1. Christ’s Church Promised
Various theories about the establishment of the church of Christ have been advanced. Some say that it began in the Garden of Eden when God declared that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). Others say that the church was established when God said to Abraham ” I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18).
Again, some say that the church was set up when the Jews were organized into a nation by Moses at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20). Still others will contend that the church began in the days of John the Baptizer, when he preached “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2), and great multitudes came to hear him and to be baptized by him in the Jordan River.
Others say that the church has not been set up yet, but that its establishment is still in the future.
Obviously, all these theories cannot be right; in fact, all of them may be wrong! The way to settle the matter is by an appeal to the Scriptures. If by doing this we can find when the church began, we need not spend any more time on these confusing theories. In order to discover the church in
purpose, in promise and in prophecy, a few Scriptures will be noted, and others suggested for further study. This information from the Bible should give us the final answer to when the church began.
When was the Church Established?
Theories of men:
1. In the Garden of Eden
2. During Abraham’s Time
3. At Mount Sinai
4. While John the Baptist Lived
5. Yet in the Future
The Church as Existed
The apostle Paul in the Ephesian letter makes reference to the church as being in the eternal purpose of God: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him w0e may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:10-12). This Scripture clearly demonstrates that God has always intended to make known through the church His manifold wisdom. Some people today incorrectly teach that the church was merely an “accident” or “afterthought” in the mind of God and was established only after the Jews rejected Christ. An attempt is made to support this falsehood by distinguishing between the church and the kingdom and to contend that the kingdom was in God’s eternal purpose, but that the church was substituted in its place. This is an error. The truth is that the church and the kingdom are the same as far as this earth is concerned, and Paul states clearly in Ephesians 3:10 -12 that the building of the church in this world was in the eternal purpose of God.
As amazing as it may sound, the church existed in the purpose of God before He created mankind. And during the Old Testament period of time, before Christ came, there are many promises and prophecies which look forward to the establishment of the church. In a very real sense, it can be said that every prophecy of Christ, every promise of His coming to redeem man, included His church. Let us consider a few examples. Isaiah 2:2-3
Notice now an example of an Old Testament passage which speaks directly about the establishment of the church. The prophecy is from the book of Isaiah and was written in the eighth century before Christ: “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths. The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isaiah 2:2-3). Please observe some of the facts set forth in this Scripture:
1. This prophecy concerns Judah (the Jews) and Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1) in the “last days,” a phrase pointing to the Christian age.
2. The main subject of the passage is the “mountain of the Lord’s house.” This refers to the rule or the government of the Lord’s spiritual kingdom.
3. This “mountain of the Lord’s house” is to be established “in the top ofthe mountains.” Or, in other words, God’s rule will extend over all other rules; His kingdom will be supreme above all kingdoms.
4. God will be the instructor in this kingdom.
5. “All nations shall flow unto it.” Gentiles as well as Jews shall be subjects in God’s kingdom.
6. “Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the Word of the Lord for Jerusalem.” “Zion” is a synonym for Jerusalem because the “hill of Zion” was located in that city. In some sense, according to the passage, the Word of the Lord will go forth from the city of Jerusalem in the last days.
How can we tell that this Scripture refers to the church and its beginning? This is answered by the fact that Jesus applied and used this Scripture to refer to the beginning of His rule and reign. In this connection read Luke 24:45-47. Here Christ showed that everything he said and did was a ulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. He declared that his suffering and death were predicted by the prophets. He said that it was a matter of prophecy that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Jesus is referring to the very words of Isaiah 2. He shows that the Isaiah prophecy was about to come to reality beginning in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. It is important at this point that Acts 2 be carefully studied.
Look at Acts 2 and see the prophecy of Isaiah fulfilled!
1. On the first Pentecost after the resurrection of Christ, the apostles are in Jerusalem, where a great number of Jews have assembled for a religious feast. They are “men of Judea (Jews) and Jerusalem (Acts 2:14),” and from every nation (Acts 2:5), just as Isaiah said.2. In Acts 2, it is evident that the government, or reign or rule, of Christ is proclaimed by His resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:22-26; note especially verses 30-36, where Christ is raised up to sit on David’s throne, and is exalted to God’s right hand as Lord and Messiah). He is King (Lord) over the kingdom which Isaiah prophesied.
3. On Pentecost God, through the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), was the instructor in reference to this kingdom.
4. The fact that Peter declared in Acts 2:39 that the promise of forgiveness is “to you (the people present)…and to your children, and to all that are far off,” shows that all people in all nations for all time are involved. The great commission of Jesus confirms the same fact: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” indicates that the subjects of this kingdom include all nations.
5. On Pentecost in Jerusalem, the gospel was first preached as a reality: the apostles declared in fact the Good News of Jesus as resurrected Lord and Savior. On the basis of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, salvation was offered to the people on Pentecost. It was the beginning of the “last days” (Acts 2:16-17) in which they could have the remission of sins through Christ (Acts 2:37-40). This Good News, the Word of the Lord for salvation, went forth from Jerusalem into all the world (Acts 1:8, 8:1).
The Prophecy of Daniel
In Daniel 2,Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, had a dream about a large statue standing before him: its head was made of gold, its breast and arms of silver, and its belly and thighs of brass (bronze), its legs of iron, and its feet of iron and clay. The king’s dream was interpreted by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 2:31-45). Daniel’s explanation of the king’s dreams pictured four world kingdoms or empires which would appear on the stage of world history. According to Daniel, in the last days of the kings of the fourth empire, the kingdom of God was to be set up (Daniel 2:44).
Please read Daniel 2:31-45 and notice these historical facts:
1. The Babylonian Kingdom, over which Nebuchadnezzar ruled, was in power from 612-539 B.C. This is the head of gold in Daniel’s explanation.
2. The Medo-Persian Kingdom, which came to power in 539 B.C. and fell about 330 B.C. is represented by the breasts and arms of silver.
3. The Greek or Macedonian Kingdom, established by Alexander the Great and later divided among his generals in 323 B.C. is represented by the belly and the thighs of brass.
4. The Roman Kingdom, with its first emperor (Caesar Octavian) from about 31B.C., was a world power until its fall in 476 A.D. In Daniel’s interpretation, the Roman Empire is represented by “legs of iron” and “feet part of iron, and part of clay.” It was “in the days of these kings” that God would set up a “kingdom which shall never be destroyed” (Daniel 2:44). In other words, the Kingdom of God would begin after the start of the Roman Empire, some time during its existence from about 31 B.C. until about 476 A.D.
