What Is The Church Or Congregation?
The word church is a much misused word. It is commonly used at the present day when speaking of the edifices erected for the purpose of the assembling of the church to worship God. The quoting of a few texts will give us the Bible definition of this word.
"Likewise greet the church that is in their house." Rom.16:5. This was the home of Priscilla and Aquila. This church was in their house. This house was not the church. The church was in their house. The command was to greet the church. This certainly begins to throw some light upon this subject. See 1 Cor.16:19; Col.4:15; Phile.2. "And he hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." Eph.1:22, 23. "And he is the head of the body, the church." Col.1:18. See also 24th verse.
These texts plainly teach the church to be the body of Christ. What is the body of Christ? Ans. -- "Now ye [Christians] are the body of Christ, and members in particular." 1 Cor.12:27. The body of Christ is the church. The church is Christians. This enables us to understand how the church could be in Priscilla and Aquila's house, and how we can greet the church. This is the Bible definition of church.
Which, One Church Or Many?
In the writings of the apostles the plural form of the word church is frequently used, but this argues nothing against the unity of God's church, nor in favor of the multiplicity of sects. If all the saved people in the world could be congregated in one place there would be no occasion for using the plural form of this word. Had it been so in the days of the writers of the epistles, the word would have been used only in the singular. But since there was a church or congregation of Christians at Antioch, also a church at Corinth, at Thessalonica, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, etc., to speak of the whole it would be proper to use the plural of church. "The churches of Asia." Please notice there is only one in each city, and the same writer addresses them all.
It does not take a town of so great a size to-day to find seven towering meeting-house steeples, where assemble as many different bodies of believers, termed sects. No one minister addresses them all. No one elder gives orders to all these different sects.1 Cor.16:1. No one minister ordains elders in all the separate bodies.1 Cor.7:17. The word churches was used to denote the different geographical location of the congregations of the Lord. The minister arguing in favor of the plurality of denominations from the plural term churches as found in the Bible is either ignorant or unfair. A plurality of sects is Babylon confusion.
The plural form is used in the Bible with reference to location and not to bodies having a different faith or belief. The church at Antioch had no contrary faith with the church at Corinth as we find existing between the denominations of to-day. They were separated by geographical distance, and not by difference of belief. Had these different churches come together in one place they could all have listened to Paul preach and said, Amen.
Oneness Of God's Church.
"The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." Acts 4:32. Can these same words be correctly used when speaking of the believers throughout the various denominations of to-day? "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Rom.15:5, 6. "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Cor.1:10.
By these two texts we learn that the church of God has but one mind; it has but one mouth, and all speak the same thing. This is beautiful, this is heavenly. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." Psa.133:1. It is only the church of the Bible that enjoys this pleasant unity, and we must never confound this church with the confusive sects. Babylon has as many mouths as there are sects, and they speak contrary things.
"For ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Gal.3:28. "Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel." Phil.1:27. "Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind." Phil.2:2. "For as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Rom.12:4, 5.
"Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, ... and there shall be one fold and one shepherd." John 10:16. The Savior was here speaking of the Gentiles and the Jews. Before the coming of Christ there was a partition wall between these two nations, but Jesus came to break down the middle wall of partition, so there should be neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female: but all one in Christ Jesus. Gal.3:28. "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." 1 Cor.12:12, 13.
The "many members" here referred to are individual Christians, and not the ecclesiastical bodies now extant, as some do ignorantly teach. "But now are they many members, yet but one body." 1 Cor.12:20. In the fifteenth and sixteenth verses the apostle uses the physical body of man with its dependent members to illustrate the one body of Christ. These members work in blissful harmony and are dependent upon each other. A destruction of one member impairs the whole body. This is not illustrative of the different denominations; they are not dependent upon each other. Oftentimes they are opposed to each other, and thrive better when others are destroyed.
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body, and be ye thankful." Col.3:15.
I am thankful that we are called as humble followers of the Lamb, into one body only, where the peace of God rules in every heart. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." Eph.2:19. God has a household of saints here upon the earth where peace rules. A contentious, quarrelsome, divided family is no part of God's united household. One family in heaven and earth. Eph.3:15. It is with great reluctancy that we pass by so many beautiful texts upon this subject, but we will only quote a few more lest this volume swell to too great proportions. "Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: ... neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them as thou hast loved me." John 17:11, 12, 20-23.
