Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Membership in Jesus' Church as Gospel Demonstration | An Overview from Scripture

Where does Jesus speak about being a member in the Church He loves so much that He lives, dies, and lives again for her, and promises to be with her forever?

Great question, especially when our skepticism of institutions is high in 21st century western culture, and when there have been times when we've been hurt or confused by who the Church is and what she ascribes to and does. 

My hope for this post is to provide the story from Scripture as to how Jesus loves, establishes, and builds His Church for God's glory and for the good of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It's amazing to observe His power and faithfulness to normal, every day people like us to not only bring them together, but to shape them as a family across culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic status to become a movement the world has never seen before.

Jesus Gives Our Humanity Back to Us as Part of His Church

Jesus gives God's purpose for humanity back to us. His words are the words to build our lives on (Matt. 7:24-25). He invites us to return to being part of God’s family and His Kingdom representatives and ambassadors to the earth (2 Cor. 5:17-21). As we worship Him, love others, and care for His creation together, we baptize individuals and households in His family name, and continue to learn how to embody everything He commanded (Matt. 28:18-20) in order to represent a preview of His good reign here and now in every area of life together as Jesus’ beloved bride, the Church (Eph. 5:25-27).

Jesus' Church is Instituted and Established by His Kingdom Reign

Jesus' love for His Church began with announcing a new reality that was breaking in for humanity in and through Him. Jesus called this reality the Kingdom of God. This new Kingdom – announced, embodied, and demonstrated by Jesus – called for and enabled a new way of living, a new way of being human. He taught and discipled others in community, showing His followers how to follow God’s way of the Kingdom among each other and the diverse crowds of Pharisees and prostitutes, law teachers and tax collectors, Romans, Jews and Gentiles. Those who turned from their solo way of living, trusting in Jesus for their redemption and following His way in loving God and loving others selflessly became part of His Kingdom community. They watched and learned how Jesus obeyed every word of the Father and walked empowered by the Holy Spirit in His life, death, and resurrection. He promised that He would always be with them and that they would grow into a transcultural Kingdom together (Matt. 28:20; John 17:6-26; Eph 4:11-15). This Kingdom community (1 Pet. 2:2-12) was a family (Matt. 12:50; Mark 3:35; Luke 8:21), the beginning of Jesus' Church sent to love the nations (John 20:21-22).

Jesus laid the foundation for the Church by giving her "the keys to the Kingdom" (Matt. 16:19) to establish God's way of abundant life for His family. We see the Kingdom breaking in and Jesus forming His Church in Matthew's Gospel where He mentions "Kingdom" forty-nine times and "Church" two times. The reason for Jesus' emphasis on the Kingdom is to establish the Church as an embassy of His Kingdom, and then He invites His Kingdom servants and ambassadors to be baptized in the family name of the Father, Son, and Spirit to bear His image and join Him in His victory over sin and death for the life of the world:

+ Jesus gives the keys of the Kingdom to His Church’s servant leaders (Matt. 16:18-19)
+ Jesus instructs them how to love, serve, teach, disciple, and discipline those within the Kingdom (Matt. 18:1-20)
+ Jesus gives those in His Kingdom embassies His beloved family name to baptize men, women, and children into as they grow up in joining the mission of the King (Matt. 28:18-20).

This is why Paul is able in his letters to switch the focus from Kingdom to Church by mentioning “Church" forty-three times and "Kingdom" fourteen times. Once Jesus established His victory and the victory of His Kingdom for His Church and the world, we can rest in that He will accomplish what He started for His beloved bride and creation (Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 21-22). In belonging to Jesus, His Kingdom, and His Church, we begin to understand the love and obedience, relationship and responsibility, freedom and sacrifice, service and submission He gives us to embody as we become like Him and follow Him together (Mark 10:42-45; Matt. 18:15-18; John 14:6; Acts 22:4; 2 Pet. 1:3-7). We are united in relationship with Him and each other as His Church, and we are called together to be His Kingdom and priests (Ex. 19:5-6; 1 Pet. 2:9-10; Rev. 5:9-10) who receive the promises and blessings of God (2 Cor. 1:20) so that we can go out by His Spirit to be a blessing to our neighbors in His world (Genesis 12:1-4; Ps. 24:1). We are to be His agents of rescue, forgiveness, healing, and deliverance.

