Christian living is not an isolated affair, but a matter of belonging with others in God’s alternative society, the church. The church has a bad image in many people’s eyes, but the Bible presents something much better than the stereotype.
Images of the church in the New Testament
Each of the following images emphasizes a different aspect of Christian belonging. What do these images imply?
- The family of God (Galatians 4:4-7; Ephesians 2:17-19)
- The bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 21:2-8)
- The temple of the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19)
- The colony of heaven (Philippians 3:17-21)
- The body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-28; Romans 12:1-14)
- God’s army (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Functions of the church
- Worship — our responsibility to God
- Fellowship — our responsibility to one another
- Witness and Service — our responsibility to the world for which Christ died
Read 1 Peter 2:1-12 and see how all three functions interlock.
The unity of the church
Jesus prayed for his followers to be one (John 17:20-21), and they (more or less) managed it in the early days. In due course, human frailty and particular emphases led to denominations. But God hates division in his people. Despite appearances, there is a God-given unity among all Christians (Ephesians 4:4-6). We must seek to bring that unity into better expression.
The New Testament does not divide the clergy (ordained ministers) from laypersons. It does not know anything of denominations. And it is very clear that nominal membership is not enough. The church is a one-class society, transcending all barriers of sex, education, class and nationality (Ephesians 2:14-18; Galatians 3:28). It knows no differing status among Christians, only differing functions (Ephesians 4:11-12). Love is the bond that should unite us all (Colossians 3:14).
The church is both universal (Matthew 16:18) and local (for example, Colossians 1:2). It is both invisible and visible. Repentance and faith are the gateway into God’s invisible church (1 Peter 2:4), and baptism is the mark of members of the visible church (Acts 16:30-31). If you have not been baptized, you should request it (Matthew 28:19; Galatians 3:26-27). And you should participate in the family meal, the Lord’s Supper, which Jesus commanded for his followers in memory of his death, as a means of growing in his grace, and as a foretaste of heaven (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Verse to learn
Learn 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”
Bible study section
The Bible passage for study is Romans 12:1-13.
- What does true worship involve?
- The church is Christ’s body on earth. What implications flow from this? Do you see them in your local church?
- If “each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:5), what does this mean for our relationships?
- According to Paul, we all have different gifts and abilities. What do each of you think you have? What do others in the group think you have? How is it being used for the common good in your church?
- Examine the practical fruit mentioned in this passage, which flows from wholehearted surrender to the Lord. Is anything holding you back from “presenting your body as a living sacrifice”?
Get into pairs. Pray over the use of each other’s gifts. Then think of one thing you would like to see happen in your church. Pray for it and commit yourself to do so each day throughout the coming week.