July 1, 2014

A Fresh Look at the Church

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 2:19–21)

Today begins a new study in a devotional booklet by Selwyn Hughes called, “A Fresh Look at the Church.” Before beginning, this topic requires some definitions.

The church of the Bible is made up of the people of God, those who believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and eternal life. It is not a building nor an institution, but a Body. Most references to the church are about a local group of believers, but some refer to the entire Body of Christians all over the world and regardless of their denomination or individual differences.

The criteria for being in this Body is faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, not trusting ourselves or what we do, but Him. This is the Gospel. The second criteria is faith in the right Christ, the Jesus that Scripture describes as God in human flesh, fully God and fully man, hard to define but the only option when the entire Bible is considered.

The people of God are transformed people, fitted for heaven yet left here with a holy task. Paul described it this way, “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:8–10)

All who belong to Jesus have a similar commission. We are saints 100%, yet sinners 100%. We are justified by the blood of Christ which is incredible good news to offer to the world. We serve God as we bring His light into a dark world — even though the church does not often look enlightened or capable of doing anything helpful. Still, God’s intent is to show His wisdom, not to those who refuse His Son and His people, but to the unseen rulers of an unseen realm.

That said, the church is somewhat of a mystery, just as the Gospel is an enigma to those who do not believe it. However, even those who believe it get it messed up in our descriptions of it. And if that were not bad enough, we also fail to live out the wonder of the new life Christ has put in us. We often are infiltrated by false teachers, imitated by cults, and misunderstood by our own people.

Selwyn Hughes points out that the church today is not like it was in its beginnings. While the Body of Christ needs to be relevant to a modern world with its social changes and cultural differences, we must always give witness to the life of Christ, the very character of the One who gave us life, His life. For that, we need continual renewal and in 2014 North America, that need seems more obvious than ever.

Reviving is not just a modern need. God’s people tend to slip backward so very easily. For this, the psalmist prayed, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6)

The prophet Habakkuk heard that God would deal with His wayward people and he also prayed, “O Lord, I have heard the report of you, and your work, O Lord, do I fear. In the midst of the years revive it; in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

Yet in all our fumbling and failings, even in the times where God chastens us, we who are members of the Body of Christ know where our true joy and strength come from. Habakkuk also said, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19)

I’m not certain what Hughes will say about the church, but I will say that whatever the church may look like to those who are critical, it is still the Body of Christ. He said He will build it and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. He said He is using it to reveal His wisdom to unseen forces in unseen ways. One day, the church that appears in total disarray now will be seen as glorious.

Even so, right now we need renewal and we have much work to do.

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