Test yourselves . . . (2 Corinthians 13:5, NLT)
The Lord Jesus Christ is multi-splendid in His awe and beauty. He is so vast that one image or title cannot adequately present Him. Consider the many images and titles that Scripture employs to describe Christ: Son of God. King of kings. Prince of peace. Heavenly Bridegroom. Lord. Master. Savior. Lamb of God. Bright and Morning Star. Good Shepherd. Great High Priest. Light of the world. Root of David. The Righteous Branch, etc.
The church is inseparable from Christ. This being so, the church is also multi-splendid in her awe and beauty. Like her Lord, the church is too rich to be defined. She is too vast to be depicted by just one image. For this reason, the New Testament paints fourteen different images to present the church.
In this post, we will examine each image. As we do, I invite you to consider the church to which you belong. After each image is presented, ponder this question: Does my church fit the image that the New Testament paints for the church?
All of these images have two key elements in common.
First, every image is intensely corporate. All of them teach us that the church is a close-knit, intimate community of people. As Westerners, we are profoundly individualistic. By contrast, the early church embodied a togetherness-in-community. Each image makes this abundantly clear.
Second, each image teaches us that Jesus Christ, and not a human being, is the Head, the Leader, and the glue that cements the members of the church together.
The Bible is a genetic codebook. It decodes the church’s DNA from God’s standpoint. All fourteen images give us insight into the anatomy of the church. They show us how her DNA naturally expresses itself in the earth.
I trust that after you finish this chapter, you will be pressed to see the church in a fresh light. So let’s dutifully walk through these Biblical images together and do our best to explicate them. According to the New Testament, the church is . . .
A New Race (Gal. 6; Eph. 2; 1 Pet. 2). We are “a new humanity,” “a chosen generation,” “one new man,” and “a new creation.” When Jesus Christ made His entrance into human history, He was an endangered species on this planet. He was the first of a new kind of man. Jesus was God’s original thought for humanity, but God’s original intent for humanity became corrupt with the Fall. In His death and resurrection, Christ introduced a new species – or new creation – on this earth. He is the Firstborn and the Head of this new species. The church is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free, but “a new human” altogether.
Test 1: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of a new humanity, a new species, and a new race? Or do they relate to their fellow brethren based on the natural distinctions of physical race, nationality, gender, and social class?
Beyond a new race, the church is . . .
A Family (Gal. 6; Eph. 2; 1 John 2). This is one of the most striking images presented in all the New Testament. Visions of family dominate Paul’s writings. All throughout his letters, Paul speaks off-handedly of brethren, children, fathers and mothers. We are “regenerated” or “born anew” into the blameless Family of God. God becomes our Father and Jesus our elder Brother. Fellow Christians become our sisters and brothers. The writings of John and Peter are also sprinkled with the language and imagery of family.
Test 2: Do the members of your church treat one another as part of the same family? Do they know one another intimately? Do they experience themselves as members of an extended household? Do they take care of one another just as the members of a healthy family do?
Beyond the family, the church is . . .
A Body (Rom 12; 1 Cor. 12). We are members of the Body of Christ and members of one another. Jesus Christ is the Head as well as the life of the Body. The church is inseparable from Christ. Just as one’s physical body is inseparable from one’s head.
Does not nature teach us that the members of the Body of Christ are subject to the Head and dependent upon one another? For example, the disease of Multiple Sclerosis appears when the physical members of a physical body act independent of the body’s head. The disease of cancer appears when a human cell acts independent from the other cells.
Test 3: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of the same organism? Does the church submit to the Headship of Christ in its meetings? Do the members of the Body function when the church gathers together? Do the members depend on one another, or do they live independently and individualistically?
Beyond the Body, the church is . . .
A Bride (2 Cor 11; Eph 5; Rev. 21). We are part of the most beautiful woman in the world. Jesus Christ is our Bridegroom. There is an unending romance going on between Christ and His church. She was made first and foremost to be the recipient of Christ’s torrential love and unbridled passion. In turn, she loves Him and expresses His beauty in the earth.
