Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Church: The Who and the Why

By Justin Taylor @

In a recent book, evangelical pollster George Barna describes a new type of Christian whom he (positively) calls Revolutionaries. Barna describes them as "born-again Christians who had eliminated church life from their busy schedules." He writes that the life of a Revolutionary Christian "reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advances the Kingdom of God-despite the fact that [a Revolutionary Christian] rarely attends church services." Barna thinks this type of Revolutionary Christian "is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ."

How should we respond to proposals like this? How important is the local church in the plan of God? And when we talk about "the church," what exactly do we mean--and why should we care?

I could give a precise theological answer to start, but in some ways that's like reading the conclusion to a book before you begin with the first chapter. The authors of Scripture often skip the dictionary-type definitions and instead prefer to paint word pictures, weaving together various images and metaphors to help us understand the nature and necessity of the church from multiple angles.Instead of taking a flyby tour of all of Scripture, let's camp in the book of Ephesians and see what it teaches us about Christ and his church.

Who Is Christ?
You cannot understand the nature and necessity of the church without understanding who Christ is in relation to the church and what he does to and through the church. Jesus Christ is the head of the church (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23). The "head" on one's body directs the body as to where is should go and what it should do-and so it is with Christ, who possesses all authority.

Christ is also called the chief cornerstone of the church (Eph. 2:20). Cornerstones were of utmost important in laying the foundation for a building, ensuring that they were square and therefore stable. God's people (the church) depend on God's Son (the Christ) for growth and stability.

Finally, Christ is the savior and the sanctifier of the church (Eph. 5:23, 26-27). Apart from Christ we are just a mass of people under the wrath of God. But out of sinful humanity God in Christ redeems for himself a called-out people (the "church") who will be under his mercy, will be his people and his ambassadors, will reflect his holiness, will preach the whole counsel of God (in particular the good news of the kingdom of God in Christ), will administer his sacraments (which are physical parables or word pictures to teach us more about the gospel), and will exercise his discipline.

What Does Christ Do for and through the Church?
As mentioned above, Christ is the savior and sanctifier of the church, which is because he savors the church and sacrificed himself for her (Eph. 5:25). Christ's substitution for the church is the ultimate expression of his love for her. We must never get beyond it. But we must also remember that God's love was not only expressed in a single event in the past, but that his love continues even now. Even now Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (Eph. 5:29). One of the ways in which we see his love is the fact that he gives the church ministry workers (Eph. 5:29) to edify, instruct, and serve the church. It is a privilege to serve, it is a privilege to lead, and it is a privilege to be led. Finally, Christ displays the manifest wisdom of God through the church to the angels-the rulers and authorities in heavenly places (Eph. 3:10). Think of it: the angels--the perfect, sinless beings who have always beheld the glory and the wisdom of God--get a fresh glimpse and taste of God's wisdom through you and me?! Wonder of wonders.

Who Is the Church?
If Christ is the foundational cornerstone, then the church is his temple. If Christ is the savior, then the church is the saved. If Christ is the sanctifier, then the church is the sanctified. If Christ is the head, then we are his body (Eph. 1:22-23; 3:6; 4:4, 16; 5:23, 30)

What Does the Church Do?
So what is the church-the saved, sanctified body/temple of Christ-to do? Our fundamental job description is to submit to Christ (Eph. 5:24). We are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1), which more specifically means following Christ's path of walking in love (Eph. 5:2). We are to submit to Christ (Eph. 5:24) and to grow in him (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:15).

If you love Christ, you will love his word. If you love Christ's word, you will love his church. We dare not mock or treat as dispensable that for which Christ died. As the church, we are the bride of Christ. Let us labor, therefore, to make it our own, since Christ himself has made us his own (Phil. 3:12).

Suggestions for Further Reading
I highly recommend that you read Sam Storms's evaluation of Barna's book. Storms has three posts on the book:
_(1) Revolution - Part I;
_(2)Revolution - Part II;
_(3)George Barna’s Revolution: A Follow-Up.

For further reading on the church, consider Joshua Harris's Stop Dating the Church; Mark Dever's 9 Marks of a Healthy Church and The Deliberate Church; or Edmund Clowney's The Church and R.B. Kuiper's The Glorious Body of Christ.


Justin Taylor serves at Crossway Books in Wheaton, where he is the Study Bible project director and an associate publisher.

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