The Church, the Bride of Christ
By Lloyd Gardner
There is much misunderstanding today concerning the nature of the church of Jesus Christ. Many Christians have a distorted or watered down understanding of the nature of the church, the body of Christ on the earth. The purpose of this message is to challenge you to re-examine your understanding of the church in the light of scripture. I believe that how we view the church will very much affect how we conduct ourselves as children of God and members of His body.
This message may challenge your thinking so I ask that you read with an open heart and a sincere desire to know truth. I stand ready to fellowship with any believer on this important issue. Because of our misunderstanding of the nature of the church, we may have a distorted understanding of the relationship between the church and the Bride of Christ. Some believe the church to be the Bride and others feel the Bride is a special group from within the church. I suggest that if we understand fully what the word teaches about the church we will then know who makes up the Bride of our Lord. I have written at length on this truth in my book The Eliezer Call.
The church of Jesus Christ is much more than many of us have understood. Jesus first mentions His church right after Peter confessed to Him, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responded, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Notice that Christ speaks of His church in direct connection with Peter’s ability to hear from God. Jesus told Peter, “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (v. 17). Hearing from God is the first prerequisite for the church. Before Peter had heard from the Father, Christ was unable to speak the truth about His church. Hearing from God prepares the way for the expression of the church of the living God. Christ builds His church upon this rock.
The word translated “church,” is the Greek word ekklesia (ekklesia). This word is a noun form of the verb “to call” and literally means a group of people called out for a purpose. The prefix “ek” means “out” and the rest of the word is a form of the word “call.” An ekklesia is a “called out” group. In ancient days this word was a political word which was used of the gatherings of the people in the town square for political announcements. A magistrate sounded a trumpet as the signal for the townspeople to come to the square to gather as the ekklesia to hear the message to be proclaimed. Those who stayed in their homes were not the ekklesia. The ekklesia, the church, was made up of those who heard the call and came forth to the town square to hear the message.
The Church is those who hear and Obey
The church is those who have heard the call of Christ to come to Him and have come forth to be with Him and hear what He is saying. This is why Peter’s ability to hear the Father set the stage for Christ to speak of His church. If we do not hear Him calling, we cannot be the church because we do not come to Him and hear what He is saying. This is why the statement “He that has an ear let him hear” is so often repeated by Christ (Rev. 2:7ff; Matt. 11:15). Hearing is the first step toward being the church. If we hear and go to Christ to be where His is, we become the “called-out ones,” the church. When we hear the Father we become a rock upon which Christ can build His church. When Peter heard from the Father and confessed what he heard, Christ said, “On this rock I will build My church.” The church is birthed through revelation in the hearts of those who seek Him. The word of God is a supernatural seed that when planted in seeking hearts will produce a new spiritual life and the corporate expression of the church (1 Peter 2:23-2:6).
After sharing the truth about His church, Christ explained its foundation: “From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (v. 21). His suffering, death, and resurrection provided the forgiveness, redemption, and power necessary for the church to be established. If the church is to conquer hell and express the fullness of God on earth it must be delivered from the power of sin, fleshly weakness and death and be infused with the supernatural, spiritual nature of God. All of this came through His death, resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. The true church is not merely another nice religion but the living, practical, expression of Christ on earth. It is people liberated by the cross and empowered by the presence and power of Christ.
Peter, as many of us do today, succumbed to the temptation of the flesh when he responded to these words of Christ. He rebuked the Lord saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to you” (v. 22). Like so much of religion and the world, we often try to bypass the cross in our efforts to serve Christ and be the church. No doubt, Peter thought He was doing Christ a favor when he admonished Him not to go to the cross. Religion always wants to provide another way of provision aside from the cross of Jesus Christ. Without the cross and the redemption and Holy Spirit empowerment that proceeds from it, there can be no church. We rebuke Christ when we try to build something that sidesteps His redemptive work and power and leans on human ingenuity and ability.
Jesus revealed the source of Peter’s error when He said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (v. 23). Jesus knew the demonic source of Peter’s statement because He understood that the church is Satan’s worst enemy on earth and that he will oppose the church at every turn. The prophecy of Genesis promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. That seed is Christ and the members of His body, the church of the living God (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20). The church defeats Satan in the end through Christ and His redeeming blood (Rev. 12:11).
Hearing Christ makes all the difference
Peter slipped from hearing the Father to hearing the enemy. Jesus said that in that brief moment of Peter’s weakness he was “not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” When we stop hearing from the Father and begin listening to Satan’s religious nonsense spoken from the mouths of faithless men, we begin to think like mere men and become mindful of the things of men. Much of institutional Christianity, which many equate with the church, is merely the result of people setting aside the things of God and becoming mindful of the things of men. Some so-called churches today are founded on a premise of pleasing men. These user-friendly institutions are merely gigantic Christian clubs that cater to the fleshly needs of a spoiled generation of Christians. They are quick to hear from men about their fleshly needs while ignoring the voice of the Spirit. Instead of allowing the saints to be the church, they use the saints for the promotion of their institution.
