A Basic Understanding Of Church
There seems to be much confusion today about the church. There are many organizations claiming to be churches that Jesus built. The confusion comes from the fact that there is a great divergence of doctrine and practice taught in these various institutions.
Simple logic tells us that they cannot all be right as one will contradict another. They may both be wrong, but they cannot both be correct. God’s truth can never contradict itself.
This confusion leads some to give up on the church altogether and try to serve Christ apart from His church. But this does not satisfy and will eventually cause the believer to loose hope and become fruitless in his or her life.
We must recognize that the source of this confusion is the enemy, Satan. The Holy Spirit is never the author of confusion. Satan seeks to confuse us and cause us not to be what God wants us to be. If he can confuse us concerning the church he has won a victory in our lives.
We must come to the Scriptures and learn what the Lord has revealed about His church and how to find one of His churches. He said that He would build His church and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Therefore, in the midst of the confusion, His church is still very much alive and well. We must allow Him to guide to the one He has for us.
This lesson is presented with the hope it will help the new believer understand the importance of church and be determined to let the Lord direct him to the assembly where he is to serve.
How important is the church? Should a person become a member of a local church? If so which one should he join? Should he be faithful to all the services of that church? Should he support its ministry? These and other questions must be faced and answered by each child of God.
As we search the Scriptures for the answers to these questions, we discover that the local church is vital to our spiritual growth. That growth is directly related to our faithfulness to the church where the Lord places us. The Holy Spirit always leads the child of God to unite with and be faithful to a local Bible believing, Bible preaching, Bible practicing, New Testament Church.
What is a church?
A New Testament Church is a called-out and assembled body of baptized believers in Jesus Christ. The church is a local, visible assembly. There are many of them scattered around the world. The real meaning and idea of the church is derived from the New Testament. The Christian church is a New Testament institution, beginning with Pentecost, and ending with the rapture. The English word “church” is derived from a Greek word “kuriakos” meaning belonging to the Lord or related to the Lord; “the Lord’s” which was shortened from the complete phrase, “the Lord’s assembly.” The word translated “church” in the New Testament comes from the Greek word “ecclesia” which means “assembly” or “congregation.” One hundred thirteen times it refers to the Lord’s assembly and is translated “church.”
This body is visible, local, organized, and spiritual. Almost all of the references, about 98 of them, refer to local assemblies or groups of local assemblies. The fifteen other references are to the church in an institutional sense (Matt. 16:17-18; Eph. 1:22; 3:10) or in prospect (Eph. 5:25-32; Heb. 12:22-23). We speak of marriage as an institution, but do not believe in universal marriage. There are many individual marriages. The Bible speaks of the church in an institutional sense but does not mean that there is a universal church on earth today. When the Lord comes for His saints, every believer will be called out of the world and assembled in Heaven. Then there will be one universal church. It will be a glorified, local, visible, and heavenly assembly. The local, visible assembly is God’s instrument today.
This body has a four-fold purpose. We are to worship God publicly in an organized fashion; observe the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s supper; equip the saints for the work of the ministry and combine our resources for the evangelization of the world.
The church was founded by Jesus Christ and purchased by Him when He died on the cross. Matthew 16:18, “…I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.”
The church was empowered by the Holy Spirit to begin its ministry (Acts 2:1-4). The Lord, Himself, personally organized and commissioned the church before ascending back to Heaven. There was an organized body of about 120 members. He instructed them to wait in Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high. This power came ten days after His ascension. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came in a visible, audible fashion to empower the new church for its ministry of evangelizing the world and making disciples to Jesus Christ.
From beginning to end it is the work of God. In the book of Acts we have the account of the first church as it began its ministry, and as it actually existed in Jerusalem. The church had specific places of meeting. They met in the upper room (Acts 1:13); the temple (5:12); the homes of members (2:46; 12:12) and in the synagogues. There were stated times of meeting. They met daily (2:46); each Lord’s Day (20:7) and the regular hours of prayer (3:1; 10:9). And there was a regular church roll beginning with 120 (1:15). To this was added 3,000 (2:41) and then 5,000 (4:4). There were daily additions (2:47). The believers in Jerusalem were then scattered because of persecution and went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8:4). Local assemblies or churches were established in other places. They began to send foreign missionaries (Acts 13:1-4). Soon there were definite, regular, organized churches in many different localities.