Blessed oneness of God's own,
O holy Christian band, filled with Heaven's love,
"Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them; For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." Rom.16:17, 18. From the apostle they had learned the doctrine of oneness; he now warns them to avoid any contrary doctrine. "That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another." 1 Cor.12:25. By consulting your dictionary you will find the word "schism" to be synonymous with the word "sect." "A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject." Titus 3:10. Many translators have rendered heretic, sectarian.
"For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." 1 Cor.11:18, 19. Heresies and divisions are here spoken of as meaning about the same thing; or rather divisions are occasioned by heresies. If you will look in the margin of your reference Bible you will find this word translated "sect."
In Gal.5:19, 20 is a number of deeds and dispositions classified and called the works of the flesh, and we are told that "they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." In this catalogue of evil works you will find the word "heresies." Upon examining other translations you will find it rendered sects. See Emphatic Diaglott.
"Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions [schisms -- margin] among you." 1 Cor.1:10. "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." 2 Pet.2:1. In the German version the words "damnable heresies" is rendered "destructive sects." Paul sternly reproves the Corinthians and declares them carnal because of a division that had been manifested among them.1 Cor.3:1-4; also 1 Cor.1:10-13.
Organization Of The Church Of God.
We will have to go to the dictionary to find a definition of the word "organize," since the word is not found in the Bible. "To arrange in parts; to form in due order; to furnish with organs," is the common definition. While the term "organize" is not contained in the Scriptures, yet the work of organizing God's church was performed, and his precious truth tells us how, and by whom it was done. "For to one [individual] is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits, to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." 1 Cor.12:8-11. Nothing need be plainer. It is the mission of the Holy Spirit to impart unto or bestow upon each member of God's church such qualifications as will make him a useful and effectual organ in this holy structure.
What is necessary for the building and furnishing of the church of God is not necessary in the formation and organization of a man-made ecclesiasticism. For man to build what he is pleased to call a church he does not have to furnish it with "a gift of faith," nor "a gift of healing," nor of "working of miracles," nor of "prophecy," nor of "discerning of spirits," nor of "diversities of tongues," nor of "interpretation of tongues." Neither does he require the "wisdom of God," nor the "knowledge of God." It is true he will require much knowledge and wisdom of the world, but of all the things necessary in furnishing the church of God, not one of them is necessary in the building of a sect.
"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." Eph.4:10-12. "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Acts 20:28. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular, and God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." 1 Cor.12:27, 28. "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him." 1 Cor.12:18.
With this as with all other subjects of this work we must be brief.
Who Receives Applicants Into This Church?
"Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." 2 Cor.6:17, 18. "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him." 1 Cor.12:18. "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Acts 2:47. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." 1 Cor.12:13.
By these texts we can plainly see that it is God by the Spirit that receives members into his church, therefore no sinner can enter there.
What Is The Door?
"I am the door: by me if any man enter in he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture." John 10:9. "I am the door of the sheep." Ver.7. "For through him [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father." Eph.2:18.
Jesus is the only entrance into the church of God. He that would climb up some other way is a thief and a robber. John 10:1. We could get into a human organized body without coming in through Christ, but not into the divinely organized body.
"He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; ... behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." Rev.3:7, 8.
Who Is The Builder Of The Church?
Abraham "looked for a city, ... whose builder and maker is God." Heb.11:10. Like many other holy men who walked with God in those ancient days, Abraham looked by faith to the promise that was to come to bring deliverance to the captives. Christ says, "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Mat.16:18. "Every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God." Heb.3:3, 4.
Jesus purchased the church with his own blood. Acts 20: 28. He gave his life for it. Eph.5:25. God, or Christ, who was God manifested in the flesh, built himself a glorious and pure church -- holy, blameless, and spotless. It is all his own. He bestows upon it the fond title of Bride: "He that hath the bride is the bridegroom." John 3:29.
"For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." 2 Cor.11:2. Paul addresses this letter to the church of God at Corinth.2 Cor.1:1. He presents this church as a chaste virgin to her one husband, even Christ.
John in conversation with an angel from heaven was bid to "come hither," and he would be shown the bride the Lamb's wife; and behold he was shown that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Rev.21:9-11. This is beautiful descriptive language. This holy city Jerusalem, clear as crystal, is
The pure and holy virgin bride,
"I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies." S. of Sol.6:3.
The Foundation Of The Church.
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Cor.3:11. "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone." Eph.2:20.
A quotation here from the Old Testament will only add strength and beauty to this subject: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation." Isa.28:16.
