16th March 2002
As always, I'd like to start by answering the question: in the church, the role of the congregation is: everything. Nothing gets done that's not done by the congregation.
In New Testament theology, the church is the congregation. The words even have the same meaning: one of the Greek words translated ``church'' is ecclesia (from which we get the adjective ``ecclesiastical''), which means ``the gathered ones'' - exactly what congregation means, ``those who congregate''.
We're going to spend the bulk of this session looking in detail through what Paul writes about the people of God in Ephesians 4. We've touched on this passage several times in this series on the church, but it's worth closer study.
It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.- Ephesians 4:11-16
Now we'll look at this passage section by section.
It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service [...]
In the New Testament, it's the congregation that does stuff - because everyone is a member of congregation. There is no distinction between clergy and laity - that divide in some of the historical churches does not derive from theology so much as from the social setup in the middle ages, when only the educated minority were literate enough to have access to the bible.
Similarly, we do not make a distinction between the leaders of a church and its members: the leaders are members. Leadership is a function rather than a position. Leading is a role that some people have in the church, just as other have a role of administration, of pastoring, of evangelism or any of the other ministries that God calls people to. If the church is like a ship, then the role of the leaders is not to provide the power - everybody is needed for that - merely to steer.
It's notable that Paul doesn't say that an evangelist's job is primarily to evangelise, or a pastor's job to pastor: their main jobs are to prepare God's people to do those jobs, and more. The ``works of service'' that Paul refers to include:
All this is on top of - or rather, the foundation for - specific roles and ministries such as preaching, leading worship or whatever. This stuff is the substance, the ``bread and butter'', of Christian life.
[...] so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
As we grow in knowledge of Jesus, one inevitable result is that we grow in unity with each other. We also respond to that knowledge with worship - it's impossible not to, when we understand what Jesus is like. And worship in the New Testament is emphatically something the congregation does together, rather than responding passively to a worship leader:
``When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.'' (1 Corinthians 12:26)
And back in the Old Testament, the Psalms emphasise the importance of the congregation in worship:
(This is not to denigrate the importance of personal, private worship; just to point out that corporate worship is a different, and equally important, thing.)
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love [...]
This wonderful depiction of maturity speaks for itself. It represents safety, stability, invulnerability to every deceit that the world and the devil can throw at us. This comes by absorbing the truth that is spoken to us in love.
That's part of the reason that Hebrews 10:25 warns us: ``Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.''
[...] we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love [...]
The body of Christ - the church - is held together by ``every supporting ligament'' - that is, the relationships between the members. That doesn't only mean social relationships: time spent eating together, and so on (although that's a part of it) but also more explicitly ``spiritual'' activities:
If [someone's] gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.- Romans 12:6-8
The whole tenor of this passage and others is that we use the gifts that God has given us in order to build up the church. For example, in 1 Corinthians 14:4, Paul observes that ``He who prophesies edifies the church.'' (The word ``edify'' comes from the same root as ``edifice'', meaning an impressive building: it literally means to build up.) Again, in 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul notes that ``Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up'': it's in the context of loving relationships that knowledge and understanding are able to build us up in a constructive way.
### Include the list of 21 ``one another''s.
If you think God has called you to a particular ministry, here's a good way to evaluate it. The word ``ministry'' means ``service'': if what you do in the church serves someone, then it's ministry; if it doesn't then it's not - it's just a hobby.
The corollary to this is that whatever you do to serve others is ministry, whether or not it's something you feel ``called to''. For example, everyone who grits their teeth and helps out with the kids on a Sunday morning just because it's a job that needs doing, it doing ``ministry''. Thanks.
[...] as each part does its work.
OK, hands up if you think you're indispensible?
Go on, I mean it. Let's see now: one over here, two at the back ... That's it? OK, pretty much no-one. Well, you are indispensible. Every single member of the body. That's why Paul writes, ``... joined and held up together by every supporting ligament [...] as each part does its work.'' He expands on this point elsewhere:
Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. [...] If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. [...] The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" [...] There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.- 1 Corinthians 12:14, 17-18, 21, 25
Occasionally, you can hear church members complain that they are not valued for themselves, but only as a number, contributing to head count. In fact, this is never true. Even for Christians who are unfortunate enough to be in churches whose leaders are numbers-obsessed, their leaders' misunderstanding doesn't change the truth, which is that no member of the body is dispensible. The body needs every part present and healthy.
Each member needs to understand how valuable he or she is as an individual, both in the eyes of Jesus who is the head of the church, and the rest of the body. In the same say, Fiona and I don't merely have ``two boys'' (a headcount), but Danny and Matthew. The one who's on the way will not merely be Number Three, but a priceless individual, recognised as such not only by Fiona and me, but also by Danny and Matthew - his or her ``co-members'' in the family.
If you're reading a paper copy of this document, the soft-copy can be found at www.miketaylor.org.uk/xian/congregation.html.