The Glory Of The Church
By J. L. Hall – Editor In Chief
The preaching of the gospel rightfully focuses on the Cross and empty tomb, yet this focus does not obscure the most important work Jesus accomplished from His birth until His crucifixion. This important task was the training and preparation of His disciples. Without someone to proclaim the good news after His resurrection and ascension, His salvific sacrifice would soon be erased from the thoughts of mankind and the memory of history.
Theoretically, if not one person from the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden until the final judgment at the Great White Throne experienced salvation in Jesus Christ, His birth, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection would be no more than wasted moments in eternity. Jesus died to atone for the sins of mankind, yet His death does not automatically save sinners. A person must hear the gospel, believe what he hears, and then experience the transformation of becoming a new creation in Christ. The writer asked, “How then shall they call on him
in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). What, an awesome responsibility Jesus left us to fulfill!
Jesus’ disciples did not always understand Him when He talked about His upcoming death and resurrection: It was difficult for them to grasp how his death would not be the end but the beginning.
In spite of its centrality to the gospel, the Cross is not the final scene in the drama of redemption. Its significance will never fade, and its message will never lose its prominence. Rather its shadow and shame have been transformed into a brilliance of resurrection power that brings truth and life to everyone who believes. The Cross therefore gave birth to the greatest institution God has created among men-the church. Clothed with the power and splendor of the Holy Ghost, the church has marched and still marches triumphant in the victory of the Cross and empty tomb. Jesus said that even “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
The Meaning of the Church
In the New Testament, the Greek word translated “church” is ekklesia, which has the meaning of being called out; it is used in the New Testament to identify a public secular assembly (Acts 19:32, 39, 41) as well as the special institution Jesus created to carry on His work.
The church, however, is more than an assembled people called to be a separate entity in the world. It is owned by Jesus Christ. He purchased it with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and He therefore has the right to call it “my church” (Matthew 16:18). The English word church accurately captures this relationship, for it is derived from the Greek word kyriakon, which mean the Lord’s house or belonging to the Lord. The church belongs to Jesus Christ.
Still the relationship between the church and Jesus Christ is more than that of an owner to his property. In a real, yet spiritual sense, Jesus has joined Himself to the church. When He stopped Paul on his journey to Damascus, He said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” By persecuting the church, Paul was persecuting Jesus.
Jesus’ relation to the church is expressed in many metaphors in the Bible. For example, the church is a sheepfold of which Jesus is the chief shepherd; it is a temple in which Jesus is the chief cornerstone, the rock upon which it is built, and the high priest making intercession for us. The church is also the kingdom of God over which Jesus rules as king. He is the builder of the house of God and the father of the household of faith.
One well-known metaphor compares the church as a bride to her bridegroom. Of particular interest is the biblical statement that at marriage the bride and bridegroom become one flesh.
Perhaps the most meaningful metaphor compares the church to a human body with Christ as its head.
Whatever the metaphor, the person of Christ is interwoven with the purpose and position of the church in God’s eternal plan. It is in Jesus Christ that God has brought together heaven and earth. In Ephesians, we read, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times, he (God) might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). Since Jesus was God manifested in flesh, He could bring heaven and
earth together in Himself through the church, which is His body.
It is from Jesus Christ and not from the personalities or performances of people that the church radiates glory. It not who we are or what we do, but who He is and what He does. Born out of Christ’s triumph at Calvary, the church shines with the splendor of His subsequent exaltation by God. Being saved by His blood, we are raised by His glory.
When God exalted Christ to be “at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named … and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23), He also raised the church to “sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6).
What awesome power God used to create the church through Jesus Christ! And what “exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us, through Jesus Christ” is revealed when He allowed us to share the power and glory of His resurrection triumph!
Membership in the Church
There are many members but only one church. Just as the Bible declares one God, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one hope, and one Spirit, it also states that there is one body, the church. The church is one, but Christians are “members in particular” (I Corinthians 12:27), and God
has “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him” (I Corinthians 12:18).
Qualifications for membership do not consider a person’s race, gender, or social standing. It matters not whether a person is a Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or master, pauper or millionaire, for in Christ he is no worse or better than others. All have equal standing in the quest for church membership.