God here gives promise of establishing Zion -- the church -- upon a sure foundation; namely, Christ in the great salvation day.
The Kingdom Of God.
Frequent reference is made throughout the New Testament to the "kingdom of God" and the "kingdom of heaven." When the "God which is in heaven" was "revealing the deep and secret things" unto Daniel concerning Nebuchadnezzar's dream, he also revealed unto him that in the days of those kings he would set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed, consequently would stand forever. Dan.2:44.
When John, the swift herald of the gospel day, came preaching, he said: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Mat.3:2. The first words in the ministry of the Son of God were, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Mat.4:17. The kingdom which Daniel saw was to be set up. Great was the speculation throughout Jewry concerning the kingdom of God in John's days. They were expecting a kingdom to excel in temporal pomp and glory the grandeur of the kingdom of the Caesars. The Savior in conversation with some Pharisees on one occasion astonished them by saying, "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." Luke 17:20, 21.
Jesus one night explained to a ruler of the Jews how to enter this kingdom. He said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." John 3:5. Again he says, "Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." Mat.18:3. The inspired apostle in Rom.14:17 explains the nature of this kingdom: "For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost." In the process of the mysterious birth of the Spirit the soul experiences a translation from a "power of darkness" into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Col.1:13.
It certainly must have dawned upon your understanding ere this that the church of God and the kingdom of heaven are the same spiritual structure. In the twelfth chapter of Hebrews several terms are used to denote the church of God. In the twenty-second verse it is designated by "mount Zion," the "city of the living God," the "heavenly Jerusalem," and an "innumerable company of angels." In verse twenty-three it is denominated "general assembly," "the church of the first-born," etc. In the twenty-eighth verse it is called the "kingdom." By this we are made to understand that the church built by the Lord is identical with the "city of God," the "kingdom of God," the "heavenly Jerusalem," etc. With this understanding we will better comprehend the meaning of many other texts.
The Head Of The Church.
"For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body." Eph.5:23. "And he is the head of the body, the church." Col.1:18. "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ." Eph.4:15. See also Eph.1:22; Col.2:18, 19.
Christ is the head of his church, and as such he is the sole governor, or legislator. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Recapitulation In Conclusion.
The church is the body of Christ. Eph.1:21, 22. There is but one body. Rom.12:4, 5; 1 Cor.10:17. Christians are this one body.1 Cor.12:27. They are of one heart and soul. Acts 4:32. There are no divisions.1 Cor.1:10. Christ is the head of this church. Col.1:18. He is the door. John 10: 7. He is the foundation. Eph.2: 21. He sets the members in the body (1 Cor.12:18), and prays that they be kept in his name. John 17:11.
Officers In The Church Of God.
God sets the members in the body of Christ, which is the church, as seemeth best according to his unbounded wisdom. All are not an eye or ear or hand or foot. That the church of God may be complete as a body it has all the different members. Christ is the head, and the saved men and women are the other members of the body according to their calling, all governed by the head and consecrated to do his will. The ministry are the feet, the burden-bearers, the servants of all. They have the care or burden of the church. They carry the glad tidings of salvation. They are not to be carried about and served, but they are the servants. "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things." Rom.10:15.
The following officers are mentioned in the New Testament: apostles, prophets, evangelists, bishops, pastors, teachers, deacons, elders, and presbyters. Apostle is from the Greek "apostolos," which is one sent forth to plant. Paul was an apostle. He was sent forth by the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:4. He was sent forth to plant.1 Cor.3:6. Prophet is from the Greek "prophetes," which is one who is an expounder of prophecies and revelations and of future events. Agabus was a prophet, a teller of future events. See Acts 21:10, 11 and Acts 11: 28. Philip the evangelist had four daughters who did prophesy, or expound or explain the Scriptures. An evangelist is one who announces good tidings, while an apostle is one who plants churches or goes into new localities, and through whose preaching people are saved and a church thus planted. The mission of an evangelist is to visit those planted churches and water them. "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase." 1 Cor.3:6.
Bishop is from the Greek "episkopos," and means a superintendent or overseer. Pastor is from the Greek "poimen," and means shepherd or feeder or overseer, the same as bishop; consequently bishop and pastor are the same, an overseer or shepherd. The word "overseer" occurs but once in the New Testament: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God." Acts 20:28. Overseer in this text is translated from the Greek "episkopos," from which same Greek word we have the word bishop. Paul was then addressing bishops, and tells them to feed the church of God. Now a pastor is a feeder; therefore bishop and pastor are two words used to denote the same office. To note the qualifications of a bishop or pastor as set forth in the New Testament will doubtless be edifying to the reader.
