[Fourthly], a church is not a local club.
A church might look pretty small and unimpressive, but under the bonnet, it is cosmically huge: it’s the body of Christ. It’s a fellowship of Christians that is ruled and reigned by Jesus Christ himself.
We see across the NT (particularly in 1 Cor 12 and Ephesians 5) that Christ is the head of the church, and we the church are the members of his body.
And that has three implications.
Firstly, it means that Christ is what makes a church a church, and if a church isn’t connected to him as its head, or authorised by him, it doesn’t matter how loving a community they are, they aren’t a church.
This kind of idea is portrayed vividly in the book of Revelation, where Christ appears to the apostle John in a vision, and tells him to write seven different letters to seven different churches in Modern Day Turkey. And in the letter to the church at Ephesus, Christ threatens the church. He tells them that they have forsaken their first love, and if they don’t repent, if they don’t do the things they did at first, he will take their lampstand away. In other words, he will take their light away. He will de-church the church. As the head of the church, Christ has the authority to do that. If a church abandons him, he will abandon that church.
And so it’s a sad fact of reality that all around the world are churches which are not in fact churches. They faithfully meet on a regular basis, they might even love each other deeply, but they’ve abandoned Christ and Christ has abandoned them. They’re dead churches with no connection to their living head.
The second implication of Christ as the head of the church is that each individual member of a church must be connected to Christ, they must be Christians. They must have individually put their faith in Christ; they must have individually undergone a spiritual rebirth by Christ’s Spirit. Why? Because you cannot be a member of the body of Christ if you aren’t connected to Christ. And that’s why, you cannot be a member of Ithaca Presbyterian Church if you aren’t a member of Christ. Jesus Christ is the head of Ithaca Presbyterian Church, not me or Ian or someone else, and if you are not connected to Jesus, you cannot join his church here as a member. You’re welcome to visit, you’re welcome to join us every Sunday here, but you cannot become a member unless you put your faith in Christ.
Now here’s the thing: it’s possible for us to inadvertently admit someone into membership here who is not actually a member of Christ: we’re fallible and we make mistakes, and sometimes people lie. And so, if you’re a member of this church, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re a member of Christ. And that’s why theologians talk about the visible and invisible church. The visible church is the church that we can see, made up of members who profess to believe in Christ, and the invisible church is the church that Christ sees, made up of members who Christ knows belongs to him. Ideally, the visible church and the invisible church should be the same, but that’s not the case since we live in a fallen world, and so, here at Ithaca, we do our best to ensure that only those who are spiritually reborn Christians who have put their faith in Christ are admitted into membership.
Finally, the third implication of Christ being the head of the church is that we are Christ’s hands and feet in this world. We are his members. We are his ambassadors. We are Christ’s physical body in this world. Christ does his work in the world through us. If someone comes up to you and says, “if Jesus is alive and real, show him to me.” You should say, “you wanna see Jesus? You wanna see him at work in the world? Look at his body, the church.”
And so naturally, to be a member of Christ’s body is an extremely high calling and responsibility. People will form an opinion of Jesus based on what they see in us, his church. People in Paddington will form an opinion of Jesus based on what they see in his church at Ithaca Presbyterian. And so, we must do our utmost to represent him well. We can’t do this in our own strength, we need the help of Christ’s Spirit who lives in us, and we need to seek Christ’s forgiveness where we fail. But we must strive to love each other and to love others well, because our witness to the world depends on it. What did Jesus say to his disciples after he washed their feet?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
So, the church is not a local club, it’s the body of Christ. It’s a fellowship of Christians who love each other like family and who are ruled and reigned by Christ, both individually and as a whole.