https://ralphhoweministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/maxresdefault-2.jpg 768 1024 ralph https://ralphhoweministries.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/ralph-howe-ministries1.png ralph2018-11-10 18:57:452020-01-12 13:00:21Personal Reflections - The Church
God, our heavenly Father is after a people who live for one purpose – His ultimate passion. These are people of faith who do not feel that they are special or elite in any sense. They understand that without Jesus they are nothing and can accomplish nothing of any eternal significance. However, these people do believe and stand in a strong faith that forms a solid foundation for all that they do. These people form the Church of Jesus Christ.
Many today are simply cultural Christians. They have a head knowledge of the Gospel but it has not touched their heart. Their lives have not been impacted by the life-changing power of the Spirit. They live life from their soul realm and do not walk in the Spirit. The same was true in Paul the apostle’s day. So, in 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul talks about believers testing themselves to see if they really are in the faith… really born again.
Of course, if they are cultural Christians and have not had a conversion experience they are not members of the Church. Those who are members of the Church have made Jesus Lord and not just Saviour. The have encountered Jesus and had a life-changing experience of His love. And, He is Head of the Church that is made up of those who are truly born again. It is an amazing Church.
The Lord Jesus Christ is multi-splendid in His awe and beauty. He is so vast that one image or title cannot adequately represent Him. Consider the many images and titles that Scripture employs in its attempt to describe Christ: Son of God. King of kings. Prince of peace. Heavenly bridegroom. Lord. Master. Saviour. Lamb of God. Bright and Morning Star. Good Shepherd. Great High Priest. Light of the world. Root of David. The Righteous Branch … and the list goes on.
The Church is inseparable from Christ. As a result, the Church is also multi-splendid in her awe and beauty. Like her Lord, the Church is too rich to be defined. She is too vast to be depicted by one image. For this reason the New Testament paints fourteen different images to present the Church.
I would like to take the next few blogs to examine briefly each image. And, please feel free to compare your local church to what the Bible states regarding the Church. Ponder the question: “Does my church fit the image that the New Testament paints for the Church?”
To start with we need to note that all these images have two key elements in common:
1> Every image is intensely corporate. All of them teach us that the church is a close-knit, intimate community of people. Often, we are, by contrast, profoundly individualistic. The early Church embodied a togetherness-in-community. Each image makes this truth abundantly clear.
2> Each image teaches us that Jesus Christ, and not a human being, is the head, the leader, and the glue that cements the members of the church together.
All fourteen Bible images of the Church give us insight into the anatomy of the Church. They show us how her DNA naturally expresses itself in the earth. So, let’s jump in and hopefully by the time we are finished all fourteen images of the Church we will have a fresh understanding of the vastness of the Church that Jesus is building.
Because the Church represents Jesus in all of His glory upon the earth, like Jesus, there are many facets to the Church. In Scripture, the New Testament, there are fourteen different descriptive words used to describe this amazing world-wide community that Jesus is building.
1> A New Race
See Galatians 6; Ephesians 2; 1 Peter 2
The Scriptures listed above tell us that we are ‘a new humanity,’ ‘a chosen generation,’ ‘one new man,’ and ‘a new creation.’
When Jesus made His entrance into human history, He was an endangered species on this planet. He was the first of a new kind of person. Jesus was God’s original thought for humanity, but God’s original intent for humanity became corrupt with the fall. In His death and resurrection, Christ introduced a new species. The Church is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, slave or free, but “a new human” altogether.
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Galatians 6:15 “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.”
So we should be looking at our local church and see if the members see themselves as part of a new humanity, a new species, and a new wave. Or, do they relate to the other believers in their local church based on their natural distinctions of physical race, nationality, gender, and social class? Are they loving and accepting or are they critical and judgmental of anyone who is not like them?
2> A Family
See Galatians 6; Ephesians 2: 1 John 2
This is one of the most striking images presented in all of the New Testament. Visions of family dominated Paul’s writings. All throughout his letters (epistles), Paul speaks of brethren, children, fathers, and mothers. We are ‘regenerated’ or ‘born anew’ into the blameless family of God.
God becomes our Father and Jesus our Elder Brother. Fellow believers, Christians, become our sisters and brothers. The writings of John and Peter are also sprinkled with the language and imagery of family.
Ephesians 2:19 “You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God.”
So, do the members of your local church treat one another as part of the same family? Do they know one another on a personal, even intimate, level? Do they experience themselves as members of an extended household? Do they take care of one another just as the members of a healthy family do?
