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- After Christ’s ascension to heaven, the age of the church began, which was then revealed to believers through prophecy.
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- Christ made few references to the church during his ministry.
- At Matthew 16:13–19, when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, Christ responds that upon the rock of this belief of who he is, the church would be built and would overcome all opposition from hell, bringing the power of heaven to earth.
- Still, the disciples did not immediately understand there would be a church age, and after Christ’s resurrection they questioned —…Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth, Acts 1:6–8. (All citations KJV unless indicated).
- The apostle Peter referred to the day of Pentecost as the beginning of the church, Acts 11:15–17.
- Acts 2:1–4,6,41: And when the day of Pentecost was fully come,they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language…and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.
- The book of Acts records how the church grew from this small Jewish community to become a major universal force in the Roman Empire.
- And, through the apostle Paul it was set forth in Scripture that the age of the church would continue until Christ restored Israel and established the new covenant with the Jews.
- Romans 11:25: For I would not, brethern, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
- Ephesians 3:5,6: Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellow–heirs, and of the same body and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.
- Scripture draws upon a multitude of images to set forth the nature of the church.
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- The apostle Paul presents one of the most compelling visions of the church as a holy temple constructed from the believers themselves.
- Ephesians 2:20–22: (ye)…are built up upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit, cf. I Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18; I Peter 2:5.
- The words and actions of the apostles and prophets are recorded in the Bible. Those who believe in Christ and adhere to the tradition of Scripture form an organic building, where the Holy Spirit dwells, (cf. the tabernacle, Exodus, chps. 26–40).
- In the New Testament the Greek word for church, ekklesia, means literally an assembly, (a term also found in the Old Testament, rendered by the Hebrew qahal, Deuteronomy 9:10; Joshua 8:35).
- Those who are chosen by God belong to the assembly, who believe in the truth, II Thessalonians 1:1; 2:13; who are made holy through the name of Christ, and who are in fellowship with him, I Corinthians 1:2,9.
- In Scripture the concept of the church never refers to a building but to a community of people. It may designate —
- a local congregation, Acts 8:1; I Corinthians 1:2;
- a region with many congregations, Acts 9:31; I Corinthians 16:19; Galatians 1:2;
- all believers universally on earth at a given time, I Corinthians 1:2; 4:17; 7:17; 11:16;
- or all believers throughout time, Ephesians 3:10,21; 4:4; Hebrews 12:23.
- Even when two or three believers gather together, they may be considered a church, Matthew 18:19,20. Indeed, during the first centuries of Christianity, the churches met in houses, Acts 12:12; 20:20; Rom. 16:3–5; I Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2; II John 10; cf. Acts 16:4–6; 19:1,6,7.
- The image of the body of Christ recurs in Scripture to illustrate how the church functions, not as a dead organization, but as an alive organism, with members dynamically interactive with each other. (See item three of Bibliography below)
- I Corinthians 12:20–22,25–27: But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary…That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
- The body is unified, diversified, interdependent, and ruled by Christ.
- When the apostle Paul refers to the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, which are given to all believers, there always appears this image of the body of Christ.
- Note the lists of spiritual gifts at Romans 12:6–8; I Corinthians 12:7–11,27–31; Ephesians 4:11, and the comparison of their function like parts within a body at Romans 12:4,5; I Corinthians 12:12–26; Ephesians 4:16.
- When individual members exercise their gifts of the Spirit, the organism breathes well, evangelizing, edifying, ministering, Ephesians 4:12.
- [For a more detailed review of the role of gifts, as well as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, see Who is the Holy Spirit?].
- After Christ’s resurrection, he commanded the saints to be his witnesses and to make disciples throughout the world, Matthew 28:18–20; Acts 1:8.
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- The church serves as God’s representative people on earth.
