is a church? There is so much confusion even among evangelicals.
Paul helps us enormously in Acts 20:28-29, where he gives us a fine description of the church. He was on one of his missionary journeys, sailing down the west coast of Asia minor on the way to Jerusalem.
When the boat called in at Miletus to unload cargo and take on fresh supplies, he sent a message to nearby Ephesus and asked the elders of the church to come and meet him. In verses 18-35 of this chapter we
have a record of the address Paul gave to them.
A. The church is a company of people.
The command that they are to be shepherded proves that.
The church is not a building - you can’t shepherd a building.
The church is not a bit of paper! There are some evangelicals who belong to denominations where many members and leaders are not believers and even deny the faith. When you ask how they can belong to such a mixed set-up with a clear conscience, they mention that somewhere in a document the ‘39 Articles’ of their denomination are written down and these are OK. But, it’s the people who count, not the piece of paper. If most of the members and leaders deny the faith, it is not a true church
The true church is a community of special people.
NB Before we tease that out we need to pause and note that there are two main aspects to the church.
1. There is the church universal by which we mean the community of true believers all over the world and in all ages, including believers who are now in heaven. (Ephesians 5:25, Hebrews 12:22)
2. There are local churches like the church in Ephesus whose elders Paul was addressing (see also 1 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, Romans 16:1, 5) Each local church is a microcosm of the universal church. Those who were saved on the Day of Pentecost and became members of the universal church were immediately baptised and added to the local church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47). The two things should go together.
B. The church is a company of special people.
1. The church, whether universal or local is a company of people who have been purchased by God’s Son. ‘Be shepherds of the church of God which he bought with his own blood.’ , or more accurately, ‘with blood of his own.’ This could give the impression that it was God the Father who shed his blood, but that would be wrong (An old heresy called ‘Patripassianism’ said it was God the Father who suffered and died). What Paul means here is: ‘Be shepherds of the Church of God which he bought with the blood of his own - that is his own Son.’
At one time the people who make up the church of were slaves of sin and Satan. But God has purchased them and released them from that slavery. But before we could be set free and brought into the church, the punishment of our sin had to be paid in full. God in His mercy allowed His own Son to die upon the Cross and shed his blood to pay the price of sin in our place.
2. The church, a church is a company of people who have been personally called by God’s Spirit. That’s the meaning of the Greek word translated ‘church’ in Acts 20 and a 114 other times in the NT. - ‘That which is called out.’ A company of people who have been called out of darkness into light: out of bondage into liberty. And God planned to call them way back in eternity when he wrote their names down in heaven (Hebrews 12:23, Ephesians 1:4, Revelation 17:8).
3. The church, a church is company of people who are precious in God’s sight. It is the Church of God and it is his cherished possession. That is why he has appointed elders or overseers to care for each local church.
4. The church, a church is a community people who are in peril from God’s enemy. Paul tells these Elders to guard them. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock af which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, guard, protect the church of God.” The Devil hates God’s and therefore hates God’s most treasured possession. He attacks from without (verse 29) and he attacks from within (30). False teachers and foolish troublemakers are both dangerous.
5. The church is a company of people who enjoy the protection of God’s power. These elders trembled a bit when Paul told them of the grievous wolves from without and the foolish people from within, so Paul hastily commits them to God and the word of his grace which he uses to protect the church.
6. The church, a church is a company of people who have a promise from God’s Word. The promise of a glorious inheritance in God’s eternal Kingdom (Verse 32)
It will be a life free from all sin.
It will be a life free of all sickness and suffering.
It will be a life free from all sadness and sorrow.
It will be a life with all the saints.
But most of all, it will be a life with the Saviour.
Are we in this company of redeemed, saved people? Or are we just vaguely religious?
Are we glad we are in the church? Or are we always moaning and finding fault?