Video Lesson Transcript:
Hi, I’m Phil Stroud, and this is lesson number 10 in our Online Bible Study Series – “My Walk with God!” Today’s lesson is all about “Our Divine Fellowship.” You, know, so much gets said, today, about “church”… about church culture and traditions, church beliefs and doctrines, church association and fellowship; and just, how we should do church. Do you want to know Jesus’ take on how we should do church? Well, He said: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB)… and, that’s pretty much it! Jesus does talk a little more, here and there, about how He would establish His church and some of characteristics of His church. But as far as, how we “do” church, He doesn’t say much. That’s about it! So, why then do people put such an emphasis on church doctrine and tradition; and on what they think is and is not permitted by and within their particular church fellowship? Well, to be honest, I think it’s because our physical association together as the body of Christ, God’s forever family, is something that people think they have a right to weigh in on, something they can control and manipulate, something they can structure and use to help them get to where they want to be in this physical world — some are looking for outward, physical assurances that they’re on the right path and they think they can find that by banding together with others of like mind and similar beliefs; while others are seeking a physical place of belonging, or opportunities to gain some social standing or recognition; and, some, even are looking for opportunities to be important, or to wield some measure power and control over others.
Now, while having intimate fellowship with other believers with whom we can share life, love, and even the struggles we sometimes encounter as we sojourn together in this mortal realm is an essential element of our Christian faith—I mean, the Bible does admonish us not to forsake “our own assembling together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25), still, that does not mean that we are obligated join a religious organization simply because it calls itself a church. We would do well to remember Jesus’ word of warning to His disciples when He told them, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NASB). For this reason, I strongly caution my Bible students against running out and joining up with any particular denomination or religious organization too quickly. My students are widely scattered in cities, towns, and villages all over Hawaii and the West Coast, and throughout the Pacific Island nations. The chances of them finding an authentic, nondenominational, Christian fellowship—free of the destructive, denominational doctrines of man—meeting anywhere near their neighborhood, are slim to none.
Well, we will go far more in-depth on this whole idea of “church,” and how it plays out in our daily Christian walk of life, in our continuing Online Bible Lesson Series #2 – entitled, Covenant Child… and I hope that you will soon be ready to begin those more advanced studies. But, for now, we need to look at some basic Bible teachings regarding the establishment and existence of this glorious eternal Kingdom that God is calling us into, the beautiful bride of Christ, the body of Christ, God’s forever family, the church.
I Will Build My Church
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter [little stone], and upon this rock [bedrock, foundation stone] I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”
(Matthew 16:13-18, NASB)
Now, the name Peter means little stone, or rock; and because of this, some people are confused and think that Jesus is going to build His church on Peter—who they have come to think of as the first Pope. But you need to understand that when Jesus says, here, “Upon this rock I will build My church,” He is not talking about Peter; rather, He is talking about the fact that Peter had just stated, when he said: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Upon that fact, upon the reality and authority of His true identity, Jesus said that He would build His church upon Himself. Furthermore, when Jesus said that, “the gates of Hades will not overpower it,” He is prophesying the resurrection. Even though there would be a cross, death, or Hades, would not be able to hold Him or prevent Him from bringing His church into existence.
One Flock with One Shepherd
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”
(John 10:1-16, NASB)
From these verses we learn who will comprise the authentic church—it will be made up of those who know the Lord and who recognize His voice; that is, because of the integrity of their hearts and their love for the Lord, they can distinguish the true word of God from all the other competing voices, ideas, philosophies, doctrines, and traditions clamoring for their attention. We also see in this passage that there is only one flock, one church. Christ does not have multiple bodies. He does not have more than one bride. There are not two churches, or three churches, or multiples churches—only one! But our enemy, the adversary, is deceptive and he has filled the world with his divisive, denominational false teachings. Satan’s substitutes dot the landscape.
But, not only is their only one flock, there is also only one Shepherd. There cannot be two heads of Christ’s body. Just as there is only one body, there is also only one head. The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Ephesus, saying: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23, NASB). There cannot be multiple authoritative figures legislating, controlling, leading, and guiding the church. No counsel, no convention, no synod, no priest, bishop, cardinal, pope, deacon, elder, eldership, or board of any kind should ever be looked to as our authority figure. At most, the Bible teaches that men can only be “servants” who help guide us into an ever closer walk with our good shepherd.
The Church Established (approx. 33 A.D.)
Well, when did this one church that Jesus said He would build actually come into existence? You know what, we can, almost, put a date on it. Based on what we read from Bible history, it was the Jewish day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Passover at which Jesus had been crucified and then resurrected from the dead, in the year, we think, 33 A.D. (or there abouts). We read about the birth of the church in the Book of Acts, Chapter 2:
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:14 & 36-47, NASB)
Not only does this passage of scripture bear witness to the birth of the church, but we learn from this passage that, when people are saved, that is, at the moment of their baptism into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, they are added to the one body of Christ by God. When they are spiritually “born again,” they are added to God’s eternal, spiritual family. They do not have to run out and “join” anything. They do not have to go “place membership” with any man made, legal, corporate entity calling itself the church. No human being decides who is in and who is not. Nobody votes you in or validates your membership. If you are in Christ, then you are in the body of Christ. You are a part of God’s forever family.
