Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Simple Portion (Steps)

What comes to mind when you hear the word church? For many, it is a matter of buildings. Maybe an ancient cathedral that has been around for nearly 1000 years such as the Westminster Abbey? Perhaps a quaint country church comes to mind? Or maybe one of the large church buildings constructed over the past 20-25 years?

The reality is that for most people, when the word "church" is mentioned, the idea of a place is the first thought. And specifically that place is a place to worship. But is this what Jesus meant? No. Jesus was talking about people, and specifically, people called to come together for a purpose. Let me give you just a little background on the etymology of the word we know as church.

The Old Testament uses two Hebrew words to describe a gathering. The first is ‘edah. This term was used in regards to the gathering before the tent of meeting with over one-half of its uses in the book of Numbers. The second term is qahal. This term describes the summons to assemble more than the assembly itself.

The New Testament term for church is the Greek word ekklesia. The term was used to describe an assembly of the citizens of a city. The word consists of two Greek terms - ek, which means "out of" and kaleo which means "to call." So the words together mean "the called out ones." Jesus is calling us out to be His church. (I will note here that the Greek translation of the Old Testament - the Septuagint - uses ekklessia to translate qahal. Ekklesia is not used for 'edah.)

Use of ekklesia

It surprises most people to learn that the term church (ekklesia) is only used three times in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). One of those instances is in the focal passage for this series where Jesus declares, "I will build my church." The other two uses are in Matthew 18 (both in verse 17). The reason for this lack of use is that the church is not Jesus intended destination for His people. The Kingdom is! The church is His tool to do Kingdom work. The emphasis of Jesus during His earthly life was on teaching the principles of the Kingdom - through words and deeds. But after His resurrection and ascension, the role of the church began to develop. For instance, Luke did not use the term church in his gospel account, but in the book of Acts, he used the term is used over twenty times. And Paul uses the term often when writing to the various churches. A quick review shows that the term is used of:
  • individual gatherings in homes (e.g. 1 Corinthians 16.19)
  • all believers of a given city (e.g. Acts 8.1)
  • and the believers in a given region (Acts 9.31)

More specifically, Paul uses the term ekklesia for all believers in an area (1 Corinthians 1.2), and within a small gathering of believers (as would be the case in 1 Corinthians 14.27). And important to our consideration, ekklesia was true of Jesus' first followers (Matthew 16.18), but also of all believers of all time (Colossians 1.18).

Why the Confusion?

So, if ekklesia is meant to be a people, not a place, why do we consider it a place? The reason is when the idea of "church" was translated into German (and Dutch), the word choice reflected a building instead of a people. The German translation used the word kirche, which refers to a building (the actual definition stems from the idea of "belonging to the Lord") while the Dutch used the word kerk (also building, of a "Christian place of worship"). While we, as Christians, do belong to the Lord (as we saw in last week's post with the word "MY"), the intent of kirche being more focused on a place caused a change in understanding over the centuries. Thus, while Jesus was at a specific place when He made the promise to build His church, it was not a place with which He was concerned - it was the principle, and specifically the principle of what the gospel message would do for the people.

Therefore, as we consider our focal passage for this series, Matthew 16.18, and specifically the words, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH," we must consider the word church in the context of what Jesus meant, not the definition we have developed for it.

What's the point?

If church is best defined as people instead of a place, then we must consider the impact of this new meaning. If Jesus meant for the church to be an assembly of people, what should those people do? Well, the answer is extraordinarily simple to say (or type), but much, much harder to do. Ultimately, we are to live as Jesus for the sake of the world. That means we love God, and love others. And we make disciples. In a current study on discipleship in one of our Community Groups, the author of the study, Bill Hull states,

"We must remember that discipleship is not one of the things the church does, it is the thing the church does."
Bill Hull, Choose the Life

If a church doesn’t make disciples, what is it doing? Think about it this way…

  • a car manufacturer makes cars.
  • a home builder builds houses.
  • a food manufacturer produces food.
  • a fisherman fishes for...

Ok, a fisherman actually tries to catch fish, but Jesus did use the terminology of fishing for men (Matthew 4.19). He meant we were to find others and disciple them. That is what the church, as Jesus designed it, must do. A church makes disciples. Per Jesus, that is what we are to do. So, what is the point of going to church if you are not making disciples or if you are not being discipled?
So, what does it mean to make a disciple? According to Jesus, to learn from Him, to live like He did, and to love as He loved. The following verses point to these purposes.

John 14.25-26: "These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."

Matthew 28.18-20: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

In just these two verses, we see Jesus promising further instruction. And that instruction is to be passed on to those we disciple - "teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Certainly, that was directly applicable to the first disciples, but it is no less true for us today. And then His last words, per Matthew, before He departs the earth are, in effect, "Hey, while you are continuing to carry out my mission - that is, living as I lived - I will be with you."

