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Chapter 10


The Church


What is this thing called The Church? This is a question that many people ask. Some people view The Church as universal, some as a denomination, and some as a single group of people in fellowship with God and each other. Some think of The Church as God’s family and some as an impediment to fellowship with God. To some people it is a building, to others it is people, and to still others it is the body of Christ.

In this chapter we will look at some of the aspects of The Church, defining it historically and Biblically. We will also look into who belongs in, or to, The Church.

We will be talking only about the Christian Church, that is, organizations who have the stated goal of following the teachings of Christ. However, to do this effectively we will start by taking a brief look at God’s relationship with man beginning in the book of Genesis. Ultimately our understanding of what The Church is depends on how we view our relationship with God.

In Genesis 3:8–10 a conversation between God and Man is recorded. This is what the passage says. “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Looking at the passage we can see that even though Adam and Eve were under stress as a result of their sin, their communication with God was direct and conversational. It does not appear to have surprised them in the least that God would speak directly to them. However as a result of their sin the relationship that they had with God was changed.

They were cast out of the Garden and no longer had the privilege of walking with the Lord “in the cool of the day”. Sin introduced a barrier between God and man. This barrier has affected our fellowship with God and each other to this day.

Genesis 4 tells us about sacrifices offered to God. Cain’s was not acceptable because it was not what God had asked of him. Abel had brought an acceptable sacrifice. Because of Cain’s jealousy he killed his brother Abel. This shows that jealousy and anger enter our relationship with God and other believers.

As far as we can tell from the Biblical record God continued to deal with the individual man and not through intermediaries for all of the first part of Biblical history. This is true for the time leading up to the Flood, and even after. The first time the word priest is used to denote a person specially dedicated to serving God is in Genesis 14:18.

Through all of this time God had not commanded a worship structure other than that between Himself and the individual. However, we see in Genesis 14 that the desire existed to think of some people as special in their relationship with God. Melchizedek no doubt thought it to be a legitimate kingly right and obligation to protect his people’s relationship with God. Knowing that the average person was not very devout, it became a matter of public policy to make sure that God was not offended by a lack of service by His people.

During this time there is reference to priests, or servants, to other gods as well. The worshipers of the Most High God were surrounded by people with many other beliefs, and many of them fell away from the truth.

When God chose Abraham and his descendants to be His covenant people, He established a framework for them to relate to Him. In addition to the observation of the Sabbath they were to be circumcised to set them apart as belonging to God. This was done on a family basis, all of the members of the household were circumcised even slaves. Abraham was also known as a prophet because God “spoke” directly to him.

In Exodus chapters 20 and beyond the “Law” is given. This spells out our relationship with God and each other for the first time in a direct way. In Exodus 25:9, the people are instructed to build a Tabernacle so that God may dwell among them. God gave very specific instructions as to the form and content of the Tabernacle.  In Exodus 28 God sets aside Aaron and his sons to serve in the Tabernacle. Later this is extended to the Levites, Aaron’s descendants.

The giving of the Law and the building of the Tabernacle marked the beginning of a new chapter in the life of God’s people. They now had direct authoritative word from Him about how we are to worship Him. God’s Word, and directions for living were now written down. This enables them to be accessible over a long time and less subject to changes. A written word enabled consistency of worship over greater areas of space and time. The relationship remained unchanged from this time until the coming of Christ about 1400 years later.

The coming of Christ began another new chapter in the life of believers. Now the coming of God’s Son, with His authority, enabled all who believed in Him to be both counted as righteous and as children of God. A religious hierarchy was no longer needed to perform sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people.

The word church is mentioned 81 times in the New Testament. The first time it is mentioned is in Matthew 16:18 where it says “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

From reading this verse we can get several ideas about the Church. They relate primarily to the position of Peter and the power invested in the church. However this verse and its interpretation also lead to many of the differences of opinion between believers. The differences stem from several things. One is the position of Peter regarding the Church. What did Christ mean? Another question is that of apostolic succession. Did Christ mean for Peter to have a successor with like privileges and power over the Church? Another related to the power of the Church. What does it mean that the “gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

We will only look briefly at these questions. The subject is beyond the scope of this course of study. Also, what can appear to be legitimate cases can be made for seemingly conflicting opinions.

Looking at Matthew 16:18 we see that Christ is the builder of the church not Peter or any other man. Three views of the “rock” are held. One is that the rock is Peter, therefore the church is founded on the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). Others say that Christ was referring to Himself as the  foundation of the church. And others believe that the confession of Christ by Peter, and each of us, is the beginning of the church. In this last instance, it is the truth about Christ, that Peter confessed, that is the rock.

The statement that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” show both that the church has enemies, and that it will prevail.  Remember, the gates of a city in the ancient world were the last obstacle an invading army had to overcome. The church will extend into heaven.

The keys to heaven from verse 19 of Matthew 20 tell of the future ministry of Peter. Peter was the apostle who opened the way for gentiles into the presence of God. We can also think of the keys as being spiritual keys to salvation such as doctrine, discipline, faith, etc. The binding refers to the fact that the gospel preached on earth has its origin with God in heaven. (Romans 1:2)

We know that Peter was not elevated in a permanent way for in verse 23 Jesus calls Peter a tool of Satan. Peter was a man with the special privilege of knowing Christ. This is a privilege given to all believers, and brings with it blessings and responsibilities.

Jesus does not say that God will abide by everything that Peter says. God is always the head of the church and not the other way around. Peter was subject to correction as we all are (Galatians 2:11).

Let’s look at a line from the Apostles Creed. This creed, while not written by the apostles, is widely used in many churches in their liturgy, or as part of their statements of faith. The creed states “I believe in the holy catholic church”. The Nicene Creed states “one holy catholic and apostolic church”.

Roman Catholic teaching presents the Church of Christ as the one organized body of baptized persons who are in communion with the Pope and acknowledge the teaching and ruling authority of the Episcopal hierarchy. The church is holy because it produces saintly men and is kept from radical sin. The church is catholic because, in its worldwide spread, it holds the full faith in trust for all men. The church is apostolic because its ministerial orders stem from the apostles.

The Catholic Church presents its faith including such non-Biblical items as the assumption of Mary, her immaculate conception, the Mass-sacrifice, and papal infallibility as a sound truth emanating directly from the apostles. In the view of the Roman Catholic Church, non-Roman Catholic bodies, however churchlike, are not part of the church at all.

Protestants challenge this from the Bible. In Scripture they say the church is the one worldwide fellowship of believing people whose head is Christ. It is holy because it is consecrated to God (although it is capable of grievous sin); it is catholic because it embraces all Christians everywhere; and it is apostolic because it seeks to maintain the apostles teaching unchanged.

The Protestant view is that infallibility belongs to God speaking in the Bible and not to the church or any of its officers. Any given teaching of any church must be open to correction by God’s written word, the Bible.

The New Testament church appears in many relationships. It is presented as the Family of God the Father, the body of Christ the Son, and the temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Indeed we are not given a look at the normal structure of the church but rather at the normal activities of the church.

One other note of interest is that the church needs to be open to correction and renewal by the Spirit through the application of God’s Word. If you look at Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth, Colossae, Galatia, and Thessalonica you can see that correction can be needed.

So, as in the New Testament, we will now turn our attention to the function rather than the form of the church of God. This cannot be separated from the believer’s relationship and responsibilities to the church.


The following passage is condensed from Life Together by Dietrich Bonheoffer.[1]


Psalm 133:1 says “A song of ascents. Of  David. How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” We have the blessing of being able to gather together without persecution as a fellowship of believers. This is one of the things that Christ died for.

The physical presence of other believers is a source of joy and strength to the believer. The apostle Paul called longingly for Timothy his “dearly beloved son in faith” from the loneliness of his prison cell. Paul wanted to see the face of the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:10). In his old age John knew that his joy would not be complete until he spoke face to face rather than writing (1 John 12)

Since man was created in body and Christ came to us in body we should not be ashamed to need each other’s presence. This is the way we are made. We are thankful to the Father when we have the companionship of another believer. This is especially true when we are sick, away from family and friends, or overwhelmed by our circumstances. Another believer becomes our spiritual brother through the agency of God and will be a comfort and joy to us.

We often forget what a wonderful gift this is. We are all the more likely to forget if we live in Christian community every day. The gift of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of the kingdom of God that can be taken away from us at any day. We should daily thank God for the privilege of living a common Christian life and praise God from the bottom of our hearts.


The following poem and popular hymn express what the foundation of the church is.


The Church’s One Foundation[2]


The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;

She is a new creation by water and the Word;

From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride;

With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.


Elect from every nation, yet one over all the earth,

Her charter of salvation one Lord, one faith, one birth;

One holy name she blesses, partakes one holy food,

And to one hope she presses, with every grace endued.


Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war,

She waits the consummation of peace for ever more;

Till with the vision glorious her longing eyes are blest,

And the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.


Yet she on earth hath union with Father, Spirit, Son,

And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won;

O happy ones and holy!  Lord give us grace that we,

Like them, the meek and lowly, on high may dwell with Thee.


Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it is a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.

What does this mean? It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ. It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ. It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from the outside, in God’s Word to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word.

Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. It can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

But God has put this Word in the mouth of men so that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek, and find, His living Word in the witness of a brother. Therefore the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs it again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged.

A Christian comes to others only through Jesus. Among men there is strife. In Ephesians Paul says “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14), Christ has made peace between God and man and between man and man. Without Christ the way of peace is blocked by our own ego. Christ opens up the Way.

When Jesus took on flesh, He took on out of pure grace our being and nature. Now we are in Him, that is why the Scriptures call us the body of Christ. We have been chosen and accepted with the whole church in Jesus Christ. We also belong with Him in eternity, and with one another in eternity. We live with Him in fellowship today and will one day fellowship with Him in heaven for eternity. When we look at our brother is Christ it should be with the knowledge that we are united for eternity.

Many of the letters of Paul deal with how the body of Christ, the church, is to behave. In 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 he shows us that God himself teaches brotherly love. In Philippians 1:14 he calls the church “Brethren in the Lord”. As we realize that we are brothers not because of what we have done but, but rather because of what Jesus has done in us, a change is worked. We no longer think of “mature” or “better” Christians. It would be just as logical to think of tall or bald Christians. In all cases we are to love and build up, not to lower. When we are called to admonish our brother or sister in the Lord, which is seldom, we must be motivated only by love for them.

Many times the Christian community breaks down because it has sprung from a dream, and not from Christ. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community will have some very definite ideas on what Christian life together should be like. Our own ideas will often cause us to be disillusioned with others and often leads us to be disillusioned with Christians in general.

By God’s grace He will not allow us to live in a dream world. God does not abandon us to lofty dreams or rapturous moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of emotions but a God of truth. A community which cannot face reality and insists on keeping its illusion will fail, sooner or later it will collapse. These communities, or organizations are of man and not of God. (Matthew 15:9)  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

We should enter the common Christian life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what he has done for us. We thank God for giving us brothers and sisters who live by His call, His forgiveness and His promise. What God has given us are brothers who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of God’s grace.

The Christian community is thankful, not only for the big things but for the small things. (Matthew 26:26, Romans 1:8; 1:21, 1 Corinthians 1:4, 2 Corinthians 9:12, Ephesians 5:4, 20, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 2:7; 4:2, Hebrews 12:28, Revelation 7:12)

God sanctifies us through the Holy Spirit in the church. (Acts 20:32; 26:18, Romans 15:16, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:1–2:3)

The church is the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:1–18, 1 Corinthians 12:27; 10:17)

The church walks in the light of the Spirit. (1 John 1:5–7)

It is the believers responsibly to be in Christian fellowship. This responsibility stems from two points. We are responsible to God to be part of the body of Christ. (Hebrews 10:24, 25)  And we are responsible to our own self to be in Christian fellowship, for growth and service.

The knowledge that each of us is different from each other is not a new one.  In the New Testament church there are many examples that there were differences of opinion. The Apostles recognized differences between the churches and indeed between each other (Acts 15:36–39; 28:23–26, Galatians 2:11).  I will now offer you a guarantee, it is that you will not find a perfect church to attend. This is because we and the other people in it are not yet made perfect. Do not let this fact allow Satan prevent you from worshipping and learning with your brothers however.

God does not call us to the life of the pure hermit. He has rather called us to a life in Christian fellowship and community. While we do not seek bliss or nirvana, we will be blessed.  The fellowship and unity we have in Christ is unique. We cannot expect this to happen in any common interest group or club. It is only in Christian community that the individual can turn over his will to that of a perfect God. It is very foolish and dangerous to turn our will over to that of any man, because any of us can be impure and imperfect.

A good test of Christian community is to see who is its leader. If it is acknowledged verbally and practically to be Christ it is a good place to be. If for any reason, no matter how noble, it is a man then it is dangerous place to be. A good practical test of this is to ask if the direction of the organization is subject to correction from Scripture.

Another test of Christian community is that of its fundamental reality. The Christian community is a Spiritual reality first and last. The church has fundamental social responsibilities, but these are always secondary to the spiritual foundation in Christ. Social action without spiritual life is dead. If the service we do is of man we will be limited by our humanity. If the service we do is of Christ we have His infinite capacity for love and giving at HIS disposal.

Now just so that you are not disappointed here are a few church statistics. Worldwide about 1.6 billion persons count themselves as being Christians, this is about 33 Percent of the world population. It represents the largest religious belief by a factor of two over the next faith. About one half of all Christians are associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The figures are not all that meaningful when comparing “churches” or denominations because of differences in record keeping.

In the U.S. about 60% of the population is associated with some formal religious organization. About one third of these are Roman Catholics, about sixty percent are Protestant, and the balance are of other faiths. The largest Protestant denominations are the Baptist (25 million members), the Lutheran (9 million), the Methodist (13 million), and the Presbyterian (3.5 million).

If you are counting buildings there are about 340,000 churches in America, or about one for every 735 people.[3]

The church of God has a place for you, and you have a place in the church of God. No matter how much feeding and growth you are getting on your own, or in other settings, your church life is not an option. The meeting of Christian brothers together in fellowship allows for teaching, service, and responsibility that should be part of every Christian’s life.




Discussion Questions




1. What is a Church?




2. Are you a member of a church?




3. If you are a member of a church, why?




4. What are some things the church does for you?




5. What are some things you do for the church?




6. Do you think Jesus is happy with your church? Why?




7. Do you think Jesus is happy with your relationship with the church?  Why?




8. What if you do not have the desire for God’s Word or the fellowship of His people?






[1] Life Together  by Dietrich Bonhoeffer  Translated by John W   Doberstein  pub by Harper and Row  New York, NY  c 1954

[2] The Churches One Foundation by Samuel F Stone, 18391900

[3] Statistics are from The World Almanac and Book of Facts  1988  c 1987  pub by Pharos Books.