HOW IS THE CHURCH ORGANIZED?

    The Scriptures are very clear; God has given us a divine leadership model for guiding the church! It is not of man’s design, nor is it like many of the worldly formats with which we might be familiar. Last week, I also wrote about Jesus being the only head of the church; no other stands above Him (Colossians 1:18). We touched on the fact that there is no Biblical authority for one, singular person within the church to rise up as supreme leader over all the church. In fact, the only people mentioned in leadership positions in the Bible are the “apostles and elders” (Acts 15:6; 16:4). So, this week, let’s ask the question, “Exactly how is the church organized?” And, let’s look at what the Bible says.
    Scripture mentions several “types” of members within the church. In 1 Corinthians 12:28,29 and Ephesians 4:11. it mentions apostles, prophets, miracle workers, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Philippians 1:1 also mentions “deacons.” Here are some important points about each of these member “positions”:
  • Apostles – this refers to the twelve men that Jesus called to work alongside of Him (Mark 3:14-19). They were the main leaders over the church during its infancy (Acts 2:42). But, not just anyone could/can be an apostle. According to Acts 1:21-22, there are very specific requirements to be an apostle, which means it is impossible for anyone today to truthfully call themselves one of Jesus’ apostles. Only two other men are mentioned in the Bible as having met those requirements, they were Matthias (Acts 1:26 and Paul (Gal 1:1). We no longer have apostles as leaders in the church.
  • Prophets and Miracle Workers – this refers to those early Christians, both men and women, who received miraculous gifts from the apostles (Acts 8:14-17). They could speak in tongues, heal people, and had other abilities. This was necessary because the New Testament hadn’t been written, yet. Gifts were God’s method for spreading and confirming the word (Mark 16:20). But, once the Scriptures were complete, there was no longer a need for those gifts, so they have ceased (1 Corinthians 13:10). In addition, all the apostles, who could impart such gifts, and those who received those special abilities have all died, which means those miraculous abilities died with them. Yet, even with their unique capabilities, they were not appointed as leaders over the church.
  • Evangelists – this simply refers to a member, who happens to be able to preach. Preachers are not the leader of the church. They are just workers in the kingdom who are capable of teaching the Gospel to others.
  • Teachers – this refers to those brethren who have the ability to understand the Bible well and then transmit it to others in a way that can be understood. Some are capable of teaching before larger groups of people, while others are better suited for private settings. In either case, they are not designated as overseers of the church.
  • Deacons – These are, typically, men who have been placed in charge of a specific task within the church. The Biblical precedent is found in Acts 6:1-7. They also have very specific qualifications required in order to assume the position, (cf 1 Timothy 3:8-13). While deacons may be considered a type of leader in the church, their real purpose and job is to serve, to be a servant – that’s what the word truly means (1 Timothy 3:10).
  • Pastors – The Bible also described these men as, “Overseers, Shepherds, Bishops, and Elders.” Each are synonyms for the same person filling that position. They are the only members of the church designated in the Bible as leaders. They are the only ones to which other members are instructed to submit (Hebrews 13:7,17). Their leadership has a specific purpose – that is, to guard and watch over the souls of the flock, (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17). They must also give an account to the Lord for their assigned duty. Notice they are always referred to in the plural and never in the singular, which means no one elder is over the others. They, too, are subjected to very specific qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Being an elder is an enormous responsibility that deserves much respect from the brethren.
    I would like to encourage you to look up each of these Scriptures listed. Read the context and observe how each “position” functions within the body of Christ. Especially look at 1 Peter 5:1,2. The church’s organization was put in place by God, through His inspired writers. Let us never forget that God’s way works. Let’s never assume that our way could be better than God’s!


WHO IS THE HEAD OF THE CHURCH?

