All the studies that I share are borne out of our morning Bible studies together as a family. Each morning, before Mark goes to work, we spend at least an hour together in the Word studying out various topics. Currently we are studying out relationships within the Church. What I share comes from all the insights shared by various family members, even our youngest who is only 6 years old. I take lots of notes, organize them a bit and share them with you.
For those that attend services with us in Meadowview, I apologize ahead of time if you may hear some of these stories and analogies again at some future time when Mark is teaching. Much of the material he shares with the congregation comes directly out of our times studying the Scriptures together as a family. 😉
What follows below is much longer than other posts will be in the future, but this represents a week’s worth of Bible study.
Colossians 1:15-18 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”
I am sure you have all seen little kids draw stick figures – a big round head with a stick body and stubby arms and legs – haven’t you? Well, as I read this passage of Scripture, it is that kind of a figure that comes to mind. If I could via email, I would draw one for you here. The head would receive the label JESUS. The body would receive the label CHURCH. That’s what the Scripture above says. What a simple picture of the relationship between Jesus and the church. But I wonder, how deeply we have ever thought about this relationship. Personally, many years ago, I had never given it much thought even though I had grown up going to church and had been taught about Jesus. I never truly understood the intimate relationship between the two until I studied the Scriptures for myself.
The Scriptures often use parables or analogies to help us understand some truth. Let’s consider the metaphorical use of a physical head and body in Ephesians. When you consider a human head, what is it’s function? Even if we don’t have a degree in anatomy and physiology, we know it is home to all the body’s major sensory organs. Our head takes in nutrients and air and has the senses of seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, and smelling. The head also provides communication. Although the nose, ears, tongue, nerves, and others parts are important, without a functioning brain, they’d all be useless. The brain monitors and controls the human body. No head no life.
The two are inextricably connected. A head cannot be severed from the body. The body will not live. What then does this say about the church?
Ephesians 1:22-23 says “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
When you think of church, do you think about it in this way – that it should represent who Jesus is? The transliteration of the word “fullness” in Greek in this Scripture, is “pleroma” and means the” super abundance of” or “totality of.” All of the essence of who Christ is, is captured in His church.
This past Sunday night at the evening service, Mark talked about the heart of Jesus revealed through His last prayer to the Father before His death. Here is a small excerpt:
John 17:20-23 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. ”
In some of His last words, Jesus prays about what is most on His heart before His death. He prays for His followers. He prays for His church. He prays for unity, for oneness of mind and thought and purpose. He prays for the same closeness He shares with His Father in heaven. Over and over again throughout that prayer, He says that world will know Him – if His followers are one as He and the Father are one.
So, is this oneness what characterizes church today? Think about the congregations you have attended throughout your lifetime or the one you are a part of now. Was there/is there a oneness of mind, thought and goals? I believe that we all must sadly acknowledge that unity is not what comes to mind first thing when we think of church. In fact, most would say just the opposite. There are thousands of divisions within Christendom. The phone book is just one place we can look. Hundreds of denominations within Abingdon alone. The church has split time and time again to the point where we basically have, as Mark said Sunday night, “Burger King religion” or in other words, “have it your way….” Want to grab breakfast at church, go to….., want a good worship band, go to……., want to meet at a later time so you can sleep in on Sunday morning, go to……, want no instruments during worship, go to……..don’t think you need baptism, go to….. think you need baptism, go to………. want a happening youth ministry, go to……On and on it goes. Division after division.
I think if we are honest with ourselves, we as individuals pretty much do things based on what we feel is right. We are often led by our desires or our emotions. As a people, especially in our “politically correct” society, we also have an especially hard time accepting the fact that not everyone can be right. We are led by our emotions and we want to believe that what someone else believes is okay for them as long as what I believe is okay for me. We are conflict-avoiders and would rather leave a situation that doesn’t align with our point of view. I know from personal experience that it is so hard to actually listen to someone who thinks differently than I do on a subject. Frequently I find myself already formulating in my mind all my reasons and answers I can give as to why they are wrong. ;-( Am I the only one who does this?
But what do the Scriptures say?
