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THE HOLY CHURCH

 

 

The next statement in the Apostles’ Creed is “I believe in the Holy Church.” Before examining this statement, let me ask you a most important question, Is your church, the church you attend or to which you belong, a holy church? Some would argue this is a pointless distinction because a church is an organization and as such is neither holy nor unholy—it just is.

That view of the church is not correct even though for most of the Christian era that which professes to be the church has been institutionalized and are merely corporate organizations. The Early Church did not see the church as a mere organization. Jesus and His Apostles taught that the church is a sacred entity. In fact, they taught that the church cannot be separated from the identity of Christ. If Jesus is holy, and He is, then His church also must be holy or it cannot be His church.

Let me ask the question again: Is your church a holy church? If it is not, you had best leave it and find a church that is a holy church. That may sound harsh and unwarranted but the church people attend has a profound influence on their spirituality, their perceptions of biblical truth, and what it means to be a Christian. To be a Christian and have salvation, one must believe in the holy church just as much as one must believe in the Trinity and the Incarnation; it is that important.

 

Where Did The Church Come From?

 

Matthew 16:18, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” This statement is directly related to the question Jesus asked His disciples in verse 13, “Who do men say that, I the Son of Man, am?” They gave Him answers they had heard from different people, all of which were spiritual, but incorrect answers. In verse 15 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” to which Peter, answering for all the disciples, said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” in verse 16. The disciples may not have fully understood the Trinity at this time nor comprehended the Incarnation, but they did recognize that the man Jesus was not just a man, He was also God—the Son of God.

Peter gave the correct answer as to who Jesus is, but Christ’s coming into the world was not just to be the Son of God in the world. While His divinity can be discerned only by divine revelation, Jesus introduced a truth to His disciples: the revealed truth of the Son of God incarnate is the foundation and underlying principle for what Jesus calls His church. This is made plain by what Jesus said in verses 17 and 18:

 

Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.

 

There is a theory that Peter is the rock upon which Jesus built His church. The name Peter, given to Simon Bar-Jonah by Christ, is the Greek word petros, meaning a small stone or a fragment of a rock. When Jesus said “on this rock I will build . . .” the Greek word rock is petra, meaning a mass of rock. The word petros occurs 162 times in the New Testament, 161 of which it is used for the name of the Apostle Peter, and once in John 1:42, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas (which is translated, A Stone [i.e. petros]).” On the other hand, the word petra occurs 16 times in the New Testament and always means a rock, never a stone. Just from the language alone, it is clear that Peter was not the rock and never could be, although there are some very devout and educated minds that would disagree.

Jesus was to build His church on this rock; rather than debate the ideas of men, it is wise to discover the meaning of the rock from the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 9:33, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” He here quotes from Isaiah 28:16 and applies the word “rock”, petran (petra in the accusative case), to mean Christ, as can be seen from verses 3 through 5 of Romans chapter 9. In 1 Corinthians 10:4 he is more specific when he writes, “. . . and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.” Again, Rock is the word petra in the genitive case.

In Matthew 21:42 (Mark 12:10 and Luke 20:17), Jesus applies Psalm 118:22–23 to Himself as the stone rejected by the builder that became the chief cornerstone by the will of God. Jesus used this figure of building a house to describe the building He was then doing, which was the foundation work of the kingdom of God (verse 43). In Ephesians 2:19–20, Paul also uses the building motif when he tells the Church at Ephesus “you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.”

In considering these thoughts on the rock, that which is the chief cornerstone of the church Jesus built, it becomes quite clear that Jesus is the rock of which He speaks. His statement to the disciples meant He would build His church on Himself, the Rock, the revealed God-Incarnate, Christ.

 

The Church Identified As The Body Of Christ

 

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24).

 

Without equivocation, the Apostle Paul calls the church the body of Christ. Paul’s letter is addressed to the church at Colosse, which was an actual, visible body of people that were identified as “the church.” The church as the body of Christ is not a theoretical or invisible church; it is made up of real, visible people. The salutation of the letter to the church at Colosse is addressed “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse.” (Colossians 1:2). Paul says that they are in Christ, meaning they have a relationship that identifies them with Christ. This relationship was made possible to them through the revelation of Christ that Jesus talked about in the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. This assembly of saints and faithful brethren in the city of Colosse was the body of Christ—His church in that city.

This church, an assembly, was a local congregation of believers. It was unique to the city of Colosse and not joined together in a formalized organizational bond with other such assemblies in the same city or in the region. The word translated “church” is the Greek word ekklesia, meaning “a calling out.” Inasmuch as the people of this assembly were “saints and faithful brethren in Christ,” it is for certain that they were people called out of the sinfulness of the world to a relationship of salvation in Jesus Christ. They continued to live in the city of Colosse, but they were different from the other people in town because of their relationship with Christ. Because of their transformed, holy lives and their assembling together to worship God through Christ, they were local representatives of Christ and in that sense they were actually His body in that city.

