The word church has many different meanings. It can be inclusive of all those who worship God, the universal body, or it can be narrowed down to a group of people who have the same beliefs in a specific God. Church can be further narrowed down to mean all congregations of a certain church denomination. Within denominations churches can be broken even further to synods and districts. There are also independent churches with only local membership. Church can also be referred to as the building where people come to worship. The definition of church used in this book are members who make up the congregations of two specific church bodies. The first body is all the true believers who make up Christís Church, the true church, the spiritual church of Godís Kingdom. The second body is the remaining members who have not completely accepted our Lord. These members believe they are part of the church, but are merely members of a physical and social church body on earth. They are not listed in the membership of our Masterís church.
Godís Kingdom includes everyone in Heaven and all who are under Christís grace in the world, for we are all one through Jesus. Christís Church on earth consists of all true believers who are scattered all over the world. Jesus told us that where two or three worship in His name, He will be there also. Christís Church does not have any special denomination, some worship physically together, but all worship spiritually together through Jesus as the head of the church. This true church is joined spiritually together in Christ through prayer, baptism and communion. The Holy Spirit gathers, preserves, ministers and holds this true congregation together in our Lordís love.
Christís Church has members in many different congregations on earth that fundamentally believe in salvation through our Saviorís grace alone. This includes many denominations with somewhat differing doctrines and views, but the same belief on the major truths of the Bible. Trouble in earthly congregations is caused because many members still have not met or accepted Jesus personally. Many in the congregation still have not given up their will to the Lord, still adhering to their human ideals within the earthly church body. Satan just smiles as this worldly wisdom makes the church:
- more worried about solving its own internal problems
than saving the unbelievers who need Christ
- more worried about telling others how great the church is
forgetting all credit is due Jesus
- a place where individuals can achieve self importance
instead of the greatest becoming the least, servants to the Lordís work
- an institute of higher learning alone
instead of an institute for spreading Godís love
- a place to develop a great building scheme
instead of supporting the poor and needy
- where we can show how much we know about the Bible
instead of lovingly helping others find Jesus through the Holy Spirit
- more worried about civic duties, being part of the community
than visiting its members, the sick, the elderly, those in prison
- a place that is going to save the world
forgetting the church canít save anyone, only Christ can
The church has many traditions, and if the tradition continues long enough it is often accepted as the truth, as gospel. But we must look at these traditions to see if they are overstepping our Lordís will. For man can make no spiritual law, only God can. When Jesus died on the cross He freed us from all church ceremonial laws and traditions. We no longer have to go through the church for salvation. We are free! We can go directly to Christ for our atonement. It doesnít matter what day you worship the Lord, it doesnít matter what robes the pastor wears, what vestments adorn the alter, it doesnít matter what kind of service you use as long as one comes reverently to worship their Master. We are free to worship our God in the manner that best suits the needs of the congregation. We do not come to church because the Lord requires us to or in order to earn our way to Heaven. We come because we love Jesus, we want to be with Him, we want to hear His message of love for us, we want to have our faith strengthened in unity with our brethren, and it is easier, more enjoyable to do our Saviorís work as a unit.
The church should be careful not to infringe upon Christís atonement for all on the cross by trying to perfect the congregation with man made rules or central control. One is free from sin by grace, but the church often tries to rein in oneís freedom, believing that by holding one in check the church can keep all in the faith. The church makes its own rules believing the church itself permeates what is needed to keep Christians in the faith. When one desires to be baptized or come to the Lordís Table for communion the church can exaggerate its role. The role of the church is to be a haven for the Holy Spirit to open oneís heart to Jesus. To let the love of Christ permeate to all gathered in His name. What is needed in baptism is a real intent, desire, and reverence to accept Christ. It is not necessary to take a complete course in the doctrines of the church. It does not require swearing a loyalty oath to any church, it is not necessary to have it be part of a certain church service. The most important element of baptism is one accepting Christ, and that this conversion can happen now! All accounts in the Bible have those who accepted Christ and desired to be baptized being baptized within a few hours, always the same day. Not having to wait two weeks or taking a six month course. Not having to pledge to anyone or anything but to our God. The church belief that instruction in church doctrine allows the Holy Spirit to open a more receptive heart than through the regeneration of baptism is non-Biblical. It doesnít look at the other side of the coin. Only the Holy Spirit can enable one to believe in Jesus Christ. When one comes to be baptized it could be the only chance to reach this individual, for oneís heart can easily grow cold again. This is a time when you have enthusiasm in an unbelieverís heart, why crush it leaving the impression baptism is just a scheduled event. Baptism is the most important event in oneís life, when we are reborn with Christ. Jesus told us the Good Shepherd would leave the ninety nine and go after the one lost sheep. Everything else can wait while we enable the Holy Spirit to bring faith into anotherís heart. Then the church should make sure its love goes out to help nurture and strengthen the new brother or sister in Christ.
