by Steven Chan
- The Bible is the Sole Authority for ascertaining the answer to the above question because it is given by the inspiration of God for our guidance:
“But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:14-17)
So, what does the Bible say about the church?
- What is the “church” according to the Bible?
The word “church” is translated from the Greek word, ἐκκλησία, transliterated as “ekklēsia”. According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon it refers to a “gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly”, in other words, “an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting”. So, the word “church” refers to an “assembly of Christians”.
In the original writings of the New Testament, the word “church” does not refer to the physical building (of bricks and mortar) – the place where the Christians assemble to worship God. Unfortunately, the modern use of the word ‘church’ refers to the physical building BUT that was not the original meaning of the word as used in the Bible (the New Testament was originally written in Greek).
So, we should not be confused by the use of the word ‘church’ in the original meaning of the New Testament versus its modern usage.
- Jesus said that He will build His church:
Matt 16:18: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church…”
This means that the church that the Bible talks about was built by Jesus Christ. The builder is not any other person; the builder of the church is Jesus Christ Himself. No one else is authorized by God to build the church.
- Jesus built His church by purchasing the church with His own blood.
“ Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God[c]which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28).
1 Pet 1:18-19: “ knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
Eph 5:25-26: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 26 that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.”
Jesus did not buy a physical building. He gave His life, shed His blood, in order to buy or redeem the Body of disciples.
- Christ is the Head of His Body, the Church.
Eph 1:22-23: “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body,”
Col 1:18: “18 And He is the head of the body, the church,”
Jesus is Head over His Body and He has only One Body, i.e. One Church:
Eph 4:3-5: “ endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all,”
Although Jesus has only One Body or One Church, the local congregations or assemblies in the various geographical locations are referred in the Bible as “churches of Christ”:-
Rom 16:16: “The churches of Christ greet you”.
- Christ is the Saviour of His Body.
Eph 5:23: “or the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”
Since Jesus is the Saviour of the Body, one needs to be a member of His Body, His Church, in order to be saved.
- How then does one become a member of His Body, His Church?
Act 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. 39 For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. 40 And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. 41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls… 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” (Acts 2:38-41, 47, KJV)
The afore-stated passage tells us that when one obeys the terms of the gift of salvation (the gospel of Christ) as stated by Jesus in Mark 16:15-16, then one will be saved, and the Lord adds the saved person to His Body, His Church:
“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”(Mark 16:15-16)
So, when one hears the gospel, the good news of salvation made possible through the blood of Jesus, and one “believes and is baptized” then one’s sins are washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and one puts on Christ (Gal 3:26-27); one is saved, having been reconciled to God. The Lord Himself “adds” such ones to the church, His Body.
I Cor 12:12-13: “ For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”
It is evident that since there is only One Body of Christ, the Lord adds those who are saved, to that One Body.
If one hears the gospel of Jesus Christ and believes that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and is then baptized for the forgiveness of one’s sins, then the Lord will add such a one to His Body, His Church. That’s how one can be a member of the church built by Jesus, redeemed by His blood, and destined for heaven (1 Pet 1:3-5).
- The Bible records for our learning numerous accounts in the Acts of the Apostles, of those who accepted God’s gift of salvation by faith, putting on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:26-27):-
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
In the case of the Ethiopian eunuch as recorded in Acts 8:26-39, the Bible tells us that Philip preached Jesus unto him, and when he confessed his faith in Jesus and was baptized, the Spirit took away Philip and the eunuch went on his way, rejoicing!
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” 37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”[c] 38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. 39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.”
The work of the evangelist is done when he teaches one to believe in Jesus and then baptizes him into Christ, so that such a one enters into a “saved” or “reconciled” relationship with God.
- There is only One Body, One Church that Jesus built and Jesus prayed that all members of His One Body be united in “speaking the same thing”, being of “the same mind and in the same judgement” (1 Cor 1:10; Phil 2:1-2), and that there be “no divisions among them” (John 17:20-21).
The apostle Paul disapproved of “differences in the church” as characterized by loyalty to religious leaders:-
“For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:11-13). The answer to each of those rhetorical questions was “no”! Christ is Not divided. So, one should just be a Christian and nothing else.
Believers in Jesus Christ who perpetuate the “division” among fellow believers by distinguishing themselves from one another by calling themselves after their religious leaders other than the name of Christ, are not submitting themselves to the will of God. The early Christians were simply called “Christians” (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet 4:16). They were not “Catholic” Christians, nor “Protestant Christians”, nor any other types of Christians.
- Today, how can one recognize the church that Jesus Built or died for?
The bible tells us that the “seed” is the “word of God” (Luke 8:11). When the seed of God’s Word is sown in the hearts of men, it will produce Christians only; nothing more and nothing less. It will not produce different types of Christians or different types of churches.
We examine the distinctive characteristics of the church or body of Christ as described in the New Testament (the seed of the Word of God), and compare those who professed to be His disciples today and see whether they possess the same characteristics/distinctives.
