Revive Our Hearts Podcast

An Organism

Episode Resources

Download "Questions to Consider When Choosing a Church."

Dannah Gresh: Jesus is trusting the Church to continue His work on earth. Do you think He set up a back-up plan in case we fail? Here's Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: God has no "plan B" for getting His message out. It's the Church to whom He has given the message, the gospel of Christ. He didn't give it to angels to give to the world. He didn't choose to do it primarily with billboards. He does it with His people and His people collectively.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for Tuesday, February 4, 2020. I’m Dannah Gresh.

Do you know the difference between an organization and an organism? And what could that possibly do with what we are studying on Revive Our Hearts this week? Well, Nancy's going to help us understand that better today as she continues in a series called “Who Needs the Church?” Here's Nancy.

Nancy: I'm holding in my hand a bundle of sticks. They're all tied together with this cord. This bundle of sticks . . . there's a kind of unity to these sticks. They're all about the same size. They're all tied together, but it's only an organizational unity. These sticks are not really one. You could pull them out; you could separate them. There's not an organic unity. There's not an internal unity to these sticks. The unity is merely external. It's just this cord that's holding these sticks together. That's an organization.

An organization is a group of people who are organized for a particular purpose. "It's a structure," the dictionary says, "through which individuals cooperate systematically to conduct business; a group of people who work together." There's something that ties them together. They work for the same company, or they go to the same school, or they're part of the same club. They're an organization.

Now compare instead this plant that's sitting to my left. It has a totally different kind of unity than that bundle of sticks. This plant has a lot of diverse parts. It has leaves; it has flowers on it, but there's an internal unity to this plant. All the diverse parts of this plant are an outgrowth of its inward life. It's one plant, and the different parts of the plant come out of that internal inward life.

This plant is not an organization; this plant is an organism. It's an organic unity, not an organizational unity. The dictionary defines organism as: "a living body, either vegetable or animal that's composed of different organs or different parts with functions which are separate but mutually dependent and essential to the life of the individual. A body made up of organs or other parts that work together to carry on the various activities and processes of life." That's an organism.

Now we distinguished last the the Church with a capital "C" as all believers of all time in all places who are part of the body of Christ. That is the Church. Then there is the local church, lowercase "c," and we'll talk about that later in this series.

Now as you think about the Church, capital "C," which is the Church? Is it an organization, or is it an organism? Now some people think of the church as an organization—just a bunch of people who join the same club. They all give their dues to the same club. They're tied together because they have the same name of their church. That's how they think of the church as an organization.

But as you look at the Scripture and see the Church, capital "C," it's not an organization of individual independent parts who have no real organic connection to each other. Instead, it's an organism; it's alive. It's held together, all the parts are held together because they are connected to one central source for life. The Church, capital "C," is comprised of all believers who are in union with Christ and therefore with each other.

It's a living organism. There's a dynamic growing relationship between the members of the body of Christ. As we think about the Church, we need to remember that there is unity through Christ. In the New Testament it was a "mystery revealed," Paul said, that the Old Testament believers didn't understand that one day God would bring together very diverse people—Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women—and would make them all part of one organic body.

Not just tying them together like these sticks are tied together in a bundle, but actually making them one new person—the body of Christ, the temple of God, the bride of Christ. The Church knows no racial, age, socio-economic, cultural distinctions. Isn't it an amazing thing that you can go to church and be with the people of God and realize that you can relate to, you can be connected to people who are so different from you that if it weren't for your relationship with Christ you would have nothing in common? But you have everything in common because you are in Christ! You are united with each other. One bride with one husband, there's one flock with one shepherd.

Pastor John MacArthur points this out in his book, The Body Dynamic. He says there are branches on one vine, one kingdom with one king, one family with one father, one building with one foundation, one body with one head. He says each of these illustrations involve a group related to the same perfect leader, Jesus Christ. There's a unity that we have in Christ.

Then we need to remember as we think about the Church, we need to remember the centrality of Christ. Not only is He the source of our unity, but He is central. He is core; He is foundational to the Church.

I have a friend who's a pastor who recently preached a series of messages to his church about the Church. He sent me his notes and I was struck by one paragraph. He said, "If you take Christ out of the picture and divorce any of these metaphors from their counterpart, the metaphor ceases to function.

A body without a head is not living. It's not a body; it's just a corpse. A building without a foundation cannot stand. It's just a pile of rubble. A woman without a husband is not a bride. Any organization without Christ is not the Church.

The centrality of Christ in the Church.

Then notice the ownership of Christ over His Church. The Church is His body; it is His Church. It's not my church I go to or your church. It's Christ's Church. He owns it. He purchased it with His blood. The Church belongs to Christ.