5. The New Testament events happened while Rome ruled the world as a great empire. Jesus was born and died under the rule of Rome. John the Baptist began his preaching in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar: “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea” (Matthew 3:1; Luke 3:1-3). The burden of his message was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). Tiberius ruled until 37 A.D. His years included Pentecost Day, when the church or kingdom of God began. Thus, just as Daniel had predicted, God’s kingdom (the church) was established during the days of the Roman empire -“in the days of these kings.”
The Prophecy of Zechariah
In Zechariah 12:10, the Holy Spirit declares: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” Again, in Zechariah 13:1, the Spirit says: “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.”
These prophecies contain some wonderful, specific promises. When were they fulfilled?
1. This prophecy in Zechariah was for “The house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” These were the very persons present on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5, 14).
2. The prophecy says, “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” Peter said to these people that they had taken Jesus and by wicked hands crucified Him and slain Him (Acts 2:22-23). These same people responded to Peter’s inspired preaching by crying out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
3. The fountain had been provided on Calvary in the shedding of Jesus’ blood. It was “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
4. This baptism “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38) made forgiveness of sins available through the opened “fountain,” that is, through the blood of Christ. Those people who accepted forgiveness through faith, repentance and baptism were saved and became the church. This happened on the Day of Pentecost after Jesus’s death and resurrection. From then on the church is in existence (Acts 2:47; 5:11; 8:1).
Thus it has been established from three prophets that the time for the setting up of the Lord’s kingdom was on the day of Pentecost, following Christ’s resurrection. Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah all join in making this point clear. This is the church in prophecy, fulfilled on Pentecost in Acts 2.
Facts from Matthew 16:13-19
It is essential now that Matthew 16:39-19 be read very carefully, for this is the direct promise of Christ that He would build His church. These words were spoken by Him probably about six months before His death on the cross.
Notice these facts:
1. From the time Jesus spoke, the church was future: “I will (future tense) build…” The church was not in existence six months before Jesus died; it was in the future.
2. The church was to belong to Christ: “I will build my church…”
3. It was to be established by the Lord Himself: “I will build…”
4. The c0hurch was to be His kingdom (see verse 19).
5. No power, not even Death (the gates of Hades), could prevent the building of the church. In a short while Jesus would die, but His blood (death) would be the very basis for mankind’s salvation. God would raise Him from the dead! Death, nor any other opposition, would ever stop or overcome
6. Here Jesus gives authority for the preaching of the apostles.
This part of Jesus’ promise would begin on the Day of Pentecost when Peter and the rest of the apostles preached the Good News in reality for the first time!
In fact, when we compare Jesus’ promise in Matthew 16:13-19 with the events and words of Acts 2, we see His promise completely fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.
2. Christ’s Church Begins
God’s Plans for the Church
The establishment of the church on Pentecost (Acts 2) is the result of God’s planning through the ages for the reception of the saved. The wisdom of God was slowly unfolded through the promises, prophecies and other developments of the Old Testament. Step by step, age by age, God prepared man for the time when the church would become a reality.
Paul wrote the Ephesians telling them that the grace of God was given to him “And to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:9-11).
According to Paul in this passage, the reception of the Gentiles (the Ephesians were Gentiles!) into the company of the saved was always in the plan of God. In fact, all that came to pass about the church was according to the eternal purpose of God. Our Father had the church in mind from the beginning and the “now” of the passage suggests that what had once “been hidden in God” has been revealed to men. Through the church, with it’s blessings extended to all men – both Jews and Gentiles – the many-sided wisdom of God is now unfolded in the working of the church on earth.
Through the passing centuries since man’s sin in the garden, the plan of God was gradually unfolded. An important step was the selection of Abraham. God made wonderful promises to Abraham, including His promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s descendants. Another part of God’s preparation for the church was the forming of the nation of Israel, along with the tabernacle, temple and various sacrifices. Then there was David and his kingship, and the prophets who taught Israel. John the Baptist was the last of those prophets and the forerunner of Christ.
Finally, after all the ages of planning and preparation, everything was ready! In God’s ordering of events, the appropriate time came! In the life, death and resurrection of Christ – coupled with the events of Pentecost when the church began – all the strands of God’s preparation and planning were brought together into one glorious climax! Jesus came, and the church arrived as planned.
Paul calls the preparation and planning for Christ and His Church a “mystery…hidden in God” (Ephesians 3:9). Mysteries, in their New Testament sense, are not things still kept secret, and therefore mysterious. Rather they are subjects previously hidden, but now they are out in the open. In Ephesians, the central “mystery” unfolded and made clear is summarized by Paul. It concerns God’s eternal purpose to “gather together in one all things in Christ…,” especially that “the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body” (Ephesians 1:10; 3:6).
The plan of God was to bring together all things and unite all men through Jesus Christ. It was Christ’s mission to put everything together, to reconcile and unite. The church is a part of that breathtaking vision. It is both the agency and result of the uniting work of God in Christ. The church is the one body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4), and in it are brought together all people who, without Christ, are divided and enemies. And, above all, in Christ and the church all mankind may have complete reconciliation with God.
How, when and where did the Lord’s church begin? Plainly these points are important as we study the church. In our age, understanding the origin of the church of Christ is vitally significant to us, since so many religious institutions exist in our world and generation.
How did the Church Begin?
The church began with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles and with their preaching of the gospel of Christ for the very first time. According to Paul the essential facts of the gospel are that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). These gospel facts could not have been announced before Jesus died and arose from the dead. People could not receive salvation without Christ’s death and resurrection. And the Holy Spirit could not come until Christ was in Heaven at God’s right hand (Acts 2:34-36).
Please observe in Acts 2 that people were added to the saved because they gladly received the Word preached that day (Acts 2:41). The church did not produce the Word; rather, the Word produced the church. The acceptance of the gospel of Christ on the part of three thousand on Pentecost resulted in their being “added” to the church (Acts 2:47). The remaining portions of the book of Acts tells how the church continued to grow by the preaching of the gospel of Christ.
When did the Church Begin?
