of the trumpet, and they trembled and stood far away. Chapter 20 verse 19 tells us this:
Then they (the Israelites) said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die…” and verse 21: “So the people stood afar off…”
Right then and there they traded in God’s eternal plan for something lesser. God did not create that “levitical” distance between him and His people – man did. It was self-imposed. We can further substantiate that thought from Jeremiah where we are told in chapter 31:33-34: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me…”.
As I often say, there is nothing new in the New Covenant. We are brought full circle in the Book of Revelation where twice we are told God’s heart in relationship to His people and their purpose in chapter 1:6 and 5:10 where there is once again His plan for kings and priests.
Indeed, the plan of God never changes!
So, here’s the question, using an old sports analogy, do you want to be a bench-warmer or would you prefer to get in the game? Do you want to receive your full inheritance or allow some high-priced intermediary give you what they think you deserve?
A part of my job is to encourage you to get in the game. But, like any good athlete, you need to know the rules that govern your sport of choice. Paul uses that sports analogy when talking about running the race. To become familiar with the rules, you need to read the rule book. There is no substitute for a continual reading of the Word.