In the late 70s I presented a short version of this teaching to Rev. Dick Jefferson, my Spirit-filled American Baptist pastor at the time. His exact words in reply: “Be careful how you say this.”
Thus far we have studied the complete One-ness of the Christ’s followers with the Father and the Son in John 17. Paul prays that God will give us wisdom and revelation to understand what a glorious gift Christ receives when he gets us. We are the Temple of the Spirit, built of stones who differ only in their position in the Temple, but not in their material make-up. The church and Christ are one flesh according to Paul at the end of Ephesians 5. In Corinthians 6:17 we read that anyone who comes to Christ becomes one spirit with him, no longer two separate spirits. Ephesians teaches us that we are seated, at this very moment, in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We have seen our partnership in the divine nature, that we are equal partners as we partake of and participate in the very nature of God as taught in 2 Peter 1:4.
No Way–You Can’t Mean that the Church is God.
This is remarkable testimony to the complete Deity of the Church. And it can seem absolutely ludicrous. From the rancor we witness in congregations to the damaging cruelty we experience, often there is nothing we can see that would give us the slightest reason to believe that the Church is Deity.
As they say, definitions are important. And there’s a big problem with the word “church,” which has numerous meanings. Which meaning of church is in view when we say “The Church is God”?
The building in which people gather. “My, what a beautiful church!”
The main meeting of a group of Christians. “So how did you enjoy church this morning?”
The large room in which Christians gather. “Shushh. Don’t talk in church.“
The members of a particular congregation. “How will this change in pastors affect the church?”
The official hierarchy of a particular denomination or congregation. “What does your church teach about gays and lesbians?”
All the Christians on the planet. “Why is the church so divided?”
To eliminate confusion, I try to use more specific words when I discuss “church.”
- Church Plant
- All Christians
Obviously, a building is not God. All the buildings used by a congregation are not God. A Sunday morning service is not God. Christendom (all the denominations, seminaries, publishing houses, mission agencies, etc.) is not God. An institution is not God. All Christians on the planet? Yes, but that reality is unwieldy, almost theoretical. A local congregation? Much better, since that’s where we actually live, fellowship, and minister with other believers. For many of us, our local meetings are where we have our main relationships with other followers of Jesus.
Common sense tells us that no group of people is God. True enough, but that’s why we have the scriptures, which is one source of Special Revelation from God. Everything we’ve been looking at points to the full deity of the Church. The Bride is as much God as the Son is God. How are we to reconcile our common sense with this neglected teaching of the Greek scriptures?
To make this a little easier, we need to look at an important description of God that is tucked away in Romans. We need to remember that everything we’v been discussing began with “God, who calls things that are not as though they were.” Let’s look at a few translations of Romans 4:17.
Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. (Message)
That is what the Scriptures mean when God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations.” This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who creates new things out of nothing. (NLT)
As it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)
. . . God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. (NASB)
. . . God, who gives life to the dead and calls things into existence that do not exist. (HCSB)
. . . God, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that don’t yet exist. (ISV)
God has created a co-equal Bride for his Son, something which did not previously exist. God has called into existence a People who were designated God, a People which did not before exist. The various passages from John, Paul, and Peter attest to the Church’s true, divine nature. This Bride, this People called God, did not previously exist as God, but were called into existence by the same God who created the Universe with simple “words.”
God called things into existence things that did not exist, and God continues to call new things into existence. Does it seem ludicrous that we call the Church God? Remember, we are, in this very moment, seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
To Read More in this Series, click on The Bride of Christ is God.