Test 4: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of the fiancé of Jesus Christ? Are they actively engaged in being loved by Christ and loving Him in return?
Beyond the Bride, the church is . . .
An Army (Eph. 6). As followers of Christ, we are in a war against God’s enemy. But that war is fought by a corporate army. The armor described in Ephesians 6 is put on the church, it’s not given to an individual. We are soldiers in God’s army, and Jesus Christ is our Captain, Commander, and Chief. Spiritual warfare is a corporate exercise. The weight of it belongs on the shoulders of the church, not the individual soldiers. Spiritual authority is based on growth in spiritual life. The more maturity in spiritual life that a church experiences, the more spiritual authority the church wields.
Test 5: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of one army that is growing in spiritual life? Does your church understand that spiritual authority is tied to growth in spiritual life? Is spiritual warfare an individualistic or a corporate exercise? Is the church making an impact on invisible realms?
Beyond an army, the church is . . .
A Holy Priesthood (1 Pet. 2; Rev. 1; 5). Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest, and we are priests unto God through Him. As priests, we minister to the Lord at any moment of the day. We also function as ministers and servants in the church’s corporate gatherings.
Test 6: Do all the members of your assembly function in the meetings of the church? And do they minister to the Lord during the week?
Beyond a holy priesthood, the church is . . .
A Holy Nation (1 Pet. 2; Rev. 1; 5). The word “holy” carries the idea of being uncommon and set apart. In this holy nation, we are kings unto God. Christ is the King of our nation. (In the words of Peter, we are a “royal” priesthood.) Regrettably, the church of every age (since the third century) has sold out to the culture. Contrary to what some believe, the church is not the religious department of the culture. It’s a colony from heaven—a holy nation standing for holy values in a devalued world.
Test 7: Do the members of your church see themselves as part of a colony that belongs to another realm? Do they see themselves as resident aliens on this planet? Do their values reflect that of the Kingdom of God or this present culture?
Beyond a holy nation, the church is . . .
A Golden Lampstand (Rev. 1-2). We are little lights joined together and made part of the same lampstand. Jesus Christ is the light, and the church bears His light in the world. Christ is also the High Priest who cleans the wick and pours fresh oil in the lampstand so that it always burns brightly.
Test 8: Does your church bear the light of Christ? Does it bear a corporate witness, or is witness viewed as the individual’s responsibility? Do people see the light of Christ through the church, and is it extinguishing darkness on any level?
Beyond a golden lampstand, the church is . . .
One Loaf (John 12; 1 Cor. 10). Jesus Christ is the one grain. When He was put into the ground and rose again, He produced many grains. Those individual grains are useless unless they are crushed, have oil poured upon them, and are baked in a fiery oven to create one loaf. In the process of becoming one loaf, each grain loses its individualism and independence.
Test 9: Are the members of your church so connected together that they have lost their independence and individualism? Or do they live as independent, individualistic, uncrushed grains of wheat?
Beyond the one loaf, the church is . . .
God’s Field (1 Cor. 3). We are the crops that have been planted and have grown up in God’s field. Jesus Christ is the seed. God the Father causes the growth. The DNA of the seed is the nature of Christ. When the crops grow appropriately, they express Him.
I would like to offer you the illustration of a bouquet of roses. In a bouquet, each rose has the same life. They are part of the same species. But they are not vitally connected. So they don’t grow together. Compare the bouquet of roses to a rose bush. In a rose bush, the roses are one organic whole. Each rose possess its own individuality, but none are individualistic. They grow together for they share the same root. The bush passes through seasons of death and resurrection together. They are one organism. The church that the New Testament envisions is a rose bush, not a bouquet of roses.
Test 10: Are the members of your church growing more into the likeness of Christ, and are they doing it together? Are people changing while being in the church? Is their character being molded into the image of Jesus? Are they passing through spiritual seasons together? Are they a rose bush or a bouquet of flowers?
Beyond God’s field, the church is . . .