    There are many, even in the the body of Christ, who do not understand the organization of the church very well. Think about it for a minute. We are all part of the church that Jesus said He would establish, which began in Jerusalem, on Pentecost, with His apostles. They were the first leaders of the church (Acts 6:2-4). However, Jesus is no longer on this Earth and neither are His apostles. So then, who is the leader of the church, or the person who directs its operations today? Is Jerusalem the headquarters? Or, is there a specific manual that directs us? Can we identify a leadership model within the church? These are all very important questions because many people, with good intentions, have made serious mistakes in their attempt to answer these questions. In this and the next few articles, we will deal with the topic of church leadership and present the Biblical view.
    Knowing that Christ, and only Christ, is the head of the church is a fundamental principle every Christian should clearly understand (Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:18). This is a key concept which directly addresses the organization of the church. It includes how the church is governed, what method is used to govern it, and who is involved.
    It is important to distinguish Biblical truth from secular judgment because man has a natural tendency to place one person “in charge” of others (1 Samuel 8:19,20; Judges 11:6) and/or an insatiable desire to seize power of authority for themselves (2 Samuel 15:4; 1 Kings 1:5). Just a cursory look at man’s history reveals a long succession of kings, commanders, sultans, chiefs, dictators, presidents, and so forth. Even during the time of Jesus and the apostles, there existed a hierarchy of government to which all were subjected, the Roman Empire. When the church came out of persecution and was recognized by the government of the time – that of Roman Emperor, Constantine (313 AD) – it should not be surprising that the leadership model of the era was eventually imposed upon church, or crept into it in other ways. It was what the people were familiar with at the time. In fact, it is not uncommon to see our modern leadership methods creep into the church today! For example, I have witnessed some elderships operating in the same manner as a board of directors. This was simply because some of those elders were CEO’s or Presidents of businesses or other organizations. It is the leadership model with which they were familiar and knew.
    This mentality is also what has led many religious institutions, who use the name “Christian,” to set up hierarchies within their own organizations. They will install a system of ranking, which usually includes a top leader, several levels of sub-leaders, and assistants. There will often be a central office, or headquarters with a primary document that outlines every aspect of government within the church. In fact, just enter “organization of the ___________ church” in your web browser and you will be amazed at all the variations of church government! Can all of this be right? Is this what Jesus intended for His church? Or, is there a specific, divinely inspired standard, or guide for how the church is to be organized and governed? Indeed there is!

     First and foremost, recognize that the Bible presents a pattern for each congregation, that is, each assembly of the church of Christ as being autonomous (meaning: governed by itself, not influenced by any outside authority). This alone implies:
  • There is no headquarters or central office, nor an earthly organization that is authorized to govern the church. There is not a single verse, or example, that approves of such an arrangement.
  • There is no single human leader over the whole church, but only Christ (Colossians 1:18).
  • There is no example of a single human leader who governs, or “oversees” any one congregation, but instead, there is always a plurality of leaders (Hebrews 13:17).
  • There is no verse or example of a leader of one congregation having authority over another congregation (Acts 20:28).
  • The kingdom (the church) is not of this world (John 18:36), so its inter-workings are not the same as those of the world.
  • There is no other guide, creed, catechism or manual outside of the Bible which is authorized or contains instructions regarding the church. The Bible alone is completely sufficient! (2 Timothy 3:16,17; 2 Peter 1: 3).
There is a divine leadership model for the church! We will look into each of these points in greater detail next week.


