9 things you need to know about Jesus’ vision for the church. Hybels and Eldredge got it wrong. Bono got it right.

9 things you need to know about Jesus’ vision for the church. Hybels and Eldredge got it wrong. Bono got it right.

Bono and Bill
Bono and Bill

Mega church pastor Bill Hybels claims that:

“The hope of the world is not government, academia, business, but the church because it is to the church that God has entrusted the message of salvation, which truly changes people’s lives and hearts.”

Bill believes the most important thing about the church is our message.

Bill is wrong.

The message is important… but it is not the most important thing about the church, or the most important gift the church has for the world.

Bill is not alone though… Most of us have an inadequate picture of the profound nature of what the church is meant to be. I certainly did.

For 20 years I led a mission organisation, and not having a clear and strong understanding of the purpose of the church was a problem, because I often found more hope and life in the fellowship and faith I found in Fusion than in my local church.

I am very grateful to the different churches that have supported Leeanne and I on our journey

I am not saying that my experience of church has been all negative. As my faith became my own,  a series of local churches were foundational in my own life. I would not be the same person had it not been for the Broken Hill Church of Christ, Gormandale Gospel Chapel, Lindisfarne Gospel chapel, Margate Christian Church,  New Peninsula Baptist church,  Poatina community church, Calvary church , who all cared for my family and I in profound ways.

Although each of these churches has been important in my own journey, I need to confess that I had very limited understanding of why the church is  important.

It has only been since I have been reading, studying and working as a Pastor at St. Albert Alliance church that I can see the gap between what the church is meant to be and the picture most of us have.

For 60 years we have thought that the job of the church was to communicate a message. The job of the church is so much bigger and more exciting than that.

To catch a glimpse of why the church is important, we need to turn to the Bible and let ourselves hear the multi-faceted and profound picture it paints.

There are 9 things in particular that I think anyone who goes to church needs to know about the vision and mission that they are part of.

The first is that ambivalence about the church is not really an option for Christ followers. The Bible teaches that Jesus loves the church and is the focus of his action:

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. (Ephesians 5:25-28)
The second is that Jesus had a very clear vision for the church that looks quite different to the once a week Sunday service that most of us would call “church”.
Jesus makes it clear that the church he is wanting to build, is a group of people whose relationships are so changed and the way they live is so reflective of His character, that everyone around them would see the truth of His claims:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.  I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:20-23)
This vision for the church that Jesus unpacks in John 17 has often been misunderstood, mainly because it calls for quite a different kind of church than most of us are used to.
In the Western World we prize individuality, and Jesus seems to be speaking directly against our most normal impulses.
Popular author John Eldredge is an example of someone who reads this text in a normal, but wrong, way when he says (in his book Moving Mountains):
The passage primarily focusses on protection and union with God. (It is not, as is often mistakenly used, a passage about church unity; the text is very clear that Jesus is talking about our union with him.)
Elderedge is right, the text is very clear, but it is talking about unity. It is clear in the English, it is clear in the Greek. Simple reference works such as the NIV, or NET Study Bible Notes make it clear, as do more expansive resources such as the Word, Pillar, NIV Application or Expositors Commentaries. No matter how you look at it, Jesus has a vision for the church that involves revolutionary relationships that challenge the status quo.
What those of us who care deeply about individuality need to understand though, is that the one-ness that Jesus talks about (one like He and the Father are one), is a reflection of the trinity and not a reflection of conformity.
We are called to a oneness that enhances and doesn’t squash individuality.
This is the third thing that we need to understand about the church: we are all individuals and that is how it is meant to be. From the beginning of time, God knew you were going to be here, and he had a particular job that he created for you to do:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
At the end of His time on earth, Jesus said to his followers:
“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
His work is now our work, and each one of us has a particular way His work is expressed though our lives. We are each unique, and it was always meant to be that way.
The fourth thing is that God’s work in his church is to take all these unique, individual pieces and build them together into a house where he actually lives:
You are members of God’s family.  Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord (Ephesians 2:19-21)
The reason God is building all these different pieces into one church, is the sixth thing we need to understand, that as we reflect the one-but-not-the-same life of the Trinity to the world, what we are actually doing, is making God’s wisdom known:
God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord (Ephesians 3:10-11)
This is why the church is so important. It is not about our message, it’s about who we are. We are to be a reflection of the life of the Tri-une God.
When people see us, they should see something different, not just hear something different. They should see ambassadors of a wholly different authority system, who live according to a wholly different pattern of life.
The seventh thing we need to know about the church is that the purpose of the leadership of the church is to equip every member of the church to find their unique place in this wholly different way of life:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
The eighth thing we need to understand is that Jesus is the functional head of the church, not figurehead. It is He who is at work helping all the diverse parts to fit together. Our biggest job is to learn to be honest, to “speak the truth in love”:
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:15 -16)
The final thing we need to come to terms with is that this one-but-not-the-same revolutionary way of life asks something of those people who call themselves Christians. We need to commit to a local church, and we need to do the work to get along with each other.
When we are baptized, we are not only baptized “into” all that Jesus has done for us (Romans 6:2-4, Colossians 2:12), we are baptized “into” a church family:
 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)
The idea of being baptized into the church gives a profound weight to our engagement with a local congregation.  Most of us pick a church that “feels right” and move on to something else when that is no longer true. The Apostle Paul would have been bewildered by our consumer-like approach to church.
As we understand the bible’s take on what the church is, we start to understand that we need to see our church as a body of which we are an indispensable part, despite the difficulties that always come when different people that come together.  This is what Paul was often trying to communicate in his letters:
Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part.  If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. (1 Corinthians 12: 14-20)
So we need to commit. We need to be ourselves, and help others to be themselves, rather than make them adapt in oder to make life easier for us. It is this “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) kind of fellowship that is right at the heart of what it means to make God’s wisdom known to the cosmos.
As you start to catch the significance of fellowship in the midst of diversity for the church, it becomes clear why relationship breakdown is such a big deal.
The Apostle John says you can’t love God and hate a brother or sister in Christ. Our relationships are that big of a deal:
If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. (1 John 4:20 – 5:1)
So what does all of this mean? We need to start seeing the church not as a service to meet our needs, but a family for whom we bear responsibility. As the book of Hebrews puts it:
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
As you start to read all these verses, it becomes clear that the way our culture has shaped the church is just a pale imitation of what the church is intended to be.
This kind of church not only has a message for the world, but changes the world through living a wholly different, deeper and more real life than those who haven’t yet discovered Jesus and his vision.
It has taken me 25 years of ministry, reading lots of books and masters level theological study, to  start to cast off my default cultural assumptions about a boring church that happens once a week, for 90 minutes, in a boring building. I love the revolutionary truth of what the church is meant to be.
As it turns out, the core truth that the bible is trying to communicate about Jesus’s vision for the church is very well captured by U2’s most famous song:
“One life
With each other
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other”
My heart rises as I see the church that Jesus prayed for. That’s the church I want to be part of.
How about you?

I'd love to hear what you think...

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