3 Biblical Images of the Church

Les Newsom  |  February 19, 2015

Sometimes, life is a problem of vocabulary. Clothing my thoughts in words is a huge part of owning those thoughts and being shaped by them. So, now that you’ve had some time to be around these RUF people and to consider the concept of the word “church”, what do you think about it?

At this point most people respond by saying, “Uh, I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it.” For whatever reason, we lack a developed vocabulary to understand what the Church even is. It’s a “categories” problem. The book of Ephesians is Paul’s letter to his favorite group of Christians. In it, he draws on three powerful images of the church that help us understand her true nature.

BUILDING

No -- not the church *is* the building. Images of that crotchety deacon grumpily telling you to stop playing on the pews because “this is GOD’S house” is not what Paul has in mind here. Rather, he means that the church is *like* a building in that it has a foundation and a structure.

In First Timothy 3:14–15 Paul says this: Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

The Church, Paul says, is the “pillar and foundation” of truth. The Church, then, is the support and protection of the very Truth of God. Truth, in the world and in the lives of believers, has no stability if it does not have the Church. The Church is the support system of Truth itself.

Second, the church has structure. Building’s need frames and beams and connectors. Likewise, the church is more than “a bunch of Christians who hang out together.” The church in the New Testament had regular gatherings with appointed leaders and systems in place to deal effectively with the hearts of their people.

RUF tries to honor this metaphor of a ‘building’, by placing campus ministers on the campus who have the structure of the church behind them; supporting, training, and overseeing everything they do, as opposed to being independent, disconnected, and free-lancing agents.   
 

BODY

We talk about the “Body of Christ” when we talk about the church. In chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul talks about the body because he’s concerned about unity. You don’t have to be a social scientist to know how rare it would be for an outsider to describe Christian denominations using the word “unity.” It seems really naive. 

However, regardless of whether or not Christians are living up to this ideal, Jesus really wants his followers to be united. But he does not mean the sort of “can’t we all just get along” style of unity. He means unity because it is a unity that comes around the truth claims of the person of Jesus. 

This is why your RUF campus minister is committed to preaching and teaching through the Bible. There will never be any unity, nor will there be a possibly of such, unless the people of God are united around the facts, ideas, and truth claims presented in Scripture…or at least aware enough of them to know when they see something that doesn’t fit its nature.

BRIDE

I honestly think I could make you blush with how dotingly and affectionately the Bible speaks about Jesus’ love for his people. Isaiah 62:5 says, “As a young man marries a maiden, so will your sons marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.” Paul gets almost graphic in 2 Corinthians 11:2 when he says, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.”  Jesus has honeymoon affections for his Bride.

At the next wedding you attend, keep your eyes on the groom. When the doors swing open and bride steps into the room, what is his reaction?  If he yawns, you probably won’t have much hope for that union. 

If he beams, if his knees buckle even for a moment, if he sheds tears of joy and excitement over what he’s seeing, then you have a groom who is acting like Jesus acts towards his church. Think about how different life would be, if we lived each day in the light of the church being a building, a body, and a bride?