Jesus’ Church Grows and Publicly Identifies as Family Together Under His Kingdom Reign

We see Jesus’ vision for His Church come to life, multiply, and expand to the nations in the book of Acts. After Jesus promises His Holy Spirit will empower His people to be His witnesses to the world together (Acts 1:8), Peter, filled with the Spirit, publicly reveals Jesus as King, placing the claim in the prophets, King David’s, and God's mouths (2:1-36). And then he tells the people and their children to identify themselves with Jesus’ Kingdom and family name publicly through baptism (2:38-39). Through His now Spirit-empowered Church, Jesus is establishing and building His family and Kingdom embassy – a publicly identifiable movement. Three thousand people respond in Jerusalem (2:41). Jesus' Church is keeping a record of who is being numbered in the city where He promised this would start.

Soon membership in Jesus’ Church reaches more than five thousand (4:4) and they begin to grow in maturity, which includes receiving discipline and giving generously. For example, Peter becomes aware of significant moral lapses, and discipline is given to those who are in disobedience as the Church family takes notice (5:1-11). The additional leaders among the twelve then meet to talk about how to care for the growing Church’s culturally diverse widows, and these leaders soon institute the office of deacons (6:1-6). There is a significant enough public display of the members of the Church and their actions that Saul can go from house to house to drag members off to prison (8:3). As others flee and spread the Gospel Word in Samaria, Damascus, Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea (8:14; 9:10, 32, 42; 10:24), more people realize Jesus is more than just the King of the Jews in Jerusalem (11:16-18); He is King of all people, with His reign and His family reaching the nations, and He is turning the world upside down through His Church (17:6-7). So Herod Antipas begins to kill those who belong to the Church (12:1-2) because he knows who's numbered among them and are devoted to this other King and Kingdom. In Antioch, the newly converted Saul and Barnabas are publicly named leaders who meet with the Church and teach them the Gospel (11:22-26). The Church then together prays even more for those suffering persecution (12:5). Despite the rising tensions, Saul, called Paul by the Gentiles, along with other public multiethnic leaders in the Church at Antioch including Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen (13:1-3), pray and send out Paul and Barnabas to start new churches of Jesus’ Kingdom among other nations. Paul and Barnabas begin organizing and establishing churches through appointing leaders as elders in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch who will lead each church (14:20-23). Paul later continues his missionary journeys with Silas and Timothy into Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, and Ephesus, seeking to establish rising leaders as elders (and deacons) in these churches and cities as well (15:36-18:22; cf. Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess.5:12-13; 1 Tim. 3:1-13). As Christians are publicly identified as the Church in cities under elders, connected locally and regionally (1 Cor. 1:2), they live in loving relationship and responsibility to each other as they gather and send again and again: ex. Paul and Barnabas gathered the Church (14:27); the Church sent them on their way (15:3); they were welcomed by the Church and the apostles and elders (15:4). The Church fulfilled the mission of God and the command of Jesus to multiply His disciples throughout all Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and beyond by walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit (9:31).

Jesus’ Church is Led by Servant Leaders Who Love the Family and Kingdom Embassy

When we think of Jesus' public display of His love for us by coming to be among us, we understand His call for His Church’s public display of love for Him and the members of His family in His Kingdom embassies. A family member is known by resemblance of and proximity to each other, and a citizen of an embassy is someone who is part of an institution that represents them as part of one nation (i.e. the Kingdom of heaven) inside another nation (i.e. the world). A family loves each other through thick and thin, with the parents raising the kids, reminding them of who they are and that they are loved, and an embassy declares its home nation's citizens’ identities (i.e. Jesus’ followers) and interests to the host nation (i.e. the world) as well as stations leaders who help protect the citizens of the home nation living in the host nation. Jesus' Church as His family and Kingdom embassy is called to publicly affirm who is part of Jesus' family, with spiritual parents and servant leaders who are helping all involved to seek to obey all of His commands, including loving, forgiving, and restoring one another on His Kingdom mission (Matt. 28:18-20, 18:15-22; John 13:34-35). Jesus’, Paul’s, and Peter’s biblical metaphors for the Church also help us “flesh out” our love, care, encouragement, discipline, accountability, and connection to each other as we consider our identity together as His vine, body, bride, temple, and household.

