Have you ever wondered what exactly the church is? We know where the building is and we know what we are to do on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, but do we really have an understanding of how the scripture talks about the church and about what God is calling her to be in these days? I want to spend some time talking about how the church is not a building but a body, and how we can let go of some of our assumptions and priorities in order to agree better with the Father’s heart for his people.
Matthew 16:18 is the first use of the word “church” in the New Testament. In it, Jesus says, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overpower it.” The word church here is ekklesia, which means “the called-out ones.” So Jesus says he will build his church—the assembly of the called-out ones—and the gates of hell will not overpower it.
Now, I know the word of God is true, and I know he watches over it to perform it. I also believe everything written in the word will come to pass, but it seems to me that in this season the gates of hell are prevailing against what the world calls the “church.”
There are four ways the New Testament talks about the church.
Matthew 16:18 refers to the church in the whole earth. When Jesus looks down from heaven, what does he see? He sees his church. He doesn’t just see all these different forms of what the world calls the church. He sees THE church.
Let me ask you this: How many churches are there? One. How many heads are there? One. How many bodies are there? Just one. How many members are there? Many. There is one church that Jesus gave his life for, and then he prayed “that they all may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:21, paraphrase).
The second place church is mentioned in the scripture is in Acts 9:31. It says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace.” This passage refers to the church in a region or the church in a larger area. So we start with the church in the whole earth that Jesus built, and then we see here that that church can be seen in a region and identified as the church in a large area.
The third time scripture mentions the church is in Acts 13:1, when referring to the church in Antioch. Here it talks about the church in a particular city. So again we start with the church in the whole earth, and in that church are churches in the region. In the church in the region, there are churches in a city. And then Romans 16:3-5, Colossians 4:15, and Philippians 2 all talk about the church that meets in a house. So even here in the midst of the city, you have a form of the church meeting in homes. So there are different forms of the church, but they are all still what? The church in the whole earth—the called-out ones.
There is one church; there is one body. There is one head, but there are many members in the different forms of the church. But there is still just one church. Jesus died for the whole earth, and anyone who believes in his heart and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord is part of his church. Jesus is building his church, which is his bride.
When the Bible speaks of church or a church, it is always referring to a group of believers, never a building. It’s never referring to denominations. The church is the people.
Who is the church? We are the church. When you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you become part of his church—the church that he is building. And the gates of hell cannot overpower it.
When I was growing up we sang a little song.
Here is the church.
Here is the steeple.
Open the door.
Here’s all the people.
Remember that one? Most of us when we close our eyes and think of church see steeples on top of a building because that is the tradition we have been taught. We have been taught that when God speaks of the church, he speaks of the building. NO! When God speaks of the church, he speaks of the people. Jesus didn’t die for brick and mortar. Jesus is not coming back for brick and mortar. We are the living stones that he is building together for his own holy habitat.
A while back I asked a group of believers, “How many of you think this building is the church?”
They raised their hands.
Then I asked, “Well, how many of you believe in the rapture?”
They raised their hands.
So I said, “Well, you’re in trouble because if Jesus is coming back for this building and you are not in it when he does then you’ve got a situation. You’d better hang out 24/7 in this building.”
When Jesus comes back, he is not coming back for the building. He is coming back for me. He is coming back for you. He is coming back for all those that confess him as Lord and Savior. Jesus is coming back for his people, and the church is his people.
Again, when the Bible talks about the church, it is always talking about a group of people that believes in Jesus.
Now that we have established that the church is people and not a building, let’s talk about the design of the church, the body.
(Side note: It is important to remember that the church is not a spider web, either, which is what most people are building. The main purpose of a spider web is to catch food to feed the spider. I guess a spider web is not bad thing—if you are the spider, that is. But if you are not the spider, then you are just food to feed the spider. I will talk more about this another time.)
Ephesians 1:22 says, “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Now, I know the Father is an old man now; he has been around a long time. I don’t think he is senile, though. Do you? I think he knows what he is doing. And he has written here, by the Holy Spirit, that he has put all things in subjection under his feet. And he gave him—who is him? Jesus—as head over all things to the church, which is his body and the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Who is the head? Jesus.
Who is the body? We are.
How many heads are there? One.
