Real Christians Really Are the Church

Original Date: 
Sunday, June 17, 2012

1 Corinthians 1:1-3 Real Christians Really Are the Church

Going to Church
I’ve mentioned this before. Going to church on Sunday morning was a fixture of my growing up. If it was Sunday, we were in church. The routine never really changed. We’d be in church by 9:15. Worship would follow at 9:30. Juice and coffee at 10:30 (or 10:40, or 10:50, depending on how long the preacher went) followed by Sunday School and then we’d walk up the hill to Grandpa and Grandma’s where Dad and Grandpa would be nursing another couple of cups of coffee and rehashing the sermon.

We kids would all get a cookie or a bar, we’d hang out for a while or watch grandpa’s little black and white TV (I vaguely remember watching the U.S. Olympic Hockey team gold medal game against Finland in 1980) and then we’d go home where Mom would have a light lunch of soup or sandwiches.

Then, come evening, we’d go back and do it again.

Growing up in Sioux County, Iowa, as many of you can attest, was quite simple: if there was church, we were there.

But now, I’m going to try to shock you. Can I try to shock you? Listen to this:

Nowhere in the Bible does it say that you should go to church. There’s not a single verse in the Bible that says Christians should go to church. There just isn’t. Try to find one. It’s just not in there.

The closest you’ll get is Hebrews 10:25 which says: “Let us not give up meeting together.” And that’s an important verse. It reminds us that our meetings like this are important. (And I’m not saying that all my church attendance as a child was bad or that going to church is unimportant).

But the Bible does not say “Go to church.”

And here’s why: In the Bible church is not something you go to. Church is not something you do. Church is what you are.

In the Bible, you are either a part of the church, or you aren’t. If you are a Christian, you are the church. If you are not a Christian, you are not the church. As we continue our series of Christian basics, this is an important point: Real Christians Really Are the Church.

There are a lot of places where we could go to see this in the Bible, but the place we’re going to linger today is 1 Corinthians 1:1-3. 1 Corinthians 1:1-3.

This is actually a fairly unusual place to be looking for ideas to build a sermon from. As you probably know, most of the books in the New Testament began as letters. As Paul and the other early apostles traveled around the Mediterranean, they would often correspond with different churches or individuals. And it is in their letters that much of Christianity’s important early teaching was written down.

And what we’re looking at this morning is the salutation part of Paul’s letter to the church in the Greek city of Corinth. It says who the letter is from (they wrote on scrolls, so they had to get that part up front, you need to know who’s talking to you as you read the letter) and who the letter is to. And it says “hello”.

So, this is basically the “To whom it may concern” part of the letter. Not normally the sort of place you would expect to find anything profound. When I write a letter, I don’t usually have much to say in the greeting. Especially since most of my letters these days are written as email, and they usually start with a “What’s Up?” or “Dude” or “Hey.” And that’s if I even include a greeting at all.

But here at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul manages to pack quite a bit of interesting theology into the salutation. He’s writing to the church in Corinth, and so he goes ahead and says some interesting things about what the church is. 1 Corinthians 1:1-3. Let me read it:

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,
2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We’re going to focus on verse 2 today. There are four things we can say about the church based on this verse.

See All The People
First, the Church is People. The church is people.

Take a look at verse 2 again. Paul writes “To the church of God in Corinth.”

Who’s he writing to? Is he writing to a building? To a worship gathering? To an organizational flow chart? Of course not. He’s writing to people. He’s writing to the people of God who live in Corinth. The church is people.

This might seem really basic. But remember, the point of this series is to take us back to the basics. These are the essential elements of our faith. And a big part of that is remembering that the church is not a building or a worship service or a denomination—the church is you and me.

That’s the only way this verse makes sense. Try inserting the word “building” where it says church. Paul isn’t saying: “To the building in Corinth”. You can’t write letters to buildings. And that’s true anywhere else the Bible uses the word church. It’s always people. Not a building. Not a meeting.

When I was a little kid, one of the Sunday School songs we would sing went like this:

The Church Is Not a Building
The Church Is Not a Steeple
The Church Is Not a Resting Place
The Church Is a People.

I Am the Church.
You Are the Church.
We Are the Church Together.
All of God’s People, All Around the World,
Yes, We’re the Church Together.

(See, all of that church going taught me something!) There’s also the little nursery rhyme that goes:

Here is the church
Here is the steeple
Open the doors
And see all the people

Not that it is entirely wrong to call this building the church or talk about our denomination as the church or talk about Sunday morning worship as having church—those are all legitimate uses of the English word and they’re not going away. I still talk about cleaning the church or going to church or planning for church next Sunday.