- Christ intended that the church would be the light of this world, Matthew 5:14–16; 9:10–13; Luke 7:34,35; going into the world, John 17:18; to help those in distress and to do good, James 1:27; Galatians 6:10; I John 3:17,18;
- yet, being separate from the world, James 4:4; I John 2:15; and from the state, Mark 12:13–17.
- Christ’s ministry on earth, with the circle of 12 disciples, was a model of the church.
- Through his ministry the kingdom of Satan was encountered and defeated.
- Luke 4:17,18: And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
- I John 3:8:…For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
- Christ demonstrated power over evil, Matthew 8:16,17; Mark 1:32–34; which was passed on to the disciples, Matthew 10:1; to other believers, Luke 10:17,18; and to the church, Mark 9:38–40; 9:49; Acts 8:5–8; 15:12. [Note Matthew 7:21–23, wherein even those not truly of the church can drive out demons in the name of Christ].
- The Bible records the activity of the early church —
- evangelizing, Acts chps. 13,14; 15:36–20:38;
- meeting for fellowship and prayer, Acts 2:42; 4:23–31; for instruction in Scripture and doctrine, II Timothy 2:2; 3:16,17; Titus 1:9; and for edification and discipline of members, Romans 14:19; I Corinthians 5:12,13; Galatians 6:1,2;
- but, always worshipping God, Acts 2:46–47; Philippians 3:3. cf. John 4:23.
- No specific format is outlined in the New Testament for a church organization, (in contrast to the Old Testament regulations for the tabernacle, which symbolizes Christ, Exodus 25:8–40:36). However, the biblical record of the early church provides general guidelines on how the body of Christ may find structure according to circumstances encountered.
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- Although all believers function as the priesthood of the church, I Peter 2:5,9, two offices in particular are noted by Scripture to form a government.
- The positions of overseer and deacon can be filled by members with Christ–like maturity, I Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9. [Note: overseer is also translated bishop, from the Greek episkope, used synonymously with elder, presbuteros: see Acts 20:17/28, and Titus 1:5/7].
- Deacons accomplish administrative tasks of the church, to free from distraction those who are gifted to minister directly to the spiritual needs of the body, Acts 6:1–6.
- Overseers may teach, work in general pastoral care, or help to establish orthodox doctrine and church structure, Acts 15:1–35; 20:17,28; I Timothy 3:2,5; Titus 1:9; I Peter 5:1,2.
- All members serve the body of Christ through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but a specific gift actually may determine the nature of an overseer’s formal position in the church: note Romans 12:7,8, teacher, leader; or I Corinthians 12:28, governments/administration; or Ephesians 4:11, evangelist, pastor; or Romans 10:15; I Timothy 2:7; II Timothy 1:11; 4:2; Titus 1:3; I Peter 4:10,11, designating preacher as a gifted appointment.
- [Note: the traditional church distinction between professional and lay elders appears to be based on these passages regarding the gifts of the Spirit. A person’s call arises from an act of the Holy Spirit, through life events, the designation of elders, and the encouragement of the congregation, but it must be confirmed by the qualities of being gifted. As just one example, note the life of the apostle Paul — Acts 9:1–29; 11:19–26; 13:2,3; 19:11,12; 26:19; I Corinthians 1:1; 4:15; 9:1; 15:7,8; II Corinthians 4:7–18; 6:3–10; 11:22–31; Galatians 1:12,15,16,21–24; Philippians 3:5–7].
- All decisions on church matters must come from the Holy Spirit, as discerned by the elders and affirmed by the congregation.
- At Acts 6:1–6, when church structure has to be determined for particular circumstances,
the elders set forth specific measures to be undertaken, but the entire congregation is involved in having the Holy Spirit verify the proper outcome.
- At Acts 15:1–35, in order to determine what should be accepted as correct doctrine, again the elders consider the issues and outline a position, but the entire congregation confirms the will of the Holy Spirit. [Note: in this matter, two congregations resolve a dispute on a virtually equal basis].
- At Acts 13:1–3, when Paul and Barnabas are selected for missionary work, the Holy Spirit speaks through elders.
