The Church

The Church – The Church in God’s Masterplan

THE CHURCH IN GOD’S MASTER PLAN.

 INTRODUCTION.

When we say the word ‘church’ it conjures up all sorts of images in people’s minds.

  • Building
  • Denomination / Organisation – Roman catholic Church, Church of England (The whole organisation or just the local parish church), Baptist Church, etc.
  • People – a good evangelical response!

But do we mean the local congregation or the church around the world. On the other hand is the church bigger than even that. At the other end of the scale what about ‘house-churches’?

So then, What exactly is the Church? That is what I hope we will learn more about over the next few weeks / months. Today I want to try and draw some broad-brush strokes. A wide-angle lens view. Then over the next weeks we will zoom in on various aspects of the Church:

  • Worship
  • Fellowship
  • Discipleship
  • Ministry
  • Missions and evangelism
  • Leadership
  • Baptism – —— and so on.

If we simply focus on the Church in our day and our time and our culture and even our own particular ‘Binscombite’ view of the church we will end up with a very inadequate view of what the church is.

What we need to do is to step back, far back, back to eternity to see God’s overall plan for his creation. We will never see the full picture in every detail because we are finite and God is infinite. This does not therefore mean that we can’t understand anything, on the contrary God has told us many things in the Bible about his plan for his universe.

The question that we must first address then is ‘What is God’s master plan’?

  1. GOD’S MASTER PLAN.

Some would say that God’s purpose is to save souls. While it is true that God does save souls. To say that God is saving souls and preparing them for heaven is an inadequate definition of the Church and its purposes. What is more I believe it is not a biblical definite.

Ephesians 1-3 is a wonderful passage of scripture giving us some amazing glimpses into the purposes of God. As we read this passage there are two striking truths. (There are many marvellous truths but two stand out in the context of what we are talking about)

Firstly, God has a plan.

Throughout this passage we have numerous references to the plan, purposes, will of God.

Ephesians 1:1-10

1 … the will of God,

5 …with his pleasure and will — .

9 ..the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure,

which he purposed in Christ,

10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Paul repeatedly says that God ‘chose’ – ‘appointed’ – ‘destined’ etc. – this is a picture of a God who has a specific plan and purpose.

ILLUS.: Remember the TV series the A-Team. The characters were Murdoch, Face, BA and Hannibal Smith – lots of fighting and seldom a scratch. Hannibal Smith always had an elaborate plan, which somehow worked at which point he would say; “I loved it when a plan comes together”

God has a plan and it will come together because unlike Hannibal Smith God’s plan do not depend on a little planning and a lot of luck. God’s plans have a will come together because he has the power to make them work.

Paul uses a word (oikonomia) in v.10 which means house / household and which refers to the oversight and management of a large household. The idea is that the whole universe is like a big household of which God is the master and it is managed by his divine order.

Jesus used similar imagery when he told parables of God as a householder who will settle accounts [Matt.13; 20; 21]

Secondly, God’s plan extends to the whole universe.

V.10 tells us that it is God’s purposes “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” 5x he speaks of “Heavenly realms”. In 4v10 he speaks of Christ “who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe”.

Then these wonderful verses at the end of chapter 1- Ephesians 1:20-23 [the power of God]20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

When we come to study the Church we can be tempted to rush into looking at the nitty-gritty of Church life here on earth and that is important. However, we can only rightly understand the church and its mission when we see it as part of God’s over all plan and purpose for all creation.

Thirdly, God’s plan is to reconcile all things to himself through Christ.

God’s plan is the restoration of the damage done to persons and nature by the fall. When sin entered the world through human disobedience towards God the damage was done and God set in motion a plan to rectify that.

How was he going to do that? Paul tells us in Colossians 1:20 – 20 and through him {Christ} to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (NIV)

Central to God’s plan is the rescue of people like you and me from our sins and bringing us back into a relationship with himself. However, God’s plan is broader than just my relationship with him. Jesus dying on the cross deals with all alienations that resulted from sin – within ourselves, between individuals / communities, between our physical environment and us.

The purpose of God in bringing us back into a relationship with himself is not simply that I have a relationship with him in isolation. His plan is to “call together a people for himself”

We are talking about “The Church in God’s master plan” – we have seen briefly God’s plan, now we need to ask “What is the church?

  1. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

There is much we can say.

  • Is it a local congregation or the whole Church around the world?
  • Does it included believers only on earth or are those who have died also included in the Church?
  • What is the relationship between the Church and the nation of Israel in the OT?
  • What is the difference between the church and the kingdom of God?

We will touch on these things over the next few weeks.

Essentially the Church is the community of all true believers for all time.

This tells us three important things about the Church:

  • It is a community of people
  • It comprises those whom God has saved / who have a personal faith in Christ
  • It is for all time – both OT and NT.

Ephesians 5:25

25 … Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (NIV)

Did Jesus die only for those who lived in the NT age? NO, surely OT believers were also rescued by God on the basis that the Messiah would die for them. They looked forward to the cross and we look back. The Church is all true believers for all time.

God’s plan for the church is so great that he has exalted Christ, His Son, to the highest position of authority for the sake of the church – Ephesians 1:22-23 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

Furthermore it is Christ who builds the Church – Matt. 16:18 “I will build my church”

Luke in Acts 2:47 is very careful to tell us that the growth of the Church is not by human effort – And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)

This way in which the Church grows is an continuation of the way God established his people in the OT. He brought the people to himself to be a worshipping assembly / community before him.

