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DISCERNING THE BODY OF CHRIST

 

By Dr. Richard B. W. Ing

May 15, 2004

 

Why go to church?  Many Christians don’t believe in going to church on Sundays or other days during the week.  Some claim that they get a lot out of watching TV preachers and don’t think they have to go to church.  They will never grow into perfection in Jesus Christ.

The church is the place where the saints are guided into perfection in Jesus.  It is a place where we learn the Word and even more importantly, how to live the Word.  It is where we pray together and work together, where hearts are bonded and lives are intertwined. 

There is a reason and an intent behind the church, what it does and why.  It all has to do with God’s eternal purposes.  From even before God created Adam and Eve, He desired and purposed in His heart to have sons and daughters conformed unto His image.  Ro. 8:29.  The work of redemption on the Cross was to allow His purposes to be fulfilled.  Secondly, He wanted a Church of saints bonded together in love and power, a Church that had its own identity as a living organism having a life of its own.  It is for these two reasons that God gave us the five-fold ministry. 

        And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of  the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of ChristEph. 4:11-13.  (Underlining added)

These two purposes cannot be attained without the diligent assembling of the saints and a clear understanding of why we were called.

While it is true that it is God who changes our hearts, by and through His Holy Spirit, God uses the five-fold ministry and other people to facilitate change.  The five-fold ministry is used “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry.”  They are also used “for the edifying of the body of Christ till we all come in the unity of the faithunto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”   God doesn’t simply wave a magic wand and change hearts.  His desire is that we cooperate and partner with Him to accomplish the task.  His leaders are facilitators of His purposes.  That means both leaders and saints play a major role in perfecting each other and bringing unity to the Church.

BONDING TOGETHER

Agreement or unity is the source of power.  There is something supernatural that occurs when two or more agree together.  The more perfect the agreement, the more perfect the unity and power.  This principle applies whether we are talking about Christians or heathens.  In Genesis 11:1: “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.”  God saw that the people began to build a tower to reach unto heaven.  Gen. 11:3-5.  In verse 6, God said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.”   There is incredible power in unity!  It is a spiritual principle.

God said, “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they  may not understand another’s speech.  So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of the earth: and they left off to build the city.”  Gen. 11:7-8.  When the people could not understand each other, unity was destroyed, the power was dissipated and the people were unable to accomplish what they wanted to do.

Unity is so powerful, that where unity is present even God is persuaded to command the blessing, even life forever more!  Ps. 133:1-3.  Good things happen when there is unity in the Church!

Jesus said, “That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.”  Mt. 18:19. 

This principle was meant for the Church to understand and pursue.  Where there is unity, there is power.  In Deuteronomy 32:30, the Bible says, “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except their Rock had sold them, and the Lord had shut them up?”  In other words, one can chase a thousand and two can put ten thousand to flight because the Lord has done it for them.  He will confirm his principle time and again.

THE POWER IN THE GODHEAD

1 John 5:7 says, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”  The power of the Godhead is found it the perfect oneness of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Where there is perfect unity, there is perfect power.

1 John 5:8 goes on to say, “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.”  The phrases, “bear record,” and “bear witness” refer to the testimony and evidence that they are one.  Unity brings power. 

In a very real sense, if we are to be like God, we need to be in perfect unity and agreement one with the other.

DEFEATING THE DEMONIC KINGDOM

“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”  Mt. 12:25.  A church that is divided against itself shall not stand.  Satan knows that and constantly tries to keep churches and denominations divided against each other and the members of any one church in constant  conflict and disunity.  He knows that when the church is united, the kingdom of darkness will fall.  In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “… I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  It is the Church that will tear down the gates of hell.  No individual or group of disconnected individuals will be able to defeat the demonic kingdom.  It will take a united Church to do it.  The good news is that God is going to have a true church and army that will move in perfect unison whether or not you and I are in it.  Joel 2:7, 8. 

It has always been the eternal purpose of God that He will have a Church whose members are totally united with each other and Him, that will put the kingdom of darkness under its feet.  Rev. 12:1.

WHO OWNS YOU?

In reality, the moment we were converted, we belonged to God, redeemed by His Blood, and our lives no longer are ours to obey or not obey at our sole option.  As Paul said, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.”  Gal. 2:20.  We were placed into the body of Christ, both physical and spiritual.  Like it or not, each of us are members of one body in Christ and the spiritual health, maturity and unity of that body is directly affected by each of us. 1 Co. 12:12-27.  We are to be one.  You need me and I need you.  We all need one another and the actions or non-actions of each one affect the whole Church.  As in the physical, each part of the body must do its assigned task in harmony with the other members of the body for it to function as a whole.  We are no longer independent; we are totally dependent on one another and God.  We will never be able to attain the fullness of what God has in store for us until we discern the body of Christ and begin to honor and come into perfect agreement with God’s purposes.