THE CHURCH AND ITS RELATIONSHIPS

Article by Cody Westbrook
God purposed in eternity to create an entity in which all people would dwell together in unity (Eph. 2:14-18; 3:9-11). It was to be an institution in which race and gender were inconsequential (Gal. 3:28). Members were meant to work together (Phil. 1:27), suffer together (Phil. 1:28), grow together (Eph. 4:15), and glorify God together (Rom. 15:5-6). This great Divine institution is the church of our Lord Jesus Christ – purchased at Calvary (Acts 20:28) and ushered into existence on the first Pentecost following His ascension (Acts 2). The church is the body of those who have been called by the gospel (2 Thess. 2:14) to come out of the world and be God’s people (1 Pet. 2:9). This call is extended to everyone (2 Pet. 3:9) and that is one of the many characteristics that make the church so unique. The church is composed of individuals from all walks of life. Different skin colors, different languages, different cultures and backgrounds are all found within the body of Christ. All those who obey the gospel (Rom. 1:16; Eph. 4:4-6; etc.) are added by the Father (Acts 2:47) and dwell together in love as brothers and sisters in Christ – as members of the family of God (1 Pet. 3:8-9; 1 John 3:1; Eph. 1:5).
    Paul wrote about this relationship in one of the key passages of 1 Timothy, “But if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,” (1 Tim. 3:15). Ephesians 5:1 says, “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.” Being a child of God is a privilege that carries with it certain responsibilities. We are to imitate our Father and strive to be like Him in all things (cf. Matt. 5:48; 1 Pet. 1:16). This was also Paul’s concern for Timothy and his work as a gospel preacher in Ephesus. The church is the house of God and as such there is a certain pattern of behavior that is demanded. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul addresses God’s requirements of the church pertaining to doctrine (Ch. 1), worship (Ch. 2), leadership (Ch. 3) and priorities (Ch. 4). Chapter 5 gives attention to the church and its relationships. As has already been mentioned, the church is composed of many different people from many different walks of life – young, old, rich, poor, black, white, and much more. Notwithstanding our differences, we have all obeyed the same gospel and are members of the same body (Gal. 3:26-28). Therefore we are brothers and sisters in the family of God and as such we are obligated to treat one another with a certain level of respect and dignity.
    The chapter begins with general guidelines for all members of the church to follow. Young men have a responsibility to older men, older men have a responsibility to younger men, young women have a responsibility to older women, older women have a responsibility to younger women, and so on (1 Tim. 5:1). The next section deals with widows and their care. Paul instructs the church to “honor widows who are really widows” (1 Tim. 5:3) then proceeds to describe different categories of widows and their care. The third section of the book deals with elders, only this time reference is to those who hold the office of an elder (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7) as opposed to those who are elderly in general. God’s people are instructed to honor their elders and refuse to hear an improper accusation levied against them (1 Tim. 5:17-24). The final section of the context extends to 1 Timothy 6:1-2 and deals with the relationship between slave and master. Servants were to “count their own masters worthy of all honor” (1 Tim. 6:1). They were to be careful not to look down on a master who was also a brother in the Lord but rather to “serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved” (1 Tim. 6:2).
    The instruction in this context is only a small sampling of the Bible’s teaching concerning the church and its relationships. James 3:17-18 describes “the wisdom that is from above” and how a person who possesses that wisdom acts as a peacemaker amongst his brethren. Peter wrote, “Likewise you younger people submit yourself to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility…” (1 Pet. 5:5). We are to “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another” (Rom. 12:10). Galatians 5:13 exhorts, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Time and again the New Testament emphasizes our need to love, serve, submit, pray for, think about, and care for one another. Though following through with God’s will on the matter is not always easy.
    Personality conflicts, misunderstandings, differences of opinion, and such will always be a reality in the church because the church is composed of people. It is not a new problem, however. Consider Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2) and the instruction pertaining to matters of opinion in Romans 14 as two examples. Though problems arise periodically, our love for the Lord and for one another pushes us to solve them. We are children of God and not of the world. Therefore, our desire should be to constantly grow in our love for one another and to strengthen the relationships that we possess with all of our brethren in Christ.


WHEN AND WHERE DID THE KINGDOM BEGIN?