The church Jesus built is first a local calling out because an assembly of called out ones is founded in a specific geographic location where the people live. In this sense, the church is always local. However, there is a collective aspect of the church that encompasses assemblies in various regions and even world-wide. Never in the New Testament do we see a collection of local assemblies gathered into any kind of corporate structure, such as modern denominations. The connection between local assemblies is one of fellowship and mutual love and cooperation. At whatever level we may see the church, the body of Christ, it is always a local calling out.

“Christ is the head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.” (Ephesians 5:23). Again, the Apostle is not writing about an invisible, theoretical church. He addressed this letter “to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1), essentially the same greeting as to the church at Colosse. These are real, visible people who have a salvation experience through Jesus Christ that saved them from sin and enabled them to live holy lives. Paul called them saints, just as he did the people in the church at Colosse. While these were two different churches in two different cities, the saints in each city were in Christ and members of the common, proper church.

Christ is the head of the church and He is the Savior of the body; the body being the church. The church and salvation are inextricably tied together. One cannot be saved without being part of the church; and, one cannot be part of the church without being saved. It is not the church that saves people, as some people believe; through salvation people are inducted into the church, the one and only body of Christ on earth.

Belief in the Holy Church is as essential to Christianity and salvation as are belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation. Christ is the Savior of the body, therefore a person cannot be a Christian without also accepting the fact and reality of the Holy Church, His body. It is not possible to be saved from sin outside the body of Christ. That does not mean that one must “join” a church or denomination to be saved. Denominations and the churches attached to those denominations are not the body of Christ in the Biblical sense.

There are also people professing to be Christians that feel no need to associate with any church or congregation, whether on a regular basis or only intermittently. They might be religious; they may have Christian principles; but, if they do not submit themselves to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, in a visible and real fellowship with those who are His body, they are not participating in His gift of salvation. They simply deceive themselves.

“For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Through the new birth of which Jesus spoke in the third chapter of the Gospel of John we are baptized, or inducted, into “one body.” That does not mean or imply that we are baptized into the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, or a like denomination. The one body to which the Apostle refers is the body of Christ, the Holy Church. The salvation experience not only saves people from sin, it automatically adds them to the church Jesus built on Himself.

To all Christians, as well as to those in Corinth, Paul says in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” So that we can understand that the body of Christ is the Church, he adds in the next verse, “and God has appointed these in the church . . .”; and he names gifts of ministry God placed in the church. The gifts of ministry are essential to the church. In Ephesians 4:11–12 he writes, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” He goes on in the following verses to emphasize the importance of ministry in the church.

People that do not make the effort to associate with the church actually reject the work of salvation and the gifts God has placed in the church to help them grow in their relationship with God. The Holy Church is essential to Christianity and it is essential to individual salvation.

 

How Many Churches Did Jesus Build?

 

The church is built on the revelation that Jesus is the Christ and the author of salvation. The church is His body; it is visible, it is real, and it is essential to salvation. So, how many churches did Jesus build?

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said “I will build My church;” not my churches. Paul continued his teaching the Colossians about the church with Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” Jesus has only one body therefore He built only one church; His church. The Colossians were a congregation of that one church and Paul emphasized to them that they were called out in one body. They may have been in a different city from all other Christians, but as members of the body of Christ, they were members only of one body—the same body of which all other Christians were members. Christ built one church and God saves people into only one body, one church.

Popular theology says that all the different churches and denominations make up the one church. How can this be when they all are so different and there is no meaningful fellowship and cooperation among them? That theology tries to justify a disjointed and crippled body. Jesus is not a cripple.

Why do people feel they have to join some church when salvation has added them to the body of Christ, the one Holy Church? Some theologies teach that the church saves or ministers the grace of salvation to people. This cannot be true; only God can save people from sin. No church can forgive sins and no baptismal rite can cause a person to be born again. Some theologies teach that it is essential for a person to join a church. Again, why join a church if one has been added to the body of Christ, His Church, the Holy Church? What value is there in being a member of Christ and a member of some man-made church or denomination? People must find a church that is nothing more or less than the church Jesus built, the Holy Church, and to which the Holy Spirit adds them through the experience of salvation.

 

Does This Holy Church Have A Name?

 

Christianity has become plagued with a superfluity of church names to such a degree that the significance of a name has been lost on most Christians. Yet, a name is important as names indicate familial relationships. Jesus said, “I will build My church.” This statement suggests that the proper name for the church Christ built would be the Church of Christ. The Apostle Paul in closing his letter to the church at Rome sent them greetings from all the churches of Christ (Romans 16:16). As the Apostle wrote this letter in Achaia, he sent greetings from all the local assemblies from that region. As the church built by Christ, it was certainly appropriate to refer to them as the churches of Christ, but this term is used as a possessive term rather than a real name.

