There are many synonymous ways that the Church could be defined. They are a people who follow the Christian religion, they are people who obey God, they are people who worship Jesus. All such ways of speaking are accurate in simply defining the church. This work tries to layout for the reader a basic understanding of the church with some commentary on its properties. The church is a living collection of people with a semi-formal structure in its origins. It is somewhat difficult to comprehensively discuss an organization that is not only 2000 years old, but is still living and moving on in life. It’s semi-formal structure from the beginning also makes it difficult to accurately define the original intent of its founders. This work takes an approach to understanding the church that includes the taking into account of Holy Scripture, Christian tradition throughout the ages, and observation of the present church globally. Admittedly the Scriptures will be the primary tool for the set-out understandings. The author recognizes that the Scriptures are insufficient of themselves to fully express Apostolic understanding or teaching on this subject. Most of what said about the church is in mentioning in the Scriptures and no full doctrinal instruction for how to set up the church exists. I hope this introduction will better help the reader understand the perspective of the author as they read.
What is it?
A Brief Understanding of the Church
The Church is the collective people of God in the last days. They have been instituted by God through command of His chosen King Jesus to be His loyal followers, obey and teach His commands, announce His appointment as King, and to await His return. They were instituted after the selection of the Twelve Apostles who acted as His representatives. The Apostles were gifted with the Holy Spirit to perform His will through various miraculous abilities. They taught others and appointed approved men as elders to teach others as well. The Church meets together awaiting Christ while doing different practices as worship. They learn, praise, thank, take the communion meal, and use their new abilities to help one another according to the Spirit’s gifting.
A people in time
The church is the people of God after Christ’s ascension. The original followers were those who followed the commands and teachings of Jesus and passed down this understanding to those coming after them. The form of the early church is mostly the same as it is today, but admittedly there are some differences since the death of its leaders. Small changes with some big implications. The author wishes the reader to understand that at its core all “the church” really is, is a people who are faithful to God. The group of people who follow God after Jesus came have been called “the church”. “Church” is the English translation of the Greek word “Ekklesia” which simply means “the summoned”. So God’s church is simply those summoned by God or put more dynamically as God’s faithful people. Below is a fundamental understanding of “the church” which understands it as a generally obedient people (Character) with a specific name (Church). Each individual of the church is a person who shares a like character, practice, and title.
“General people of God”
The righteous throughout the ages applying the desires and commands of God to heart in both lifestyle and word can simply be called the “general people of God.” The form of which those (God’s) commands take in their specifics are known to those whom know (the specific commands) and the general commands to all people.
“The special group”
When the general people of God apply the specific commands then this person becomes a specific type of person. However fundamentally this just makes this person an obedient follower of God with a new name. Upon applying these commands, the people become a part of the “specific group” of the time such as in past times “Israel” or in more recent times “the church”. Generally, these are just buzzwords to classify the people of God with their specific properties.
This work is focused on the people of God who are specifically known as the church.
Here are the properties of those people
- Elders/approved men
- Common Church
- Announce Jesus
- “All things”
- Meet together on the first day of the week
- Praise and sing
- Teaching and Learning
- Holy Spirit
- Different abilities
Jesus as head from the start
God’s approved man from the start of the Church has been none other than Jesus of Nazareth. He taught His original disciples and chosen twelve whom, excluding Judas Iscariot, have gone out and taught the world. As Son of God His teachings bare the weight of Divine authority and command. The church was given Him to take care of and to lead.
The Twelve Apostles
Upon Jesus’ ascension the original 11 apostles and the newly elected one (Matthias) were sent out to the Jews and to the rest of the world. They taught others the teachings and commands of Jesus which they heard from Him before and after His resurrection. Before this, but after Jesus’ ascension, they waited in prayer and were gifted the promised Holy Spirit. In the power of God’s Spirit, they both remembered and preached His commands and lordship. Throughout their lives they started churches and elected approved men who held the teachings in truth to be leaders in the churches. Some also wrote letters which have been venerated by the Church as holy instruction. After suffering many persecutions all, but John are said to have been martyred.
Paul the Apostles to the Gentiles
Saul of Tarsus was an Israelite Roman citizen descending from the tribe of Benjamin. His Greek and common name to the Church is Paul. Paul was a man who at first was a Pharisee who violently opposed the Christian Church, but later was converted to the faith by the words of Christ Himself from Heaven. He was selected to be an Apostle, but his work was mainly to the non-Jewish people and nations. He is largely responsible for the introduction of Christianity to the world outside of Israel. He also is responsible for many letters written to the Churches which make up most of its recorded instruction.
The elders were approved men either chosen directly from the Apostles or by other already approved men. Probably most if not all of these approved men had the hands of the Apostles or other approved men laid on them so that they could be associated with the Apostles. They were the leaders in specific churches who held to the teachings in accuracy as held by the Apostles. They were men of knowledge, but also men of Christian character. They were at times likely called by the Holy Spirit through miraculous calling. Their duty was to uphold accurate teaching in their churches. They were to approve of others in the churches to confer Apostolic association.
The deacons were approved people who helped out in the churches through various means of service. They were people who were filled with the Spirit and who exemplified good Christian character. They were often chosen by other approved men and probably at many times chosen also by the Holy Spirit.
The Common Church
Those not in the offices mentioned above were seen as just as important and had other gifts from the Holy Spirit that were to be used for helping the other members.
Baptism is mentioned quite a bit in the New Testament, but never is baptism explained and neither is there a clear reason given for its commissioning. John’s baptism functioned for the purpose of repentance in preparation for the coming of God, specifically His servant Jesus. Christ commissioned His Apostles to baptize others in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There seems to be no criteria needed to be met for baptism except that a person be willing and that all must be baptized. Concluding on the symbolic teachings on baptism by the Apostles and that which we can deduct from other mentioning in the Scriptures it can be said that baptism is an initiation procedure by which one dedicates their life to Jesus and enters the Church. The practice was done by immersing someone in water. The word baptize literally means immerse, which was done in water in the church.
God has given Jesus the right and authority over the entire world. The Church whom He has given has been commissioned to herald this truth to the world. It is their commission that they let people know that God has selected someone to rule over the Earth and that this person will come again in the future to exercise divine decision and judgment. Therefore, the church did announce this to others and that they should repent of contrary lifestyles.
Aside from the prior commissions mentioned, Jesus also commissioned His Apostles to teach others to follows His commands. The gift to remember all things that He taught them was given them through His promise and by the Spirit. The Gospel accounts coupled with the writings of the Apostles are the best testimony to Jesus’ teaching and such the Church has highly venerated these writings.
On the night when Jesus was betrayed, He shared the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal He took the unleavened bread and said that it was His body that is broken for them. He took the wine and said that it was His blood likewise shed for them. He told them to do it in remembrance of Him.
The promise of God to resurrect the dead and to reform the earth is waiting its accomplishment in the return of Jesus. At the time of Jesus’ ascension, the faithful were told that He would return to the Earth to fulfill all things, but the times which His Father and our God has set for such things to occur have not been revealed. The church therefore waits in positive expectation of the fulfillment of the promises and His own coming. They do so in coming together in one place, worshiping in holiness, and keeping in mind the things that the Lord commanded His Apostles to observe. They take communion together.
In the night when Jesus was betrayed, He shared the Passover meal with His disciples. During the meal He took the unleavened bread and said that it was His body that is broken for them. He took the wine and said that it was His blood likewise shed for them. He told them to do it in remembrance of Him.
When the church eats this holy meal together, they are proclaiming His death. The bread symbolizes His body while the wine symbolizes His blood. The death of the Lord Jesus is the propitiation and the forgiveness of sin. Therefore, proclaiming Jesus’ death by means of eating this meal is the exercising of faith that God has accomplished His promise and will grant eternal life to mankind.
Christian worship is valuing God and Jesus above all in every aspect of human lives. When the Church comes together there are many ways this occurred. Giving thanks to God for all that He has done and provided is an aspect of worship. Acknowledging God’s various works and power is an aspect of worship. These things were also done in song. Another aspect of Christian worship occurred in both teaching and learning the teachings of the Lord Jesus. Other aspects of God concerning the Scriptures and the teachings found within them were also taught and learned. Early on liturgy and the public reading of Holy Scripture were common place.
While the things that made the gathering of the church holy were the teachings, the worship, and the communal meal instituted by the Lord Jesus there is another aspect that works together with all these. That aspect is the common purpose in love. The Lord Jesus taught that a defining factor of the church would be their love for one another. Christians loved both in word and deed. The needs of another were cared for by one another and giving was a very real practice. Each one was to value one another as they valued themselves and to do all things in the name of the Lord. Physical and Spiritual undertakings were done for the good of the Church in Christ.
The Holy Spirit
The most defining property of the Church outside of knowing Jesus is knowing the Holy Spirit. The Lord Jesus promised His Apostles the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit being the very Spirit of God Himself was given to come upon the church and to dwell within them. The Spirit’s indwelling manifested itself through various abilities. These abilities are commonly referred to as spiritual gifts. Many gifts are mentioned as having been exercised by the church, but no concise list exists. These miraculous giftings allowed people to do things that they were never able to before in their current condition. Prophecy, healings, speaking in other languages, and various other services are but a few mentioned in Scripture. God’s presence within His church is an excellent gift and the different abilities performed by the Spirit are truly grace gifts.
The Church is those who follow God and Jesus of Nazareth. Through the meeting together in worship and through the power of the Spirit the Church confirms the teaching of Jesus that He will come again to judge the Earth. They tell others of Jesus and how He is coming as Lord. Through their obedient practice for Jesus and waiting they are highly valued by God. They are those separated from the rest of the world who will undoubtedly receive the reward of Eternal Life and a good place with God on the New Earth. The author understands that seeking to understand God and Christ’s commissions is to be taken seriously, but that it also must been done in way that honestly accepts what is discovered. The search and study for perfection should take into account that Christianity was originally meant to be passed down through tradition in light of God’s Spirit in the church rather than to sole obedience to a writing. If it had been the primary way for the church to function then there should have existed some writing of extensive instruction and the church would have been structured more formally. Therefore all three of these things are necessary for understanding the Church.