The Church: Living and Vibrant
April 1, 2002 - People are social animals, gregarious by nature, and find their greatest sense of security and satisfaction in the company of others who share their interests and attitudes. Of all the many groups into which humans have collected themselves, of all the many tribes, clans, organizations and societies throughout history, none has been so powerful and so far-reaching, or more universal as the Church.
A Message by Billy Graham
Nowhere have people found comfort, reassurance or peace to the extent that they have found it in the Church. All other groups draw artificial boundaries and set up only the illusion of protection; the Church of Jesus Christ provides a living, vibrant organism that draws its power from God Himself for meaning and vitality.
Origin of the Church
The word church is an English translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means "the called-out ones," or an assembly of people. The word church as applied to the Christian society was first used by Jesus Himself when He told Peter, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."(1) Thus Jesus Christ Himself founded the Church. He is the great Cornerstone upon which the Church is built: "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."(2)
Jesus Christ Its Head
The New Testament teaches that there is only one universal Church, but there can be any number of local churches formed into various denominations and societies or councils. The New Testament also teaches that even though there may be many cleavages and divisions within the structure of the Church, yet we have only one Lord.
Jesus Christ is the Head of this great universal Church. From Him must spring all the activities and teachings of the Church, for He is the Fountainhead of all Christian experience.
The Church has been criticized for internal squabbles and apparent lack of unity. These are conflicts that come from the varying interpretations of Jesus’ orders and in no way reflect upon the wisdom of Jesus or His absolute authority in issuing His orders.
The Church—or Churches?
When you have accepted Christ as your Savior and put your trust and confidence in Him, you are a member of the great Church invisible. You are a member of the household of faith. You are a part of the Body of Christ. You are called upon to obey Christ, and if you obey Christ, you will follow His example of joining with others in the worship of God: "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is."(3)
You may be well aware of the imperfections and shortcomings of the local church in your own community. But remember that perfection does not exist among human beings, and the institutions that they create to the greater glory of God are filled with these self-same human flaws. Jesus is the only perfect Man who ever lived. The rest of us are at best but repentant sinners, try as we may to follow His magnificent example.
When Jesus founded the Church, He intended His followers to join it and remain faithful to it. You may stand in bewilderment before the number of churches whose membership is open to you.
Church affiliation is not something to be entered into lightly, for if the church is to be of the greatest service to you—and even more important, if it is to give you the greatest possible opportunity to be of service to others—then you must prayerfully select the one where you feel you can be of the most service to God.
A Church for Everyone
Some people find it easier to draw closer to God in magnificent buildings and with some form of ritual. Others find it easier to seek God only in stark simplicity. Some people find themselves more comfortable with formality, others are more at home with informality. The important thing is not how we worship, but the sincerity and depth of purpose with which we worship, and we need to find and join the church in which as individuals we can best worship.
Do not make the mistake of attaching yourself to a particular minister rather than to the Body of the Church itself. It is to the Church and Jesus Christ that you owe allegiance. A stable church is built up when the members of the congregation recognize that it is their mutual love of Jesus Christ and their sincere desire to follow in His steps that hold them together.
As Christians, we go to church not only for what we get out of it, but also for what we can put into it. We go to add our prayers to those of others, we go to add our voices to the other voices raised in praise of the Lord God, we go to add our strength in beseeching the Lord’s blessing, we go to add our weight of testimony to salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. We go to join with others in the worship of God and in the contemplation of His boundless mercy and love. We also go for the necessary companionship of fellow believers.
Christians who are not actively involved in the life of a local church remind me of what happens when a burning coal is removed from the fire. Once the coal is removed from the bed of glowing coals, it gradually cools and its flame dies.
The Church Is a Channel
The Church is a means of channeling our funds for Christian work and for the needs of fellow Christians. The Bible teaches tithing, which means that one-tenth of our income belongs to God. In addition to our tithes, we should give as God has prospered us. Generosity should motivate us in all things.
Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."(4) Giving warms the heart and satisfies the soul, and Jesus coveted for us that particular blessing. Selfishness is caused by fear—and a Christian should stand forth unafraid. As far as possible, we need to give inconspicuously and quietly. Jesus said that when we are giving, "let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth."(5)
Giving cannot be measured only in dollars and cents, it cannot be measured only in boxes of old clothes. Sometimes the greatest gift is the gift of friendship and neighborliness. A kind word, a friendly greeting, an evening spent with someone who is lonely, can reap a rich harvest for the Kingdom of God. It is impossible to become soul winners unless we are prepared to give something of ourselves. Not only our money, but our time, our talents, our very selves—everything is to be given to the service of Christ.
The Church Spreads the Gospel
The Church is for the spreading of the Gospel. The Church is commanded to go "into all the world, and preach the gospel,"(6) and to baptize those who believe. The basic and primary mission of the Church is to proclaim Christ to the lost. The world today is sending forth its S.O.S., asking the Church to come to its help. The world is being overwhelmed by social, moral and economic problems. The world needs Christ. The mission of the Church is to throw the lifeline to perishing sinners everywhere.
Jesus said, "Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me."(7) With the power of the Holy Spirit we can join hands with other Christians to win people to Christ.
We must use every talent, facility and method possible to win people to Christ. Our methods may vary. We may use visitation evangelism, educational evangelism, preaching missions, cell evangelism, radio-television evangelism, movie evangelism, or so-called mass evangelism.
I am aware today that in many parts of the world the Church is outlawed, discredited and virtually destroyed. Yet again and again it has been proven that "the blood of the Christians is seed"(8) of the Church. God’s Church is a Bible-centered church, and it grows strong under persecution. In some parts of the world it is literally true that "where two or three are gathered..., there am I in the midst of them."(9)
In such places where believers in Christ live in abject poverty, they still tithe. When one member suffers, the others come to that person’s aid. Unable to preach openly, they look for opportunities to witness by life. When one is punished harshly for some unjust reason and he bears it cheerfully, a curious observer may say to him, "That was unfair. And yet you remain cheerful." The Christian has the opportunity to tell him about Jesus Christ.
And that is the great mission of the Church.