A Vineyard (John 15). Jesus Christ is the vine tree as well as the new wine. We are the branches and the cluster of grapes. The tree and the branches cannot be separated from one another. In a real sense, the branch is in the tree, and the tree is in the branch.
Isaiah 65:8 says, “The new wine is found in the cluster.” In any cluster of grapes, some grapes will be green. Those green grapes must remain in the cluster in order for them to ripen. If a grape is removed from the cluster and left on its own, it will crinkle and wrinkle. That is, it will become a raisin.
The unveiling of Christ comes from the whole cluster. The individualistic Christian who is journeying through life alone is a “raisin Christian.” In addition, the branches of a vine extend out as the tree grows. So long as the tree is growing outward, it will live and continue to grow. But if it grows inwardly, it will eventually die.
Test 11: Is your church like a vineyard where the cluster of grapes lives and grows together? Or is it made up of “raisin Christians” who live outside the cluster? Is your church extending outside of itself to influence others or is it insular and ingrown?
Beyond the vineyard, the church is . . .
A Sheepfold (John 10; 21; 1 Pet. 2). Jesus Christ is the Great Shepherd, and we are His beloved sheep. Sheep are the only animal that require the existence of a human being for their survival. Sheep are the most helpless of God’s creatures. A sheep left on its own will die. Sheep also travel together. If one of them moves independently from the flock, they will be raw meat for predators.
Test 12: Do the members of your church seek and follow the direction of the one Shepherd together? Or do they blindly follow a human being? Do they all move together as a flock with one mind? Or do they move independently and individualistically, as sheep without a Shepherd?
Beyond the sheepfold, the church is . . .
A Temple (1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 6; Eph. 2; 1 Pet. 2). We are living stones designed to be assembled together with other living stones to form God’s House. Jesus Christ embodies the House of God—His holy temple. Christ is the chief architect, the builder, the foundation, the cornerstone, and the capstone of the building.
Test 13: Are the members of your church being built together? Or do they have little to do with one another outside of church gatherings? Is your church a rock heap, or is it a building?
Beyond the temple, the church is . . .
A City (Php. 3; Heb. 12; Rev. 21-22). We are citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God. Jesus Christ is the prince of the city. He is also the light of the city. One of the central characteristics of the heavenly Jerusalem is that she is born in freedom (Gal. 4:26). Old Testament Jerusalem was discarded by God because it was enmeshed with the bondage of legalism, religious duty, and guilt-ridden tradition. The heavenly Jerusalem is free from all of that.
Test 14: Are the members of your church free in Christ, or are they in religious bondage? Are they inflicted with an incurable headache of guilt, or are they secure in God’s love and liberated to love Him back freely? Are the practices of your church based on human tradition, or are they built on the spiritual principles of the city of God?
Again, all of the aforementioned images reinforce the point that the church is a close-knit, shared-life community of people who enthrone Jesus Christ together.
To bottom line this chapter, God has chosen to make His Son knowable, touchable, visible, and locatable on planet earth through only one vessel: The ekklesia. Jesus Christ has distributed Himself in His Body so that He might be expressed. The church, therefore, is God’s designated instrument for the expression of His Son. And it is the very heartbeat of God’s ultimate passion.
A sighting of God’s passion narrates our world and our lives. It adds texture and richness to our spiritual experience. It also delivers us from a passionless Christianity, a shallow walk, and a purposeless faith. The overwhelming passion of our Lord is to obtain the following in every city on this planet: A Bride who dearly loves Him, a House where He can dwell, a Body that freely expresses Him, and a Family that brings Him delight.
In this light, it is the supreme calling of every Christian leader to equip God’s people to see the mystery of God’s ultimate passion with spiritual eyes . . . to hear it with spiritual ears . . . to handle it with spiritual hands . . . to taste its sweetness and smell its fragrance.
God is looking for those who will burn for His ultimate passion and allow their lives to be shaped by it. May you be among that hearty band.
This post is a chapter that was removed from my book, From Eternity to Here. It was removed because it couldn’t fit into the page count. I’m publishing it electronically for the first time. Feel free to share it with others if you find it of help.
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