<<place of worship; group of believers>>
Although the physical structure where Christians meet is often referred to as ‘the church’ its primary meaning is the body of believers, either in a local area or worldwide, meeting together to worship God and growing in relationship with Him and one another (Eph 2:19). Likewise the term ‘the Lord’s house’ has this dual meaning – as the building or as Christian individuals (their “bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit”), and then collectively “Like living stones, joined together into a spiritual house in the Lord” (1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21; 1 Pet 2:4,5).While the gospel is not centred around physical structures, they are beneficial to facilitate corporate programs focused on making disciples of Jesus, who are authentic followers and effective witnesses in their sphere of influence outside church life (Mt 5:13-16). There needs to be a strong emphasis on
intentional discipleship, with the transformation affecting our whole life, rather than just coming to Jesus so He can bless our lives and make us feel good as we live insular lives. Regular church attendance can indicate the place God has in a person’s life however it does not necessarily prove they are a genuine believer for even ‘doing’ Christian things will not get a person to heaven, only faith in Christ will (Mt 7:21,22).
Christ, as the head of the universal company of believers said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overthrow it” and the Holy Spirit is working to purify its members of all sin (Mt 16:18; Eph 5:23,25; Col 1:18). Jesus also said, “Seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness…” for all authority is derived from Christ and is exercised in His name (Mt 6:33, 28:18-20). The Bible also portrays Christ, as the heavenly bridegroom who gave His life to redeem sinners who will jointly become His bride (Gal 1:4, 2:20; Tit 2:14; Rev 19:7, 21:2,9).
The church (body of Christ) should be an organic (living and growing) community
arena for godly growth we should make it a regular habit, considering it a priority to attend to receive spiritual input, with each member involved as they are able through practical good works and financial giving, with the spiritual gifts operating so everyone grows and is built up in love (Eph 4:11,12,16; Heb 10:25). Through union with other believers we are also in union with Christ.
Under Godly leadership, the church is a place of spiritual covering where committed adherents contribute in various ways to the life and combined witness, rather than just wandering around various groups. It is through meaningful relationships that believers help and encourage one another, while being unconnected and in isolation increases the vulnerability to attack (Prov 27:17; Eccl 4:10; 1 Pet 5:8). God’s intention is that through the church His mighty wisdom should be revealed to all people and heavenly authorities, good and evil (Eph 3:10).
God declared, “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Isa 56:7; Mk 11:17). As His family (the church) gather, we have a unique opportunity to confer with Him, expressing both our love and our concerns. Prayer is a hallmark of an active church for without enlisting His help, it is impossible to stand against the onslaughts of the devil.
Although there are many different denominations with differing emphasizes, all Christians should accentuate what they have in common in Christ and adhere to the non-negotiable foundational truths, (with accountability and interaction between the various groups) to avoid the possibility of slipping into error. We must keep our eyes on Christ and endeavor to maintain harmony in the church, being united in sharing Christ with a lost world rather than focusing on the points of difference. Division only weakens and varying interpretations or views generally bear little relevance to eternity, so be tolerant of the alternative viewpoints of other believers and settle disputes within the Christian community (Lk 11:17; 1 Cor 6:1-8). In essential issues of the faith there should be unity, but in non-essential issues the freedom to have differing opinions with love being the overruling influence in all situations, as love for God and others (with submission) is to be the motivating factor in our lives (Mk 12:30,31; Eph 5:21; 1 Pet 5:5). Jesus said, “A new command I give you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (Jn 13:34,35). This is not just a suggestion – it is a command. Our relationship with Christ is reflected in our relationship with His other children – our brothers and sisters in Christ. If you love Jesus then you will love His people and desire to be with them.
Submission (first to Christ, then to leaders and fellow believers) is to be a characteristic of His followers and we are to build others up in their faith (1 Cor 16:16; Phil 2:4; 1 Thes 5:11; Heb 13:7; 1 Pet 5:5). Even though it is our individual responsibility to fulfill our God-given calling there is a correlation between what we do alone and the effects it can bring into the corporate setting, for it only took the sin of one Aachan and one Jonah to bring disaster on many others (Josh 7:1-13; Jnh 1:3-15). So if there are those within the church fellowship who are blatantly continuing to live in known sin, it must be dealt with as “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (1 Cor 5:1-13).
The growth of the early Church: some key features
The task of the church is to make disciples, not just get converts
came on them with many onlookers being converted, baptized and embracing this new lifestyle. “Those who accepted [the] message were baptized…They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to the fellowship [the by-product of meeting together for worship], to the breaking of bread [communion] and to prayer…” This had a huge impact on the community around about as people were “Filled with awe, and many signs and wonders took place.” (Often there is a marked increase in healings and miracles whenever the church has surged forward in spiritual power).
