Personal note: I wrote these posts months ago, and I’m not as hurt as I was–I’m more a thinker than a feeler, anyway. Now I’m more focused on figuring out what to do about these kinds of situations and what the proper biblical response is. And no matter what I’m feeling, I wrote these for everyone, and have tried my best to make them dispassionate explorations of what the Bible says a church should be, how it should operate, and what it should do for a hurting world. These posts begin with foundational topics you may already know, but humor me. 🙂 Let’s build truth from the ground up.
Chapter One: What Is the Church?
Most of us are familiar with the scripture in which Jesus founded the New Testament church: 15 He [Jesus] saith to them, `And ye — who do ye say me to be?’ 16 and Simon Peter answering said, `Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus answering said to him, `Happy art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal [it] to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens. 18 `And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it; 19 and I will give to thee the keys of the reign of the heavens, and whatever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever thou mayest loose upon the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens.’ (Matthew 16:15-19, Young’s Literal Translation).
In these verses we see that after Jesus asked the disciples “Who am I?”, Peter was the first to respond, confessing that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of the living God. Jesus congratulated him for his answer, and changed his name from Simon to Peter (Petros, meaning rock), and added that upon that rock of Peter’s confession He would build his church (assembly), and Hades (death) would never conquer it. Furthermore, Jesus gave to Peter the “keys of heaven,” and Peter became the apostle who introduced the gospel and the Holy Spirit to three great groups of people: the Jews (Acts 2:14), the Samaritans (Acts 8), and the Gentiles (Acts 10).
Note: if you are in a “church” not founded and centered on the belief that Jesus Christ is divine and the Son of the living God, then you are a member of an organization that does not conform to the definition established by Jesus Christ. Other groups, including the Church of Satan and the Church of Scientology, have adopted the word, but they do not fit the strict definition Jesus himself gave us. Even some liberal Christian denominations have ceased to believe in the divinity of Christ, yet continue to call themselves “churches.” Perhaps they are adhering to the IRS definition . . .
The word church is a translation of the Greek ekklesia (derived from ek, “out of”, and kleses, “a calling”), which means the gathering of people who have been called to a public place. In the specific Christian sense it denotes a corporate unit and community of believers. Sometimes we speak of a local church, lower case c, and other times we speak of the Church throughout the world, upper case c.
F.P. Moller reminds us of the crucial importance of the Church—no Christian should disdain it or take it for granted: The origin and purpose of the church should first be understood within the context of God’s initial purpose with man. As we have seen, God the Father gave man to Christ to be his body and ultimately his bride. For this reason, man was created in the image and likeness of God. Man was thus created to fit in with Christ.
In Ephesians 1:9–11, 22, 23 we see that the mystery of God’s will exists in the fact that everything, and in this case specifically the faithful, should be united as one body under one Head, namely Christ. In this way the faithful are prepared as the body of Christ in order to receive with Him the everlasting inheritance from God. The visible heaven and earth and all they embrace, form the milieu in which the Lord molds into the body and eventually the bride of Christ, in which He shares a history with mankind and prepares him for the day when, in eventual perfection, he will be taken up in heaven with God. The creation as we know it therefore exists with a view to Christ and his body. In conjunction with this, it means that the fate and destination of the whole world is closely related to that of the church.
When the Lord has achieved his purpose with man on earth and man has been glorified with Christ, a new heaven and a new earth will emerge as the milieu for the new dispensation of Christ with his bride (2 Pet 3:11–14; Rev 21:1). Then we will have arrived at perfection where God will be all in all (1 Cor 15:26–28).
The Church is vitally important because it is the body of Christ on earth. As Ed Hindson and Woodrow Kroll explain, “Paul states that the relationship between Christ and His church is similar to that between the head and the body of a human organism. The church is a living organism, not a dead organization. The union of Christ and His church is a real, mystical, perfect, and permanent union.
The head–JESUS–directs the body’s activities. The church is a living expression of Christ; it is the means by which He effects His plan and purpose; it is the agent through which He accomplishes His work. Believers are not only members of His body, they are members one of another in that body (cf. Rom 12:4–5). The fullness of him that filleth all in all. Christ is the full expression of God (Col 1:19; 2:9), and the church is the expression of Christ. The church is filled with His presence, animated with His life, and endowed with His gifts.
In Christ the church has everything needed to fulfill its mission.” Some think of it as an organization, writes Ed Bulkley, “but it is more accurate to think of the local church as an organism. It is a living body composed of many members, each of whom has a specific function: ‘In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others’ (Romans 12:5). ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it’ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
As the body of Christ in its universal sense (Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18) and in its local form (1 Corinthians 12:27), the church is a single unit with interdependent members whose Head is Christ. “Each local congregation is to be an intimate family of believers. The church is called God’s family in Ephesians 3:15, ‘from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.’ Believers are not just members of a human organization, they are also part of the household of God. ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household’ (Ephesians 2:19). Believers are called a spiritual house and a holy priesthood: ‘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). Individually and universally, members of His church ‘are God’s temple and …God’s Spirit lives in you’ (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Only the church is pictured in these ways. “To qualify as a biblical church, a group must have some form of recognized leadership such as elders, deacons, and pastors (Ephesians 4:11; Titus 1:5), and it must have some structure by which corporate decisions are made (Acts 15:2). It must be a group of believers in Jesus Christ who gather regularly for worship, Bible study, administration of the ordinances of the church (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), fellowship, personal care for one another, counsel, correction, discipline, and restoration.”
