The equipping system of the body of Christ

11 05 2020

The restrictions of Covid-19 are opening our eyes to see in a fresh way how the church actually grows. Services are cancelled, gatherings are held by Zoom, yet the Church is adapting and functioning. How?

If there is one key to understanding the Church, it is that it is a living organism, connected to Christ for its existence. The body of Christ has systems which help all the parts thrive. Here’s how it work.

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph.4:11-12).

Recent teachings on this passage have entitled these roles ‘the five-fold ministry.” The concept is that ideally every local church should have people filling these roles or functions (with my definitions):

Apostle — one sent to launch and extend into new works
Prophet — one who boldly speaks truth from God
Evangelist — one who announces the gospel
Pastor — one who shepherds God’s people
Teacher — one who explains the Scriptures and corrects falsehood

Clearly, each of these functions is important in establishing and maturing churches. It’s good to remember that the giver of these ministries is Christ (“And He Himself gave…. v.11).

A key question for any local body, or any fellowship of churches should be, Who are the people whom Jesus seems to have given us to grow us up in maturity?

Let’s not forget Christ’s intent. These are not five superstar experts who perform better than all others. In fact, super performers are usually the worst equippers. True equippers are often in the background, where they resource, empower, and release others for a life-time of fruitful ministry.

Performers gather large crowds. Equippers build up the body by helping many others excel.

Instead of handing out titles and budgets, remember that these functions constitute a living system in the organism, the one new man with Christ as head and the church His body. The church thrives when all the saints are being equipped to minister in one or more of these five areas.

If you are an experienced believer, you should be equipping others. What does equipping look like? The Greek word (katartismon) has this range of meaning:
1. Mend, or repair.  (In Mark 1:19 it refers to mending fish nets; In Gal.6:1 it speaks of restoring the one caught in sin)
2. Render fit or complete (cp. 1 Peter 5:10 “perfect,” and 1 Cor.1:10 “joined together in the same mind”)

All equipping is to result in “edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). It is interesting that just as Jesus was a builder, now His church is to be built up (the Gk word, oikodomen, translated “edification,” comes from the realm of home construction).

Have you noticed how much of this system depends on facilities and formal worship services? Did you see anything in the text about the necessity of outstanding national leaders, fair taxation, and efficient health care?

The beauty of the organic nature of the church is that it is thriving today in high-rises, slums, and “underground.” Its even working in many suburbs!

My point is not that budgets and bylaws are wrong. But let’s not forget what actually helps the body of Christ grow according to God’s design.

I had a seminary professor who always encouraged mentoring. He often asked us, “Men, where are the men you are mentoring?”

If you are reading this, you are not a baby Christian. So I would pose these questions for our reflection: 

  • Who are you equipping?
  • What kind of conversations and vocabulary feed the equipping system of the body?
  • What styles of teaching the Word enhance equipping? Which detract?
  • How are our children being equipped? Our teens?  In our homes?




Beyond Streaming Services

5 05 2020

Covid-19 has prompted many churches to stream their weekend worship services. This is an important step in both maintaining community with regular attenders as well as reaching a new audience. Church workers are laboring diligently to expand technological capacity. This is admirable and much appreciated!

However, the attention which is required to stream services has a troubling aspect to it. Church leaders are being drawn to ask (among other things), “How do we produce the best quality online experience?”

I have been writing of my conviction that Covid-19 trumpets the call to Jubilee 2020 — a year to pause, reflect, and make deep changes in personal and church life. The effort put into streaming services could distract us from seeing the opportunity to shift our energies to more important questions, such as, 

>>How would God want us to equip our congregants to extend friendships with their neighbors?
>>How can we help our members be the arms and words of Jesus to lonely and suffering people locally and globally?

As we improve our abilities in reaching out with technology, let’s use all these means to build the body of Christ according to God’s design. Which is what?
Experienced ministry leaders are given to the church,

“for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph.4:12a).

Fruitful ministry is ripe for harvest during this season.
Personally, we have seen more of our neighbors in the last two months than in the last two years.
>>Dads are biking with their kids.
>>Moms come pushing strollers around the block.

