Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com
CHRISTIAN FOUNDATON SIX: THE CHURCH
Regarding church, the Bible states that we are “Not (to be) forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25). Christians need to be together for help, support, encouragement, and reinforcement of the Christian values that hold us together. Come with me as you and I consider the doctrine of the church. In this lesson I will cover the uniqueness, structure and importance of the church. Let’s study.
I. THE UNIQUENESS OF THE CHURCH
The first thing to note is the identity of the church. There are two vast dimensions: the universal and invisible dimension along with the local and visible dimension. The church started on the day of Pentecost. We know this because during His earthly ministry Christ said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Thus, you can see that its establishment was yet future to when Christ spoke those words.
Combining other portions of Scripture we can pinpoint the church’s beginning to the day of Pentecost, seven weeks after Christ’s resurrection (Acts 1:5; 2:1-5, 33; 11:15-16; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:22-23). The event started the dispensation, or age of the church. Its completion will be at a yet future date that scholars call the “Rapture” (Acts 15:14-18; Romans 11:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).
The Church Universal, then, includes all true believers from Pentecost to the future Rapture. The church is also spiritual, with Christ at its head and individual believers making up the entire body. Some members are now in heaven, and others are alive on earth.
The church also has a local, earthly, and visible aspect. It can be defined as a group of professing, baptized believers in Christ who are organized to carry out God’s will. The people, not the building, constitute a local church. To clarify, a Christian school, missionary agency, hospitals, specialized non-profit ministry, or Bible study and prayer group is not a local church. These groups are, however, valid extensions of the church, and are called “parachurch” organizations.
According to New Testament data, a local church is organized, has a membership, officers, divisions of labor, government, meetings, elections, discipline, registers, letters of commendation, qualifications for membership and excommunication procedures (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23; 19:9; 20:28, etc.).
Second, from the Bible you can note the unique relationship between the church and Christ (Matthew 16:18; 18:17). The church is the only institution founded by Christ. He leads, maintains, and defends it against its enemies. The New Testament gives six pictures of this unique relationship to illustrate the special relationship to Christ.
The church is likened to a bride of whom Christ is the groom (Ephesians 5:25-27), and a branch with Christ as the vine (John 15: 1). It is also pictured as a flock of sheep with Christ as the shepherd (John 10:7-27). It is seen as a temple with Christ as the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:5). It is described as ministering priests with Christ as the high priest (1 Peter 2:5-9). Finally, it is explained as a new creation with Christ as the head and first fruits (1Corinthians15:45). Christ, you can see, purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The church is very important and special to Jesus Christ.
Third, we note the purpose of the church. The biblical church can operate in any society, economic or political system. It has a special role in any and every society. It promotes righteousness through changed individuals who In turn promote good works. I list for you the particular functions of the church.
1. The church preaches the Bible. The church is entrusted with the truth from God (only revealed in the Bible) and is the household of the living God of the universe. It is to proclaim that truth to all humanity (1Timothy 3:15; 4:13; John 8:31, 32, 47; 14:23; 17:17). No other earthly institution or organization is charged with that responsibility.
2. The church edifies, or equips Christians for good service and works (Ephesians 2:10, 4:12; Titus 2:14). This is accomplished by fellowship, education, training, motivation, preaching and creating opportunities for service.
3. The church worships God in spirit and truth (Acts 2:42; Philippians 3:3; John 4:23, 24). This corporate worship is the job of the church, not car companies, grocery stores, sports teams, government agencies, or other religions – but the church, according to the Bible. Of course, individuals and small groups can worship God too. Sometimes churches must worship underground, because of oppression from government or other religious restrictions.
4. The church is involved in social concern (James 1:27; 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17, 18; Galatians 2:10). Great distress exists in this world: broken homes, sickness, poverty, orphaned children, the helpless and displaced - the list is very long. As Christians we are the vessels by which God channels His pity, mercy, compassion, love and care to the needs of the world.
5. The church administers the ordinances of our Lord (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 11:23-30). The two ordinances are water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Some churches add more ordinances, and call them different names – such as Sacraments. Different churches understand the ordinances to have different meanings.