    Last week we presented the case, from Scripture, that the kingdom of God is already here. This provoked a few questions from some inquisitive students of the Bible asking, “Can we identify with certainty when and where the kingdom began?” The answer is, “Yes! We can.” Again, simply by studying the Scriptures, we can distinguish precisely when and where. Still keeping in mind all the important aspects about the kingdom of God that we discussed in the previous article, let’s now look at some additional verses that teach about its inauguration.
    We’ll start with Mark 9:1, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.” Pay close attention to all the words of that verse! This statement places a very specific time limit on the event. This is Jesus speaking to His disciples, to whom He says some will live to see that day, with their own eyes, when the kingdom shall come into existence. He also states that it will come “with power.” These same words are also found in Matthew’s account, right after He had told Peter that He would give him “the keys to the kingdom,” (Matthew 16:19). Add to this, Jesus also uses the words “church” in verse 18 interchangeably with “kingdom.”
    Now, in Acts 1:6, the disciples ask Jesus if He was going to “at this time restore the kingdom to Israel.” They were thinking of a physical, earthly kingdom like the days of David and Solomon. But, notice what Jesus says in verse 8, “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you …” Do you see the connection and consistency with Mark 9:1? Read the first few verses of the next chapter, Acts 2:1-4. What do we see? We see miraculous power come to (or rather, fall upon) the apostles in the form of the Holy Spirit! Exactly as Jesus had promised in John 16:7-13.
    Thinking back on the words of Mark 9:1, Jesus had said “some” would see the kingdom arrive. This implied that not all of them would, meaning some of them standing there wouldn’t be around on that day. So, were any of the apostles not there, or had someone died between the time Jesus had spoken those words and the day of Pentecost? Indeed, Judas, one of the men who was with Jesus back then had since passed on, (Acts 1:16-18; Matthew 27:5). Isn’t that exactly what Jesus said would happen? His words came true! And, speaking of fulfilled prophecy, look also at what Jesus said in Luke 24:46-48. He stated, “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things.” Where were the apostles when Peter preached that first Gospel message that we read in Acts 2:14-36? (Here’s a hint: Acts 1:12). The kingdom of God began on the Day of Pentecost, some 2000 years ago. It began in Jerusalem and is still in existence today. It is not some future event, nor will it be an earthly, physical kingdom, as so many erroneously teach. The identifying marks are easy to identify with Bible study, which refute such doctrine.
    However, the most important lesson we can learn from the inception of God’s kingdom is what was said on that day. The apostle Peter stood up and began preaching. He preached Jesus. He preached the Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He preached that He is the Messiah and is sitting at the right hand of God. What was the result of that sermon? Men were convicted of their sins (Acts 2:37), they responded to the invitation of Jesus by being baptized (Acts 2:38-41), and they were added to the church (Acts 2:47). What just happened there? Peter used the “keys of the kingdom” to open up the door (cf John 10:9) and the first converts were ushered in. That’s the main lesson for us! If we want to be saved, we must be IN His kingdom – the church of Christ, the Son of God (2 Timothy 2:10; Colossians 1:18; Galatians 3:27).


THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS HERE!

