CHURCH DEFINED CONTINUED
c. Spirit filled: The Spirit filled the believers on the day of Pentecost
and we know from our study of the Holy Spirit that He indwells each believer
in this age. The New Testament tells the believer to be filled with the
Spirit as we gather together for worship and fellowship (Eph. 5:18-20).
(The filling of the Spirit makes reference to the fact that the Spirit
is in control of the believer and not the believer controlling himself.)
If every believer is controlled by the Spirit of God, then they can be
properly lead of the Spirit to do the will of the Head of the church, Christ.
If part of the body is not controlled by the Spirit then there will be
limited, if not impaired, control of the body by Christ.
d. Deliverer of the ordinances: In this point we do not want to bring
about visions of the Roman church that dispenses grace through the sacraments,
but we do want to help the reader to understand that the ordinances are
not for bodies of people other than the church. The church should be the
center of the ordinances. It is not to say that the pastor must be the
only one involved in administering the ordinances either. The church leadership
is to be overseeing the dispersion of the ordinances. Any lay person can
be involved in the ordinances as long as the leaders have control of that
involvement. We were pleased that one of our sons was baptized by a layman
in the church. The church leaders had allowed the man to baptize his own
children and they decided that he might as well baptize everyone that Sunday.
This is perfectly acceptable.
The ordinances are two: The Lord's table and baptism. These topics will
be covered later in detail, but at this point let us only mention that
baptism is by immersion and that it is not an extension of grace or favor.
It is only a sign of the believers' rebirth. The Lord's table is an observance
which brings our mind to the death of our Lord on our behalf. These two
are to be observed under the authority of the local church, and are not
to be a part of individual worship.
e. Local geographical location: The church was started in Jerusalem
on the Day of Pentecost and then spread throughout the known world. The
fact that it was linked to geographical locations is easily seen when we
look through the index of our Bible. Paul wrote to the church at Rome,
Corinth, Thessalonica etc. James wrote to believers that were scattered,
but the emphasis of Scripture is on local assemblies.
We want to move on to the church and its purpose. We have already mentioned
that the overall purpose is the evangelism of the lost and the edification
of the saved. Beyond these two points there are many things that the church
is to do, but this is the central thrust for the church.
As the believer mixes with lost people in their everyday life they will
ultimately witness of their Lord and lead someone to the Lord. At that
point the new believer should be introduced to the local church where the
church will begin to train them in the things of the Lord. The training
is to the end that the new believer will be well grounded, but also they
will be sent out to do the work of the Lord.
In a real sense the church is an educational institution. In fact -
one man's opinion - if the church in this country were doing its job, there
would be no need for Bible Institutes, Colleges and Seminaries. The believers
would be properly trained in the church, and then they would go out to
do the work they were given to do.
The term "church" in the Bible is usually the Greek term "ekklesia"
which means called out. The term is used of the children of Israel as they
were in the wilderness, and is also used of secular assemblies of people
in the book of Acts (Acts 7:38; 19:32; 39). Thus when we use the term church
we are obviously talking about called out people and not a building. This
is a group of people that is called out of a larger group of people, again
showing the "saved" aspect of the church membership (Acts 15:14).
This is probably the most important item - the church is people NOT
a building. Often times when we talk of church, the building is the concept
that pops into our mind, yet that concept is in error. God is not interested
in buildings, but in people. Buildings are not wrong if they are NEEDED
AND UTILITARIAN IN NATURE. Many buildings today are products of a person's
or group's pride and ambition.
Even more than people, we are speaking of God's people, a very special
people. These are people that have great meaning and value to God, thus
we ought to bear that in mind when we talk about them! We are indeed God's
people, a peculiar people called out to serve Him and Him only.
Some view the church as something new - a new kid on the theological
block - so to speak. This is true in that the church's organizational structure
is something that is newly revealed in the New Testament however the church
is only an extension of the Lord's overall program.
We must realize that God has a kingdom plan in action throughout the
ages. His thought was for a kingdom for Himself. This is seen in the Old
Testament in all of the prophetic information concerning the kingdom. The
Millennial Kingdom will be the culmination of all that God is doing with
man. The church is not something that was thought up by the Trinity on
the spur of the moment when Christ "goofed and got crucified." The church
is not a substitute program. The church is an extension of the program
that was in progress. Christ mentions the kingdom in mystery form. I suggest
a study of that thought and its relationship to the church. Christ was
sent to finish provision for the salvation program, and He will return
to finish the kingdom aspect of the overall program of God in the future.
The church is not a title for some new group, or some new movement.
The Church is God's called out ones of this age as Israel was in the Old
Paul mentions that the Gentiles are grafted into the program because
the Jewish people have been set aside for a time. We will see more on this
when we delve into the Eschatology section of our study. The church is
something that was planned before the foundation of the world just as the
plan of redemption was planned, just as the plan for Israel was planned.
