There is much confusion today about the Church? What is it? Why does it exist? How did it come about? What is the purpose of the Church in our modern society? I would say that if you took a poll of people from around town today you would find many different answers to these questions. I looked up the definition of “Church” at Dictionary.com and this is what I found. 1. A building for public Christian worship. 2. Public worship of God or a religious service in such a building. 3. The whole body of Christian believers. 4. Any division of this body professing the same creed and acknowledging the same ecclesiastical authority. That clears things up for us doesn’t it? Not so much.
I believe that the confusion about who we are as the Church has led to so many problems in the Church throughout our history. These problems within the Church have led many who are not part of the Church to arrive at conclusions about us that has left a bad taste in their mouths. This morning I want to spend our time answering the question, “What is the Church?” Is the Church a building where people who profess to love God assemble for worship and religious instruction or is the Church the Body of Christ throughout the ages—redeemed, animated, and sent by the Spirit of God into the world to fulfill the purpose of God, for the glory of God? Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and we will get started. If you will turn with me to Ephesians 4:4-6 we can read these verses together.
4 There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)
I mentioned that the failure to understand “who we are” and “why we are” has led to many problems in the Church throughout our history. We, as people, have a tendency to look back an idealize days gone by. Church folks are susceptible to this temptation as well. We want to look back at the early Church and talk about how much better things were back then, back in the good ol’ days. Well, the same problems that are present in the Church today were present in the early church. It isn’t that God has failed to constantly remind us of “who we are” and “why we are,” but we tend to forget. When we forget then we are headed for trouble.
What problems plague the Church in our day? How about factions in the church? Some of the members really like one of the ministers, but others don’t. Some folks think the preacher is boring and tedious in his teaching. One of the other ministers is always so inspiring and uplifting when he preaches on Sunday morning. Those who like him rally together and begin to pray that the Lord will call Pastor Boring to another church so they can hear their favorite minister on Sunday mornings. Factions divide. Well, it was no different in the early Church. The First Christian Church of Corinth was going through something very similar and that is why Paul wrote to them and said,
11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:11-13 NIV)
The problem of forgetting “who we are” and “why we are” is not confined to the people in the pew, it oftentimes invades the pulpit, and when it does it leads to disaster. How many times have we heard of pastors who have bilked people out of tons of money, had affairs and lost their marriage as well as their ministry, or destroyed the reputation and ministry of a congregation by their ungodly behavior? I don’t need to share any examples with you because you know them well. The destruction caused by selfish, greedy, ungodly pastors is not a new phenomenon. Paul wrote to a young pastor named Timothy and warned him. Turn with me to 1 Timothy 6:6-11 and let’s read together.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:6-11 NIV)
The problem that was present in Ephesus, where Timothy was a pastor, was not confined to Ephesus. There must have been many preachers in the days of the early Church who taught the Word of God for what they could profit. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and contrasted his own ministry with the ministries of the profiteers.
17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God. (2 Corinthians 2:17 NIV)
The problem is not the year or the age in which we live, the problem is that we, the Body of Christ, forget “who we are” and “why we are.” When that happens there is no limit to the amount and severity of the problems that we will experience in the Church.
There is absolutely no way for the Church, the Body of Christ, to be who God has called us to be, and live out His purpose for us, apart from understanding what Scripture teaches. The Church was never created so that it might be what we think it should be. The Church was brought into being to be what God has called it to be. Our study of Ephesians 4:4-6 can give us some great insights into God’s plan.
I want to point out some things about our Scripture for today. There are some unique aspects about this Scripture that jump right out at us. First of all, look at the number of times Paul uses the word, “one.” “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called with one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Secondly, Paul uses the word, “all,” four times. “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Last of all, Paul builds his statement, which is really one sentence in Greek, around the Trinity, but here he lists the three Persons of the Trinity in an unusual order. Paul lists the Spirit, the Son, and the Father whereas we most often talk about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
One Body and One Spirit
Why would Paul mention the Spirit first? That a great question and I think I have an answer for you. This section of Ephesians is really about the unity of the Church, the Body of Christ. You won’t read the word “Church” in Ephesians 4:4-6, but there is no doubt that when Paul says, “There is one body…” what he is referring to is the Church. Paul says that there is only one “body” and one “Spirit.” We are made part of the Body of Christ by the work of the Spirit of God, the third Person of the Trinity. Paul said,
13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV)
Paul uses a number of illustrations to try and help us understand the Church, or the Body of Christ. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes the people of God as a great Kingdom, a household, and a temple. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 2:21-22 where Paul speaks of the Spirit of God living in the “temple” of God’s people.