But Biblically speaking, and theologically speaking, church is never a place we go. It is always people.

In my Digging Deeper class, when we get to the session on the church, this is the definition I use: The church is the called community of all true believers for all time. The church is people. And real Christians really are the church. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ then you are a part of His Church.

And that is true whether you regularly attend services or not. You can be a true believer in Jesus Christ and never participate in the life of a local church. I wouldn’t recommend it. And disassociation with other believers would be a hint that maybe you aren’t really a true believer. But some Christians, for reasons beyond their control such as living in a closed country where church assemblies are illegal, are still a part of Christ’s church even if they don’t belong to a church.

And the flip side of this is also true. You can be a regular part of a local church—that is, you can attend religious services on a regular basis—and still not be a true believer. Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than living in a garage makes you a car.

But if you are a real Christian—if you believe the real gospel—then the Bible considers you to really be the church. The church is people. We are the church.

Here, There, and Everywhere
Now, point number two: The Church is both local and global. Look at verse 2 again. Paul writes “To the church of God [Where?] in Corinth. [There is a Corinthian church. But Paul goes on] to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere [Where? Everywhere] who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours…”

The church is both local and global. Have you heard the phrase “think globally, act locally?” I used it last year in our “I Heart Church” series. When we are a part of the church we are called to think globally and act locally.

The church is local. Corinth. Galatia. Ephesus. Rome. Spencer. Hospers.

A specific group of Real Christians banded together in spiritual community in a specific geographic area. A group of people with a common commitment to Christ bonded together around a common vision for how they can shine the light of Jesus in their neighborhoods and around the world. The church is local.

But it is also global. The manifestation of the church of God in Corinth is bonded together with all those “everywhere” who call on the name of Jesus. All true believers for all time in all locations are part of the church.

The church is all of the Real Christians throughout history and throughout the world, and it has specific expression in local churches that are manifestations of that global church.

And that means that we are church along with our brothers and sisters in Christ who worship down the street at Faith Lutheran or Grace United Methodist, as well as our brothers and Sisters in Christ who worship in Pignon, Haiti and in China and in Africa and in Denmark and everywhere else. “All those everywhere that call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The church is global. As the song says:

All of God’s People, All Around the World,
Yes, We’re the Church Together.
This is so important for us to remember. We are a part of something that is so much bigger than we realize.

Sometimes people will neglect the global aspect of the church. They think of church as just being them and few of their friends and they forget that they are tied spiritually to Real Christians everywhere. They’ll start to think of their brand of Christianity as superior to everyone else’s. We Americans will forget that there is a lot of wisdom to be learned from the Church all around the world. Not every Christian speaks English. Not every local church meets in an air conditioned building. Not every church does things the way we do things. But that doesn’t make them any less of the body of Christ.

But there are also those who neglect the localness of the church. They think of themselves as a part of the global church, they have their personal belief in Jesus, and so they don’t see much of a point to participating in the life of a local church.

They don’t join.
They don’t attend worship.
They don’t fall in love with the local body of believers.
They don’t submit to church leadership.
They try to go it their own with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to the local church.

Remember, think global, act local.

I can see how this could be misunderstood. Someone could think that since the Bible nowhere says to go to church that the church is not important! But that would miss most of the New Testament and its teaching on the church. Because the New Testament teaches that if you are believer in Jesus Christ you are automatically a part of the church, it assumes that you will be an active part of a local expression of that reality.

I said earlier that you can be a believer in Jesus Christ and not attend a local church. If you believe in Jesus, then you are automatically a part of the global church. But the question is: why would you want to cut yourself off from the fellowship of other believers? Like I said, some people have no choice in the matter. They live in countries that deny them the ability to gather with other Christians. Or physical limitations prevent their involvement with a church. But aside from those circumstances, why would you want to deny yourself this fellowship that the New Testament assumes you will be a part of?

Clean and Being Made Clean
Now, third: The Church is Holy and Called to be Holy. Look at verse 2 again: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy...”

Sanctified is a big word that means to be set apart or to be made holy. Jesus has already done that for the church when He saved her from her sins on the Cross. If we believe in Jesus Christ then we are already, in one sense, holy.

We are “positionally” holy in Christ. We are counted righteous with the righteousness of Christ if we have believed the Real Gospel.

But at the same time, we are simul justus et peccator, right? Simultaneously righteous and sinners. We are righteous in Him, but we’re not totally righteous in practice yet.

Positionally holy, but not practically holy.

So, God calls us to holiness.

That’s one of the major emphases in the New Testament for the church. The church is supposed to be a holy people. We are not OF the world. We are OF the church. We are OF the Spirit. We are OF Christ. We are called to be holy.

