The Essence of the Church
By: Deji Yesufu
Wholeness Africa Initiative, led by Israel Balogun, has invited me to speak on the above topic on their internet television this Sunday, 21st March, 2021. As I thought about the topic, I could not but marvel at the Providence of God that will permit such a discussion at a time like this. Indeed much of what I have been studying in the past half a decade or so has been locating the essence of Christianity: finding the purpose of the Church and the reason Christ has given Christians the responsibility of spreading the fragrance of his message all around the world. I am positive that finding the essence of the Church and helping Christians appreciate it more, will lead Christians to be more effective in God’s calling upon us in this world.
To begin to discuss a momentous topic like this, there is the need to establish meaning to words. “Essence” means “the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something”. The essence of a thing will normally border on an abstract quality of that thing that determines it inherent quality. In other, our topic is simply asking “what is the Church?” Or, what is the purpose of the church; what are the inherent qualities of the church; and what is that vital quality of the church that can more or less be summed up in a word of two? To do justice to this topic, therefore, I will attempt to discuss the essence of the church under the following sub-title:
- The Church is the body of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12,13; Ephesians 4:11-13).
- The Church is a gathering of redeemed individuals (Ephesians 1:7, Hebrews 10:25).
- The Church is the ground and pillar of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15)
The Church is the Body of Christ
In John 2:22 Jesus Christ referred to the temple as his body. In that scripture our Lord was beginning to unveil the mighty works of God in transitioning from a mere relationship with one nation alone (Israel) to the whole wide world. In this new era, which will come to be called a New Covenant, God came in his Son Jesus Christ and rather than situate the temple, the place of worship for ancient Israel, in one location, the temple has now become his own body. This is the first time Christ will unveil the concept of a body as the place of worship in the New Covenant. Subsequently, we will learn that Jesus Christ is not just the temple in which Christians worship, he is the head of this body and the other parts of this body are believers themselves. Of course when we use the word “body” to describe the relationship between Jesus Christ and Christians, we are speaking figuratively but perhaps no other word describes this relationship better and thus the reason the Church is referred to as the body of Christ.
As a man care for his own body, Christ cares for his body – the Church. The Church also enjoys the integral unity a human body has with each member. Jesus Christ is the head of his body, the Church – just as the head of the human body contains central nervous system, so also is Christ the central point in his body. In the Church it is Christ we worship. He is the one that supplies each part of the body its nutrients and without him there is no survival for any part of the body. The Bible regards the Church as the body of Christ; thus if we are concerned about finding the essence of the Church, we want to begin with the most important, most central, and the most conspicuous part of the body – Jesus Christ.
The Church is a gathering of Redeemed Individuals
Here the point needs to be made that the Church is not a building. Neither is the Church a given denomination. The Church, rather, is a gathering of redeemed individuals. In the latter sentence are two vital words: redeemed and gathering. We will spend some time to look carefully at those two words.
Redeemed: The Church constitutes of persons who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ – individuals who have been born-again by the power of the Holy Spirit from on high. They are person who were converted as they encountered the written or spoken word of God, the gospel, and thus bowed their hearts to Christ in repentance and faith. The Church is constitutes of person who have been justified by God’s grace alone. The Church is God’s elects from eternity past, whom Christ effectually called to be his own today by the power of the Holy Spirit. A church building is not the Church; it is just a house made out of bricks that allows for God’s people to gather together and fellowship. A denomination is not a church; it is only an arm of Christianity, denominated from a wider professing body of Christ, gathered together around a set of distinctive doctrines. It is important that a Church continually seeks to keep herself pristine, as it is always in danger of being over-run by individuals in her midst who may not have encountered the risen Christ. This is why church discipline is extremely important to guard the church against false professors in her midst.
Gathering: The Church is also a gathering of God’s people. It is important to stress this point at this moment because with the onset of the Coronavirus, many people have reduced church going to online Zoom meetings and sermon listening on radio and television. When the New Testament spoke of the people of God making up a church, it had a people who will gather in a physical place in mind. A Church is a gathering of people together in one place. The elements of physically meeting; fellowshipping together; supporting one another; working together; ironing out difference together; hurting, forgiving and loving one another – is what makes a church. You have not started to have church if you are afraid of meeting people and working together with this people with the sole aim of sharpening each other and coming together to reach the world with message of our Savior.
The Church is the Ground and Pillar of the Truth
Having established the facts around Christ being the head of the Church and the Church as the body of Christ, and having shown that the Church consists of born-again individuals, we come to a very practical essence of the Church. This is the fact that the Church is the ground and pillar of the truth. There is much to be said in this context but because of space, I will limit my thoughts with the bullets points below:
- The Holy Bible is the very words of God and they constitute the truth on which the Church is founded. A true church will regard the Bible as inspired, inerrant and sufficient. The Bible is the primary constitution of a Church for which Christ is the head.
- Because of the truth that the Church espouses, the truth of Christianity is the truth that the whole world should be governed by. Today, Christians make the error of considering certain things in our world to be secular and other things to be religious. Truth is that the whole world is governed by a spirit – and that spirit is the spirit of Satan – so there is nothing secular about our world. The duty of the Church on earth is to continually challenge this spirit in every sphere of life and bring the truth of God’s word to bear on this. This will mean that constitutions of nations must be influenced by Christian values and worldviews. The Church must continue to seek to impact cultures where Christianity does not dominate. And the growing Left in the West must be continually challenged by Christian thinking. It is also this that informs our evangelizing the nations with the gospel of Christ.
- The Church is the light of the world and the salt of the earth. The truth we espouse give our world direction and preserves it from God’s coming judgement.
When the New Testament was written, its authors did not have the individuality and me-myself-and-I worldview that has pervaded our world in mind. The writers of the New Testament wrote primarily to groups of people. They wrote to a collective; they wrote to the Church. When the risen Christ will address John the Beloved on the Island of Patmos in Revelation, he directed him to write letters to seven Churches; not to individuals. In the same vein, if we will capture the essence of the Church today, we must rediscover the collectiveness or the togetherness that the Church was originally envisioned to be. There is no lone ranger Christian. If anyone loves his own company, prefers to do his own thing and expresses disgust for a gathering of professing Christians, that person is not likely to be a Christian. It is this awe; love and regard for the Church that some of us discovered recently that led us to cut down on our criticism of churches – even though some of the criticism may be deemed necessary at the time they were made. Christ loves his Church; for this reason he gave his life for it to redeem it from sin. If Jesus Christ loves the Church, we Christians must also love the Church.
The Church is the body of Christ. The Church is a collection of redeemed people. And the Church is the place where truth is found. This is, I believe, is the essence of the Church. Amen.