2/. The believers became a close knit (but not closed) group for “All the believers were together and had everything in common”. Their passionate love for Jesus affected the way they lived and related to the poor – by “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as they had need”. “Every day they meet together in the temple area” where they gathered with other believers (Act 2:41-47). This understandably drew the attention of the ‘established’ religious authorities who increasingly opposed this new phenomenon yet wise advice was given – “Hold steady, if this is of man’s origin it will fail, if it is of God don’t fight it” (Act 4:1-3,21, 5:18,33-42)!
3/. In spite of punishment and intimidation, the believers did not retrench but instead prayed, “Lord consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Act 4:29,30). Ultimately, Stephen was stoned and the believers dispersed and began to implement the great commission, which should be the ongoing thrust of the present day church. The enthusiasm of the believers coupled with the power of God brought results as “They went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed His Word by the miracles that accompanied it” (Mk 16:20). Persecution has added the spread of the gospel (Act 8:1,4).
4/. When the apostles recognised the danger of being sidetracked into the ‘good works’ program of the church, they delegated this task to other godly people so they could concentrate on their core responsibilities and they encouraged converts to evaluate all they heard by the truth of Scripture (Act 6:1-7, 17:11).
A contemporary check-up
The early church grew phenomenally and we would do well to assess the effectiveness of our churches and ministries in comparison. Some questions to consider include:
* Is Bible-based teaching and preaching a priority?
* Is it relevant and practical, and communicated well to those who have little understanding of Christianity?
* Does our praise and worship inspire, creating an inviting and inclusive atmosphere of fellowship?
* Are our times around the Lord’s Table (Communion) opportunities of connecting with the living Christ, being refreshed by His presence, thrilled with His love and inspired to live out His transforming power?
* Do we eagerly attend and participate in corporate prayer times, in addition to individually exposing our hearts to God in intimate connection?
belonging and) where ministry gifts can be developed?
Don't think church, think Kingdom
* Are we involved in helping the disadvantaged transition from being dependent to independency or are we amassing this world’s goods just for ourselves?
* Are we growing in numbers, with new people being converted to Christ, and everyone increasing in spirituality and effectiveness for Him?
* The goal is not to have a church full of people, but a church full of the Holy Spirit, not a building filled with music, but a building filled with God’s presence.
* Does the wider community consider we are out of touch and uninterested, an ‘unfriendly bunch’ who are just inwardly focused?
We need to take ownership of the weak areas in our church and as appropriate endeavour to correct them. Church is all about God, not us, yet the consumerism and self-focus of society has infiltrated the church, as shown by the shortage of dedicated workers.
Am I contributing to the life of the church as well as receiving from it?
isolated from other glowing coals. The NT gives insight into how the body of Christ is to function in love and support for one another, with no one walking alone, for Christ is always present and visibly represented through His people. Church should be a safe place to discard any masks, a place of healing and support – where we inspire and challenge each other in our Christian walk as the body functions properly with each member being accountable and contributing to the overall mutual benefit (1 Cor 12:12-26)
Christ prayed we would be ‘as one’, so when there are times of conflict aim to bring restoration not further division, and clearly differentiate between Scriptural error and personality differences (Jn 17:11,22; 2 Cor 5:18). If your church is “Not acting in line with the truth of the gospel”, or the teaching is contrary to the Bible, humbly speak with the leaders responsible (Act 15:1-29; Gal 2:14). Then if you feel you can’t “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority” consider leaving that fellowship and joining another which adheres to the Bible (Heb 13:17). Because there are humans involved, every church has its faults and weaknesses that should be addressed and any sin dealt with, yet focusing on the glorious victory that can be ours by faith and obedience to Christ. The church is not perfect, that’s why people like us are welcome there!
Governance and structure
The Church is not a democracy (governed by humans) but a theocracy (God governed), yet He gives us the privilege and responsibility to partner with Him in what He is doing; its not a matter of us asking Him to endorse our plans.
The church is God’s ordained structure to provide corporate support, direction, correction and outreach into the unsaved world for it is through interaction together, contributing to and receiving from others in submission and in humility, we grow in Christ. To fulfill the commands of Christ we must be involved in the Church context. The biblical principle is that “each member belongs to all the others” so we are not to give up meeting together, rather continue to do so encouraging each other in the faith (Rom 12:4,5; Heb 10:25).
The church is God’s agent in the world (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) presenting a collective expression of his purposes for humanity. We are the visible representation of Christ to the world so no individual can claim any glory (Eph 3:10). An important task of the church is therefore to equip each Christian to be involved in bringing His Kingdom to a lost, broken and hurting world. Any Kingdom-advancing ministry will be under the spiritual covering of the local church.
It is essential to follow His leading
until they are well grounded in the faith (1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9; Rev 1:6). Even in practical areas people of high spiritual calibre should be appointed as they ‘represent’ God, then as they ‘prove’ themselves in their earthly roles they can be entrusted with spiritual responsibilities (Act 6:1-6). In matters of governance, members need to prayerfully consider the issues being considered and seek God’s mind before voting, rather than acting rashly according to their own viewpoint.
