Lesson 5: The Church

Advanced Bible Study

"...on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).

This promise Jesus made to His disciples before He was crucified. The "rock" of which He spoke was the truth that His disciples had just confessed, saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Though He was crucified before He built His church, this did not prevail against it. He broke through the "gates of hades," arising from the dead, and showed Himself alive "by many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3). He ascended victoriously into heaven to sit on the right hand of God exalted (Acts 2:33).

When this was preached in Jerusalem, they who had crucified Him were "... cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? 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" (Acts 2:37-38). The text explains, "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:41). This chapter concludes by saying, "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

The church of Christ is the most glorious institution that ever has or ever will exist on this earth. It was in the mind of God before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). It was promised to the patriarchs (Genesis 12:3), prophesied by the prophets (Daniel 2:44-45), purchased with the precious blood of Christ (Acts 20:28), established with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4), and in the end shall be delivered up to God in glory forever (1 Corinthians 15:24).

The Bible teaches us about the church through various figures. Just as a precious stone must be viewed from all directions to see its full beauty, so the church must be seen through these various figures to grasp its full glory.

The church is called a kingdom (John 3:3) to teach us of its government, with Christ as the king, Christians as the subjects, the New Testament as the law, and the new birth as the requirement for entrance. The church is called the one body (1 Corinthians 12:20) to teach us of its unity, with Christ as the Head and Christians as the members of the body. The talents and abilities of Christians are to be used to build up the body and benefit every member. This is the way Christians are to work together in love. The church is called a household (Ephesians 2:19) to teach us of the relationships within the church, with God as the Father, Christ as the elder brother, and our fellow Christians as brothers and sisters. The church is called a temple (Ephesians 2:21) to teach us of the holiness of the church. It is a spiritual building, with Christ as the foundation and Christians as the building stones. The church is called a vineyard (Matthew 21:33) to teach us of the work of the church, with God as the husbandman, Christians as the workers, the fruit as the results of their labors, and heaven as the reward at the end of the day. The church is called the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25) to teach us of the glory and beauty of the church, the love that Christ has for the church, and the submissiveness of the church to Christ. The word "church" literally means "the called out, " and it is used in the Bible to refer to those who are called out of a world of sin by the Gospel. In other words, the church is the saved.

Some mistakenly believe that after one is saved there is something else one must do to "join" the church. This is not what is taught in the Bible. According to the Bible, those who believed that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 16:31), repented of their sins (Acts 2:38), confessed their faith (Acts 8:37), and were baptized (Acts 2:41), were added to the church by the Lord (Acts 2:47).

We read that those who were added to the church in a given community came together on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). They ate the Lord’s Supper, which consisted of unleavened bread to remind them that Christ had become flesh and dwelt among them (1 Corinthians 11:24), and the fruit of the vine to remind them that Christ had shed His blood for their sins (1 Corinthians 11:25). They sang together psalms and hymns and spiritual songs (Colossians 3:16). They prayed together unto God (Acts 2:42). They received instruction from God’s Word (Acts 20:7). As they had been prospered, they gave of their money for the carrying out of the work of the church (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

The work they had to do was great. They were to evangelize the lost (Mark 16:15). They were to edify the saved (Hebrews 10:24-25). As they had opportunity, they were to do good unto all people, and especially other Christians, through benevolent deeds (Galatians 6:10).

The organization of the church in the New Testament was very simple. Christ was the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23). He communicated His will to His people first through the spoken words and then through the written words of His apostles and prophets (Galatians 1:11-12). There was no universal organization of the church other than this. Where Christians assembled, locally qualified men were appointed as elders, bishops, or pastors (1 Timothy 3:1-7). These were not three separate offices, but three descriptions of the same work. They were called elders because of their spiritual maturity, bishops because of their overseeing authority, and pastors because of their shepherding responsibilities. Their authority was limited to matters of judgment and expedience.

To assist them in their work they chose qualified men as special servants called deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13). This was the complete organization of the church as God gave it. Under the oversight of the elders, all Christians were expected to use their talents as best they could in preaching, teaching, singing, praying, providing, visiting, caring, loving, and helping each other as they went about their work. It is important to know that, in the worship, work, and organization of the church, they did only that which they were authorized to do in the name of Christ (Colossians 3:17)—that is, by Christ’s authority.

To establish the church in your community, you must first obey the Gospel. You then make an effort to find others who have done the same, or teach others to do so. Then, taking the New Testament as your guide and the New Testament church as a pattern, worship as they worshipped, work as they worked, and, as you are able, organize as they organized. This will enable you to be more effective in teaching others, it will help you and encourage you as you help and encourage others, and you will be counted by God as among the churches of Christ.

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    Fill in the blanks:
  1. The "rock" upon which Christ said He would build His church was the great truth, "You are the , the Son of the living " (Matthew 16:16).
  2. List the six figures used in the Bible to teach us about the Church?
  3. The word "church" literally means the of the world.
  4. Yes     No   Does a person "join" the church?
  5. When the church came together on the first day of the week, what five things did they do for worship?
  6. The work of the church is to the lost, the saved, and to do to all people, especially other Christians, through benevolent deeds.
  7. The organization of the church in the New Testament was very . There was no universal organization of the church, other than Christ as the .
  8. Yes     No   Is there a church of Christ meeting near you where you may worship as God has instructed?
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