Christ’s church was established on the first Pentecost Day after His resurrection from the grave. The apostle Peter confirms this fact in Acts 11:15 by speaking of what happened on that Pentecost Day as “the beginning!” On that day, for the very first time in all the world’s history, Jesus was publicly preached as the resurrected Lord and Christ. On that day, for the very first time, men and women who desired salvation were commanded to “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). On that great beginning day, for the first time in history, people were “added” to the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47).
Where did the Church Begin?
Jerusalem is the answer. In our first lesson it was pointed out that the prophecies of the Old Testament, when they spoke of the kingdom and its coming, always designated Jerusalem as the place of origin (Isaiah 2:2-3; Zechariah 12:10). Obviously, the events that are related to the beginning of the church took place in Jerusalem (Acts 2:5).
What about Today?
How can the Lord’s church be established today? This question must be answered by going back to the New Testament to see how churches of Christ began in the first century. The Bible says, for example, that Paul went to Corinth with this purpose: For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). In the same epistle, Paul tells the fundamental details of his preaching: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Acts 18 gives the history of Paul’s work in Corinth, and verse 5 says that Paul “testifying to the Jews that Jesus was Christ.” Please observe. Peter preached on Pentecost in Jerusalem and the church resulted from the preaching. Some time later, Paul preaches in Corinth. He is in a different city, many miles away from Jerusalem and a number of years removed in time. But Paul is establishing the same church by preaching the same Christ as did Peter. The result of his preaching is related in these words:
“Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
These people responded exactly like those Jews did on Pentecost in that they believed and were baptized. Paul declared that those who obeyed the Lord were “To the church of God in Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). The same gospel that brought the Jerusalem church into existence also created the church in Corinth!
Regardless of time or place, the gospel of Christ produces the church of Christ. Jesus declared that the word of God is the seed (Luke 8:11). The word – that seed – is living and active, according to Hebrews 4:12. There is life in the seed. The apostle Peter wrote that, “The word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).
This ever-living, life-giving gospel was the message that Paul took to Corinth where it was planted in the hearts of men and brought into existence a church of Christ. The foundation of the church in Corinth was laid by preaching Christ, for Paul declared that “I have laid the foundation” (1
and “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). The Lord is the foundation that can be laid in any city in any century. Thus by preaching the original gospel of Christ – the same gospel preached by Peter on Pentecost and Paul in Corinth – the church can be planted in every nation and city in today’s world. When that Word of the Lord is believed and obeyed the same church will result.
Today, by preaching the same Christ, by laying the same foundation, by proclaiming the same gospel, by planting the same seed, the church of the New Testament can be established. The New Testament contains the original and only pattern for the church of Christ. If that pattern is used in this twentieth century in any locality on earth, the church of Christ will be the result.
What was the Church When it was Established?
1. It was the church that God had planned (Ephesians 3:10-11).
2. It was the church that Jesus purchased with his blood (Acts 20:28).
3. It was the church that Christ had promised to build (Matthew 16:18).
4. It was the church over which Christ was the head (Ephesians 1:22-23).
5. It was the church whose members were called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
6. It was the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16).
7. It was the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15).
8. It was the kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13).
9. It was the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23).
10. It was the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23).
11. It was, as the body of Christ, the very fulfillment of Christ Himself
(Ephesians 1:23, Colossians 2:9-10).
To be a member of the New Testament church, believers were to repent of their sins and be baptized (immersed) in water to have their sins forgiven (Acts 2:38). Those who gladly received this word were baptized, both men and women (Acts 2:41; 8:12). In their obedience to the gospel, these people were added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47). Those who obeyed the truth were taught to continue in all things whatsoever Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20).
In their worship these Christians assembled on the first day of the week (Acts 10:7) to remember Christ in His Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-28). In these assemblies, songs of praises were to be sung (Ephesians 5:19), prayers were offered to God through Christ (1 Timothy 2:10-4; Colossians 3:17),
contributions were offered to support the Lord’s work (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), and the doctrine of Christ was taught (Acts 2:42; 20:7).
Churches of Christ in that first century recognized Christ as the Head of the church. Local congregations were overseen by elders (Acts 14:23; 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4), assisted in their work by men known as deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). There was no great super organization, with ecclesiastical offices and functions as the world offers today. Each local congregation was governed by Christ and His Word. There were no creeds but Christ, and no authority but His (Matthew 28:18).
How about the Lord’s Church Today?
The church of Christ today should be the same as the church which began in Jerusalem over nineteen hundred years ago. How one enters the church should be the same today as then. The worship and the organization should be the same. And the church of today will be the same when the church today proclaims and practices the same gospel as is written on the pages of the New Testament.
We must commit ourselves completely to the church of the New Testament as the way the church must be today. If we do not accept the New Testament as the model for the church for all ages, then we are left to human opinions as the basis for the church today. That’s what has been happening – the
religious world is splintered into hundreds of groups claming to be the church because the New Testament has lost its authority in today’s world. It has been replaced by human opinions and man’s creeds. It was never the Lord’s intention to have many bodies, only one (Ephesians 4:4).
The church that can be so readily found described in the Word of God can actually exist in the world today. There is no reason why the church of the New Testament cannot be recreated now, If we are willing to follow the New Testament. However, such a goal would force us to a critical decision: we
would have to abandon any and all other models which have produced the many denominational traditions that mark Christendom today! The church that began on Pentecost can exist today. We must add that the church of the New Testament must be the church of today, or, otherwise, it is not Christ’s church. Join in recreating such a glorious vision of the church – His Church!
Remember, the Lord’s church is in existence today only when Christ’s Word is followed. The church is produced by the preaching of the same Christ that Peter preached on Pentecost and Paul proclaimed at Corinth. Men become members of the church of Christ today just like they did in Jerusalem and Corinth. The church follows the same form of organization outlined in the New Testament. The same “apostle’s doctrine” is taught in the church of Christ today. What the church of Christ was then is what the church of Christ is today, for the Word of the Lord has not lost its power. It, as the seed, remains the same, always producing the same results – Christ’s Church and Christians!
