Rediscovering Church - Part 1

Series: Rediscovering Church

January 23, 2022
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

We are taking a break from our Acts series for four Sundays to go through a mini-series called Rediscovering Church. I feel led to do this for two reasons.

One, our journey through Acts is approaching 60 messages. and we are just getting to chapter 13 (there are 28 chapters!). Now I’m not apologizing. I’m having a blast looking at Luke’s second volume verse by verse. There’s so much there. But it’s good to step back from such a big series, get a breather, and refocus.

Two, it doesn’t hurt to go back and revisit some of the basics every now and then. And it sure doesn’t hurt right now.

Speaking of the basics, I came across something I know you’ll appreciate…

“In July 1961, Vince Lombardi kicked off the first day of training camp for the 38 players on his Green Bay Packers football team. The prior season had ended in a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles after blowing a lead in the 4th quarter of the NFL Championship Game.

When the players came in to start training camp, they expected to immediately begin where they left off and work on ways to advance their game and learn fancy new ways to win the championship in the new season. When they sat down and began, Vince Lombardi held up a football and said, 'Gentlemen, this is a football!’”[1]

Are ya’ll impressed that I actually used a football illustration? It probably won’t surprise you to know that I had heard the quote but thought it was Yogi Berra. I also thought Vince Lombardi was an actor in black and white films. 

Anyhoo, this is a really, really good time, I think, to go back to the basics and rediscover in a way what church is about, and the first thing I’d like us to rediscover is that…

Church is about belonging.

Belonging is a deep need we all harbor, whether we realize it or not. The need to belong is something science even recognizes. Psychology sees the need to belong as a universal human experience, explaining it this way: it’s the “the idea that humans have a fundamental motivation to be accepted into relationships with others and to be a part of social groups. The fact that belongingness is a need means that human beings must establish and maintain a minimum quantity of enduring relationships.”[2] Go science!

We all long to belong to something. In fact, most of our bad habits, hangups, and hurts are caused by or have something to do with longing to belong.

Church is about belonging if it’s about anything! But what do you belong to when you belong to a church? A building? A club? A society?

The best way to answer that is by going to the Bible, and the first place we encounter the church is in Matthew 16. Jesus is speaking and he says…

18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  Matthew 16:18 (ESV)

What I find odd about that is the church didn’t even exist yet. The birth of the church doesn’t happen until Acts 2. Of course, Jesus knew it was coming.

Church is a very specific English word to us, but it comes from the common ancient Greek word ekklesia. Ekklesia is found only twice in the Gospels (both in Matthew) but found 112 more times in the rest of the NT. For Greek-speaking people of the 1st Century it referred to:

(1). a regularly summoned legislative body, assembly, as generally understood in the [ancient] Gr-Rom. World

(2). a casual gathering of people, an assemblage, gathering

(3). people with shared belief [and common identity that form a] community, congregation[3]

All of those meanings carry some idea of what church is but none are exactly what Christ meant. So why is that word used in Matthew’s gospel and the rest of the NT? Often NT authors like Matthew, John, or Paul take common Greek words and make them mean something more than their general meaning, something exclusive to the faith. That’s the case here.

They took Ekklesia and made it refer especially to the the community of faith. It means very exclusively and specifically a group of people joined together both spiritually and relationally as followers of Jesus the Messiah. They have a common identity tied to the person of Jesus. They live by his teachings.

And (surprise, surprise, surprise) none of this has anything to do with a building! To this day I cannot think about church without also thinking about a steeple. How do I get rid of that?

The Bible teaches us that the church — this community of faith bound together in Christ — has two manifestations: universal and local.

Sometimes in the NT, church refers in a general sense to the community of faith of all time, every Christ-follower who’s ever existed. That’s the church universal. For example, Paul wrote this to the Christians at Ephesus in a text you’re probably familiar with…

28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.  Ephesians 5:28–30 (ESV)

But more often it refers to the community of faith as it gathers by physical location. Paul wrote this…

2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:  1 Corinthians 1:2 (ESV)

Here’s a good way to understand it. There is THE church and there is A church. THE church is the church universal. A church is THE church local. Does that make sense?

If you get that, then you’ll get this.

To belong to A church you must first belong to THE church. 

If belonging to a church — local gathering of people not a building or institution — is being a Christ-follower living within the community of faith locally, the requirement is you must be part of the church, you must be a Christ-follower, a Christian. 

How do you become part of THE church; how do you become a Christian? I am so glad you asked. The answer is simple. By being born again. Those aren’t my words, they are Jesus’. He spoke them to a Jewish leader named Nicodemus…

1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:1-3 (ESV)

Jesus derails Nicodemus’ purpose for coming with a stunning and confusing statement, “You must be born again.” For a long time the phrase “born again” was used to label Christians who are sold out or especially faithful. Not’s so much now, but for many years it was a phrase heard in the news.

Jesus himself didn’t use it to classify a group of followers, he used to explain how we all must come to God; what must happen if we want to see his kingdom.

4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. John 3:4-6 (ESV)

Jesus said that unless you are born twice you cannot enter God’s kingdom. The first birth we all know. The physical birth that takes place when a woman’s water breaks. But there is another kind of birth, spiritual birth.

