We looked at the scriptural foundation for the Church in part one. We learned that the Church Jesus is building is God’s answer to His own question, “Who will build a house for Me?” We are His dwelling place where “heaven is His throne and earth is His footstool.” We are His “temple “made without human hands,” the “gate” between heaven and earth.
In this, we see the purposes of God which theologian C. Baxter Kruger has stated so well in his “Summary of the Trinitarian Vision of God“:
“The stunning truth is that this Triune God, in amazing and lavish love, determined to open the circle and share the Trinitarian life with others. This is the one, eternal and abiding reason for the creation of the world and of human life. There is no other God, no other will of God, no second plan, no hidden agenda for human beings. Before the creation of the world, the Father, Son and Spirit set their love upon us and planned to bring us to share and know and experience the Trinitarian life itself.”
Humankind, the object of God’s deepest affection, has been invited into the Divine Circle of Love that God has enjoyed within Himself from eternity. And we who have accepted the invitation to “participate in the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4) are Christ’s body, His visible Church on the earth (Col.1:18), and are being built into the spiritual house of God:
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet.2:5 *)
We’ve looked at the big picture. Now let’s look at the practical, everyday aspects of the local church.
What is the function of the local church?
If we are the church, not a building, why should we “go to church?” Interestingly, this question only seems relevant in the individualistic West. Other cultures have more a collective view of culture.
While there are very good reasons to avoid abusive local churches, the New Testament does not promote an individualistic mindset. Oftentimes, when the writers say “you,” they’re referring to the body of Christ as a whole or to local churches (Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, etc.). This doesn’t mean we have no individual identity but that there’s one body of Christ and we’re collectively members of one another (1 Cor.12:27).
I want to share three important local church functions that can help us live fully in Christ and not end up having our faith shipwrecked. I’m sure there’s more than three, but I believe these are the most important ones to consider.
First, church is not a spectator sport or “clean” Sunday morning entertainment for religious people. The primary function is to equip, encourage, and to expand Christ’s Kingdom. To do this, God Himself provides leadership gifts through people in order to equip and train us, bringing us into unity and full maturity in Christ where every part does its share to strengthen one another in love:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph.4:11-16 NIV *)
The second function of the local church is summarized in verse 14 above, to keep us from falling into deception, or worse, leaving the faith altogether. This might be the most important function for this reason so I’ll spend the most time on it.
Proverbs 4:23 says, the condition of our heart determines the course of our life, which is rarely a straight path! If we allow disappointment, bitterness, anger, and other negative emotions to take root in our heart, we can easily veer off this path and become spiritually dull and vulnerable.
Hebrews is a case in point on this subject. The writer is warning the Jewish believers not to deny Christ and return to their spiritual slumber.
12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.” (Heb.3:12-15 NIV *)
Notice that turning away from God is tied to a hardening of the heart. It’s insidious and spiritually deadly. “Sin’s deceitfulness,” in this context, is about “offense leading to error” rather than sinful behavior. We take offense, usually based on some negative circumstance, which opens to door to a hardness of heart, which can eventually lead to an unbelieving heart.
Hebrews was originally written to Jewish Christians who, apparently, were slipping back into the rites and rituals of Judaism in order to escape the mounting persecution. A popular Messianic view among first century Jews was that their Messiah would come as a militant king who would free them from the grip of Rome. When this didn’t happen, disappointment and disillusionment was allowed to take root in some who had followed Christ, which led them to fall away from the faith. While this may not be what might trip us up, we could just as easily fall into other kinds of circumstantial self-deception.
The problem with self-deception is that we’re the one who doesn’t know we’re deceived. This is why there’s safety in a body of believers who love us and want us to succeed:
14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall;
But in the multitude of counselors there is safety. (Prov.11:14 *)
The way to safely guard against this is to “encourage one another daily.” The author reiterates this later in the same letter:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb.10:24-25 *)
Finally, Jesus’ Great Commission (Matt.28:19-20) was not for us to make converts but to make disciples of all nations. Discipleship requires people being in relationship. We weren’t meant for “just me and Jesus” Christianity, but to share our lives with people who are committed to following Jesus and growing together in love.
We grow healthy and strong in the Lord in the context of the family of God—His Church, His visible representation on the earth today.