Remember, if we are not hearing from God, we are becoming something other than the church because the church is those who hear the call and come forth to Him. The admonition of this ministry to Christians is, “Hear what the Lord is saying to you and do what He says.” It is that simple and yet we miss it. Jesus told us that in order to enter His kingdom we must do the will of His Father (Matt. 21:31). We must hear and obey what He says.
At this point in Matthew’s account, Jesus unveils the true nature of the church. In response to Peter’s religious digression, He unveils the way to become the church: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let Him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt.16:24). The church, the ekklesia, is those who hear the call and come forth to Him. This, of course, is also a description of the bride of Christ. What else is the bride but those who commit to follow the Lord and be with Him? Jesus is not referring to those who get saved and then go their way. He clearly tells His disciples that in order to be the church we must first desire to come after Him, to be with Him, to hear and obey Him. Those who are saved experience the new birth and receive salvation through the grace of God but in order to be part of the church they must present themselves to Christ for His purpose.
First, we must desire to come after Him because we are in love with Him. We must have a desire to hear His call to our hearts and then pursue Him. If we do not have such a desire, we cannot be the church. In our pursuit of Him we must deny ourselves. If we put ourselves first we will never pursue Christ because our selfish needs will always take precedence over His desires. The primary hindrance to the building up of the real church is fleshly desires that the enemy constantly uses to keep us from Christ and His people. When we truly come after Christ and deny ourselves, we will find ourselves on a pathway with others who also are following Him. That, simply put, is the church, those who are setting aside personal desires to seek the desires of Christ. These are those who have heard His call to come and have come forth to seek after Him and be where He is. How can we claim to be the church, His ekklesia, if we are not hearing Him and are merely pursuing our own interests? If we stay in the city when the trumpet sounds we are not the ekklesia nor can we be His bride. When we gather around Him when He calls we become His called-out people, the ekklesia, the church.
Next, Jesus says that we must take up our cross and follow Him. Taking up a cross speaks of being willing to die in our pursuit of Christ. Physical death at the hand of persecutors may be part of this, but the real challenge is to die to self daily. Taking up a cross means we are willing to begin the journey to the death of our selfish nature, which refuses to submit to Christ. The church is those who have died to the things of this world and self, allowing Christ to dwell in their hearts by faith. A bride is one who leaves her family and life to be with her groom. In the betrothal period that is the hope of her heart. Being born again is the first step of this journey but truly becoming the church demands that we follow the Lord and do what He says.
The church is God's temple being built by Jesus, not men
Jesus said, “I will build My church.” Clearly, the Lord is implying that the church requires spiritual building material that He will place in its position. The building material for His church is people who allow Him to place them in His house. Speaking of this church Paul declares, “...in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:21, 22).
The church is the temple of God, a habitation of God being built as believers are placed next to other believers who likewise desire to be part of what He is building. In the consummation of all things the bride is the dwelling place of God (Rev. 21:9, 10). If we are not cooperating with Christ in His spiritual plan, we are not part of His temple, the church, His bride. If we are spiritual leaders who are building something apart from His direction, we are constructing something other than the church. Christ is building His church and only that which He mandates will produce the church. He issues the call to come forth, receives those who come to Him, and begins to place them in His church as He pleases.
In my interaction with church leaders, there is one thing that often causes a stir. When I ask the question, “Has God commissioned you to do what you are doing?” I am often accused of being critical. But this is a legitimate question for a believer to be asking the leaders of the gatherings of God’s people. No person has the right to build something and call it the church of Jesus Christ without first receiving a directive from the one whose name we are attaching to the project. Jesus is the Lord of the church and “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1). The people make up the church and they have the right to question respectfully those who claim to be building in the name of the Lord.
What we call churches usually have their beginning in the good intentions of a well meaning person who feels he is called to be the lone pastor of a church. He gathers a group of people around his ministry through various methods of promotion and then begins a building project. Usually this involves some form of fund raising that requires pledges on the part of the congregation based on the principle of tithing. The money is raised and the project is built usually at the cost of incredible sacrifice on the part of the believers. This is all wonderful if the Lord has commanded this project and He is building it. And if that is so, we should shout it from the housetops. But, if the Lord is not building the project, it is an exercise in futility and a tragic waste of time, money and energy. True churches begin as hungry believers desiring to follow Christ seek others with the same desire so that they can seek Him and experience Him together as He leads. The building stones of the church are not pastors, programs, and business methods but people who present themselves, spirit, soul, and body, to Christ.
