How a person thinks about God and His purpose shapes their understanding of what a church is, along with its purpose.
Embracing the following 9 truths will help you understand its origins as well as its role on the earth according to the Bible.
God is not an individual
Christians believe in one God, but are rarely sufficiently taught or consider His communal nature. While God is one, He is not an individual. Those are not the same things. Each Person within God is different, but not separate. He is many-but-one – sharing, flowing and working together in perfect harmony, selflessness and sacrifice.
Unless this is how you think about who He is, you will struggle to understand Him. You will also struggle to fully and truly understand how He designed church life to be lived out. Thinking about God as community is the perspective from which a clear definition of church starts. It will give you fresh, new eyes to see differently.
Right before Jesus’ death, he prayed to His Father for his followers that they “may all be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us…“
This oneness only emerges from mutually submissive relationships – from thinking like God thinks. If a group of people thinks this way together, it will completely the meaning of church. They will display church according to God.
God wanted to accomplish something
God decided to design us a certain way for a certain reason. Everything truly desirable and healthy in life is going to align with what He wanted to accomplish and His original decision of how to design us. So if we want to align ourselves with His purpose on earth, we must understand those two things.
A major component of the human design is described in Genesis 1. Pay special attention to the underlined words…
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over every crawling thing that crawls on the earth.”
So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…”
The major component to notice is that God designed a “them.” Just like God is not an individual, the first human was not either. The first human contained many humans. By multiplying, the image of God would be expanded to the earth. This is what God wanted to accomplish.
But it’s only expanded if those many would be one, for the purpose of an image is to reflect what it’s imaging. God is many-but-one. To be the image of God is to be that kind of community.
This expansion of Himself was what God had in mind when He decided to create. He wanted the same life and fellowship in His community to be expanded to another. We image God and fulfill our identity and purpose when we have the type of relationships God has going on within Himself. To image God means that we are many but one.
God’s Life is a certain type of relationship
What is “God’s kind of life?” To define it, you have to look at the atmosphere and activity of God. There’s something happening within God that makes His Life what it is. What this atmosphere and activity is makes up the essence of His Life. That atmosphere and activity is what defines the relationship between the Persons of God. But it’s not just knowing each other. They have a certain type of relationship.
Their relationship is a shared-life community. It goes beyond sharing common interests or having the same goals. There’s no imbalance in the People’s participation. There’s no Person that’s elevated above another. Their relationship is so intertwined that they appear to be one. But they don’t just appear to be one. They ARE one.
The enemy’s lie was that the first humans would become like God through becoming independent. They took the offer of independence from each other and from God to decide for themselves.
Milt Rodriguez describes this well in his book The Community Life of God…
You cannot be the image of God as a separated, isolated individual. You are only a part of the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23). If he can somehow keep you separated and isolated as an individual, then the image of God will never have any practical expression and that image will not have authority or dominion on the earth.
God split the human with the purpose that the many would become one. But choosing independence destroyed that possibility.
God’s Life is the Source of the Christian life
When something is given the position of being the center of a space or environment, it’s thought to be given the most importance. In the Garden of Eden, God placed the two most important trees at the center because, well, they were the most important trees. Everything else in the space can be viewed in light of how it’s positioned around the center.
The same could be said of our lives. What we put at the center, in other words; what we hold as most important, is the source from which everything else in our lives gets arranged.
When the first human ate from the first tree, the nature of the evil one penetrated and permeated the whole human race. At the center of the evil one is selfishness. You were born in the same condition. Not only that, you’re surrounded by other people born in that condition and a world that operates according to that condition.
If you are in Christ, you were born having eaten from the second tree. You were born again (John 3:3). The life you received comes from the Tree of Life. You have become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), which is in no way individualistic because God is not an individual.
He is many-in-one, which can only happen because none of the Persons in God has a self-centered thought.
This is the Life that’s inside of new humans and available to be lived by.
A God-like community is where humans belong
When the first humans were deceived into believing they could and should attempt to be like God individually, they lost their true identity. Fixing the identity crisis starts with observing what’s going on within God. There are two main aspects to recovering it.
The first aspect that’s essential to the identity of the Persons within God is their uniqueness. None of them are quite like the others. They are one, but they aren’t the same. God mirrored this aspect of Himself when He created the human race.
There’s literally no one else like you. No one else can demonstrate exactly what you can demonstrate.
Any environment that suppresses this should be abandoned. It’s not of the Kingdom. The foundation of that environment is not Christ.
The second aspect that’s essential to the identity of the Persons within God is their oneness. Their uniqueness is revealed and demonstrated only in the environment of their oneness.
They don’t lose their identity because of their oneness. The oneness defines it. How they relate to one another is what brings out their uniqueness. Because they are one, they have the opportunity to be unique.
Each Person’s ability to be healthy members is dependent on their relationship to the others. Their relationship is the essence of who God is.
Any environment that doesn’t prioritize godly, mutually submissive relationship (Eph. 5:21) above all else (agendas, programs and other “things”) should be abandoned. It’s not of the Kingdom. The foundation of that environment is not Christ.
