And He put all [things] under His feet, and gave Him [to be] head over all [things] to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)
For quite some time I have wanted to share about recognizing the church as Christ's body and what is her mission. While recognizing and observing the church in the world and in Croatia in these last days, I have noted that she has lost her identity and mission. I believe that many churches have unconsciously accepted a wrong perception of their mission, comparing her with institutions and mega-churches in western countries. With all its rights and freedom, which most of us have experienced, the church of Jesus Christ struggles to keep her identity and mission, while taking on the form of an institution, being content to close herself off in her sub-culture while losing her mandate and purpose here on earth. In order to understand what I wish to share, I would like to first direct us to a few facts regarding the church.
What is the church? As I emphasized above, I believe that many unconsciously think of a place of gathering, an address, or the institution of a local church when they hear the word "church". When we say that people "go to church" it is understood that people to go a place of gathering and we think of church activities of some form. While gathering in a certain place or a visible church institution is not bad in and of itself, this does not make us Christians or the church in the true sense of the word. According to Croatian statistics, we live in a Christian nation; those around us are Christians just because their children are baptized or because they are born Croatians. It is interesting that despite our boasting of being Christians, Croatia is still a country with high rates of immorality and crime.
In order to understand what a Christian is, or the mission of the church, we must first understand what the church is. The Bible clearly states that the church is a community of believers that began on the Day of Pentecost; she is founded on the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and the price for her emergence is Christ's blood. "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." (Ephesians 2:13)
The Greek word used for "church" is ecclesia. The word is used 115 times in the New Testament and mostly in the book of Acts and Pauline letters. It is used at least 92 times in reference to the church in general or believers throughout biblical history. Therefore, when we speak of the church or Christians, above all we mean people who follow Christ and follow His commands regardless of place or time.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the church, he spoke of Christ who is above all names. He confirmed his strength and authority to the church, meaning those who followed him, not an intuition, or an object with a cross as is known today as the church. "And He put all [things] under His feet, and gave Him [to be] head over all [things] to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all." (Ephesians 1:22-23)
The fullness of Christ means that His body - those who follow Him - is filled with gifts and blessings because the church, meaning people, must present Christ who fills all.
Therefore, through the church (meaning people), the Apostle Paul was given a mandate to proclaim Christ and declare to the people the fellowship of the mystery that was hidden in God. "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what [is] the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church [people who follow Christ] to the principalities and powers in the heavenly [places], according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord," (Ephesians 3:8-11)
When Paul spoke about making "all see ... the mystery ... by the church" he meant that God's great plan was entrusted to His body, the church, which must show and teach about God's plan and purpose that people have in Christ. In other words, God didn't intend for His work of salvation to be shared through registered institutions or through buildings, rather through people who follow Him and His commands regardless of where they meet. Therefore, I believe if we are not careful we can easily fall into a trap of Satan, which we have already witnessed in history. When an institution is presented as Christ's body, (not people) the church becomes nothing more than a religious system, which often creates its own Christian subculture and unconsciously retreats behind walls of various religious activities that do not bring Christ's life and wisdom to bear.
What happens then? We become satisfied because we have our object, confession, social status, activities, seminars, and fellowship, not realizing that we have fallen into a trap of the religious world subculture that closes us off in Christian circles with emphasis on institution, not a life-giving body.
If we take a better look, unfortunately, most of the activities tied to proclaiming the mysteries of Christ happen within the walls of the Christian subculture as we turn on the lights and cameras, often seeing the same faces of the special "anointed ones" who have not brought one soul to Christ as they entertain the Christian masses with signs, wonders, and spiritual manipulation in the name of Christ. Billy Sunday, the well-known American evangelist, once said, "Going to church doesn't make you any more a Christian than going to the garage makes you a car".