Now let me be clear. We are not saved by striving to be holy! We are not saved because we use our will power to break bad habits or we are kind to little old ladies and lost puppies. We are not saved because every time the church building is open we are here. We are not saved by striving to be holy.

We are “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and what He did for us on the Cross. We are saved by calling “on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

But we are called to progressively become what we are. We are called to grow in holiness.

And one of the purposes of the church is to help each other to do just that.

We are holy and called to be holy.

“My” Church
Then, fourth: The Church is Christ’s. Let’s read the verse one more time: “To the church [whose church?] of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ–their Lord and ours:”

The church belongs to Jesus. He bought us with His blood.

Sometimes, people ask me how my church is doing. And I know what they mean. They mean the church that I serve as a pastor. Sometimes I’ll even use language like that. I’ll talk about “my” church. I remember one time, before I came here, I was giving a speech about the church that I served and said something about “my people.” And then I had to stop myself, and laugh. Because I don’t “have” people. I don’t “have” a church.

I do not own the church. It does not exist for me. I do not have control over it or possession of it.

I know this is how pastors talk. I’ll probably still talk about “my” church from time to time. You guys, as members, will talk about Hope Church as “my” church. And I know all that you mean is this is the church you belong to. The church you love.

But understand something--and I need to understand this as much as anyone--this is not our church. It does not belong to us. It belongs to Jesus.

Jesus said, “I will build MY church.” (Matt. 16:18). It’s His.

And I belong to Him. And if you believe in Him, then you belong to Him. And we all belong to Him together. Along with all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours.

It’s His church.

The Final Part
So, let me apply this now. Four points of application. And let me say that I owe a huge debt to my friend Matt—remember, I’m basing this series off a series he did a while back, we’re hoping to write a book—these four points of application are Matt’s four points of application:

#1. Think of Yourself As Part of the Church.
If you are a Real Christian, who believes the Real Gospel, think of yourself as a part of the Church. Because you are the Church. The Church is people, both local and global, made holy and called to be holy, belonging to Christ.

So don’t think of church as something to go to or something to do. Think of it as something you are.

#2. Be a Part of the Church.
Fully participate in the life of the local church.

Join the membership. I didn’t time this message that well, I don’t have a Pastor’s Class scheduled for a few months. We usually don’t hold them in the summer. But if you are an attender and not a member, that next Pastor’s Class is something you should look to be a part of. Membership is a way of formalizing your commitment to this particular local expression of God’s global church.

But beyond membership, get involved in the life of the church. Don’t just attend the worship service. Dive in. Be a part of a small group. Attend the Wednesday night prayer class. Go to the community meal. Make sure you’re a part of the e-mail prayer distribution list, and when you get a prayer request for somebody in the church make sure you take the time to pray. Stay after in the lobby and shake hands and meet new people. Make a lunch appointment with somebody you’ve been sitting next to at worship for years but barely know. Get involved.

This is your spiritual family. Your brothers and sisters in Christ. Get to know them. Love on them. Be a part of their lives and let them be a part of yours.

Be a part of the church.

#3. Do Your Part in the Church.
If we’re all in this together, then we all have a role to play. We all have something to contribute. We should all have an area of service.

So do your part. Volunteer for a ministry. Join the coffee service team. Help prepare the community meals. Serve in the nursery. Find out how you can help with Kingdom Kids and Harbor Beach. If you can play guitar or drums or keyboard or sing, then talk to Mary about how you can help with the music team.

Later in this same letter, Paul uses the metaphor of a body to describe how we all play an essential role in the church. We don’t all have the same gifts. Some of us are eyes or ears or elbows or toes. We all bring different abilities to the table, but together we make up the beautiful body of Christ here in Spencer, Ia.

But we all need to do our part.

And that includes giving. The church is entirely supported by the financial gifts of its members and friends. We have a growing church, and so we have a growing budget. This fall we are going to undertake an ambitious fundraising project so that we can expand our building and our ministry.

All of that means we need our members to be generous and faithful and faith-filled in their giving to the church. We need big gifts, and we need small gifts. But primarily we need everybody to do their part, in giving as God enables them.

And, finally, #4. Never Part from the Church.
You can’t, really, if you are a Real Christian. Christianity is a team sport.

If you claim to be a Christian, but you have no real connection with a real church, your salvation is suspect. I can give you no assurances that you are Real. 1 John says that those who depart from the church show that they were never really a part of it (2:19).

We need you and you need us!

Love the church. And stay committed. The Bible says that Jesus Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Can we do less?

Real Christians Really Are the Church.