Identifying The Church
Before anyone can study about the Church it is necessary to identify which church is under consideration. Jesus had promised that He would build His Church. "I will build my Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it " Matt I6:18. The problem for many people today is how to identify the Church that Jesus built. Since the lst century many different churches have arisen and bear a variety of names, creeds and traditions. So what distinguishing marks help us to identify the Church that Jesus built?
First, there is a need to know the meaning of the word translated "church" in the Bible. The Greek word is' ecclesia' Which literally means 'a called out people'. "But you are a chosen people a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that you may declare the praise of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are a people of God" 1 Peter 2:9-10.
The Church in Prophecy
It had been God's purpose from the beginning to send His Son into the world. To redeem a people out of the world to serve Him. "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 according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord." Ephesians 3:11. Earlier, God had called Abraham and promised to make of him a special people to Himself. This he achieved by establishing the nation of Israel. It was promised that through Abraham all nations are to be blessed. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you ... and all people on earth will be blessed through you" Genesis 12:2-3. The prophet Jeremiah also told of the coming new age of the church; "the time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel" Jeremiah 31;31-34;cp Hebrews 8:7-13.
Membership of the Church
The new Israel of God (Gal 6:16) are those who obey the gospel and are added by the Lord to His Church. To the apostle Peter was given the privilege of opening the kingdom of God to mankind. In Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost, those who believed the gospel were told, "Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven ..." Acts 2:38. So "Those who accepted his message were baptised and about three thousand were added to their number that day" Acts 2:41. "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" Acts 2:47.
From these scriptures we see clearly that the church that Jesus built was made up of ALL those who were saved. All the saved are therefore in the church that Jesus built. We also learn that they did not have a choice of church to join. Jesus only established ONE church, with ONE means of entry – obedience to the gospel. "For we were all baptised in one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free, and were all given the one Spirit to drink." 1 Cor 12:13.
The worship of the Church
The first indications we are given as to how the church that Jesus built worshipped God is given in Acts 2:42. "They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to fellowship, to breaking of bread, and to prayers". Jesus had earlier said to a Samaritan woman, "A time is coming and has now come, when the true worshipper will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipper the Father seeks" John 4:23-24.
Worship is the response of faith in offering God that which He has commanded, not simply that which we choose to offer Him. In a study of the church of Christ in the beginning, we find them engaged in five particular aspects of worship. These are:
- 1. Preaching and teaching the word of God, Acts 5:42; 20:7.
- 2. Singing - psalms, hymns and songs, Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; cp Heb 13:15.
- 3. The breaking of bread, 1 Cor 11:23-26; cp Acts 20:7.
- 4. Prayers, Intercessions, thanksgiving, 1 Tim 2:13; cp Acts 4:23-31.
- 5. Giving their gifts for His work, 1 Cor 16:1-2; cp Phil 4:15-20.
Sunday (the 1st day of the week) was the day the church met for worship and fellowship. "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread ... and Paul preached to them" Acts 20:7. "On the first day of the week, each of us should set aside a sum of money in keeping with our income". 1 Cor 16:1-2. "Through Jesus there fore let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of the lips that confess His name" Heb 13:15.
The organisation of the Church
Every institution needs to be organised to function properly, and we have the God given pattern clearly laid down for the church that Jesus built. Jesus is the only head of the church, which is His body, both on earth and in heaven. "And God placed ALL things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body" Eph 1:22-23. As the gospel spread out over the whole world so it became increasingly necessary for each local congregation to have spiritual leaders. In Acts 14:23 we read, "Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in every church". Various words are used to describe these 'elders' by terms that also describe their work. We find they are called 'bishops' or 'overseers' in Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5-7. In Eph 4:11 these elders are called 'pastors'. Notice too that there is always a plurality of such men in each congregation. In time other men were appointed in the congregation to assist the bishops, these were called 'deacons or servants'. Like the elder (bishop) these men were required to have the qualifications laid down by the Holy Spirit in such scriptures as Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13. The apostle Paul describes the entire organisation of the church that Jesus built in Philippians 1:1. "To all the saints (Christians) in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the bishops and deacons".
The glorious Church
The New Testament clearly teaches us that there is a great and glorious hope for His church beyond this present life. The church, made up of all the saved, looks forward, "For our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Saviour from there" Phil 3:21. "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church... holy and blameless" Ephesians 5:25-27. The church of Christ while on earth has a proving period so as to be presented as a pure bride to her one husband, Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:2.