6. The church has as its primary task, however, the evangelization of the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). Christ has chosen and appointed us to go into the entire world with the gospel: the good news that men and women can be saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ (John 15:16). Individually, and corporately as a church, we have been entrusted with this exclusive message.
There is no other way by which people can be saved (Acts 4:12; Galatians 2:7; Romans 10:9-15). The central objective of the church is world evangelism. I repeat myself here, but, no other institution, organization, or religion in the entire world or through history has been given the unique privileges, responsibilities, and commission that were given the church by its Head, Jesus Christ. We should guard against straying from our central assigned purpose.
Think about this a moment. It is important for us to minister to the needs of others in the name of Christ. But, what good is it to feed a hungry person, but let their soul go to hell? Evangelism is the core responsibility of the church.
And now I turn your attention to the structure of the church. It is in this area of church government and the ordinances that good people of God differ in their views, even though they believe the Bible and take it seriously. It is in this area of denominational distinctives that we must be kind toward each other and our fellow brethren in Christ. We simply agree to disagree and not be mean and angry toward those who disagree with our view!
As Christians it is vitally important to look for areas of cooperation rather than trying to find areas to fight about. We must head for common ground, not fighting ground. With this caution in mind, I now proceed to the issue of church government and the ordinances.
II. THE STRUCTURE OF THE CHURCH
As to church government there are basically five types.
1. First is the Episcopal. There are varying degrees in this structure with the most rigid, hierarchical form being the Roman Catholic system with the Pope at its head. Chiefly, the bishops govern the church, although there are elders, pastors, deaconesses, and deacons. Anglicans some Lutherans and Methodists have this form of government.
2. Second, there is the federal system. Presbyterian and Reformed churches along with some independent Bible churches have adopted this form. The church is governed by elders who are given their authority by the congregation. It is a representative government where the people govern through representatives, the elders.
3. Third, there is the congregational type of government. Groups who hold to this type are Baptists, Evangelical Free, Disciples, Congregational, some Lutherans, and Independent churches. The local churches are independent and self-governing. The officers are voted on by the congregation as well as decisions affecting the life of the church.
4. The fourth type is the national church in which the head of state is also the head of the church. Church leaders are appointed by some agency in the government. Examples are the Lutheran church in Scandinavia and the Church of England. The boundaries of the church can be the boundaries of the state. However, Lutherans and Anglicans are found around the world.
5. Last, we have the type which has no official government structure. The Quakers and Plymouth Brethren have this type. They say that Christ is the head and there is no need for human leaders.
Bible scholars teach that the federal and congregational system seem to have the most biblical support. The other types were developed throughout Church history.
As a final note, there is a distinction between associations of churches, and denominations. A denomination is a legally organized and related number of local churches. They are bound together by an official hierarchical organizational structure.
An association is a group of local independent churches that loosely affiliate and cooperate together at some level, but which the final authority rests with the local church. Most Baptist churches follow this type.
Now I approach the issue of the ordinances. An ordinance may be defined as an outward rite or observance commanded by Christ to be performed by His church. Protestants believe there are two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Throughout history there have been sharp differences of opinion on their exact meaning and purpose and in this space I cannot present all the views.
First, I take up baptism. Baptism is something Christ commanded. Therefore, it is important. General agreement can be found on three issues: adults who receive Christ as Savior are to be baptized, it is to be administered by the local church, and it is at least a symbolic act of identification with Christ and His church.
Major points of disagreement can be boiled down to three: does baptism save a person, are only believers in Christ to be baptized (as opposed to infants and children) and should the actual means be by immersion, pouring or sprinkling of water.
The Lord’s Supper
The Lord’s Supper (or communion) is the second ordinance (Matthew 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:19, 20; John 6:48-63; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17; 11:23-34). The Bible does not say how often to take communion, nor does it give details on the way it is to be conducted. The Lord’s Supper is an important celebration for believers, never to be taken lightly. General agreement can be established that, at a minimum, communion is a memorial, or a reminder of the gospel.
In its simplest biblical form the Lord’s Supper has two elements: bread and wine. Some groups use red grape juice. The ceremony consists of prayer, the distribution of the bread and wine, and the eating and drinking. The service symbolizes at least two things: the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and the Christian’s faith, commitment and identification to Christ.
