26 Apr Discussion Guide: Purple Book | Spiritual Family and The Church
Take the first few minutes of your time together to listen to what God is doing in one another’s lives and pray for any specific needs people in your group may have.
”Every church is a stone on the grave of a god-man: it does not want him to rise up again under any circumstances.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
”Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” – Dwight L. Moody
”We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a church becomes like this, it grows sick.” – Pope Francis
The word church has come to mean many different things to many different people. For some, it represents organized religion as a whole. For some, it speaks of a building where religious people meet. For some, it represents a place of hypocrisy. Yet, for many this word church holds the very essence of how life was meant to be lived. Regardless of how you might view this word, one thing is crystal clear…everyone from Nietzsche to the Pope has an opinion about the church.
However, if the church was God’s idea, as Scripture claims it to be, then what should matter more to us than people’s opinions about the church is God’s purpose in the church. What exactly is the church and how do we know if we’re truly being and doing what God has called us to be and do as His people.
In this discussion we will answer these questions. What is the church and what is God’s purpose in forming it? How do we know if we’re actually being the church God wants us to be? And, what keeps us on track to be the kind of church God desires us to be?
The Definition And Purpose Of The Church
What does the word church mean to you?
Has church been a good experience or a bad experience for you in the past?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…
Then God said to Noah, “Go out from the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh…and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.”
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”
I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.
Based on these passages, what conclusion can we draw about God’s desire for humanity from the beginning?
God’s desire from the beginning was to form a community of people who would live life in a way that images who God is for the purpose of glorifying Him and making His glory known. God exists as a perfect, loving, self-glorifying community within His triune nature. God’s call to Adam & Eve to “multiply, fill the earth and subdue it,” was a call to take what they had received from God (their knowledge and worship of Him) and reproduce it in their children and in their culture. God’s call to Noah and his family was an attempt at reclaiming the call to Adam and Eve, however within 3 generations the descendants of Noah go about building a tower to make a name for themselves, which is a direct contradiction to God’s desire for them to be a people who image God by glorifying Him and making His glory known. God then calls Abram to do what? To come out from among the idolatrous culture of Ur so that God can make him into a people, or nation as Genesis puts it, who will be a blessing to the rest of the world. And how will they be a blessing to the rest of the world? Well, if we fast forward to Moses’ time and the giving of the Law we see God’s plan is for Israel to be a “holy nation, a royal priesthood” (Exodus 19). In other words, they were to be a people who imaged God to the rest of the world by glorifying Him and making His glory known. This is the story of the entire Old Testament. From Genesis to Malachi God is continually calling, forming and shaping a people who will reflect who He is by living life in such a way that shows the rest of the world who He is and what He is about, a people who live centered on His glory for the purpose of making His glory known. He is a King looking for subjects who will represent His Kingdom.
If that was God’s desire from the beginning, then what do you suppose His desire is for humanity today?
God’s desire for humanity has not changed. God does not have a plan B. His desire today is still to have a people who reflect, or image, who He is by living life centered on His glory for the purpose of making His glory known. He is still calling a people to Himself.
1 Peter 2:10
Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
**Peter is writing to multiple local churches here that consisted of both Jews and Greeks.**
With this in mind, what would you say a Biblical definition for the word church would be?
A biblical understanding of the word <em>church</em> would be the community of people whom God has redeemed through the life, death and resurrection of His Son and has reconciled them back to the purpose of reflecting who He is by living life centered on His glory for the purpose of making His glory known. The whole purpose of the Gospel is not that we, as individual Christians, get to go to Heaven someday, it is that Heaven, God’s Kingdom, gets to return to us, His people, today. The church is not a building, though it does tend to gather in one. It is not a religious organization, though there are business aspects to it. The church is the community of people called by God the Father, through Jesus His Son, and empowered by God the Holy Spirit to be the representation of God’s Kingdom on the earth, a foreshadow of what is to come when Christ returns someday.
If God’s Kingdom were a jig saw puzzle, and all the pieces had been mixed up because of the sinfulness of man, and God, through Jesus were putting the pieces back together for the world to see what His Kingdom is all about, then we, the church, are to be the picture on the front of the box giving context to those pieces, providing direction as to what it will look like when all those pieces are put back together.