Then notice the Lordship of Christ over His Church. The centrality of Christ, the ownership of Christ, the lordship of Christ—He is the head. He's in charge. He's the boss. He is the sovereign Lord of His Church. That means the Church must be in submission to Christ, its head.

Then I'm touched as I think about the presence of Christ in the Church. Someone said to me recently, "Is there any church where God's really there, where there's the presence of God?" Now I know what she meant. What she meant was we sometimes get so busy with our programs and our services and just doing things and we're oblivious to the presence of God, and we don't sense the presence of God. But the fact is, whether we sense it or not, Christ is present in His Church.

I love that picture in Revelation chapters 1 & 2. It's a vision of Christ that was given to the apostle John. And what is Christ doing in that vision? He's standing in the midst of seven, golden lampstands, and He's holding seven stars in His right hand. You say, "What does that mean?"

Well, that angel explains to John the meaning of this vision. He says the lampstands are the seven local churches to whom these letters are written. Seven local churches. And what is Jesus doing? He's standing in the midst of these seven local churches. He is there. And the stars are the pastors, and Christ is holding them in His right hand.

In Revelation 2:1 the Scripture says, "These things say He who holds the seven stars in his right hand, and who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands."

Who walks in the midst of the church. We sometimes forget He's there. We sometimes ignore that He's there. We sometimes reject His presence, but nonetheless, He is there.

Some of those churches that are talked about in the book of Revelation, some of those local churches, were a pretty sorry mess. Some of them had some real major issues to deal with. But Jesus was there walking in the midst of them. He was watching. He was overseeing. He was encouraging, rebuking, correcting, instructing, pleading. He started out each of those letters to the local churches, "I know you works." How does He know? He's there. He sees.

When you assemble with God's people, as the people of God, the body of Christ, to meet together as a local expression of His universal Church; Christ is there.

Think about that when you go to church. Christ is present. We worship; we sing; we do services; we give our offerings; we listen to messages. We function outside the four walls of the building, we function as the Church in the presence of Christ—our Savior and our Lord.

Then I just want to note the love of Christ for His Church. To think less of the Church than Christ does is in a sense to be anti-Christ. You can't love Christ and not love His body. As flawed as that body is, how did Christ love His Church? Sacrificially, selflessly. He served His Church. Ephesians 5:25, "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her," (sorry mess that she is). He's committed to redeeming her, to restoring her, to making her a beautiful bride. He gave Himself up for her.

You can't love Christ and not love His Church.

The Church isn't without problems. Your church has problems; my church has problems. Those local expressions of the Church—they have problems, but it's still His Church. It's His body. Bodies can get hurt. Families can have pain and problems. Buildings have to be maintained and repaired. A bride doesn't always look the way she did when she was walking down the aisle to meet her bridegroom. But Jesus thought the Church worth laying down His life for, and He did.

Timothy Dwight was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, one of the leaders of the First Great Awakening in the 1700s. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Timothy Dwight was the president of Yale. He was there when God sent a revival to the student body at Yale. He wrote a hymn that is one of my very favorites. He said:

I love thy kingdom Lord,
The house of thine abode.
The Church our blessed redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.
I love thy Church, oh God.
Her walls before thee stand
Dear as the apple of thine eye
And graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall.
For her my prayers ascend.
To her my cares and toils be giv'n
Till toils and cares shall end.

Do you love the Church? Jesus does. He laid down His life for it. I want to tell you that's one of the biggest driving motivating forces in my life. That's why for years and years I have said that my goal in life is to be a wedding coordinator, helping the bride get ready for the wedding.

I've seen as many or more messes in churches as you have, probably. I've seen a lot; I've heard a lot. I know we're a sorry mess, but I know that Jesus loves the Church and gave His life for it. I want to tell you, my goal in life is to lay down my life for Christ and for His body, the Church.

Dannah: That's our host, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, pointing us to true hope for the Church. She'll continue with part two in a moment. Maybe you've been hurt by some people in the church or witnessed some hypocrisy. Can I recommend a month-long devotional from Revive Our Hearts on the “one anothers” of Scripture? It just might be what you need to find the healing you need. Some of those “one anothers” have to do with handling the hurt caused by others. Like, what does it mean to “bear with one another”? or how can we truly “forgive one another”?

The thirty-day devotional is available as our way of saying "thank you" when you contact Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. Our web address is ReviveOurHearts.com, or you can call us at 1–800–569–5959. So, no church is perfect. You probably know lots of examples of this. Here’s Nancy to lighten things up in the second part of today’s program.

