What Is the Church of the Bible?
Jon Gary Williams
The Church Defined
The word "church" found in the New Testament is from the Greek term EKKLESIA which means to "call out." People who made up the church were those who had been "called out" of the world of sin and into Christ. This calling came through the "gospel" - the word of God (2 Thessalonians 2:14). The church was made up of those who had given their lives to Christ - - they wore his name and were called "Christians" (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16). The church was spiritual in nature and was different than anything the world had ever known.
The Church Established
The church was established by Christ in the city of Jerusalem in about 30 AD. Long before this, however, prophets of the Old Testament foretold of its coming. Isaiah prophesied that the church would come in the "last days" (close of the Old Testament era) and that it would begin at "Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-4).
When Jesus came he announced, "...upon this rock I will build my church..." (Matthew 16:18). Christ himself was the rock or foundation upon which the church was to be established (1 Corinthians 3:11). It was Jesus who "gave himself" for the church and it was "his own blood" which became the "purchase" price (Ephesians 5:25; Acts 20:28). This is why the church is so very important to God - it took the life of his own Son to make it possible!
On Pentecost, just fifty days after Christ's crucifixion, the church came into existence. As Jesus had promised, the Holy Spirit was sent to his apostles to enable them to powerfully proclaim the gospel (Acts 2:1-4). On that day about 3000 people accepted it by being baptized for the "remission of sins" and as a result they were "added" to the church by the Lord. In the following days more people were continually being "added" to the church (Acts 2:41,47).
Jesus had earlier told his apostles that the church would spread beyond Jerusalem and into the far reaches of the world! "And ye shall be witnesses to me both in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). The book of Acts was given to reveal, in part, the story of this tremendous spread of the church.
The Church Identified
In the New Testament the church is described in different ways. Each of these descriptions helps us to better identify the nature of the church.
The church, for example, is pictured as a BODY - the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22,23). Christ is "head" over his body (Colossians 1:18). As a body is under control of its head, so the church is under the control of Christ.
The church is also pictured as a KINGDOM - the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 16:18,19). Christ is "king" over his kingdom (Revelation 19:16). As a kingdom is subject to the authority of its king, so the church is subject to the authority of Christ.
The church, likewise, is pictured as a BRIDE - the bride of Christ (Romans 7:4). Christ is the "head" over his bride (Ephesians 5:23). As a bride is to be in subjection to her husband, so the church is to be in subjection to Christ.
These descriptions clearly show the relation between Christ and the church. It is Christ's church and exists under his authority. This is why congregations of the church were identified as "churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16).
How many churches does Christ have? Only one! He has only one body, only one kingdom, and only one bride. There is only one church which is the "one faith" (Ephesians 4:5).
In some instances, Christ's church is spoken of in its universal sense. This is the church collectively wherever it exists in the world. Sometimes, however, the word "church" is used in a local sense. This is the church in a local area - a local congregation. Wherever the word of God was preached, local congregations of the church were established. These local churches were organized according to a simple pattern set forth in the New Testament.
Each congregation was autonomous (or self-governing) and was overseen by a plurality of men who were called "elders" (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23). These men were also called "bishops" or "pastors". They had the spiritual oversight of the congregation and were to meet certain qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).
Working under the oversight of the elders were men who were called "deacons" (Philippians 1:1). The men served the congregation in various ways and were also to meet certain qualifications (1 Timothy 3:8-13).
In local congregations there were men who proclaimed the gospel. These men were called "preachers" or "ministers" and were to faithfully teach the word of God (2 Timothy 4:2).
Beyond the local congregation there was no further organization for Christ's church. There was no earthly headquarters controlling the church worldwide. Each local congregation was independent and directly subject to Christ.
Every kingdom has law. The law of the kingdom of Christ is the New Testament. The church did not follow the Old Testament law of Moses, for that law was designed only for the Jewish nation. It was "abolished" and "nailed to the cross" (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14). The church was subject only to the will of Christ which was sealed by his own blood (Matthew 26:28). That will is the New Testament.
Writers of the New Testament, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, penned the will of Christ. This is the law by which the church was governed. The Bible teaches, "All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible also teaches that the church was given "...all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3).
The church, therefore, did not have a human creed nor was there ever to be a need for later revelations. The complete law for the church of Christ is found only in the New Testament. This is the "faith once delivered" (Jude 3).
How did people enter the church? Christ and the apostles taught a clear plan of salvation by which people could obtain the forgiveness of sins. That plan included the following steps:
1) Faith in Christ. Belief that Christ was the Son of God (John 3:16).
2) Repentance of sins. Turning away from sin and turning toward God (Acts 17:30).
3) Confession of faith. The confession of one's faith in Christ (Romans 10:10).
4) Baptism in water. An immersion in water for the "remission of sins" (Acts 2:38).
When this plan was followed, people received the forgiveness of sins and, at the same time, they were also made members of the Lord's church. At baptism they were saved and, likewise, at baptism they were added by Christ to his church (Acts 2:41). Therefore, entrance into the Lord's church came through obedience to the plan of salvation. The same thing that saved them made them a part of the church.
The teaching that people are saved without being in the church is a false doctrine.
The worship of Christ's church was designed to be plain and simple. Each first day of the week it consisted of the following:
1) Congregational singing (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). This was done acappella, that is, singing without the use of instruments of music. [Musical instruments did not come into use until almost 700 years after Christ.]
2) Prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Praying was a vital part of the church's worship. Members of the church were encouraged by praying together. It was in this way that they expressed to God the thoughts of their hearts.
3) Teaching (1 Corinthians 4:17). It was by teaching God's word that Christians were encouraged to remain faithful to Christ. It was important that they walk in the truth (3 John 3,4).
4) Communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). In the Lord's supper Christians called to remembrance the death of Christ. This was done each Sunday (Acts 20:7).
5) Giving (1 Corinthians 16:2). Christians returned to God a portion of the material blessings they had received. They did not "tithe" as did the Jews under the law of Moses. Rather they gave as they prospered and with cheerful hearts (2 Corinthians 9:7).
This was God's simple plan for worship. It is not to be added to or taken from (Revelation 22:18-19).
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It should be clear to any serious student of the Bible that Christ's church was not denominational. The Lord never intended for it to be divided into denominations. Today churches of Christ throughout the world plead for the unity found in the New Testament. Only by sincerely following the word of God can scriptural unity be found.