INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
OF THE CHURCH
I undertake this study realizing that I have limited experience in pastoring
a church in person. I do bring with me to this work the realization that
I have been in local churches for twenty-five years and have observed many
things over those years.
These observations have impressed me with the trouble, the problems
and the anguish that can come within a church. I have also realized that
many of these items could be bypassed if the church was operating under
a Biblical form of church government.
I am aware that all churches feel their forms of government are "Biblical,"
but since there are multitudes of forms out there, SOMEONE MUST BE WRONG!
Some feel that the Scripture is general enough to leave room for all forms
of government. This does not really make good sense if the Bible is REALLY
our rule for faith and practice. This is very similar to the church's view
of divorce and remarriage today. We declare unabashedly that the Word is
our only rule of faith and practice, yet there is a multitude of views
as to whether a person can be divorced and remarried. The views run from
no remarriage to remarriage for any reason. Now, can all those views really
come from the same standard of faith?
It is my purpose to look at the Word of God to see what It teaches on
the subject of the Church. I personally believe that most church government
systems are designed around personal desire and the need of the day with
a few proof texts added in to make it "Biblical."
I trust that this study will concentrate on the Biblical, and not the
"Biblical." We need to understand what God wants in our churches, not what
we want propped up by His Word.
I. INTRODUCTION TO THE CHURCH
In our day and society, does "Church" communicate what the Scripture
presents when It speaks of church? I doubt it.
Years ago I wrote my dissertation on church renewal and some comments
I ran across were very relevant to our study. Many realized several years
ago there were some problems in the church. It is sad that we must report
that the great renewals of those periods have not changed the church as
a whole. There have been individual churches that have made some serious
attempts at change and have had a measure of success, however the general
condition of the church in the U.S.A. has not changed for the better, but
for the worse.
Renewal has the idea of renewing something that is lacking. If you renew
a car you go through it and repair or replace all problematic parts and
Some have called for the resurrection of the church. Resurrection was
a drastic request in the 1970s. Though the term was drastic then, RESURRECTION
may be a good term for the church today. At the very least we need a reanimation
of the church!
Today little is being done in the church and reanimation would correct
that. We need to become active in the local church!
Renewal has been likened to the rearranging of chairs on the deck of
the sinking Titanic. Renewal just has not been successful.
When I was in the Navy, we had occasion to meet a ship of the British
Navy with the same name as our ship. I was on the USS Cavalier and it was
the HMS Cavalier. Some British sailors mentioned when talking about painting
their ship, they never chipped away the old paint. They just painted over
the old. On US ships all old paint and rust are chipped away and anti-rust
paint is applied, then the color coat. The British sailors mentioned that
on one of their ships the rust had continued to work over several years
to the point that the metal was completely gone. They discovered the problem
when a man fell through the deck. The rust had been doing its work in a
certain spot for years and finally had eaten away all of the metal and
had left the layer upon layer of paint and there was no strength left to
support the people above.
The church is akin to this in many people's minds today. It looks good
on the outside but is rotting on the inside. Let us consider some problems
that are quite observable in the church of our recent past and up to our
THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES INCONSISTENT: In the late 1970s a church in
Mid-Nebraska split over the issue of allowing a negro/white couple into
the fellowship of the church. Some were willing to have segregation within
In the late 1980s we attended a Southern Baptist Church in North Carolina.
The smell of cigarette smoke was throughout the church. They raise tobacco
so there is nothing wrong with it, even though it is killing the church
We preach against divorce in the world, yet it is a very prevalent problem
in the church. We need to be consistent in our beliefs and lifestyles.
THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES IRRELEVANT: A missionary to Zambia tells of
a man dying of starvation only a few hundred yards from the mission compound
where the big discussion was what to do with left over communion bread.
Today half the world awaits the bread of life and we are too busy eating
the bread of this life.
THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES INCOMPETENT: When we were on deputation to go
to Ireland, our children were concerned about some things we might not
find in Ireland. One of our children asked if we could buy Coke there.
I told them that I was sure that we could, because Coke is all over the
world. The realization of my comment struck all of us. Coke is everywhere
in the world, yet we were still trying to get the Gospel to the lost in
THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES ISOLATED: Geographically most of the work is
being done in our own country. Geographically most of the money spent on
missions is being spent in this country. Temporally we are isolated to
the 11:00 service. Personally we are isolated by the fact that we allow
the pastor to do everything.
