What do you think of when I say the word “church?” What is the church? Or perhaps I should say who is the church? Is the church a who or a what? When I just asked you what is the church, some of you thought of a church building as in this facility here that we know as Preston Wesleyan Church. If your not part of this congregation on a regular basis, you might have thought of another building. Perhaps you began to think of a particularly striking building that is a church. Some of you no doubt, starting thinking about the people that are gathered here this morning. They make up the church. Maybe some of you began to think of all the Wesleyans who are gathered around the world worshiping today, and perhaps you thought that all those who carried the name Christian were the church. What we are going to take a look at today is what or who the church is and what he would say to it. We are going to be in James 5:13-20.
13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
Now some of you would say that this has more to do with prayer than the church, but if we take a careful look we see that prayer is part of the bigger picture and prayer is important in the life of the church. James asks the question, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of Jesus.” The word that is used in the Greek is ecclesia, which simply means an assembly. As we look at the New Testament there is no clear instance of it being used for a place of meeting or of worship, such as a church building. Neither is it used to denote the inhabitants of a country united in the same profession, for example “The Church of England.” How then is this word used.
- If we look at the word in Acts 19:32 — Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together.  – it is simply translated as an assembly or gathering.
- In other places it denotes the whole body of the redeemed, all those whom the Father has given to Christ, the invisible, catholic (small c) (or universal) church. – This is the Body of Christ in whole (all those who claim Christ and follow his commands and bring others along.)
- It could also mean a few Christians associated together in observing the ordinances of the gospel – Our congregation gathered this morning in this building IS Preston Wesleyan Church. (not the church building)
- It could also mean all the Christians meeting together in a particular city, whether they are assembled in one place of in several places for worship. All those gathered in Antioch were an ecclesia, even though there were several congregations. We could say that all Christians gathered in Martinsville this morning constitute an ecclesia. We could say that all Wesleyans gathered around the US and the world constitutes an ecclesia (one church).
- The whole body of professing Christians throughout the world are the church of Christ.
By now you can probably see where I am going with this. “God has commanded his people to organize themselves into distinct visible ecclesiastical (church) communities with constitutions, laws, and officers, badges, ordinances, and discipline, for the great purpose of giving visibility to the kingdom, of making known the gospel of that kingdom, and of gathering in all its elect subjects. Each one of these distinct organized communities which is faithful to the great King is an integral part of the visible church, and all together constituted the catholic or universal visible church.” Now let’s take a look at our scripture again.
- Is anyone among you suffering?
- Is anyone cheerful?
- Is anyone among you sick?
On any given Sunday morning, we can identify with one of the emotions listed. We all have burdens, trouble, care, happiness, joyfulness, sickness, sorrow, and pain. We all come to church with emotions. We are emotional people. That is part of our design. Several weeks ago I mention that we want to come to church to get a lift (an emotional high.) And we should leave here better off than when we came. But we don’t gather here simply for an emotional high or to lift our spirits. Verse 14 says, “Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” This is the community of faith. It is the body of believers gathered together. As we gather on Sunday mornings, we come from everywhere, not only in a physical sense as in where we live, but emotionally and spiritually. Some of us are happy to be here. Some of us are carrying great burdens. Some are sick and not feeling well. As we take a look at this scripture we are to bear one another’s burdens. We are to gather together to sing songs of praise so that we can encourage one another. We are to pray to God and for one another. Here is the connectional relationship with each other in the church. Each of us, has a vertical connection to God, but we also need the horizontal relationships to each other. If we could function on our own, if the vertical relationship to God was all that was needed, what would be the purpose in gathering together. Not only do we come to connect to God, we can do that at home, but we gather to celebrate the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationships with each other. We come to connect to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to pray for each other, to sing song of worship in praise to a great God, and to encourage one another. James goes on to say, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” This is why the church exists. This is why the church is so much more than a building. It is a body of believers praying and sharing with one another. Prayer is an important part of being the church. It can heal people. Yes, people are physically sick, but there are also others who are spiritually sick. Each of you can probably come up with at least one name if not several of those who have not received Christ as savior. They might be family or they might be friends. We need to continue to pray for them as a church.
The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.
We as a church need to persevere in prayer. How many times to we pray once and that’s it? Dr. Earle Wilson reminded us at the ordination service this year that Elijah was a fervent man of prayer. He did not pray for rain one time, but seven times. How many times would we have given up after the second or third time?
We are called to pray. 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. It’s all of us working together as a community of faith, as believers in Christ, and as the body of Christ that will change the world for Christ. This is the church at work. This is the kingdom at work and not only the body here at Preston but in our community and around the world. Believers all around the world are building the kingdom. That is the purpose of the church. James would want to see believers working together, praying together, worshiping together to the kingdom of God grow throughout the world.