Mission Objective #2: Submit Yourself to the Church (excerpt from Combating Unbelief)
Obviously we are first and foremost submissive to Christ, which has been my whole thrust throughout this book. However, if we are really going to be submissive to Christ, then we will obey what He commanded in His word regarding the church. There are not many explicit passages clearly defining exactly what the church is and how it’s supposed to operate (there is not a passage containing a step-by-step set of instructions regarding the church in the bible). We do, however, have several different pieces of a puzzle throughout the New Testament giving us clues as to what the church is and how we as individual believers are to operate within the church. When we put these pieces together we get a pretty clear picture of the church. Keep in mind that the church wasn’t a manmade idea that early Christians made up so they could meet together. The church was Jesus’ idea. The first time we see the word “church” used in the bible comes straight from Jesus’ mouth (Matthew 16:18).
I have heard it said (and have even said it myself), that “I’m tired of going to church because it’s the same old same old…” Usually the complaint goes like this:
“When I first started going to church, it was fun and exciting and I learned a lot. But now that I’ve been here for so long, it’s just like déjà vu every week: introductory prayer, 2 fast songs, announcements, tithe and offering, one more fast song, two slow songs, a 45 minute sermon, altar call, go home, and repeat next week.”
I can feel the pain of the above complaint. Trust me. I used to feel the same way. If that’s all your church has to offer, then that complaint may be legitimate. God never intended church to be a weekly ritual of repetition. However, I have since come to learn that many churches have far more than a Sunday service to offer (and I’m not talking about a midweek service). Sunday service (or Saturday service – whichever is your preference) should be the day of equipping, encouraging and gathering together of all the saints who throughout the week have already been doing ministry in Jesus’ Name. It is the day of reviving of the soul wherein the word is opened and preached (or taught), God is worshiped corporately, and the saints are edified. My point is that no matter what church you attend, it will get old if all you do is attend weekly services.
What most people do when their church gets old is they’ll church hop. Of course, no one easily confesses to being a church hopper when they are one. They’ll do everything possible to justify their jump. We hear things like “the Lord released me” or “I had holy discontentment”. What they mean is that they were discontent and begged God to release them. Once they were convinced that they could leave with a clear conscience, that’s when “the Lord released them”. This is unhealthy, and ungodly. Often times people will leave a church because they were longing for something more than they were experiencing. The tragedy is that they don’t realize that the longing they have could be fulfilled in the body that they’re leaving. Church hopping will satisfy this longing momentarily; but everything will become regular and unexciting after awhile if all you do is show up.
It’s important to know that the church does not refer to a building or a place. The church is the universal group of people consisting of every believer in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Once you submit yourself to the Lordship of Christ and put your faith in Him you are engrafted into the church (Acts 2:41, 47). It’s also important to know that though there is one universal church which includes all of the believers around the world, there are also other “sub-churches” underneath that universal umbrella. Paul would write his letters to “the church of God in Corinth”, making a distinction between that church and a church in another city. We even find multiple churches within a single city when Paul writes to the “to the churches (plural) in Galatia”. And even on a smaller scale, he writes to Philemon and “the church that [met] in [his] home”.
The word translated “church” in our English bibles is the Greek word “ekklēsia” which is a feminine noun meaning “the called out ones”. Thayer’s Bible Dictionary defines the church as “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly”1. We are called out from the world, into a gathering of people saved and sanctified by the blood of Jesus. This group of called out ones is referred to in the New Testament as the church, the body, the elect, the believers, the brethren, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, golden candlesticks, God’s building… and the list goes on. We are given pictures of what the church looks like through things that God has created.
For the sake of staying to the point of this application (which is to submit yourself to the church), I will skip a whole lot of what we can talk about regarding the church, and focus in on the fact that the church is referred to as Christ’s body, and glean some practical applications of how that looks for us as individual members.
Church as a body
I went through a period of time early on in my Christian walk where I thought of myself becoming like one of the Old Testament prophets – a solitary soldier fighting on the frontlines without needing anyone to pat me on the back and tell me “atta boy”. Jeremiah amazed me. He spent 34 years preaching a hard message of judgment and repentance without seeing many converts (we know he at least got 2). He endured even though he was alone. He was constantly and passionately preaching to the lost and the backslidden without any help or support from the religious establishment. He was somewhat of a lone-ranger, and I wanted to be like him. However, the more I studied the New Testament I found that that’s not what God designed for me, or for any believer. He does not call a bunch of scattered individuals in order to have them accomplish various tasks. He designed the church.