The church can also exaggerate communion. Communion forgives our sins and strengthens our faith as we become spiritually one with Christ. Paul rebuked those who were drunk, not knowing what they were doing, and taking communion. This was taken out of context and started closed communion, whereby all had to be confirmed members of that particular church to receive communion. Jesus instituted communion for all who believe that He gave His life for our redemption. That His body and blood are spiritually present under the bread and wine for the strengthening of our faith, for the forgiveness of our sins. This is what is needed, not the membership of a particular church. Why keep a Christian from strengthening their faith, why deny one the forgiveness of their sins, because they are not a member of your church? Closing the Lordís table from believers pulls families apart. This is especially true on Christian celebrations, when close friends and relatives who are in Christís Church yet of a different earthly denominational church, cannot partake of the Lordís Supper together. The church should assist all in finding Jesus, not in controlling His grace. We are free! We are all free to receive the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The church must also be careful of central control. Elders should be chosen by the local church alone to lead them. Deacons should also be chosen in the same way and assist the elders. The local church should help evangelists spread the word. Pastors and teachers are needed to help congregations search and find the meaning of the Bible. The local church must be free to make all these decisions on their own, chose their own leaders. Even when the apostles wanted assistants, the deacons were chosen by those they would serve. Paul gave qualifications the elders should possess. The elders should be mature men who are seasoned Christians. The elders should love the Lord, be temperate, have raised and kept their families in the faith, be respected by the congregation, and serve the church in humility. All the qualifications for elders and deacons are in Timothy and Titus. Pastors and teachers of the church should work under the elders. As all servants of Christ mature they will gain the confidence of the congregation to lead them, to become an elder. The church has been instructed to be slow in ordaining those who are called to serve the Lord. Letting them grow, being sure they are mature in the Lord, in their own personal life to fully commit serving Jesus. The trouble is the church ordains only pastors coming out of seminary college expecting them to be the leaders, to be the controlling influence of the local church.
Experienced elders are even told they are not qualified to do all the functions of the church for they have not graduated from seminary or college. That ordination depends on knowledge from schooling. That love, dedication, spiritual maturity, life experience, humility, the life situation to completely serve the Lord are not good enough to be an ordained leader of the church. The church needs the stability of mature elders to hold the congregation in the love of the Lord, to keep the church running smoothly.
There are many manmade rules the church has made and changed. Like making it a sin to drink alcohol, not allowing life insurance, using the old covenant laws, not allowing pastors to marry, the church not loving or accepting their neighbors as themselves. There are many rules the church now makes because of the pressure of society. Homosexuality is accepted, as is divorce for any reason, the Christian family structure has been allowed to completely break down, the improprieties of the pastors, teachers, leaders of the church being hidden to avoid embarrassment. The worst part is the pride and arrogance of the church not coming forward with the truth. The church is more worried about itself, how it appears to others, protecting its educated leaders, than coming forth with the truth, than letting the congregation know what is happening. Christ would have us step forward letting all know the church is not perfect, that it also needs Christís guidance and forgiveness.
Man has always had a problem with his ego, his pride. He believes in himself, that which he can accomplish. Humility is a foreign subject to him. It is very hard for man to admit he is nothing, and give all the credit to someone else, even his own God. One can try to be politely humble, by doing the Christian thing of giving all the glory to their Lord. But often these words are not really from the bottom of their heart, their true feelings. One must let the Holy Spirit guide them as a new born babe to put aside their human attributes of ego and pride. The church must also understand how ego undermines the church. Human adulation is such a common practice in the church that it is hard to know where to start explaining it, so let start at the beginning.
There are no man made heroes in the Bible, only God doing miraculous works through mankind. There is nothing one can do to promote Godís work, God alone does it all through us. The only thing we need to do is pull our ego out of the way so our Lord will be able to accomplish His plan through us. Man is not great, but God is able to do great things through him. Look at the disciples. They were unlearned men. They had no special attributes going for them. They were with Jesus, saw His miracles and still could not completely believe, comprehend, or understand Jesus. The disciples were terrified, hiding out with fear after Jesus death. Jesus wouldnít turn them out to the world until the Holy Spirit came upon them. These men were not heroes, it was the Holy Spirit that enabled them to spread GodĎs word. Through our weakness God perfects His strength. Paul, the most known apostle was killing Christians, would never have found Christ of his own volition. But Jesus used him to carry the message to the gentiles. Paul states he is nothing without the Lord, that he can not boast of any achievement because it was all Christ working through him. Yet today we have denominations and churches named after men as though they did something great, that they brought something special to the church. All the great ministries around proudly advertising some one who will can lead us to God. All the advertisements showing what this church and that church can do, even the letter heads all proclaim what the church is doing for the world. But they have got the cart before the horse, as none give Christ the top billing. They do not put Christ message through------, but give man top billing, as though it is his message. Saints and patron saints are now given glory for all they did, some even pray to saints or statues of saints who have gone to Heaven. But saints are merely all believers in Christ whether they are in Heaven or on earth. They were all humans, and all their accomplishments were merely what God was able to do through them. Churches praise their ministers for their accomplishments with elaborate festivities. They believe these pastors held the congregation in the faith and made the church grow by their work. Some churches are even proposing a hall of fame for pastors. These churches are forgetting the real truth. That it was Christ working through man that makes all accomplishments possible, that it is the Lord alone who enables us to complete His work. The church also forgets about the other side of the coin. The many failures we have trying to run things on our own, disrupting the Lordís work. The many times human ego has botched up Godís plans. The boasting of church leadership accomplishments overshadowing the message of Christís love. Man and the church can do nothing, but with God all things are possible.
