As we seek to fulfill the Great Commission and share the gospel with our neighbors and the rest of the world, what is the message that we should be communicating? On multiple occasions I have heard statements like, “Just preach Jesus.” I have also heard the corresponding sentiment, “Stop preaching the church and just tell people about Jesus!”
If one considers “the church” to be merely a man-made denominational sect, then I certainly would not want to endorse or promote such an institution either. But when I read what the Bible says about the church and think about the church and teach others about the church, I see something entirely different. The church of the New Testament is the body of Christ and the community of the saved. How can we just preach “Jesus” without including the church which he purchased with his own blood (Acts 20:28); the body of which he is both head and savior (Ephesian 5:23)?
When Philip “preached Christ” to the Samaritans (Acts 8:5), this included matters pertaining to the kingdom of God, the authority of Christ, and baptism (vv. 12-13). Later, as he “preached Jesus” to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:35), the teaching helped the eunuch understand that he needed to obey the gospel by being baptized into Christ (vv. 36-39). Paul and his companions preached "the Son of God, Jesus Christ" at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:19), which not only included Christ's death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2; 15:1-4), but also baptism into Christ’s body (Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 12:13), not to mention all the other instructions he passed on to them (Acts 18:11). To teach “Jesus,” in the biblical sense, not only involves transmitting the doctrine about Jesus but also the doctrine from Jesus (including that communicated through his inspired agents), i.e. “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). This is not merely “church doctrine,” it is the doctrine of Christ (John 7:16-17; 2 John 9).
As we preach “Jesus,” we must never neglect to inform people about the community of the saved to which the Lord adds all who obey the gospel of Jesus (Acts 2:37-48; cf. Hebrews 5:8-9). What is a bridegroom without a bride (Revelation 21:9)? Can there be a king without a kingdom (Colossians 1:13)? What purpose does a foundation serve when there is no building (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)? Will we sever Christ's head from his body (Colossians 1:18)? Jesus is “the Way” (John 14:6); the Christian community is “the Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).
Jesus and his church are not mutually exclusive, and to preach one without the other is both insufficient and detrimental to the Lord’s cause. We are not in the business of persuading people to join “our” church or submit to “our” doctrine, but we must diligently teach CHRIST’S doctrine inclusive of HIS church and the necessity of being a faithful member of it (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; 5:23). Congregations grow and souls are saved when this task is prayerfully and earnestly undertaken. God help us to be faithful to the task.
--Kevin L. Moore
Related posts: And with Many Other Words, The Doctrine of Christ, What Must I Do to Be Saved?, Where's the Church?
Image credit: http://sojo.net/sites/default/files/mainimages/blog/shutterstock_38432584.jpg