What Is The Church?
What is the "church"?
Do we truly know what the "church" is?
Who is the church?
Where is the church?
What should church look like?
When should the church meet?
How does church work?
Well, I am sure that these questions seem quite simplistic to many of you. you have experienced "church". You know what it's like--you've "been there and done that".
You know how it works.
You know the rules.
Just one question: Where did the rules come from?
answer: NOT THE BIBLE
Okay, let's do a little bible study.
Let's look up "church" in the Bible.
Let's see if we can get some clues as to who--what--where....the church is.......
Mt 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and
upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of
hell shall not prevail against it.
Mt 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
Ac 2:47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
Ac 5:11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
Ac 7:38 This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us:
Ac 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Ac 8:3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
Ac 11:22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.
Ac 11:26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
Ac 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
Ac 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
Ac 13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Ac 15:3 And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phenice and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren.
Ac 15:4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them.
Ac 15:22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren:
Ac 18:22 And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up, and saluted the church, he went down to Antioch.
Ac 20:17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
Ac 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
Ro 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:
Ro 16:5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Ro 16:23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.
Ro 16:27 To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen. <<Written to the Romans from Corinthus, and sent by Phebe servant of the church at Cenchrea.>>
1Co 1:2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
1Co 4:17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
1Co 6:4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
1Co 10:32 Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:
1Co 11:18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.
1Co 11:22 What? have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the church of God, and shame them that have not? What shall I say to you? shall I praise you in this? I praise you not.
1Co 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
1Co 14:4 He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church.
1Co 14:5 I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying.
1Co 14:12 Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
1Co 14:19 Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.
1Co 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad?
1Co 14:28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God.
Ga 1:13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:
Eph 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,
Eph 3:10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
Eph 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
Eph 5:24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
Eph 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Eph 5:29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:
Eph 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Php 3:6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Php 4:15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.
Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Col 1:24 Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:
Col 4:15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house.
Col 4:16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea.
1Th 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2Th 1:1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
1Ti 3:5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
1Ti 3:15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Heb 2:12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
Heb 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,
Jas 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
1Pe 5:13 The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son.
3Jo 1:6 Which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well:
3Jo 1:9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
3Jo 1:10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.
Re 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
From these references, do you get an impression of what "church " is?
"Ye are the church...."
The Bible says "church" is who you ARE.
If, you believe in Jesus Christ. If you believe He is God--Lord--Savior--then,
you ARE the church.
You ARE the church--all the time--24/7
"Church" is how God sees you.
You are a member of His Body all the time--WHEN YOU MINISTER.
When you actively serve God and serve others, you are truly BEING His Body--His Church.
Where is the church?
Romans 16:5 "Likewise greet the church that is in their house."
A fact that is very much ignored by Christians of today is that the church in the Bible met largely in their homes.
Now, of course, the argument goes....
"Well, that is how they had to do things, way back then, because they were starting the church and for us today, there is no reason why we can't build our 4,000 seat sanctuary....etc, etc. etc.....
This argument seems logical, but it disobeys the new covenant. It disobeys the example of not only the church in the Bible, but the example of Jesus Himself.
Jesus worked with 12 men. He ministered in a small group. And this is exactly what the church in the Bible was imitating....
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20)
2 or 3.
It's a new covenant Biblical rule. And if we decide to only meet in a large group--we fall out of obedience to the rules for meeting the new covenant sets...
"¶ How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." (1Corinthians 14:26)
"Every one of you.....hath a doctrine"
Question: Does everyone have a turn to teach in the large group of "church'?
Or, does one person teach--pretty much all the time?
See how the rules change in the large group we call "church'?
Read a little farther down and see that this area of scripture is called "the commandments of the Lord".....
"If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." (1Corinthians 14: 37)
This is the only place in the entire new testament that this phrase is used!
Biblically, a small group meeting is a new covenant commandment!
Question: why do we take this commandment so lightly?
Question: In your Christian life, how often have you met with other believers in a small group, in which any one could freely teach or minister?
How often have you obeyed this commandment?
Have you ever worked in this way as the church? Or, is there a different set of rules?
So, the church in the Bible met in small groups and all ministered.
How do we know this?
Well, let's read about the new covenant ministry gifts...
"¶ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
When the new covenant speaks about "ministry" it stresses that these are "gifts"--"anointings" (Gift of Christ) which are "given unto every one of us" and are "in all and through all" since God is "in all and through all"
New covenant ministry is God, inside the believer, reaching out to serve others.