Ephesians 4:2-6, 15 says: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
Wow, there is just so much in this Scripture that goes against everything society and our nature tells us. Don’t run away. Bear with one another. Be gentle. Be patient. There is only one Lord. There is only one faith. Not all roads lead to heaven.
Ephesians 2:19-22 says, “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. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”
There are three things we will focus on from these Scriptures:
1. We are members of the same household: We are family. Calling each other brothers and sisters is not just a nicety. We have actually become family through the blood of Jesus.
2. This household must be built on the right foundation :the teachings of the apostles (found in the New Testament), the teaching of the prophets (found in the Old Testament) and have Jesus as the cornerstone. In the construction of a masonry foundation, the Cornerstone is the first stone set and it is important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.
3. We, together, are being built into the holy temple of the Lord. Together weare to represent His fullness.
Jesus prayed for our unity and the answer as to how we can achieve that unity is found in these Scriptures above.
First, we must recognize that it is not God’s plan for there to be lone Christians. In the same way that Jesus on earth was the representation of the fullness of God to the world, today, the church is the organism thorough which Christ is made known to the world. This is His plan. By following His plan, all will see and know Jesus. Believers living and working and meeting together in unity – make Christ manifest to the world.
In our morning Bible study, we asked Joy if she would like to have a lego to build with. She laughed and said “what can I do with one lego?” Even young children get it that you can’t build anything magnificent with one lego or even a few legos. Let’s say a local congregation has a few hundred believers counted among its members, but only a few come to the meetings of the church during the week. Wouldn’t this be similar to giving your child a few different legos on different days of the week? Let’s say Wednesday we give Joy 4 blue legos, 2 white legos and 4 green legos but on Sunday she get 3 yellow legos, 4 gray legos and 3 blue legos. What can she build on either one of those days with a sum total of 10 legos? Meanwhile 90 other legos are lost somewhere in the house? Imagine what a grand building she could make if we gave her all 100 legos to work with instead of just 10? Hmmmm…. then what does that say for the church?
Together then we must be committed to building on the teachings of the Old and the New Testaments, which taken together are the Bible. – that is, the whole Bible – not bits and pieces, not the only the New Testament, or not only the Old Testament, but the whole Bible. His church is built on this solid foundation, with Christ as the cornerstone from which all measurements are taken. We must constantly refer back to Him, the cornerstone, to make sure we are building correctly.
I wonder, what was it like for you if you grew up in church. For me, although I grew up attending services at various congregations, I did not have a knowledge of the Scriptures. I mostly relied on what others told me. I listened to pastors, ministers, Sunday school teachers, parents, grandparents, I even read books about religious and spiritual things. But I never spent much time in the Scriptures myself. Some of us might remember this analogy from a previous sermon – Does sitting in front of a piano make you a pianist? Or if you park yourself in the garage, do you become a car? Silly to think that way, right? Similarly, reading books about brain surgery does not make you a brain surgeon. You become these things only after lots of study and actually putting into practice what you have learned. So what does this say about Christians? Does showing up at church make you one automatically? Or does just studying The Book make you one? Hmmmmm….obviously NO!
And this is where the problem begins. How many people going to church today do you think actually have a knowledge of the Scriptures? How many of us study the Scriptures for ourselves and draw our convictions from the totality of Scripture, rather than from something we may have heard from our parents, from the pulpit or seen on a bumper sticker? Getting our hands on the Scriptures is easier now than ever. What if a day is coming when we will no longer have access to them? Or how many people are there that call themselves Christians and even study the Bible, but don’t actually put into practice what it says, but rather put into practice what they think it should say?
Can we all be following the same book if there are over 20,000 so called “Christian” denominations? If the Word is truly our standard than how can there be divisions? If Jesus calls us to be unified and we are all claiming the name of Christ, then can we all be right? If God, as our loving Father is truly concerned about getting His children home to Him, then do you really believe that he would make salvation so complicated, so difficult to understand? Put more simply, if your child were staying with a relative in California and you were trying to get them home to you in Virginia, what kind of instructions would you give to the child and to those relatives watching over the child? Would they be clear or convoluted? If you, who are not perfect, know how to give clear instructions to get your child home to you, then what do you expect our perfect and loving heavenly Father to do?
