Here is one way to look at the church:
Step one: People hear the gospel.
Step two: Some of them believe and accept the Lord.
Step three: These believers decide to band together and form a congregation, a church.
But that's not the picture John 15 presents. In that chapter Christ describes Himself as a vine and the believers in Him as the branches. The branches as well as new twigs owe their existence to the vine. God the heavenly vine-dresser, also grafts other branches into the vine. The vine and its branches represents the church. Its origin divine.
Romans 12 looks at the church that way too. Paul compares the church to a human body. The foot, the hand, the nose, the ear, they all exists because of the body. Christians owe their existence to Christ's saving work and they are thus added to the congregation through the Word ministry of His Spirit.
That should mean at least three fundamental things to believers:
- They are humble and have a deep sense of security: left on their own they would not have chosen for the Lord, it was His initiative, His work in them, that saved them by grace.
- They willingly serve their Lord and fellow-believers, because they belong together, all one body we... They know themselves to be citizens of one Kingdom. From His power they do His Kingdom bidding.
- Evangelism and mission have a future! As the church reaches out, both at home and abroad, they know themselves sent and backed by the Head of the Body. Wherever the servants go, the Holy Spirit has already done His preparatory work.
The church, then, is not to be equated with human societies and organizations of all sorts. It is a divine institution. Membership in it is a precious God-given privilege.