The approach is no different for one who wants to know whether a certain car is a BMW or a Toyota. We know the distinctive marks of a BMW or a Toyota. We then compare those distinctive marks with any car professing to be a BMW or a Toyota in order to ascertain which is a BMW or a Toyota.
Some of the distinctive characteristics of the church in the first century to which the Lord adds those who are saved, are as follow:-
a. The Founder of the church is Jesus Christ; not any other religious leader (1 Cor 3:11; Acts 4:12).
Many so-called churches today traced their beginnings to sometime in the late 15th century to the 21st century; whereas the church of the Lord started in the very 1st century. Churches that have their origins later than the 1st century cannot possibly be the church built by Jesus in the 1st century.
b. Christ is the Head of the church; no other religious leader is its Head (Col 1:18; Eph 1:22-23).
Some churches today pledge their loyalty to the some men – such is not permitted by the New Testament. Jesus said: “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.” Such religious titles are not permitted by Christ. Similarly, “holy and reverend is his (God’s) name” (Psa 111:9); these honorifics belong to God; no man is permitted to accept these honorifics from fellow believers.
c. The church was organized with elders as overseers and deacons as entrusted servants.
Elders, who fulfilled the required qualifications as stated in 1 Tim 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, were appointed to be “shepherds and overseers” of every church, to feed and care for its members (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-4). There were no arch-bishops, cardinals, father-priest, reverend or Pope in the early church as organized by the apostles. Such offices/titles were not authorized by the apostles.
Deacons also had to meet stipulated requirements as to their character and reputation as outlined in 1 Tim 3:8-13.
When the apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Philippi, he addressed his letter as follows: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops (i.e. elders/pastors) and deacons”.
Elders exercise oversight of the church while deacons were entrusted ‘servants’ of the church as in Acts 6 when seven men were selected to serve tables. Evangelists like Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim 4:5) were engaged in the work of preaching the gospel; they were not engaged in “overseeing” the church. The elders were the “overseers” or “bishops” and “pastors” (i.e. shepherding or tending the flock).
d. One becomes a member of the church the same way as those in the 1st century.
In many churches today, many claim to become members of the churches without having fully complied with the terms of membership as stated by Jesus in Mark 16:16, and as discussed in #7 & #8 above.
If one has not complied with the terms of membership as stipulated by Jesus Christ, then one cannot realistically expect Jesus to add such a one to His Body, His Church.
e. Does the church teach the same things as the 1st century church?
The churches in Galatia were warned against teaching or preaching a gospel that differed from that taught by the apostles:
Gal 1:8-9: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
Some of the churches in Asia were warned by Jesus for allowing erroneous teachings/doctrines in their assemblies/church:-
Rev 2:14-16: But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. 15 Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.[a] 16 Repent, or else I will come to you quickly
Rev 2:20: “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow[c]that woman[d] Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce[e] My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.”
f. Does the church worship God in the same manner as the 1st century church?
Does the church practice the same things as revealed in the New Testament?
Acts 2:42: “ And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
2 Tim 2:2: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
Is the worship in the churches today similar to those described in Acts 2:42?
Some churches today partake the Lord’s Supper once a month whereas it was the practice of the 1st century church to “break bread” (i.e. partake the Lord’s Supper) on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2)
Do they worship in accordance with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles?
Jesus said: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”(John 4:24). “In spirit” means with our inner self or sincerely. “In truth” means in accordance with what God has revealed: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
Jesus warned that those who teach the “commandments of men” would be “worshipping in vain” because God would not accept such worship:-
“These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and[e] honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
g. Does the church today do the same work as was done by the church in the first century?
The church in the first century was engaged in preaching the gospel (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:4), edifying or strengthening its members (Eph 4:11-16) and in providing benevolent support for its members (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim 5:16; James 1:27). They were not involved in other activities such as “political” activities, etc…
The Bible teaches that it matters that one be a member of the church that Jesus said that He would build in Matt 16:18 because Jesus will save His Church, His Body of disciples. Jesus died to purchase His church. He adds those who are saved to His church (Acts 2:47), of which He is the Head – that means the church accepts Him as the one with authority over the affairs of the church; not that of any other person.
Today, if one complies with the terms of salvation as stated by Jesus Christ in Mark 16:16 (“He who believes and is baptized will be saved”), then the Lord will add such a one to His church (Acts 2:38-41; 47).
If one has not believed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God then one needs to believe if one wants to be saved.
If one has already believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God then one would need to be “buried with Christ in baptism” (Rom 6:3-5). The word “baptism” is translated from the original Greek word “baptisma” which means to be “immersed” so as to have one’s sins washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 22:16; 1 Pet 3:21).
Other modes of baptism as practiced in some churches today such as “sprinkling or pouring” do not conform to the meaning of the word “baptisma” which means an “immersion” – hence it would fit the symbol of “burial” – the crucifying/dying with Christ and the “raising up to walk in newness of life” as described vividly in Rom 6:3-6:-
“Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.”
You can be a member of the church of Christ today by doing the same things as the first century Christians did.