(However, the entire Antioch church may have been involved in prayer and laying on of hands before sending the men on their way).
- Protestant churches generally practice two religious ceremonies according to the directive of Christ.
- Baptism is administered as an initiation rite into the church, Acts 2:38,41; 8:38; 9:18; 10:48; 16:14,15,32,33; 18:8.
- In Scripture, only those who understand the Gospel message, respond by faith, and repent of sin are baptized, (whose example should exclude the present day practice of infant baptism).
- The Greek word baptizo
signifies immersion in water, and thus, the ceremony represents union with Christ in death and resurrection, Romans 6:3–8, but also a cleansing of sin, I Corinthians 6:11; Titus 3:5.
- The Lord’s Supper is observed as a memorial to Christ’s death and in anticipation of his future return. It is a ratification of the new covenant and represents Christ’s body being given for believers, Matthew 26:26–29; I Corinthians 11:24,25. The wine and bread are signs of our sharing in the blood and body of Christ, I Corinthians 10:16.
- [Note: general guidelines on the order of a worship service are found at I Corinthians 14:26–40].
- The Catholic model of the church is not based on the Bible alone, but the Vatican defines historical traditions which are upheld as equal to Scripture, and which form the foundation for their beliefs on organizational structure.
- The apostle Peter is considered the first Pope, according to Matthew 16:18 (note I. A. 1., page 77), who as the head of the Church acted as Christ’s earthly representative, a position passed onto a successor at death.
- Elders and deacons actually form a priestly class within the Church.
- Priests are represented as administering the power of the Holy Spirit to Church members through religious ceremonies, known as the sacraments — the Mass as the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Extreme Unction. This power of the sacrament is upheld on the basis of I Timothy 3:16, which states that the mystery of godliness is great. An example of the mysterious power is the alleged miraculous transformation of the wine and bread used in Mass into the actual blood and body of Christ.
- The Catholic Church also recognizes additional literature as Scripture, the Apocrypha, which designates an intermediate spiritual life state, known as Purgatory. At death, believers are given additional time in Purgatory to purge their sins, and the earthly Church can exercise control over when an individual is released to heaven.
- Protestants strive to find unity and set aside differences through a theory that each organized group, referred to as a denomination, is a partial religious expression of the larger universal church. (See item two of Bibliography below)
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- The principles of denominationalism were defined first as a result of the English Civil War.
- When King Charles I tried to force the religious practice of the Anglican Church on the Presbyterian Scots, Puritan groups throughout the realm revolted.
- For a while, it appeared the Puritans had the advantage, and they met at Westminster from 1643 to 1649, to formulate a new structure for the Church of England. The Westminster Confession of Faith resulted, which is still used by many churches to this day.
- The Congregationalists were a minority group at the assembly and originated the idea of designating the particular churches as denominations, in order to preserve unity among all Protestants.
- Events of history over the next 100 years pressured the acceptance of denominationalism as the only real alternative to resolve the problems of religious diversity.
- In continental Europe, religious wars continued for over 100 years, and it became evident that no one side was strong enough to prevail.
- After the Civil War in England, with the Anglican Church reestablished, the Puritan groups still existed side by side, demanding to be recognized.
- In the American colonies, many religions were prevalent, with no one group dominant, which required a policy of toleration.
- The main tenets of the theory of denominationalism set forth by the Congregationalists may be summarized as follows.
- The true church is known only to Christ and cannot be identified with any single organization, structure, or precise set of boundaries.
- No single church has a complete understanding of divine truth.
- Differing beliefs on outward religious expression or comprehensive theology are inevitable to some extent, but all Christians can agree on the core doctrine of Scripture.
- Separation is not schism. Christians can be divided in a complete understanding of spiritual matters and still be united on essential truth. All believers should have an inner religious experience in common.
- Is the church in America today Christian?
- It cannot just be assumed that a church is godly!