The latter is because the partaking is a witness to others and demonstrates the Christian’s oneness with Christ and other believers. Some groups believe that the Lord is spiritually present during the Lord’s Supper; others believe that the bread and wine actually turn into Christ’s body and blood. Some believe that grace as an empowering force is transferred to the partaker during the rite.
I take up next the issue of the value of the church to believers. Is church important? Do we really need to be involved in a local church? Can’t I just go when I feel like it? Again, I turn to the Bible for the answers.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CHURCH
First, there are the examples in the New Testament. Christ Himself, along with the early Christians, regularly attended the central place of worship where God’s people gathered and were deeply involved (Luke 4:16; Acts 2:41-47; 5:14). The Bible admonishes Christians to attend church (Hebrews 10:24, 25), even in the face of severe persecution. But again, believers must be careful in some countries because of persecution. Sometimes they are forced to meet in secret and in small groups.
Second, there is the importance of the church to God. All the books of the New Testament were written either to or for the eventual benefit of the church. Acts is a history of the church. The Gospels tell of the founder of the church, Jesus Christ. The church is Christ’s agent to carry out His primary purpose in the world (Matthew 16:18; 28:18-20; Acts 15:14-16).
There are many fine extensions of the church in Christian work (mission agencies, etc.), but support for those works comes basically from the church, and the Individuals who make up the church.
Think of it this way: Christ loved the church so much He left the power, glory, honor and wealth of heaven, and came to poverty, shame, disgrace and pain in this world. Why? That He might purchase the church with His own blood (Ephesians 5:25-28; Acts 20:28). The church is made up of people who have received the salvation Christ provided. If I say I love Jesus, then I must love the things Jesus loves. If the church is important to Christ, then it should be important to me – and all believers.
Third, the church has special benefit for the believer. I mention just three.
The church is a place of divine instruction (1 Timothy 3:15). It is the place where the Bible is preached faithfully through the years. The bank gives instruction on how to balance a cheque book. A garage will tell us how to fix and maintain our car. A doctor will tell us how to stay healthy. But for divine instruction we must go to the church. Its job is to maintain and perpetuate the truth of God through the ages. The church is the base for seminaries, Bible schools and Christian publishing houses - and the local church preaches the Word out in the grass roots of society.
Spiritual food and protection
Second, the church is a place of spiritual food and protection (Acts 20:28-30). In the community of believers we are cared for, helped in crisis, nourished with encouragement, protected from false doctrine, coaxed back into the flock when we want to leave. The local church is family that helps our faith to grow. It is called the household of God (1 Timothy 3:15), and the children of God should be raised in God’s household.
When we put many pieces of wood together into a fire they will burn brightly and cause heat. But if we take one of those pieces of wood and place it onto the cold, damp ground by itself, it will cool and go out. So it is with us as Christians, if we stay together we will stay strong in Christ. If we depart from the church, we will grow cold and indifferent in our faith. Our Christian joy, fellowship and useful service will sputter out.
A third benefit from the church is that it provides a stimulus and outlet for our God given creative skills. The local church is a wonderful place to learn and develop the abilities God has given. We can teach, manage, visit, be involved in children’s work, care for the sick and elderly, and develop music abilities. Whatever our skills are, we can use them weekly in service that inspires, teaches, encourages others and bring glory to God. We even have a place to give financially to advance the precious cause of the God of the universe. As a team we can accomplish much more than we can as individuals.
For example, if you take one match stick into your fingers, it is easy to break. If, however, you place many match sticks together and wrap them tightly together, it is almost impossible to break the bundle. So it is with Christians. By ourselves we are not very strong, and we do not accomplish much. But banded together, we stay strong and effective and grow in our strength, ability, and usefulness to God.
In this lesson you learned four things about the Church. I explained the uniqueness, structure, and importance of the Church. From here I shift your focus to the fascinating subject of future things. What is going to happen in the future, according to the Bible? I can say, “There are very many exciting, sobering, and stunning events to ponder.” Come with me as we examine future things.
NEXT, Chapter Seven: The Future
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