So–what is real Church all about?
- Church Defined.
Body of Christ
The Bible speaks of the church as the body of Christ. Christ is the head of the church. This phrase refers to the integrated, spiritual personality of the church with Christ totally. Our physical bodies are also members of Christ. The members of the church are equally important in relation to one another. Interdependence implies that we are not to be self-centred. We are not to act against one another. The Bible also speaks of Christ as the cornerstone, the most important person in the church (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 6:15; 12:12-27; Eph 1:22 & 23; 2:19-22; 5:23; Col 1:18, 24). All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Christ and He heads the church too. (Matt 28:18).
Bride of Christ
Another metaphor shows the integrated sanctity of the church with Christ: it speaks of the church as the bride and Christ as the bridegroom. The marriage supper would take place after the last judgement (Matt 9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34; Rev 19:6-9; 21:2 & 9; 22:17).
Flock of GOD
The church is also referred to as the flock of GOD (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2). This implies GOD’s overall care for His people. It is both spiritual as well as in the world. The latter is through the ‘shepherds’ He has appointed over us.
Greek origins of the word ‘Church’
The New Testament uses the Greek word ecclesia for church. Ecclesia refers to the assembly of people who have been called out for GOD’s kingdom.
In the Old Testament, the words edhah and quhal are similarly used to refer to a people assembled and/or ‘called out’.
These three words do NOT refer to a building. The early church had no building until the 3rd century AD. This was possibly more than 100 years after the final book in the Bible (John’s Gospel) was completed. The early church was repeatedly persecuted and was generally ‘underground’. It had no time to engage in building permanent, publicly-visible structures.
The word ‘church’ however, originates from a Greek word, kuriakon which is NOT used in the Bible. It means ‘the LORD’s house’. It has been translated into German (kirche), Dutch (kerk) and Scottish (kirk) to arrive at ‘church’, in English. It generally, refers to a building.
So in understanding what the ‘church’ is, we must not make the error of thinking about the ‘church’ as a building. Instead, we should consider the church as the collected number of GOD’s people.
- Who leads the Church?
There are two aspects of leadership of the church: spiritual and temporal.
Christ is the head of the church. Everything about the church is directed by the Holy Spirit. He lives in us. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to testify about Christ. We are not able to resist the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 4:31&33; 6:10; Col 1:18).Church leaders are to be consecrated to GOD. The Holy Spirit is the one who provides the leaders of the church with their spiritual protection (Acts 14:3; 20:28).
The church appoints elders or bishops. They are accountable to GOD for their leadership of the church. They are to shepherd the members of Christ’s body according to GOD’s will (Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:1-3).
Elders are appointed by the congregation and must
- be devout in the faith;
- be married to one wife;
- if they have children, the elders are to be appointed only if the children are believers who do not have a reputation for being wild or disobedient;
- be free from accusation as they are GOD’s stewards;
- be self-controlled and not self-willed, nor aggressive;
- be prudent and fair;
- not be given to bouts of uncontrolled temper;
- not be seeking financial gain nor having a love for money;
- not be addicted to wine;
- not be new believers as pride may bring about their fall;
- know the word of GOD in order to provide correct teaching, particularly when dealing with opponents;
- be hospitable;
- arrange prayer and anointing for the sick.
1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9 and James 5:14 spell out the requirements above.
Generally, elders are expected to be in one accord on all matters of church activity if the church is to grow (Acts 1:14; 4:32; 5:12).On theological matters, if opinions are divided, a council meeting of associated churches should be called to resolve the different viewpoints amongst themselves(Acts 15:2-31). If an elder is to be accused, there must be two or three witnesses to testify against him (1 Tim 5:19).There were no provisions in the New Testament for women to be elders or bishops, though women were active in the Lord’s work.
Deacons and deaconesses were appointed to the church. However, their roles were not in front-line leadership but in service and assistance (Acts 6:1-6; Rom 16:1-2; 1 Tim 3:8-12).
The temporal authority, though distinct from the spiritual, does not make that temporal authority independent from GOD. The temporal authority is exercised through the Holy Spirit and is under audit by GOD.
Only Christ is the Supreme Head of the church. No bishop/elder is appointed to be the single head of the church. Matt 16:16 & 18 are incorrectly used to assert Peter’s headship and succession of the church. The reference to the “rock” was to Peter’s confession of Christ as the son of GOD. The use of the “rock” did not refer to Peter as the founding leader of the church. An apostolic church is a church that follows the teachings of the apostles of Christ. A church is not apostolic merely because it claims a particular apostle as its head(C K Barrett, The Signs of an Apostle: the Cato Lecture 1969 London: Paternoster, 1996, p 114). Paul warned the church against laying claims to be affiliated with any particular apostle/disciple (1 Cor 3:4-11).
- What is the Church to engage in?
The church is to preach the gospel throughout the world until the end of time with the full authority, presence and power of Christ. The church is not to be side-tracked by the actual date of Christ’s return. The actual date and time of His return is unpredictable, neither by man nor even by Christ Himself. However, the church should be every-ready for the return of Christ (Matt 24:36 & 44, 28:18-20; Acts 1:6-8). This gives the church a focused responsibility and a sense of urgency.
The church should not have a ‘siege’ mentality. It should not feel locked-in. The church should march forward spiritually and knock the “gates of hell” down (Matt 16:18).
The church must not be involved in side-issues: the spread of the gospel is its focus—its members may be involved in promoting social/humanitarian causes but only in their personal capacity and not at the expense of the gospel and the church. Business and investments should not be conducted in the name of the church nor introduced to the church. If in doubt, fervent prayer, fasting and word of GOD would be the recourse to resolve any sort of dilemma.
The response to repressive government policies on the church should be the equivalent of the early church’s response as reported in the book of Acts. The church grew by leaps and bounds then. The church is to be obedient to government and is required to pray for the government. It is not to be concerned with political power nor administrative resource allocation. However, this does not prevent the church from continuing to share the gospel as Christ is the source of authority (Matt 28:18; Rom 13:1-7; 1 Tim 2:1-3).
And what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that GOD loved mankind and had Christ, His Son, die for man’s sins. Christ was buried and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. By doing this, Christ demonstrated victory over the price, penalty and power of sin and death. Man is called to repent and turn back to GOD as a result of this free gift of salvation from GOD (John 3:16-18; Acts 2:38-40; Rom 8:1&2; 1 Cor 15:3-5). Expanded examples of the gospel content preached are to be found in Peter’s sermon on Pentecost day, Stephen’s defence before the High Priest, and Paul’s discourse with the philosophers at Athens (Acts 2:14-40;Acts 7:2-53; Acts 17:22-31).Each book of scripture has gospel content to be expounded within the overall message of the Bible.
Worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper were held in the early church daily, and had, after the growth of the church, become a weekly meeting as a minimum(Acts 2:46-47; 20:7; 1 Cor 16:1-4).
- What are the real challenges of the church?
These would be as follows:
- Christ is the head of the church: everything done in the church must be directed solely by the Holy Spirit;
- Nothing must be done for the glory of individuals: manipulation within the assembly is not permissible
- All pursuits are solely for GOD’s glory;
- Charles Spurgeon said, “Far better for a man that he had never been born than that he should degrade a pulpit into a show box to exhibit himself in” ;
- Only Christ is to be preached from pulpits and preachers should not develop personality cults through narrating their own autobiographies at sermon time; if they want to develop rapport with the congregation, they should do it off the pulpit;
- The church is not a social club nor a middle class gathering; it does not have an existence of its own, nor on the basis of any social criteria;
- Neither is the church an exclusive ‘holy huddle’ for ‘sanitised’ people: it should expect the dregs of society to be drawn to its ranks;
- As an assembly of people, the church should focus on its outreach to the unsaved rather than keep its activities confined to Christians: like a car (to echo Billy Sunday) it must be ‘used’ and not be kept squeaky-clean in a garage for admiration—‘maintenance’ is by the Holy Spirit;
- The church should not merely present the gospel as a counter-culture/alternative culture to the world but present Christ in person as the alternative to the ethos of the world; a personal and knowing Christ is the essence of the gospel and not a way of life because Christ IS the Way, the Truth and the Life—He does not show us to the way or truth or life (John 14:6);
- The church should be able to draw in the unsaved and they should see within the church, that a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6) can be seriously addressed;
- The church should ensure that the conventional apostasy associated with material prosperity and possessions, or the ethos of individual self-help do not be given the opportunity to masquerade as the gospel;
- As the church (in scripture) is not a building, all activities associated with property acquisition and maintenance should be kept to minimum levels;
- Audio-visual expenditure should be at necessary levels rather than be in step with innovation in technology for its own sake; glorification of GOD is through His word and the outworking of His redemption plan, and not by our undue affinity for technology;
- Direct worship of GOD, and not worship of GOD through audio-visual technology, should be the emphasis of any assembly;
- Worship services are not for entertainment but for adoration of Christ; all activities should be sacredly committed in prayer and should not give rise to stress and interpersonal conflict—if they do so, they should be examined and spiritually assigned to the Holy Spirit.
NOTE: Tony Dibble worships at Endeavour Christian Gathering (ECG), in Perth, Western Australia. Prior to this, he was attending the Church of Our Holy Saviour (COHS), in Labuan, East Malaysia. When in Kuala Lumpur, he worships and preaches at Faith Oasis Fellowship (FOF) Subang Jaya, Selangor.
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