JESUS IS COMING FOR A PERFECT CHURCH

While individual saints can become famous, it is the Church that the world looks to when they think of Christianity.  It is the Church that manifests all that Christ is in this world.  There is no other person or organization that represents Him.  The church is no mere gathering of saints for entertainment or social purposes.  It is a living organism that is intended by God to shine forth in the darkness and lead the world to Christ.  It is the Church that is designated by God to defeat the kingdom of darkness.  It is the Church that Jesus is coming back for.  Ephesians 5:25-27 says,

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it; that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Coming to church and attending functions is more than just seeking something for one’s self.  It is discerning the body of Christ.  It is the knowledge that Christ not only died to save us; He died for the Church.  The church is precious to the Lord.  He loves the church and died for it.  It is God’s eternal purpose that we as a church become the holy Bride of Christ.  Jesus is coming back for a Bride without spot, blemish or wrinkle.  Eph. 5:27.  We all, as individual saints, have a role and responsibility to build a Church that God will find acceptable.  Each one of us is a living stone in the building that is the Church and each of us has a definite role to perform in it in harmony and unity with all others in the same body.  It is not just an external function; it must be buried deep within our hearts.

THE PASTORS’ JOB

Since there are two major eternal purposes of God: (1) to have mature sons and daughters in His image (Ro. 8:29); and (2) a Church so united and powerful that she will be a worthy Bride for His Son (Eph. 5:27).  All pastors are called as under-shepherds to feed the sheep so that they can grow into spiritual maturity and become mature sons and daughters of God, filled with the Spirit and having the nature of God in their hearts.  Pastors are also called to bring the sons and daughters into unity of the Spirit and in love with one another so that the Church on earth will manifest the presence and power of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Bringing mature sons and daughters into being is only one-half of it.  Melding them together as a mighty Church, united by the Spirit in heart and soul is the other half.  All the activities of the church are designed to accomplish these two eternal purposes of God.

A good pastor doesn’t care about how big his church is, or how efficient the administration is.  He does not care if people obey him in the sense that he is not on an ego trip or wants to control people or force them to do things they don’t want to do.  His one desire is to guide, push, shove, encourage, chasten, scold - do whatever is reasonably necessary to mature the sheep and unite the local church.  Yes, the sheep will not like it, but that’s the pastor’s job.  Moses was not a bit concerned about people obeying him.  He was anxious that the people obeyed God through him.  He didn’t fear the people as much as he feared God.

Pastors will be judged on how the sheep have grown and how the church has come together.  He will not be judged on how big his church is, how much money and property they have and how many activities and churches he built.  God will hold him accountable for the condition of the souls God gave him and the state of the church.  “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”  Heb. 13:17. 

School teachers find that it is very difficult to teach students who are not interested in learning.  Day after day, a recalcitrant student will miss classes, refuse to do his homework and resist the teacher.  In the end, however, the teacher is held accountable for the low test scores that fall below the national average.  The powers that be will not ask if the students came from broken homes, suffer from poverty or need special education.  They will look only to the test scores.  Same with God.  That is why a good pastor or leader never gives up and prays for the sheep continually, weeping and grieving for them and doing whatever is necessary to change their rebellious and sometimes ignorant attitudes.

IT IS A QUESTION OF REVELATION AND ATTITUDE

Tuesday and Friday nights and other meetings are just like that.  Pastors know that many of those who do not attend are not interested in learning or improving their level of spiritual attainment and they know that many do not yet discern the body of Christ.  A shepherd is concerned about the sheep growing up into the image of Jesus Christ.  He is a guide who leads the sheep into the right paths.  Showing up on Tuesday nights or Fridays nights and doing things for the church is not an end, it is merely a means to an end.  The pastor doesn’t care that if only a few show up, or that it reflects on him.  He is only concerned that the sheep are growing up.  Attending church meetings is the evidence or external manifestation of what is in the heart.

It is true that not all those that show up at meetings are doing it out of loyalty, love and obedience.  Some are doing it because they fear censure or the pastor’s stare.  Others attend because they don’t want to lose their salvation and some want something for themselves.  Attendance at sessions does not guarantee that a person is loyal, diligent or supportive.  On the other hand, it is almost a guarantee that those who consistently do not attend sessions and have no legitimate excuse, do not discern the body of Christ and are not loyal, loving and obedient.  Showing up does not reveal as much as not showing up.  Of course, everyone tenders excuses, but after ten years the excuses become almost laughable.

