This article is about the Church. Not the church as it often is, but the Church as it originally was and can be -- yes, must be -- again. There is no reason why the Church in the twenty-first century should not be what it was in the first century. True Christianity operates now on exactly the same basis that it did then. The same dynamic impact described in the book of Acts is possible today.
The major factor that keeps this from happening today is ignorance. Most of us are tragically unaware of the biblical pattern for the operation of the Church. The essential need then is that we should rediscover the biblical pattern. As one modern sign puts it, "When all else fails, follow directions." When we turn back to the Scriptures we are returning to reality.
In Ephesians Paul gives these instructions to the Church: fulfill your calling, don't deviate from the divine strategy, obey your orders, follow your Head. For the Church is not a human institution. It does not devise its own strategy and set its own goals. It is not an independent organization, existing by means of the strength of its numbers. It is, rather, a body called into a special relationship to God. The Church is a body under the control of its Head. What a tragedy it is when the body refuses to respond to the direction of its head! The Church is also a temple, for the exclusive habitation and use of a Person who dwells within and has the right to do with that temple whatever He wills. The Church is an army under the command of its King. An army that will not obey its leader is useless as a fighting force. If that army is to give intelligent obedience to its king, it must give highest priority to understanding what it is he wants it to be and do.
God's first concern is not what the Church does, but what the Church is:
"He has put all things under Christ's feet and has made Him the head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."
Ephesians 1:22, 23
This is a tremendous statement. It says that all that Jesus Christ is, is to be seen in His Body which is the Church.
"...we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grown into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. And here is the holy mystery of the Church -- it is the dwelling place of God. He lives in His people. That is the great calling of the Church -- to make visible the invisible Christ."
And just how is Jesus made visible? Through the gifts that He has given to the members of His Body. The spiritual gifts are a manifestation of His Spirit. The gifts are the divine provision for the operation of the Church. It is the entire Body of believers who must work, there is no other way.
"When we compare the present day church to the original blueprint [the Divine Original] it is strikingly apparent that many deviations have been permitted which are detrimental to the life of the Church... there came terrible distortions from which we are suffering greatly today. The popular thinking fastened upon the building as the identifying symbol of the Church and emphasis was put upon great imposing structures and massive cathedrals. In the beginning, 'working in the church' meant to exercise a gift or perform a [God-given] ministry among Christian people wherever they were, but gradually it came to mean doing some religious act within a building.
Along with this there came a gradual transfer of responsibility from the people to what was termed 'the clergy', which is a term derived from the Latin 'clericus' meaning 'priest.' The Scriptural concept that every believer is a priest before God was gradually lost and a special body emerged and came to be termed 'the ministry'... In the early church there was never a single pastor (elder, overseer) but several. Nor were these men who always devoted their full time to the ministry. There were not church bosses or final authorities. There are to be examples. When they themselves obey the word, others are motivated to follow.
When the entire body of believers, equipped and guided by the Holy Spirit, do the work of the Body of Christ, the whole body stirs with resurrection power."
"God never used the old creation to construct the new creation. Neither does God use that which is of man to construct that which is of God. It's all about the Source -- this is the whole issue: from where does it originate? If it isn't out of Christ, it isn't the Church. If it has another Lord than Jesus, it isn't the Church. From eternity God purposed to obtain a Church containing no impurity of man, no element of earth, nor any savor of sin; every part of the Church is out of Christ."