3. Christ and His Church
Christ – the Heart of the Bible
Jesus Christ is the very heart of the Bible. Remove him from the Word of God and what is left? The purpose of the Bible is to show man the way to God, and Christ is the way (John 14:6). True, the Bible tells of the origin of all things and the creation of man. But even when the fall of man is depicted, even here God indicates His purpose to redeem man from the curse of sin. At the dark moment God gives the first promise of redeeming help some time in the future (see Genesis 3:15). Of course, this promise points to the coming of Christ.
After the fall and expulsion from the paradise of Eden, man became progressively wicked, until the flood came and all but Noah and his family perished. The covenant made with Abraham has its definite connection with Christ, for God said, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:2-3). It is obvious that Christ is the object of this promise. He is the promised seed of Abraham who was destined to bring salvation for a ruined race (Genesis 22:18; Galatians 3:16). The very selection and call of Abraham to walk in God’s way was related to God’s plan of salvation for all men in Christ.
Other choices by God point forward to the promised Christ coming in the future.
In the sons of Jacob, who became the twelve tribes of Israel, there is a connection with Christ. The tribe of Judah was selected as the group from whom the Messiah would come, for Jacob prophesied, saying, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he
comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations in his.” (Genesis 49:10; see also Hebrews 7:14). The very nation of Israel, selected as God’s own people, was protected and nourished by the Almighty for the definite purpose of bringing Christ into the world.
The giving of the law of Moses to the Israelites had as its final purpose the manifestation of Christ, and it was to guide the people until the Lord would come. Paul writes in Galatians 3:19. In this same chapter, the apostle further explains: Galatians 3:24. It is plain that the law of Moses was for the purpose of preparing for the Christ who would offer salvation to the world. The priesthood under that law pre-figured the priesthood of Christ and His church far in the future.
The kings of Israel really pointed to the rule and reign of King Jesus. Through the prophets that were sent to Israel – men like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel – God kept before the world the promise first made in the Garden of Eden. Beginning with the promise in Genesis 3: 5, the prophetic words appeared as brilliant stars in the dark night during different times until the close of the Old Testament, the promises and prophecies all pointed to the coming of Jesus the Savior.
The Bible takes us back into what otherwise would be the unknown past. Its prophecies carry us forward into what otherwise would be the unknown future. Its spiritual direction through Christ takes us into the salvation which we as humans could never produce or provide. We owe everything to Christ. In Eden, man was given one law, and he broke it. On Sinai, many laws were given to man, but they were also broken. However, Christ the God-Man, came to earth and did what no other man had ever done: he kept the law of God perfectly so that at the great judgement we should be justified by faith in Him. Without Christ and His church there would be no salvation, no future. This is the story of the Bible!
Truly the Bible is filled with Christ and His church. From Adam to Abraham we have the history of the human race; from Abraham to Christ, we have the history of Israel. But from Christ forward, we have neither the history of the human race nor the history of Israel! Rather, it is the history of how all men in the human race may participate in the new Israel, the Church of Jesus Christ.
Yes, the wonderful thread that runs throughout the Bible is Christ! He is there from the beginning to end and beyond. For, the Bible ends with the promises of His Second Coming and portrays in such glowing words the place called heaven. Right now Christ is preparing for His people for the future
when human history ends at His coming. The Bible deals with many subjects such as sin, sacrifice, rulers, priests, prophets, law, grace and others. Yet it is easily seen that all of these have one thing in common: they are connected with Christ and His church. Christ died for the sins of the world; He is our sacrifice, our King, our priest and our prophet. His New Testament is our law of spiritual life, and He came to us by the grace of God.
Truly Jesus Christ is the very heart and essence of the Bible, for when He is removed, all purpose is gone and all hopes are dashed! The Bible has as its central theme Jesus Christ and His glorious church.
In the New Testament, Christ is revealed in all His fullness. He stands pictured as the central person in man’s history. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John deal with Christ’s life, His mission, His teaching, His sacrificial death and His glorious resurrection from the dead. In the book of Acts the establishment of His church is recorded, and in the epistles a comprehensive view of Christ’s church is pictured.
Christ and His Church
Christ and His church are inseparable. To speak of the one is to introduce the other. To emphasize Christ does not mean that we must de-emphasize the church, for these two are inseparable realities! The connection between Christ and the church may be seen by consulting the New Testament to find
some descriptive phrases that are applied to the church. These will confirm that Christ and His Church always belong inseparably together.
The Church: a Body
The church is called the “body of Christ.” Paul writes that “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-32). In Colossians 1:18, the apostle declares that,
“And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”
and in verse 24 of that chapter, there is the same idea of the church as the body of Christ. This expression contains the idea of possession. The metaphor of the head naturally suggests that of the body. The church belongs to Christ, even as the body belongs to the head and is one with the head.
The words in Ephesians 1:23 – “Which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way”- explain that the majestic Christ is the creator of the church, and He is fully present in the church. In short, the church is the expression of Christ in His completeness. How then can we separate the body (church) from Christ (head)? Also, how can we minimize the importance of the church, since it is to be the expression of His fullness?
There is a real and vital unity between the head and the body. Although the language is figurative, the thing expressed by the words is not. The spiritual bond uniting Christ and the church is organic, structural, and real. Christ as the Head of the church is the source of her life, her nourishment and well-being. All members of the body function from the Head and are united in harmonious action by their common connection and dependence on Him. The body lives, acts and functions because of its connection with the head. A body without a head is dead! Without the Head, there can be no intelligent activity, no coordinated direction, no useful service performed.
With Christ as the Head of the church, His Body, this plainly puts the church on a level different than any other institution in the world. The church is one of a kind: the Head does not have many bodies – only one! This means that this one-of-a-kind Body of Christ, living in intimate connection with Him, is something far more than an earthly institution. This also means that the life and hope of the church is not limited to itself: the Head supplies His fullness to her strength, direction and resources.
How can we separate the body from the Head, and still have life?
It goes without saying that the body is incomplete without the head. A body without a head has no direction and cannot be controlled; it is lifeless! Even though Jesus as Lord is complete and perfect, He has chosen to function through the church. Just as a head without a body cannot function or serve any useful purpose, so Christ as Head lives out his will and purposes through His body, the Church. His willingness to do this is a mark of His love for the Church and expresses how much He values it. And, for the church, the Lord’s choice of the church puts His mission in a special category: we are His hands, His feet, His mouth in this world!How can we fail to grasp these two inseparable realities – the Head and the Body, the church?
