The church is central in God’s plans. It is the church that Christ loves; it is for the church that He gave Himself as a sacrifice; it is the church He wants to be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). Many think they can invent patterns and practices for the church, but we must insist that the Bible is sufficient to teach us all we need to know because it is the word of God. Let us remember that many of the letters in the New Testament were written to churches (in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, etc.).
When the citizens of Ephesus assembled in the theatre the word for ‘church’ is used, but is translated “assembly” (Acts 19:32,39,41). Likewise that Israelites who gathered at Sinai are called a ‘church,’ translated “convocation” or “assembly” (Acts 7:38). A church is a group of Christians who assemble or congregate together. Note how the thought of coming together applies to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:18, 14:23,26). The characteristics of these Christians are given at the beginning of 1 Corinthians (1:2). Write the words from your Bible next to the definition given.
· The church of God the Christians belong to God.
· In Corinth the church is local, meeting in a particular place.
· Those sanctified in Christ Jesus they are set apart in Christ to serve God in holiness.
· Called to be saints God has effectually called them to be His holy people.
Those who … call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ they have put their trust in Christ to worship Him.
Therefore, a church is not a building for worship, but the people who gather for worship. It is not a denomination (e.g. the Baptist Church) where many churches in an area are called ‘the church’ (note the Bible uses the plural in 1 Corinthians 7:17, 11:16, 16:1,19). The church is the true Christians who regularly meet together. We call this the local church, as opposed to the universal church which consists of all Christians of all time who will one day meet around the throne in glory (Hebrews 12:23, “assembly” = church). Read the following verses that refer to the universal church – Ephesians 5:23-25, Colossians 1:18. Of the church Christ is the Head (see just listed verses), meaning that He both rules and provides for the church which is His body. A more common picture of the church is a family, with God as Father, Christ as eldest (first-born) brother, and other Christians as brothers and sisters.
The early church knew who was, and who was not a member. They counted those who belonged - 120 before Pentecost (Acts 1:15), those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ 300 added on Pentecost (Acts 2:41), and later 5,000 believing men (Acts 4:4). Members are those who profess repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ, and who commit themselves to the church as their spiritual family (Acts 2:42). Two things reveal this idea of membership.
- Those professing salvation, and only those, were baptized (study Acts 2:38-41, 8:12-13,35-38, 9:18, 10:47-48, 16:14-15,30-33, 18:8, 19:4-5). The members are the baptized – this is the Biblical method of profession of faith.
- If such fail in their spiritual responsibilities and do not repent then corrective discipline was exercised to remove them from the church and treat them as if they were unbelievers (Matthew 18:15-17, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, Titus 3:10-11). Discipline is exercised towards those we know are in the family of God.
In the early church there were apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20) as those to whom the New Testament was revealed, and we do not have such leaders today. Evangelists were probably apostolic representatives, such as Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5). The New Testament only gives us qualifications for church elders and deacons (1Timothy 3:1-13). These were the leaders in the Philippian church (1:1).
- ELDERS (1 Timothy 5:17, 19, Titus 1:5, 1 Peter 5:1) who are also called “bishops” (Acts 20:28, Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:7), or “pastors” (Ephesians 4:11). Note the evidence that elder = bishop = pastor, i.e. the same leader is described.
- When Paul spoke to the “elders” of the Ephesian church (Acts 20:17), he also called them “overseers” (= bishops, v. 28), and exhorted them to do the work of a pastor by caring for the church like a shepherd cares for the sheep (v. 28).
- Peter similarly exhorts the “elders” (1 Peter 5:1) to do the work of a pastor by shepherding the flock of God (v. 2), and “exercising oversight” as overseers (v. 2). (‘bishop’ = ‘overseer’)
The qualifications for elders are found listed in 1Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. They involve three areas: (a) Personal holiness, qualifications that ought to be true of every Christian, but must be true of the elder. (b) Rule in the family, assuming he is married.
(c) Teaching ability. The office of elder is only for mature men (1 Timothy 2:12).
The work of elders is to “rule” and to “preach and teach” (1 Timothy 5:17, see also Acts 6:4). In New Testament churches there was always many elders (Acts 14:23, 20:17, Titus 1:5).
- DEACONS (Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-13) are literally servants who help the elders to minister to the church members by doing anything that would hinder the elders from fulfilling their God-given service (Acts 6:1-4), e.g. ministering to the needy.
Most churches are joined together in ‘denominations’ with a hierarchy of leadership. The Bible has no example of such organization, but teaches that each local church is independent with Christ as its head.
- There are no other leaders but elders and deacons of the local church.
- The local church has authority to perform everything that Christ has commanded the church to do → baptize and so admit members; teach, rule and discipline; choose its own leaders.
A local church should not act as if there are no other churches. There was obviously fellowship between churches in the New Testament, as between the church of Antioch and Jerusalem in Acts 15. Like-minded churches have often formed Associations for the purpose of mutual fellowship.
Not every assembly called a church is a true church of God.
There are at least 3 marks:
Mark 1 – The pure preaching of the word of God (Acts 2:42, 20:20,27, Galatians 1:8-9, 1 Timothy 1:3-7,18-20, 4:16, 6:3-5,20, 2 Timothy 1:13, 2:1-2,15, 3:14-17, 4:1-5).
Mark 2 – The right administration of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism is for believers of any age, whoever shows their faith by desiring to be fully committed to the local church (Acts 2:41-42). Baptism should be performed by immersion in water because the Greek word for baptism means ‘plunge, dip, immerse’; because examples of baptism show that it was by immersion (Mark 1:5 “in”, 1:10 “out of”, John 3:23 “much water”, Acts 8:38-39 “down into’ and “up out of”); and because of the symbolism of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12). Baptism should be in the name of the triune God (Matthew 28:19).
The Lord’s Supper is for the members of the local church and any visitors from other true local churches, and should be celebrated according to 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
Mark 3 – Application of church discipline to members who refuse to live according to the word. God’s church is holy and a little leaven will affect the whole church (1 Corinthians 5:6).
Summary of the doctrines of the church:
- Church members are those who have been baptized on profession of faith in Christ.
- Each local church is independent from every other local church.
- There should be a plurality of elders in every local church.
- Baptism is only for those who evidence they are born of God in faith and righteousness.
5) Those members who refuse to live according to the Bible must be disciplined
Write TRUE or FALSE for each of the following statements:
_______ An older established church always has the authority to control a newer church.
_______ The Bible does not tell us all we need to know about the local church.
_______ Every local church should pray to the Head to have many bishops (overseers).
_______ Any sin may be the occasion for church discipline if the guilty person refuses to repent.
_______ The members of a local church are those who meet every Sunday for worship.
The following books on the Biblical teaching about the church are recommended:
- Nigel, Lacey, God’s Plan for the Local Church;
- Mark Dever, What is a healthy church?
- Mack & Swavely, Life in the Father’s House;
- Local Church Practice.