Blessings: The Church
Scriptures reveal that the church is at the centre of the eternal and historical purpose of God. Strictly speaking, it is not so accurate to refer to the day of Pentecost as the ‘birthday’ of the church; the church actually enjoys a direct continuity with Old Testament Israel. For the church is the covenant people of God from the Old Testament and the New – what happened at Pentecost was that the people of God became the Spirit-filled body of Christ. It is also called the ‘fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ (2 Cor.13:14; cf Phil.2:1) because it is our common participation (koinonia) in HIm which constitutes the church.
Believers recognise that there is the visible church and the invisible church. God reserves the right to admit people into His true (invisible) church when they exercise true faith in Christ. The visible church may comprise the ‘tares’ and the ‘wheat’ and God knows who they are; only those who are regenerated by God’s Spirit belong to the true church of God.
In Ephesians 3:10, the Apostle Paul wrote: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”. As God exerted great power in creation, so He exerted great power in the saving and upbuilding of His people (the church); the Holy Spirit plays a significant role in all these. Ephesians 3:10 reveals the wondrous works God can do in and through damaged human beings (in the church He inaugurated) – and the audience comprises the watching angels who invariably marvel at the wisdom of God.
The church as a multiracial, multicultural community is like a beautiful tapestry, yet a multi-repair shop, where disordered and broken-down lives, made ugly by sin, are being reconstructed in Christlike shape. The wisdom of God that Paul describes is not just the wisdom that brings Jew and Gentile together in the body of Christ, but is also the wisdom that directs the power that quickens the spiritually dead and makes new creatures of them in a new and lovely fellowship of holiness and love. Great indeed is the power of God in the lives of His people! The church that Christ loves and sustains is the key feature of God’s plan for both time and eternity, and care for the church’s welfare, which is what love for the church means, is an aspect of Christlikeness that Christians must seek to cultivate. We need to love the church because Christ loves the church.
Ephesians 4:11-13 reveal that Christ, through the Spirit, in HIs ascension, gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors to equip the believers in the church for the work of ministry i.e. for building up the body of Christ, until the believers all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood. God did not leave the church alone but provided the leadership and the individuals to equip the believers to serve; it is the believers primarily who are to build the church in their service. In other words,ministry is not the prerogative of a clerical elite but is the privileged calling of all the people of God in the church. The teaching and training of the pastor and leaders are directed at enabling the people of God to be ‘a servant people’, ministering actively but humbly according to their gifts in a world of alienation and pain.
1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 outline the variety of gifts given to the church by the Holy Spirit. These gifts are diverse and they are beneficial to those who exercise them faithfully and those who receive their ministry.
What is important is to acknowledge that the purpose of these gifts is the common good, to build up the church in both size and depth, and the criterion for evaluating the gifts is the degree to which they build the church (1Cor.4:12). Gifts are not meant for certain members with them to think themselves superior to others in the church; they should not cause division and ‘one upmanship’ in the congregation; instead they are for edification of all.
This unhappy state was seen in the church at Corinth and the Apostle Paul had to rebuke Corinthian Christians for being people of the flesh, infants in Christ. There was jealousy and strife among them in the exercise of their gifts and the end result was dissension and strife in the church of God.
The Holy Spirit has a unique and indispensable role to fulfil until Chris’s return. The new birth is a birth of the Spirit; Christian assurance is due to the inner witness of the Spirit; holiness is the fruit of the Spirit and the church is the fellowship of the Spirit. But God’s people can grieve the Holy Spirit of God by not putting off the ‘old self’ which belongs to our former manner of life and putting on the ‘new self’ created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. The Holy Spirit is holy; the temple He dwells in ought to be holy and unblemished. We are individually and together the temple of God – we must keep the temple holy for God’s Spirit. We are the bride of Christ; the bride must be presented pure to the bridegroom Jesus Christ. We are the body of Christ and Christ is the head; for in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – and all were made to drink of one Spirit. Are these truths seen in our lives, in the life of the church?