Let’s tie this back to our focal verse and word of the day - "church." Jesus said that He would build His church. Very shortly after that statement Jesus died. The church had not been built. Jesus rose from the dead. Yet before He left the earth, He had not built His church. So, what instructions does Jesus leave to build it? What does He tell a group of people, none of whom are construction workers, engineers, stone masons, etc? He tells them to make disciples.

So, Jesus has either changed His mind about building "MY" church. Or He is stating that "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH" = "MAKE DISCIPLES." The latter is obviously the correct answer.

At Church vs Making Disciples

Consider what happens "at" church. People gather together to read Scripture, hear a message, sing, pray, give of their tithes and/or offerings, and talk about missions. Perhaps each team/committee meets periodically to talk about what must be done which leads to some opportunities for people to serve. A few special events are held annually to fellowship together. And servants are asked to serve in areas of need (e.g. children's and youth ministries, etc). Depending on the size of a church, many more details might be added, but these basics are true of most churches regardless of size.

Each of the items in the previous paragraph could be included in "being disciples." But for many these items are a part of simply belonging to a church and, more pointedly, being "at" church. But what about the idea of “making disciples?” When we learn what to do and start to do it, eventually we can help others to do the same. And we do not need to be perfect at what we are doing, we just need to be moving in the right direction. As we invite others to join us, we begin to make disciples. And as it relates to our JOURNEY, we must remember that the destination of a disciple is not the church, it is the Kingdom. Our training as disciples is so that we can be better learn-ers, live-ers, and love-ers of God’s Kingdom, in God’s Kingdom, for God’s Kingdom. And the church - the concept Jesus promised to build - is His tool for building the Kingdom of Heaven or Kingdom of God.

Being a disciple and making a disciple is accomplished through the living of lives together. It is a part of being and doing together. While going about the nature of living our lives, when we do so with an intentionality of investing in others for Jesus' sake, disciples are made and God is glorified. (Matthew 5.13-16 says that we are the salt of the earth and the light to the world and when we are living for God, people see our works, and glorify the Father in heaven.)

If what Jesus said is true, than being a disciple means bringing God glory. And shouldn't that be our goal? After all, we can carry out our functions with or without God. We can go forward as individuals or as churches with or without God. And, from the world's perspective, we can be successful with or without God. But we cannot fulfill the mission He has given us without God. If we want to be successful for His sake, we must be faithful to God. Biblically, success can be defined as faithfulness. And living faithfully for God means being a disciple and making other disciples.


Our JOURNEY letter for this week is… N - Nurture.

As we think about the concept of nurture, and our focal verses for this letter of JOURNEY, we must realize that nurture and discipleship are closely related. Nurture is more than just caring and helping someone. It is about preparing them for something greater. For instance, a parent should nurture their child when sick or injured. But if they do not also teach the child how to care for themselves, then the child will still need to have his "boo-boos" fixed when they are 35 years of age.

In Ephesians, 4.11-13, Paul writes that God has given some individuals a special calling to help equip others to do the work of ministry. That is, these leaders help people learn what to do and then how to do it. The phrase "work of ministry" appears only here in the Bible, and says that it is the saints - the people of God - a.k.a., the church, that are to do it. The results of each saint, that is the entire church, being involved is that it builds up the body of Christ. These are God’s words, as recorded by Paul.

So, the idea of being and making disciples not only helps you to grow, but makes the church stronger, which makes the Kingdom stronger. Isn’t that something we, the church, should aspire to do? Don’t you wish to be a part of a church that:
  • stands strong for God?
  • is active for God’s Kingdom?
  • fully reflects the kind of church Jesus wants to build?
If so, then it begins with making disciples.


So, what about our next steps?

Our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?
  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp. We must find opportunities to grow by merging in with others who serve.

This step is one must be made with others.
  • Be the church Jesus intended.

For our church, this step has two distinct pieces. One is the formal creation of the MAP Team which will be voted upon this Wednesday evening. Again, this team will charged with developing a Ministry Action Plan (MAP) to guide our church to become what God is calling us to be.

The second piece this week is the intent to better define our church's membership. Unfortunately, over the years many of our records are no longer as accurate as we might hope them to be. So, we are kicking off  Operation: Membership Recovery. This idea is to promote biblical membership, restore members who need restored, apologize where apology is needed, and create an updated list of the membership (along with their current information) for those currently involved in the body of believers at Fairfax Baptist Church.

Ultimately, these two steps, in addition to other initiatives are designed to help make our church stronger. The stronger we are as a community of believers, the stronger we will be as individuals. The updated membership will help us more clearly identify with one another as members, and the MAP Team will help us be, and make, better disciples for Jesus.

That is what Jesus asked of His first followers. That is what He asks of today's followers as well. Let us be a church that lives intentionally to make disciples responding to the hope we have in Christ by sharing that joy with others.

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