Sunday, January 22, 2017 am                                                    The New Testament Church 2017


What is the Church?

 This year we are going to embark in a study of the New Testament church.  The church is a greatly misunderstood topic, but so essential that we understand it if we are to be pleasing to God. 

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.

And it is not exclusive to the denominational & ecumenical world.  Even among brethren (those teaching the true plan of salvation), there is great, and sometimes bitter, division.  That is why, as Christians, we ought to study what the New Testament church is and seek to follow the pattern we have in scripture. 

In our last lesson, we established the sufficiency of the New Testament pattern for the church.   Now we begin examining what the New Testament church is.

This year we want to address the following:

·         What is the church? Includes various descriptions of its nature.  When did the church begin?  Universal vs congregations.  How to identify the New Testament church.

·         A study of authority.  We will begin by addressing how to establish authority.  A proper understanding of authority is HOW we establish the Biblical pattern.  Misunderstanding this is a major reason why we are so divided.

·         The organization of the church – elders, deacons, preachers, teachers, etc.  Independent and autonomous.  Church cooperation.

·         The Christian and the church – is there a distinction between the individual and the church?  Becoming a part of the church and doing your part.

·         What is the work of the church? Evangelism, edification, benevolence and worship

·         Worship and the church – Why the five acts of worship? 

·         The church treasury – how may the church use its money

·         The purity of the church – including a study of discipline.  Also examining worldliness and how it affects the church.

·         The church and unity – how important is unity?  How do we achieve TRUE unity?

·         What is wrong with denominationalism? 

·         How and why did we get to where we are? A brief history of the apostasy of the church.

·         Fellowship and the church

·         A study of some New Testament congregations and the examples we glean from them

·         An examination of various denominational doctrines – time permitting (possibly, a Sunday night monthly study)


This will be our focus this year.  Let it be understood, that in this study I will say nothing new.  In fact, less than 3 years ago (addressing – Back to Basics), we devoted a handful of lessons to some of the topics we will discuss.  This will be a more detailed study designed to give us a greater appreciation of this divine institution.  For most of us, this will be merely a reminder of what we have learned before.  But that is a good thing and at times necessary.  So let’s get started.  We will begin today with an identification of what the church is.

 I.                     What is the church?

a.       The word “church” is from 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 word is misunderstood and misidentified by many.  Some think of  it as:
1) The building or a structure; 2) A benevolence society; 3) A social club; 4) A political or social activism organization; 5) A fundraising organization (i.e. TV evangelists); 6) A denominational designator; 7) A hierarchy within a religion; 8) a temporary substitute for the kingdom to come.  All of these are contrary to the Greek word translated church AND the way it is used in the New Testament.

c.        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. 
Acts 7:38, the word is used to describe the assembly of Israel in the wilderness.
Hebrews 2:12 uses the word “assembly” instead of “church” (except the KJV) and refers to Psalm 22 where David is speaking of praising God in the midst of the assembly.

                                                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”.

d.       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 earthly 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.                   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 defining what the church is.  In this study, may God be glorified and Christ be magnified through His body. May we strive to make “the church of Christ”, THE church of Christ. Think about it.