Does God Have a Program?
Last week we did a very brief fly over of church History and observed the last couple hundred years, its effect on the church, and its current state. This has set us up perfectly to delve into the next major cog in the wheel of the church – the context of scripture. Most of what we think about the church is formulated from our experiences and personal opinions derived from those experiences. It is not the norm to see a believer say something like this: “ I am committed to the local church because the scriptures say…” Rather, they often say something along these lines: “Well, I think this is what the church should look like or should be…”
However, there are two major points that need to be addressed in order to understand “The Church” in the context of scripture. And a third will be more applicable in nature. When we understand them properly, we can then draw profound implication from scripture for our lives in regards to the local church. They are as follows:
1. The Church Proper
In the context of scripture, the word ‘church’ is almost always referring to a local assembly. Some would argue that it always does. The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is “Ekklesia”. The word carries the idea of a congregation or an assembly with a particular focus on a specific group that comes together for a purpose. So, while it can refer to the global church in reference to all believers, the majority of the context is focused on a specific assembly. Yet, there is ‘the church proper’ that refers to all believers. This is important to understand because it connects us in heart and mission. It makes up the beautiful bride of Christ that He loves so much. For example: Jesus tells Peter in Matthew 16:18 [ESV], “You are Peter, and on this rock [Jesus, referring to Himself] I will build my church”. It is obvious from the text that Jesus does not have in specific congregation in mind when he states this [though it could be implicated]. He is truly referring to ‘the Church proper’ – all of those who have been and will be redeemed. You could even spell it out in all caps for emphasis – ‘THE CHURCH’.
2. The Church Particular
While Jesus did not have a specific congregation in mind in Matt. 16:18, He did have the local church in mind. In fact, to quote one author, “It [the Church] is never used to designate a national or international body.” And as we move into Acts and into the rest of the New Testament, the ‘Church’ begins to take on shape and form. It comes alive, and we see the actual meat and bones of what it can and should look like. The face of the church begins to become visible even in all its imperfections. It’s not just a good idea; it’s a reality with a design and purpose. This is ‘the Church particular’. We begin to see that it is not just some nebulous group of people we have labeled ‘The Church’. These are actual local assemblies living out daily with one another what ‘The Church’ was intended and created to be. It’s a visible reality. For example, we see Paul writing multiple letters to various “churches” [plural] that he established during his missionary journeys [Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Etc.]. He gives detailed and personal instruction – sometimes rebuke – to each particular congregation. He tells them specifically how they are to conduct themselves as the church. Timothy received two letters laying out detailed admonition on how to lead his particular church as a pastor. He even gives specific instruction on church government and practice. Acts 15 tells us how Paul “went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches [plural]” that he had established in previous missionary journeys.
3. The Church: God’s Program
The basic truth we are dealing with here is that God has a program and that program is the local church. It is through the local church that believers are equipped and furnished in the gospel. It is through the local church that relationships are built and a base is established to launch God’s people into the world to spread the gospel. We often seek to come up with programs that inadvertently replace the church. Maybe it’s because ‘The Church’ has not done its job or maybe we have failed to understand what the scriptures have to say about God’s program. Whatever the case may be, we need to call God’s people – maybe even ourselves – back to the program that God began some two thousand years ago. It is time to return to the program that allows us to experience community that we were created for, and to bring glory to the Head of the Body – Jesus Christ.