*THE CHURCH* (part 1 of2)
*I. INTRODUCTION AND DEFINITION*
The Greek word for church is EKKLESIA from which we derive ‘ecclesiastical’, ‘ek’ meaning “out of” and ‘kaleo’, meaning “to call.”; called out from the world unto God. James, in Acts 15:14, refers to God’s work for this age as being that of “taking from among the gentiles a people for His name.” They are united with Jews to form a new group, the Church, or Church of God (Eph3:6,10 and 1Cor10:32 which give three categories of people, Jew, gentile, and church of God, and 1Pet2:9 which refers to “a people for God’s own possession.”)
–”Church” might refer to the UNIVERSAL Church or a LOCAL church. The universal Church is the entire group of believers in the Lord Jesus (between Pentecost Acts1:8 and the Rapture 1Thes4:17). The universal Church includes people who have died and are in heaven, as well as, believers who are on earth. The Bible likens it not to an organization but to an organism, “Christ’s body.” Several passages refer to this universal Church. (See 1Cor12:28; 15:9; Eph5:23-27, 32, Eph1:21-23, 1Cor10:32.)
“And I also say to you that you are Peter (‘Petros’ is ‘Peter’, in Greek means stone), and upon this rock (‘Petra’ means rock) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades (hell) shall not overpower it” Matt16:18.
”…to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect” Heb12:23. All these “enrolled in heaven”, all those saved, are members of the Church.
–The Church in its entirety is invisible. It includes both the living and the dead. It can never be brought to assembly at one place or at the same time before the Rapture. By contrast, the local church is the visible manifestation of the universal Church. Obviously, the local church excludes that portion of the universal Church that has died and gone to be with the Lord. Unlike the universal Church, the local church can have unbelievers associated temporarily with it. A majority of the approximately one hundred fifteen uses of the word ekklesia in the New Testament refer to a local church or local churches (the church in Jerusalem, Acts8:1;11:22; the churches of Galatia, 1Cor16:1; the church of Macedonia, 2Cor8:1; the churches of the Thessalonians, 1Thess1:1, the 7 churches in the Book of Revelations 2,3, the churches in the epistles etc.).
Therefore someone who stays home watching church services on Christian TV is disobeying the plan of God by not attending a local church; excuses are: ”I can pray at home”, ”I am part of the universal church”, ”churches around here have hurt me…”. Such a Christian is as a sheep without a flock: he lacks pastoral care and the edification that is only available in the church Eph4:11,12; this believer also robs the other believers from benefiting of his spiritual gifts 1Cor12:12-31; he fails to hear what Jesus has to say to a specific church (as Jesus spoke to the 7 churches in Revelations).
*II. WORD PICTURES OF THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH*
*A. THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP*
The Old Testament pictures the people of God as sheep, with the LORD being their shepherd (Ps23:1;74:1; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Is40:11; Jer23:1; Ezek34; Zech13:7). In the lesson of the good shepherd Christ teaches that He was bringing His sheep out of the fold (Judaism) and that He had other sheep of a different fold (gentiles). These would be united to form a new flock (see Jn10:16). Christ is the head of this new flock, called the church (Acts20:28). Jesus is the Chief Shepherd (1Pet.5:4; see also 1Pet2:25), and the Great Shepherd (Heb13:20). Pastors (shepherds) are His representatives or under-shepherds (Acts20:28; Eph4:11; 1Pet5:2,3).
The picture of a shepherd and sheep teaches that Christ is the authority over the church (just as God the Father was the shepherd of Israel). He offers protection, guidance, and nurture to believers. Believers, as sheep, tend to wander and need our Shepherd’s wisdom and strength.
*B. THE HEAD AND BODY*
A second common Biblical figure for the church is that of a body with Christ as the Head. (See Rom12:5, 1Cor10:17, 12:12-27; Eph2:16; 3:6,10; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; 6:15,16; Col1:18,24, 2:19; 3:15.)
*C. THE BRIDE AND GROOM*
The Old Testament likens the relationship between God and Israel as one of husband and wife. Usually, there is a mention of Israel being an unfaithful wife with the promise that she will eventually be restored (see Isa.50:1; Jer2:2; 31:32; Ezek16:32; Hosea2:2ff.; Is54:5-8; 62:4,5).