How many bodies are there? One.
Colossians 1:18 says, “He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the head of his body.
Aren’t you glad that your natural body doesn’t have more than one head? Think about it this way: Sometimes my ear itches. My head tells my finger that my ear itches and tells it to scratch it. My finger goes right to my itchy ear and scratches it. Does your body do that? When your ear itches does your head tell your finger to scratch it? Does your finger go to it and scratch it? See, the natural body has no problem relating to the head. My body understands that my head rules the rest of my body.
I wish the spiritual body acted the same way the natural body acts. When the head— who is Jesus—tells the finger to scratch the itchy ear, what most often happens? If Jesus tells the finger (which might be the Baptists) to scratch the ear (which might be the Methodists), the finger often says, “Now, wait a minute. You know that ear has been hearing some things it doesn’t need to hear. It’s been listening to some things I don’t agree with. So I won’t obey what the head is telling me to do. I’m making a judgment against it, because it must be the devil telling me to scratch that itchy ear because Jesus wouldn’t tell me to scratch something I don’t agree with.”
Or, when the head tells the finger to scratch the ear, does the toe immediately jump up to do the job because it wants to be the finger and in its rebellion cause jealousy and envy and striving with the finger?
Christ is the head of the body, and his body must understand that it is under his rulership.
So Christ is the head of his one body, the church, but we know from 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 that the body has many members: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks.” Whether Baptist or Methodist, whether Pentecostal or Catholic, whether tongue talkers or no-tongue talkers, “we were all baptized into one body, whether slave or free”—whether blue or green—“we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” Isn’t that what it says? It says we were all made and all baptized into the one body.
For the body is not one member, but many. Let’s look more at 1 Corinthians 12:14-26. You should probably just open your Bible to it because I’m not going to write it all out here.
The body is designed so that we need one another. God didn’t make the natural body to be independent of itself, did he? If you lose your arm, can your body still function? Yes, but it is weakened. If my right arm was not there, the rest of my body would adjust, but there would be some things I couldn’t do and that arm would be sorely missed. But in the spiritual body, we just cut off the arm because we don’t like it and we don’t ever miss it. Isn’t that an amazing contrast? Remember, the word says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are all one body, so also is Christ.”
What is the church? The people. Who is the head? Jesus. How many members are there? Many. Does every member have the same function? No. Each part of the spiritual body is needed by every other part in the same way that each part of the physical body is needed by every other part. We need each other. As Ephesians 4:16 says, in my own paraphrase, That which every joint supplies brings the fullness of the Father. I can’t bring the full manifold wisdom of God; I can just bring my portion.
Colossians 3:24 says that there is an inheritance stored up in the saints. I am a selfish man. I want all that God has for me, so I love relationships because in my relationships I get to tap into the inheritance that is stored up in you; I get to tap into the resource of the gift that you are to me. You can see why the devil doesn’t want the body to fellowship with one another because when we begin to fellowship with one another and every joint begins to supply its portion, then the body is healthy.
When I go to a doctor because my chest hurts the doctor checks me over and then he says, “Drop your drawers.”
I say, “Doc, my bottom is not hurting. It is my chest that is hurting.” But I drop my drawers and he sticks a needle in my derriere. And now I leave with my derriere hurting, too. But all of a sudden the medicine he gave me begins to go through my body to the infected area and that infected area starts to feeling better. The derriere had to suffer a little bit to bring healing to what needed healing.
But what happens in the spiritual body?
In the “church” that man has built, when one parts hurts the other parts rejoice and judge them and say, “Praise God, we are not like that part of the body. Lord, we knew we were right and they were wrong. Judge them some more.”
Those parts are not willing to be the “derriere” that gets the shot. They rejoice when others suffer.
We don’t understand the body of Christ. We are joined one to another. We are not independent of one another. We are connected to one another. When you are independent—when you are cut off from the rest of the body—are you still part of the body? Yes. Is there any life going to you? No, because there is no joint and no connection. What happens to a part of the natural body that is cut off? It dies. It stinketh. It is not good for anything. And there is a lot of the spiritual body that stinks because it is not connected and it is not related to the rest. It is not joined one to another. How can the Father bless that which is isolated?
