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[The following is an attempt to compile all the data listed in the verses that use the word "church." It does not pretend to be fully organized, nor does it claim to be complete in every theological issue. (Many other verses describing the topics mentioned below do not contain the word "church," and attempts were made to limit the use of such verses. You are encouraged to include anything else that you believe might be of importance in developing your concept of the word "church."]
Note (apology): I did not include the verse references in the following compilation, at the time it was originally transferred from a hand-written paper to computer format. By the time I realized the error, the original hand-written information was lost. I do include the list of verses I used (on a separate page), and you are encouraged to examine them on your own, to see if you reach the same conclusions.
The church is built on a firm foundation called the "rock" (the foundational truth of who Jesus is, as stated by the apostle Peter). It is described as "the pillar and foundation of the truth," as well as "God's household." It was bought by his blood, being purified by Jesus' sacrifice (hence he is called its savior). The church is loved by Jesus Christ, being fed and cared for by him. It is described as being the "body" of Christ, who is its "head." And as such, it submits to him, who is "head over all for the church."
The church is described as being "in" and "of" God (and Christ), "of the Firstborn" and "of the living God."
The church is the recipient of God's grace, and those who belong to it have their names written in heaven. This is all with a purpose: the church is to glorify the God to whom it belongs, and make known his manifold wisdom... even to heavenly beings!
Because of its relationship to the true God, it cannot be overcome and destroyed... even by "the gates of hell." Even so, from the outside, people will sometimes try to destroy it by persecution. Those who belong to it may have to suffer for its sake.
Even from within, false teachers and false followers often rise up. They may try to cause some to stumble... or even try to pervert the way of truth to the point that those who follow the truth are treated as "unbelievers"! They may give it a bad reputation - even giving the world an excuse for despising it! At times, there can be much within the church which would be cause for concern for the true believer. Yet God has provided for the true members of his church, in order that they might deal with this problem.
First, as far as God's people attempting to judge and remove sin from within the church, it is required by the One to whom it belongs. It is not an option... and even the least of the true followers of Christ is qualified (even commanded) to judge and to expose the "pretenders" for what they really are. Yet this is to be done with the proper spirit - in the hope that the person being disciplined will repent of his sin. The person is to be exhorted and repentance is to be encouraged. But as long as the person refuses to repent, he must be treated as a pagan - one who does not belong to God. As for those outside the church, judging them is not the church's job... at least not in the sense described in this paragraph. (On the other hand, even the mere reading of Scripture is a type of judgment against the unsaved. See 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, for an example of this.)
Second, God has provided the church with everything it needs - both for dealing with the opposition mentioned above, as well as for accomplishing all the wonderful and good things that he desires for the church. He has given it the testimony of Jesus, the letters of the apostles, and the recorded examples of how such men of God (and Jesus himself) lived. This is the message delivered by the Holy Spirit, which those who have "spiritual ears" will "hear." (This refers to the Word of God, which is recognized as the life-changing, living Word, by those who are God's children.) He has laid down rules and practices which are to be followed. (These allow the church to function smoothly, to minimize the encroachment of sin, and to reflect the image of the One who bought it.) He has given us both the teaching and example of the apostles. He has provided the examples of other believers and groups of believers ("churches"), as written in the New Testament, which could be followed or imitated by the generations that would follow.
God has also provided for the church's needs by giving each of its members different gifts and abilities. By these (and if they are working together) they can build up and strengthen the church, living in submission to its "head." (In fact, the human body - many members, each with different functions, all working smoothly together, in submission to the head - is used as an example of how all the parts of the body of Christ are to function together.) The goal of using such gifts is not to exalt oneself, but to build up the church... being a servant to it. (Ultimately, the emphasis is on being a servant to Christ.)
Within the church, the great diversity of gifts are appointed by God himself, given to each person as he (God) sees fit. Each person has gifts... and each gift is important (although some are more visible than others). Each person must be willing to use his gifts and each must be permitted by others to use his gifts. The gifts must be used so as to exalt Christ, not self, and so as to build up the church, which is Christ's body. In all this, the church is to be strengthened and encouraged.
Various principles are mentioned, within the context of worship, which are probably illustrative of the use of gifts in all of life. For example, some gifts have different values, depending on the circumstances. In one instance, the gift of prophecy is described as having a much greater value (in a group setting) than the gift of tongues (which requires the presence of an interpreter, to be of value). Also, each is to be given the opportunity to use his gift. (No one is allowed to push himself to the forefront, and suppress the ability of others to use their gifts.) Yet all must be done in a decent and orderly manner. Finally, there are instances in which restraints are to be placed on the use of gifts (that is, in specific applications of a gift).
Gift (or ability) and function are distinguished. (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.) For example, there are instances, in which women are to not use specific gifts (under specific circumstances)... not because God has anything against them, or because they lack the gift, but because of the nature of the role he has given them (Their role is just as important as the man's role, but it is not a carbon copy of it.) God also places certain restrictions on women, because of their historic (not "cultural") relationship to man in the creation and the fall. These historical matters have nothing to do with a woman's worth or value, but are facts of history which influence the way things are - as do many other facts of history. (See Note 1.)
