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Since there are over four hundred groups that identify themselves as Christian, it is past time for some plain talk about the church. God bless you as you read and meditate about the church.
What is the church? The church is Gods family of believers. God, not man, adds those who, through faith, put on Christ in baptism. This is the universal church and includes all who are in Christ. The word, church, is also used in a sense to indicate those in a certain locality or region. Acts 2: 47; Galatians 3: 26-27; 1: 2; Romans 16: 5; Acts 11: 22
Who is the head of the church? Christ alone is the head of the body which is the church. It should be noted that these statements about Christ being the head of the church were made long after Christ had ascended to the Father. Whether in heaven or on earth, Christ is the head of the church. Ephesians 1: 22; 5: 23; Colossians 1: 18
Does Christ have a vicar or substitute as head of the church? Absolutely not! As a physical body has only one head, the church, the body of Christ, has only one head. Colossians 1: 18
What does the word, "eklessia," that is translated church, mean? The word is used several times literally. In Acts 19: 28-29 the word is translated an "assembly," referring to a number of people who were in a state of riot. In Acts 19: 38-39 we find the word again translated assembly referring to some type of town meeting. In 1 Corinthians 11: 18; 14: 18-19, 28 and 35 the word is used to refer to a religious meeting. In other places the word is used figuratively and means "called out" and has reference to those called out from the world, called out of darkness or called out from sin. In that sense it could be called an assembly or congregation. Thus it is unmistakably clear the word does not depict the church as an organization or a body politic with any special power over individual Christians. It is regrettable that the translator of the Bible used the word "church" to translate "eklessia," when referring to a religious assembly. The word "church" is from "kuriakon" which means "the Lords house" which is from "kurios" which means "Lord or Master" which is from "kurios" which means "power." "Kuriakon" is never used in the New Testament; neither is any form of it used to refer to Gods people. Unfortunately the church has come to be thought of as an institution or organization through which those who are members enjoy Gods blessings as they would secure to themselves advantage in any number of human organization.
2 Thessalonians 2: 14; Colossians 1: 13; 2 Timothy 1: 9
Is a priesthood associated with the church? Yes, Jesus is the high priest after the order of Melchisidek and all believer are priests. You can read about Melchisidek in the fourteenth chapter of Genesis. There is no distinction between priests (clergy) and the laity as all believers are priests and Jesus is our High Priest. Hebrews 5: 6, 10; 7: 11; 1 Peter 2: 5, 9; Revelation 1: 6
Have certain ones been appointed to unique positions of service in the church? Yes, God set the following in the church.
Philippians 1: 1; 1 Timothy 3: 8-12; Romans 16: 1
1 Corinthians 12: 28
These have been appointed by God to serve in the church. These were positions of service not authority. The miraculous gifts were not to persist but were necessary for the establishment and strengthening of the early church. We notice that there were no priest (as all believers are priests), no pope, no cardinals, no bishop (over a diocese), no pastor (one person over a congregation), no reverends and no fathers. Jesus said, "You know the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many," "But do not be called Rabbi; for one is your Teacher, and you are brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for one is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the great among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted." Matthew 20: 25-28; 23:8-12
How does the worship of the early church compare with the ritualism of Judaism?
The worship of the early church was simple and spiritual in comparison to the ornate rituals of Judaism. Surprisingly many of the high churches seemed to be enamored with these very things.
Who holds authority in the church? Jesus has all authority. Jesus said, " All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." That fairly well excludes everyone else. If Jesus has all authority, no one disciple should claim authority over any other. Matthew 28: 20
Did Jesus give authority over the church to the apostles, and thus to those who claim to succeed the apostles? Absolutely not! Jesus said, speaking to His apostles, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you
shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Again, Jesus said, "But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called leaders; for one is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you, shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be
exalted." Even the apostles were not placed in position of authority, they were placed in positions of great service. The apostles were given, through the Holy Spirit, the work of revealing and defining the will of God for man. Paul in writing to the Corinthians said, "Not that we lord it over your faith, but
with you for your joy."
But surely the elders of the church were placed in position of authority over the church?
Absolutely not! Peter wrote, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock." The elders are in a position of great service to the flock. They are to shepherd the flock and exercise oversight but not as a lord, not as one in authority. How do they
fulfill their responsibility? By teaching, by example, by taking the lead in that which is good and wholesome. Unfortunately some elders try to serve by ruling instead of rule by serving. Most do this not because they are evil, ambitious men, but because we have some misconceptions about the church and we have not had good teaching about elders and the church.
