Sunday 11th of April 2021
Who is the Church and what is she for?
If you would, take your Bible and turn to Isaiah chapter 54. Here in the early life of Christ Church, we will spend a number of weeks considering what the Church is...what is this that we're doing? I think that as Christians, many of us have a hazy understanding of who we are and what the Church is. If we don't know who and what the Church is, then we will not act as we should or function in alignment with our design and purpose. If we misunderstand who and what the Church is, then we will have the church doing all sorts of things she was never intended to do because we don't actually know what she is intended to do.
It is possible to drive a nail with the butt of screwdriver, but that is not what it's for, and if you continue to abuse the screwdriver in that way it will become so damaged as to no longer be useful for its intended purpose. So it is with the church in our time. We've misunderstood who we are and what we're for so we've abused the church by using her for all sorts of things for which she was not designed, and in so doing, we've become damaged and infirm, unfit to accomplish that for which we were actually designed. The church has come to be understood as an organization that exists to, reach people. People have become the goal. People have become the mission of the modern church.
The church then is a means to the end of, or a tool to be used for reaching people. Okay...well if we're going to reach people then we have to consider all of the diverse life stages, particularities, demographic points of diversity, and preferences of people if we're going to be effective at reaching people. So the tool of the church has been used to create greeting ministries, coffee bar ministries, kids ministries, tween ministries, youth ministries, college ministries, singles ministries, marriage ministries, men's ministries, women's ministries, short people ministries, tall people ministries, big-boned people ministries. That's ministry funds spent, salaries paid, hours away from our families clocked, all in the name of reaching people because as best we can tell, that's what the church is for. But is it?
I want to suggest to you this morning that reaching people is not the purpose of the Church; pleasing and representing Christ is. You see we've made an idol of reaching people such that church life and leadership has become obsessed with pleasing people all the while being only verbally concerned with pleasing God. I've been a part of a fair number of churches in my lifetime. I was raised in church, I've had internships at churches, I've been invited to speak at churches, I've helped plant churches, and I've sat in a lot of meetings with pastors discussing their churches. What I've taken away from most of these experiences is an understanding that the church has made an idol of man and is largely unconcerned with offering acceptable worship to God. Some churches I've been a part of actually send out surveys to visitors to ask what they could do to improve upon the experience of their guests. That is because we have departed from the worship of God and have become worshippers of man all in the name of reaching people.
But I don't believe that the state of most modern churches is owing to insincerity on the part of those who lead them, I believe that it is because we do not know who the church is and what she is for. If you think that the church is an organization that exists to reach people, then you'll do exactly what modern churches are doing. The problem is that we're wrong about who the church is and what she is for. The Church is not an organization that exits to reach people, rather she is a bride who exists to please her husband, who is Christ.
This morning we're going to do what's called biblical theology. That is, we're going to look at a major theme or thread that runs through God's dealings with His creation as reported in His Word, in order to understand who and what the Church is. This means that rather than doing exposition of a single text we will canvas many texts in order to identify a theme from which a doctrine emerges. The theme that we'll trace out this morning is this: God's people, the church included, are His bride and we exist to please Him. God's people, the church included, are His bride, and we exist to please Him. I want to show you that in Scripture and then once we've seen it in the sacred text, we can consider what it means for our practice as the Church and how it helps us to answer the questions, "who is the church and what is she for?"
So, at the beginning and at the end of the Bible there is a wedding. By the second chapter of God's Word God is officiating Adam and Eve's wedding and at the close of Revelation we have the marriage supper of the Lamb. And in the middle we have no shortage of allusions to God as husband and to His people as His bride. We'll begin with the Old Covenant prophets and move forward through the New Testament tracing out our theme:
 For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.
Here God identifies Himself as Israel's husband.
 The word of the LORD came to me (the prophet Jeremiah), saying,  "Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD, "I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.
Here God identifies Israel as His bride.
 Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the LORD.'"
Here God describes Israel's sin in terms of a wife leaving her husband.
 "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah,  not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.
Here God again identifies Himself as Israel's husband. Now flip through the rest of Jeremiah, past Lamentations and come to the book of Ezekiel and find chapter 16.
