God didn't create us to live in a bubble or be lone rangers. He designed us to live in community with other people. So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit. ~ Ephesians 2:19-22
In Ephesians 2, just after the passage describing how God has brought us to life and how He is re-creating us into a masterpiece, Paul digs into the subject of the church and describes it as a wonderful mystery. A "mystery" in the New Testament typically refers to something formerly unknown or hidden, but now revealed. And what Paul calls a "mystery" here isn't so much the church itself (though I do believe this is accurate), but more specifially it is the truth that in the "church" God is bringing together people from different spiritual and ethnic backgrounds. Gentiles (non-Jews) who formerly had little chance of grasping the divine truth of salvation in Christ, are now welcomed and drawn by the power of the gospel, and mixed together in the body of Christ. In the church, every individual, regardless of religious or ethnic background, is equally welcomed into this family that ultimately becomes the dwelling place of God's Spirit in this world.
Jesus began building the church during His earthly ministry, and He continues to build it today. He once told his apostles... "... upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it." ~ Matthew 16:18 NLT With all of its imperfections, the church is still a divine institution. Jesus died to make it happen.
The churh is also a human institution in that it is made up of flawed and sinful human beings. Therefore, there are problems within the body. "I like your Christ, I just don't always like your Christians." ~ Gandhi Some of you have been burned by the church. You've experience a place of hipocrisy, hostility, and hurt. You might have been abused by the church on one of many possible levels. I grew up in a church that fell apart a bit when I was twelve and my family stopped attending. When I was seventeen, I started going to church with my wife and discovered what a healthy, biblical community can look like. When I began in ministry, I served my first church as a Pastor when I was nineteen. I was at my second church about eight months later and only stayed there for seven months. I encoutered churches full of bitterness, hate, and prejudice. Yes, the church has problems - big ones - and even as a Pastor, I'm fully aware of them. And I'm sorry for your negative experiences. But that's not all the church is. It can be a healthy, biblical community. It can be a place of healing and restoration when it functions the way God intended. After those two painful experiences, I served a church for almost eight years and left on wonderful terms. It was a tenure blessed with deeper relationships and a genuine experience of what this thing we call "church" ought to be. "There is nothing like the local church when its working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. It's potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken... It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, and the disillusioned... Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness... the radical message of transforming love has been given to the church." ~ Bill Hybels, Courageous Leadership
Moving to Ephesians 4, the Scriptures expand on the concept of a church, and what is unfolded are several distincive needs in us that are met by the church.
Therefore, I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. ~ Ephesians 4:1-6 NLT
Doctrinal unity - what we believe.
Spiritual unity - whom we trust.
Relational unity - how we love.
However, he has given each one of us a special giftt through the generosity of Christ...Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. ~ Ephesians 4:7, 11-12
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Ephesians 4:13-16 NLT In other words, I need people HERE to help me get THERE. Growing in isolation is an illusion. It doesn't fit with God's plan. He gave His Son to make possible this thing we call church. It's a crazy place sometimes, but it's THE place God intended for our healing and our growth on into eternity. My physical family lasts until my physical body is put into its grave. For eternity, I'm going to be doing life with my spiritual family - other believers in Christ. You need to BELIEVE. You need to BELONG. And you need to live out God's purposes in community.