Ray Stedman says, “These then are the words which Jesus highlighted: "Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." A new birth is absolutely essential to enter the kingdom. John uses a very interesting word here that is translated "anew," or "again." It is the Greek word, anothen, which has three meanings: It means again to do it a second time; it also means to begin radically, completely, a new beginning; and it also means from above, and it is used in that sense in other places in Scripture. It signifies God must do this. The Christian understanding of this word includes all three of those meanings. It is speaking of something radical, a new beginning. It is a second birth, but it comes from above. It is God that does it, not man; and it results in a new creation, a new beginning.”[4]

Back to Jesus and Nicodemus…

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  John 3:7–8 (ESV) 

Physical birth is observable. You can watch it happen. I did with all three of my girls.

Spiritual birth on the other hand, can’t be observed. It’s like the wind, you can’t see it, but you know it’s there. When someone is born again into God’s kingdom, you can’t watch it happen but you know it did. When a person becomes a Christian, they are transformed, and it’s so radical Jesus describes it as being born again.

And how does that happen? How are you born again? Jesus explained it this way in his encounter with Nicodemus. Maybe you’re familiar with this…

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (ESV)

Becoming part of the THE church by being born again isn’t complicated and it doesn’t require anything on our part beyond believing and trusting in Jesus, who did all the work. Collin Hansen & Jonathan Leeman, in their newly published book, Rediscovering Church (from which I’ve adapted this series), write…

Nicodemus had expected that you could enter the kingdom of God only if you observed God’s law and its extensive stipulations on work and rest, clean and unclean food, and various animal sacrifices. Jesus summed up the law in a revolutionary and simple way: believe in me, and I will give my life for you.

Jesus would go on to explain that his eventual death on the cross, which appeared to be his defeat, was actually God’s plan to satisfy justice and forgive sin. And he proved it in his resurrection from the dead. All who put their faith in Jesus will follow him after death into heaven. When this world ends, their bodies will be resurrected, and they will enjoy eternity as Jesus reigns in God’s kingdom. All who believe in Jesus will be saved from God’s judgment for sin. But those who deny him will suffer eternal punishment for disobedience (John 3:36).

Later, the apostle Paul would put it this way: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

The first time we were born, we inherited sin from our parents, going all the way back to the original rebellion of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3). That’s why we must be born again, so that we will not die without hope. We need to be saved from the consequences of sin, which are eternal death and separation from God our Creator. But just as we did not ask to be born the first time, only our Creator can cause us to be born again. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3).

The faith to believe in Jesus, then, is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). And it’s a gift God delights to give to those who ask. It comes to all who repent or turn away from their sins and put all their faith in nothing and no one but Jesus Christ.[5]

I could not have put that any better!

The prerequisite for belonging is being born again. Here’s something incredible about that. When we are born again and become part of THE church, we are somehow re-birthed as God’s actual sons and daughters. The Bible says…

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,  John 1:12 (ESV)

14 Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. 15 God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. 16 God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. 17 His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him.  Romans 8:14–17 (CEV)

1 Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are. But since the people of this world did not know who Christ is, they don’t know who we are. 2 My dear friends, we are already God’s children, though what we will be hasn’t yet been seen. But we do know that when Christ returns, we will be like him, because we will see him as he truly is.  1 John 3:12 (CEV)

Okay. If, as part of THE church, we become God’s children, then that makes all his sons and daughters FAMILY. Belonging in THE church is about belonging to a family.

Which means that when you belong to A church, you are a part of something so much more than a club or society because if we are family as THE church then we are family as A church.

We often refer to our church as our church “family.” That’s more Biblical and appropriate than we probably realized. Here’s the thing about family. Family is family, right?

You may not like Uncle Jimbo’s conspiracy theories shared at the Thanksgiving table but he’s what? Family. You may not be able stand the way Nanny Jo spits her snuff in a cup every Christmas but she’s what? Family.

It should be the same for church family. I’m going to be honest with you. It hasn’t been like that from what I’m seeing overall. I think that’s why what’s happened in the church over the last few years and especially the last few months has been so incredibly hard.

Here’s something else. Look with me in Matthew 22, where the Sadducees — who don’t believe in the resurrection — tried to outsmart Jesus with a riddle…

23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.  Matthew 22:23–30 (ESV)

I’m not going to pretend I understand all Jesus meant here, but I do think it’s safe to say our earthly family relationships are altered somehow in the new heaven and earth, they don’t carry over exactly. But our family ties as brothers and sisters in Christ do.

The bond we have together as church family right here transcends the bonds of our earthly family. Something to ponder.

Conclusion: Church is about belonging and we are A church, Pleasant View First Baptist Church, not a building but one of a number of local gatherings of Christ-followers in the area, part of a much bigger group, THE church. We are family. When you belong here you belong to family.

That means if this campus and everything on it disappeared overnight, Pleasant View First Baptist Church would be intact and untouched. That also means if circumstances such as weather or, I don’t know, say a pandemic, kept us from meeting in person for a while, Pleasant View First Baptist Church, we would be okay. 

As we close let me ask you this? Have you been born again? Would you like to be? All you have to do is call upon the Lord, Jesus has handled the hard part. 

13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Romans 10:13 (ESV)

Christian, have you thought much about what it means to belong to THE church, to A church? Is that something you should pray about this week?

[3] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 303). University of Chicago Press.

[4] Ray C. Stedman, Born of the Spirit, Series: The Gospel of John , Message No: 8

Catalog No: 3838, Date: May 15, 1983

[5] Hansen, C. (2021). Who Can Belong to a Church? In Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ Is Essential (p. 36). Crossway.

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church