WHAT THE CHURCH IS NOT:
a. The church is not the Old Testament way reworked or renewed: All
Old Testament and New Testament saints are redeemed but: 1.) The sacrificial
system ended in Christ. Gal. 3:24-26 tells us that the law was a schoolmaster
to bring us to faith. We are no longer under that Old Testament schoolmaster
but under the blood of Jesus Christ. Heb. 5:9-10 tells us that Christ became
the author of salvation by His suffering. 2.) The Church Age began with
the work of the cross and Christ upon it.
b. The church is not Denominations: Denominations are not mentioned,
nor even hinted at, in the Scriptures. What is a denomination? Webster
mentions, "a religious organization uniting in a single legal and administrative
body a number of local congregations."
Are Baptists a denomination? Some may be considered a denomination,
however not all Baptist groups are denominations. The "Southern Baptists"
and the "American Baptists" are denominations, however the "Conservative
Baptists" and the "Regular Baptists" are associations. The difference between
them is the organization behind them. The latter groups are loose associations
of INDEPENDENT CHURCHES GOVERNED BY THEMSELVES! Now I might add that the
Southern Baptists claim they are independent churches, though at last report
they still were required to maintain certain ties to the overall organization
which seems to fit Webster's definition.
The denominational churches are governed to a certain extent via the
denominational structure. The churches support that structure by agreement
of being a part of the denomination.
A denomination may require giving, may set up schools, may help select
pastors for churches, may have their own publishing arm, may require churches
to follow their curriculum and may manage the local church and what it
Are Lutherans a denomination? There are several groups that make up
several separate denominations of Lutherans. Are Presbyterians a denomination?
Yes they are. There may be more than one in this group as well.
SO THE CHURCH IS NOT, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Christian Science,
Catholic, or any other organizational structure.
You might wonder why I take time to cover this topic. Have you ever
read the "TRAIL OF BLOOD," a book that describes only certain Baptists
as the only real, true believers? They hold to the fact that if you haven't
been baptized by one of their men that was baptized by someone that was
baptized by someone that was baptized by someone that was baptized - etc.
clear back to John The Baptist, then you aren't properly baptized, and
the thought often is that you may not really be going to heaven. These
are sometimes called Landmark Baptists.
Others aren't quite that strong. I attended two Baptist colleges. At
one of them a friend was talking with me and he mentioned the "Baptist
distinctives." I asked him what they were, so he listed them for me. They
were Biblical principles that all of us would hold to. I said, "Yes, those
are good principles but they are Biblical distinctives." "No! They are
Baptist distinctives." I said, "Yes, Baptists hold to them, but they are
Biblical distinctives!" "NO! THEY ARE BAPTIST DISTINCTIVES!" I said, "How
do you like the weather?" We removed ourselves from the subject.
We might also add that the church is not the ecumenical movement. Three
Lutheran groups have now merged. Another Lutheran group and the Episcopalians
are trying to merge. The Catholics want us all to come back to Holy Mother
Church. The Charismatics of all sorts want to get together. This is not
the bringing about of the Body of Christ, this is the bringing together
of Christians and non-Christians in an unholy mess of doctrine they all
say they can live with.
c. The church is not the Millennial Kingdom: The Kingdom is yet future
and will be set up by Christ the Lord. Some in the past, and some in this
time, believe that we can get the earth back to the pre-fall condition
and allow the Lord to come set up His kingdom. NOT SO! The Lord is capable
of setting the date of His coming. Indeed, it has been set from the foundation
of the world, and nothing we can do on this earth will change that date.
d. The church is not a Sunday School: The Sunday School started in 1780
in Glouster, England by Robert Rakes in a kitchen. It WAS NOT IN 40 AD
IN THE UPPER ROOM ON THE DAY OF PENTECOST! Mr. Rakes started the Sunday
School to teach poor children to read and write, and he used a Bible to
do it. In 1824 the American Sunday School Union brought the concept of
the Sunday School to the church.
In all of the good that Sunday Schools have brought to us we must remember
they are not inspired. Many believe there are some problems with Sunday
Schools, and I would like to alert you to these possible problems.
(From "EMERGING PATTERNS IN CHURCH EDUCATION" by Kenneth O. Gangel in
Christianity Today; July 1973 p 5)
1. "It offers a conscience - salving, though inadequate, alternative
for parents who neglect Christian teaching at home." 2. "It has focused
too much on children and too little on adults." 3. "It may have so emphasized
evangelism that it has neglected nurture." 4. "It too often is used as
a substitute for a total church program of nurture."
A number of years ago a friend took a church in Nebraska. There were
two separate buildings. The church met in one building and the Sunday School
met in the other. He accepted the call to the church and began talking
to his board about making some changes in the way the Sunday School was
operating. He was promptly informed that the Sunday School was not his
business. He was the pastor of the church. The Sunday School had its own
board and superintendent that took care of their program. Another friend
took a small work in Denver. The group met only for Sunday School. It took
him several months to add a ten minute teaching time at the end of the
Sunday School activities.
