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WHAT IS THE CHURCH? 1 Peter 2: 4-12

WHAT IS THE CHURCH? 1 Peter 2:4-12

By Ted Schroder,
November 19, 2017

I have been reading and reflecting on The New City Catechism which is a contemporary edition of 52 questions and answers about the Christian faith. Each denomination and tradition has a catechism which is a form of instruction for new members and converts. The answer the NCC gives to the question, What is the Church? is the following.

God chooses and preserves for himself a community elected for eternal life and united by faith, who love, learn from, and worship God together. God sends out this community to proclaim the gospel and prefigure Christ's kingdom by the quality of their life together and their love for one another.

You will note that this definition has nothing to say about organization, budgets, staff, programs, buildings, or any of the other activities that we associate with the church. It says nothing about our racial, ethnic, social and gender identity. It transcends all other identities, where we come from, who we are, what we have been. It defines the church as something that God does. He chooses a community of people. God calls them, elects them for eternal life, and gives them the gift of faith that unites them one to another in love, in learning and in worship. It is God who sends out the members of his church to proclaim the gospel and show forth the quality of life in the Spirit.

One of my favorite passages in Acts describes a vision Paul received in Corinth. He was encouraged to plant a church in that city despite opposition. The Lord spoke to him, "Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, because I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:9-10). God has chosen people to be members of his church.

"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light."

Leo the Great (400-461) wrote, "All who have been born again in Christ are made kings by the sign of the cross and consecrated priests by the anointing of the Holy Spirit."

I want you to absorb the implications of this definition. You have been chosen by God to be his representatives -- to witness to the world his glory -- and to intercede for the world. The priest is a representative of God who is sovereign over all. We share in the kingship of Christ who calls us to proclaim the gospel in and through our lives. We belong to God, not to ourselves. We are chosen, not by virtue of our accomplishments, not because of our merits, not because of anything we have done, but we are chosen by grace -- the free, action of God.

These are high privileges and responsibilities. Membership in the church is not a casual commitment. It is a response to God's call to be in a covenant relationship with him. The language is from the Old Testament in the call of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the people of Israel. It is renewed in Jesus who calls his disciples to follow him. He designates the church as his family: brothers and sisters who do the will of God, who receive him and believe on him. The church is the body of which Christ is the Head. The church is the bride of Christ the Bridegroom, united to him by love. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, whose foundation is Christ. "You also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

Charles Spurgeon comments:

Be like Christ at all times. Imitate him in public. Most of us live in some publicity; many of us are called to work before our fellow-men every day. We are watched; our words are caught; our lives examined, taken to pieces. The eagle-eyed, argus-eyed world observes everything we do, and sharp critics are upon us. Let us live the life of Christ in public. Let us take care that we exhibit our Master, and not ourselves -- so that we can say, "It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me." Take heed that you carry this into the church too. Be like Christ in the church. Carry out the spirit of Christ in your churches. Let your fellow members say of you, "He has been with Jesus."

In the Anglican tradition, in which I was raised, the church is described in this way:

The local, visible church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men and women, in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance... The Church has no authority except in submission to Christ, and it is not lawful for the church to ordain anything that is contrary to God's Word written, and neither may it so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another.

The Church is under the authority of the Word which is God's revelation to us of his will and salvation.

We describe the church as "one, holy, catholic and apostolic." Despite the multiplicity of denominations and traditions, and the rules and regulations devised by church leaders to define their identities, the spiritual, invisible church is one body under one head because we are the Body of Christ, not the creation of ecclesiastical hierarchies.

The church is described as holy because God has separated us out from the rest of humanity to do his will. He has consecrated us by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who directs us to fulfill God's purposes.

The church is described as catholic, which means universal. We are a worldwide body that welcomes all nations, races, and people for God is at work drawing all people to himself.

The church is described as apostolic because we continue the teaching and fellowship of the apostles whose words and witness guide us in the power of the Holy Spirit to share the gospel throughout the world.

We may belong to various affinity groups: hometown allegiances, college alumni, political parties, social and fraternal clubs, extended families, sports fans, but all these are temporal and will pass away. The church triumphant is eternal. "I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." (Rev. 21:2-3)

The church's one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is his new creation by water and the word.
From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;
with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

Elect from every nation, yet one o'er all the earth;
her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth;
one holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,
and to one hope she presses, with every grace endued. (Samuel J. Stone)

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