Ezekiel 16:8 (the Lord speaking to Israel)
 "When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.
This is God speaking to Israel recounting the early days with her when He, "spread the corner of His garment over her, and entered into a covenant with her..." the line about spreading the corner of His garment over her is a reference to a cultural signal of marital intent, we see this also in the book of Ruth as an act exchanged between Ruth and Boaz. So God demonstrated His intent to marry Israel and then He in fact does marry her, entering into a covenant with her- this is done on Mt. Sinai with the giving of the law in the book of Exodus.
 Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband!
Here God is speaking of Israel's sin as adultery against Him...her husband. Now flip through the rest of Ezekiel, pass the book of Daniel and come to the book of Hosea and find chapter 2.
Hosea 2:19-20 (God speaking to Israel again)
 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD.
Here the Lord describes Himself as betrothed or engaged to Israel. Many more texts could be cited to establish this theme, but I trust these texts have been sufficient to establish the fact God regards Himself as the husband of His people, but in case you're thinking that this is just an Old Covenant idiosyncrasy, watch the same language and theme get picked up in the New Testament:
 Now a discussion arose between some of John's (that being John the Baptist) disciples and a Jew over purification.  And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him." 
So, John has had this booming ministry and is baptizing hundreds, maybe thousands...then Jesus walks up and John says, "I'm not worthy to untie His sandals, much less baptism Him!" Our Lord insists, and John baptizes Him. Well now Jesus has started His own ministry and His own baptisms and everyone is leaving John to go after Jesus and John's disciples find this off-putting... So John answers them.
John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'  The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease."
John says, these aren't my people...they are His people, I was simply preparing them for Him...John identifies Jesus as both Christ (Messiah) and bridegroom (husband). Which is picking up on all of that language from the Old Testament prophets that we just read. John says, I'm just the best man helping to get things ready, Christ is the Groom, and these people are His bride.
2 Corinthians 11:2 (Paul speaking to the Corinthian church)
 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.
Here is Paul writing to the church in Corinth, identifying her as a bride who is betrothed to Christ and Paul is serving the bride, trying to help make sure that is she remains pure for her husband and is ready for His return.
Ephesians 5:25-32 (Paul writing to the Ephesian church)
 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body.  "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Here is Paul giving instructions to the Ephesians about marriage and he is doing so by appealing to the ultimate and archetypal marriage, namely the marriage of Christ to His Church.
 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure"— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.  And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."
Revelation 21:2 & 9
 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
 Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb."
By the book of Revelation we're seeing the betrothal period to which the Apostle Paul referred in 2 Corinthians 11:2 coming to an end, and the Bridegroom preparing to come to marry His Bride. I trust that establishes the theme.
A Point of clarification before we make application:
We need not be overly concerned with questions as to the difference between Israel in the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament. We need not wonder if God has two brides...ethnic Israelites and Gentile Christians. God has a people; one bride. He is not a polygamist. Being among God's people, or His bride has, in fact, never really had much to do with ethnicity or lineage. The Lord Jesus is quick to point out to the religious leaders who trusted in their genetic pedigree, that God could make a pile of stones into Abraham's children if He wanted to.
 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
This isn't physical, external, genealogical...the one who is a true Jew is the one who has been made so internally through a circumcision of the heart that is performed by the Spirit.
 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
So who are Abraham's children? Who are the real Jews? Those who have the faith of Abraham...
 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise),  "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land."
Paul just quoted the Old Testament law, given to Israel and applied it to Gentile Christians, why? Because they've been made Israelites. And catch this, Paul even applied the promise associated with the law to the Gentiles in the Ephesian church. We may be tempted to say, "well yeah, people should keep God's law once they become Christians whether they have Jewish heritage or not...but don't give Israel's promises from the Old Testament away to the Church!" Paul just did..."Honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." What land are we talking about? The promised land...Canaan...which was promised to whom? Israel...How can Paul just give that promise away to Gentile Christians? Because once the Spirit circumcised their hearts and converted them to Christ, they became Jews and inherited all of the promises.
