Sunday, June 1, 2014            Basics Index


The New Testament Church
What is the Church?


As we continue our study of some basic topics today we want to begin a study of the New Testament church.   This study will actually involve at least 2 months of lessons as we seek to identify from a Biblical perspective what the church is, how to identify the one true church and what is its work.  In this study we will appeal to the standards of authority we have established as we examine the text of scripture.

We live in a religiously divided world.  Among believers in Jesus there is great debate about what the church is.  Currently there are hundreds of well-established denominations and it seems that on a weekly basis there are new  churches being established – many of which are evolving into their own denominations (some community churches today are now “branching out” with satellite churches).  I am convinced that when Jesus determined to build His church, He did NOT intend to see the division and compromise so prevalent in our midst.

So how do we determine the ONE true church?   The answer is to return to the scriptures and find out what it is, how she worshipped, how she was organized and what she did.  If we will follow the pattern we find in scripture, we can find and become part of that ONE true church of Christ.  Our goal is to find that church in scripture.

We will begin today with an identification of what the church is.

 I.                    What is the church?

a.        The word “church” is interesting in and of itself.  Its etymology is actually  the German word, ‘kirch’ and the Scottish ‘Kirk’.  Their meanings are not associated with the actual Greek word translated “church” in our English translations.

b.       The Greek word from which the term “church” is  translated is κκλησία, (ekklesia).

                                                   i.      It is a compound Greek word that means, “to call out” of something.

                                                  ii.      In its common usage, the Greek word often meant an assembly. 
In fact, 3 times in the New Testament the word is translated that way (Acts 19:32, 39 & 41) where it is actually used of a gathering Ephesus that was not a lawful assembly. 
Sometimes Hebrews 2:12 uses the word “assembly” instead of “church”

                                                iii.      In every other usage,  some 112 times it is translated “church” in its various forms.

                                                iv.      When we speak of the term church what we mean is the “called out body” of those who belong to Christ or more literally, “the assembly of those belonging to Christ.”  This does not necessarily translate to only when we assemble to worship God (though that is a proper usage of the term) but the idea of a group that together belongs to Him.

                                                  v.      The term “church” is never used of an individual – it is always a collective of individuals who together accomplish something.   The context determines what.

                                                vi.      Because the Bible is about Christians following Christ, I have no problem with translating the word “ekklesia” as church in contrast to “assembly”.

c.        Uses of the term church (ekklesia )–

                                                   i.      In the New Testament the word “church” is used typically in two different forms.

                                                  ii.      Universal - referring to the body of all who are saved

1.       When we speak of the universal church we are talking about all who are in a saved relationship with Christ (and God).  It is not an organization but a relationship.  If you are saved you are in the universal church.

2.       Matthew 16:18, ““And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

3.       And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22–23)

4.       Ephesians 3:10, “to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,

5.       to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)

6.       But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect,” (Hebrews 12:22–23)

                                                iii.      Locally – referring to a group of saints in a given locale.

1.       A local church (congregation) is a group of saints (membership therein is based upon an understanding of their being saved and thus a part of the universal church) who join together in a given locale to do the work God has prescribed for such bodies.

2.       To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” (1 Corinthians 1:2)

3.       So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.” (Acts 5:11, NKJV)

4.       Galatians 1:2 finds a letter written “to the churches of Galatia.”

Revelation 1:4, was written “to the seven churches which are in Asia: …,

Acts 16:5 speaking of Debre, Lystra, and other cities in that region, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. 
Romans 16:16, “Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.

NOTE in these passages that you have a plurality of “churches” – this is NOT various denominations, but rather it is varying local congregations. 

5.       Matthew 18:17, in dealing with discipline of rebellious saints, after other options are exhausted we read, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

James 5:14, 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.
1 Tim. 3:5, speaking of the qualifications of elders and controlling their families we read, “(for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?);” (1 Timothy 3:5, NKJV)

NOTE: In these passages, no particular local congregation is mentioned, but the action refers to a local congregation

                                                iv.      There are times when the word is used in other senses but the distinction between “universal” and “local” are clearly understood.

1.       For example in Acts 9:31 we read, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” This was following Paul’s conversion and his ceasing the pursuing and persecuting of Christians.  The term “churches” does not refer to any particular local congregation, but clearly the point is congregations. (NOTE: Some translations and early MSS use the singular for “church” here – but the point is the same.)

2.       Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.