THE CHURCH IS SOMETIMES INANE: In a church in Denver I suggested that
we glue chorus sheets into the front of the hymnals. This suggestion would
have to go through three committees. The music committee to get the sheets,
the finance committee to pay for the sheets and glue, and the building
committee to okay the gluing of the sheets into the hymnals.
HOWEVER! ALL IS NOT LOST! I finally saw a Christmas program that caught
my interest because it had a message that was clear and understandable
this year! The teenagers in a local church youth group wrote and produced
Why do I bring up these comments? I have seen many steps downward over
the last few years. If you are going out to perpetuate this type of church,
then I believe that you shouldn't bother. Either get out there and start
a life giving church or go find a dead church where you can rot away. WE
DON'T NEED ANY MORE DEAD OR DYING CHURCHES. THERE ARE TOO MANY POOR CHURCHES
This is a study of the church and I trust that it will produce within
you an excitement about what the church is supposed to be like so that
you can go out and reproduce it so it can reproduce other living churches!
I trust that we will find the Bible's view of the church and see how it
fits into God's plan, and then I trust you will go out prepared to help
mold and shape lives into this scriptural style of church. Allow the studies
to challenge your thinking about what the church is and what the church
is to be doing. We may challenge what has always been. We may challenge
what has always been taught. We may challenge what has always been believed.
THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO BE OPEN TO THE WORD AS WE MOVE ALONG AND ALLOW
OURSELVES TO BE CHALLENGED.
WHAT IS "THE CHURCH?"
I. INTRODUCTION TO THE CHURCH The church defined.
Everyone has self-concept, or what they think they are and their value
to others. We all have some idea of what we are to ourselves.
What is your concept of the church? What good is the church to you as
a Christian? What good is it to the unsaved? What is the main function
of the church in your life?
May I introduce you to some concepts of church in the Christian world
today? The National Association of Evangelicals has built sewers in South
America. I was told recently that a church in this country was spending
a million dollars to build a gym for the youth group. How about the congregation
that was going to build a million dollar church because they were tired
of carrying hymnals in and out of their rented building. Many nominal believers
see it as a front for their religiosity.
WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
Is it worship? Is it learning? Is it evangelism? Is it helping others?
Is it teaching? Is it missions? Is it praise? Is it growth? Is it fellowship?
Is it counsel? Is it giving? Is it help? Is it prayer? Is it God's work?
THESE ARE PART OF CHURCH, OR AT LEAST SHOULD BE! THE QUESTION IS, "IN
YOUR CHURCH ARE ALL OF THESE THINGS TAKING PLACE?"
What offices should a church have? Deacons, deaconesses, elders, board
members, trustees, pastors, evangelists, teachers, physical plant engineers?
What type of church government should a church have? Ecclesiastical,
congregational, dictatorial, one board, two board, elder rule?
Who can be a member of this church? What are the qualifications? Baptism,
salvation, testimony, good life, a business in the city? Consider these
things a few moments before you go on.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR CONCEPT OF THE CHURCH, WE WILL
CHECK THAT WITH THE SCRIPTURES AND SEE WHAT YOU WANT TO CHANGE OR RETAIN
IN YOUR CONCEPT. We trust that it won't be too painful.
THE CHURCH DEFINED
Just what do we mean when we talk about the church? Do we mean a building?
Do we mean a group of people that listen to tapes from a man in another
state? Do we mean an organization? Just what do we mean?
To see the Biblical idea of the church you must see two items of business.
First of all the church is a universal body made up of all believers no
matter what color, shape or breed they are. This universal church will
make up all those that are raptured when the Lord returns for His Church.
Secondly, there is the local aspect of the church. The local aspect is
the body of believers that calls themselves a local church. This local
aspect of the church will be the emphasis of this study.
Another way of distinguishing between the church universal and the church
local, is found in the terms "organism" and "organization." The Universal
Church is an organism or a living body that has its life in its Head Jesus
Christ. The local church is an organization to control, guide and feed
the local gathering of believers in a certain geographical location.
Before we begin this look into the local church we should take a brief
look at the Church Universal. We will look at this aspect in more detail
later in the study as well.
When Christ spoke to Peter about building His Church in the Gospel Christ
was speaking of the Universal Church, His church, His Bride to be. This
Church is comprised of only believers, and He is the only one that knows
the true extent and membership of that body of believers.
There will be believers from many denominations, organizations, and
fellowships of our country. There will be believers from areas where there
is no organized church.
These people will be those that have accepted Christ's work on the cross
as a substitutionary payment for their sin. These people may be from any
group or church as long as they have that one thing in common - that free
salvation that is in Christ alone.