What A Bishop Must Be.
A bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; patient, ruling well his own house, a lover of good men, just, holy, temperate, etc. See 1 Tim.3:2-4: Titus 1:7, 8.
Blameless. This word is synonymous with spotless, faultless, irreproachable. A person or thing is blameless when it is free from fault.
The husband of one wife. No one can meet the New Testament requirements for bishop or pastor who has two wives, though one be divorced.
Vigilant. He must be so watchful as to early discover danger of any kind and use the utmost precaution to avoid it.
Sober. This word is not applied only to freedom from intoxication by spirituous liquors, but is synonymous with calmness, quietness, grave, sedate, steady, serious, solemn, etc. The Greek "sophron" for sober in these texts means sound mindedness.
Of good behavior. Their conduct must be free from levity, folly, or anything that tends to degrade morals.
Given to hospitality. (Lover of hospitality. Titus 1:8.) He must love in his heart to receive and entertain strangers without remuneration, to be kind and pleasing in his manners.
Apt to teach. He must possess a talent or God-given ability to teach the Word to others in a simple manner.
Patient. He must be free from ill passion and irritableness. He must be calm, and possess a tranquility and evenness of life. His composure and holy tranquilness is such that commands and quiets all strife, contentions and heated discussions.
Ruling well his own house. Unless a man has sufficient wisdom, authority, love and firmness, to govern and control his own children he certainly can not be used of God to oversee the church of God.
Lover of good men. His very heart and soul must admire and appreciate and love the good he sees in men.
Just. In his admonitions, corrections and reprovings, he is always just and impartial.
Holy. His heart and life and affections must be pure and holy, free from sin.
Temperate. There are many things from which we are commanded by the Scriptures to abstain. In the use of all things God has given for use he must not be excessive. He must not be excessive in eating, drinking, sleeping, working, talking, sexual relation, etc.
What A Bishop Or Elder Must Not Be.
A bishop must not be given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, not a brawler, not covetous, not a novice, not self-willed, not soon angry. See 1 Tim.3:3-6; Titus 1:7.
Must not be given to wine. Not a wine drinker. He is to be an example and abstain from all appearance of evil.
No striker. A good translation from the Greek would render this reviler. He must not strike back with the tongue; in other words, not contentious.
Not greedy of filthy lucre. When man becomes greedy of filthy lucre -- loves money -- he can be influenced by it and thus be led to favor the rich.
Not a brawler. This is synonymous with wrangler or contender.
Not Covetous. Covetousness includes more than the love of money. Fame, honor, worldly pleasures, gratification of unholy appetites and passions, may be properly termed covetousness. To entertain for anything an affection that is not a pure and godly affection is idolatry, and idolatry is covetousness.
Not a novice. One newly converted.
Not self-willed. Not obstinate in contending for his views or desires in opposition to others.
Not soon angry. Soon is not found in the original. A more proper rendering would be, Not passionate.
Deacon is translated from "diakonos," meaning minister. By reading the writings of those contemporary with the apostle and those immediately following we learn that a bishop or elder is the overseer or pastor of the flock, or the one upon whom the greatest responsibilities lie, while the deacons are helpers. This doubtless is what is meant by "helps" in 1 Cor.12:28. There was always at least one bishop in one congregation, but often more than one deacon. The qualifications for a deacon are very similar to those of a bishop. See 1 Tim.3; Titus 1.
Elders Or Presbyters.
Webster in defining presbyter, says, "An elder in the early Christian church." Young in his analytical concordance says of presbytery, "An assembly of elders." These two terms have the same Greek origin, "presbuteros." An elder is one grounded in the faith with a sound matured judgment; one capable of giving good advice or counsel. An elder is not necessarily a preacher, but one calculated to advise and give counsel in his pastoral duties. They also are especially called of God to anoint and pray for the sick.
These church officers are all called of God. See Gal.1:15, 16. They are commissioned by Christ. Mat.28:19. Sent by the Holy Spirit. Acts 13: 3, 4. They are qualified by God.2 Cor.3:5, 6. They are ambassadors from the kingdom of heaven with a heavenly message to this lost world. God help them every one to faithfully declare it in the fear of him who has called them.