The Church Jesus Built
and the World in Which it Exists
With all the sordid practices and corrupt values of the world, Jesus did not seek to keep His church away from it. In fact He put His church in the world, yet affirmed “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). His church is not of the world, but must be in the world. Just how that relationship is established and maintained is the topic of this article.
The word church means “a called out assembly.” In the broadest sense it includes all of the saved of all time from all over the world. That is the word Jesus used in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church.” His church is the “called out.” But out of what has it been called? The answer is the world in which the church exists. While this church is in the world, it is clearly evident that Jesus intended for it to be different from the world.
In an old book titled The Western Preacher, published around 1860, George Campbell wrote: “The Church of Christ is composed of people ‘called out from the world, and raised up apparently from the dead,’ and ‘set down together in heavenly places, in Christ, the Savior.’ Dead, buried, and raised again. The name given to them as an organization, signifies that they are thus called out. The Greek name for the church is Ekklesia, which is from two words that signify, in their ecclesiastical use when compounded, a people called out.” (Page 294).
This kingdom that is in but not of the world is composed of people who have drastically changed their way of living. A near perfect example of this is seen in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians chapter 6 Paul is rightly critical of the church in Corinth. Some of them who had personal grievances against others were taking trivial matters to the civil courts for redress. Verse 6 reads, “Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?”
Paul draws a clear line of distinction between the “saints” and “the unrighteous.” In relationship to the Lord, there are just two classes -- saints and unrighteous. In verses 9 through 10, he asked the church, “Or know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God?” The church in Corinth was composed of people who once were “unrighteous” but through conversion had become “saints.”
They became saints and left behind their former filthy and sordid manner of life. The scripture continues, “And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (verse 11). From the contaminated life of immorality, dishonesty, and dissipation, they had become saints. The process involved a washing, which led to sanctification and offered them God’s gracious offer of justification. The washing is a figure of cleansing. Sanctification is the separation of someone or something for a special purpose, and justification is God’s grant of judicial clemency to guilty sinners.
The relation Christ’s church has to the world in which it exists is a blend of association and separation. The church associates with the world to influence it for righteousness. Jesus directed this to His disciples. “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13a.) Salt is a preservative. Even today many still preserve meat by applying salt to it. It is probably the oldest practice of preserving meat known to man. This figure of speech teaches that the church has a relation to the world as preserver to that which otherwise would spoil and rot. There are many who do not think very highly of the church, but it is the only hope the world has. Without the preserving influence of the church the world will rot. It already has the stench of putrefaction as the standard of morality sinks lower and lower.
As the preserver of the world, the church must ever be vigilant to remain associated with but separate from the world. By this is meant that while seeking to influence the wicked world for the better, the church must never be influenced by worldly standards. It is more than a little significant that Paul wrote the following to the same people who had formerly been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, etc. “Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship has righteousness and iniquity? What communion has light with darkness? What concord has Christ and Belial, or what portion does a believer have with an unbeliever” (2 Cor. 6:14-15).
Later, in verse 17, he commanded them to “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing and I will receive you.” Language could hardly be plainer. Paul, by the Spirit, required a complete separation from their former way of living. This is a principle that applies to the individual members of Christ’s church as well as to the corporate actions of His church.
Jesus also said to His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14). It is significant that Jesus assumed that His people would be elevated to a higher position than the world. The world is cast in darkness. The church is a light Jesus set high on a hill. Light is used in scripture to represent all that is good, intelligent, and pure. Darkness represents the opposite.
The world may be filled with philanthropic individuals, but there is none spiritually good who is separate from Christ’s church. The world may have highly educated men with a vast mental acumen, but all are spiritually ignorant who have not come to a knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The world may have a lot of highly moral people who would never steal, lie, or cheat someone, but without Christ, outside the sacred precincts of His church, morality alone has no lasting value. This is why Paul could write of his calling as “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). The fact that Christians are called “saints” teaches the high and holy way members of His church are to live. Indeed, the church is that city, set on a hill, to dispel the darkness of spiritual ignorance, moral impurity, and depravity.
But how does the church of Christ accomplish this? Some one recently quipped, “The worldly affairs are leading many self-professed Christians rather than self-professed Christians leading worldly affairs.” We have witnessed in the past two or three decades a pattern of churches imitating the world and becoming more and more involved in worldly methods and procedures. How, in the name of all that makes sense, can the church fight sin and degeneracy when all it offers the world is a place of entertainment?
Do you save a sinner through so-called “fellowship dinners?” In many publications sent out by churches one sees such things as “Golfing fellowship,” “Tacky Party Fellowship,” “Ice Cream Fellowship,” and similar activities. Are sinners (you know, the real ugly sinners of this world) becoming more comfortable all the time? It is time for everyone who claims to be the church Jesus built to make sinners uncomfortable through preaching the gospel of Christ without alteration or modification.
The church in Philippi was told, “Do all things without murmurings and questionings, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life...” (Phil. 2:14-16). The world is about the same morally as it was when Paul penned these words. It was a “crooked and perverse” generation then; it still is.
The world is crooked -- but Christ’s way is straight. An interesting side thought here is that even worldly people speak of someone who is not morally perverted as “straight.” The opposite of that is crooked. And Paul said the world is crooked and “perverse” which means “morally debased.” It is very doubtful that any straight thinking individual would dispute the fact that the world is still “perverse.” And there is but one way to remove the moral corruption and sin -- preaching the gospel of Christ.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and asked, “Where is the wise, where is the scribe, where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, it was God’s good pleasure through the foolishness of the preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21).
Every generation in the history of man that has sought relief for the maladies of the world through an appeal to human wisdom and human devices. There has never been that has been successful in eradicating the misery and degeneracy of mankind. There is only one remedy. The world may always think it just as foolish as the world in Paul’s day did, but it is the one and only way to ameliorate society and rectify the crookedness of the world in general.
Gospel preaching is not gospel preaching when modified or watered down by men. A social gospel is not a saving gospel. Only when the church causes the truth of salvation to be proclaimed will the world benefit from its existence in this world. As long as the church remains separate from worldly ways, yet closely associated with the world to influence it for good, there is hope. Beyond that there is nothing.
What is gospel preaching that saves? On Pentecost, Peter preached the gospel for the first time. Those who want to preach the only saving gospel there is must preach what Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, preached. He told an inquiring audience “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, unto the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 238). The pattern is simple. Consider the Corinthians again. Paul preached in Corinth and Luke reported, “...many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Remember, this is the same group of people who were “washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our Lord.” If you would be part of that same church, in the world but not of it, obey the same thing those of the first century did.
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