When you pray for revival and ask the Father to do something and then he starts doing it down the street at another part of the body, you get mad. You say, “Well, Father? Why aren’t you doing it here? Those people don’t even believe in what you are doing. Why are you doing it there?” Because you have asked Jesus to do something in his body. The truth is, often we pray that Jesus do something in our building. But when he starts building his church, we get mad because it is not in our facility.
In the human body, one part never desires to hurt another. In my body, there is not one part that desires to hurt another part of my body. There have been times when I have been building something and I take a hammer and I hit a finger. My one hand drops that hammer and it goes to the finger and it says, “Oh! I am sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I am hurting with you.”
But in the spiritual body, when that hammer hits that finger, we say, “Praise God! Thank you for judging the finger, Lord. Hit them again.” I promise you that if I had a hammer and I hit you in the finger, you are not going to tell me to hit you again. It is amazing that the natural body responds to one another but the spiritual body does not.
Ephesians 4:15-16 says, “We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” If we are to understand that we are to grow up in all aspects into him, which is Jesus, the head, then we understand that everything we are to grow up into is him, not our denominations. We are not to grow up into our interpretations of scripture. We are not to grow up into our understanding of what we think we might know, but we are to grow up into Jesus. And when you grow up into Jesus, then you are going to have relationship one with another.
When I was saved, I was a lover of people. I loved everybody. If they knew Jesus, I loved them. Then all of a sudden, people started to warn me: “Well, you need to watch those people over there because those people over there believe that people can have a demon,” or “You need to watch those people over there because they believe you can speak in tongues,” or “You need to watch those people over there because they believe that God can still heal today.” So instead of remaining a lover, I became a watcher. Then I started limiting my fellowship to people that agreed with me. I would test them in my mind: Do you agree with me in this? Yeah? OK, then I can fellowship with you. Do you agree with me in that? No? Oh, well. I have been told to watch out for you, anyway.
There is stupidity in thinking that I have all of the truth. This is my 40th year in the ministry and I am still learning the ways of the Lord. When I think I know something, then the Holy Spirit gives me more understanding and I realize that I didn’t even know what I thought I knew. (However, there are two things I know for sure: The Father loves me, and the Father is killing me. He wants me to be like Jesus, and he has been faithful in both of those areas.)
Let me reiterate this: We should be connected enough that when one part suffers, all suffer. When one part rejoices, all rejoice.
Another way the Bible talks about God’s people is as Christ’s building, a spiritual building.
Ephesians 2:19-22 says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself, being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
Where does God dwell? In the church! Where is the church? You are looking at it, baby!
The body of Christ—the temple of the Holy Ghost—dwells in me. Life is in me. Life is not in the building. Jesus lives within you. You are the expression of God on the earth, too. You are the expression of Jesus Christ on the earth. The facility you worship in isn’t the expression of Jesus on the earth. You are.
I mean, my goodness, the world drives by and they see all these buildings that say, this is the first holy church, this is the second holy church, this is the full gospel and fire and brimstone church, this is the first apostolic church, this is the what-whoever-knows church. And the world looks at all these divisions and says, “Wow, you all are dysfunctional.” And unfortunately, they also say that the church is especially dysfunctional if they have the Holy Ghost because then they have the power and they use that power to discriminate against one another, to hurt one another, to pray soulish prayers over one another. (That is why it is good to pray in tongues; you are praying the Father’s perfect plan for those you are interceding for.)
And I Peter 2:5 says, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus.”
Each stone is an important part to the whole structure. What happens if a stone is missing in a wall? There is a hole there. Think about it this way: If you look at a brick wall you can see that each brick has a personal relationship with usually six other bricks. If you start removing bricks, then all the bricks around it are going to be weakened.
Just like bricks or building stones that come in every shape and size and color, living stones—the people of God—are also very different from one another. They have different gifts and different personalities. Aren’t you glad that everyone is not like you?
A man told me one time that if everyone was exactly alike or if even two people were exactly alike then one of them is not needed. It would be a scary place if everyone was like me. So why do we try to bring everyone to be like us instead of to bring them into being complete in Christ? Just like every part of the physical body has a function to perform, every part of the spiritual body has a function to perform. Each member has a role, a duty, that is critical to the life of the body of Christ, the church. Each member must contribute his part. Each member is needed. Each member is unique. We need to supply our part to the body of Christ.
