The Church as Jesus Intended


The Church as Jesus Intended

Becoming the best church possible in a world that needs us


During my high school years, I attended First Alliance Church in Port Charlotte (Fla.). My life was transformed in that church. The church was growing by leaps and bounds. The Spirit of God was powerfully present in the services. Altars were often lined with people trusting Jesus for the first time and others surrendering their lives more fully to Him. This is where the Spirit of God took me deeper in my walk with Jesus and I began to sense God’s call to full-time ministry. In that experience, I saw church in a way that I had never seen, and this shaped my expectation of what the church ought to look like.

So, what is the Church Jesus intends? The Apostle Paul uses four metaphors to help answer that question.

The Body of Christ

Ephesians 1:22–23 describes the Church as the Body of Christ, with Christ as the Head. The key implication is that the Church and all of us as members are to live in submission to Christ, who is the life of the Church.

We can live without certain parts of our bodies, but we can’t live without the head. We might carry out some activities, but they will have no heavenly or eternal value without the Head. This is the key doctrinal tenet of The Alliance: the centrality and sufficiency of Christ. We are a “Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.”

Because He is the Head, Christ dictates the purpose of the local church. We cannot determine this by a congregational vote or the preference of the majority. The Head has already stated that its purpose is to be an outward-focused application of Christ’s love and proclamation of the gospel with the clear intent of winning people to faith in Christ. If people are not regularly coming to faith in Christ through the ministries of our churches, we must conclude that we’re missing something Jesus intends.

The Church as Christ’s Body indicates that each of us has some role to play in submission to the Head. We don’t all have the same gifts, and we aren’t all assigned to the same ministries. But we are all to use our unique gifts in a way that contributes to the overall life and ministry of the church (see 1 Cor. 12:4-7). The Church as Jesus intends is all-hands-on-deck. It’s not just the pastors and leaders or 20 percent of the people doing all the work, but all of us doing our part. We get to know each other better and watch the church develop and grow when we’re serving shoulder to shoulder.

The Family of God

The Church is Christ’s Body and the family of God (see Eph. 2:19). We are “members of God’s household.” The key implication here is love. In a unique way, Christ’s Church ought to stand out because of its Christlike love.

At Immanuel Church in Mechanicsburg (Pa.), we saw a number of people come to faith in Christ and took in many new members. In the membership interview, we asked, “What caused you to connect with Immanuel as your home church?” Every person said, “We were warmly welcomed—this church felt like family.”

People want to be a part of a family where they feel accepted and loved. The church ought to be that family. This means everyone is welcome. Interestingly, Ephesians 2:19 comes on the heels of Paul talking about Jesus breaking down the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles and making the two groups one. That same truth applies to any wall of separation we try to build between any two groups of people. Jesus’ work on the cross breaks that wall down.

So, who is really embraced and brought into the love of the church family? What about people of other races? People of other socioeconomic levels—whether they’re very rich or very poor? People of different political persuasions or parties? People whose families might be a bit dysfunctional and broken? People who have kids with special needs? Single moms with rowdy kids? Married couples with rowdy kids?

Our doors, arms, and hearts should be wide open to anyone who comes. The degree to which people feel welcomed and loved in the church is often the degree to which they feel welcomed and loved by Jesus. Our goal is always to represent Jesus well and point people to Him.

In the family of God, everyone is also to live at peace. If people can’t get along with one another in the church, what does that say to the surrounding world? And how does it impact the anointing of the Spirit on our ministries?

I once worked with a church that was rife with conflict. One couple seemed to be at the center of the storm. As it turned out, they had been a problem for decades, but no one wanted to do anything about it. Meanwhile, church attendance decreased by about 50 percent, seeing very little evangelistic fruit.

My fear is that this isn’t an isolated or unusual story. Too many of our churches are quenching and grieving the Spirit because of unresolved conflict. This is why I’m excited about Alliance Peacemakers led by Rick Stein. As districts and churches open their doors to this ministry, it gives the opportunity for a culture of peacemaking to spread—for people in our churches to have the tools to handle conflict in a biblical way—so we may carry out ministry under the fullness and anointing of the Holy Spirit. Why would anyone from the world want to come into the church if we don’t get along any better on the inside than they do on the outside? We’ll never be the Church Jesus intended unless His love and peace reign and rule in our hearts and in our fellowship. 

Christ’s Temple

In Ephesians 2:20-22, the Church is described as Christ’s building or a temple. The key implication here is Holy Spirit presence and power.

We are individually indwelled by the Holy Spirit the moment we come to faith in Christ. According to verse 22, there is also a corporate indwelling—we’re “being built together as a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.” The Spirit’s presence should be manifest in our gatherings, and His power should propel our ministries.