The gifts themselves are simply categories of function......
Apost les/evangelists....cary the Gospel out to the world.
prophets....speak the word of God.
pastors/teachers.....guide and teach believers toward their ministry.
I would challenge you as a believer to study the Bible and see if these simple and open definitions of the ministry gifts are not true according to Biblical example.
Question: how often have you ever studied ministry from the new testament standpoint? Most "average" believers don't think it's their "place" to study ministry. You would be amazed at how little "professional ministers" know about Biblical ministry. Most of the time they take their example from an already existing set of parameters--which are just what the people in the "church" think they ought to be! So who is actually in control of the definition and function of ministry in most church groups? The answer I come up with is "tradition" a type of tradition that no one dares to contradict, question or even simply study!
The point taken here is that Biblically, within the functioning of the church---ALL minister. (of course read the rules stated in 1Corinthians 14--we should each take turns--not all at once!--simple courtesy is Gods' "order")
You see, God is supposed to be the Leader--the Head...
"And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Collosians 1:18)
He is supposed to have "preeminence"--literally "be in first place". He is supposed to be the only One who has authority in the Christian meeting.
And, one of the new covenant rules that is meant to make that happen is this..
"And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;" (Luke 22:25-29)
When we meet together, we are not supposed to "exercise authority" one over another.
"Ministry" is NOT authority over other believers.
Well that fits the Bible example we've discussed so far....small groups......all minister........a :"non-authoritarian" way of doing things--(although--human authority can creep into this way of operating---in these verses, Jesus is in the process of correcting His apostles, who were vying for power in His kingdom! If they can make this mistake, so can we.)
Why do I say that this is a "new covenant" principle?
Because of Jesus' words here......"And I appoint unto you a kingdom....."
The Greek term here is to "hand over a covenant". This is the only place in the new testament where Jesus Himself used this term.
Jesus is saying here that He did not exercise authority over His followers, and He desired that we follow His example--and --He also said that is a new covenant change.
why is this important?
Some thing that many Christians seem unaware of is the fact that the common format of Christians meeting (you know--"Sunday church") is based very much on the old covenant and strangely enough--on the sacrificial laws of the old covenant--the "stuff" that Israel had to do to have their sin forgiven!
What do I mean?
Okay, what did israel have to do, before Christ went to the cross, to have their sin cleansed?
Here is a short list...
1. Build a large building called the temple/house of God/sanctuary
2. Meet regularly on sabbath days.
3. Bring in tithes/offerings--animals and crops which were offered to God for sin.
4. Enter by gates of praise and worship.
5 Have an altar, upon which ministered the Levitical priest/pastor--the anointed, appointed, delegated, ordained authority, who had the right to minister in the temple.
You see, in the old covenant, "ministry" was authority over others. One tribe of Israel, the Levites, were singled out to minister in the temple. The other 11 tribes were often referred to as the "congregation. The "congregation" of Israel were not allowed to minister, but had the job of supporting the ministers of the temple and building and maintaining the house of God (the temple in Jerusalem).
Does any of this stuff sound familiar?
Doesn't it sound like a lot of the rules of "church"?
Now, there are some very interesting aspects to all this.
First of all, we can obviously see that the new covenant church was NOT following these old covenant rules.
Because they knew and understood that Jesus was the new covenant offering.
Study this part of the book of Hebrews carefully...
8 Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings
and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure
therein; which are offered by the law;
9 Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.
10 By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
14 For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
15 Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,
16 This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
17 And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.
18 Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.
19 ¶ Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;
21 And having an high priest over the house of God;
22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.
23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)
24 And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:
25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord sha ll judge his people.
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
This area of scripture is talking about the new covenant changes. There is a new offering and a new priesthood (the priesthood is all the church--1Peter 2:5, 2:9). There is a strong warning that we should not forsake the rules of assembling (the small group rules we have been studying!) and we should not make other offerings. These things are called "willful sin" and will be judged by God.
All the sacrificial/sabbath laws were done away with in the new covenant.
We've seen that Jesus specifically redefined ministry as NOT authority over others (We should also note His actions and opinions about the Pharisees, priest., scribes and elders of israel--he was bringing in a "new deal" that excluded human authority!)