It is important to note that the new church did not have the full revelation of what it was and of its distinctive differences to Judaism until after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. It was to this man, who became known as the Apostle Paul, that God revealed the mystery of the church. This helps us understand the notable changes in the way things were done as we progress through the book of Acts. This book is simply a history of the early church and reveals the transition from the Jews religion to God’s new plan for this age. This work continues today and will continue until Jesus returns at the rapture. He promised, “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Is it important to join a church?
Acts 2:41-47, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
A person can go to Heaven without being a part of a local church or even attending one, but going to Heaven is not the end we are trying to achieve. Going to Heaven is settled the moment we are saved, and nothing we do after that moment can change that fact. However, much of what we will do in Heaven is affected by what we do on earth after we are saved. Therefore, we need to be obedient to our Heavenly Father, and we cannot fully do that apart from the local New Testament Church.
You cannot be properly grounded in truth apart from the local church. 1 Timothy 3:15-4:3, “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”
The church is the pillar and ground of the truth and is of vital importance to us. The Word of God is the Truth (John 17:17). The Church is the Foundation and Support of that Truth. It is the visible foundation for God’s Word to the world and the visible support for God’s Word to the world. It must obey God’s Word.
You cannot obey God apart from the local church. Hebrews 10:23-26, “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
Our service to Christ is to be through His church. We are to commit ourselves to the church through membership. Our giving is to be done through the church so we can maintain a personal knowledge of how it is used and can exercise a degree of control over it. Our witnessing and soul winning is to be Christ centered and church oriented. Our faithfulness to Christ is demonstrated in His church as we are faithful to all services; faithful to support the ministry and faithful to bring people in and minister to them.
You cannot separate Jesus Christ from His church. Acts 8:3, “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Acts 9:1-4, “And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” There is a sense in which what you do to the church you do to Christ. Our faithfulness to Christ is demonstrated in our faithfulness to the church where He assigns us to serve. If you do not attend the services you are not faithful to Christ. If you do not support the ministry you are not faithful to Christ. If you do not bring people in to help them you are not faithful to Christ.
The church cannot be separated from Christ; therefore, we must not be separated from the local church where God wants us to serve. The church is vitally important to us. For the unsaved it is a place to hear the gospel and be saved. For the child of God it is the place to receive instruction from the Word of God that he may grow and become spiritually mature. Therefore we must not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhort one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
Which church should you join?
There are many different institutions today which claim to be churches the Lord has established. Does it make any difference which one you join, and if it does, which one of these organizations is the right one? There is a wide variety of doctrine being taught in these organizations with one sometimes contradicting another. This can present a problem to the new believer because it is obvious that they cannot all be right. Consider the following things to look for in choosing a church:
The Bible is its only rule of faith and practice. This means that it is an organized body of believers who seek to follow the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice. They accept no other authority outside the Bible on these matters. They search the Scriptures, especially the New testament, to determine what the Lord would have them to do and submit themselves to His teaching and strive to follow it. This, as the first rule, sets the standard for all the other practices.
It insists that salvation is by grace through faith. This means that salvation is a gift from God and that the one who is saved must personally do the believing. Proxy faith cannot save. Parents cannot believe for their children. This also means that it is impossible for an earthly priest to convey salvation, and it is impossible for baptism or communion to in any way help save you. This means that it is impossible for any works you can do to in any way help save you or help keep you saved. This means that you are eternally secure once you have believed on Jesus Christ and been saved.
It insists on all its members being saved. No one is allowed to become a member until they can declare that they have personally believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and are willing to give evidence of that faith by baptism.
It insists on baptism by immersion after salvation. This baptism is not a part of salvation but rather a testimony to it and therefore, must come after salvation. This baptism must be by immersion in water. No other mode is acceptable. It is required for membership and upon that baptism you become a member.
It insists that all believers are equal before the Lord. Each believer is a priest of God with equal access to God through Jesus Christ as mediator. No one on earth is needed to grant that access to God neither can anyone deny such access. Each believer can and must interpret the Scriptures for himself and each believer is responsible to determine the will of God for his life. Each believer has freedom of conscience and soul liberty. No civil or religious power has any right to dictate what he must believe in spiritual matters.
It insists on being self-governing. No individual or group of individuals within or outside the church is allowed to exercise control over it. It practices a congregational form of government.
It insists on doing its part in world evangelism. They believe that it is their responsibility to help evangelize the world by personally witnessing and seeking to win souls to Christ in their local community. They further believe that it is their responsibility to send missionaries to the regions beyond their local community.
When you have found such a church join it. If there are more than one of these congregations in your community, ask the Lord which one He wants you to join. He will definitely direct you if you are willing to follow Him.