We are looking at the Church that Jesus is building and what the New Testament has to say about the Church. We have seen that it is called “A New Race” of people. Second that we are called “A Family.”
3> A Body
See Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12
We are members of the Body of Christ and members one of another. Jesus Christ is the Head as well as the very life of the Body. The Church is inseparable from Christ. Just as one’s physical body is inseparable from one’s head.
And, nature teaches us that the members of the Body of Christ are subject to the head just as is true of your physical body. And, in the same way, just as each part of the physical body is dependent upon all the other parts for health and wholeness; the same is true for the Body of Christ – we are dependent upon one another for health and wholeness.
For example, the disease of Multiple Sclerosis appears when the physical members of a physical body act independent of the body’s head. The disease of cancer appears when a human cell acts independent from the other cells.
1 Corinthians 12:12-18 “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.”
So, as you look at your local church … Do the members of your church see themselves as part of the same organism? Does the church submit to the headship of Christ in its meetings? Do the members of the body function when the church gathers together? Do the members depend on one another, or do they live independently and individualistically?
4> A Bride
See 2 Corinthians 11; Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 21
We are part of the most beautiful woman in the world. Jesus Christ is our bridegroom. There is an unending romance going on between Christ and His Church. She was made first and foremost to be the recipient of Christ’s torrential love and unbridled passion. In turn, she loves Him and expresses His beauty in the earth.
Revelation 21:9b “The angel came to me and said, “Come on! I will show you the one who will be the bride and wife of the Lamb.”
Revelation 22:17 “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Everyone who hears this should say, “Come!” If you are thirsty, come! If you want life-giving water, come and take it. It’s free!”
So, as you look at the local church …Do the members of your local church see themselves as part of the fiancé of Jesus Christ? Are they actively engaged in being loved by Christ and loving Him in return?
Personal Reflections – The Church #4
Blog for September 17, 2018
Let’s continue our look at the different pictures used in the New Testament to describe the Church – what the Church is and the work that the Church is called to accomplish for it’s head, Jesus Christ.
5> An Army
See: Ephesians 6:10-20; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 19:19
As followers and disciples of Christ, we are in a war against God’s enemy. When you were saved you were immediately removed from the domaine of darkness and firmly planted in the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13). You immediately became part of God’s army that is waging war with the devil and his demons. The war has been going on since the days of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is a war for the souls of people.
But that war is fought by a corporate army. The armour described in Ephesians 6 is put on the Church, it is not given to an individual. We are soldiers in God’s army, and Jesus Christ is our Captain, Commander, and Chief. Spiritual warfare is a corporate exercise. The weight of it belongs on the shoulders of the Church, not the individual soldiers.
The Church has been given spiritual authority to do the work that Jesus came to do. We are to complete His work of telling every human being of the love of God and the offer of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus’s death and resurrection. Spiritual authority is based on growth in spiritual life. The more maturity in spiritual life that a church experiences, the more spiritual authority the church wields in the war we are called to fight.
Ephesians 6:10-20 “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.”
So, as you look at your local church … Do the members of your church see themselves as part of one army that is growing in spiritual life and understanding. In practical ways is your local church a growing part of the worldwide army of God? Does your church understand that true spiritual authority is linked closely to growth in things of the spirit and in the spiritual life of the local church? In your church do they view spiritual warfare as an individualistic or a corporate call? Is the church making an impact on invisible realms in the heavenlies?
6> A Holy Priesthood
See: 2 Corinthians 5:18, 20; 1 Peter 2; Revelation 1; Revelation 5
Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, and we are priests unto God through Him. This truth was rediscovered by Martin Luther at the same time he had the revelation from Ephesians 2 that we are saved by grace through faith and not by good works. However, although the first discovery brought about he Reformation, the second truth was not embraced and generally was lost once again. However, in the Kingdom today the Holy Spirit is revealing this truth once again.
Everyone is a minister or a priest unto God. As priests, we minister the the Lord at any moment of the day. We function as ministers and servants in the church’s corporate gatherings. But, we are also called to minister daily in the world in which we live, work, and play. In the Bible we are called “ministers of reconciliation” and ambassadors of the Kingdom.” We are to be building relationships with those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus and as opportunity arises within that relationship we are to share the love of God as found only in and through Jesus Christ. We are to share the Gospel of the Kingdom (Matthew 24:14).
2 Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”
2 Corinthians 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
So, as you look at your local church… Do the members of the assembly function in the meetings of the church? And, do they reach out on a regular basis as ambassadors of the Kingdom and ministers of reconciliation sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom during the week?