Paul never started with Sunday Schools, nor with kids. He always started
with the adults.
e. The church is not Israel: Saucy declares this point, "The New Testament
never confuses Israel and the church. As opposed to the church, which is
a religious body composed of individuals from all nations, the term Israel
retains its reference to that people which came physically from the loins
of Abraham." (Taken from: "THE CHURCH IN GOD'S PROGRAM"; Saucy, Robert
L.; Copyright 1979, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used
by permission. p 70) This is a good distinction, yet I believe that it
leaves out the proselytes that came to God through Israel in the Old Testament.
These too were from all nations, even though they identified with Israel.
They were considered Israelites, even though they did not come from the
"loins of Abraham."
Is there a better statement of distinction? Let's try. The church is
that group of people who are related to God through belief and faith, since
the cross, as opposed to Israel which is that people that were related
to God through belief and faith prior to the cross, responding to the promise
of God to Abraham. Though similarities may exist, the two are distinct
and are separate from one another.
Some would have us believe that the two are the same. Some bring forth
Rom. 9:6 as proof that Paul viewed Israel and the church as the same. "Not
as though the word of God hath taken no effect. For they are not all Israel,
who are of Israel...." If you examine the context it will be clear that
this is not showing that some of the people in the church are also Israel
- it is showing there is spiritual Israel and physical Israel.
Those who view Israel and the church as the same normally do so to place
their followers under the law and the promises of the Old Testament economy.
The two are separate! 1.) The book of Acts portrays men of the church
speaking of Israel separately from the church. Acts 2:22 "Ye men of Israel,
hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by
miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you,
as ye yourselves also know:" (See also Acts 3:12; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:21;
Acts 5:31; Acts 5:35; Acts 21:28.) 2.) Paul viewed them as separate. He,
a man of the church, speaks, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to
God for Israel is, they might be saved." (Rom. 10:1) He distinguishes between
"brethren" and "Israel." In Rom. 11:1 he declares himself, a Christian,
to be a part of Israel, making a distinction between the two. Paul in I
Cor. 10:32 mentions Jews, Gentiles and the church as separate units. 3.)
The fact that the term "Israel" appears only approximately twenty times
between the end of Acts and the beginning of Rev. is indication enough
that Israel is to be kept separate from the church. 4.) Israel is a nation
while the church is a body, an organism, and an organization. The church
is never referred to as a nation, yet this is the term used of Israel over
and over again in the Old Testament. 5.) God at this time is dealing with
and through the church WHILE Israel has been set aside and is not active
with, or for God.
It must be readily admitted that the two are similar. The term "ecclesia"
is used of both groups of people. We have seen that the term is applied
to Israel in the wilderness in Acts 7:38, while also in Acts the term is
used of the church (Acts 14:23). Indeed, the term is related to the church
112 times in the New Testament.
Why is it important to view the two as separate? To mix the two will
lead to the promises and ordinances of the Old Testament being applied
to the church and the blessings of the church being applied to Israel.
It will lead to misunderstandings in the area of future things. For
example, who are the people that will be governed in the Millennium? If
Israel and the Church are the same then both will be in the Millennium.
If they are different then only Israel will be in the Millennium.
If they are actually the same then Paul was not able to communicate
well, for he certainly shows a distinction between the two in his writings.
Results of mixing Israel and the church shows up in the teachings of:
7th day Adventism, British Israelism, Mormonism, and Covenant Theology.
f. The church is not big business: Years ago a religious temple in downtown
Denver occupied only a tiny part of two city blocks. Also on the property
were several high rise commercial buildings. Two city blocks in downtown
Denver - reportedly tax free because it was a part of the temple property.
Other cults and isms are noted for their total or part ownership of large
g. The church is not what many have made it: Bruce Shelley in his "THE
CHURCH: GOD'S PEOPLE," mentions a list of some myths of the modern day
church meaning. He declares that the church is not just fellowship, not
just invisible, not just doctrinal, not even a building, nor denominations,
nor is it an influence on society. It is much more than many try to make
it in our day and age. It is something special and unique in all the world,
and we keep it to ourselves all too often, not extending invitation to
it to those around us.
To recap, the church is not: The Old Testament sacrificial system, A
denomination, The Millennial Kingdom, A Sunday School, Israel, Big Business,
Fellowship, or Doctrine! By the way, it isn't a building either! As we
rid ourselves of the false ideas, maybe we can focus on the facts - what
is the church? It is people - specifically God's people.
1. List all of the occurrences of the term church and determine which
are speaking of the universal church, local church and in some cases you
might find that the reference speaks of both aspects of the church.
2. Look at the five points of our definition of the church and find
other scriptural passages that prove the definition that we have set forth.
3. Attempt to find other passages which show the church's purpose is
edification and evangelism.
FOR DEEPER STUDY
1. Read through the November 1989 issue of Moody Monthly. It is very
interesting where some of our traditions came from.
2. See appendix one for a constitution for a church that follows the
multiple elder form of government.
3. Request a copy of Radio Bible Class' booklet "WHO QUALIFIES TO BE
A CHURCH LEADER?" and read it. Great for ideas! (Radio Bible Class; Grand
Rapids, Michigan; 49555-0001)