The Lord says to Moses –

Deuteronomy 4:10 10 …. “Assemble the people before me …..” (NIV)

Or “Gather the people to me”

This has the same meaning as the word used in the NT for the Church – ekklesia – from which we get our English word ecclesiastical.

It is not surprising therefore that when the NT writers refer to the OT people of God gathering together they call it a church – Acts 7:38 38 He [ Moses] was in the assembly [ekklesia – church] in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. (NIV)

In the Book of Hebrews we have reference to a great number of witnesses in heaven surrounding the Church on earth going all the way back to Abel, the son of Adam and Eve. [Hebrews 12:1] Later in Hebrews it talks about the Church of the firstborn enrolled in heaven [Heb.21:22]

This is not surprising when we consider that the NT emphasises that Jewish believers and Gentile believers are united as one – Ephesians 2:14-19

14 … has made the two one .15 …. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two,   16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, ….. .

19 Consequently, …. fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, (NIV)

There are new blessings and privileges that we have in the NT era. However, it God has always called his people to assemble to worship him so it is appropriate to think of the church as being all the people of God for all time.

  1. WHY DOES THE CHURCH EXIST?

This question can be answered in two ways:

  • The Church exists because ….
  • The Church exists for ….

The Church exists because …. God brought it into being and continues to keep it going by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the church is not a spiritual community then it is not a church but simply a club on a human level.

The Church exists for ….

What is the purpose of the Church? Or rather purposes?

We could talk about these under many headings. I think there are three basic dimensions to the purpose of the church:

  • Towards God
  • Towards fellow believers
  • Towards the world

Towards God – to worship him. Paul tells the Church at Colossae – Colossians 3:16 16 ….. sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (NIV)

God has rescued us in Christ “to live for the praise of his glory” [Eph.1:12]

Worship is a major purpose of the Church – It is to be focussed on the Lord and done in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In a sense all of our life should be an act of worship to God. Everything Christians do should be done to the glory of God.

However, it is also true that as far as the Church as a body of people is concerned there need to be times of meeting together to sing / pray/ read and study the scriptures / and focus of God alone.

One of the marks of being filled with the Spirit is that we then worship God from the heart – Ephesians 5:18-19 ….. be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, (NIV)

Towards fellow believers – Nurture. The Church has a responsibility to nurture those who already believe and build them up to maturity in their faith – in short, discipleship. Paul goal was not simply to bring people to Christ but to bring them to maturity – Colossians 1:28 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ

We read in Ephesians that God gives gifted people to the church 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4:12-13

The goal of the Church is never simply to save souls! Rather, it is to bring every Christian to maturity in Christ.

Towards the world – Outreach [evangelism, mission, acts of mercy, caring …]

Jesus was very clear that his follower – his church – were to be turned outwards to the world. The gospel of His kingdom was to be proclaimed to ALL nations

{Matt. 24:14} Make disciples of all nations [Matt.29:20] Go into all the world [Mark] be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth [Acts1]. Telling the world the good news about what Jesus has done by dying on the cross is the primary task of the Church towards the world.

YET accompanying this task of evangelism is to be the ministry of caring for the poor and needy in the name of the Lord. Luke 6:35-36 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend … without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These areas of involvement by Christians in the world, in the name of Jesus, for the good of society are numerous – BUT they must not be seen as a substitute for genuine proclamation of the gospel; nor must they be a substitute for ministry directed at God or ministry to other believers.

Keeping a balance – It is always a temptation to ask which of these three is more important?

All three are commanded by the Lord in scripture, thus all three are important and none can be neglected. Emphasising one to the neglect of the other two creates and imbalance that results in an unhealthy Church.

They are, of course, not entirely separate compartments. There is a large degree of overlap between them. There are also many different aspects to each of the three ministries of the Church.

A Church that over-emphasises worship will end up with inadequate Bile teaching and remain shallow and immature.

If we neglect evangelism we will cease to grow & become turned & will wither.

If we place the building-up of believer over the other two we will produce Christians who know the Bible’s teaching but are spiritually dry because they know little of the joy of worshipping God or telling others about Christ.

All three dimensions must be emphasised and held in tension.

This does not mean that each individual Christian must give exactly 1/3 of their time in the church to each of these. God has gifted each differently.

Thus if your gift is in teaching you will give more time to building up the Church than to the other two. If you have a gift for evangelism more of your time will go in that direction. If you have the gift of helps you may spend more time doing practical things, and so on. This is an appropriated response to the diversity of gifts God has given us.

Still we must all be involved in worship, fellowship/discipleship and witness although the proportions may differ according to gift.

So the Church of God is wonderfully varied. It is especially brought together by God for his glory. It is central to God’s master plan. AND we have the immense privilege of being part of what God is doing in the universe – as we co-operate with him uses us to accomplish his plans for his universe – What a thought!

THE CHURCH IN GOD’S MASTER PLAN

 

  1. GOD’ MASTER PLAN.

God has a plan.

God’s plan extends to the whole universe.

God’s plan is to reconcile all things to

himself in Christ.

 

  1. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

“The Church is the community of all true believers for all time”

 

  1. WHY DOES THE CHURCH EXIST?

Three dimensions:

            Ministry towards God.

            Ministry towards fellow believers.

            Ministry towards the world.

 

 

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