There should be a separation of church and state otherwise government-sanctioned churches become lifeless puppets dictated to by human ideas, not the inspired teachings of Scripture. However, Christians should be actively involved in secular politics, bringing a ‘God-flavour’ into the crumbling morality of society.
1/. A healthy God-honouring church will focus on the worship of God through song and prayer, with dependence on the Holy Spirit’s direction, together with the reading of God’s Word that forms the basis for what is taught in a challenging, practical, ‘how to’ manner so that when applied it will make a difference in each life. Regular times of Communion/the Lord’s Supper will be observed and unsaved people will become Christians (Act 2:41,42,46,47, 13:1-4; 1 Cor 11:23-32; Eph 6:8; 1 Tim 2:1-8, 4:13-16; 2 Tim 4:2).
2/. Besides connecting to God, there will be wholesome support and inter-mixing in fellowship; after-all we are family (Act 2:44-46). The members contribute to the overall effectiveness in an orderly way using their spiritual gifts, finances and abilities to serve the Body of Christ and touch the world around them by evangelism and discipleship (Mt 28:18-20; Act 1:8; Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 14:40, 16:2).
3/. Prayer and care groups play a significant role in the discipleship process. Small, cell group type gatherings provide ample opportunity for the different people to share as an expression of their heart and also to grow in their gifting, with all done for the strengthening of the church (1 Cor 14:26).
4/. From NT times the church has been a base that sends out and supports missionaries and other ministries (Act 13:2-3). To “Go into all the world and make disciples…” involves systematic long-term mentoring and teaching so the new believers are grounded in the faith (Mt 28:18-20; Act 7:34-8:3). Leaders in the local church have a responsibility to oversee the training and provide support and care for the missionaries they commission.
Everyone should contribute in some way
part they and the corporate body loses the benefit their contribution would have made. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it. And in the church God has appointed, apostles, prophets, [then] teachers…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up…” (1 Cor 12:12-30; Eph 4:11-16).
Often the pastor/teacher, the spiritual shepherd who instructs the congregation in the ways of God, is viewed as the most authoritative person in the local church. However, the Bible indicates those mature saints (with an apostolic and prophetic anointing) who perceive what God desires to do, can bring specific direction and assist the pastor/teacher as mentors. In this way teaching about the Kingdom of God will be coupled with a practical outworking of the truths, replicating the ministry of Jesus in supernatural experience (Mk 16:17,18; Jn 14:12).
The role of women
The issue of whether women should serve as pastors is not about discrimination (men versus women) but rather about Biblical interpretation. Paul said, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a women to teach or to have authority over a man; she must remain silent” (1 Cor 14:34; 1 Tim 2:11,12). This instruction excludes women from serving as pastors over men, teaching them publicly and exercising authority over them. Some believe Paul’s teaching was because typically, at the time of writing, women were less educated in the Scriptures. However, nowhere does the Bible mention the educational status required of teachers for the majority of Jesus’ disciples were not educated! Others argue, “There is neither…male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” countering the bias in a male dominated society (Gal 3:28).
While in the OT Miriam and Deborah held positions of leadership among the Israelites, the church as the body of Christ is a new entity with a different authority structure (Ex 15:20; Jdg 4:4, 5:7; Mic 6:4). In the NT Priscilla (along with her husband Aquila) explained to Apollos “the way of God more adequately” inside their home and Phoebe served as a deacon - a practical serving role within the early church – although there is no mention that either women or any others pastored a church or taught publicly (Act 18:26; Rom 16:1). However, Paul named various female co-workers in the gospel whose service was invaluable (Rom 16:3-16; Phil 4:2,3; Col 4:15; Phm 1:2). Scripture also indicates women are not to serve in the capacity of an elder within the church. The requirements of an elder relate to the masculine pronoun (he, him, his) as does the phrase “husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-7).
The reason for God ordaining this pattern relates back to the creation where Adam was created first, and then Eve was created as a helper for Adam (Gen 2:18). The Bible states Eve was deceived and this may be why God restricts women from having authority over adult men (1 Tim 2:13,14). God’s ideal way is for men to apply themselves to the teaching, preaching and leadership roles, however, because they have often failed to respond, women have stepped up and capably filled the voids, though this should only be done with the approval of their husbands.
Women can capably fill the vitally important supportive roles, including worship leaders, youth and children’s workers, besides often excelling in the areas of hospitality, showing mercy, evangelism and helping others, for which the church is indebted to them. Women are not restricted from praying or prophesying in public, exercising the gifts of the spirit, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit or teaching other women as it is the responsibility of all believers to proclaim the gospel to the lost (Mt 28:18-20; Act 1:8; 1 Cor 11:5, 12:1-30; Gal 5:22,23; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:5).
See also: apostles, body of Christ (3), correction, Christianity, church discipline, doctrine, cults, deacon/deaconess, denominations, disciple/discipleship, elders, fellowship, great commission, heresy, house (of God), leaders/leadership, non-negotiable, pastor/minister, prophets, ritual, sect, teach/teachers, tithe/tithing.