One of today's phenomena has become very interesting. After a seminar or certain church activity, Christians are very excited and often talk about how God moved; but then they go to lunch or sit in front of their television, living mediocre lives focused on themselves and their own needs until the next Sunday or church activity when God once again moves because of a certain person or their feelings. What kind of God is that who only works within the four walls? How is that people are always healed and touched in those special places but never in hospitals or on the streets?
People say that they have become saved a few times, today's church growth flows from one church to another and it all starts and ends with special events so that in the end Christianity becomes something special that can be experienced temporarily in special places. When Satan cannot tempt holy ones into secret sin he will close them off in a subculture where they are satisfied and give them toys in the shape of seminars, fellowship, services, and religious activities where "anointed" individuals become the extended hand of God while the rest are observers as if in a theater. One thing is certain - this kind of work is not Christ's original intent for the church as his body.
2. WHAT IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH?
"God never intended for His church to be a refrigerator in which to preserve perishable piety. He intended it to be an incubator in which to hatch out converts" - F. Lincicome
Although people say that the church needs to be visible, it seems that it is too visible when it comes to being an object, and yet not visible enough when it comes to being a subject. The mission of the church is not to make appointments, have religious gatherings, advertisements of church as an institution at various activities (prayer meetings are the least advertised), or even organized evangelism events inside the four walls of the church. The mission of the church [people who follow Christ] above all is the "product" of disciples and studying of Christ's teachings. "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, [even] to the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20)
The mission of the church is very clear, His body, local and universal (meaning people who follow Christ) must go and make disciples. We have been given a mandate during which we need to teach people to fulfill all that Jesus commanded us, but not just what He commanded, rather the church (or people) needs to live as He lived and be what He was.
Actually, we are close to answering the question "Who is and what is a Christian?" Is it a person that defines going to a certain place where they express their "godliness" or something completely different? Christians are above all those who follow Christ and His commands, and those who live as He lived. This is why the Apostle John said, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth." (1 John 1:6)
According to how Christ lived, we can clearly see what the mission of the church is, if we agree that she is not just an institution, a church building, a list of religious rules, or a subculture. Therefore, the mission of the church is that believers live as Christ lived. And how did Christ live? Much can be written and said about his, which is why we have been left an example in His Word - the Bible.
Yet, I would like to emphasize that, apart from salvation and redemption, one reason why Christ came - which can be seen in Luke 4 - is evident in the words of Isaiah. "The Spirit of the LORD [is] upon Me [as on every true believer], Because He has anointed Me [we are all anointed - set apart for His work] To preach the gospel to [the] poor [He did not mean an institution or certain special people in Christ's body]; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to [the] captives And recovery of sight to [the] blind, [To] set at liberty those who are oppressed [He did not mean just inside the four walls of the church two times a week]; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD" (Luke 4:18-19 - emphasis mine in italics)
Therefore, we can clearly see the mission of the church - we are all called and separated for His work, which includes preaching the good news, proclaiming liberty, healing the sick, and freeing the oppressed. Of course, this also includes obeying His commands.
When we examine the book of Acts, we see the first church made up of individuals (not an institution), who were called Christians because they followed Christ and His commands. The acts of the apostles were not connected to just one place or one special man. Everyone proclaimed the good news, healed the sick, freed the oppressed, and desired that their followers receive the lordship of Jesus Christ - and in doing so fulfilled His commands. The church at that time "produced" Christ's disciples, not members of a local institution. Later in history the church bowed the knee to religion and turned into an institution that sat in the darkness for years, that is apart from those who placed Jesus and His commands above the institution of the church. The disciples of the early church were outside of the religious form of the priests and spiritual leaders of that day, who were tied to their religious subculture, as they had not received the lordship of Jesus Christ. On one side there was an institution and on the other a life for which they were not ready as they were not yet on a true mission. They proclaimed complete surrender to Jesus, not just church membership or activities. "Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed" (Acts 1:1-4a)
"And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon's Porch; so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid [them] on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them." (Acts 5:12; 15) Not only did they proclaim the good news, heal the sick, and free people, they also cared for widows and fed the hungry as we see in Acts 6. Yet the church today has allowed the government to care for the needy.