“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others”
As I stated earlier, my 2nd hope for this book is that Christians would be set ablaze for Jesus. This burning would cause a desire to fulfill God’s plan of evangelizing the world. However, that plan is absolutely impossible to be accomplished by ourselves, and in our own power. We need the Spirit of God working through the Body of Christ, and you are just one member of that body.
It’s interesting to note that in the context of comparing the church to a human body, Paul is addressing pride. In verse 3 he says “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
The reason Paul needs to explain the synergy of a human body in comparison to the synergy of the church was to expose the apparent pride that was evident within the church. He needed to explain that “each member belongs to all the others”. That means that you belong to the group of people you assemble with. You can’t just abandon the assembly because you think the rest of the assembly is missing it. Granted, there are some “churches” that you should flee from for different reasons. If a church is teaching damnable heresies, or if there is abundant, obvious, unchecked and unrepentant sin within the leadership, you should probably find another church to go to. However I believe that most people who either church hop, or totally separate themselves from the church do not have biblical grounds for doing so.
No church is perfect, because they are full of people just like you. Sometimes you are going to have to wrestle with some churches rather than calling it quits and just giving up. If the church you attend doesn’t focus on the one area that you are driven by, it doesn’t mean that you need to leave. Maybe it means that they need someone who is driven like you to step up and do something about it (hint, hint). And that doesn’t mean that the church has to fund and support your vision for you to get it started. Since church leaders are people just like you and me who have hard time thinking in different directions at one time, they may not catch your vision… at first.
The Body Has Many Parts
1 Corinthians 12:14-20
“Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body
1 Peter 4:10
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms”.
If the church is the body of Christ that means it’s going where He tells it to go and doing what He tells it to do. The church is fulfilling Christ’s purpose. What is Christ’s purpose? Christ’s purpose is to advance His kingdom throughout the Earth. What is God’s kingdom like? It is multifaceted. This book is written by someone who represents one aspect of Christ’s multifaceted-ness.
The Holy Spirit’s work in me has driven me a certain way in Christ. You may be driven another way in Christ. That doesn’t mean that either of us are wrong, or that we can’t be part of the same church. It definitely doesn’t mean that we need to leave the church and assemble with other people who are driven the same exact way we are. The problem we find in many churches is that they do not understand this. If someone has a heavy drive for bible teaching, and they attend a church that has more of a drive for caring for the poor, those two drives don’t have to be pulling in opposite directions. They are two aspects of God’s multifaceted purpose. Of course there is diversity in the body. “If they were all one part, where would the body be?” When there is a heavy emphasis on one aspect of God’s purpose in a church, it doesn’t mean that that church is wrong and you have to find another one. It means that they need more members who are focused on other aspects of God’s comprehensive purpose so that the church can be holistic.
The bottom line is that if you cut yourself off from the body, you consequently cut yourself off from the head, which is Christ (Ephesians 5:23, Colossians 1:18). There has never been someone who cut themselves off of the body and took the head with them. As a believer, you have no biblical grounds to completely separate yourself from the assembly. If you fight against that, then you are in pride and you need to repent. So the first step in this mission objective would be to accept your place as a part of the body of Christ. The second step would be to learn and develop in your role as a part of the body.
Jesus has no useless body parts. Each of us have a specific role to play, and our role will edify, strengthen, and encourage the other members (1 Corinthians 12:21-31). I am SO thankful that God’s kingdom advancing is not a mission that I have to carry out on my own. God has called out, gifted and equipped other members that I can count on for support in completing His mission. The church is God’s network of people who have access to every level of society: education, businesses, agriculture, immigration, government, blue collar workers… the list goes on. God has infiltrated every tier of society with the church; we just need to capitalize on the opportunities and resources we have at our disposal.
Some people may not know their role in the body. They want to be useful and effective, but they don’t know where to start. If that is you, I would encourage you to submit yourself to godly leadership who can help you develop in your gifting. Submission to leadership is not only a command to be obeyed (Hebrews 13:7, 17), it is also Jesus’ way of equipping us for the work of ministry.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.
So the 2nd Mission Objective is for you to submit yourself to the church. It is God’s idea, God’s command, and God’s design to fulfill His purpose in the earth.