21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:21-1 NIV)
In Ephesians 5, Paul describes the relationship of a husband and wife and then he says,
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:31-33 NIV)
The one image that Paul uses more than any other to help describe and define the Church is the image of the human body. In our Scripture for today he says, “There is one body…” When Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth he was much more descriptive in helping them understand how the unity of the human body is like the unity of the followers of Jesus. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and let’s see what we can learn.
12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27 NIV)
Now that makes sense doesn’t it? Everyone has a body. We know that the body works together in unity, not as independent parts. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
The body consists of ten fingers, ten toes, two hands, two feet, two legs, two arms, and so on. But the body is not a collection of these parts; and not one of them has been created independently or separately and then put together. That is not how the body develops and comes into being. As we have said earlier, it all starts from one cell which begins to develop and to grow and shoots off little buds. One of these buds will eventually be the right forearm and arm and hand; another goes off to form the same on the left. Then the bud that forms the trunk comes down, and the legs come off the trunk. It all comes out of the original primitive cell. The parts have never had an independent being, they are all offshoots, outgrowths of this central primitive cell. That is why there is an essential unity in the body. (Jones, Martyn-Lloyd. Ephesians 4:1-10: Christian Unity. pg. 53.)
The human body is a good illustration of the unified functioning that we are supposed to witness taking place in the Body of Christ. The truth of the matter is that because we don’t know what God’s Word teaches, or because we neglect what God’s Word teaches about the Body of Christ, we, more times than not, witness division, dissension, and pride among the members of the Body of Christ.
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.
Let’s move on. Paul also says that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” “Lord,” in the Hebrew Bible is the title for Yahweh. Every place in your Bible that you see the word, “LORD,” in “all caps” it is the Hebrew word, “Yahweh.” It is Paul’s favorite word in the New Testament to describe Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 we read,
5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:5-6 NIV)
When Paul says that there are many “gods” and “lords” in society, he is referring to anything or anyone that people give authority or power to in their life. For those in the early Church, they lived in a society where the Emperor of the Roman Empire was called “Lord.” Emperor Domitian, who ruled from 81-96 A.D. mandated that his officials introduce the formula, “our Lord and God commands…” into all official documents. This made it very difficult for the followers of Jesus who were given the choice of going to the local market in Ephesus, the Agora, and saying, “Domitian is Lord and God,” before being allowed to enter the market or being denied the opportunity to shop and clinging to their belief that Jesus alone is Lord, He alone was their Master. The late W.A. Criswell wrote,
No government was ever so tolerant of religion as Rome, no government. Rome conquered province after province. And if it were Egypt, they let Egyptian gods be worshipped anywhere. Were it Gall, were it Asia, were it Macedonia, were it Greece, anywhere, Rome was tolerant of religions. They built a Pantheon. If you’re ever in the Imperial city, the most perfectly preserved building of ancient antiquity is the Pantheon in Rome, built by Agrippa the friend of Julius Caesar in about 45 BC. And in that Pantheon, though empty now under the great and beautiful dome, there is a niche for a god, there’s a niche for (another) god, there’s a niche for (another) god, there’s a niche for (another) god. And then Rome conquered Egypt and Egypt wanted their gods worshipped. There was a place for the Egyptian gods, and there was a place for the Gallic gods, and here was a place for the Alexandrian gods, and here was a place for all of the gods of the Empire, in the Pantheon. ‘Pan’ –all, ‘theos’ –god; in the ‘all god’ place. So when the Christians came, and preached ‘Iesus’ and ‘anastasis’ —‘Jesus, and the resurrection,’ why the Romans said, “Marvelous, wonderful, there’s a fine niche here in the Pantheon for Iesus and anastasis; Jesus and the resurrection.” And the Christians said, “But not so, but not so. There is no god but God. There is no lord but the Lord. There’s no spirit but the Holy Spirit, and these three are One. And to place Jesus by Neptune, to place Jesus by Isis or Osiris, to place Jesus by Jupiter or Jove? No!” said the Christian. “There is one God, Lord Christ Jesus.” And that is why they laid down their lives unto death. (Criswell, W.A. Sevenfold Unity of the Church. 4.11.1965)
And in our day the Church, the Body of Christ, is being asked to make room for other “lords” and other “gods.” The doorkeepers of the Pantheon are still with us and we are being told that Jesus is good and fine for us, but that we must remember that Jesus is only one of many. Only one of many? You and I are standing at the crossroads. What will we do? How will we respond? Will we go-along-to-get-along and keep our mouths shut or will we simply say, “There is only one Lord and His name is Jesus.” Someone might ask, “Mike, why are you so narrow minded? Why don’t you realize that we live in a different day, a modern-age; we live in a global community with neighbors of many faiths. You can’t honestly believe that Jesus alone is Lord…do you?” Yes he is.
