The Church

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The gathering together of people to fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ can, in its form, be called a church.  A church is not a building, but rather the name of the group of people who come together as one usually within the bounds of a building.  A church is also more than just one group of people, but rather can be used to describe all believers who choose to fellowship in the name of Jesus Christ.  Overall, the term “church” will be used in the context of both the local congregation, as well as the universal congregation of all Christians.

Paul speaks of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, in which he expresses how all who believe in Jesus are apart of the single unified body of Christ.  This is a representation of the church, or how the church is supposed to be, all different parts working together for one goal, which is to spread the love of Christ and to evangelize to all mankind.  The church members all work together for the good of Christianity throughout all the nations, using there various talents and resources to educate those around them of Jesus’ teachings, the problem of sin, and the plan of salvation.

Locally the function of the church should be to spread the good news of Jesus Christ, build up the current believers of the area, provide help and support according to the needs of the surrounding community, baptize new believers into the faith, and to preach and teach to Word of God.

Spreading the good news of Jesus Christ is fulfilling our duty to evangelize and to make new disciples, as commanded in the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 which states: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.””

Building up and maintaining the current congregation of the local church is vital to keeping those in the faith strong and dedicated.  Unfortunately there are times in life when Christians get too comfortable or begin to doubt when things get tough in life.  It is the job of the church, the people united together in Christ, to recognize the struggles and questions that their fellow church members might be going through.  Building up struggling or questioning Christians with love, support, and prayer is the job of the church people.  The key to this strength and support is continued fellowship and care for those included in the body of Christ.

Along with evangelism to the outside community who is not involved with the church body, it is also the church’s job to recognize the needs of the outsiders.  The church cannot function properly when it is simply focused on the inside and nothing else.  Jesus taught many times the importance of having a humble servant-like attitude and mindset towards others.  The needs of the church are important, but when it comes to the lost, helping them in their times of need will really show and spread the love of Christ.

One of the more obvious and visible things a church must do locally is preach and teach the Word of God and baptize new believers into the faith.  In today’s culture this might be the only function of many churches out there in America, but this really should only be one aspect of the body.  Preaching and teaching the Word not only helps build up the current Christians with knowledge and insight on the Word of God, it also provides for the Holy Spirit to work and to provide general revelation to believers in Christ.  Preaching and teaching may also work to break down the barrier of sin to the outside world, possibly moving outsiders to making decisions to follow Jesus.  Upon a decision to become Christian, it is then the churches job to provide baptism and continued support during the life of a Christian.  Functionally many churches have this aspect down, but other qualities that a local church must have are just as equally important.

Universally and around the world the church must perform several duties which include: spreading the good news of Christ throughout all nations, providing financial support to other church bodies, missionaries, and missions, and breaking down the barriers of race, language, and denomination to create unity amongst all believers in Jesus Christ.

Christianity is not the most popular religion in all areas of the world, therefore according to the Great Commission, as mentioned earlier, all Christians, the body of Christ as a whole, must do their job to help spread the Word of God to all areas of the globe.  Since many churches are unable to send out people on their own, using all the resources possible to aid in the evangelism of the world, such as financially should be attempted.

As the body of Christ, we are to use any resource that we have, to come together for the one goal of spreading Christ to the entire world.  Missionaries and their missions are simply an extension of the local church body, usually represented by a number of local churches, combining to show the universal church of Christ in one united body.

The body of Christ’s resources should also be spread among other local bodies which can uses the funds and resources that they have attained and help each other out in times of need.  A local church should never have to close its doors due to lack of funds, for the duties of the body of Christ is to help maintain and sustain each other.

Finally, the universal church is represented by all nations, all languages, without denomination.  The goal is to break down the barriers of separation to get back to what Jesus wanted for the body of Christ: unity.  The body of Christ united together to spread throughout the globe is the key goal and aspiration of all who believe in Jesus.  One who understands the great gift of salvation through Jesus’ death on the cross cannot keep this indescribable gift to themselves.  Though we are commanded to spread the news of Jesus, the true motivation of the church to spread Jesus’ name comes from the gratitude and love that overflows from all believers when they accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The church as the body of Christ should locally and universally function to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world, build up the current believers of the area, provide help and support according to the needs of the surrounding community, baptize new believers into the faith, to preach and teach to Word of God, spreading the good news of Christ throughout all nations, providing financial support to other church bodies, missionaries, and missions, and breaking down the all to create unity amongst all believers in Jesus Christ.

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Easter – A World Reborn (N.T. Wright)

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A portion of the following (with some minor editing) was published in N.T. Wright’s book Following Jesus.  It is a sermon preached by Wright on Easter morning at Lichfield Cathedral in 1994; one of my favorite Easter sermons I’ve ever heard/read:

Easter speaks of a world reborn.  It declares that, after all, Jesus is Lord, and that His kingdom will come and his will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

So then, what language can we use, can we borrow, to do Easter justice?

Well, why not thunder and lightning, earthquakes and tornadoes, devastating terror and tremendous joy so rich you could swim in it?

Well then, yes, we must need the picture-language given by the book of Revelation.

Some people have treated this book like a theological crossword puzzle, trying to figure out mysterious codes and tell-tales of the coming day and time of judgment.

I say no.  Yes, the language is strange at times, partly because it’s from and written to a different culture.

But it’s also strange because we in the modern world have made ourselves strangers to thunder and earthquakes, to terror and to joy.

The closest we get to it all is in our sanitized little world of television and internet, which we can turn off in the click of a button if it becomes too much.

If something happens to allow terror to break through and turn our lives around, most in our culture cannot cope with it.  We run off looking for help, or turning to sin to help ease the pain and pretend it never happened.

But Easter is the time for revolution.

If we ever find ourselves in danger of scaling down and trying to domesticate the gospel into a neat little story, hopefully the Revelation from John will shake us from that and expose some of our raw nerves to the terror and joy of our living God!

Revelation begins with a vision of the risen Jesus; eyes of fire, feet of bronze, face like the sun itself.

No wonder why John fell down at His feet as though he had died.

This is what I’m talking about.  This is where terror and joy meet.  This is Easter.

Revelation 1:12-19 says:

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things.

Whatever you’ve lost, whatever sin you’ve committed, whatever bits of your life are locked away in sorrow and shame….Jesus says, “I have the keys.”

Where fear and pain and sin end, God’s power begins.  He raises the dead.

This vision of the risen Jesus serves as the magnificent golden doorway into the rest of this book.

Revelation then has a sort of second introduction, in the form of seven short letters to the seven leading churches at the time, in Asia, or modern day Turkey.

These seven letters serve to teach, equip, help us hold fast, and comfort us as the church and as individual Christians.

But they also serve to push us into the rest of the letter, from the doorway into the throne room.

As the vision in the throne room begins to develop through chapter 4 and into chapter 5, something strange occurs.

The one within the room has a scroll, sealed.  The plan of God.

The plan of salvation.  The divine purpose for recreating the whole universe.

Someone must open the scroll.  But no one can do it.

Revelation 5:1-7 says:

I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the book and to break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on the earth or under the earth was able to open the book or to look into it. Then I began to weep greatly because no one was found worthy to open the book or to look into it; and one of the elders said to me, “Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.”And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a Lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth. And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him who sat on the throne.

Here is the Easter message in the most vivid of picture-language.

The Lion, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, has become a Lamb, a sacrificial Lamb.

He has become the Paschal Lamb; and by his death he has conquered the powers of evil so that now the plan of God; God’s rescue operation for the universe, can be unrolled and put into dramatic operation.

The battle is over!  The victor’s triumph won!

And the scene concludes so beautifully.

Revelation 5:8-14 says:

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they *sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.“ You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.” Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.

Imagine being John for a moment.  Hearing the voice that we would instantly recognize; calling us with a love which is stronger than death.

He would say to us too: “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.”

As the weeping Mary met the living Jesus on that first Easter morning, so too did the weeping John discover the Lion, who is the Lamb, conquering over sin and death.

Easter is all about the wiping away of tears.

In our fear of terror and joy we have forgotten the purpose of the tears in the first place.

We become embarrassed by them.  They become a reminder of the truth of our culture, we are fallen, and we are human, made in the image of God Himself.

Jesus also wept.  He wept at the tomb of his friend; He sobbed in the garden.

We have allowed, too often, our proper dislike of emotionalism to deceive us into trying to ignore our emotions.

But if Good Friday and Easter don’t stir our emotions, then the deceiver has indeed enslaved us.

We cannot live like that.  We must let go, and allow Christ to conquer hearts and minds, our pains and sins, and past and future.

So then what is the full hope of Easter?

Well, the middle chapters of Revelation are filled with battles being waged and wars being fought, which all lead up to the great victory.

In the last two chapters we find a new vision, of a new city; one that takes place of the fallen, the sinful, the broken one.

Revelation 21:1-7 says:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.

Most Christians would gladly express their future hope in terms of leaving this world and going to another one, called Heaven.

But here, at the climactic moment of the greatest of truths, we find that the Heavenly city comes down to earth.

Easter unveils the truth beyond the truth of mere survival of the hope of Heaven; the truth that God’s Kingdom will come!

God wants to re-create!  You!  The whole world!

Easter exposes the astonishing fact that the whole world is to be reborn anew.

New heavens, new earth; married as one.  That is our destiny.  That is the universe’s destiny.

All because of Easter.  All because of Jesus’ resurrection.

There will be no barbed wire, no bullets, no bombs, no pain, no mourning, no disease, no death.  And Revelation itself lists many things we will no longer face.

All the weapons of the deceiver himself will be gone.

Your tears will be wiped away from your eyes.

And it is all because of the Lamb.

This, right here, is John’s contribution to the biblical picture of the cross and resurrection of our Savior.

Here was see his vision of the Jesus who summons us, in awe and joy, to follow him.

We see Jesus, the one with eyes of fire and the voice the sound of waterfall.

Who lived, and died, and lives again forevermore.

Jesus is the Lion of Judah, the Messiah, who became the sacrificial Lamb.

Whose blood defeated evil and rescues us and the world from the bondage of sin.

Now, at the end of the vision, He is the bridegroom.

He is the one for whom we have longed without knowing it, the one for whom we are made, the one whose love for us is like the sun, and all out earthly loves mere reflections like the moon.

The love of the Lamb is the great reality that undergirds the entire vision, the entire Bible.

And it is the loved that is revealed on Easter.

In this love and with this knowledge we find that the hand that has wiped our tears away, also calls us to follow Him, to go dry the tears of our fellow neighbors.

The Lamb call us to follow Him where He goes, the dark places of this world, the dark places of our hearts, and to shine His light.

We are called to share in this amazing grace he gives, called to share in His ministry.

We continue to strive forward until the day of His return; the day the whole world with join and sing.

As Revelation 5:12-13 says:

saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”