Let me give you another very simple example that I believe we can all relate to in this fast food society. Who among us has eaten at a McDonald’s Now, has anyone been to a McDonald’s in another country? What was it like? What did it look like, what food did they serve? Let’s make it even easier in case there are those who haven’t traveled to another country? Have you ever been to a McDonald’s in another state? What did it look like? What food did they serve? I have indeed eaten in a McDonald’s in several different countries and several different states. And guess what? They all look the same! And they all serve the same foods!
Or perhaps you prefer Chick-fil-A? What do the employees say to you regardless of which establishment you visit? “My pleasure – is there anything else I can help you with? Wow! How in the world can this be? Thousands of miles apart and yet they all do the same thing! Well,did you know that each franchise has a manual that they must follow? This quote is taken directly from a franchise manual: “Maintaining unity within a franchise system is paramount if a brand is to succeed. ” Now how, does this apply to church?
Think about it – where do you see more unity – in the church or in a McDonald’s franchise?
We all know the answer – Corporations are achieving greater unity than those professing to follow Christ. We see this everywhere – KFC. Taco Bell, you name it…..
Is this what Jesus died for? Unity in business endeavors?
Friends, those of us professing to follow Christ proclaim that Jesus is Lord of our life. But is this truly what is born out by our example in our daily lives? The reality is that franchise owners know and follow their manuals more precisely than we know and follow our Bibles. How incredibly sad. How incredibly scary!
Jesus must be our head. He must be our control center – the one calling the shots. Let’s make it personal – is he that for you?
Here’s a question to help you answer that. What do you say is the best flavor of ice-cream? Vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, strawberry or something else? We did this simple exercise in our family one morning and guess what came back? 5 people with 5 different answers! Imagine that. Then we changed the question slightly to, what if Jesus said that the best flavor of ice-cream was vanilla? Joy, our 6 year old said, “well then, I would have to say it is vanilla.” Wow, out of the mouth of babes!
Are you willing to do this with the Bible? You see, there are certain things that are non-negotiable. The plan of salvation is non-negotiable. God came up with a plan for us to be saved by. He gives us directions on how to make it home to Him. (Just like in the California example above). This plan is clearly spelled out in the Word of God. But ask 20 people professing to believe in Christ how to be saved and you will probably get at least three different answers. Can they all be right? Of course not! There cannot be three truths. There is only one truth. And that truth is contained in the Word of God. And here we must ask ourselves honestly, are we each willing to go to the Word of God together and seek out the answer and live by what it says? How much effort are you willing to put into seeking out the truth for yourself? It is oh so much easier to be spoon-fed. Let me just take someone else’s word for it. Let me just pull out a verse here and a verse there that says what I want it to say to prove my opinion. Let me read a book about the subject. But where will that lead me? You see the only one any one of us will be standing in front of on the day of Judgement is Jesus, the embodiment of the Word of God. There will be no grandma, parents or pastor by my side feeding me the answers or handing down the judgement. The Word of God will judge me.
God says there is only one church. When He looks out over the earth and the myriad denominations and congregations meeting together (sometimes just right across the street from one another), what He sees is His one church, His family, His body, which is made up of those people that are actually taking direction from Him. Our thoughts our attitudes, our goals, our desires, our relationships, in short, everything – should be governed by the head, that is, Jesus. If He is not the head of the church, or if He is not the cornerstone from which everything is measured and put in place, then it is not His church.
There are other things not specifically spelled out for us in Scripture, which I will call “non-essentials.” These are things that do not effect or change the purpose, goal or plan of salvation. They encompass things like what time to meet, where to meet, how long to meet together, what kind of music to have, whether or not to build a fellowship hall, what color to paint the sanctuary, etc………. And do you know, can you believe that these are things that congregations have actually split over? How in the world is it possible that Christians split over these things if they are humbly and patiently bearing with one another and earnestly seeking unity as directed in the Scriptures? Could it be they are not Christians? You see, just like a physical body severed from its head cannot survive, neither can a church survive if it is severed from its head, namely Jesus.