It is no wonder that the church is divided and sending out a message of confusion and turmoil to our communities. Men are building churches at a whim instead of spending time on their faces before God to receive His vision and purpose for the church. We ignore the Lord of the church while building monuments with His name attached and calling them churches. When was the last time you saw two churches drop their walls to come together in the name of Jesus?
Brothers and sisters, there is only one church and it is the one Jesus is building. If it looks like there are myriads of churches in your community, it is because men have taken it into their own hands to try to build the church. Many have become mindful of the things of men instead of the things of God. Men of control are merely building fences around portions of the body of Christ and calling it the church. The mega churches in our large cities are merely well-organized religious corporations effectively using the business strategies of the world. The result is a testimony of abuse, defeat, division and compromise instead of victory and unity. If Christ is building one church, should we not seek to be part of what He is doing? If we will hear what the Spirit is saying to this generation, we will know the heart of Christ. Or do we just shrug our shoulders in defeat and join the so-called church on the nearest corner or the mega church with all the bells and whistles?
Christ is calling His bride to Himself
Christ is calling His bride to Himself. Those who come to Him are the church He is building. Peter wrote, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:4, 5). This passage begins by calling us to Jesus: “Coming to Him as to a living stone...” He is the living foundation stone of the church and Peter exhorts us to come to Him. As we do so He has a way to build us into His glorious church. But if we do not come to Him, if we do not answer the call, we cannot become part of His ekklesia.
We are to come as living stones that “are being built up a spiritual house.” He is doing the building of His church. We are merely presenting ourselves to Him for His purpose. As Paul says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1). He calls us to make the presentation of ourselves as living stones to be used for Him. It must be a “living sacrifice” in that we give ourselves fully to Him for His divine purpose. He will receive us as living stones and will shape and mold us until we fit into the spiritual house that He is building. That spiritual house, the church of Jesus Christ, will stand as a living testimony of the God who dwells in it. The unity, love, and power flowing from the lives of simple believers following Christ together will bring glory to the Lord and explode His testimony into our communities.
Perhaps even now some of you are thinking that this is a naive fantasy that we can never realize. Tell that to the One who said, “I will build My church.” Tell that to the One who prayed, “that they all may be one, as You Father are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one is us, that the world may believe that you sent Me” (John 17:21). Tell that to the One who bought you with the price of His own death that He may have His bride (1 Cor. 6:20). Tell that to the One who has accomplished all things “that He might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:26, 27. NASB).
Try to tell Him that He cannot have His victorious church but must settle for a hodgepodge of human institutions devoid of His power and life. Such a thought should drive us back to His word to seek again the truth concerning His church so that we can give ourselves anew for His glorious purpose. His church is not a fleeting impossibility but a vibrant reality as seeking men and women in various locations come together quietly and purposefully to experience the church that Christ is building.
This is the age of the church
We are living in the age of the church, the betrothal period of the Bride, when she is making herself ready for her Bridegroom. The church is in process, growing toward a destiny in which she will stand before her Beloved at the consummation of the age. The epistles of the New Testament, addressed to local churches, were written to remind them of their destiny and how to remain steadfast as they seek the fulfillment of that blessed hope.
The fourth chapter of Ephesians says it all. It speaks of people walking in a manner worthy of God’s divine calling on their lives (v. 1). It speaks of supernatural unity that can only come as saints submit to the unifying nature of God’s calling (vv. 3-6). It reminds us that each of us has been granted God’s grace to be what He has called us to be in His divine ekklesia (v. 7). It unveils Christ’s gifts of the five equipping ministries whose purpose is to equip the saints for their ministry in the body of Christ (v.11). It tells us that these equipped and restored saints will serve one another through Spirit-led and empowered ministry (v. 12, 16). It speaks of a day when a matured body will no longer be tossed to and fro by the winds of doctrine caused by the cunning craftiness and trickery of religious men of control (v. 14). We are shown a church walking in loving truth and growing up into an expression of the Head of the body, Christ Himself (v. 13). This is a beautiful description of the church, the Bride of Christ.
The church is made up of the saints who answer the call to come to Jesus, hear His voice, and walk in a manner worthy of their eternal calling. It is not a building, a program, institution, or a religious business, but the people of God knit together in His love. It is not a human organization ruled by men but a spiritual organism pastored by the Great Shepherd. Jesus is calling you to His side in these last days to stand with Him as His ekklesia. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come” (Rev. 22:17). Let us join with those who answer His call and commit to walk with Him as He builds His glorious church.