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Christianity 101

Body Life

Most Americans think that your religion is something that you keep to yourself. It’s supposed to be conducted in private, and of course it would have no impact on the rest of your life.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Nowhere in the Bible will you find any support for the idea that Christianity is a solo flight. On the contrary; our God knows that it’s tough to keep being a Christian—and therefore he created the church so that we could help each other. In this lesson we will see three things:

·         Just exactly what is “the church?”

·         How has God equipped that church?

·         What should the church be doing?

Church—a definition

Ask most people what a church is and they’ll reply that it’s a building. That’s not how the early church saw it. During the early years of Christianity the church met in peoples’ homes, often in fear of persecution. Only when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire did the concept of “church = building” have any meaning.

So when you read about the church in the Bible, you need to realize that it doesn’t mean a building. What does it mean? The writers of the New Testament used it in two ways:

·         You will see phrases like “the church at Corinth.” That means all the believers who happen to live in Corinth.

·         You will also see “the church” without a geography. This refers to the church as a whole.

Church—the original word in the Greek meant “assembly” - means a collection of people. So when we talk about the church without geography, we are talking about all the people of all times in all places who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Note that this definition transcends the human barriers of Protestant and Catholic; it pays no attention to denominational or geographic lines. It doesn’t even matter if you are in your body or out of it!

Most churches enforce some form of entrance requirement for formal membership. In our case, for example, we ask that the individual who wants to be a member have a trusting faith in Jesus. Here are our particular steps:

·         Acknowledge publicly that Jesus is indeed Lord and Savior.

·         Repentance of sin

·         Baptism by immersion (the way the Apostles did it).

Other local churches and denominations have differing views on this. Some are fairly elaborate; others simple, like this.

When the authors of the New Testament set down what we need to know about the church, they used three word pictures which are still useful to us today.

Building

The church is compared to a building. In particular, the church is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Anyone who’s ever built a house knows that if the foundation isn’t solid, the building won’t stand.

It’s the same with the church. Lots of leaders have come along and established their own version of the church. They built on themselves; the waters of time have washed them away.

Body

The church is said to be the “body of Christ.” That picture carries with it two strong facts about the church:

·         Like a human body, it’s made up of differing parts. Each of us has a job to do in the church. The Holy Spirit is said to hand out “gifts of the Spirit” to enable the church to perform its tasks. Some of those gifts are miraculous; most are not. But whatever gift you have been given, you are to use it for God’s purposes.

·         It also means that we are to do what Christ wants done on earth. We are the arms and legs of the Gospel; it’s up to us to do the things that Christ commands. There is no place for a lazy Christian.

Bride

Finally, the church is said to be the “bride of Christ.” This is a powerful word picture:

·         It means that the church is in submission to her Lord Jesus Christ—she takes her direction from him alone.

·         It also means that the love between Christ and his church is the deepest love possible.

There are many other pictures in the Bible for the church; but these are the ones most commonly used.

Spiritual Gifts

“Wait a minute,” you say. “You almost slipped one by me there. I’ve heard about spiritual gifts. Isn’t that like speaking in tongues?”

That’s one of the spiritual gifts. Unfortunately, some people have used spiritual gifts to divide the body of Christ. Our Lord makes it particularly clear that the church is to be united. Sometimes you hear them tell you that if you don’t speak in tongues, you’re not a real Christian. So—let’s take it from the basics:

·         All Christians get “the gift of the Spirit” - the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit, to guide us, comfort us and reassure us of our place in the church.

·         In addition, all Christians receive varying “gifts of the Spirit” - note the plural there—to make them useful for work in the church.

·         Most of these gifts are rather ordinary—teaching, preaching—but there are miraculous ones (such as tongues) as well.

This matter so divided the early church that Paul was compelled to issue some pretty strict regulations on the matter. His objective was to preserve order in the church. Order helps maintain unity.

This system is really for our benefit. The simple truth is that if you want to be a big shot in the Kingdom of God, the way is wide open. God tells us that whoever wants to be the ruler of all must become the servant of all. With hard work and the right gifts you can go right to the bottom—which is the top, in the church. It’s called servant leadership. If God gives you a gift, put it to work for him.

When I was a young child, my father used to take me for long walks. We’d talk about all those things that bother you when you’re a boy. Once it a while I’d complain about something, and I usually ended with, “Somebody ought to do something about it!” My dad would just look at me and quietly reply, “You’re somebody. Do something.”

That’s how it is in the kingdom of God. You are now somebody, the child of the Heavenly King. So do something.

What to do?

OK—so what are you supposed to do? The church has one objective. That objective was given to the church by Christ as he ascended into heaven. In two words: Make disciples.

That generally involves two steps: evangelism and discipleship.

Evangelism

Evangelism is the process of telling people the good news about Jesus Christ and bringing them to know him as Lord and Savior. Some people are given the gift of evangelism, but it’s something every Christian should do. So, you need to be telling others about Christ.

This is going to cause you some trouble. Remember the “cockroach principle” - when the lights go on, the cockroaches scatter. You are now the light of the world because you know Jesus Christ. Those who don’t will find this very unpleasant. They will not like to have someone around who reminds them of what sinners they are.

How do you evangelize people? Your way! You are the leading expert on what God has done for you. You are the personal witness of the change in your life that comes from God. You are the arms and legs of Christ’s body, visible in the world. Don’t miss the chance to share the good things God has given you.

Discipleship

You often hear people who have been evangelized described as being “born again.” There are many ways to understand that phrase, but one is fairly obvious. Anyone who’s just been born again needs to mature. We call that maturing process “discipleship.”

The word, as you can see, comes from the same roots as “discipline.” We often think of discipline as something unpleasant and very much undesirable. But if you think of it in terms of a “disciplined athlete,” you have the idea that is being used here. Each of us needs to be in training to become fit as mature Christians.

This has very little to do with your physical age. If you’re a new Christian at the age of 80, you still have some growing and changing to do. That’s another reason Christ gave us the church—so that we would not lack for those to help us grow.

So, then, where do you find such growth?

·         One place is in the sermon each Sunday. The preacher spends quite some time preparing this for your benefit.

·         Another might be a Bible class. This is where you get to ask questions—and share experiences with others.

·         A very good one is in a small group setting. This helps you remain accountable (keeps you out of trouble).

In doing all this, remember Christ’s words: “that they might be one.” The unity of the church (not uniformity, unity) is Christ’s prayer. Do all you can to make that happen.

Let me share the secret that has informed Christians for two millennia. It’s expressed in our time by WWJD—what would Jesus do? Our ancestors would have expressed it more eloquently as the imitation of Christ. In any circumstance you should ask: what would Jesus do? Let the answer be your guide.

Of course, to know what he would do you have to know him well. That comes by prayer, reading the Scriptures and hearing the word of God as it is taught and preached. If your actions are informed by his character and motivated by love for him, you cannot go far astray.

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