The Church: a Building
The church is also referred to as a building in the New Testament. Paul calls the church “God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Now the church as a building must have a foundation, and that is Christ.
Listen as Paul explains: “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11). Please note that Jesus is the only foundation for the church. No other person, however great, deserves to be the foundation of the church and Christian lives. We must build our lives only on Him! The foundation of the building is extremely important. The quality of a building and how long the building endures depends on the strength of the foundation. In the case of the church, Christ as its foundation determines the quality and lastingness of the building. There is no other person who provides the perfect and eternal foundation for the church.
Every building has a foundation, but it also has a superstructure as well. What is a foundation without a building resting on it? Christians are Christ’s building, the church. When Christians are saved from their sins, they become “living stones” placed in the church, the building resting upon the great Foundation, Christ. This is what Peter writes: “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). Christ’s building, the church, is made up of living Christians! The church is not a physical, material structure. It is “living” in the fullest sense-Christians yielding their will and heart in joy, and receiving the vitality that only comes from their eternal Foundation, Christ.
Can the stones that make up a structure stand alone without footings and foundation to give support and harmony? How can the structure exist and stand without the foundation? How can the church have eternal life, harmony, structure and purpose without Christ? The two go together to form “God’s building.” It is Christ and the church, two inseparable realities.
The Church: a Kingdom
The Lord Jesus is a King. Yet a King must have a kingdom. Paul wrote to the church at Colosse saying that God “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). Christians are people who have been delivered from darkness and placed into Christ’s kingdom. In Christ there is forgiveness of sins and escape from Satan’s darkness. Those people who accept Jesus as Lord and submit to Him as King are in His kingdom. The church is the kingdom of Christ.
Once again, the New Testament shows the vital connection between Christ and His church. A king without a kingdom does not rule. A kingdom without a ruler is a realm of anarchy and chaos. There are here two inseparable realities, Jesus and His kingdom, or Christ and His church. When the church
began on Pentecost, that was the inaugural day for the kingdom. The coming of the Spirit on Pentecost to bring life to the church was the coming of the Spirit to give power to the kingdom. Jesus had promised that the kingdom would come with power (Mark 9:1) and that Spirit would come with power (Acts 1:8). It was on this Pentecost Day that Peter declared Jesus was at the right hand of God exalted as Lord (Acts 2:33,36). The church and the kingdom of Christ have the same ruler, the same beginning time and place. The two are one and the same. Christ cannot be separated from His church
because He is its King and it is His kingdom.
Emphasizing Christ is an activity with which Christians cannot quarrel; but to emphasize Christ is not equivalent to de-emphasizing the church! When unbalanced attention is placed on Christ so that the church is grossly neglected in teaching, the result will be that men will conclude that the church has no value.
Let us remember some of the important things we have learned about the church. The church is a part of God’s eternal plan; it is by the church that the many-sided wisdom of God is to be made known. The church was purchased with the blood of Jesus. It is Christ’s Body; it is His Kingdom. The mission of the church is to preach Christ and hold Him up as the hope of the world. All of the se statements show the tremendous importance of the church. If the church is not accorded its rightful place in preaching and teaching, then it will be minimized and neglected by men. The church is a glorious part of God’s program for man’s salvation in Christ. So to preach Christ and neglect the church is a terrible mistake.
But an equally serious mistake happens when attention is put on the church to the neglect of Christ. Remember, without Christ there is no church, for, the church is the church of Christ. When Christ is not proclaimed, the mistaken idea can be promoted that the church is its own savior! But salvation is in Christ alone! He is the only Savior. That is why the apostle Paul keeps this truth before Christians: the church has all spiritual blessings through Christ. The church cannot produce its own salvation and claim all blessings from God on its own. In Ephesians 1:3 Paul writes,
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
All blessings are in Christ; He is our redeemer and through His blood we are saved. God has placed salvation in Christ, but to be in Christ is to be in His body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).
A part of preaching Christ is to preach how one accepts Christ-or, put another way, how one enters the church or is saved. In Acts 8:26-40 there is the example of Philip preaching Jesus to the Ethiopian officer (see verse 35). And in preaching Jesus, Philip preached baptism in water to the Ethiopian eunuch. So we see that preaching Christ leads us to preach about the church and the entrance into Christ/the church/the Christian life. But preaching and teaching about the church must never omit or minimize Christ!
It is not “denominational” to preach the value and true significance of Christ’s church. It is not “partyism” to show the world that salvation has been placed in Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:23). To preach Christ is to preach the church for which He died. In preaching this we honor the New
Testament information about both Christ and His church.
For a number of years, some denominations have told the public that the church is not important. Some even teach that the church is “Non-essential.”
Others say that the quality of the church doesn’t make any difference: many say that “one church is as good as another.” For these reasons, a proper understanding of the Lord’s church is necessary. We will pursue this in the next lesson
4. Recognizing Christ’s Church
Marks that Identify
Almost all serious students of the New Testament agree that there was a church established in the days of the apostles which was known as the church of Christ. Almost all agree that the church was known as the church of Christ. Almost all agree that the church which Christ founded started on Pentecost after His resurrection from the dead.
There is much information about His church in the New Testament, and that makes it possible for us today to know what the church was then. It is necessary that these facts be understood in our generation; otherwise, it will not be possible to recognize Christ’s church today. One of the benefits of knowing what the church should be is that we will be better able to answer a very practical and perplexing question.
The perplexing question is “Which church is the right church?” It is often asked today by people who are confused by the many religious organizations which wear the name of “churches.” All around us there are churches of various kinds, wearing different names and teaching different doctrines.How can we know which church is the right church? Does it really make any difference about the church to which a person belongs?
An additional part of the confusion is that many people who hold different religious views and belong to different churches all seem very honest and sincere. What is a person to do? Is there any way to discover the truthful answer to this thorny question which confronts our world? Is there any way to determine which church is the right church? If there is such a way, just how can a person discover that way? What method should I use to find out the answer?
A Workable Plan
Perhaps we should start with a very basic observation: Jesus established a church – ONE church. When we open the New Testament, there is only one Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4). It is impossible to find there any basis for the modern scene of rampant religious division and different bodies. Shortly
before His death, Jesus prayed the eloquent but simple prayer in John 17. In it he said:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be
in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
Jesus connected the oneness of His followers with whether men would believe that God had sent Him. Is it possible that the major reason for unbelief in this world can be traced to the divisions among those calling themselves Christians? Surely we should see in Jesus’ prayer His plan to have all his disciples forever in oneness. This alone should urge us to discover again the one church built by Jesus (Matthew 16:18).