What, then, determines a person’s eligibility for membership in the church? The Bible answer to this question is worth more than gold, and yet many people, including Bible scholars, have overlooked the clear answers in the Bible. It appears that some people would prefer to pretend to be members than take the time to examine the Scriptures and then “fill in the form” as required by God.
Surprising to many people, membership is not only open to all but also within the ability of all. The price has already been paid by Jesus on the cross. We only need to respond in faith and obedience to the gospel message.
Jesus said a person must be “born of water and of the Spirit” to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). In other words, a person will experience a new birth consisting of water and the Spirit when God makes Him a member of the church. Membership is an experience beyond mental assent and a decision to serve Christ. It is becoming a new person in Christ.
If we were to ask the apostle Paul how to become a member, in the church, he would tell us what he wrote to the Galatians: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28). In other words, when a person is baptized by faith in Jesus Christ, he puts on Christ. Paul would also add what he wrote to the church in Corinth: “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond. or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13). In these verses Paul echoed the words of Jesus to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).
If we were to ask Paul to demonstrate his teaching on salvation, he would refer us to the twelve men in Ephesus. He baptized them in the name of the Lord Jesus after which he laid hands on them and watched as God filled them with the Spirit.
Many Bible scholars have twisted Paul’s strong teaching on grace and faith to exclude the actual experience of salvation that Paul himself experienced and helped others to experience. For example, Paul did not teach against water baptism as some suppose; he preached and practiced water baptism wherever he went. To him, faith does not replace the gift of the Spirit; rather faith is the channel by which the Spirit comes into a person’s life. Faith works experientially in both water baptism and Spirit baptism to give a person a new birth in Jesus Christ.
On the Day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the apostle Peter proclaimed that salvation comes by repentance, water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). He preached the same message to the Jews (Acts 2:38), Samaritans (Acts 8), and Gentiles (Acts 10). Since these are the qualifications for church membership preached by the apostles, then should not we obey and proclaim the same requirements?
While the converts under the ministry of Paul, Peter, Philip, and other New Testament ministers believed in Jesus Christ and made a decision to follow Him, salvation was more to them than believing and making a decision. It still is today. While salvation includes a “profession of faith;” “accepting Jesus as my personal Savior;” and “making Jesus Lord of my life; it is more than one or all of them; it is the rejection and betrayal, and the loneliness and abandonment He would feel once the enormity of the sins of the whole world had been placed on Him at Calvary. Finally, He would taste death. In the garden He was in great agony. His sweat was as drops of blood! He wrestled, “0 Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
Why would lie allow Himself to go through all this? Hebrews tells us the answer: “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
For the joy set before Him, that He might present to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, He considered the end of it all and the gain was worth what it would cost Him.
But that was then and this is now.
We, upon whom the ends of the world are come, also have a vital part to play in the wrap-up of God’s plan. Even though we are eleventh-hour laborers, there is great gain for us to consider. Those who have lived before us cannot be made perfect without us (Hebrews 11:40). Now is our
time. It may cost us everything we hold dear. It may require the laying aside of all our dreams and ambitions. It may necessitate the last drop of our strength, and maybe our blood too! But when we catch a glimpse of what is in store for those who make the commitment and are willing to pay the price, we will know that the reward is worth more than the price we pay.
“Blessed be the God. and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance, incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Peter 1:3-4).
The hope of heaven, the salvation of our souls, and the joy we have found in the Holy Ghost are each powerful propellants toward total commitment. Since Jesus has done so very much for us, how can we offer Him any less than total consecration and commitment?
The alternative is too dreadful to even contemplate; on the other hand, when this battle is over, victory will be sweet indeed.
Count the cost! Is the gain greater than the worst possible price we might have to pay? Yes, a thousand times over! Our first minutes in heaven will make every sacrifice, no matter how costly, vanish completely.
This article is a reprint from the September, 1990 issue o/ the Pentecostal Herald.
The Above Material Was Published By The Pentecostal Herald, May 2000, Pages 8-10. This Material Is Copyrighted And May Be Used For Study & Research Purposes Only.