So often when people talk about Church, they tend to have specific and different ideas of the Church – ideas that can be marred by cultural perspectives, personal experiences/expectations, or unfounded teachings. Therefore, it is important to use a biblical approach in developing our understanding of “the Church” as an entity created for a specific purpose. In Matthew 16: 18, Jesus said “Upon this Rock, I will build my Church.” I believe the “Church” was conceived in the mind of Christ and birthed on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The Holy Spirt started the Church through the work of the apostles on that day; over three thousand people were baptized and added to the Lord’s Church.
The Church is a community made of members of Christ, built on the “Rock of Ages” and the foundation of the Apostles’ teaching (Ephesians 2: 19 – 22, 1 Peter 2:5). The Church community is God’s dwelling place where everyone is welcomed, unlike the Jewish Tabernacle (Exodus 25) and the Temple (2 Chronicles 4-5). The former was built by Moses in the wilderness and the latter by Solomon in Jerusalem with the sole purpose of being God’s dwelling place among the people of Israel. The Herodian Temple during the time of Christ was divided by walls to keep gentiles, women, Jewish men and priests in their respective courts. The Gentile courtroom was right outside of the temple and to enter inside could cost them their lives because it was forbidden (Acts 21: 26 – 36). These literal walls in the temple were a reflection of how racially and religiously fragmented their society was at that time. The Jews hated the Samaritans (Luke 9: 51 – 56, John 4: 9), women weren’t equal to men (John 4: 27), gentiles were called uncircumcised in order to keep them away from the “Holy of Holies” (the presence of God), the wealthy did not associate with the poor, and religious leaders like the Pharisees thought themselves to be better than the rest of the people who they classified as sinners (Luke 7: 36 – 39). There was no sense of cohesiveness in the first century community, and Jesus wanted to build a community – a dwelling place for God – where everyone could belong: Jews, Samaritans, and Gentiles, women and men, rich and poor alike. The Church must be a community where members of Christ are united as one and not divided by racial walls, gender walls, and socio-economic walls (Galatians 3: 28). It is our responsibility to make sure that the Church of today continues to reflect God’s original design and purpose: A spiritual community without dividing walls of any sort
In the 1st Century when the Church was established, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, Jewish Christians struggled to accept non-Jewish believers in the Lord’s Church. They used the law to promote and perpetuate these walls, which led to ethnocentrism and elitism that only exacerbated the hostilities between them. They wanted to maintain and impose their Jewish way of life on the gentiles, such as circumcision, washing of hands, and observing special holidays, which would only help rebuild the walls Jesus tore down in the first place. That is why Paul said in Ephesians 2: 14 – 15, “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.”
The only way Jesus could break down these walls and unite everyone into one community was by putting an end to the legal system that created them in the first place. Without the work of Christ many of us today would be living without hope in this world (Ephesians 2: 12). In the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians, Paul reminded us to “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of [our] love. Make every effort to keep [ourselves] united in the Spirit, binding [ourselves] together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, One God and one Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all” (Ephesians 4: 1 – 6). Brothers and sisters, let us continue to endeavor to keep the bond of unity in the Lord’s Church, regardless of the dividing walls that exist in the world.