Christ assumes the figure of the groom while His followers, particularly John the Baptist, have the role of friends of the groom. (See Matt9:15; 25:1-13; Mark 2:19,20; Luke5:34,35; Jn3:29; Rom7:3,4, 2Cor11:2, Eph5:22-31, Rev19:7,9, Rev21:2,9,22:17.)
Through the Scriptures addressed to the Church, it becomes clear that Christ is as a groom who is engaged to His bride, the Church. In Jewish culture, a betrothal was much more binding than is a modern engagement. Nothing can ever break the covenant between Christ and His Church. The Church is now betrothed to Christ, and this is a relationship that cannot be broken. It culminates in the marriage of the Lamb in the heavenly city.
*D. THE TEMPLE, HOUSEHOLD, OR BUILDING WITH CHRIST AS THE CORNERSTONE*
There are probably different shades of truth intended by these overlapping figures. The comparison of a church to a temple conveys the truth that God Himself through the Holy Spirit indwells the Church – and individual believers, just as God took up residence in the Old Testament tabernacle. Verses: 1Cor3:16, 6:19, 2Cor.6:16 and Eph2:19-22 )
— Ps118:22ff. refers to a “stone which the builders rejected (that) has become the chief corner stone.” Christ claimed that Psalm 118 teaches about Himself (Matt21:42; Mark12:10;Luke20:17). Peter also found the fulfillment of Psalm 118 in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts4:11). Christ is the cornerstone. The 12 apostles and the prophets are the foundation. 1Cor3:9-11, Eph2:19-22, 1Pet2:4,5, Rev21:14
The comparison of the Church to a “household of faith” is closely related to the figure of a temple or building. Sometimes all the terms are included in the same passage (Gal6:10, 1Pet4:17, Eph2:19to22: household, v19; building, v21; temple, v21). The concept of a household speaks of unity and a family relationship.
*E. A PRIESTHOOD WITH CHRIST AS THE GREAT HIGH PRIEST*
The doctrine of the priesthood of believers was one of the three major tenets of the reformation, along with justification by faith alone and the doctrine that Scripture alone and not church tradition is the final authority. Protestants objected to the Roman Catholic practice of giving confession to a human priest or praying to some dead saint as intermediary between God and a believer. Also, they objected to the philosophy that Scripture should only be studied in ancient languages by a class of priests. They believed that God wanted common people to study the Bible in their own language. (This did not, however, mean the Reformers believed scholarship was unnecessary or that every man should have equal authority in governing the church or teaching its doctrine.) All believers are priests 1Pet2:5,9, Rev1:6, 5:9,10;20:6.
The book of Hebrews stresses that Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest for believers. He is the only perfect and final mediator between God and man (1Tim2:5). He offered the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices and bring about a lasting relationship between God and man without any further need for continual animal sacrifices or a special priesthood (Heb2:17; 5:5,6,10; 7:17, 26; 9:11; 10:11,12,21).
At the time of the Law’s introduction, God promised to make Israel a Kingdom of Priests; “if you will indeed obey my voice…” (Ex19:5,6). However, Israel broke the Old Covenant (The Law of Moses) and, therefore, lost the privilege of becoming a kingdom of priests. Later Israel rejected her Messiah. Based upon the blood of Christ, God offers a new covenant that is now in force with the Church (and will be eventually ratified with the nation of Israel). All in the Church, i.e., all believers, have been made a kingdom of priests with Christ as the High Priest.
Because all believers are priests, they all have the privilege of direct access to God without any need to pray through a human mediator (Eph2:18). Furthermore, it is God’s will that all believers have access to His Word in their own respective languages in order to develop personal convictions and validate doctrines from teachers in the church (Acts17:11; 1Jn4:1).
Priests have the obligation to offer sacrifices. The New Testament mentions at least three sacrifices that believer-priests should offer.
First, we should offer OURSELVES AS A LIVING SACRIFICE (Rom12:1).
Next, God wants us to offer up willingly our WEALTH to advance His work (Phil4:18).
Finally, believer-priests are to render a sacrifice of PRAISE and WORSHIP not only Sunday in church with our mouths, but with our heart all the time (Heb.13:15,16).
*F. THE PILLAR OF TRUTH*
The imagery of the Church as a pillar of truth 1Tim3:15 ought to be very dear to those in Bible teaching churches. A local church has a responsibility to preserve the truth in the midst of a dark world (Phil2:15, 2Tim2:2). One of the foremost responsibilities of the church is that of teaching the Scriptures.
…end of part 1 of 2