But are we not to, "obey those that have the rule over you, and submit to them?" Hebrews 13: 17
Yes and no! The above is the rendering of the KJV. The New American Standard has, "obey your leaders, and submit to them." We find that "those that have the rule over you" are in reality their "leaders." This is the same word that is found in verse 7 and verse 24 of this same chapter. Properly speaking, these are "leaders," not "rulers" and not necessarily "elders." They are the ones who "spoke the word of God to you," and probably include apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and perhaps elders. The Hebrews were told to imitate their faith, obey them and submit to them. Next we need to
examine the word "obey." If you have a Vines, "an Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words" you will find that the word is from "peitho" which means to persuade, to win over, in the Passive and Middle Voices, to be persuaded, to listen, to obey. In Hebrews 13: 17 the voice of the verb is passive and, "The obedience suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion." The more accurate translation of the phrase would be, "Be persuaded by your leaders and submit to them." As we are instructed at Ephesians 5: 21 to submit one to another, there is no problem with that concept, as they are watching over our souls. We do this not because of supposed authority, but because of their work and the service they perform.
Does not 1 Timothy 5: 17 indicate that elders are in positions of authority inasmuch they are said to "rule?" The translators of the KJV version at the insistence of King James took every opportunity to promote "the rule" of both king and bishop. In this instance "proistemi" is translated "rule". The word according to Vine means "to stand before" hence, to lead, attend to (indicating care and diligence). Thus the elder is to be "out front" in teaching and manner of life.
But doesnt Paul say that the elders of the church of Ephesus were "over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers" thus demonstrating their authority?
Indeed the KJV does state "over the which." But remember, unfortunately they had a charge from the
King James to uphold the authority of bishop and king. The word in question is "en" and
approximately 2,700 times is translated correctly to mean "in" or "among" but this time its "over." Later versions have it right. The New American Standard has, "among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers." Friends, we are brothers; God has not placed some in positions of authority in the church. Acts 20: 28
Who are the elders, bishops and pastors in the church? They are the "older" ones, who by virtue of their maturity and spirituality take the lead in the affairs of the church. They are people of good reputation and example who are recognized as living by faith.
How did the apostles conduct themselves in relation to the church in the problems they faced and decisions they made?
of the whole congregation. Acts 6: 1-7
Thus we see a far different pattern in the early church. When time permitted, the whole congregation was involved in the affairs of the church. As we would expect the apostles and elders took the lead in these matters but the congregation was never excluded. The apostles and elders never appear to be lording it over others.
Is the church denominational in structure? To denominate according to the dictionary is to name but the question does not really bring that to mind. Most people, when they hear the question, ask is the church the sum total of all the denominations? A denomination being a group with a similar doctrine that has a particular name. The answer, I believe, is no to both questions. The church does not have a proper name. It is called the church of Christ, the church of God, church of the living God but could be called the assembly of God, assembly of Christ, the Christian church, etc. Usually it is simply the church. Neither is the church the sum total of the denominations. The church is the saved. This is not said to deny there are saved ones in the denominations.
How many churches are there? The church is the body of Christ. As Christ has only one body, there is only one church. The denominations are unfortunate misconceptions about the church. Colossians 1: 18; Ephesians 4: 4
Is the church an institution or organization? The church is an organism, a body, not an organization. We, individually, are members of the body; Christ being the head of the body. Sometimes the church is referred to as a "blood bought institution." While the church is "blood brought," it is not an institution in the sense of being an organization with a hierarchical structure it is an institution only in the sense that it was set up or built by the Lord.
Is the church hierarchical in structure? The military is a hierarchical organization. In the military we find several ranks; general, colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, corporal and private. Beginning with colonel each rank is subordinate to the one that precedes it. But Jesus said, You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them, but it shall not be so among you." Jesus is king and we are subjects, we are brethren. Jesus is high priest and we are priests. There is no multi-layered system of authority. The various positions within the church are positions of service.
What other designations for the church? The church is the body of Christ, the family of God, the house of God and the kingdom of God.
Does church refer to the building or the people? Often, in common usage, the church building is referred to as the church. We all know this is not correct; the church is people.
Who built the church? Jesus said He would build the church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. Matthew 16: 18
On what was the church built? The church was built upon the truth, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Some have misinterpreted Jesus statement in an attempt to make Peter the foundation of the church. 1 Corinthians 3: 11 establishes the fact that Jesus is the foundation.
