When you hear the word, “church” what comes to your mind? Depending on your background it could be something positive or negative. Even so, is your understanding of the word “church” biblical? Does the word “church” mean the same thing to you as it is meant in Scripture? Is your view of “church” what God intends for it to be or is it based upon what you’ve heard from others or the traditions your family has observed? Do you have an accurate view of what “a” church or “the” church is supposed to be?
This is the first installment in a series of weekly blogs addressing the images of the church in the New Testament. If we want to see our churches be all God intends for them to be we would be wise to know how God revealed her in Scripture. As we saw in our introduction to this series, the church is a group of Christ-followers. Here, we will see that the health of a church is dependent upon how His followers are connected to Him.
The first image of the church given in the New Testament was given by the Lord Jesus Himself and is the image of a Vineyard. The image of a vine is used throughout ancient cultures, but Jesus’ reference has its basis in the Old Testament. According to Carson, “Most remarkable is the fact that whenever historic Israel is referred to under this figure, it is the vine’s failure to produce good fruit that is emphasized, along with the corresponding threat of God’s judgment on the nation. Now, in contrast to such failure, Jesus claims, ‘I am the true vine’, i.e. the one to whom Israel pointed, the one that brings forth good fruit.”[i] Therefore, the Lord Himself provides personal assurance that because of Who He is, He will most certainly do what Israel, as a whole, did not do – bear fruit.
How then will the Lord accomplish this eternally important task? The answer lies within His own words to His disciples in John 15. There He not only claims to be the Vine, He identifies His followers as the “branches.”
Gardeners understand that it is not the vine itself that directly bears fruit, but the shoots or branches attached to the vine. In this very passage the Lord emphasized the critical necessity of “abiding” in Him in order to bear fruit. Attempting to bear fruit apart from the vine would be utter futility. He accomplishes His task through His people. We can accomplish nothing without Him.
Whether or not His people are connected to Him, as a branch to the vine, and experiencing a growing relationship with Him will determine whether or not our churches are successful in fulfilling His task. When a church is unhealthy or dysfunctional there may be many symptoms and associated causes, but ultimately it is because His people are not abiding or in an ongoing connection with Christ.
We will continue to explore the implications of being connected with Christ intimately and continuously in the next part of this series. Until then, ask yourself if you are truly “connected” with Christ through the new birth (John 3). Have you genuinely turned to Christ, placed your trust in Him as the resurrected Son of God? Do you recognize Him as the Lord and therefore, surrendered your life to follow Him? This is where our “connection” with God begins. Once God establishes this relationship with us, it can never be broken, but the intimacy of this relationship may be hindered unless we are careful to follow Him through obedience.
Therefore, if we are to enjoy His fellowship and bear fruit, we must faithfully follow Him. Without this intimate connection with Christ any hope of spiritual health for ourselves individually or for our church would be futile.
© Mark Bordeaux
[i] Carson, D. A. (1991). The Gospel according to John (Page 513). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans.