GOD’S GREATEST CREATION, Part 2

An early American church, somewhere in the mid-west.

THE CHURCH, Part 2

In Part 1 of our study of God’s Greatest Creation, we discussed the various terms used in the New Testament to describe what we call “the church.” We discovered, among other things, that “the church” is a “called out” and “separated” group of people; called out from and separate from the rest of the world. What separates “the church” is what distinguishes it from all other groups or associations: a faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and a desire to abide by His teachings, and in fact all the teachings, in the Word of God.

You will recall that in Acts 7:37, 38 Stephen referred to Israel as being “the church in the wilderness” (KJV). Of course, Israel wasn’t a “church” in the way we think of what a “church” is; Stephen was describing the nation of Israel as a “church” in the non-technical sense as a nation that had been “called out” and “separated” from all other nations in the world at that time, specifically Israel had been “called out” of Egypt. In fact, the Church as we know it is not seen anywhere in the Old Testament at all. Paul wrote that “the church” was a mystery, a hidden thing to people in the Old Testament, not revealed until the New Testament. The Church is not “spiritual Israel” or Judaism re-worked. The Church is a special creation of God, separate and distinct from Israel.

We also looked words used in the New Testament to describe members of the church; Christians. From these words we discovered that members of the church are like a family, bound together by their unwavering faith and belief in Jesus Christ.

Lastly, we looked at how the New Testament used metaphors to describe the Church. It is “the Body of Christ” with Christ as its head. It is “the Bride of Christ,” with Christ having that kind of intimate, compassionate, living relationship with it. And the Church is also referred to “the temple of God” or “the temple of the Holy Ghost,” indicating a location where the presence of God dwells.

1. A special place

That the Church is a very special creation of God is born out by these facts:

Christ loved the Church so much, He gave Himself for it, Ephesians 5:25

The primary purpose of God in this present age is the building of the Church, Matthew 16:18; Acts 15:14

Paul’s greatest sin was his persecution of the Church, 1 Corinthians 15:19; Galatians 1:13

Paul suffered greatly for the sake of the Church, Colossians 1:24.

2. The Founding of the Church

Prophetically

As stated previously, the nation of Israel is described as a “church” in the Old Testament because it was a nation “called out” from all other nations by God to serve Him (Acts 7:38). In the LXX, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word for “congregation of Israel” was translated from the original Hebrew into Greek as ekklesia, which we know means “church.” In the non-technical sense, the whole nation of Israel is an ekklesia, a congregation or “church” of Yahweh.

When Israel failed to recognize Jesus Christ as their true Messiah, He predicted the founding of a “new congregation” or “church,” a whole new group of believers that would continue His work of Earth.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it. (Matthew 18:18)

Contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church teaches, Peter was NOT the rock upon which the church was to be built. According to Paul, Christ is clearly the foundation of the building of God (1 Corinthians 3:11) and He is the Chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:20-22). Theories abound as to what Jesus meant in Matthew 18, but perhaps a clue is found in the following verse:

I will give you (Peter) the keys of the kingdom of heaven…

Of note in this phrase is that Jesus gave Peter the keys of the kingdom, not the keys to the church. Jesus gave Peter the keys to “Christianity,” a way of saying that because Peter was the first person to confess who and what Jesus was, he was given the privilege of unlocking the door of faith to all would hear and respond to his confession. In other words, the church was to be built upon Christ as the Son of God, which Peter proclaimed.

When we consider the church prophetically, we don’t mean that it was prophesied in the Old Testament. In fact, the church was hidden from the prophets of the Old Testament. According to Ephesians 3:1-6, we learn this. Nobody, not even the godliest prophet of the Old Testament was given so much as a glimpse of a congregation of believers made up of both Jews and Gentiles, the group we call “the church.” Jesus Himself spoke of founding a church, but the nature of this new congregation was not revealed until it started to grow and spread among all people.

B. Historically

Just when did the church start? While Jesus mentioned it during His earthly ministry, it wasn’t founded until the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit not only descended upon and filled the 150 believers gathered in that Upper Room,  He consecrated that relatively small group of people.

The church didn’t evolve or grow up, it quite literally sprang up in a moment, in the simplest of ways. In the very earliest days of the church’s existence, there was virtually no organization, only a bond of love, fellowship, and a common destiny. Because it grew so rapidly, that loose organization didn’t last very long. It was superseded by a very structured organization of leadership. That structure was definitely man-made, necessitated by the needs of the congregation, Acts 5 and 6.

In the beginning, there was only one local church, the one in Jerusalem, even though they seemed to have met in a number homes. The initial membership numbered 150, then 3,000 joined, then 5,000 more joined but the historical account (Acts 2:47) indicates that new people were joining the church every day.

As the Gospel spread and the believers left Jerusalem due to persecution, new local congregations were founded every place the displaced believers found themselves, in Judea and Samaria at first. Just how these new local congregations came about is not known. Paul writing to Titus gives him this piece of advice:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town as I instructed you. (Titus 1:5)

So it seems, then, as soon as a group of believers had been formed in a community, elders were appointed to lead them. In the verses that follow, Paul gives Titus the qualifications of the kind of men that could be appointed.

3. Membership in the Church

In simplest of terms, the Church of Jesus Christ is made up of believers in Christ, called out from the world of sin, separated unto God, be they Jews or Gentiles.

However, the New Testament does, in fact, lay down certain conditions for membership in a local congregation.

a. Faith in Jesus Christ and the Word of Gods

b. An understanding that Jesus Christ is the only Savior

c. Submission to water baptism as a public testimony to faith in Christ

d. A verbal confession of faith

The earliest days of the Church must surely be considered its “golden age.” The entire membership of the church was truly born again:

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)

Becoming a member of the church didn’t involve filling out forms or taking classes; it was a matter of confessing faith in Christ. With the passage of time, however, as the church grew and became more popular, bureaucratic, and institutionalized, water baptism became a condition of salvation and catechizing took the place of conversion. The result was a congregation made up of a “mixed multitude,” an influx of people who were not Christians at heart. This has been the condition of the church for centuries: true, possessing Christians in the midst of confessing Christians.

4. State of the Church today

There is the “church invisible,” which is made up of true Christians from all denominations from all time, and the “church visible,” which consists of all those profess to be Christians. The “church invisible” is made up of members whose names are written in heaven, while members of the “church visible” have their names on the church books.

The distinction between these two versions of the church is taught in Matthew 13, made up of a series of parables, often referred to as the “mystery parables.” All of these parables deal with mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, which we know corresponds to the present state of Christianity. These “mystery parables” accurately describe the state of Christianity between the First and Second Comings of Christ. There is a strange mixture of good and bad, believers and unbelievers, in the church until the Lord returns, at which time He will purify the Church by separating the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds, the real from the false. The apostle Paul taught a similar thing in 2 Timothy 2:19-21:

Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.” In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for disposal of refuse. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

This is the present state of Christianity, as manifested in the church.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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