Nancy: Do they have a church bulletin in the church you go to that lists the announcements and things that are happening in the church? I know they do in mine. You know, sometimes just a little typo can make a big difference in how an announcement reads. I came across this list of things that actually appeared in church bulletins.

  • "Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community."
  • "The audience is asking to wait until the end of the recession."
  • "Low self-esteem support group will meet Thursday at 7–8pm. Please use the back door."
    That's just for people with low self-esteem
  • "Ushers will eat late-comers."
    I think that was supposed to be "seat" late-comers.
  • "For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs."
  • "The pastor will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing 'Break Forth into Joy.'"
    Someone didn't think that one through carefully.
  • "Potluck supper: prayer and medication to follow."
  • "Don't let worry kill you off. Let the church help."
  • "Weight Watchers will meet at 7 p.m. at the First Presbyterian Church. Please use the large double door at the side entrance."
  • "Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in school days."
  • "Eight new choir robes are needed due to the deterioration of some of the older ones."
  • "The peace-making meeting scheduled for today has been cancelled due to a conflict."
  • "Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get."

And here's one. Supposedly these are all true. An announcement in a church bulletin for a national prayer and fasting conference:

  • "The cost for attending the prayer and fasting conference includes meals."
    That's my kind of conference.

Now the point is that churches, like humans, are flawed. In spite of the ideal, which is what we are talking about in this series, "Who Needs the Church?," in spite of the splendor of God's incredible plan for the Church, there is no ideal church on this side of heaven.

Our churches, in fact, are full of faults, flaws, and failures. That's because they are made up of people—people like us . . . people like me . . . people like you. When you talk about the church today, for some people that brings up all sorts of baggage. Some people find it hard to think fondly of the church. You may feel that your church is dry, dead, or dull. You may think that it has become so big that you get lost in the crowd. Or you may be so busy serving in your church that, that they very thought of church makes your eyeballs fall out, it stressed you out. You may have past experiences that cause you to associate church with hurt or pain or rejection.

But I want to encourage you for some moments here to forget whatever negative or painful experiences you may have associated with the church. I want us to think about what God intended for the church to be. The church is intended, designed by God, to be the context in which every part of the Christian life is to be nurtured and shaped—our walk, our worship, our witness, and our welfare.

Now let me just break those things apart and spell out for us a vision of what God intended should be what takes place within our local churches, within the community of Christ, within the body of Christ, within the universal Church. This is what God intended to take place.

The church is a place for accountability, exhortation, correction, and discipline

First of all, our walk: it's the context for our walk, our growth into Christ's likeness. A baby, a child, needs a family to grow up in. If it's going to grow into adulthood it needs a context for growth. It can't grow up by itself. It needs a context. That's what the church is to be for children of God. It's a place for accountability, for exhortation, for correction, for discipline when we need that in our lives.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "Christ works on us in all sorts of ways, but above all, He works on us through each other." We need each other in the body of Christ for our walk. It's in the context of the church that our lives are supposed to be getting prepared for heaven, prepared for eternity.

It's in the context of the church that we learn to lift our eyes upward above what happens in all the rest of our world and all the rest of our week—to look over and beyond this world with its problems and its struggles and its pressures and lift our eyes up and see Christ and see heaven and see eternity. That's where our focus on eternity should be shaped.

It's in the context of the church, and I don't mean by this just one service that you attend on Sunday morning. I mean in the context of being a part of the church that you're marriage is to be built up, supported, and protected. It's in the context of the church that our families should be raised.

The church children should be trained. It doesn't take a village to raise a child, but it does ideally take a church, a community of believers who are committed to Christian growth and to Christ-likeness and to becoming all God wants us to be in our walk.

Then it's the context for our worship. Worship is not just an individual matter between myself and God. It's a corporate matter; it's a community matter. The church is the context for our celebration of our faith, of our Christ, of our God. It's where we have participation in the Lord's Supper. That's our family meal. That's where we celebrate together the death, the resurrection, the life of Christ, the intercession of Christ, and all He is to us.

That's where we sing . . . and I think it's unfortunate that a lot of our praise songs today say "I" and "my" and "me" instead of "we." Now there's an element to our faith that's very personal, and it's very private. There's nothing wrong with these songs that say, "I worship You," but we need songs that say, "We worship You, we exalt You, we adore You, we love You Christ." It's a "we;" we're a family. The purpose of our worship isn't just to make us feel good. It's to honor and bless the Lord together.

The church is God's design and context for our witness, for our outreach into the world, for our witness to the world. Not just me witnessing personally to somebody who needs Christ, but us witnessing collectively as the world looks at us and they say, "Look how they love each other! Look how they get along with each other. Look how they help each other. Look how they need each other." People want to belong, and we can show what it really means to belong to a family and to a body.