This goes right along with Paul saying that there is “one faith” and “one baptism.” The “faith” Paul is referring to is not our agreement about the Nicene Creed or the Westminster Confession. Neither is he referring to the amount of faith that you or I might have. What Paul is saying is that the “one faith” is in what God has done through His Son on our behalf. Paul elaborates on this “faith” in Romans when he writes,
16 I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 NIV)
The righteousness from God that has been revealed is the reconciliation of sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of the Sinless Savior. We read in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV) This is the confession of the one Body of Christ through the ages and spanning the globe and from this place we must not move…we cannot move.
The “one baptism” is not the mode of baptism, whether you use a little water or a lot of water, but it is the means of our identification with Jesus. Through baptism we announce to the world that we are dying to ourselves so that we might live for our King.
One God and Father of All
Last of all, Paul writes, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:6 NIV) God is one. That is the basic confession of Judaism in the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV) That is also the confession of the followers of Jesus—God is one, but He expresses Himself in three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. United in the Godhead and yet functioning in three unique ways. John MacArthur writes,
Our one God and Father, along with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is over all and through all and in all. That comprehensive statement points to the glorious, divine, eternal unity that the Father gives believers by His Spirit and through the Son. We are God created, God loved, God saved, God Fathered, God controlled, God sustained, God filled, and God blessed. We are one people under one sovereign (over all), omnipotent (through all), and omnipresent (in all) God. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 131)
One final thing before we leave here this morning. Paul says that “you were called to one hope when you were called.” We hear lots of talk about “hope” in our day, but it is a different kind of hope than that which is discussed in God’s Word. Hope in our day is nothing more than crossing our fingers and wishing upon a star that the thing we want comes to fruition. Biblical hope is based not upon what we want, but upon God’s actions throughout history. We have seen that God has been true to His promises from the beginning of time and that gives us confidence that He will continue to fulfill every promise He has ever made. Let me give you some examples. God says
9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)
You and I do not have to “hope” that we will go to heaven when we die. God has made you a promise. He has provided what you and I lack through the righteous life, death, and resurrection of His Son so that we might be reconciled to Him and know that we will be in heaven when this life is over. Our hope is certain because it is based upon God’s actions.
God has promised to never leave you or forsake you. That’s a promise. You don’t have to cross your fingers and hope that He will be there when you find yourself in the pit. God has promised to provide for you according to His riches in Christ Jesus. You don’t have to wonder if God will provide, He will provide.
Last of all, we are promised that Jesus will return for us. A day is coming when our Lord and Savior will split the sky and come in all of His glory. Skeptics snicker and make snide remarks, but our hope is certain. We read in 1 John 3:2-3 that this hope affects the way that we live our lives as followers of Jesus and as His Church.
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3 NIV)
This is the hope, the certainty of the Church, the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ is not a social or civic club, but we are the people of God who have been redeemed for a purpose and that purpose is to walk unified, together as brothers and sisters, as we make Him known to an believing world and look forward to the return of our King. This my friends is the call of God for you and me as the Body of Christ. If we will return to God’s purpose and plan for the Church then we will see the factions, dissension, and selfishness fade into history and the world will know that Jesus is Lord.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114