God gives us freedom to choose, but in that freedom, he also tells us to bear with one another and seek unity above all else. In matters of opinion, we must humbly and patiently defer to one another- not divide!. In matters spelled out in the Scriptures, we must defer to Christ., the head. If we all follow the same blueprint than how would there be deviations? You see, just like McDonald’s, the church should look the same here, as it does in Africa. It should look the same in Africa as it does in Japan. Regardless of where in the world we are, we should all be in agreement on how to get to home to our Father in Heaven. He only gave one set of directions. One building, the church, built up using one blueprint, the Bible.
Please hear this – I love the Church. Christ established the Church. But I absolutely hate it when congregations claim to follow Christ, but are full of bickering and dissension over things that are not essential to salvation. The world mocks such congregations and Christians because of refusal to unite under God’s Word. Rightly so! As believers we each need to pause and think about our own lives and our own convictions and ask ourselves how we are contributing to the problem.
- “Do I know the Word of God well enough to defend my beliefs, or am I simply following a tradition handed down by my family?”
- ” Do I earnestly study the Scriptures to seek out Jesus’ plan and blueprint of the church and for my life?”
- “If I have questions about a hot topic, such as baptism, homosexuality, politics, abortion, just to name a few….. have I searched the Scriptures myself to study out what they say or do I just accept what has been passed on to me from others?”
- “In what way am I personally not accurately representing who Jesus is?”
- “Am I calling my family to be a microcosm of the church, meaning together,as a family are we unified and accurately reflecting Christ to those around us?”
- “Am I willing to let go of my opinions for the sake of unity on those issues that are non-essential?”
- “Can I prove from the Scriptures what God’s plan of salvation is?”
- “Am I able to teach others using the Scriptures, how to get “home” to their Father in Heaven?”
- “Am I willing to sit with other professing Christians around the Bible and study out those things that we do not agree on so that we can come to unity on the essentials?”
Over the years, Mark and I have studied the Bible with many different people, in several countries and in a few different languages and it is common when first talking with people about God, to hear people say that the Bible so hard to understand or that it contradicts itself. But if we press people to give examples of where or how, they will usually admit that they haven’t read or studied it themselves and they can offer no explanation for why they believe the way they do other than the fact that they were raised a certain way. Take these same people and give them each the Word of God opened up to passage of Scripture, and they will all say it says the same thing, regardless of the language or the country we are in.
God has given us the blueprint for His church in His Word. This is the blueprint we must follow. Not our feelings, not our ideas, not our traditions, not what grandma or grandpa did or said…….We must follow the directions coming from THE head. Anything not attached to the head, taking commands from the head, will wither and die. It is true for the physical body and it is true for those professing to have faith in Christ.
We must recognize that we cannot be committed to one (Jesus the head), without being committed to the other(the body, the church). Before I began reading and studying the Bible about 25 years ago, I felt, that I was able to have a close relationship with Jesus without being committed to church. Church was something optional to me. But how can I be connected to Jesus without being connected with the body? The Bible teaches it is impossible to be connected to Jesus without being connected to the body. Yet how many people have you heard say, “I love Jesus, I just don’t need church?” Or,” I love Jesus, but there are other things I have to be at during the time church meets?” Most of us have to deal with children’s schedules in one way or another – “do we rearrange our schedules to be at soccer practice, baseball practice, swim meets, ballet rehearsal, work etc….? Would we dare say no to a coach or a boss when it comes to missing practice or work, especially on a regular basis? Then how is it what many so easily say no to God?
Society screams at us to be independent and not rely on anyone but ourselves. But God’s Word very clearly states that we each need others and others need us. It is together that we grow up into the fullness of Christ. The church is most powerful, most grand, most beautiful when the individual parts come together in unity and peace, declaring to the world that yes, indeed it is possible to love this way! You are wrong! Jesus is right! He empowers us to live this way, to make right choices, to sacrifice our wants, our schedules, our lives for the greater good – namely portraying an accurate picture of Christ to the world.
We can never change anyone else, but if we say we love Jesus and belong to Him, then must change ourselves to be aligned to the head We must be willing to give up our feelings, give up our ideas, give up our traditions and give up ANYTHING that does not agree with the Word of God.
We cannot have it our way and His way too.
-April 22, 2016-