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It’s great to be part of the family of God

By Byron D. Klaus

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of eight monthly articles on the 16 Foundational Truths of the Assemblies of God, written by faculty of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

"The Church is the Body of Christ, the habitation of God through the Spirit, with divine appointments for the fulfillment of her great commission. Each believer, born of the Spirit, is an integral part of the General Assembly and Church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven."

"A divinely called and scripturally ordained ministry has been provided by our Lord for the threefold purpose of leading the Church in evangelizing the world, worshiping God and building a body of saints being perfected in the image of His Son."

When each of our daughters was born my wife and I made sure that the finest medical services possible were present. But we weren’t through with our responsibilities once the children were safely brought into the world. We created a home where their lives were nurtured and they grew up in a supportive atmosphere that provided security and encouragement as they matured. Similarly, to be "born again" into a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ is to be birthed into a new life and a supportive family where maturity in a relationship with Jesus Christ can occur.

The word "church" conjures up a variety of images. Is the church a building where religious events take place? Is the church a club in which we choose to hold membership? None of these popular uses of the term "church" can describe it exactly because it is, most importantly, the spiritual community that we are placed into upon coming to Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

It is crucial that we allow the Bible to be our ultimate reference point. There are at least 80 descriptive images in the New Testament for the church. These biblical descriptions are not so much around institutional or structural terms. The clearest biblical references focus on people who have been reconciled to God through the saving work of Christ and now together are a community/family that belong to Him for His redemptive purposes.

The nature of the church
The church is a special group of people who are in relationship with God. God has initiated that relationship through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and is creating a community under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that represents God’s eternal purposes. Peter uses a poignant picture when he describes the church as the "people of God" (1 Peter 2:9,10, NIV). This term denotes a unique and special relationship with a community that represents God’s purposes to the rest of the world. Peter describes the people of God as a "chosen people" and a "holy nation" focusing on the God-ordained identity of His people to represent Him globally. Peter continues His description of the "people of God" by calling them a "royal priesthood" and "people belonging to God" with a divinely ordained purpose centered in the eternal redemptive plan of God.

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The church is not meant to be either a cozy club or an end in itself. Believers have a significant part to play in completing God’s work. To be part of God’s family is a privilege and a responsibility. Regardless of the individualism rampant in our world, our faith in Christ includes being active players in communities of faith called and empowered by the very presence of God giving visible testimony to God’s eternal purposes.

Paul regularly describes the church as the body of Christ. This metaphor is used in his writings in Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and Ephesians 4:11-16,25-32 to express the fact that the church is not merely a sociological entity or just a group of people who think alike. The body of Christ is a fellowship of interdependent believers that commits itself to representing Jesus Christ in every nook and cranny of common life.

The church, of which you are a part, is simply not an ordinary community. It is a group of people who participate in a divine communion and literally is the place that the presence of God dwells. Such a community/people cannot be taken for granted and is the place that God has ordained redemption be most graphically lived out (2 Corinthians 5:20).

The purpose of the church
What does the church do? What is the divine purpose of the church? As the church we are to be the community of God’s people that brings glory to God.

We fulfill our purpose as the church as we worship God together (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:6-8). We worship God for who He is as the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (Colossians 1:16,17). We worship God for what He does because the redemptive actions of God, that are seen most clearly in Jesus Christ, testify to the true nature of the God we serve (John 3:16).

The vibrancy of Pentecostal worship is the crucible in which we gain a glimpse of the eternal agenda of our Lord. We see who we are in comparison with who He is and we are humbled by the fact that He has redeemed us. We are overwhelmed that He would commission us to be people who bear witness to the world of His redemptive purposes.

We fulfill our purpose as the church as we participate in mutual edification and spiritual growth in the context of the community of believers. Ephesians 4:11-16 makes quite clear that the context for every believer to learn what it means to follow Jesus is in relationship with fellow believers. Living as a "Lone Ranger" Christian who refuses to be in relationship with fellow believers is a biblical impossibility. The pure light of God’s grace given to each of us at salvation is refracted into its visible and varied forms of grace in the diversity of spiritual gifts that edify the whole community of believers together (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).

We fulfill God’s purpose as we act as an agency to evangelize the world. We direct our efforts under the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to those who have yet to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Acts 1:8). Following Jesus’ clear example and command, we bear witness to the redemptive work of God in Christ (Mark 16:15 and Matthew 28:20).

Leadership for the ministry
While the reality of Pentecost is that all believers are now called and empowered for ministry (Acts 2), the Lord has provided that there be leaders gifted to prepare God’s people for effective service. The spiritual giftedness for leadership described in Ephesians 4:11-16 does not create an elite class of Christians, but it does recognize and set apart (ordain) gifted men and women for a particular role. The task of these gifted leaders is to be at the forefront of equipping the believers in the congregation to effectively serve the Lord. The context of the local church is that place where spiritual leaders bring the believers to maturity. The effectiveness of that local congregation depends much on the Holy Spirit-anointed leadership that serves there. These spiritual leaders should be viewed as gifts from God to strengthen the church for its calling.

Application
A deep appreciation for God’s marvelous and mysterious creation, the church, is more important than ever. We live in a world that clearly values self-expression and human autonomy. Yet God’s alternative is to have communities of people (local churches) that are led by spiritually gifted men and women. These local churches, called and empowered by the very presence of God, are to give visible testimony to a Redeemer God through their worship, love for one another and vibrant evangelistic efforts. The church is a community of the King that invites people to come and encounter Jesus Christ, be part of the family of God and participate in God’s redemptive mission.


Byron D. Klaus is president of Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. E-mail the author at pe@ag.org.

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