In Galatians 6:16 Paul identifies those who walk by faith as, "the true Israel of God."Even the book of Hosea proclaims in the Old Testament that, "not all Israel is Israel..." meaning some have the physical lineage of an Israelite, but as Paul said in Romans 2, he who merely a Jew outwardly, is not really a Jew, but rather He who is a Jew inwardly...namely one who has the faith of father Abraham. All of that to say, if you've been given the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, trusting in His wrath absorbing death on the cross for sin, His victorious resurrection, and His eventual return, then you are the true Israel of God and you have Abraham as your father, and you are a part of God's people, Christ's bride. So, we've seen the motif in both the Old and New Testaments. God's people are His bride.
What's this mean and how does it help to answer the question from the prologue that no one remembers?
Who is the church and what is she for? The church is the people of God, made a bride for the Son of God. The Church is a bride betrothed to her husband who is Christ, and our task is to remain pure as we await His return. The Church is a bride betrothed to her husband who is Christ, and our task is to remain pure as we await His return. James 1:27, Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Titus 2:11-14, For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
Our goal is to be attractive to He whose bride we are. But in our modern misunderstanding of the church as an organization that exists to reach people, we have made it our mission to be attractive to world, with little concern about whether or not we are attractive to Christ. In 2013 I went through church planter training and learned the current strategies and methods being taught to pastors about how to start and lead churches. Here is a quote from one of the sessions at that training: "People come to church because of a relationship. Not a relationship with Jesus, but a relationship with you. Then they get a relationship with Jesus."
Far from remaining unstained from the world, renouncing ungodliness and worldly passion, and pursuing purity to make sure that we are an attractive bride for our husband, we have sought instead to make ourselves attractive to the world. We've become desperate for the attention of the world, that is why we send out guest surveys to inquire as to the quality of experience we are providing rather than opening our Bibles and asking what God commands. That is why our music on K-love sounds like slightly reworded versions of secular songs. That is why our pastors look like pop stars. That is why we won't call abortion murder, homosexuality sodomy, and transgenderism stupid. That is why our church leaders are falling all over themselves pandering to the woke mob as they use the language of critical race theory, intersectionality, and diversity just as much as our liberal media does. That is why female leadership and Bible teaching abounds in church life and ministry. We've made it very clear who it is we are aiming to please, and it is not Christ.
The church must cease from her man-centered, idolatrous obsession with being liked by the world in order to draw large crowds, and must instead become obsessed with being what Christ died to make us: holy, pure, conformed to His image, unstained by the world. Note the difference between what happened in the early church and what is happening in the American church. Jesus made 12 disciples and changed the world. We build large crowds, and the world changes us.
Now, we may think, while we're still detoxing from the reigning understanding of the church as an organization that exists to reach people, that we are getting it wrong at Christ Church because we're unconcerned with impressing outsiders, we don't care to offering ministry programs that will attract them, and we spend very little energy on presenting ourselves in ways that are "culturally relevant." We may think, "then how are we going to reach people!?"
We'll centralize Christ. We'll lift up Christ. We'll preach Christ. We'll repent of our sins which offend Christ, and we'll give ourselves over to become more like Christ. He's the One who is attractive. He's the One who is lovely. He is the One who saves. He is the One who, when His glory is seen, will draw men to Himself. If we give ourselves to faithfulness to Christ; He will draw His sheep into this fold.
A final word: It is significant that the rebukes that God's people receive throughout Scripture are almost always in reference to them failing to honor and worship Him rightly, not their failing to reach people.
In fact, churches are rebuked by Jesus in the book of Revelation for being too tolerant and reaching too many people, the kind who don't even belong in the Church. So, we are Christ's bride, and we exist to please Him. What pleases Him? Our Titus 2 text told us- He wants us renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, living self-controlled upright lives in the midst of this wicked age, living according to God's law, and pursuing purity. Jesus died to make us that people. The Church then, is a community that is oriented around bringing those things out in one another, so in the subsequent weeks we'll learn how that is to happen among us. In the meantime, may we be preoccupied with pleasing Christ, being with Christ, hearing from Him in His Word, and proclaiming Him to those we encounter this week.