Understanding the Church of Christ

Intro: Matt 16:15-19 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

I. Jesus promises to build His church. We often note that this is the first occurrence of the word church in the NT. We also often mention that the word Jesus uses here is the familiar word ekklesia in the Greek. This word is derived from ek (out of) and kaleo (to call). It is defined as an assembly, and in a more precise connotation it indicates an assembly that has been called out or called together for a purpose.

A. Jesus’ ekklesia are His people who have been called out of the world into a relationship with Christ through the message of the gospel. The church began when the apostles used the keys provided to open the kingdom to those who would believe, repent and be baptized (Acts 2)

B. Does the church of the NT exist today? Do most people might claim a connection to this church understand what the early church was? What is the church of Christ?

II. An Early Corruption of the Nature of the Church – One of the greatest obstacles to evangelism today centers around the predominant misconception on the nature of Christ’s church. During the first 100 years of the church’s existence the concept of its nature was being corrupted. For the past 1900 years that corrupted concept has maintained its position among so-called “Christianity”. It is difficult for us to break away from those corrupted concepts and embrace the truth on the undenominational quality of the church. There are a few important questions that can help us.

A. What is the relationship between the church and truth? I came across a statement made by Iranaeus who lived about A.D.150 (possibly a student of John, the apostle), about the church at Rome – “…which comes down to our time by means of the succession of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every church should agree with this church, on account of its preeminent authority.” (Against Heresies, Bk. III, Ch. 3, par. 2; subject to various translations of the Latin) This shows us how early the nature of the church was corrupted, and the direction that the corruption took.

B. Roman Catholicism teaches Institutional Succession & Infallibility: The church is described as “a body of men united together by the profession of the same Christian faith, and by participation in the same sacraments, under the governance of lawful pastors…” (Catholic Encyclopedia V. 3, p. 744) The church is seen as a society (body politic) that has lawful administrators who dispense grace (through the sacraments), and thereby must perpetuate itself through sanctioning additional churches.

1. Mormons have accepted this concept in principle, and so the restoration of the original church necessitated the reappearance of Peter, James & John to Smith and others. The Baptist church attempts to validate their relationship to the 1st century through tracing a succession of churches.

2. The Catholic views the church as the only true arbiter of truth.

a. 3 legged stool – scripturetradition (the teachings that Jesus orally communicated to his apostles, who in turn orally communicated those teachings to their successors, the bishops. oral teaching passed down) – magisterium (the Pope, bishops, and the priests). Consider this quote from Catechism of the Catholic Church – This divine revelation must be interpreted, and “the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone” (CCC 85)

3. The church is the avenue through which God dispenses grace. People come to God through the sacraments of the church. If you are right with the church, you are right with God. The church regulates and validates marriage, and the church officials provide for forgiveness of sins. (morally unrighteous people who are “absolved” by the church are saved. – Why excommunication is to be avoided)

4. Apparently influenced by this concept of “church authority”, some have concluded that the great commission was given to “the church”, and none but the institution is authorized to go, teach & baptize. As late as 193 A.D. one writer wrote that in some special cases “other disciples” may baptize. The concept that the institution was the authority and validator was developed at an early date. It has influenced religious thinking ever since. What is wrong with this view of the church?

5. This view places the church between God and the sinner – The only mediator is Christ – 1 Tim 2:5-6 “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” NKJV

6. It also violates Christ’s sovereign authority – teaches the authority of the church to protect its own unity, and thus legislate for God.

III. The Biblical Concept of the Lord’s Church – The Bible teaches a much different nature of the church. We tend to think of an institution when we should be thinking of a certain kind or quality of people – the saints. Let’s investigate that further:

A. What was established on Pentecost? We have put much emphasis in our teaching on the establishment of the church in Acts 2. (possibly with an institution in view) It may be more accurate for us to emphasize the establishment of Christ’s rule or authority. Let’s look at 2 familiar passages that deal with establishment of the church.

1. Isa. 2:2-3 “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; he will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. What is to be established here? It is the not the Lord’s house, but primarily the “mountain of the Lord’s house” – prophetically referring to the authority or power of the Lord.(Above the other mountains, or all other authority). People would “flow” or come to this authority, not an institution.

2. Acts 2:33-36 – What is the focal point of Peter’s inspired lesson? It is the authority or Lordship of Christ. After His resurrection He was given all authority (Matt. 28:18).

a. Christ rules His people through His word. Not even the apostles were the authority of the church, but rather ambassadors of the word of the King. (Matt. 16:19 – what they “bound or loosed on earth”, “will have been bound or loosed in heaven.”) They had no successors because they needed none; they are still active through the inspired word.

B. The church is the product of the truth, not the mother of it. We asked the question last week, How do you start a church of Christ? (Some would begin by applying for a building permit.)But pragmatically, we could drop a N.T. on an island where no one had ever heard of a church of Christ, and if studied, understood and obeyed, they would become Christ’s church on the island.

1. The succession is in the seed not the sower. And the word (authority) of Christ will always and only produce Christians. The church does not validate worship, baptism, or any act of obedience toward God. Christ validates all things through His word.

2. Does that mean the church is non-essential to salvation? As we come to grips with the Biblical teaching on its true nature we see that this question is nonsensical. The church is the saved.

a. How do you come into the church? Let the Bible answer and validate that – Acts 2:38-47 “Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (NKJ)

b. The church in the universal sense (God’s people) exists because of salvation – “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”Acts 2:47 (NKJ) To be in the church is to be in a relationship, not intrinsically to be in an institution.

3. 1 Tim 3:15I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. Paul describes the Lord’s church in a familiar image to the Ephesians – The center of their city was the elaborate temple of Diana. William Barclay gives the following description of it: “One of its features was its pillars. It contained one hundred and twenty-seven pillars, every one of them the gift of a king. All were made of marble, and some were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold” (The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 89). Each pillar acted as a tribute to the king who donated it. The honorary significance of the pillars, however, was secondary to their function of holding up the immense structure of the roof.

a. The word ground (support) appears only here in the New Testament and refers to the foundation on which a structure rests. Thus in Paul’s metaphor the church is the foundation and pillar that holds up the truth. God’s people must be committed to upholding the revealed words of God. We are not called to invent the truth, or accommodate the message, but to hold it up and honor it for all to see.

b. It is our task to study it, meditate on it, embrace it, defend it, obey it, proclaim it, and live by it.

Conclusion: another distortion and corruption of the nature of the Lord’s church is called denominationalism. We will take a close look in another lesson. Are you a Christian? Has the Lord added you to His church?