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A Case of Mistaken Identity –3

This is the third in a series of blogs on the church or community of Christ-followers. We’re taking a look at the current trend among Christians who are abandoning the community of Christ-followers. In response to this trend, we’re looking at what God says about this in His Word.

Early on in the life of the New Testament church, the community of Christ-followers had grown so large so quickly that it aroused the attention of the Jewish religious leaders. These religious leaders launched an organized attack on the church and one of their chief “KGB” thugs was a guy named Saul.

Saul’s goal was to purge the world of Christians and he had the approval of the authorities to carry out his awful plan. The crazy thing is that Saul considered himself an ardent follower of the One True God and thought he was helping God out by ridding the world of Christians. But the Scripture says, “Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers.” (Acts 9:1 NLT)

Saul was so ambitious in his zeal to eradicate Christ-followers that he requested and received permission to pursue them as far away as Damascus in Syria. But on his way there, Saul was interrupted by God. Here’s the account of his experience:

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” (Acts 9:3-5)

We must not miss the significance of what Jesus says here. Saul had devoted himself to persecuting the church (Acts 8:1). Jesus Christ so closely identifies Himself with His church that He asks Saul, “Why do you persecute me?” To persecute His church is to persecute Christ. To slander the community of Christ-followers is to slander Christ. If we have done that, perhaps we did it in ignorance like Saul, and again this is a case of mistaken identity. We didn’t realize who the church is!

We also see Jesus’ close identification with His community of followers in the fact that God has appointed Jesus as Head of the church (Eph 1:22; Col 1:18). Jesus Christ is the Founder and Leader of the church. We seem to have no trouble recognizing Jesus’ role as Head of the church universal—the unseen, ubiquitous collection of disciples throughout all ages. But Jesus is also the Head of every local congregation of His followers as well. (See 1 Peter 5:1-4; and Revelation 2-3.) How can we claim to follow Jesus if we refuse to associate with the church that He leads?

©2010 Rob Fischer