    Jesus spoke often about the “kingdom of God/heaven.” What was He talking about, exactly? Many religious groups teach that the kingdom to which Christ is referring, is something that has not yet arrived – it is still coming sometime in the future. One of these doctrines is known as “premillennialism.” It suggests that when Jesus returns, He will then establish a kingdom on earth for a thousand years. This theory is derived from misconstruing several passages. Sadly, this teaching has greatly confused many people. So, what is the truth about God’s kingdom? Is it possible to accurately discern its establishment or existence? Indeed, it is possible. It is not at all hard to determine the truth. We must simply look into the Bible to find the answers.
    First, we read where prophets like Daniel and Isaiah prophesied about a coming kingdom (Daniel 2:44; Isaiah 2:2; 9:7). It would be a special kingdom, like no other before it. Daniel even specifies the time-frame of its establishment, saying, “In the days of these kings.” He refers to a fourth kingdom to arise after the present one of his time. History shows us that this was the Babylonian kingdom, which was followed by the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans. So, according to the prophecy, God’s kingdom would be established during the reign of the Roman Empire. That’s an important point!
    Secondly, when Jesus came to earth and preached, He said the kingdom “was at hand” (Matt 4:17) and He also stated that, “the kingdom has come near you” (Luke 10:9). This indicates a close proximity of time for its establishment. Remember, Jesus lived during the time of the Roman Empire. Galatians 4:4 also teaches, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” God’s timing was involved.
    Thirdly, one must simply look for specific, identifying characteristics that indicate the presence of a kingdom. For example, every kingdom must have a king, subjects to that king, its own territory, and its own law. If it can be established that those four elements are present today, then we can conclude that the kingdom exists today. So, if you will diligently study the following passages, you will see that not only does the “kingdom of God” already have all these characteristics present, but it has also already arrived and is among us! Start with the question, “Does the kingdom have a king? If so, is he reigning now?” Look in John 18:33-36; 1 Corinthians 15:25,26; 1 Timothy 6:14,15 and Ephesians 1:20-22. According to these verses, is Jesus the king? Is He already reigning? If so, where is He?
    Next, consider whether or not the kingdom has subjects. What does John say about himself in Revelation 1:9? What does he say he is “in’? Now, look in Colossians 1:2,12,13, 18 and Hebrews 12:28. What does this indicate about Christians? Do we not all belong to God according to Romans 6:17-22? Now, what about its territory? Notice that in Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus uses the terms “church” and “kingdom” interchangeably. Now, consider the words “church” and “body” are used interchangeably in Ephesians 1:22-23. Both Acts 2:47 and Galatians 3:27 teach that we are added into Christ (the church) upon our obedience to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 12:13). Then, notice that Jesus describes the kingdom as one that isn’t physically visible, but rather, it is within us (Luke 17:20-21). The territory of the kingdom is found among the hearts of the disciples (Romans 14:17).
    Lastly, does the kingdom of God have a law? If you compare Colossians 2:14 and Galatians 6:2 alongside with what Jesus taught in Mathew 5:21-48, it should be obvious that all Christians live under a new law – the Law of Christ. This is because we are also under a new covenant (Matthew 26:28).
    According to what we have observed and studied here, we may deduce that the kingdom of God does, indeed, already have its king – Jesus Christ. It has subjects to the king – His disciples, Christians. It has a territory – the hearts of those in His church. And, it has its own law – found written in New Testament. All these verses categorically confirm that the kingdom of God has come, it is here, it currently exists. Therefore, it is not some future institution waiting to still be established one day. This leaves a another implication – one that is very serious – are YOU part of His kingdom? If you want to be among the saved, get in!


WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 3)

    This is our third installment concerning the question of, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” We have approached the question by considering both history and the Bible. We began with observing the source of division that produced the various denominations of Christendom today (Part 1) and then we discussed why the church of Christ is not one of those denominations (Part 2). There remains a third element to addressed. It is the question of, “If the Church of Christ is not a denomination, then why are there several different ‘types’ of churches of Christ?” Sadly, this is a question we often avoid, or only speak about in private circles. But, it is important for brethren to know the differences and the history behind it. Let’s see if we can explain.
    After the prominent men of the Restoration Movement were successful in convincing the hearts and minds of God-fearing people to turn back to the Bible in order to restore the Lord’s church, it was no time at all before departures surfaced once again, this time from within the church. As early as 1849, questions and opposing opinions emerged over church cooperation within missions, the inclusion of musical instruments in worship, and other methodological disputes. This lead to differing practices among the various congregations around the country. In 1906, the U.S. Census revealed just how far and wide the sectioning had truly reached. It exposed the fact that the Restoration church had segmented into two distinct groups: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the Church of Christ. The primary difference between the two was instrumental music. Only the Church of Christ maintained the practice of a cappella singing in worship. It didn’t stop there, the sectioning continued among those two branches as differing factions among their membership developed over the next several years. All the work that had been done to unify Christians in returning to the Scriptural model of the church had fragmented into different bodies.
    Among the Churches of Christ, these differing factions grew in number over the course of the twentieth century. Quite frankly, this should be one of the expected results of true autonomy. When independent congregations started “working out their salvation” (Philippians 2:12), strong opinions develop over all kinds of Scriptural interpretations. The various views that emerged within the churches of Christ lead to some groups assigning special identities to themselves, such as, “Mutual Edification, Non-Institutional, One-cup, Main-Stream, etc.” Sadly, there are some who have attributed pejorative labels to the various groups, also. This means that just because it says “Church of Christ” on the sign doesn’t always guarantee that a particular group practices the exact same thing as another church of Christ down the street.
    Perhaps, the biggest problem with all of this division is the lack of love and respect so often displayed between the various groups. So often, it is just a matter of differing OPINIONS! The sad reality is, these opinions have turned into “tests of fellowship,” where one faction won’t have anything to do with another just because of the differences. Some of these groups are downright hateful toward each other, either directly or indirectly. Certainly, matters of opinion (or even doctrinal differences) are never grounds for treating someone with contempt and hatefulness!
    So, what does all of this history teach us regarding, “Why are there so many churches in the world?” It teaches us that although God has given man the Bible, man still hasn’t quite worked it all out perfectly. We’re still learning! The only answer to all of this – from the beginning of the church’s history until now – is to study the Scriptures diligently (Acts 17:11). Jesus clearly taught that only those who DO God’s will shall enter into heaven (Matthew 7:21). So, we must find His will in His word and obey it if we want to be acceptable to Him. It is as simple as that.