Within the church, God has appointed some as leaders - shepherds or overseers - to direct matters, as necessary. But they are to be servants of Christ, not lords over their subjects. They must be fully devoted to the Lord, and they must fit the qualifications which God has set down for such an office. These qualifications are given as requirements, and are not mere suggestions that we can freely ignore. Nor are they to be "updated" with our own set of "specifications.") Leaders have specific functions, as described in Scripture. This includes praying on behalf of others (such as when an individual is sick and needs to confess sin - perhaps being under God's disciplinary judgment.) But they cannot stand as an "intermediary" between the individual and Christ. (It must be remembered that anyone in the church can pray, though perhaps not in the "ceremonial" manner described in the passage in James.) [Many other functions of leaders are mentioned, but not necessarily with the word "church" in the context.]
There are also prophets and teachers within the church. Others have a special gift of hospitality, which can be enjoyed by many within the church. (The context of this verse not only approves the use of the gift, but it implies that it is right for people to enjoy the benefits of other's gifts. Not only is each to do his part, but each is to enjoy the benefits or results of the other gifts being used. We don't have to "feel guilty"!) As a whole, the church can enjoy another person's use of his gifts (example: hospitality); they can also express gratefulness for those who are willing to exercise those gifts. [Note: There are many other gifts mentioned, which occur in verses which do not contain the word "church.," so they haven't been mentioned here.]
Some gifts (perhaps many) can be shared by all, to some degree. All can share, to one degree or another, in the matter of giving and receiving. (The emphasis in the context of the verse mentioning this fact is on the "giving.") The church can help those who are "truly needy," yet this type of help is to begin at home: each person is commanded to help his own family (and not force an extra burden upon the church, due to their own neglect of their family). As a contrasting principle, there are also times that specific gifts might be legitimately not exercised, such as the instance in which Paul did not "burden" a specific church with a request for financial help. Yet this may be the exception, rather than the rule.
The attitude of the church toward God can have a strong influence on its growth (referring to the true members of the body of Christ, and not to the "pretenders" who claim to be part of it). During the time of the early church, when there was a widespread attitude of fear of the Lord (which results in a fear of sinning), the church experienced a noteworthy amount of growth.
As far as reputation, the church (as well as the individuals which comprise it) should be above reproach. The church's expression of love (first to God, then to others) will be visible, if it exists. (It will not be trying to gain visibility or attention, but such a manifestation of love cannot be hidden forever.) The expression of love and service to others should be praiseworthy (or noteworthy) enough that it could be "boasted about" by others, and used as an example that others could follow. (Remember, that this is not the goal of one's love and service. It may be a consequence, but love to Christ, and exalting him, is the motive.) There are many New Testament examples in which news about one church was reported to another, but it was for the purpose of exalting Christ, not the individuals involved. The individual who is praised for his service to the gospel is serving for (in behalf of) the gospel, rather than for the praise. The praise becomes nothing more than a means of encouraging the individual to continue serving Christ - perhaps even more faithfully. It shows him that his work is not in vain, but is actually of benefit to Christ's body.
The early leaders maintained constant contact with the churches, and it was on a personal level. They were not above the other people, other than their function. They received encouragement from them as much as they gave it. There are recorded instances of the leaders meeting with the church, writing to it (even at times, requesting that churches share their letters with each other). At times, the church was gathered together for the purpose of receiving a report or letter from such individuals. Sometimes specific individuals (rather than the whole group) were addressed by the letters. The book of Revelation has specific messages to seven "angels" (or messengers) which were connected in some way to seven specific churches in Asia.
Men were sometimes chosen by the church to perform specific tasks (such as a mission venture) or to be representatives for some specific function. The apostles and elders were also involved, but there is no evidence that the leadership tried to control who was chosen, other than sometimes choosing leaders for a new group of believers (example - Titus 1:5).
The church as a group would, at times, be greeted by others, or send greetings to them. People, such as visiting Christian brothers, would be welcomed and would even be able to enjoy the hospitality of those within the church - unless a false teacher got involved as part of the "welcoming party"! (See 3 John.)
The church "came together as a church" in homes, for times of worship. (They apparently met other places, also, at various times - see Acts 2:46.)
The word "church" (singular) is used of: 1) all Christians who lived in some specific locality, such as in a city (examples: "the church at/in/of..." Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, Cenchrea, Corinth, the Thessalonians, and the seven cities in the book of Revelation), and 2) the totality of all believers - whether referring to all currently alive on the earth, or all the believers down through the ages (including both those who have died, as well as those who are alive). [After all, aren't the "dead" Christians actually alive? They are just at a different location, for the present time!]
The word "churches" (plural) is used in reference to groups of Christians living in different localities or geographical locations (such as: "the churches in/of..." Syria, Cicilia, the Gentiles, Galatia [a province], Macedonia, Judea, the province of Asia; "all the churches," and "the seven churches" located in seven cities, mentioned in the book of Revelation). It is never used of different groups living within the same geographical location. [These are called "divisions," rather than "churches," and are strongly condemned by God.]
[Note 1 - Many
people today oppose this idea, claiming that these restrictions are nothing more
than a cultural issue. They claim that the writers (such as Paul) were
merely accommodating their message to the prevailing opinions of the day, and
that we can ignore what they said, simply because we live in a different culture. Yet Scripture
says they are based on historical issues, not cultural ones. And even a
quick look at Scriptures will show us that the human authors opposed the
prevailing opinions of the day, any time they failed to agree with God's
message. (That is why they were so often opposed - and even killed because of
what they said.)]
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Dennis Hinks © 1992