If the Church is Christ’s building, our gatherings ought to be immersed in the presence of the Holy Spirit. If all someone is looking for is a place to be cared for and to fit in, they can find that to some degree at the Garden Club or even the local pub. But what they should find in the church that they will not find in any of those places is the manifest presence of the Spirit of God.

That’s what I experienced at First Alliance Church. Every Sunday it felt like the Word of God was pointed right at my heart. In one service when I was 17 or 18, I was struck by the holiness of God and my own sinfulness. I sat in the pew and wept uncontrollably for 20 minutes—the last thing a teenaged boy wants to do. That encounter with the Spirit of God was life changing.

Our ministries also should be marked by Spirit-empowered growth. Notice that the Church as Christ’s building is “joined together and ris(ing).”

Church growth has gotten a bad name. We say we want quality, not quantity—becoming more deep than wide. But every digit that is added to church attendance or membership represents an eternal soul. We ought to be driven to see our churches growing because more people are coming to know Christ through our ministries and through the influence of our people.

Warren Wiersbe pictures what is happening in Ephesians 2:21 this way: “Each time someone trusts  Christ, another stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and cemented by grace into the building.” It ought to bother us when statistics in The Alliance reveal fewer people attending and fewer inclusive members, conversions, and baptisms. The Spirit of God longs to empower us, the ministries of our churches, and the influence of our people so that more people come to faith in Jesus Christ.

If that’s not happening in our churches or seldom happening, I suggest that Jesus has more for our churches. The Church as Jesus intended is empowered by the Spirit to reach more people—and therefore it is a growing Church.

Bride of Christ

Finally, we see in Ephesians 5:25-27 that the Church is the Bride of Christ. The key implication here is the call of the Church to holiness. Christ, the Groom, wants to make His Bride, the Church, “holy, cleansing her with water through the word.” In other words, He wants His Church to reflect His character. He wants us to be more like Himself. If we are to be the Church that Jesus intended, we must grow in holiness.

One of my concerns for the Church of our age is that we’re more concerned about expressing our freedom in Christ than we are about living in the holiness of Christ. We like to skirt the edges a bit—live as close to the ways of the world as possible—while trumpeting our freedom in Christ. But Galatians 5:13 says, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” We’re to be more concerned about our influence on others than our own expressions of freedom. Above all, we’re to reflect the character of Jesus.

The holiness to which Christ calls His Bride is not that of legalism—living by some list of rights and wrongs and establishing ourselves in holiness. Neither is it a holiness that comes with a license to participate in things that smack of worldliness and compromise. Jesus wants His Bride to look like Him and not the world. He wants us to be influenced and shaped by the One who lives in us and not by the people who live around us.

You may ask, “How do we possibly live above the influence of this world?” The answer is we can’t do it ourselves. Christ’s goal for the Church is holiness, but that will only be realized and experienced because Christ’s gift to the Church is His Holy Spirit. As holiness takes root in us, we begin to look progressively more like Jesus when we allow the Holy Spirit to do in us, for us, and through us what we can never do ourselves.

One of the highlights of every wedding I officiate is when the bride comes into the room to meet her groom. In that moment, I love to glance over at the groom—to see his smile, his delight in that bride dressed in radiant, gleaming, pristine, pure white. Our Groom, Jesus, is preparing us for that moment when He will usher us into His presence and we will see Him face-to-face. By His Spirit, He’s dressing us in radiant, gleaming, pristine, pure white. He’s doing the work of making us holy.   

That’s the Church as Jesus intends it to be. Without holiness no one will see Him. As you think of your life and your church, is there growth in holiness? Are you a church that looks less and less like the world and more and more like Jesus because you (singular and plural) are surrendered to the work of His Holy Spirit?

All of this is vitally important because the local church is the hope of the world—purveyors of Christ’s love and communicators of His gospel. The world needs us. Our nation needs us. Your community needs your church. The influence of your church has an eternal impact on the lives of people. This calls all of us to be the best church possible—in the power of the Holy Spirit, to be the Church as Jesus intended.

1 response to The Church as Jesus Intended

  1. I appreciate the nod to holiness as that is closely connected with the roots of the CMA. I grew up in a conservative holiness church that preached holiness in a way that sounded great, but in practice was a bit too legalistic. There was certainly progress over the decades, but there’s a ways to go before that silent judgment disappears. The CMA church I attend isn’t so concerned with behavior modification as it is with caring for souls. I still care very much at leading a holy life, but that certainly isn’t the goal in itself.

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