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Question: Use at least three different analogies used in Scripture to describe the church. What can be learned from each analogy?

Answer:

As we look throughout Scripture we can see several analogies used of the church to convey a variety of characteristics for this regenerated group of people. The church was first introduced by Christ in Matthew 16 at a time of great importance. It was a time after John the Baptist’s execution and followed the feeding of the five thousand – a time where interest and confusion were both at high points. John 6:15 exemplifies the mindset of the crowd as they viewed Christ as instituting a Kingship by force – a political reformation from a political messiah, if you will. It is at this time that Jesus hears Peter’s confessions and begins to establish an understanding of the church in contrast to that of the Pharisees and Scribes. The word used for the church is “ekklesia” (which means assembly in Greek) is helpful in ensuring we understand the church is not an institution or building. It is beyond infrastructure and is about a body of disciples who are following the true Triune God. As the new church was being unfolded, as something that was organic and refreshed from a Jewish heritage, the need to define, clarify, and explain is where analogies were most useful. Three analogies that helped present a more complete picture of the church are below:

1. Bride (personal, grace-gifted love)

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). Christ even goes so far as to make clear that it isn’t by our efforts that we ready ourselves but by His gift: “Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Revelation 19:8). Christ cleanses us “by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26). He presents the church to himself, having made her radiant, spotless, holy and righteous (Revelation 19:27). He is working in us. The church is an inside out system not an outside in system of rituals (which Christ Himself condemns the Pharisees for). The church being referred to as the bride of Christ denotes the love of Christ for this body. Additionally, since love is bilateral it speaks to our love and intimate relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can now call the Father by the intimate term abba and as He stated (in John 15:15) we are now friends. It is this relational language hinged on intimacy that helps us appreciate the love that defines all of the churches’ relationships (within the body of believers (universal Church) and to/from God).

2. Body (diverse, unified, purposeful, organic)

One of the most powerful metaphors used to illustrate what the church was to be like was the usage of the human body. It communicates multiple aspects of the church principally beginning with the fact it is once again a formation of believers not a building and focusing on the diverse gifts and people within the group who are held in common due to the adoption into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5). It also builds upon this unity of diverse peoples/gifts with an understanding that love and understanding must bind us together for the purpose of the church. “You are the body of Christ,” Paul says, “and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Jesus Christ “is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18), and we are all members of the body. If we are united to Christ, we are united to one another, too, and we have communal accountability for one another. We cannot simply say, “I don’t need you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). We cannot claim that, “I don’t belong in the church” (1 Corinthians 12:18). God is the provider of all our gifts and talents. “There should be no division in the body” (1 Corinthians 12:25). Paul frequently encourages us to be aware of the sin of divisiveness, even saying that a person who causes division should be put out of the church (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10). In the end, Christ causes the church to grow “as each part does its work”—as the various members cooperate (Ephesians 4:16). He can do everything without us but chooses to use us. In His sovereignty He places us to perform the Great Commission and do good works –that are planned in advance of our existence while we have assurance of His presence to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 2:10).

3. Kingdoms and miscellaneous (growing, evil presence, false teachings, need to work, bad and good apples, true and fake “Christians”)

Lastly, we can look to a group of parables that Jesus used to describe the church when He presents the Kingdom (details on what the kingdom is in a more complete fashion can be found in another post). The majority of what we will look at is located in Matthew 13 and as we look to these parables we must understand that they are not allegories. Why does this matter? Allegories are complex illustrations where the detailed nuances have been thought out to convey a large amount of breadth and depth in the story for its readers. On the other hand parables are constructed as simple stories to convey one or few basic points – the most obvious points are reinforced by an explanation within the text itself or the context provided and one must refrain from a tendency to extrapolate more meaning than originally intended from the words (see post that explains more about parables and how Jesus used them). Like a mustard seed, the church started small and yet has grown quite large (Matthew 13:31-32). As we see the church grow in this parable we also can see that evil will be hidden within the church (Matthew 13:32). Jesus often used birds in His parables to represent the devil and evil (Matthew 13:18-19, Mark 4:32, Ephesians 2:2) and we can see for ourselves that the church is befallen with these influences. In Matthew 13:33 , we read a potentially cryptic portion of Scripture about a woman who mixes flour and worked it into the dough. In the NIV (New International Version), the translation is imprecise as it doesn’t hold to the original metric accuracy of the Septuagint (Greek Manuscript of the New Testament) as it translates a portion of the passage into “large amount” when the Greek specifically mentions “three satons”. A saton was over 16 pounds and three of them would indeed be a large amount hence the NIV translation. However, we may be able to posit that since the symbol of a woman is usually mentioned as an evil force (like Babylon passages) and that leaven/yeast is often used as an evil presence (Luke 12:1, Matthew 16:6-12, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8) that something more is going on here. It could be that these 3 large measures represent the 3 prevailing sects within Christianity – Protestantism, Catholicism, Orthodoxy and that each of these three has seen false teaching at different times and in different forms. We all can readily observe false teachings in each of these groups even though we may be labelled as one group or another. We are constantly warned about the wolves in sheeps’ clothing within the church (Matthew 7:15) and the false teachings of the world (1 John 4, 2 Timothy 4). This message is not new but clearly communicates that as disciples we must be aware of this.

Some other analogies that I can quickly highlight are that the church is like:

  • a field in which weeds are scattered among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-30)
  • a fishnet that catches bad fish as well as good (Matthew 13:47-50)
  • a vineyard in which some people work a long time and others only a short time (Matthew 20:1-16)
  • servants who were given money to invest for the master, and some produce more fruit than others (Matthew 25:14-30)
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