Ego is also slipping into the membership of the church. The pride of members for what they have accomplished through their efforts and money. They are like the man at the altar thanking God for making him so great that he was able to do marvelous things for the Lord. Yet having his prayer rejected by God, while one who fell down on his knees begging forgiveness me for I am nothing had his prayer accepted. Those that receive human praise for their work, those that have self pride in their accomplishments have received their pay on earth. But those who have done the Lordís work while giving their Master alone the praise, have their rewards stored away in Heaven.
Ego can easily turn into jealousy, especially in the leadership of the church. Many have different talents in the church, but often the pastor thinks he alone has the ability to show man the way to God. They want the church to grow, but the church to grow through them. Many leaders are unhappy if someone else delivered a better sermon, had a better rapport with the congregation, or could give that special Bible class. Others pastors have wanted to work as a man and wife team only, leaving others out. Still others believed they are the C.E.O. of the congregation, the boss to guide the church to its glory. These leaders believe they are the only chance for this congregation to be saved. They forget they are but a mere speck in Godís great plan. For there will be many who not only preached the word of God, but have healed in our Saviorís name that will not walk through Heavenís gates. Jesus will judge all on what talents they have been given, how they were used, and if any of His sheep have been led astray. For it is God who leads through man, man is lost on his own. Jesus would have leaders become servants to the congregation, to love the congregation as Christ loved us. To do even the humblest tasks, as our Lord even washed His disciples feet. To utilize the talents that God has given each and every believer. For even through the mouths of babes comes forth praise. Only through humility, when we throw our ego away, when we admit we are nothing, not just say it but mean it from the bottom of our hearts, will the Holy Spirit be able to change our lives, can Jesus start to use us to carry out His plan. We then will be able to work together for our Lord, not caring who does what, but using all to further the work of our God. What Christ does through me is not the ending but the beginning of greater and better things. For God will use others to far surpass what little any of us does, for the glory belongs to God, not man.
When you read the above one might think churches are not the answer. But churches are the lifeblood of keeping Christians working together in the Lord. They only need to focus on Jesus, they need to use the KISS theory. Keep it simple stupid. Donít start by showing the world how great the church is, start by telling the good news of Jesus Christ to all around you. Your family, friends, workers, those you are in contact with, those who need help, bringing them to the narrow pathway where one can find Jesus Christ. Spread Christís love one person at a time realizing if the Holy Spirit reached only one unbeliever per member of Christís church, it would double in size. Help new members, supporting them as they grow, get strength, and mature in the Lord. Then use the church organization to reach people throughout the world. Remembering to feed the needy spiritually with the grace of Christ along with the daily necessities of the body. The mark of a Christian church is not the fancy buildings they utilize, but what they do for the Lord. Churches can survive without the newest facilities, the fanciest technology, much easier than the unbeliever can survive without knowing Jesus, the poor can survive without food or clothing. We donít need the top learning institutions with fancy sports stadiums to put Christianity on the map. We donít need costly churches, grounds, or advertising to proclaim what our church does. We need to show all Christís love for us, that this love makes one a new and different person. That we are not part of this world, that we care for others as Christ cares for us. That all are welcome in our Saviorís Kingdom, that all are saved through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Church members are like coals burning in a campfire on the ground. Together they stay hot giving off much heat, making a campfire warm and light. When the coals are separated and strung out by themselves they can not maintain their heat and die out quickly. The trick in maintaining a hot fire is to feed it with dry wood which keeps the coals burning brightly. Christians are no different, we need to gather together and be fed the love of Christ to keep our faith burning strong. We do not need to hear how great our church is, we do not need to hear how great our pastors and workers are, we do not need fantasies to help children understand Jesus, we do not need to hear about old covenant rules, we do not need a constant diet of old testament stories, we need to be continually fed the gospel of Jesus Christís love for us. That through grace Jesus can save all who believe and repent of their sin. Not in repetitious responses, but in everything the church does from the messages of those with Christís love burning in their hearts, to the actions of love and concern from all within the congregation. People have immediate problems, some are even spiritually dying. They need the good news of Christís love and forgiveness.
The church like the fire of coals must not have man made restrictions put around it or it will burn out. Restrictions put around the fire make it hard to add wood and keeps the wind from blowing under the fire. The fire stagnates, for without new wood or wind to kindle the embers the fire slowly dies out. So it is with the church when they try to encumber the congregation with man made rules that confuse the church members. When Christians are free to worship Christ the Holy Spirit can breathe on them, making the coals red hot for all to see. Many seeing this glowing love come adding more fuel to the fire, making the fire hotter and hotter until even those coals on the edge on the fire turn red with love to the Lord. That is the atmosphere the church should provide for all. Where they are fed bread so they are never hungry, where they are given water so they never thirst, where there is the warmth of Christís love so they will never grow cold, believers will always come. We are free! Free to gladly worship our God.