What should be the attitude of members one toward another when there are differences in belief? Paul makes it clear that we are to accept one another as brethren when there are differences in belief and practice. He gives as examples, those who because of conscience, will not eat meat offered to idols or
One who observes certain days because of their convictions. Those who have a better understanding of these matters should not hold in contempt those who refrain from eating. On the other hand, those who are weak in the faith should not judge those who eat. One group has no right to force their beliefs on others.
Romans 14: 3-8; 1 Corinthians 12: 14-27
Was the establishment of the church a result of the failure to establish the kingdom? Some of the premillennial persuasion believe that God intended to establish His kingdom but when the Jews, for the most, rejected Jesus, Jesus built His church instead, postponing the kingdom until a later time. There are several problems with this idea. First: God knows everything before it happens. God knew the Jews would reject Jesus before it happened. Second: God works His will despite the response of man. In this case God used mans rejection of Jesus to accomplish His purposes. Third: the idea shows a misunderstanding of the church and the kingdom.
Can we expect to find those not of our number serving God? Once the disciples saw someone casting out demons in the name of Christ but he did not follow with them. John stated that he tried to hinder that person for that reason. But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for he who is not against you is for you." Many fellowships have that spirit of exclusionism, believing that only they are serving God. We must be very careful to guard against that spirit as it is very presumptuous. On the other hand Jesus said that many will call upon Him as Lord, and claim to teach and do miracles in His name, but will be rejected because they practice lawlessness. Luke 9: 49-50; Matthew 7:21-23
How does one become a member of the body of Christ, the church? You do not. When you, through faith in God, are baptized into Christ, you are thereby added to the Church by God.
How should we respond to those who manifest faith in God but have not put Christ on in baptism?
There was a centurion, named Cornelius; he was a devout man, feared God, gave alms and prayed to God continually, but he was not saved. However his prayers and alms had come up as a memorial before God. He was directed by God to send for the Apostle Peter to hear a message from Peter by which he and his household would be saved. Apollus, was mighty in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, spoke and taught the things concerning Jesus, but he was acquainted only with the baptism of John the Baptist. Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and taught him the way of the Lord more accurately. Faith in God is precious and should be respected where ever it is found but of course needs to be perfected by obedience.
How should we respond to those who will not receive or actually oppose us? Once when Jesus was traveling from the north toward Jerusalem, He and His disciples entered a city of Samaria. Now the Jews and the Samaritans intensely disliked one another, and on this occasion the Samaritans would not receive Jesus. James and John, two of His disciples, asked Him if they should command fire to come down from heaven to consume the village. Jesus rebuked them and the bitter attitude they had toward the Samaritans and reminded them that He did not come to destroy mens lives, but to save them. We, who claim to be Christians, would do well to remember Jesus mission because that is our mission also. Luke 9: 51-56
What should be our attitude toward brothers with whom we differ? Paul in the fourteenth chapter of Romans explains the attitudes that should exist. He states that they should receive one another as brethren; not to arguments and disputes or to pass judgement. Neither should they hold one another in contempt. "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God." We have no right to force our ideas on our brethren.
Are there members of the body, the church, in the various denominations? All who through faith in God and are baptized into Christ are added to the church. I believe there are members in at least some of the denominations.
Can we attend the church of our choice? Of course we can, but that does not mean we are pleasing to God by so doing. Since Christ has revealed those things we need to know about the church, we are not free to do as we please. As a Christian we voluntarily submit ourselves to the will of God.
How do we decide which to attend? Some time ago I was taught and believed that the way to choose a church was to find a group that completely matched the characteristic of the church described in the New Testament and join with them. How naive can you be? There is no group that completely matches the ideal church just as there is no one who does not sin. We are all far from perfect. Now, I worship with the same group but I say it is because I can do so without violating my conscience as it is instructed by the Scriptures. There are "tares" and "wheat" even in the groups that closely identify with the Scriptures and you will find many diverse opinions in every group. Matthew 13: 25-40
"For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus sake." 2 Corinthians 4:5
"Not that we Lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy; for in your faith you are standing firm." 2 Corinthians 1: 24
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. Romans 1: 1
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her children. 1 Thessalonians 2: 6-7
"Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock." 1 Peter 5: 2-3
"Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do that which is proper, yet for loves sake I rather appeal to you-since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Philemon 8-9
"You call Me Teacher an Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one anothers feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. John 13: 13-15
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Last Update 09/26/12