One searing afternoon on the Bengali coast of India I had an epiphany that opened my heart to the importance of the church there and everywhere.
I was to speak to the 1,200 church leaders who sat under a huge sheltering arbor. I occupied a chair on the stage with other program participants.
From that angle I scanned the audience as the people worshipped. I could see joy, suffering, peace, hardship, faith, courage, and endurance. I wrestled with the hard fact that had begun to haunt me as I traveled the world speaking to leadership groups: They could teach me more than I could teach them.
As I looked at those inspiring men and women a realization hit me: this is the way the lord Jesus Christ walks and ministers in all the regions, cities, towns, and villages of India.
They constitute the “body of Christ,” and the way any of us walk is through bodies to which our legs and feet are attached.
Further, the Spirit had equipped those men and women with the ministry abilities of the Lord Jesus Christ himself through spiritual gifts.
Ephesians 4:7 reveals that:
“... To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
There are two types. One category is personal spiritual gifts; the other is that of the office gifts, listed in Ephesians 4: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
The office gifts are imparted to enable Christ-like leadership, while the personal gifts are granted to all believers for the sake of Christ-like ministry in and to the world.
The office gifts are the human beings themselves equipped with the specific gift and its anointing, and not merely the function itself.
Both the leaders and people of a congregation must have Christ’s gifts because their assignment is to go everywhere with the incarnational ministry of Christ. Jesus himself had told his followers that those who believe in him would do the “works” he did ... “and greater works than these.” (John 14:12)
Far from “non-essential, the real church is of stunning importance. She needs a fresh vision of who she is and the powerful ministry for which she has been entrusted and empowered.
The true church is an “organism” rather than an institution because of 1 Peter 2:5: “you also, as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
The Greek word for “living” in this passage is zontes, from zoe, referring to life as God has it rather than merely bios, our life-form that can exist in a finite world of tensed time and matter. Christ in his incarnation is singular because in Him these two types intertwine.
The church, whether in India or any other nation, is to walk in this incarnate reality, made manifest through the Holy Spirit.
And the greater the disorder in the nations, the greater the need for order in the body of Christ — not authoritarian rule, dominance or mastery, but order manifest in the life of Christ and operational in His church through biblical order.
That means not only the prophetic office and function, but that of all the other offices, working together in symphonic wholeness.
The principle in India holds for every place on earth. We think much of the church in its global sense, but in this “birth pangs” Age (Matthew 24) we must tighten our lens and see the vital role of the local church.
In recent weeks I have been writing about the prophetic gift, but that is but one facet of the body of Christ. The whole world needs the whole church, and local churches should nurture their wholeness of giftedness.
All people in the body of Christ have, through the Holy Spirit, personal giftedness whereby they can minister something of the abilities of Christ in their fellowships, communities, and world.
Again, these gifts together constitute the “measure,” or distribution, of the total giftedness of Jesus Christ across his body, the church. The distribution will encompass the church in its locality and in its universality.
And it takes a whole body to minister Christ’s wholeness in the world. The church needs apostolic leaders who receive and cast vision, prophetic men and women who can help her stay on mission, those with the passion to evangelize to keep the church Great Commission-focused, shepherd-pastors who can help minister healing to the people wounded in and by the godless culture they inhabit, and teachers who help individuals become true disciples —learners, apprentices — of Christ.
Without the office gifts leadership in the church will be missing or usurped by religious tyrants. Without the individual spiritual gifts there will be no ministry of Christ but just empty busy-ness and stale programming.
Worst of all, there will be no transformation for individuals and institutions, wrought by Christ and ministered in and through the Spirit-gifted church.
The whole world needs the church in her wholeness. There is nothing more important in this chaotic time than taking the incarnate ministry of Jesus seriously, and building the “Jesus church”
More of this to come.
Wallace Henley is a former pastor, White House and congressional aide, and author of more than 25 books. His newest is Two Men From Babylon: Nebuchadnezzar, Trump, and the Lord of History, published by Thomas Nelson.