Revive Our Hearts Podcast

What is a Church?


Leslie Basham: Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Essentially, the church is not an organization. It is not a place. It's not somewhere you go. It's not something you do. It's something we are.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, July 29th. Here's Nancy.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Over the next couple of weeks we're going to be addressing a subject that, well, when we bring up this word it probably brings up all sorts of associations in different people's minds. It's the word "church." I'm going to be talking about, Who Needs the Church?

I think about something I read where a London newspaper offered a prize for the best essay on the subject: What's wrong with the church? The prize was won by a man from Wales who gave this answer. "What's wrong with the church is our failure to realize and wonder at the beauty, the mystery, the glory, and the greatness of the church."

I think that is so true, and I think it's very needed in our generation, especially in our younger generation, that we redeem the concept of the church. Many people today feel, even many believers feel, "I don't need the church." I want us to look into God's Word and wonder at the beauty, the mystery, the glory, and the greatness of the church.

The church was not man's idea; it is not man's institution. It is God's idea; it is God's plan. You're going to see that you need the church; I need the church. Every child of God needs the church. But I want us to have a better understanding of why as we look into God's Word.

Now, I think the church has something of an identity crisis today--not sure what it is, who it is. And you know, we grow up as little children: "Here's the church. Here's the steeple. Open the doors. Where are all the people?" The church was a building. It's a place you go to. Well, we have buildings that we call churches, but essentially the church is not somewhere you go.

Then as we get a little older we realize that the church, well, some of our churches are organizations. They're an institution like belonging to a club where you pay your dues. Well, instead we pay our tithes.

Essentially the church is not something you do. It's not an organization. It's not an institution. There may be organization to it, but essentially the church is not an organization. It is not a place. It's not somewhere you go. It's not something you do. It's something we are. The church is something we are.

Now as you get into the Scripture and you study the church, there are two different concepts of church. The one we could say is capital "C" Church, and the other is lowercase little "c" church. What is capital "C" Church, the Church?

When we talk about the Church . . . . As the Scripture talks about the Church, it refers to all true believers of all time in all places. They comprise the Church. Some have called it the universal Church.

If you're a child of God, you are a member of the Church. It consists of all true believers, those who are united with Christ and therefore are united with each other. When you got saved, when you came into the family of God, you became a part of the Church. Some have called it the invisible Church.

2 Timothy 2 verse 19 says, "The Lord knows those who are His." We can't look around and know who are the true believers--the capital "C", universal, invisible Church that is all true believers.

Then we have the church lowercase "c", the local church, the visible expression on this earth of the body of Christ. Now in our local churches there are some people who are not true believers.

There are some people who belong to our local churches who do not belong to the Church, capital "C" Church. The Scripture talks about wheat and tares and you can't always tell the difference until the end of time when God sorts through it all.

You can join a church of any denomination and not necessarily be a part of the Church, the body of Christ. The visible church on earth is the local church, the local expression of the body of Christ.

Now the book of Ephesians has a lot to say about the Church. It's kind of a theological text on the Church and it lifts up the glory and the wonder of the Church as God ordained it. In Ephesians chapter 3 beginning in verse 9, Paul says that he wanted 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. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord" (verses 9-11)

You say, what did all that mean? What did you just say? Paul says, "God has a plan." It's a plan that was devised and designed in eternity past. It was a plan to bring together Jews and Gentiles, the redeemed of all ages, into a body, the body of Christ, the Church, capital "C", the Church.

And to the Old Testament saints this plan was a mystery. It was hinted at in the Old Testament, but those Old Testament saints could not see clearly what we now learn in the New Testament. It's God's plan to have His body, the body of Christ, be a Church.

It was God's plan from the beginning of the ages, and it is crucial to God's redemptive purposes on this earth. It is the expression on earth of the kingdom of God, the body of Christ. We'll talk about that in this series.

Now in Ephesians 3, that passage I just read, Paul says that "the manifold wisdom of God . . . ." That word manifold means variegated, many-sided, many-splendored, many-faceted, "wisdom of God is revealed to the principalities and powers in heavenly places by the church" (verse 10). Those are angels, both holy angels and fallen angels--demons. He said the angels and the demons see the glory of God in the Church.

They see something that they marvel at, that they wonder at, that reveals the multifaceted, many-splendored wisdom and glory of God when they look at God's plan for the church. It's a magnificent plan God has and so magnificent that even the angels and the demons wonder at it.

Now in the New Testament there are a number of metaphors for the Church, and there are some in particular in the book of Ephesians that I want us to look at over the next few sessions. The first is that the Church is a body. It's the body of Christ. Ephesians chapter 1 verse 22 says that God gave Christ "as head over all things to the church which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (verses 22-23). Christ is the head, the Church is the body, and God has designed us to fit together to be united as one.

Ephesians chapter 4 verse 15: "We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (verses 15-16).

So Paul is saying that the head supplies what the body needs so that all the members of the body can function together and the body can grow, it can build itself up. So the body grows up into Christ. It grows together as a body, and then it grows out bringing others into the body.

To be a body of Christ, for the Church to be a body means that we as believers are united with Christ. A head that is severed from a body is not alive. The body can't be alive if it's not connected to the head. We're inseparably connected to Christ, our head, and to the rest of the body.

Someone not too long ago told me, "The closer I feel to God, the less need I feel to be in church." Now, that's not a Biblical way of thinking. You can't be close to Christ and keep your distance from the rest of His body. We're members of His body. We fit together; we're connected to Him, inseparably connected to Him and to each other.

We're interdependent on each other as my hand and my arm and my body. All my body parts are interdependent on each other. One can't function without the others. The body parts can't function without the head. We're interdependent on each other. We need each other for our very life.

Here's another implication of the fact that the Church is the body of Christ. The way you treat the body is the way you treat Christ Himself. We're connected to Him. He is our head. So the way you treat the body is the way you treat Christ Himself.

Remember when Paul was persecuting the Christians, when he was Saul before he became the apostle Paul? The voice came to him on the Damascus road and said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). Paul didn't think he was persecuting God. He thought he was persecuting these people who called themselves believers in Christ in the way. But because he was persecuting Christ's body, he was persecuting Christ Himself.

So if you hurt the body of Christ, you hurt Christ. And conversely, when you minister to the body of Christ, when you bless the body of Christ, when you give to the body of Christ, you give to Christ. You minister to Christ. You bless Christ. To neglect other believers, to mistreat other believers, to despise other believers is to do harm to Christ and to yourself because they are part of your body.

If I hurt my hand intentionally--if I scrape it up or cut a finger off of my hand--I'm hurting myself. I'm not just hurting my finger; I'm not just hurting my hand. I'm hurting myself. I'm hurting my whole body. So if I neglect other parts of the body, if I mistreat them, if I despise them, if I speak critically or ill of them, I'm hurting myself. I'm hurting Christ.

Ephesians 5 says, "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body" (verses 29-30).

So how do you treat the body, the body of Christ, the Church? Do you criticize it, neglect it, ignore it, attack it, complain about it? "You can't believe what happened at my church." You're attacking the body; you're attacking Christ; you're attacking yourself. Or do you respect it? Do you encourage it? Do you bless it? Do you nourish it and care for it and cherish it as Christ nourishes and cherishes His body, the Church?

Lord, thank you for the wonder of Your plan for the Church. Thank you for this great mystery that You have now revealed to us. Thank you for the privilege of being a part of the body of Christ. We're part of each other. We're united with Christ; we're united with one another. We need each other. Help us to nourish and cherish and care for the body as You do for we are members of Your body and members of one another. I pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.

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