In addressing the elders of the church at Ephesus in Acts 20:28, Paul charged them with the responsibility to take care of the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “His own blood,” or “the blood of His own,” is none other than the blood of Christ that was shed to redeem mankind from sin. The church was indeed purchased by the blood of Christ, and in this sense it belongs to Him and is properly the church of Christ. But notice, the Apostle refers to the church as the church of God.

In the previous chapter we considered the necessity of the Incarnation. It was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins (Hebrews 10:7), but yet it was the perfect will of God to redeem mankind from sin. That was accomplished only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect sacrifice for sin. In quoting from Psalm 40:6–8, the writer of Hebrews puts the words “I have come to do Your will, O God” into the mouth of Jesus. Salvation, and ultimately the church produced by the experience of salvation, is an expression of the will of God in salvation from sin. In considering the Trinity, we learned that the Trinity always works together to express and work the will of God. For this reason, there is no church of the Father, church of Christ, or church of the Holy Spirit, there is only a church of God.

While the name church(es) of Christ is never applied to any assembly as a proper name, the name church of God is. In 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 2 Corinthians 1:1, the Apostle Paul specifically addresses the assembly at Corinth as the church of God. He exhorts this assembly to live their lives in such a manner as to glorify God and not do anything to bring reproach in the eyes of the Jews, the Greeks, or to the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32). The term church of God used here means not only the local assembly, but all assemblies of the redeemed in local assemblies of the local churches of God wherever they may be.  In chapter 11:22 he warns them about abusing the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper saying that such abuse is the same as despising the church of God. The abuses he describes hurt their fellow members in the local assembly and reflected poorly on the church of God at large.

In 1 Corinthians 15:9 and Galatians 1:13 Paul confesses that, in his Jewish zeal before he was converted, he persecuted the church of God. He persecuted the church of God when he held the clothes of those that stoned Stephen; he admits to unjustly accusing Christians and putting them into prisons where they were tortured and martyred. His conversion took place on the way to Damascus where he was to carry out further persecution of the church. In all the places where he persecuted the Christians, they were the church of God.

In 1 Timothy 3:5 the Apostle lays down the qualifications for bishop, the overseer of a local assembly, writing that such a person must properly administer his own family before he can be trusted to administer and take care of the church of God. Again, the church of God is used to indicate a local congregation. Since the qualifications set forth apply to bishops, not only in the region Timothy was presently working but also apply to bishops anywhere, Paul uses the name church of God in a universal sense.

The term “churches of God” appears twice in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 11:16 and 1 Thessalonians 2:14, showing that the name church of God is indeed a universal name for the church built by Jesus Christ.

It is clear from the New Testament that the name by which the original Christian church was known was the church of God. Generally, throughout the Christian era, the name church of God has been used as a generic term when speaking of Christian churches at large, even though specific names have been invented and applied to the differing denominations, groups, and fellowships. The prevalent attitude is that they are all the church of God.

There are denominations, associations, and independent congregations that use the name church of God in a formal sense: Church of God. With no malice or criticism intended to anyone, adopting the name “Church of God” does not automatically mean the entity under that sobriquet is actually the one holy Church Jesus said He would build or implied by the Apostles’ Creed. Just putting the name Church of God on the church building does not make it the church of God, the holy Church of the Creed. It is more important to be the church built by Christ—the spiritual reality; not an imitation.

Having said that, it is, and must be, possible for there to be actual congregations of the church Jesus built, the church of God, in the present age as much as it was in New Testament times. Such congregations would be fellowships of all who are truly born-again Christians remaining independent of all human organizations, submitting themselves only to the leadership of the Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and taking the biblical name. While this may sound idealistic and far-fetched in the light of the modern-day proliferation of multitudes of sects, denominations, groups, etc. with all the different identities, it must be true today if it was true for the Early Church. The holy Church is a fact.

 

Is Your Church A Holy Church?

 

Is it possible for born-again Christians having the Holy Spirit to worship and work together for God in one Church? The answer is “yes” in spite of the problems that can arise among people, such as were in the church at Corinth. In fact, the Apostle Paul referred to the people at Corinth with all their problems as sanctified and saints. The Ephesians and Colossians were saints and faithful brethren. Those terms indicate holiness. Holy people can find the grace to submit to the leadership of Christ through the Holy Spirit, respect each other, and cooperate in the work of the Kingdom of God.

I ask you again the question I asked at the beginning of this chapter: is your church, the one you attend or to which belong, a Holy Church—THE Holy Church? Why would you not want to be part of the one Holy Church? If you have not found it, you need to find it.