The Ideal Church, Part 3

All Saints Church, South Wingfield

 In our study of the Church, we noted the difference between the “perfect” church and the “ideal” church.  The difference is so easy, it seems like a waste of time to mention it.  But in our secular world, even Christians have become so spiritually dull that it’s necessary to point out that there is NO such thing as a “perfect” church.  It doesn’t exist anywhere on earth.  It never has.  That’s because the Church on earth is full of imperfect people.  Their hearts may be right and their motives pure, but members of any church are all imperfect, therefore, the church they belong to is imperfect.  Search high and low and you will never find the “perfect” church.  You will, however, find the “ideal” church.  You may even belong to it.  You may not.  It’s not the members, nor is it the staff, that makes a church “ideal.” It all boils down the church’s beliefs.  

So far, we’ve discovered that the ideal church has two components:

The ideal church is the Jesus-built church.  

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it.  (Matthew 16:18 | TNIV)

The Jesus-built church is one built upon the fact that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and its beliefs come from the teaching of the God’s Word, both the living Word (Jesus Christ) and the written Word (the Bible).  Churches that are built around the teachings of man are not Jesus-built churches.  They will falter and fail eventually.  Only the church that is built upon the rock that is Jesus Christ will endure no matter what.

Also, the ideal church realizes that it doesn’t belong to its members or its pastor or even its denomination.  The ideal church knows for certain that it has been bought by the precious blood of Jesus and is therefore owned completely by God.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.  (Acts 20:28 | TNIV)

Your pastor and your elders all have divinely ordained responsibilities that you may not have, but that doesn’t make the church theirs.  It is God’s special possession.  It was bought with the shed blood of His only Son.  It is of equal value to God as His Son.  The Church is special.  God thinks it is, even if you don’t.  Maybe we who belong to it should check our attitude about the church we attend.  Bad-mouthing something God’s own Son died for is probably not a good idea.

The third aspect of the ideal church is that even though it may be organized with a board of elders, led by a pastor or pastors, has deacons that look after it, and a treasurer to make sure the bills get paid, in reality it’s the Holy Spirit who is the administrator of the ideal church.

And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.  (1 Corinthians 12:28 | TNIV)

Chapter 12 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written in answer to a question the church had asked him.

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.  (1 Corinthians 12:1 | TNIV)

You just know the folks in the Corinthian church were, in fact, uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit.  It’s not that they were unfamiliar with the idea. In antiquity, it was recognized that some people were more spiritual than others and they were believed to have been endowed with certain powers and abilities regular people weren’t.  Often these “spiritually gifted” pagans would manifest their gifts in odd ways: Speaking in a weird language or in a frenzied manner; falling into a trance; behaving in an overly enthusiastic manner at times.  These were pagans, and as the church grew and converted pagans joined its ranks, they learned about what happened in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit fell and gifted members of the new church with the ability to, for example, speak in foreign languages and even heal the sick and the lame.  To these new converts, folks who were practicing the “flashy” gifts of the Holy Spirit were the real deal! They were the super-spiritual ones.  But others who didn’t practice the “flashy” gifts were viewed as less than spiritual.  Never mind that there were all kinds of gifts of the Spirit that may have seemed bland in comparison.  Loving people may not see like an exciting gift.  Giving abundantly to the work of the church may go unnoticed but it’s still a gift.  Paul’s teaching here is that all – ALL – gifts of the Spirit are important.  And a church needs all the gifts working in it.  

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  (1 Corinthians 12:4 – 6 | TNIV)

This is such a simple truth, but the good people in the Corinthian church needed to know this.  The Holy Spirit distributes His gifts to people as He sees fit. These gifts often work in concert with the temperament and personality of the one receiving them.  Some of the gifts may seem exciting and flashy – like the working of miracles or speaking in tongues, for example – and others more subdued – like being hospitable to strangers and opening up your home to them, for example – but all the gifts of the Spirit come from the same Holy Spirit.  And they are all important.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.  (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11 | TNIV)

Verse 7 is why the ideal church has members exercising the gifts of the Spirit:  They are given for the common good.  In other words, these gifts of the Spirit aren’t naturally in a person – even in a Christian – but they are given for the good of the members of the church.  This is why it’s so important to take church attendance seriously!  You are in possession of a gift or gifts from the Holy Spirit that your church needs!  When you don’t go to church you’re robbing somebody in your church of a touch from God through you.  

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.  (1 Corinthians 12:12 – 14 | TNIV)

It’s a brilliant analogy – your church is like a body.  A physical body has all kinds of parts that work together.  Some parts may seem to be more important than others, but a physical body needs all of its parts to be healthy.  So it is with the church.  It’s made up of all kinds of people – different kinds of people – who naturally possess talents and abilities that the Lord uses within the church.  And when you add into the mix the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ideal church becomes a diverse church, made up of a variety of people all blessed by the same Spirit and all working together to build up God’s church.  

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.  (1 Corinthians 12:27 | TNIV)

This is an interesting verse; more interesting than it appears at first glance.  The “you” refers specifically to the members of the Corinthian church.  There was some arguing and contention among the members of this large, cosmopolitan congregation, and Paul wanted them to understand that rich or poor, freeman or slave, Jew or Gentile, male or female, all “you” Corinthians are  “part of the body of Christ.”  Here’s the interesting bit.  It’s not at all clear in the English, but in the Greek what Paul wrote is truly profound.  These bickering Corinthians formed the greater body of Christ, not just the part called the “church at Corinth.”  The sense here is that all believers, from first century Corinth to twenty-first Calgary, all believers form part of the eternal body of Christ.  All believers from every nation, from every walk of life, from all time form part of the living Body of Christ.  Every believer, from the best selling author who pastors a huge mega church on the west coast of the United States to the Vicar of a small, rural parish on the Isle of Skye in Scotland to the impoverished member of an underground church in the Sudan, is an important, indispensable, and vital member of Christ’s Body.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that all members of the Body of Christ have the same gifts or responsibilities.  We don’t.  And that’s the point of our key verse:

And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.  (1 Corinthians 12:28 | TNIV)

The ideal church recognizes that while all members of the church are important and necessary, not all members have the same responsibilities within the church.  God – not the board or the congregation or the denomination – has put certain people in the church to hold certain positions or offices for the good of the church.  These are not only people (apostles, prophets, teachers) but also gifts of the Holy Spirit (healing, helping, guidance, tongues).  It’s true that some of these offices have disappears because they are no longer necessary – there are no longer any apostles or prophets in the sense of being able to foretell the future – but you must understand that God is the One who knows what’s best for the church and who’s best for the church.  The Lord is the one who leads the right people into the church and gifts its members with the most necessary gifts for that church.  

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?  (1 Corinthians 12:29, 30 | TNIV)

Those are all rhetorical questions designed to show the Corinthians and us that we’re all different but all necessary in the church.  God is a God of variety and He made us all different, unique, yet indispensable to the church.  

The ideal church recognizes not only the uniqueness of every one of its members, respects their natural talents and their spiritual gifts, but also encourages them to live out their faith within the church by allowing them to exercise their gifts.  Not only that, the ideal church understands that some in their number have been called and gifted to perform certain responsibilities in the church and assume certain offices within the church, and instead of responding in jealousy or envy, all members of the church should pray for and encourage those who hold those positions – like pastor or elder or teacher.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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