- When God first formed his covenant with the Hebrews, immediately the people began to fall away, Exodus, chp. 32.
- For centuries the people continued to turn from God, until the covenant was broken and the nation was destroyed, Psalm 89:38–50.
- The Pharisees were the best educated theologians of the first century, having the most prestigious positions amongst the Jews, but they were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ, John 11:47–57.
- Satan attacked the disciples of Christ, causing Judas to fall and Peter to falter, Matthew 26:75; John 6:70,71; 13:2.
- After the church was formed, almost immediately Ananias and Sapphira fell away, Acts 5:1–10.
- The Apostles warned that false doctrine would enter the church, Acts 20:29,30; II Timothy 4:3,4.
- At Revelation, chps. 2,3, Christ sends a message to seven churches on earth, which represent the universal church. He completely commends only two churches, but he warns the other five to repent of their ways or suffer the consequences. Their transgressions include forsaking love for Christ, lack of commitment, holding to false doctrine, sexual immorality, being dead in spirit, and focusing on worldly riches.
- The church in America today is departing from an authentic Christian character. (See Bibliography below)
- Americans are actively religious, constantly constructing churches, purchasing large quantities of Bibles, and commonly talking about God.
- However, research interviews with church members have demonstrated that most Christians in America know almost nothing about the Bible. They do not let religion affect their conduct in business or their views on politics, and their thoughts and actions are based on secular ideas.
- The people of the United States practice a faith in The American Way of Life.
- Every society has a common religion, a set of ideals that provides an overarching sense of unity. This religion consists of the people’s central and ultimate values, toward which they will tolerate no opposition.
- At one time The American Way of Life represented a spiritual structure of ideals, standards, and beliefs based on a democratic world view. Americans upheld what was the right, the good and the true; freedom of opportunity and expression; faith in education; moving ahead according to personal ability; and enjoying the material benefits of free enterprise. The practice of formal religion was encouraged and even considered necessary, but without concern for the importance of any particular doctrine.
- However, more recently, The American Way of Life has come to represent only the pursuit of wealth and social prestige.
- In essence, the upper middle class value system of America has become its religion, and the church is conforming God and the Bible to fit these standards, focusing on worldly possessions and the respect of persons.
- And, commonly the churches teach that the wonders of the Holy Spirit recorded in Scripture have ceased, that God does not directly intervene in the affairs of humankind. Thus, most frequently churches in America have a form of godliness but deny the power of God.
1. Regarding II. C. (page 79), see C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts: Can Help Your Church Grow — Ventura: Regal Books, 1994, pp. 29–31,56.
2. Regarding V. (pages 82.83), see Bruce L. Shelley, Church History In Plain Language — Dallas: Word Publishing, 1982, pp. 319–326.
3. Regarding VI. B., C. 1., 2. (page 89), see Will Herberg, Protestant — Catholic — Jew: An Essay In American Religious Sociology — Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960, pp. 72–90.
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This outline constitutes a chapter from Only The Essentials: Clear and Simple Outlines on Complex Theology. Copyright 2001 by Montgomery Paul Webb. All rights reserved. However, permission is granted solely to private individuals to make ten copies of any disc containing this book, to include whatever other publications are available therein from the Church of the Love of Christ, for distribution to friends and acquaintances, on the conditions — 1. that the entirety of the contents of the disc is copied;— 2. and that absolutely no change, addition, or omission is made.
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Chapter outlines include — What Is the Bible? | Can God Be Known? | Who Is Jesus Christ? | Who Is the Holy Spirit? | What Is the Trinity? | What Is the Kingdom Of God? | What Is Faith? | What Is Holiness? and What Is the Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus? | What Is the Church? | New Testament Giving and Prosperity. | What Is Spiritual Warfare? | Can Anyone Understand Predestination?
Additional chapters include — A Second Call to Reform and the Philosophy of the Church of the Love of Christ. | The Constitution of the Church of the Love of Christ.
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