Please do not misunderstand me.  Coming from a personal position, I have no desire that people obey me for the sake of control, loyalty to or support of me.  I am not out to prove that I am a great leader and in all truth I am probably a poor one.  I just want to obey God.  When the saints do not attend sessions (except those with valid excuses) and do not help one another, that indicates that they do not discern the body of Christ and have no desire to be a Church.  They see the church as just a loosely formed organization created for those who want to be religious and view themselves as having the liberty to attend functions at their sole option.  They see themselves as being in total control of their own lives.  They are wrong.

HOW DO YOU SHOW UNITY TOWARDS YOUR CHURCH?

It is true that commitment, loyalty and unity are not always apparent.  It is said that a chicken who gives an egg is loyal, but a pig that gives ham is committed.  Loyalty is relative and has different levels.  A famous story which is supposed to be true took place in a secret underground Christian prayer meeting in mainland China.  The door suddenly burst open and a Red Army soldier with an automatic weapon walked in.  “I’m going to kill all Christians!  If you’re not really a Christian, I’m going to give you a last chance to leave right now!  Three-fourths of the people ran out.  When the last one left, the soldier closed the door, put his rifle down and said, “Okay, now let’s get down to some serious worship.”  It may be true that some who remained were so petrified that their legs were locked in place and they could not flee, but it is sure that those who left were not loyal to God and the Church.

Some churches in the Philippines and all over the world actually require that all members attend each church function or forfeit their membership.  Again, it doesn’t prove much in the end because people have excuses and those who attend every function may be doing it because they fear losing their salvation.  In mainland China, attending illegal underground meetings is more meaningful.  You can lose your life!

When I was ministering in mainland China, my host told me, “We have guards and watchmen at every door and window.  If you see people running around and screaming, don’t worry.  It’s the authorities coming to arrest us.  But you’re an American, so you have nothing to worry about.”  Right.

WHY ATTEND MEETINGS?

Why attend meetings?  The short answer is - to support the church and show unity.  Each saint gets something different out of a meeting.  Some get nothing at all, except that they are there to support the church and show loyalty and unity.  That is one of the greatest reasons for attending sessions.  It is sacrifice and discerning the body.  When three-fourths of the members do not attend mid-week sessions, it causes division and bad feelings among those who do attend.  Not attending in and of itself can cause divisions.  At most meetings, the members present end up praying for the church and its welfare.  Some wonder, “How come we are the only ones praying for the church?  What about those who don’t attend?  They don’t care.  That’s unfair!“  Excuses such as, “I don’t have to attend all the meetings.  It is optional and anyway, I know everything already.  The church doesn’t need me to attend” are selfish.

Discerning the body of Christ is no small thing.  The apostle Paul heard of certain problems in the local church at Corinth.  In 1 Corinthians 11:18,19, Paul says, “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.  For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”   Paul recognized the existence of divisions and heresies among the members caused by the behavior of a few.  Those who do not have concern for the others in the church cause divisions, although unspoken, and justify their actions through erroneous attitudes or heresies.  Paul goes on to say,

       For in eating every one taketh before other his own supper: and one is hungry, and another is drunken.  What?  have you not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not?  What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this?  I praise ye not.  1 Co. 11:21,22.

Some would come to church early and eat and drink to their heart’s content, leaving almost nothing for those who came later.  They no doubt, justified it by saying or thinking, “Too bad.  The early bird gets the worm.  You snooze, you lose.”  This is heresy.  It is not a valid attitude according to God.  But Paul goes one step further.  He said, “… despise ye the church of God?”  What was it that Paul considered despising the church of God?  It was disunity!  It was the lack of love and consideration for the other members.  It was division.

After writing about the Lord’s Supper, Paul says,

       For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.  For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.  For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world.   1 Co. 11: 29-32.  (underlining added)

Because these members failed to discern the Lord’s body, many were sickly and weak and died.  Paul implied that it was God’s judgment for their failure to discern the body of Christ.  If they had judged their own actions, this judgment would not have come upon them.  But, even though they were judged on this matter, they would not be condemned with the world.  They did not lose their salvation, but they were chastened.

Discerning the body of Christ is no small matter.  God is determined to have a perfect church where each member is joined in perfect unity with all the others.  When people selfishly run to grab as much of the food as they can, without concern for the other members, they have no regard for the church as a whole.  When some do all the cleaning up after a pot luck dinner and others just sit on the side, there is a lack of concern for other members.  Since we are all members of the same body, they have no regard for the other parts of the body itself.  They fail to discern the body.  They fail to see that God loves the Church and will protect it.

Is refusal to attend church meetings or sessions when you have no excuse a failure to discern the body of Christ?  Does it show disunity, unconcern for the church and other members?  Is it disloyalty, lack of  submission and humility or even disobedience and lack of unity?  Is it disregard for the welfare of the church as a whole?  You decide.  You judge yourself.  After all, you are the one to be judged by God in the end.


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