The “Body” Concept
And, make no mistake about it, God’s forever family needs one another. There is a very real and functional reason why God has called us into fellowship with one another; why He does not want us to “go it alone” and try to walk this path of life solo, all by ourselves. The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians living in the city of Corinth to remind them, and to remind us, of the importance of our fellowship, saying:
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
(I Corinthians 12:12-27, NASB)
God’s Forever Family
Finally, in closing, I want us to look at just a few more passages of scripture that help us to understand a couple of very important concepts concerning the Lord’s church, the body of Christ:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
(Ephesians 2:19-22, NASB)
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ… But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
(I Peter 2:4-10, NASB)
… but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.
(Hebrews 12:26-29, NASB)
I hope you can see from these verses that the authentic church of Christ that we read about in the Bible is not physical, it is spiritual. It does not exist because some corporate entity filed their paperwork and has been legally recognized by some government agency as a “church” or religious organization. Legal corporate entities are of man. Organizations incorporate so they can purchase land, build buildings, and conduct human business in today’s world as a private legal entity. Now, there nothing wrong with that, per se; in that, while there is no direct Biblical authority for it—except that which can be tenuously gleaned by way of inference—still, the freedom of the New Covenant permits it. But the church is so much more than that—it is spiritual, it is eternal, and it exists outside of and beyond any man made religious organization. The church does not “need” to incorporate, to own land, to build church buildings, or to denominate itself by one particular name or another, in order to be the church. The church can exists and, in fact, already does exists anywhere, and everywhere, the people of God find themselves. You, the people of God, are the church.
And the second important concept we see in these passages of scripture: not only is the church spiritual, it is also eternal. Man made religious institutions will come and go. Governments will rise and fall. Whole civilizations will dominate, then diminish, then vanish from the face of the earth… But the eternal Kingdom of God, the church that we read about in the Bible, is forever!
Sometimes people ask, and you may be wanting to know, “Well, if you don’t encourage your Bible students to go out an join a church, or at least tell them what church you think they should join, then what DO you tell them regarding fellowship with other Christians?
Well, the first thing I try to share with my students after they’ve been baptized, or when they inquire, is that, rather than going out and looking for a church, we need to simply focus on being the church. That is, we need to worship the Lord everyday by, as the Apostle Paul says, presenting our “bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship,” and, Paul goes on to say, by not being “conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2, NASB).
So, I encourage my students to set aside time every day for prayer and Bible study. In addition, I also encourage them have some special devotional time each Sunday and to partake of the Lord’s Supper—by eating the unleavened bread and drinking the fruit of the vine—to remember and reflect upon the sacrificial death of Christ and all that He has accomplished for them; just as the Christians did back in Bible days. I also encourage them to pray for opportunities to love and serve others and to share their faith with others. I encourage them to stay in close communications with me, and with other people they may know and trust, and to try to network, if they can, with some of our other students who may be living in their area. The goal is to see individuals and families coming together in their own homes, or maybe meeting in small groups at other locations, to share fellowship and devotional time together; and to build relationships with one another in the Lord… and just to learn to “be the church” wherever they are.
Now, if they really do feel the need to go out and join up with an established congregation, or a corporate church—you know, with their buildings and properties and formal ministries, and all that, then that is well and good. I encourage them to do that if that is what they feel they need. But I just want them to proceed with extreme caution. We need to make sure that whatever group we’re fellowshipping with is, indeed, the Lord’s church and not one of Satan’s substitutes. And so, they need to be sure that that organization is teaching accurately the Word of God, especially in the important areas of: the deity of Christ—that He was God in the flesh; “Saving Faith” and the repentance that it requires; ”Saving Love” and the obedience that it calls us to; and the meaning and purpose of Baptism—that baptism is not some kind of meritorious work of law, but rather an expression of saving faith; and that it is at the moment of our baptism that we are “united with Him in the likeness of His death” (Romans 6:5), our sins are cleansed by sacrificial blood of the Lamb, and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. Any, so-called, church that does not believe and teach these very basic things, as set forth in the Word of God, is not the church that we read about in the Bible.
But I am also concerned that a church can get these things right, but in an even more sinister deception, lead people into legalism—wherein certain rules, regulations, doctrines, traditions, or church practices must be rigorously held to in order for people to be saved. Or, on the other hand, they lead people into licentiousness, a form of liberalism that makes people feel as if they have a license to sin, or to change the teaching of God’s word, or ignore God’s holy standards of morality. So, I have many concerns with what some may call, “organized religion.”
But praise God for those beautiful congregations of our Lord’s church that are “diligent to present themselves approved to God as a workmen who do not need to be ashamed,” and who are “handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)… though, I fear they are few and far between.