The Universal Church met only once in the past as a complete body and
that would have been on the Day of Pentecost when the church began. We
will meet in mass in the air at the Rapture, and then will attend the marriage
feast of the Lamb together. That should prove to be a time of pure joy
as well as a time for some surprise concerning those that are present.
Many will attend that we probably could not have associated with here on
earth due to their life styles and doctrine, yet there we will have pure
and complete fellowship, not only with one another, but with the Lord.
We are automatically baptized into the Universal Church when we become
Christians. We are placed into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. We
then identify with that body when we are baptized with water. The water
baptism should be tied to a local church as the deliverer of the ordinance,
but the act is the identification of the person with Christ and His body,
the Church. Taking of church membership then identifies us with a particular
Some have suggested that when we speak of the church universal we capitalize
the word church and then when we speak of the local church we use a small
letter. This will not be followed in this study for it seems an item more
of tradition than necessity. The local church should be made up of people
from the universal church so the distinction is not needed.
A good study that we won't attempt to get into on this subject would
be to take all occurrences of the word church and determine which are speaking
of the universal and which are speaking of the local church. I find many
times that pastors use the references interchangeably and this ought not
be done. At times what is true of the local church is true of the universal
church, yet at other times there may be differences.
To sum up our study thus far, we have seen that the church local, is
a part of the Church Universal. All local churches make up the universal
church. All local churches also should be made up of only believers from
the universal church. The local church governs our activities in this life
and the universal church will be our place for all of eternity.
The universal church is composed of all those that have been cleansed
by the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. The local church is a body of believers
that have gathered for specific purposes. Those purposes will be discussed
There are those that teach that where two or three are gathered you
have a church. The Lord mentions that when two or three are gathered that
He is with them, but He never declares that to be a local church, nor do
any of the New Testament writers. This is not to detract from the fellowship
that we can have together in small groups, but there is a difficulty in
two or three practicing communion when they are not an organized church.
Some suggest that the book of Acts shows that in the early days of the
church there were meetings in homes, and these fellowships comprised the
functioning of the local church at Jerusalem. The item that is usually
left out is the fact that the apostles were overseeing the functions of
the church. This is very clearly shown in chapter six when they called
for a new office of deacon to serve the church in a specific manner.
It is also to be suggested that the breaking of bread in the early part
of Acts is not easily shown to be the Lord's table observance. It could
just as easily be the breaking of bread in a meal. The other side of this
coin is the possibility that we might see in the Acts that the believers
were commemorating the Lord's death each time they gathered to eat. That
might have application to our own potlucks and get-togethers. It might
well be if we were concentrating more on His death we might be closer to
Him and our service to Him.
In defining the Church there will be five aspects to the local church
which we want to look at. First, it was organized, second it was made up
of believers, third it was a Spirit filled group of people, fourth it was
the deliverer of the ordinances and finally, it was in a geographical location.
We do not want to expand our definition further at this point. We need
to understand these five points of our definition before we go on to look
at the purpose of that body - the edification of the saved and the evangelization
of the lost. Those two purposes must be an integrated part of the church,
or it is not really a church, but the five points are really the definition
as opposed to the purpose.
a. Organized: Just how do we know the early church was organized? Many
things could be offered as proof of this point. The apostles were over
the church. The people came to the apostles with problems in chapter six,
and again we see in chapter fifteen there was a council to settle a dispute
of doctrine. Later in the New Testament we see that Paul gives instruction
concerning the elders and deacons, the ministers of the church.
It might be wise to set the stage for this study by stating that we
are not pushing organized church, or organizationalism. The study will
look at what the Lord had in mind for His local churches. There will be
an attempt to show what the New Testament shows organizationally and go
no further. There was organization in the early church, but we are quick
to point out there was LIMITED organization.
b. Comprised of believers: The church is comprised of believers only.
This is clearly seen in the Scripture in Acts two when the church was started.
Only believers were present and only believers were baptized into the Body
of Christ. Later in Acts the idea of belonging is linked with that of accepting
Christ. The book of Second Corinthians shows clearly that the believer
is not to be yoked with non-believers. This is applicable to the church
membership in that the logic that Paul used in this text precludes lost
people in our relationships or in the church (II Cor. 6:14-18).
It is easy to observe in many of our churches today there are non-believers
in membership where they ought not be. Indeed, there are lost people in
places of leadership in churches today. This causes no end of difficulties
for that particular church. How can a church be directed by its Head, Jesus
Christ, if there are lost people in places of leadership? ILLOGICAL! The
communication link is broken.