WHY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 2)

    Continuing our discussion concerning, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” Some might ask a more specific question, in light of the first question, ”Is the church of Christ one of those denominations that grew out of the Reformation and Restoration Movements?” (See last week’s article on the historical background of denominations). The answer is rather simple. We are striving to be the church that one can read about and easily identify in the pages of the New Testament, nothing more, nothing less. To elaborate on that thought, let’s look at how the church of Christ we know today came about.
    Our own history may have added confusion to those who think we are just another denomination. This is because several of our early, prominent leaders were all men who had come out of various denominational backgrounds. They were preachers such as James O’Kelley, Abner Jones, and Thomas Campbell who had arrived at the decision to reject all religious creeds, doctrines, and institutions made by men. This has often been viewed as constituting yet another denomination. But instead, these men simply wanted to return to the Bible as the sole authority for the church. They wanted to follow only the Scriptural examples in order to reproduce Jesus’ church among themselves, just like the one they had read about in the Bible. This same ideology lead to the Christian Church emerging from among the two simultaneous movements of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell. They decided to call themselves “Christians” only and would speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent in regard to religious authority. It was/is therefore, not another denomination, but rather, an attempt to return to, or “restore,” the original, apostolic church of Christ.
    To add to the confusion, we have also been called “Campbellites,” which implies that just as the “Lutherans” follow Martin Luther’s doctrine, we simply follow Alexander Campbell’s doctrine. However, Campbell and other Restorationists, such as “Raccoon” John Smith, Walter Scott, Jacob Creath, Sr., Moses Lard, J.W. McGarvey, and David Lipscomb all rejected the man-made, denominational doctrines and simply held the belief that Christianity should be restored to that which was known in the early apostolic church. While denominationalism is a distorted facsimile of the apostolic church, Restorationist were in search of a purer and more ancient form of the religion – only that of the Bible!
    With this as their basis, the true doctrine of the apostles slowly came to the forefront of the church over time. Don’t forget that centuries of religious confusion had to be undone. So, just like those ancient Bereans of Acts 17:11, they searched the Scriptures to discern all matters of religion. Alexander Campbell was seen as a radical for preaching about the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, especially that Christians are no longer bound by the Old. Walter Scott is credited for exegeting the “Plan of Salvation” from the Scriptures. He simplified it to five points. He would ride into a town and teach the children to hold up their hand saying, “Repeat after me, starting with your thumb, ‘Faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Now, run home and repeat that to your parents and that a man will present the Gospel tonight at the local school house!” These men and others concluded that the only creed of the early church was Jesus Christ Himself.
    The quest for restoring the church of Christ has continued now for almost 200 years. Every aspect of doctrine has been scrutinized and compared with the Bible to bring us back to the original (1 Peter 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). This is why we use the name we use (Romans 16:16). It is why we have no headquarters anywhere on earth (John 18:36). It is why we don’t use musical instruments in worship (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). It is why we have a plurality of elders as our leadership and not a “pastor” (Acts 15:23; 1 Peter 5:1). It is why we believe salvation comes after baptism, not before (Mark 16:16; Acts 22:16; 3 Peter 3:21). It is why we put Jesus as the only Head of the church and no one else (Ephesians 1:21-23; Colossians 1:18). Everything listed here can be supported and justified by Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). Religious elements that are not supported by a “book, chapter, and verse” approach are to be rejected. And, that is why we are not a denomination! …. Continued next week.