3.       1 Corinthians 10:32,  Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,   The context indicates proper conduct that will not denigrate God or Christ in any way or ANY congregation that belongs to Him. 

1.       1 Timothy 3:15,  but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.  The usage of the term “church” here is dealing with the establishment of the Lord’s church as a whole (universal) but it is accomplished THROUGH local congregations fulfilling their work. 

NOTE: It has been emphasized here in times past that each local congregation exists as if it were the only one on earth - meaning she maintains her autonomy and independence from  any other local congregation AND that we answer directly to Christ (based upon His word) for what we do.

                                                  v.      Finally, it IS used as a gathering or meeting (saints assembling as the local church)

1.       1 Cor. 11:18, For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

2.       1 Cor. 14:4, 5, 12, 19, etc – in these texts we find Paul discussing the assembling of the saints to worship God.

                                                vi.      The word “church” is NEVER used to describe an organization larger than the Local church as in a conglomeration of congregations (as we shall see in another lesson).

                                               vii.      Furthermore, it is worthy of note that the word is NEVER used to describe a building!


 II.                  Descriptions of the church

a.        A good way to understand the church is to examine the various ways it is described in scripture. 

b.        In the New Testament the church is described as:

                                                   i.      The church – not to be redundant, but notice that even in this term it is a description rather than a formal name.  As “the church” – we are a gathering of saints united together in purpose and work.  
We are called – by the gospel – 2 Thess. 2:14
We are called out of the world to be separate – 2 Cor. 6:17
1 Peter 2:9 says, ““But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;  NOTE that we are His own special people.  We have changed masters.  That is what it means to be part of His “church”.

                                                  ii.      The body – the description of a body means that that we are under the direction (authority) of our head Jesus Christ.  This is emphasized directly in numerous passages – Eph. 1:22-23, Col. 1:18.
Also we are reminded in 1 Cor. 12:12-27 that we are the body of Christ and members individually.  Paul’s reference here is to the functioning of a congregation as the body of Christ (again the independence of that body from other local congregations is emphasized in the text). 
AS part of His body we have the responsibility to grow – Eph. 4:15-16
AND to keep it pure – 1 Cor. 6:18-20

                                                iii.      We are the bride of Christ – with the emphasis being that we belong to Him and are in subjection to Him as a wife is to her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33).  Christ is the husband and the church is His bride.  As part of His church (i.e. you are a part of the universal body – saved) you must be in subjection to Him. 
The call is for faithfulness to Him – we need fidelity in our service to Him. 

                                                iv.      WE are a kingdom – a kingdom has to do with law.  Christ is our king and we are to obey His edicts.  That is why we are not at liberty to do as we wish.  We are to be loyal to Him as our King.
In Matt. 16:18-19 Jesus after speaking of the church, He spoke of the kingdom.  They are one and the same, just describing different aspects of the same relationship. 
Eph. 2:19 describes us as “fellow citizens.”
1 Peter 2:11 describes us as strangers and pilgrims on this earth
Heb. 12:28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.

                                                  v.      We are a household – Eph. 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15 - a description dealing with obedience as a child is to obey his parents.  We are a family with the privileges and responsibilities of such.

                                                vi.      We are a temple – Eph. 2:19-22 – as a temple we worship Him (and Him only).  Furthermore we maintain our purity so that we can be living and holy sacrifices to Him (Rom. 12:1-2).


 III.                Authority in the Church of the First Century

a.        It recognized Jesus as its head – Matt. 28:18-20, Eph. 1:22-23,  1 Cor. 3:9-11

b.       The message of the apostles was respected – both orally and written.  1 Cor. 14:37, 2 Thess. 2:15
1 Cor. 11:23, “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…”

c.        Distinguished between the Old and New Covenants – Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, etc.  They recognized and properly applied the Old Testament.

d.       Respected the silence of scripture   - 1 Pet. 4:11, 1 Cor. 4:6

e.       Was united in doctrine – taught the same thing – 1 Cor. 4:17 – Paul taught the same, “everywhere in every church.”    1 Cor. 7:17, “And so I ordain (direct – TT) in all the churches.”
Galatians was written to several churches.
Colossae was told to read the letter from Laodicea and visa-versa – Colossians 4:16


And there you have a basic lesson on some things that help us understand what the church is.  There is so much more to be said, and in coming lessons we will discuss this.  May we strive to make “the church of Christ the church of Christ.