Only when we’re in the right environment can we truly find ourselves and thrive. You must have an environment where both the uniqueness (and importance) of each individual and the oneness of the community are held in harmony with one another.
The work of God is to believe
What the New Testament is about is the revealing that what was needed was a new race to be created on the planet. The old Adam was hopeless. A new Adam, a New Humanity, was needed.
This is what Jesus was. He was a new race of human with the same commission given to the first Adam – bear the image of God, rule creation, multiply and be one by eating from the Tree of Life.
That new Adam was a new kind of human. He was the New Humanity. His DNA had not been infused with the life of the enemy.
God had brought a new species to the planet and anyone from the old humanity could become a part of the new humanity simply by believing in who He was and what He had done for them.
That new race that God brought to earth was named “Church.”
Here’s how T. Austin Sparks, author of The Great Transition from One Humanity to Another, condensed what the New Testament is all about…
The New Testament in its entirety is occupied with one thing (there are many things about the one thing contained in it) but this is the one thing: the transition from that one humanity, kind of being – mankind, to Another.
The New Testament authors are showing and explaining God’s eternal purpose, Jesus’ identity, the identity of those who believe in Him and the way the new species acts because of who they are.
The work of the current age is to believe what God has done and who we are (John 6:29).
The more we come to know (like truly understand, not just frontal lobe awareness) these things, the more we naturally behave like the new species behaves. We are rehearsing now what will be ultimate reality at the coming of the new creation.
When we don’t behave like the new species that we are, the problem does not lie in how hard we tried to follow sets of rules or adhere to specific principles (that’s legalism), but in what we’re believing about ourselves.
It takes a community to express the fullness of God
The fact that Jesus Christ is God’s Seed (Gen. 3:15) clarifies for us why He couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t stay in His first individual human body.
It’s only when something grows out of the seed that the life inside of it is expressed. Until then, the seed has the fullness of the life of the thing inside of it. But the fullness of the life of the thing is not being expressed. It’s stuck in a state of potential expression.
Something must happen to the seed for it to release the potential life.
The disciple John recorded for us one time the Lord Jesus supplied insight into this…
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
A seed must be planted for it to release what’s inside of it. It must die to be cracked open and express the life inside of it on the earth.
The first divine human was the Promised Seed of Genesis 3. He was the first perfect human container of the fullness of the Life of God. He was the Divine Seed that contained the Tree of Life inside of Him.
Because this was inside of Him, He carried the potential to spread this Divine Life to other humans. He was planted through His death and what was inside of Him was released at His resurrection.
The Tree of Life was released onto the earth once again. It came out of the Divine Seed.
The fullness of God is still inside of the body of Jesus. It’s just many parts, with each part being a different human body.
Jesus perfectly expressed God’s nature and character while He was in His first Body. But He could not express the community Life of God fully. This is why He had to leave His first Body and enter His second many-but-one Body.
This helps clarify exactly why God’s original commission was to “be fruitful and multiply?“
God’s purpose has always been to fully express the many-but-one community life of God on the earth through a community of humans.
God wants the human race to be His dwelling place
Throughout God’s history of dealing with His people, He has always made it about one thing. It’s always been about His desire and purpose to dwell within man so the human race would be included in His community life.
The Ark, the Tabernacle and the Temple were all just foreshadowing pictures of what He really wanted. He wanted the human race to be His dwelling place. That is the goal of everything. Everything He does is toward this end.
And He’s accomplished what He set out to accomplish. We are in Him. He is in us. For all who believe, we are all one in Christ. It is finished.
God needs humans to be built together
After Jesus told Peter that the type of relationships the Persons of God have is “the rock” that the church would be built on, he would later write this…
And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (I Peter 2:4-5)
Living stones being built into the walls of a house.
Now of course this doesn’t mean a church can perfectly mirror the relationship the Persons of God have with one another. We don’t walk out our new identity perfectly.
But there’s a process that progresses us to more closely mirror it over time. Living stones need to be built together. If they’re not, they’re just a pile.
If this building together doesn’t happen, the house doesn’t get built. The foundation is sand. The relationships easily crumble. That’s the #1 sign of the foundation a church is built on.
This is the hardest challenge every church faces. Will it be built together or not?
Milt Rodriguez provides some insight into this in his book The Community Life of God…
There is a choice involved here. We can allow ourselves to be built together or not. Most believers never even get the chance to experience that building together. Most of us are sitting in a “rock quarry.” We are just sitting there with a bunch of other “rocks.”
God wants to shape and mold each one of us so that we fit perfectly into one another to form those walls of the temple. This takes some chipping away of our rough edges so that we fit into one another. We can allow Him to chip us away until He gets the perfect fit together with our brothers and sisters.
Being built together goes beyond teachings, doctrines, principles, practices or concepts. While these are a part of the process of being built together, these are sandy foundations.
As Paul put it to one of the churches he worked with when they were grappling with each other over childish issues…
For no one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11)
God didn’t execute His rescue plan for us to be a pile of living stones. He cut you and me out of the bedrock before anything was created so that we might be built together into His house for Him to dwell in.
Infuse these 9 truths into your brain and it will shape your view of the nature and purpose (and practice) of the church.