7> A Holy Nation
See: 1 Peter 2; Revelation 1, 5
The seventh descriptive name for the Church that Jesus is building is that we are “A Holy Nation.” In every country we are a ‘nation within a nation.’ We are not just citizens of the nation where we were born or have chosen to live and identify with … when we are born again we enter into a new nation – the Church, which is called to be holy as Jesus is holy.
Holy simply means that we are becoming more and more like Jesus. This is accomplished by spending time with Him daily in prayer and in His Word, the Bible. Holiness cannot be achieved by following a man-made list of rules, a compilation of dos and don’ts that man has made up in an attempt to please God. That is religion – maybe a born again religion, but religion nonetheless.
The word “holy” carries the idea of being uncommon and set apart. In this holy nation we are kings unto God. Christ is the King of our nation. In the words of Peter, we are a ‘royal’ priesthood – thus kings. Regrettably, the church in every age – starting in the third century – has sold out to the culture. Contrary to what some believe, the Church is not the religious department of the culture. It is a colony from heaven – a holy nation standing for holy values in a devalued world.
Often the Church is viewed as a sub-culture of the dominate culture and thus often resembling the culture in which it is found. As a result, the Church is neither holy nor influential. What we are called to be is a counter-culture to the current dominate culture in which we find ourselves.
1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
In your local church … Do the members of your church see themselves as part of a colony that belongs to another realm? Do they see themselves as resident aliens on this planet? Do their values reflect that of the Kingdom of God or this present culture?
8> A Golden Lampstand
See: Revelation, Chapters 1 and 2
We are little lights joined together and made part of the same lampstand. Jesus Christ is the light, and the Church bears His light in the world. Jesus is also the High Priest who cleans the wick and pours fresh oil in the lampstand so that it has the potential to always burn brightly.
The Bible teaches that it is the “life of God the Father” in Jesus that is the light. John 1:4 states, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The word ‘life’ here is the Greek word ‘Zoe’ which is the life and nature (essence) of God. This was the light. So, for the Church to have a bright witness in the culture in which it is located it needs to have this life flowing in and through it. Every believer needs this ‘life’ moving in them. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) so it is the ‘God life’ in us that allows us to the light as Jesus was the light.
In your local church … Does your church bear the light of Christ? Does it bear a corporate witness, or is witness viewed as the individual’s responsibility? Do people see the light of Christ through the Church, and is it extinguishing darkness on any level?
There are a few descriptive names for the Church that are not well known. This is the case with the next two…
9> One Loaf
See: John 12; 1 Corinthians 10
Jesus Christ is one grain. When He was put into the ground (buried) and rose again, He produced many grains (believers). Those individual grains are not to stand alone or be isolated from other grains. The Christian faith is not about rugged individualism. Christians do not survive spiritually outside of the Church. A lone sheep is a prime target for the wolves.
Those individual grains are useless unless they are crushed, have oil (the Holy Spirit) poured upon them, and are baked in a fiery oven (persecution) to create one loaf. In the process of becoming one loaf, each grain loses its individualism and independence.
1 Corinthians 10:16-17 “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”
John 12:23-25 “And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
So, in your local church … Are the members of your church so connected together that they have lost their independence and individualism? Or do they live as independent, individualistic, uncrushed grains of wheat?
10> God’s Field
See: 1 Corinthians 3
We are the crops that have been planted and have grown up in God’s field (the Church). Jesus Christ is the seed. God the Father causes the growth. The DNA of the seed is the very nature of Christ Himself. When the crops grow appropriately, they express Him.
Someone shares this example:
“Think of a bouquet of roses. In a bouquet, each rose has the same life. They are part of the same species. But they are not vitally connected. So they don’t grow together. Compare the bouquet of roses to a rose bush. In a rose bush, the roses are one organic whole. Each rose possesses its own individuality, but none are individualistic. They grow together as they share the same root. The bush passes through seasons of death and resurrection together. They are one organism. The Church that the New Testament envisions is a rose bush, not a bouquet of roses.”
1 Corinthians 3:1-9 “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”
So, in your local church … Are the members of your church growing more into the likeness of Christ, and are they doing it together? Are the people changing while being in the church? Is their character being molded into the image of Jesus? Are they passing through spiritual seasons together? Are they a rose bush or a bouquet of flowers.
The Church, in the New Testament, is described many different ways. We have been looking at the various names and expressions for the Church in the past week and a bit. Let’s jump in and continue…
11> A Vineyard
See: John 15
Jesus Christ is the Vine and we are the branches. The vine and the branches cannot be separated from one another. In a real sense, the branch is in the vine, and the vine is in the branch. When the branch is in the vine it bears fruit. The branch is the assembly of believers that we call the Church.
