There was a series of books that College Press put out at some point in time called, “What Does the Bible Say About ________.” Each volume would address in length what the Bible had to say about a given topic. I like most of these books because they go systematically through the Bible, looking at all the reverent passages to the topic. This approach is what I did this last week when studying the church. What I would like to do this morning is to go over some information about the word church and to look at ten points the Bible makes about the church.
The Word Church:
Before we dive in, I want to go over a few points about the word church. It appears 112 times in 109 verses in the NASB translation of the New Testament. Once as kata ekklesia (according to; church/assembly. I.e., in the church), and 111 times as just ekklesia (church; assembly) (Logos Bible Search NASB).
The word itself was an everyday word used by the Greeks to refer to “a body of citizens “gathered” to discuss the affairs of state” (Vine 1996, 42). After the first century, the word would only be used to refer to Christians. The word church does not mean a physical building but denotes a specific group of people.
Within the New Testament, the word is used about general assemblies (Acts 19:39, 41), mobs (Acts 19:32), and the group of people who belong to Christ (both in a local sense (1 Corinthians 1:2) and a universal sense (Matthew 16:18-19)).
With these preliminary points made, let’s see what the Bible has to say about the church.
What Does the Bible Say About the Church’s Nature?
- God planned it. In Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus responding to Peter’s confession that He is the Christ, said this, “I“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Jesus’ statement here reveals several things about the church that we should note:
- It was not an afterthought of God.
- It belongs to Christ. He is the one who built it.
- There is only one church. Christ promised to build His church. Singular.
- One is added to it by God at baptism. We read in Acts 2:47 from the NKJV that the Christians in Jerusalem “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Just a few verses before this one, we read how one is added to the church, how God adds one to the church. In Acts 2:38-41, we read about how the crowd was told what they needed to do to be saved (v.38), and in v.41, we see their response. “So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.” What were they added to? I would suggest the same thing that God was adding to in v.47, the church.
- It belongs to God. Paul speaking about his former manner of life, says this in Galatians 1:13 “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” Note what he says at the end of this verse that he persecuted the church of God. Of there is possessive. Why is this important? Because many think that a church belongs to a pastor, or the pope, or Martin Luther. The church belongs to God. Which means He alone has the final authority over it.
- The church is the body of Christ. This point is stressed twice in the first chapter of Colossians.
- Colossians 1:18 “He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” This rules out the church being anything other than the people in a covenant relationship with Christ. This point is emphasized elsewhere in the New Testament, which shows the importance God has placed on it.
- Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.”
- Christ is the head of the church. As we referred to earlier, some believe that it is the preacher (often wrongly called a pastor) who rules the church. Nor is it a leadership board. No. It is Christ alone who rules. Leaders in the church are simply carrying out the directions of the True Leader, Shepherd. Paul says as much in Ephesians 1:22, “And He put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church.”
What Does the Bible Say About the Work of the Church?
The first five points we have considered dealt with what the Bible had to say concerning the nature of the church. These last five deal with what the Bible has to say about the organization and work of the local church.
- Local churches are governed by their own Elders and Deacons. Biblical church leadership and organization is laid out in one verse. In Philippians 1:1, we read, “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:” Elders and Deacons have their own qualifications (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). And their work is to help keep watch over the local church, help it grow, and defend it from those who would destroy it.
- It is to glorify God. The primary end of the church, of all Christians, is to glorify God. Ephesians 3:21 “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
- It is to support the truth. The church also has a responsibility to support and defend the truth. 1 Timothy 3:15 “but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” This is done by every member taking seriously their obligation to know the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 3:15), by Elders actively shepherding the flock, and by all Christians being bold with their faith.
- It is to support its own needy members. Part of the work of the church is also to help its needy saints. We read in 1 Timothy 5:16, “If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them, and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.”
- It is to proclaim the Gospel. The previous works of the church we have seen have been mainly, not exclusively, but primarily, internal. The external work of the church is to preach the Gospel. In Ephesians 3:10, Paul speaking of the revealed mysteries of Christ, says, “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
This is not an exhaustive study of the church but covers the breadth of the topic. I hope you have been reminded of these first principles or that you have learned them for the first time. And I pray that this lesson will serve as a springboard for deeper study of the church.