Romans 12:6-8 says, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who show mercy, with cheerfulness.“
So the question is: What is your part?
What is the grace that God has given you?
What has God predestined you to be in Christ before the beginning of the earth?
What has he called you to be?
Here is an example. If you are the toilet cleaner, have the best toilets in town. I know I appreciate it when there is toilet paper and the bathroom smells good. If I go in the bathroom and it is clean and the floor is dry and there is paper in it, I think, “Praise God! Lord bless whoever cleaned this bathroom.” It ought to be a salvation experience for the lost when they go into a bathroom because you did your job. It is your ministry to be the toilet man because you are going to clean that toilet as unto the Lord, with all your might and with all your strength. It is going to be the “righteousest” toilet in the county. When people go in there, they’ll come face to face with a loving God because you are praying over that toilet, “Lord, I pray that everyone that comes into this bathroom will be confronted by your love and your goodness and your mercy. Lord, everyone that washes their hands in this sink, let them be cleansed with the blood of your Son and the love that you have.” Anoint that bathroom with prayer because that is your portion.
I know what you are saying: “You mean I just have bathroom ministry?”
Well, praise God! If that is what you have grace for, then do it.
“Well,” you say, “I want to be in front.”
No, you don’t want to be in front. You don’t want to pay the price to be in a place you don’t have grace for. You can only do what God has given you grace to do. You can only be where God has placed you. The word says that God places the members of the body where HE sees fit. You don’t even have a right to what you want to be.
Look. I Corinthians 12:4 says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
Ephesians 4:1-3 says, “Therefore, I, the prisoner for the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
How many parts of the body are there? Many.
How many bodies are there? One.
How many heads does the body have? One.
The natural body can understand that. If we could get the simplicity of the natural body and translate that to the spiritual body, we will quit devouring one another. We will quit being jealous of one another. We will quit envying and striving with one another. We will get our minds off of the temporal things as the measure of our success and onto the eternal purpose that God has created us for, which is to bring glory and honor unto him, and to establish and make disciples that growth might come.
If the world sees the church judging one another, they will know that God sent his Son. Is that what the word says? Oh, when the world sees the church killing one another, they will know that God sent his Son? No, it says that when the world sees the church loving one another, they will know that God sent his son (John 17:21).
The devil knows. When the body becomes the body and the church becomes the church and it begins to walk in relationship and accountability and begins seeing the head (Christ) glorified, the devil will know his days are numbered because the world will know that God sent his Son because they see us loving one another. They see us working together, not as a dysfunctional body but as one body with one purpose: to fulfill the head’s call.
Are we going to get there? I believe we are. Is it going to be in my generation? I don’t know. Am I going to be able to see it? I don’t know. I am praying that I will see it. I know it is the heart of God, but what is it going to take? It is going to take us dying to ourselves and abiding in him, abiding in the branch. Unless we abide in him, we can’t be the expression of him (John 15).
So church, be the church. If you have heard anything from me, be joined to one another. Have a vision larger than yourself. Have the heart of the Father for your area and begin to work together.
Is everyone going to meet in the same building? No.
Is everybody going to have the same doctrine? No.
Is everybody going to be in agreement? No.
But can everybody can walk in fellowship in the Lord Jesus Christ? Yes!
If we have to back up to only knowing Jesus Christ and him crucified, we can fellowship there together. If that is where we have our point of relationship, I am willing. Am I going to put you down because you don’t do what I do? No! You can’t walk in things until God gives you the grace to do them.
You can’t be what someone else is. You can only be who you are. Quit expecting people to come to your level when you don’t live up to it yourself. Quit expecting people to believe in your doctrine when you don’t even know what it is. There is only one way to the Father, and that is through Jesus. There is only one way for forgiveness of sin, and that is with the shedding of his blood. If that is all you can fellowship in, that is enough because it is eternal. Let’s see how we can begin to relate to one another instead of being divided from one another. Let’s begin to see how we can join with one another instead of being separated from one another. Let’s begin to see what the heart of Father is for our cities.
I pray that the amazing grace of the master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God the Father, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.