There is much today that flies under the banner of this term “church.” It has been thrown around so much that for most people, believers and non-believers alike, it has come to rest in a dictionary that it doesn’t belong. I am reminded, as always, of what the Great Dr. Rogers said once, “you cannot use God’s words and your own dictionary” and I am afraid that has what has happened to this Biblical term, church.
We have everything today from “Baptist Church” to “Family Church” to “Countryclub Church” to “Cowboy Church” to “the United Methodist Bar and Grill.” 🙂 Churches about Jesus, churches about families, churches about relationships, churches about social change, churches about politics (irreverened Jeremiah Wrong) (And for the record, where does the Reverend Al (not so Sharp)ton pastor?, churches about hate, (Westboro NonBaptist Church), to churches about . . . well . . . nothing. I won’t mention any names, but his initials are Joel Osteen. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceburg.
The term church has become a bona fide “mess” in this world. When the devil cannot beat you he will confuse you. What then is the Biblical Concept of church? I’m glad that you asked. As a Christian by New birth, Baptist by belief, and Missionary Baptist by Conviction, let’s take a look at the scriptures. In order to understand the church from a Biblical point of view, we must understand what the Bible has to say about it. There are many concepts and ideas about what a church is, why it is, and what its role in society is. While the views may vary, the truth stands firm. The church is not to be defined by our social world, but by God’s Sacred Word.
Jesus said, “. . .upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19
A.W. Tozer said once, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”
WHAT A CHURCH IS NOT:
– A man-made social club
– A civic organization
– A great humanitarian group
– A political movement
WHAT A CHURCH IS
By definition it is “a called out assembly of baptized believers, in covenant together to carry out the Great Commission”. How, and where does this definition come from?
1.) By Word Definition— When we peal back the King’s English in the KJV for the word church, we find the word ecclesia. The word ecclesia simply means a “calling out with the purpose of assembly”
2.) By Working Application— All throughout the New Testament, the word is used to describe an “assembly”, a “congregation”, or a “company.” This word has often been described as a “gathering.” The etymology of the word gives us the historic meaning of a “congregated assembly.”
3.) By Way of Illustration— In Acts 2:41, we can see that believers were baptized before the Bible counted them to be a added to the assembly as a member.
4.) By Way of Implication— In Acts 2:44 & 46 and Acts 4:32 we find in the first church that “all that believed were together,” that they were with “one accord” and that they were “of one heart and one soul.” The examples given teach that the first church was “in covenant together” in the apostles’ doctrine.
When we put these things in context together, we come up with a clear Bible definition for the “Church”. It is a “called out gathering of baptized believers, who have covenanted together in the apostles’ doctrine.” These characteristics distinguish it from all other “groups” or “assemblies”.
If the definition of the word ecclesia means “to be called out,” then there are several questions that need to be asked. Who called? To where? For what? When was the call? These are all questions that need to be answered in order for us to hold the right convictions about our identity. Who Called? – Jesus did.—Read Mark 2:14 What did Jesus say to Levi? What did Levi do? The calling is for men to follow Christ. This “following” of Christ requires faith in Christ. Where there is no real personal faith, there is no real practical followship. Jesus said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” Luke 6:46 You cannot walk His Way, if you don’t receive His Word. The church is made up first of those who have made the decision to follow Jesus Christ. There are many who want to be identified with a church, but have no relationship with the Christ. If Christ were separated from the church, then the church would cease to be a church. According to Acts 2:41 they “gladly received His Word” as the first item of business in their journey towards church membership. What does it mean to “gladly receive His Word?” Acts 13:48— “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
He has called all people to come out of their sins, come to Him for forgiveness, and trust Him. Only then do you truly become a “believer” in Jesus Christ. Each true member of a New Testament Church has heard the call of Christ to come to Him for Salvation. The N.T. church is not a group of all kinds of people. The N.T. church is a group of only one kind of people, saved people. Now all kinds of people can be saved people, but any who aren’t saved, are not the Bible kind of people that are allowed by Christ to be in His church. Have you answered that call to repent and believe the gospel?
When did He first call? – Read Matthew 4:18-19, Matthew 16:18, Mark 1:16-20
Now that being said and read here is another question; where was Jesus when He began calling? On the seashore of Galilee. Who did Jesus say would construct the church? He would.
A large number of people believe that the church began on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came and indwelled it. The reality is that the “calling, baptizing, gathering, and covenanting together” started taking place before the day of Pentecost. The first church was functioning while Christ was still walking the Earth. In Acts 1, before Pentecost came, we find that baptized believers had assembled together (vs. 4 & 6) with Jesus and were covenanted together (vs. 14) in obedience to the Lord. The truth is that the Holy Spirit did not begin the church; it empowered the existing one. In Acts 2:1, Dr. Luke records, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” The church existed before the Holy Spirit came. However, it was the coming of the Holy Spirit that unleashed Heavenly power into the earthly church.
We find in the Bible a threefold assignment for the Lord’s church. It is to 1.) Glorify Christ 2.) Preach the Gospel to lost people everywhere 3.) Keep the Faith.
What does all of this mean for the church that I pastor? It means that in Christ alone, we find our Beginning, our Building, our Blessing, and our Bright future. The church He began so many generations ago started other churches that started other churches and on down the line. Christ’s church has always existed since the days of the seashore calling. Ephesians 3:21 tells us, “Unto Him be glory in the church, by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” What does that mean? It means that the New Testament church has maintained its line of churches from Christ’s day to our day. This church is under the same direction and command as the first church. Generations may change, but the charge of the church does not.
Understanding the nature of what the Lord’s church (assembly) really is, and really is all about would be a wonderful change worth making.
How then does someone answer this call? By placing their personal faith in Jesus Christ.