I tell you, we are having many conversations and learning many of our neighbors’ names simply because they are outside and have time. We are sitting intentionally in our front driveway to wave to neighbors as they walk or drive by. We stroll around the block and stop to talk.

We’ve posted this sign on our front lawn. An Arab woman and her daughter thanked us for the sign. She read it for us in her language, and had her daughter interpret!

Even though (understandably) no one joined us, our family sat and watched a Good Friday worship concert in our driveway.

These merely illustrate that we who know Christ have fresh opportunities to get out there with Jesus’ love. Let’s stream our services for the glory of God. But let’s ask the bigger questions of how to equip all the saints for the work of ministry.

Most of us don’t need much equipping. We know how to be neighborly. We just need intentionality in moving beyond our own needs and concerns.

Till next time,

Robert

P.S. About the sign, we got ours here.





Jesus’ Victory Supplies the Church

4 05 2020

As many times as I have studied this missionary newsletter from Paul, I nevertheless saw something new in this go-around. What surprises me is that a short paragraph I’ve passed over due to its difficulty is, I think, one key to understanding the letter and the grand theology behind it.

Please belt in and grab the safety bar

Paul, from prison, writes:
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:7).

That which Christ gives to each believer is immense. Ultimately, Christ Himself is the gift and He desires that His body (the church) know Him fully and grow up into His fullness (4:13). He continues:

“Therefore He [God] says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men” (4:8)

Take note. This is taken from Psalm 68:18, where King David recounts God’s victory in delivering Israel from captivity in Egypt. In that historical incident, two events occurred:

1. PLUNDER.  Egyptians surrendered to the Israelites all kinds of silver and gold (Exod.12:35,36).
2. VICTORY.  The Egyptian army was swallowed up in the Red Sea.

I believe David refers to #1 when he says, “You have received gifts among men” (Ps.68:18). This represents the spoils of war.

I think David then refers to #2 in saying, “You have led captivity captive.” This depicts victory over the enemy. The Egyptian captors became God’s captives and perished. This tragedy speaks of the hard truth that God does and will have vengeance on His wicked enemies who oppose Him.

Back to Paul

Our imprisoned apostle teaches us how to walk out our beliefs. Grace given by Christ to each one of us who believe will empower us to do this.

The source is the victory of Jesus Christ over His enemies through His sacrificial death on the cross. And as the Victor, He shares the spoils of war with us, His body and bride.

What are these gifts? The church that works together beautifully (which we will explore next time).

One more head-scratcher

David wrote, “When He ascended on high” (Ps.68:18). This takes us back to the Exodus story and refers to God dwelling up in Mt. Sinai where His holiness makes surrounding mountains jealous (Ps. 68/16)!

Now Paul applies this ascension in a New Covenant sense:

(Now this, ‘He ascended’ — what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things)” (Eph.4:9-10)

Wow, this is difficult.

The best I can make of this is that after crucifixion and before resurrection, Jesus’ soul descended into Hades (see Acts 2:27 and 31). Peter also seems to say that Jesus proclaimed the gospel to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-20; 4:5-6).

I don’t know if this was to announce ultimate defeat of Satan and all his wicked allies, or whether this was a one-time retrospective proclamation to Old Testament people, even giving an opportunity to accept the good news of salvation, or both (any opinions or insights on this?).

What is clear is that Jesus fought the good fight and ascended far above all principalities and powers as the Victor (Eph. 1:20-21). From His victory, He brings grace-gifts to distribute to His own — “every spiritual blessing” in fact (chapter 1). The unfolding verses say that the spoils of victory include five ministries for the Church (next time).

And when we get to chapter six, we will see that the armor of God which brought the victory is a part of Christ’s gift to us, that we might share in His battle and win. The armor is beat up, but its accustomed to victory!

Do you see how this knotty paragraph sheds light on much of Ephesians?

Too much information, I know!

Here is a take-away for you. Jesus wants to share His victory with you and me (“each one of us”).   

  • How have you see His generosity with you in recent days?
  • How has He gifted your church?




What’s the glue of the scattered church?

17 04 2020

Due to Covid-19, our churches are not gathering as is our custom.
What are the factors that will hold churches together? What has kept the global Church together for centuries?