Not being part of a church doesn’t mean you’re not a Christian. It does mean, however, that you might be . . . disconnected. When we join with other believers and become part of a local church, we are joining with the body of Christ to bear witness to that local community. When the church worships, we lift our praises together. When the church serves, we are God’s hands and feet and listening ears in our communities. When the church gives, we send help and hope to those who are hungry, lost, and suffering. When the church prays, we join the mighty chorus that swells toward the heavenly throne room and assures God that we are seeking His will. When the church loves, we reflect the love of God so the loveless and forlorn feel a touch of His grace. When the church fights . . . no one wins.
When a physical body begins to experience a problem with one of its members, that problem usually reveals itself through pain. When our foot hurts, we examine it to see what the problem is. Is it broken? Bruised? Overworked? When we experience a physical aliment, we usually waste no time in diagnosing the illness and doing whatever is necessary to help the ailing member recover its health. Occasionally, however, a silent sickness can attack the physical body, and often we experience symptoms only after the cancer or diabetes or heart condition has advanced. Still, if we had taken the time to have a routine check-up, perhaps some of these problems could have been avoided . . .
So it is with illness in the body of Christ. Some ailments are immediately obvious—quarreling members, false teachings, an angry man who spreads false rumors. Other illnesses are silent and serious: the invasion of methods and philosophies contrary to scripture, silent resentments, secret immorality, arrogant dictatorship instead of servant leadership. Unless exposed through a “spiritual checkup,” these silent killers can wreak havoc on the church and its members. One has only to read the closing verses of most of Paul’s letters to understand that the early churches were much like contemporary churches—the body was prone to illnesses, both surface and serious. Paul had to remind the church members of their priorities, often even calling the troublemakers out by name:
“We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat . . . Take special note of those who do not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as fellow believers” (2 Thessalonians 3:11-14).
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith” (1 Timothy 6:20).
“Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:17-19).
[Angie here: I’d like to point out that someone who is trying to point out Scriptural problems in a Scriptural manner is not being divisive. He or she is trying to correct and urging others to do the same. Yet many times when someone points out sin in the church, they are called “troublemakers” and politely told to be quiet. This is NOT right, and others should find the courage to speak up and correct lying, manipulation, and deception wherever it is found. Sometimes a believer’s duty is not to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.]
“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11). “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:2-3).
“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you [church leaders], who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else” (1 Thess. 5:12-15).
“Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Do not listen to an accusation against an elder unless it is confirmed by two or three witnesses. Those who sin [the elders] should be reprimanded in front of the whole church; this will serve as a strong warning to others. (1 Timothy 5:19-20).
Though it was in Antioch that followers of Jesus were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), the first church was established in Jerusalem. Early meetings were probably held in people’s homes, but that first membership roll would have held 120 names (Acts 1:15). After the miracle of Pentecost, the membership grew to 3,000 (Acts 2:41), and soon after that, to 5,000 (Acts 4:4). The church continued to grow, as more and more people accepted the testimony of the apostles and followed Jesus.
The second stage in the growth of the Church was its spread throughout Judea and Samaria, as recorded in the eighth chapter of Acts. Antioch, in Syria, then became the head of the Gentile church (Acts 13:1), as Jerusalem was the head of the Jewish church (Acts 15). Paul represented the church at Antioch, and Peter and James led the church at Jerusalem. The assembly at Antioch was called “the church” just as truly as was the assembly at Jerusalem (Acts 11:22; 13:1).
Because of the missionary activities of the apostles, especially Paul, churches sprang up in different cities, especially in Asia Minor: Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, and Philippi. In view of all this the term “church” came to be used of the Church universal, that is, the complete body of Christ as existing in every place (1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:2, 13; Matt. 16:18); of local churches in any one place (Col. 4:16; Phil. 4:15; 1 Cor. 1:2, etc.); of single meetings, even where two or three met together (Matt. 18:19; Col. 4:15; Phil. l:2; Rom. 16:5).
It is evident, then, from what has here been said, that by the term “church” is included all that is meant from the Church Universal to the meeting of the church in the house. Wherever God’s people meet in the name of Christ to worship, there you have the Church.
What is the Church? Not an organization. Not an institution. It is a body . . . universal in one sense, local in another. The head of the body is Jesus Christ, and we are the body’s hands and feet, eyes, ears, and voices. You have one part and I am another; you have a gift and so do I. Each of us is to use our gifts to benefit the body as Jesus directs it to carry out His will in the world. Lengthy books have been written on the topic, but the essence of the Church is so simple a child can understand it. ￼
TO BE CONTINUED. 🙂
 F. P. Möller, vol. 4, Kingdom of God, Church and Sacraments, Words of light and life (Pretoria: Van Schaik Religious Books, 1998).  F. P. Möller, vol. 4, Kingdom of God, Church and Sacraments, Words of light and life (Pretoria: Van Schaik Religious Books, 1998).  KJV Bible Commentary, ed. Edward E. Hindson and Woodrow Michael Kroll, 2409 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1994).  Ed Bulkley, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology, 290-92 (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1993).  William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed., 182-83 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974).  William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed., 182-83 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974).  William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed., 182-83 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974).  William Evans and S. Maxwell Coder, The Great Doctrines of the Bible, Enl. ed., 182-83 (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974).