Can a Christian be for Christ and not the Church?
One of the most common responses I get from Christians indifferent towards the local church are these little nonsensical refrains: “It’s not about the church, it’s about Jesus” or “I don’t follow a church, I follow Jesus” or “the church didn’t die for me, Jesus died for me” or even “
I’m in a relationship with Jesus not a church”. My reply to all of this is (to borrow an expression from D.A. Carson) “Damn All False Antithesis to Hell”! That’s exactly what these responses are, false antitheses. What they are doing is placing Christ and the church against each other, to imply that it can only be one and not the other or you can have one without the other! This is a false antitheses and I agree it should be damned to hell!
The Bible mocks the idea and scoffs at the one who presumes he can choose between Christ and the church. As we study the New Testament it is littered with references of Christ’s will, care, love, and acts for and in and through the church. Most of the these passages speak directly to what we call the universal church as oppose to a local church, yet the truth is applicable to both nonetheless. The difference between the universal church and the local church is simple; the universal church refers to all believers from across the world and the local church refers to a group of believers who regularly
gather at a specific locale, like in a house or a traditional church building. The local church is the universal church made visible, that’s why some theologians speak of the universal church as the invisible church. So, the universal church is all believers all over the world and the local church is a group of believers who regularly meet somewhere in the world. The Bible of course speaks of both the universal church and the local church.
- The Universal Church is in view when Jesus says:
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. – Mat 16:18
- The Local Church is on view when Paul writes:
“Likewise greet the church that is in their house.” – Romans 16:5
There are of course many other references that speak about the universal church and the local church. I also hope to say more about the difference and relationship between the
local church and the universal church in the next posts. The point I want to make for now is that we cannot separate Christ and the church nor can we live out our Christianity accepting one but not the other! The New Testament constantly portrays for us the beautiful relationship that exists between Christ and the church. In fact, it even likens it to a marriage, where Christ is the groom and the church is the bride (Ephesians 5:22-32). So, here’s what the Bible teaches us about the essential relationship between Christ and the church:
1. Jesus died for the church – Acts 20:28.
28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. – Acts 20:28
This is one of the most important verses in establishing the relationship between Christ and the church. The phrase “the church of God” gives away the truth that the church is the possession of God, He owns the church. Even more, we read ‘which He purchased with His own blood”. Clearly this is a reference to the second person of the trinity, God the Son, as we know the Father never shed blood on the cross but the Son did. So then, Christ died for His church. Often someone would say “the church never died for me, Jesus died for me” while there are no points for stating the obvious, we must not miss the more complete truth that Christ died for the church.
2. Jesus is building His church – Matthew 16:28
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:18
There are many today who would rather seek to build-up their lives apart from the church, or build some Christian organization that can supposedly do better than the church, or even supplement the work of the church. Contrary to this, Jesus states, “I will build my church”. Noticeably, the church is the only institution Jesus promised to build! Therefore, I find it theologically difficult to accept that a Christian can separate from the church and want nothing to do with the church and still believe they are in the will of Christ. Christ’s intention, will and plan should come across very clearly to us: “I will build my church”.
3. Jesus loves the church – Ephesians 5:22.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her – Ephesians 5:25
Unfortunately many acting in the name of the church are doing serious harm to the image of the church. This has led many Christians and non-Christian to have nothing but contempt for the church. However, we will do well to be reminded that Jesus loves the church and He gave Himself for her (Acts 20:28). Any sentiment of hatred, indifference, or disinterest towards the church is in stark contrast to the sentiment and attitude of Jesus toward the church. He loves the church unconditionally and that should be enough reason for us to love the church!
4. Jesus is the head of the church – Colossians 1:18.
18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. – Colossians 1:18
The word “head’ means to have authority over. Jesus is the authority over the church (watch yourself next time you bad mouth the church). This means that He is exercising control, authority, leadership, direction and life in the church. Those who live lives separated from the church are missing out on these graces being administered by Christ to the church!
5. Jesus sanctifies the church – Eph. 5:26.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word – Ephesians 5:25–26
Paul writes (referring to the church) “that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of the water by the word”. Out of love for the church He cleanses and sanctifies the church. Be careful to distance yourself from the body of Christ because Christ sanctifying grace is extended not merely on an individual or person level (1 Thess. 5:23-24) but also a on a corporate level as taught here by the Apostle.
6. Jesus is coming back for the church – 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
Okay, I’m a futuristic-premillennialist and what that means is that I believe Christ is coming back for the church before the tribulation period. This view is also known as the rapture of the church. This is described for us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This passage treats the coming of Christ not as Him coming for individual Christians isolated from the church. He’s coming is not seen as Him looking for a Christian here, and then seeking out one isolated over there. Instead the passage has a corporate nature to it. Jesus is not coming back merely for individual Christians but for His church (made up of all believers) whom He died for, loves, is building and is sanctifying.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. – 1 Thessalonians 4:17
7. Jesus walks in the midst of His church -Revelation 2:1
One of my favorite pictures of Jesus in relation to the church has to be Revelation 2:1. It reads: Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands”. These words John has been told to write (by Christ) to the church comes from Him…who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstand.
What is the seven golden lampstands? Well, Revelation 1:20 tells us it is a symbolic reference to the seven churches. So, golden lampstands are a reference to churches and Jesus is said to walk in the midst of what? Yes, seven golden lampstand, i.e. the churches. Therefore, He could tell them about the good, the bad and the ugly things in the church because he takes a personal interest in the church. Next time you gather together as a church remember Jesus walks in your midst and next time you refuse to gather together with the church remember Jesus walks in the midst of the church.
8. Jesus cares about what is happening in His church – Revelation 2-3.
What ought to make you love the church is to know that Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). What must make you care about the church and become passionate about the church is to know that Christ is passionate and He cares about the church. Jesus commands John to write seven letters to seven different churches telling them about what pleases Him and what grieves Him and what they must put right to honor Him. In these letters that Jesus designates to the seven churches (Revelation 1:4) you cannot help notice Christ’s interest, care and concern for the church in every one of them. In spite of the serious error, unloving attitude and sinful behavior that plagues these churches, we do not find Jesus walking away from the church or giving up on His church. Instead, we see Him in love instruct, admonish, help and warn His church.
So in conclusion, the New Testament mocks the idea that we can have Christ and not His church. The Bible does not affirm any notion that says “I’m for Christ but not His church”. It is entirely inconsistent with the will of Christ to love Him and not His church. I’m persuaded that it pleases Christ when Christians love the church and also it demonstrates obedience to Christ when Christians love His church!