Alan Hirsch, Misioligist
“It’s not so much that the church has a mission, it’s that the mission of God has a church.”
Gauging Our Success As A Local Church
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship [sharing in all of life together], to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
What words would you use to describe this kind of community?
What we see in this passage is a community of people who are teaching and learning together, loving one another, sacrificing for one another, celebrating and partying together, having fun together, caring for one another, considering the needs of others as more important than their own, compassionate, worshipping together, discipling one another and living on mission together reaching out to those who are not yet part of this community.
How do those words compare to the words you would use to describe God and His Kingdom?
To answer this question we must first hit the pause button and really think about who God is before we use words to describe Him. God exists as a perfect, loving, self-glorifying community within His triune nature. Within the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit exists a self-perpetuating cycle of loving, giving, serving, sacrificing exaltation of Truth and Love. Therefore we can use words like omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient to describe God, but we also can use words like righteous, holy, loving, merciful, compassionate, worshipful, fun, caring, sacrificial, missional…all of the same words we would likely use to describe the community we see in Acts 2. And, that is the point, after all. The communal life of the church ought to look like God, it ought to reflect His image to the world around us. The right question we should be asking ourselves when we gather in the context of our community groups, or on a Sunday morning, or when we go out to dinner together or have a cook out in our back yard and invite our neighbors, or when we go grocery shopping is this…If God were leading this gathering, or occurrence, what would it look like? Then, we simply follow suit.
Where do you feel we, as a community group, are achieving this kind of community, and where do you feel we need to grow in achieving this kind of community?
How do you think we, as a community group, could further multiply the things we’re doing well? How do you feel we could do better in the areas we may not be reflecting God’s image as well as we could?
Dr. Timothy Keller
”Community itself is one of the main ways we do outreach and discipleship, and even experience communion with God…The real secret of fruitful and effective mission in the world is the quality of our community.”
Staying On Track
If the kind of community that reflects the image of God to the world is one that consistently loves, serves, worships, teaches, sacrifices, celebrates and bears one another’s burdens as we live on mission together, then what kind of things will keep us from becoming that kind of community?
The things that will keep us from becoming this kind of community are selfishness, pride, idolatry, self-preservation, misprioritized schedules, misprioritized spending, offenses, unforgiveness, etc.
Why is it so tempting and easy for these kinds of attitudes and behaviors to find their way into our lives and our community?
It is so easy for these things to creep into our lives because we so easily get distracted from the main purpose of our existence. In our culture we are constantly bombarded with information that continually tells us that our identity lies in the opinions of others, our success lies within the amount of comfort we can achieve and our value comes from other’s perceptions of what we have to give. The is so because all of the kingdom of this world, all communities that exist apart from God’s purposes, will automatically default to the pursuit of “being like God” rather than reflecting the image of the One True God. And, if we make the purpose of like about our own glory then of course we will get angry when we feel other people are not putting our needs first. Of course we will be prideful and arrogant when we feel we are not being made much of. Of course we will spend our time and our money on things that make us feel more important or comfortable. Whatever has that place of glory in our lives will be the thing that steers our attitudes and behaviors.
How does a constant, consistent, passionate pursuit of Jesus help to combat these attitudes and behaviors?
When we focus on, and passionately pursue, the truth of Jesus in the Gospel then it absolutely destroys the idols of pride on one hand and rejection on the other. You see, the Gospel tells us that we are so messed up that Jesus <em>had</em> to die for us, but that we are so loved that he was <em>willing</em> to die for us. And, in understand those two realities, our eyes are opened to the transforming grace of God and we begin to see our identity, value and success come from Him alone. When we are secure in our relationship with Christ then we no longer need to look to others for these things and therefore we are free to unconditionally love, serve and celebrate alongside one another.
So then, what would you say is the most vital ingredient to us being the kind of community that accurately reflects who God is to the world around us?
The most vital ingredient is keeping the Gospel at the center of all that we are and all that we do.
What are some practical ways that we, as a community, can keep the Gospel at the center of all that we do? What are some ways we can help one another in this pursuit?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
“The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
“If you aim for ministry you never get to mission. However, if you aim for mission then you get ministry as well because ministry is the means by which you do mission.”
As a means of summarizing what we’ve discussed, what would you say is the mission of the church?