The information about the church in the New Testament becomes a kind of dynamic plan in the New Testament becomes a kind of dynamic plan or blueprint for Christ’s one church till the end of time. If we wish to recognize Christ’s church in our generation, the only workable plan is to return to the New Testament-the “plan” and “pattern” for the church-and discover what it was.
Think for a moment about another example of someone who is searching for something-in this case, a cow. A man owns a cow. It is a black cow, with white spots. The cow has the brand-the mark of its owner-on its left shoulder, and the cow has a certain kind of cut on its right ear. The cow is stolen, but the owner sees the cow in the herd of another man.
Now, how shall the cow be identified? The way is simple and obvious: the marks on the cow-its skin colors its spots, its brand, along with the cut on the ear-must be checked, so that the owner can claim his cow. The pattern for the church of Christ as established by the Lord is found in the New Testament. We must locate the characteristics of the church in the New Testament. We must be careful to look beyond our own day and go back to the original church as Jesus intended it.
So much depends on our search: truth, the unity of believers in Christ, the salvation of the souls of men depend on finding Christ’s church! Don’t you agree that we must find and identify, restore and maintain the New Testament church? Don’t you agree that the only way to accomplish this noble purpose is to go back to the Bible, beyond the origins of Catholicism and Protestantism, to the source of the church which Jesus built? We are looking for the same church with the same faith in Jesus, the same terms of membership, the same teaching, the same organization and worship that existed in the day of the apostles. This is the church pictured on the pages of the New Testament. This is the church that has been kept alive through the centuries by the divine lifeline, the seed of the kingdom, which is the Word of God (Luke 8:11).
How to Find the Church-Characteristics of Christ’s Church
One of the identifying marks of Christ’s church is that He built it. Upon Peter’s confession of His Sonship, Jesus said “…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The Lord bought the church with His blood (Acts 20:28) and it is therefore a divine institution. Any church not built by Christ cannot be His. The church of Christ was established in Jerusalem on the Pentecost following His resurrection, with Christ as its foundation (Acts 2; Isaiah 2:2-3; Micah 4:1-2; 1 Corinthians 3:11). Any church that began at any other time than this specific Pentecost Day, with Christ as its foundation, cannot be His church.
Another way to identify the church of the New Testament is by name. As a universal body it was called:
“the church” (Colossians 1:18)
“the body of Christ” (Colossians 1:18, 24; Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27)
“the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Timothy 3:5)
“the general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23) Christ Himself called it:
“my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
Local congregations of the Christians were simply called:
“churches” (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
“churches of God” (1 Thessalonians 2:14)
“churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16)
Individual members were known as “disciples” (Acts 11:26; 1 Peter 4:16).
The above list is not exhaustive; but these terms were selected by the Lord through the Holy Spirit to describe His people. Each of these expressions has its meaning. And because the Holy Spirit selected them with care, we will always be safe to use Biblical terms for the church and Christians. The names in the New Testament alone have divine authority.
The church of the New Testament was governed solely by divine authority:
Jesus is it’s Head and has all authority (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23-24).
Christ is the only authority for His church and He exercises that power through the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Human councils, synods, conventions and conferences are never mentioned in the New Testament with divine approval. These are bodies of men, and are frequently the basis for much of today’s religious confusion. The church of Christ must recognize the authority of Christ in all thins.
The church of Christ as described in the New Testament had a specific form of government. Christ was supreme, and the apostles were His representatives in speaking and writing the Lord’s words for the church. Each local congregation was spiritually overseen by two or more senior men (Acts 20:28) who were variously called elders (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), “bishops” (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1), and “pastors” or “shepherds” (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 5:304). Elders were assisted by other men called deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13; Philippians 1:1).
The various local congregations of the New Testament church were free and independent; there was no earthly headquarters and no ecclesiastical authority other than Christ and the apostles. The bishops or elders supervised one congregation-the group of Christians where they themselves were members. The government of the church was not vested in a council or convention or conference, but Christ alone was the loving and final authority of the church. Church history since Pentecost shows that there have been many changes in the Lord’s way. Such departures from this divine organization are always wrong.
Its Terms and Entrance
To become members of the church of Christ in the days of the apostles, men had to meet certain conditions. These “conditions” were not merely arbitrary rules and regulations. These were qualities and actions required for a person to make a complete change of direction in life.
Genuine faith in Christ as the Son of God was essential (Hebrews 11:6; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9-10). Faith in Christ as divine, and completed dependence upon Him, was the faith for membership in Christ’s church. Of course, this was for more than mental acceptance; faith was an acceptance of Christ as Lord of one’s total life.
Genuine Repentance was required: Jesus expects his followers to change their minds and hearts and the direction of their lives. We cannot go on living the way we did before we were introduced to Jesus. Before His death and resurrection, Jesus had declared that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). When this promise was fulfilled on Pentecost, Peter told the people that they had to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).
Confession of Christ was commanded. Paul wrote to Rome that a believing heart issues into a confession of Jesus “with the mouth” (Romans 10:9-10). This confession, says Paul, is for salvation. Obviously, confession is more than mere words and repeating a certain formula of words. It is to announce to everyone the believer’s deepest conviction that Jesus is Christ the Son of God, and that He is Lord (Matthew 16:13-17; Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37). If we want Christ to acknowledge us before His Father in heaven, then we must confess Him before men (Matthew 10:32-33).
Baptism into Christ was commanded by Jesus Himself (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15-16). Every one who ntered the church entered by baptism (Galatians 3:26-27). In the New Testament, baptism was immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 8:38; Acts 2:38; 22:16). In this act, the believer repeated in his baptism what Jesus had done to save mankind: Jesus died, was buried and then He was raised from the dead. So, in each person’s baptism, Paul says that he dies to sin, is buried in baptism, and then is raised to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).
All of the above are considered in the New Testament as important and essential. From the first day of the church, all people have been urged to have faith in Christ, and then to express such faith in repenting, confessing Christ and being baptized. On Pentecost those listeners who believed gladly received the Word from the apostles, and they were baptized (Acts 2:41). When they were baptized, they were saved; they received the forgiveness of past sins; they were added to the church; and they received the Holy Spirit as an abiding Gift. So far as we can read in the New Testament, there is no way to enter the Church-to become a Christian, to be saved, to receive God’s presence in the Holy Spirit-except through faith in Christ, repentance, confession and baptism. All of those who responded to this plan of salvation became members of the Lord’s church (Acts 2:47).
It is very dangerous to suppose that we can become a part of Christ’s church by any other means. Besides, Paul makes it very clear that the curse of God rests on anyone who alters the divine message (Galatians 1:6-9). How wonderful is God’s grace that gives us the blessings of forgiveness and new life in Christ and His church! How wonderful it is that today we can still enter the church by the very same way as believers have since the first day of the church! The passing of centuries has not changed our Lord’s grace and His plan for our salvation!
Another identifying mark of the church of Christ is found in its worship. The church of the first century worshipped God, coming together on Sunday (the first day of the week) to do so (Acts 20:7). Although Christians worshipped every day, each Sunday was called “the Lord’s day” (Revelation
and it was a special occasion for congregational worship, fellowship and service.
At this assembly, the Christians sang praises to God and Jesus and heard the Word of God preached, read, and taught (Ephesians 5:19; 1 Timothy 4:13; Acts 2:42; 20:7). In living memory of the Lord who died for them, they shared a meal of bread and wine: it was called the “Lord’s Supper,” “Communion,” “the Lord’s Table,” the “breaking of bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16,21; 11:20; Acts 2:42; 20:7). In the worship prayers were offered to God like sweet incense rising to heaven (1 Timothy 2:1-6). The Christians shared in many ways, including their money: they were commanded to give liberally, according to their income, in order to help others and to preach the gospel throughout the world (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:7). Each person participated in worshipping the Lord from his heart (Colossians 3:16). He used his voice, his ears and his whole person to express his appreciation to and reverence of God, Jesus and the Spirit. And in the process, the church was encouraged and built up.
Christ was the early church’s only creed and the teaching of the apostles was its only rule of faith and practice (1 Corinthians 2:2; Acts 2:42). The teaching of the apostles was in fact the words of Christ called to their memory by the Holy Spirit (John14:26; 16:13). The words of Christ and the apostles’ teaching are faithfully preserved in the New Testament scriptures, and, as with the Old Testament, the New Testament is intended to provide everything necessary for the church and Christians (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3).
Another characteristic of the church of Christ in the New Testament was its unity. The church was called the “one body;” its whole life and platform was oneness-one God, one Lord Jesus, one Holy Spirit, one hope, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6). This unity was enjoyed previous to the
introduction of human theology which corrupted Christian doctrine and divided the professed followers of Christ into warring sects. The church was one body when it began, and it is possible for the church to be “one body” now!
The message proclaimed by the early church was the gospel of Christ (Romans 1:16). This message contained facts to believe (1 Corinthians 15:1-8), commands to obey that led the sinner into Christ, and promises to be enjoyed, with the threat of damnation to the disobedient (Mark 16:16: John 3:16-18).
Nothing in life can be of any greater significance to us than that we become members of Christ’s Body, the church. But in the midst of all the religious confusion that exists around us today, how can we know what church is right? The answer is for us to “go back to the bible,” find the identifying marks that characterized the New Testament church, and then look about us today for that same church. The church of Christ in the world today should possess the same characteristics that marked the early church. The Bible contains the original pattern for the Lord’s church. That pattern must be followed in each generation to reproduce the church of Christ and this is done by preaching and obeying that same Word of the Lord.
5. Serving in Christ’s Church
Saved to Serve
Those who are saved from the guilt of sin through the power of the blood of Christ should, out of hearts filled with gratitude, glorify God in the church. God is glorified by the lives of those Christians who commit their lives to His service. Jesus Christ is our example in all things. The apostle Peter wrote “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). No one should doubt that humans need an example and Jesus completely satisfies our need. In Christ we find an example most unique. He is ageless and belongs to the entire human race in every century and in every place. He is a worldwide example for every person. He is for each of us the great example.
On the night that the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Jesus, He declared to His disciples that “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). Isaiah 53, the well-known Old Testament prophecy, portrays for man the suffering Servant of the Lord. Jesus Himself taught that the prophecies of
Isaiah 53 were fulfilled in Him (Luke 22:37). The rest of the New Testament agrees with His identification. Matthew recognized in the healing miracles of Christ the Servant who was to carry our sicknesses and sorrows (see Isaiah 53:4 and Matthew 8:17). Mark recognized in the two robbers the
transgressors with whom the suffering servant was to be numbered (Isaiah 53:12; Mark 15:28). In preaching Christ to the Ethiopian official, the evangelist Philip identified Jesus as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (Acts 8:32). Isaiah 53 pictures an innocent Servant suffering for others: “He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth” (Isaiah 53:9). He was a voluntary Servant who “poured out His soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12).
Remember, Christ is the Servant of Isaiah 53! Remember also that God was not ashamed to call His Son “Servant” and focus the attention of the world on Him as servant. There is nothing shameful in being a servant. To the contrary, to be a servant of the Lord is a great honor (Isaiah 53:12).
Of course, that is God’s evaluation.
However, among men in the ancient world-as today-a “gentleman” was one who never worked. He had servants to do the work, and servants were considered the very lowest persons of society. But the very glory of Christ is that He came as a servant to serve others – even to give His life for others (Matthew 20:28; Philippians 2:7). One evening just before he died on the cross, like a common household slave, Christ girded himself with a towel and washed the feet of His disciples! He told them later: “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). Jesus Himself is the greatest example of serving!
The ancient idea of a servant means a person at the disposal of another, to carry out that person’s wishes and to do that person’s work, to represent his interests and to fulfill a mission for another. Jesus was God’s suffering Servant, for He placed Himself solely and wholly at the disposal of His Father in order to redeem mankind from sin.