In any cluster of grapes, some grapes will be green. These green grapes will not bear fruit until they ripen or mature. But, these green grapes must remain in the cluster in order for them to ripen. If a grape is removed from the cluster and left on its own, it will crinkle and wrinkle. That is, it will become a raisin. So, the vine is Jesus, the branch is the Church, and the gapes are believers who are relationally connected to Christ and to one another. This then is the Church.
Our fruitfulness as a church (the branch that bears fruit – grapes) is directly connected to the depth of our personal relationship with the vine – Jesus. So, we must focus on Jesus and take the time and make the effort to have a deep, personal, intimate, ever-deepening, daily, unique love relationship with Jesus (the Vine). We must never let anything hinder the development and deepening of that intimate relationship.
Romans 6:23b “The gift of God is eternal life”
John 17:3 Defines the gift called ‘eternal life’…
“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
So, in your local church … Is your church like a vineyard where the cluster of grapes lives and grows together? Or is it made up of ‘raisin Christians’ who live outside the cluster? Is your church extending outside of itself to influence others or is it insular and ingrown?
12> A Sheepfold
See: John, chapters 10 and 21;1 Peter 2
Jesus Christ is the Great Shepherd, and we are His beloved sheep. Sheep are the only animal that requires the existence of a human being for their survival. Sheep are the most helpless of God’s creatures. A sheep left on its own will die. Sheep also travel together. If one of them moves independently from the flock, they will be raw meat for predators.
John 10:1-4 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
So, in your local church … Do the members of your church seek and follow the direction of the one Shepherd together? Or do they blindly follow a human being? Do they all move together as a flock with one mind? Or do they move independently and individualistically, as sheep without a Shepherd?
13> A Temple
See: 1 Corinthians 3; 2 Corinthians 6; Ephesians 2; 1 Peter 2
We are living stones designed to be assembled together with other living stones to form God’s house. Jesus Christ embodies the house of God – His holy temple. Christ is the chief architect, the builder, the foundation, the cornerstone, and the capstone of the building.
1 Peter 2:4-5 “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
So, as a local church … Are the members of your church being built together? Or do they have little to do with one another outside of church gatherings? Is your church a rock heap, or is it a building?
14> A City
See: Philippians 3; Hebrews 12; Revelation, chapters 21 and 22
We are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God. Jesus Christ is the prince of the city. He is also the light of the city. One of the central characteristics of the heavenly Jerusalem is that she is born in freedom (Galatians 4:26). Old Testament Jerusalem was discarded by God because it was enmeshed with the bondage of legalism, religious duty, and guilt-ridden tradition. The heavenly Jerusalem is free from all of that.
Philippians 3:17-21 “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”
So, in your local church … Are the members of your church free in Christ, or are they in religious bondage? Are they inflicted with an incurable headache of guilt, or are they secure in God’s love and liberated to love Him back freely? Are the practices of your church based on human tradition, or are they built on the spiritual principles of the city of God?
We have been looking at the New Testament expression of the Church that Jesus is building.
These 14 images of the Church that Jesus is building give us a fairly clear picture of who we are – for, we are the Church. Each picture of the Church shows us that the church is a close-knit, shared-life community of people who exalt Jesus together in everything they do. Remember, Jesus said that if we would lift Him up (exalt Him) He would draw all people to Himself.
God has chosen to make His Son knowable, touchable, visible, and locatable on planet earth through only one vessel – the ekklesia, the ‘gathered and separated ones,’ the Church. Jesus Christ – His very nature and heart – can be seen only through the Church. The Church that He is building is God’s designated instrument for the expression of His Son. And, it is the very heartbeat of God’s ultimate passion.
As we live life connected to the Church, God’s passion, every aspect of our lives should be influenced by what He is passionate about, His Church. The Church should add texture and richness to our spiritual experience. It also delivers us from a passionless Christianity, a shallow walk, and a purposeless faith. The overwhelming passion of our Lord is to obtain a strong following in every city of the planet. A Church that expresses the Gospel of the Kingdom and the salvation message. A bride who dearly loves Him, a House where He can dwell, a body that freely expresses Him, and a family that brings Him delight.
In this light, it is the supreme calling of every Christian leader to equip God’s people to see the mystery of God’s ultimate passion with spiritual eyes … to hear it with spiritual ears … to handle it with spiritual hands … to taste its sweetness and smell its fragrance.
God is looking for those who will burn for His ultimate passion and allow their lives to be shaped by it. This is the true Church.