The existence of the Church is a revelation of the gracious heart of God. The Father chose His eternal Son to become the Saviour of sinners, the messiah of the whole Israel of God. In Him God chose the people for His own possession and called individuals into this fellowship. This one people of God include the patriarchs, the congregation of ancient Israel, Jesus and His disciples, the primitive community of His resurrection, and the Christian Church.
For the people of God the Old Testament period was the dispensation of promise, the New Testament that of fulfillment. Jesus Christ revealed not a new God, but a new way of worshiping the same God. (ref. Deuteronomy 31:30; 4:10; Acts 7:38), (Exodus 12) (Matthew 8:11; Romans 11:16-28; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4).
On the basis of the Old Testament and the Gospel preparation Christ poured forth the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to constitute the assembled fellowship the Church of God. In bringing the Gospel to the gentile world, God established a new missionary center, Antioch, called a new voice, the apostle Paul, and approved a new name for his people, Christian. The apostle Paul speaks of the whole and of each local group as “the church”. He uses this term for a “household” of believers as well as for “larger” gatherings. Thus it is not the addition of churches that make the whole church, nor is the whole church divided into separate congregations. But wherever “the church” meets, large or small group, she exists as a whole, she is the church in that place.
Local, the particular congregation represents the Universal church, and, through participation in the redemption of Christ, mystically understands the whole of which it is the local manifestation/evidence of the Universal Church. Simply stated, the Church is where its members are at any given time. The church is people not buildings. Part of our problem, in reaching the world today, results from our “building” mentality. When we think of the activities of the church, we tend to think only of what goes on within the four walls of the church building, rather than what takes place in the world through what believers say, do, and are.
The Church was planned in the mind of God before the first star was created. That the Church exists today is the result of God’s eternal plan and carries forth his eternal purpose. The Church is the universal body of Christ, composed of all believers everywhere. The Church exists so that we can worship God (Ephesians 5:16-19), serve one another (Ephesians 4:12) and share our faith (Mark 16:15). Jesus used the word Church in Matthew 18:17, instructing his followers to take disputes to the “Church” as a place to arbitrate disagreements between Christians or others. Jesus described the simplest form of a Church: “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20).
What is the Church?
- The Church is the “body of Christ” Jesus Christ himself is the head of the body. Every member functions under the leadership of the head and with interdependence upon other members: “the body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many they form one body. So it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12; Ephesians 4:4; Colossians 3:15). Every part of the body is important; “there should be no division in the body” for each part is needed. (1Corinthians 12:25).
- The Church is the building of God: “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5). (Ephesians 2:20). This building, or temple, is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit; it is comprised of all individuals in whom the Holy Spirit lives (1 Corinthians 6:19).
- The Church is the bride of Christ. Marriage illustrates Christ’s relationship to the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27, 31-32; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:7; 22:17). To ask if one can become a Christian and not be joined to a body of believers, the building of God, or the bride of Christ, would be tantamount to saying, “I’ll be married, but not see the bride again or join in any of her activities. Maybe on Easter”!
- Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38; John 6:28-29)
- Baptism, with repentance, was for everyone, “in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins” (Acts 2:38) then believers received the promised follow-up “the gift of the holy Spirit.”
- Acting on revealed truth (Philippians 3:2), (1 Corinthians 5:7).
- Witnessing (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
- Serving (Galatians 6:10; Acts 10:38).
Should Local Churches be Organized?
God is a God of order and organization. Paul advised, “But let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). To accomplish this task, the Holy Spirit endows certain ones with the gifts of government and leadership (Romans 12:8, 1 Corinthians 12:28). The church should be organized and equipped to carry out its purpose, which is the Great Commission. (Matthew 28:19-20).
Basically there are three types of church government systems: the Episcopal, Presbyterial, and Congregational.
- Episcopalianism: Bishops govern The Church in the Episcopalian system, and they hold the major authority. Only bishops have power to ordain. They trace their office back centuries to the apostles, the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Episcopal, Methodist, and some Lutheran churches have the episcopal form of government.
- Presbyterianism: Elders in Presbyterianism govern The Church. Presbyterians recognize that in the New Testament the terms elder and bishop are used interchangeably, are considered equal to each other, and are clearly very important in the group’s ministry. In each local church, it would seem, a number of elders form a kind of committee to handle church affairs. In New Testament times they acted with the apostles (Acts 15) and when the apostles finally passed from the scene elders became the leading officers. Ruling elders are chosen by the congregation and admitted to their office by ordination. They may not preach, baptize, or administer communion, but they assist in the government of the church and in the exercise of discipline.
- Congregationalism: The local congregation is autonomous in the congregational form of church government. Every group whose emphasis is on the autonomy of each congregation would be included here. Such groups include Baptists, the Evangelical Free Church, the Open Brethren, Christians (disciples), and some Bible and other independent churches. Followers of this polity hold that no one man or group of men should exercise authority over a local congregation of Christ’s church.
Ordinances are outward rites that signify or represent spiritual grace or blessing.
The Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confirmation, penance, orders, matrimony, and extreme unction.
Protestants maintain that scripture recognize only two ordinances: baptism and Lord’s Supper.
Baptism: baptism has been called “an outward sign of an inward grace” a declaration and public identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection.
Lord’s Super: for the Lord’s Supper most Christians agree on their obligation to observe the Lord’s request, “Do this in remembrance of me”. The Lord’s Supper was to be a memorial and a “showing forth” or declaration, of His death till He returns (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) Christ’s death on the cross was a complete and fully effective sacrifice, and He died once for all (Hebrews 10:10; 7:27; 9:12).
If we are obedient to Jesus, we will identify with and join other believers for worship and service. In so doing, we not only contribute our own unique gifts to the fellowship to be used by God to help bless others, but we are also blessed.
Explore the Meaning!
Local Church: a particular body of Christians organized for religious purposes and commonly meeting in one place for worship. That smaller company of regenerate persons who in any given community, unite themselves voluntarily, in accordance with the principles, precepts, and purposes of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.
Universal Church: the general body, or sum total, of Christians, conceived of in the largest inclusive sense, or partially as represented in those under consideration at the time.
Denomination: (started by men and not by Christ) is a distinct religious body identified by traits such as a common name, structure, leadership and doctrine. From the sixteenth century to recent times a tendency toward the multiplication of denominations has been a characteristic of Protestantism, (see also ecumenical)