The life of Christ, as outlined in the gospel accounts, shows how much His life was serving. He went about doing good, serving people’s needs (Acts 10:38). Jesus healed the sick, the lame and the blind. He served men by teaching them the truth about God as Father and pointing to the eternal principles of life which come from God. A study of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth will reveal that He never performed one selfish act! Paul wrote of Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – and even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8). How gloriously unconventional is Jesus, for the Son of God becomes a servant! The Greatest stooped to become the lowest. And in this act of humility, there was grace-the shining glory of God’s mercy. All the New Testament throbs with that message-the Highest has stooped to serve the humblest, the Purest of all has stooped as a servant to bear the sins of the vile and rebellious!
Jesus said many startling things. Yet nothing Jesus said was more startling than when He challenged the world’s standard of greatness. He declared that the greatest are not those who exercise lordship and dominion, but those who serve (Luke 22:24-26).
Sometimes we allow the glory and grandeur of Christ to blind us to His serving. We think of Him, and rightly so, as the greatest character in human history and as the Christ who is now exalted at the right hand of God (Acts 2:33). We may forget that Jesus Christ was literally the Servant of God and of man.
Now, Peter teaches us that He is our example and we should follow in His steps. This means that as members of Christ’s church we determine that we must be servants of God and Christ.
The Church: Christ’s Body of Servants
The only institution that Christ established on earth is His church. As we have seen, the church in the New Testament is described by various names and phrases. Each of these tells us something about the church. Of all these names and phrases, let us focus on the church as Christ’s Body.
Apart from a man’s body, he does not exist in this world. Without a body, a man can perform no work, fulfill no mission, execute no plans. He functions through the means of his body. The same is true of Christ: since the church is Christ’s body it follows that He functions through His body. The head plans and commands; the body executes and obeys. So is it with Christ and the church.
Since Christ was a servant in every sense of the word, and since He is the example for Christians to follow, then Christians must also be servants of God and man. Since Christ has built only one church, it follows that the church, Christ’s body, is the Lord’s only “service organization” on this earth.
What is God’s purpose for the church? Is it definite? Is it settled, or is it subject to every human whim and to the decision of the church itself? What the church is and does is decided by God and Jesus Christ. God built the church through Christ, and He gave all authority to our Lord Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). The Master chose the mission for His church; He defined its purpose. Since the church is Christ’s body through which He functions among men today, it follows that the mission of the church is the mission of the Master.
The Lord said that His mission was “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). His mission is the church’s mission-to seek to save the lost. That mission is fulfilled when the church preaches His Word, baptizes the lost and then consistently teaches all the things Jesus taught and commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).
The church of Christ is not an athletic club or a literary society; it is not a hospital or a political headquarters; it is not a theater or a restaurant. The church is Christ’s body, and a body functions as the head commands. Now the purpose of the church is an eternal one, determined by God and Christ before time: it is to make known God’s Word and wisdom by preaching the Good News of Jesus (Ephesians 3:10-11; Mark 16:15)!
If the function of the church is primarily to preach, then it is also to teach. Teaching is to systematically present and explain the Word of Christ. Everything the church does is brought about by teaching. How to worship, the spiritual growth of individual Christians, the help that is to be given to the helpless, the care of orphans and widows, how to preach the gospel throughout the world-all of these things require the teaching of the Word. Yes, the work of the church is to seek and to save the lost and that is done by the preaching of the gospel, but the church also exists to teach.
The work of the church is more than talking, even if the talk is preaching and teaching the Word of Christ. The church is in the world to help. Such helping may involve ministries like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, opening our homes and lives to strangers, visiting prisoners in jails. All of these are itemized by Jesus as the things upon which His final judgement will be made (Matthew 25:31-46). The apostle John warns, “Dear children, let us not love with words tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18). In his summary of what true religion is, the apostle James includes “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). And Paul commands that we are to do good to all men (Galatians 6:10).
The church is Christ in actions! As Christ’s body, the church is His mouth, hands and feet in this world!
How to Glorify God
When we consider the glory of God, our minds are overpowered. God created the heaven and the earth. He sustains the entire universe. God is wonderful and glorious; there is none like Him!
What could any man do to add to the Glory of God, when “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalms 19:1)? Yet, as astonishing as the thought may be, man can glorify God. In fact, that is the very foundation of man’s purpose-to glorify God (Romans 1:21-23).
Man glorifies God when he does the will of God. To do His will is to obey God, to do what He teaches in His Word. Doing His will is how we enter His kingdom, the church (Matthew 7:21). It should be no surprise that the way we continue to glorify God in the church is to do His will.
Please keep in mind that both the church and the individual Christian exist to glorify God (see Ephesians 3:21; Matthew 5:16). It is by their obedience and serving that glory is given to Him.
God is glorified by our lives of service to Him, which are in effect expressions of gratitude to God. Paul spoke of men who had come to ruin because they refused to glorify God. In Romans 1:21, he says: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Please notice in Paul’s saying that refusing to glorify God is the same as being unthankful. And that shows the motive of obeying god is to thank Him! After all, He has created our world and us. He has given us everything we have. And, above all, He has given us salvation through Jesus Christ.
The true motive for righteous and godly living is found in Paul’s words-to be thankful! So many people say, “I must be good because I am afraid;” others say, “I must be good because I want God to be good to me.” But we should be saying, “I will do God’s will because I am grateful.” A committed life of service in the church that truly glorifies our Father comes from our gratitude to Him.
And what else can a serious, thoughtful person be but grateful when he considers all that God has done for him? What else can one feel when he considers all that Christ has suffered to redeem him from sin?
The life that successfully gives glory to God is the life of service to God and man that springs from gratitude to the Father. Such a life will attract and lead others to Christ so that they too may be forgiven. Such a person, filled with gratitude to God for the gift of Christ, goes about his daily affairs with a steadfast purpose, with an honesty of intent, with a purity of heart that wins others to Jesus. This is the kind of “sermon” that the world will heed: it is the sermon of a real life – the daily, obedience and serving life offered to the glory of God from a grateful heart.
Let us not deceive ourselves about our religion and about giving glory to God. It is not only in public church assemblies that we glorify God. We glorify Him – or not – in the office, on the farm, at school and home, while we work, learn, eat and play. God is glorified each day when lives, filled with thanksgiving, serve God and help others.
The love and wisdom of God in planning the church so that we may be saved should move us to such gratitude that we give our life in dedicated service to the Lord Jesus Christ! He “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” (Revelation 1:5)!
I learned the above from WBS, all glory goes to the Lord Almighty