A Local Church is a Family and Embassy Choosing to Be Faithful to Jesus and Each Other

We can learn more of what being a faithful member of Jesus’ Church means in every day life from some of the people who were closest to Him and served as historic leaders of His Church. James, one of Jesus’ half brother, tells us not to speak evil against each other, and to bring each other back to the truth again and again (James 4:11, 5:19-20). Peter, one of Jesus' closest friends, calls us to use the gifts God has given us to serve His Church selflessly as Jesus' Kingdom priests and family household (1 Pet.2:9-10, 4:10). Paul, the once murderer turned Jesus-lover, tells us to speak Jesus' truth in love to each other so that the Church will become mature like Him in how humanity is supposed to be (Eph. 4:13, 15) and that we should submit to each other out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21). And Jesus Himself tells us to go after and call each other to turn back to Him when we take our own selfish roads, and if one of us doesn't listen, we need to bring it to His Church’s leaders and the Church as a whole so we all can lovingly call the person to repentance and forgiveness (Matt. 18:15-22). These are just some of the privileges and responsibilities God has given us in communion with Jesus and His Church so that we don't forget who we are and who we are becoming in Christ for the mission of God, the love of Jesus’ bride, and the life of the world.

Jesus has come not only to save us from the destruction of our selfish choices, but to completely transform our present reality socially, financially, politically, and spiritually in gracious and loving communion with Him and each other. While He never shies away from what following Him will cost us (Luke 9:57-62, 14:25-35; John 12:24-26), He promises far more than we give up in what we gain in relation to Him and others (Matt. 19:29-30). Taking local membership vows to each other in Jesus’ Church in the U.S. can seem awkward or unnecessary to our 21st century Western sensibilities, but we do well to look also to our sisters and brothers in the Church throughout history and around the world today to consider the life-transforming promises they made and make when choosing to love Jesus, His Church, and the world. For example, Asian Access, a Christian missions agency in South Asia, asks these questions to someone who is considering converting and being baptized into Jesus’ Church:

  • Are you willing to leave home and lose the blessing of your family?
  • Are you willing to lose your job?
  • Are you willing to go to the village (or neighborhood or city) and those who persecute you, forgive them, and share the love of Christ with them?
  • Are you willing to give an offering to the Lord?
  • Are you willing to be beaten rather than deny your faith? Are you willing to go to prison?
  • Are you willing to die for Jesus Christ?

These questions are similar to Jesus’ in Luke 14:25-33 when He asks the people, “Do you really want to follow Me?” In answering, “Yes,” whether in ancient Rome, modern China, or Worcester, we recognize that:

Local church members are individuals or households who have publicly committed to and have been publicly recognized as loving Jesus and His bride, who commit to be family and Kingdom servants and ambassadors together, and who share in the relationship and responsibility of loving, serving and discipling those inside and outside the local church in the Gospel of Jesus.

A local church is connected to Jesus' historic, global Church and His cosmic Kingdom as a local household and embassy set in the present that loves each other and their neighbors; together they provide a preview of Christ's Kingdom coming as they live as God’s family on mission, declaring and demonstrating His Gospel.

Local church membership is a covenantal relationship between Jesus and those who are His bride characterized by a local church family's care of each member; local church members humbly submit to living out their discipleship in the love and oversight of each other and the elders, deacons, and deaconesses who share and show Jesus’ Gospel among them, providing a tangible, mature example of Christ-likeness worth imitating. 

For more posts that provide more resources that can help you explore life with Jesus' Church, please check out: Why We Love Jesus' Church Because God Wants Us to Be Transformed to Be Like Him in Community Because Jesus Wonderfully Creates More than Open Basements, Bad Marriages, and Decorpulation Because Being Jesus' Contrast Community in a Consumer Culture Still Matters.

+ Sully

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