[Okay--perhaps some of you are saying this: "My pastor is a really really nice guy--I don't think he "exercises authority" over me. Listen--we're sure that your pastor is a really really nice guy--you see it's not about the people it's about the format and the rules. Think about it. In every Sunday meeting that we have ever seen, no one can question the pastor. The only thing you can say is "amen". Wow. that is huge, gigantic, humongous authority!! The truth is that no one in the Bible, even the Levites, did not have that much authority over others. Think. Jesus was not a Levite, but He went into the temple and taught. Some people listened to Him and some vehemently disagreed. All that was perfectly allowable in the strict rules of the old covenant. The truth is that traditional church rules are more strict and authoritarian than that of the Levites and Pharisees!]
Did you know that the Levitical priests--the "office" of the "priest/pastor" is done away with in the new covenant?
11 ¶ If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood,
(for under it the people received the law,) what further need
was there that another priest should rise after the order
of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron?
12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. (Hebrews 7: 11-12)
Did you know the new covenant does away with "offerings"....
"Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin." (Hebrews 10:18)
(And, by the way, "tithe" is simply the amount of the sin offering--in the old covenant.)
You see there are changes between the old covenant and the new covenant. You can't just stick your finger in the Bible some place and say "let's do this"! You ought to read the whole book! If you study history, people who lived a long time ago (maybe 1700 years ago) did just that. They are the ones who invented the church service and it's rules. Are we so sure they did it right? So right that we must follow their rules over and over and over again?
For another example: In the old covenant the "house of God" was the temple in Jeruslaem. What, or where is the "house of God" in the new covenant?...
"But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (1Timothy 3:15)
In the new covenant YOU are the church--and YOU are the House of God.
1Co 3:16 Know ye not that ye are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
1Co 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;
21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:
22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Ephesians 2: 19-22)
But, are we the new covenant church when we are following old covenant rules?
Let's think of it another way.
Israel had a purpose--they had to prepare the way for the Messiah.
They had to conquer the land and cleanse the land of Israel for Christ's coming. And, we ought to be very thankful that Israel did it's job! Jesus was born. Jesus lived. Jesus healed the sick and cast out the devil. Jesus died and was resurrected. Jesus brought in a new covenant, which was for all people--the salvation of all mankind--the forgiveness of all sin--by grace, through faith--not by works (like the old covenant works that forgave sin!)
All this was prophesied by the written Word and lived out actions of Israel.
But, we ought to say "mission accomplished" to Israel! They did their job and now, the Church, the new covenant Church, has a new mission, a different mission, it's called the Gospel.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord." (Luke 4"18-19)
This is how Jesus described the Gospel--a gospel of salvation, healing, deliverance--release--feeding the poor and the needy.
This is what Jesus did and this is what the church in the Bible was doing. It was the purpose behind their meeting.
There is hardly an example of a meeting of Christians in the Bible which did not lead to the direct witnessing of the Gospel.
Is the Gospel the purpose behind your meetings?
Is there a true Gospel function in your Christian meeting?
Or, are you spending most of your time, effort and money building a kingdom whose rules and functions resemble old covenant Israel?
Remember what we said before?...
You can't just stick your finger in the Bible some place and say "let's do this"! You ought to read the whole book!
You probably didn't make up the rules in your church. And probably the people who are leading your church didn't make up the rules.
What did happen, is that in church history (something every believer ought to study) a long time ago (maybe 1700 years ago) somebody did just that--they "stuck their finger in the Bible" and made up a bunch of rules and called it "church"
It may not have even been a Christian who did it! It may have been a Roman emperor (remember what Jesus said about the kings of the Gentiles in Luke 22: 25? He made the same warning in Matthew 20:25-26 and Mark 10:42-43--don't exercise authority one over another like the Romans do!)
What is known, is that the Bible story ends at a certain point, and, a few hundred years later the catholic mass emerges..
RULE--meeting in a large building and large group--once a week.
RULE-- priestly/pastoral ministry--authority over others
RULE--tithes/offerings required of the "congregation"
RULE--worship and teaching stressed, apostleship done away with
(read a catholic history book, they will tell you that the leaders of this long ago era radically changed the church)
The Gospel purpose and new covenant functions and definitions of ministry changed--done away with.
And, this format has been laid upon Christianity--upon the church--as if it were law--for centuries.
It has defined "ministry"
It has defined "authority"
It has defined church function.
It has defined the Church itself.