Gospel Insights

by Michael Smith

 

Chapter Seventeen

IMAGES OF THE TRUE CHRISTIAN CHURCH

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers;
Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love,
and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the sight of God and our Father
(1 Thessalonians 1:2-3)

 

We often think of "The Church" as a building down the road, and there is a growing realisation in the UK that by the middle of the 21st century there may be few such buildings left.  Their upkeep is expensive, and as the younger generations embrace secular Post-Modernism (please see Chapter Nineteen), or New Age style 'spiritual' beliefs in preference to the Christian beliefs of their parents and grandparents, falling congregations are resulting in the selling off of many church buildings, either to the growing number of non-Christian religions in this country which are looking for suitable buildings for their adherents, or to developers to be turned into living accommodation.


The Christian Church Congregation or Meeting

While the growth in all these other beliefs is, of course, a very serious issue for the Christian, the loss of the buildings themselves shouldn't concern us too much, as during the first three hundred years of Christianity the believers had no church buildings; meeting instead in one another's homes to worship together.  Neither did they have the New Testament gospels and letters all together in one conveniently bound book as we know the Bible today, no hymn books, no means of modern travel, and no mass media, yet they still turned the then world upside down!

The real Christian Church is simply the aggregate of what the Bible calls the "little flock" [1]; i.e. all those folk who down the centuries have responded to the gospel and been saved.  And 'churches' are the gathering together of groups of these Christian folk primarily to worship, magnify, praise, and glorify God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  At such assemblies the word of God is taught and studied, believers testify to the working of God in their lives, they pray together, and remember what the Lord has done for them as they celebrate His Last Supper or Holy Communion.

Church elders and teachers are to safeguard God's perfect truth against any heresies, and the messages preached should always point to the Lord Jesus Christ Who is the Head of His Church.  Christian assemblies are not places for 'fun', and as we recognise Whom it is we have come to worship, our meetings should be full of reverence and awe - even dread, according to Scripture [2] - towards our Holy God, with our focus solely upon Him and not upon any building, denomination, or minister.  The Lord Jesus promises to be in the midst of any such group of true believers [3].


The Christian Church Community

So the Christian Church is not a building, but a community or 'body' of people divinely created by God the Holy Spirit, with the crucified, risen, and glorified Christ as its Head and its focus.  This community of believers is not an end in itself but is a 'work in progress'; learning neither to accept or conform to the world's ways and standards as God trains up His People to be ready for eternal life with Him in heaven [4].

Our Relationship with the Unbelieving World

While the Christian Church is exclusive in the sense that everyone in the Church must be saved, or born again, the Christian Church is also inclusive in the sense that it reaches out to everyone everywhere, whatever their nationality or culture, with the message of Truth that Jesus was willing to lay down His life for His creation because He loved us [5]. 

Whilst being aware of, and avoiding falling into, the trap of the 'Social Gospel', the Christian Community will have our hearts set to reach out to minister to the lost world around us in every way the Lord leads us; be it with our time in visiting the sick or lonely, or listening with Christ's compassion to folk's problems, or the use of our skills and resources to meet some of the practical needs of our neighbours.  But our priority is to preach the gospel.  Though many - most - people will refuse to open their hearts and lives to God and be saved, those who do accept His gift of salvation then become a member of the Church and the special object of His love; as a bride becomes the special object of the love of the bridegroom [6].  And as the bride longs to please her husband, so each member of the Church will want to live an obedient life pleasing to the bridegroom; the Lord Jesus.

Our Relationship with Our Christian Brothers and Sisters

The Church is God's family and like any family it is far from perfect, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, and whether we happen to 'like' one another or not, the Church is to be a testimony to the unbelieving world which should see Jesus' love for them reflected in our love for each other [7].  We are all given different gifts by the Holy Spirit to use for the building up of the Church [8], but, more generally, each one of us can minister to our brothers and sisters in a variety of ways in which the Lord enables and leads us.  We can all help build up other believers in their walk with the Lord through encouragement and exhortation [9] and bring correction and rebuke to erring believers when necessary [10], while carefully watching ourselves that we are not causing a brother or sister, weaker in the faith than we are, to stumble in their walk through our own ungodly or hypocritical words or actions [11].