It's God's intended way for taking the gospel to the world. God has no "plan B" for getting His message out. It's the Church to whom He has given the message, the gospel of Christ. He didn't give it to angels to give to the world. He didn't choose to do it primarily with billboards. He does it with His people and His people collectively.

The church is the context for our welfare, our own and that of others. When the church is healthy and functioning as it should, we shouldn't have to be dependent on the government to meet our physical needs, to care for those who are elderly or sick or poor or the widows, the orphans, or the unemployed. It's the responsibility of the church to care for one another, to meet each other's needs.

As I thought about this, two passages in the New Testament came to mind. One when an individual believer was fulfilling this responsibility. Remember Dorcas in the book of Acts chapter 9? Scripture says she was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor.

When she became sick and died, the apostle Peter came in and the Scripture says, "The room was filled with widows who were weeping and showing him the coats and the other garments that Dorcas had made for them" (see vv. 36–39). That was the church at work caring for the welfare of the widows.

It's not only individual believers who provide for the welfare of other believers, it's the corporate church collectively. In times of crisis the church has often provided relief. I think of that passage in Acts chapter 11 where the believers in Antioch learned that there was going to be a worldwide famine. That church in Antioch took an offering to send to their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Look how they care for one another! (see vv. 19–30)

The church is the context not only in which our physical welfare can be cared for but our relational needs as well. The Scripture says God sets the lonely in families. I was talking with a friend the other day who is single, and she was expressing her concern about growing old and being alone and how she would be financially cared for.

I said to her, as I've said to others, that's another important reason for every Christian to be plugged into the life of a local church, a family, a body, a community. Not just your name on the church roll, but your life plugged into the life of the people of God.

The church is the place where, ideally, we should be able to receive comfort when we're grieving. I think of all the times in my own life when the body of Christ has been there. I'm talking about at the death of my father through a heart attack, the death of my brother in an automobile wreck.

At times of personal loss and grief or struggle, God's people have been there and have walked with me and carried me and prayed for me through times when I couldn't pray for myself. They were there meeting practical needs, meeting relational needs, comforting when grieving.

Listen, you may love some particular radio or television preacher. But I'll tell you this: he's not going to be at your side when your dad dies. This happened to a friend of mine earlier this week. That man on the TV or the radio, he's not going to weep with you when your son rebels. He's not going to be there when your husband loses his job or your house burns in a fire as our family experienced.

That man's not going to stay up late at night trying to help rescue your marriage when it needs it or your wayward son or daughter. He's not going to be the one to baptize your children or to try and help restore you when you fall into sin.

We need the church.

We need the church; we need the community of faith. We need the local body of Christ. We need each other.

I was talking with a woman not long ago who was in the midst of a major crisis. She had just been laid off from her job and within days learned that her grown daughter had taken her life. She was in the throes of this. This woman had such an incredible peace in the midst of her grieving.

As we began to talk and I was exploring what she was experiencing. oF course it was the grace of God, but do you know how it was being mediated to her? It was through her local church. She's only been in that city not long, a year or so. But the people in her local church were there. They had somebody offer her airline miles for her to be able to go and travel to the service. People offered her a place to stay when she came back so she wouldn't be alone. People would come over to be with her.

The body of Christ was working. It was functioning. It's what we need for our walk, our worship, our witness, our welfare. It's intended to be the context for life, for growth, for suffering, for service, for fellowship, for everything we need to do and be and are between here and heaven.

Dannah: That concept of being “plugged in” to one another’s lives is so important! Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been showing us that God really has no plan B for getting His work done. I wonder, if the writers of the New Testament were writing today, would they say it that way? “Plug in to one another.” 

Well, that’s not one of the official “one anothers” of the Bible, but the concept is certainly there. Did you know that the Bible gives us more than fifty commands that include that phrase “one another”? It’s true. And there’s a lot for us to learn from each of those so-called "one anothers" of the Bible.

As I mentioned earlier in the program, remember to ask for your copy of Living Out the One Anothers of Scripture: A 30-Day Devotional when you contact us with your donation. To give, just go to ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.

Can you be a part of the Church without attending a local church? Nancy will address that tomorrow. I’m Dannah Gresh, inviting you back for Revive Our Hearts. To close us, here’s Nancy one more time to pray over us.

Nancy: O Lord, I love Your Church, Your kingdom, the place that You are building for Yourself. How I pray that You would revive Your Church, that You would restore and make her into the beautiful bride that one day will be presented to You in heaven. May we love and nourish and cherish Your body even as You do. Thank you for the gift of the Church. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling you to love the Church. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the NKJV.

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