In Ephesians chapters two and three, Paul unveils the church as the mystery now revealed – that believing Jews and Gentiles (in all their diverse cultures) belong to one body which Christ made possible through His death.

As we descend from mountain-high “ecclesiology” (study of the church) to walking it out in our practice, we see how the church is intended to operate (Eph.4).

Paul has given many comparisons to reveal the beauty of the church. We are:

  • fellow citizens (in God’s new nation), 2:19
  • members of God’s household, 2:19
  • a holy temple being built by God, 2:21-22

But the picture Paul develops most fully is that of one new man, with Christ the Head and the Church His body.

Just as the global Church must look to Christ as our Head, each local church or fellowship plays its part in also looking to our Head. In broad strokes, what does this require?

1. UNITY OF THE FAITH

The Church is held together by common commitment to shared truth. Paul gives specifics:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph.4:4-6)

The polytheistic Gentile cultures would have stumbled over the singularity of this doctrine. Jews, God’s chosen nation, would have struggled to hear that their exclusive relationship with God was now opened to hundreds of Gentile peoples with their diverse languages, foods, dress, holidays, and habits.

Today, “universalism” says that there are many ways to reach God, and that ultimately everyone will be saved.

The Bible, however, unashamedly declares there is one body consisting of all those who genuinely believe in, and are spiritually connected to their Head, Jesus Christ.
In compassion, God’s Word beckons all to accept this message of particular salvation.

In order to preserve this unity of faith, Paul instructs us to love one another.

“with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bod of peace” (Eph.4:2-3).

How do we walk worthy of our calling as members of the body of Christ? We start by knowing the truths which God wants us to preserve.

Cognitively, we study God’s written Word for knowledge. Through prayer and experience with Christ, we yearn for spiritual understanding which surpasses knowledge (3:19).

What is it that keeps the scattered church one in Spirit? One factor is the unity of our faith based on divine truth revealed to us in the Scriptures.

Are you a rigorous Bible student? Does your church help you delve into God’s Word consistently?

How do you want to use this unique time of slow-down to know your faith more deeply?

Next time we will look at a second aspect of the effective church:
>>> Equipped saints doing the work of ministry.





Walking out our beliefs

16 04 2020

We have progressed half way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesian congregation, and we should pause here to notice some structural elements of the epistle.

Mountain Ranges of Truth (chapters 1-3) contain:

  • high truths about our relationship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • six references to “in the heavenly places
  • begins and ends with a great prayer
  • emphasis on our vertical relationship with God.

Great Plains of Practice (chapters 4-6) contain:

  • attention to our horizontal relationships with each other
  • four mentions of “one another” (see below)
  • five uses of the phrase “therefore…walk,” meaning to live or conduct ourselves
  • Paul’s classic teaching on the equipping of the saints, marriage, and praying with the full armor of God

For today, let’s take our first steps from the lofty heights of orthodoxy down toward the plains of orthopraxy (right practice). Paul implores us who believe,

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph.4:1).

The Greek word “worthy” is built on the word “weight.” Paul says, given all that God has done for us,

now live in a way that is suitable and fitting of the weightiness of all these gifts.

As we move from mountains to plains, we turn the invisible realities into tangible activities.

We show the heavenly in earthly garb.

This is how the kingdom comes on earth as it is already the rule of heaven.

Perhaps this week your frustration is building over “social distancing” and all that comes with this Covid-19 virus. Scripture implores us to keep our vantage point in the grand vistas of our true position in Christ.

Lord, help me today to have both feet on the ground of my present circumstances, while capturing the joy of my eternal standing in your love and grace. Amen.


Notice repetition of key phrases

“in the heavenly places” (mostly in first half of epistle)

1:3-14  our reserved blessings and inheritance
1:20-23  authority of Christ over all
2:6   our position in Christ
3:10   witness of the church manifest
3:15   the family of God
6:12   our wrestling with wicked forces

“Therefore… walk” (all in second half of epistle)

4:1  walk worthy of your calling
4:17  walk differently, as new
5:1-2  walk in love
5:7-8  walk in the light
5:15  walk carefully

“one another” (all in second half)

4:2  bearing with one another
4:32  be kind to one another
5:19  speaking and singing to one another
5:21  submitting to one another


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