We must all be quick to forgive one another any trespass against us whilst likewise swiftly seeking their forgiveness for our wrongs against them [12].  Younger members of the congregation can visit the sick in hospital or the elderly in their homes while the armchairs of the older folk unfailingly make perfect 'prayer' chairs [13]!  We can bear one another's burdens with God's grace and biblical counsel, realising we are also weak and 'don't know it all', if they are going through a trial of some kind - maybe even just sitting quietly with them if that is what they need [14].  And if we are able, we can meet each other's practical and financial needs so that none goes without, and take care of those in our fellowships who have lost husbands or fathers [15].

The Persecuted Church

Persecution has always been the lot of the Christian Church throughout its history in most countries [16].  The freedom Christians have experienced in the West during recent centuries is certainly an anomaly, for which we can be extremely thankful to God but which we should not take for granted.  Indeed, in the last few decades the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church have begun to be ignored, sidelined and ridiculed as Western nations turn away from God and His laws, and we are now beginning to experience a more transparent contempt for Christianity in virtually all areas of  the political, social, educational, legal, and cultural spectrum.  It will only get more vehement.

But God has promised to strengthen and protect His persecuted Church in their suffering.  And His Word encourages us to remain faithful to the Lord Jesus in all adverse circumstances.  Whether persecution comes in the form of the indifference of secular worldliness, or in the horrendous torture and death from the hands of atheistic governments or the followers of other religions, God promises to give us His grace to endure [17].  Yes, the Church on earth must go through many persecutions and great tribulations before we reach our home above, but the heavenly Church is safe beyond all persecution and evil.  In heaven the Church will at last have perfect rest [18].

 

A Hymn

The Church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is His new creation by water and the word;
From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride; with His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.

Elect from every nation, yet one o'er all the earth, her charter of salvation One Lord, one faith, one birth,
One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food, and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
Yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, "How long?", and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

'Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace for evermore.
Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest, and the great Church victorious shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One, and mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.
O happy ones and holy! Lord, give us grace that we, like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.

Samuel John Stone

 

 

Footnotes

[1]  Luke 12:32.          [2]  Isaiah 8:13.          [3]  Matthew 18:20.          [4]  Ephesians 4:1-6, 17-32;  Ephesians 5:1-21;  1 Thessalonians 5:12-24;  Philippians 2:14-15.          [5]  John 3:16;  Colossians 4:5-6.          [6]  Acts 2:41-42, 46-47;  Isaiah 62:5.          [7]  John 17:20-23;  Acts 2:46-47;  Philippians 2:1-4.          [8]  Ephesians 4:11-16.          [9]  Acts 14:22;  Hebrews 10:24-25.          [10]  Galatians 6:1;  James 5:19-20.          [11]  Romans 14:19-21;  Matthew 7:3-5.          [12]  Ephesians 4:31-32;  Colossians 3:12-14.          [13]  Ephesians 1:15-16;  Philippians 1:3-6.          [14]  Galatians 6:2;  Job 2:11-13.          [15]  Acts 2:44-45;  1 Timothy 5:3-5;  Luke 6:33-36;  Proverbs 19:17;  James 1:27.          [16]  Matthew 5:10-12;  Hebrews 11:35-38.  There are various ministries and websites which will be able to provide much information for anyone seeking to pray for our persecuted brethren around the world, for example:  Barnabas Fund Release International British Pakistani Christian AssociationInternational Christian Concern.          [17]  Luke 21:16-19;  Revelation 2:10;  Revelation 12:13-17.          [18]  Revelation 21:3-4.

 

 

 

Chapter Sixteen   |   Chapter Eighteen   |   Back to Contents

 

 

Michael Smith 2013