God didn't give this mission to just a few or to the church as an institution, but rather as a biblical standard of life that should be a part of the daily life of all believers; it is actually the mission of the church. Therefore, the mission of the church is not just seminars, special evangelistic events, or church activities that take place at a special time and in a special place. By this I don't want to minimize the role and value of these kinds of gatherings, but I believe that we have forgotten our mission outside the walls of the church.
If we are His body that moves, should we not be like Christ? In other words, we should not wait for Sunday service to bring someone to church to experience God. If Christ lives in us, then we bring God to them and they can experience him wherever they are.
How effective would the church be if all believers lived as Christ lived and daily practiced their faith, not just once or twice a week, or at special functions?
I calculated that during a usual week I have a continual influence on the lives of about thirty unsaved people, more than sixty throughout an entire month. So, the question is - how do we present Christ at the market, in school, at work, on the street, in our neighborhoods, or to our families? This is our daily life of being "salt" and "light" in the world, not just at conferences, times of fellowship, church services, or seminars. Everyday we - His body - present Him, our Lord.
Why expend energy and money on large evangelistic events if we do not pray for those we encounter with needs at the moment we learn of their need? Do we pray for them in our secret closet? To be sure, there is no spotlight on us. But do we need a spotlight? Why can't we find time to proclaim the good news to our loved ones, co-workers, those at the market, at our school, or those we meet on a daily basis? Why are we afraid to share with them about the lordship of Jesus Christ? Projects have their role, but more as a bridge to the church rather than a contact with Christ.
I believe that the reason for this is a lack of knowledge of what the church is and what her mission is. This is why we have created a subculture and institution of the church that has replaced discipleship. We have removed a life with Christ and created a religious and doctrinal condition that serves no one but ourselves, small groups, and those of like mind who live in their Christian subcultures while failing to reach people and change the world around them. We are the church and we carry Christ's body with us. "Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner[stone], in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:19-22)
3. THE CHURCH IN THE LAST DAYS
How ought the church to look in these last days? I believe the church in the western-world has enjoyed freedom and democracy for many years, for which I believe we can credit both God and circumstances, but the situation is changing. The true church will, slowly but surely, begin to be limited, which is why we ought not seek for places of worship and spend our energy on building big buildings and institutions, rather direct our service to people.
We do not have time to build big institutions. In the west many churches are closing their doors because they cannot pay their mortgages. There is too much focus placed on special projects and too little focus on discipleship. If we continue in this direction we will have to compromise to either be accepted by the masses or to maintain our members.
The church in the last days ought to be focused on Jesus and the unsaved, not through a subculture or special activities but in the biblical way that we often fail to see. We all ought to daily live for Jesus and do the works that He did regardless of where we are.
This is the personal responsibility of the church in these critical last days. Every believer ought to follow Christ's example and serve others. Imagine the influence prayer would have on the 20-30 people we come in contact with every week. What would happen if we didn't wait for a special church event, but prayed for them and immediately met their needs? What would happen if we lived Jesus' way? I believe that this is the model for the church in these last days.
The practical question that Jesus is asking is whether or not we are a part of His church, if we live everyday as He lived. Have we taken up His cross and are we following Him? Do we proclaim the good news everyday? Do we heal the sick, free the oppressed, teach people to become Christ's disciples (not our disciples)? This is the daily mission of the church, a church that is not an institution but Christ's body.
To whom did we proclaim the gospel in the last year? How many around us have we served? Our place of ministry is not doing activities within the church walls, but obedience to Christ's commands and daily surrender. This is what the church ought to be and this is what the church in the last days needs to be. The church that emphasizes an institution and subculture will remain barren, but the church, people who follow Jesus and who daily live for Him, will extend His kingdom to the unsaved.