WHAY ARE THERE SO MANY CHURCHES? (Part 1)

    Many people have often asked, “Why are there so many churches in the world today?” That is a great question and one that is important to answer. To understand why requires a study of both history and the Bible. Today, we will look at the early history; next week we will look at the Restoration, then finally, more modern history. When it comes to the church’s history, there are many versions out there because it always depends on who is doing the writing! But, the facts are not difficult to find and Jesus is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13: 8). So, in reality, His church has never really changed since the day of its inception, as we can read in Acts chapter 2 and forward. But, a look at history tells us from where all these others came.
    Beginning in the days of the apostles, we see many autonomous congregations of the church of Christ being established (Acts 8-28; Romans 16:16), which were each lead by a plurality of elders (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1). But even at that time, some were already exiting from the faith and starting their own “churches,” (3 John 9; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Revelation 2:6). This explains why that in the beginning of the second century, also called the Age of the Church Fathers (100 to 500 AD), apologists such as Irenaeus and Origen write that a new practice emerged where a single elder began to wield more influence and control over other congregations, outside of his own. In 325 AD, Roman Emperor Constantine made it official by convening the Council of Nicea, which decreed that certain “bishops” were to be given control over the various churches and elderships within their “districts.” In that decree, the Roman Catholic Church was born. This departure from the Scriptural model of leadership started what would later become an avalanche of denominationalism.
    From about 500 to 1500, also known as, The Dark Ages, the Roman Empire had completely disintegrated, but the Holy Roman Empire grew in importance and power. Pope Leo I was the first church leader to use the name Pontifex Maximus. But, several historians generally considered Gregory I to be the actual, first Pope. It was he who wrote a decree stating that Peter was the first “Pope” in Rome. Therefore, according to that, all authority for the church must reside in Rome. Gregory’s successor, Boniface III, later appointed himself as the first supreme leader of the church in 606 AD. The Dark Ages also produced a major division over whether the headquarters of the Catholic Church resided in Rome or Constantinople, musical instrument were introduced into worship, and unbiblical doctrines appeared such as indulgences for those who wanted to pay to have their sins forgiven. Fortunately, this period also produced John Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into English and Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, which made the Bible accessible to ordinary people for the first time in history.
    Such accessibility to the Bible prompted a German friar, named Martin Luther, to nail his “95 Thesis” (complaints) to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg in 1517. This ignited a movement called The Reformation (1500 to 1650). Many others also began studying the Bible on their own, like John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli and Conrad Grebel, who each rejected Catholic doctrine. This precipitated many to leave that church and start their own. The name Protestantappeared as more and more “protested” and resisted imperial edicts. The Roman Catholic Church responded with a Counter-Reformation at the Council of Trent. There, they rejected the accusations against them and affirmed their doctrine through the Catholic Catechism of 1566. This resulted in a bloody inquisition and many religious wars where thousands upon thousands lost their lives for the next several decades. The fighting finally subsided when the “Peace of Westphalia” was signed in 1648.
    Tired of so much conflict, many religious groups began seeking freedom to practice their own religion by migrating to the New World. Among those groups to arrive, even more divisions emerged as each attempted to follow their own interpretation of the Scriptures. This has continued until today, resulting in more than 40,000 different religious organizations! Each has their own creed, their own doctrine, and their own hierarchy of leadership. But, the New World also became fertile soil for the Restoration Movement (1790-1840). This became a crusade f rejecting all man-made creeds, doctrines, and religious institutions and simply returning to the Bible for all guidance pertaining to the church and religion. …. To be continued next week!


IDENTIFYING THE ONE TRUE CHURCH

     The fact that the church exists, naturally implies that it had to have begun somewhere, at some time, in some place, by someone having founded it. Yet, there are many religious groups claiming to be the one, true church, or true religion. How can there be so many claiming the same thing? Is it possible to have more than one? Everyone wants to think they belong to the right church, but, is it even possible to identify the right one? Friend, it is possible to identify it and there can only be one. We simply must ask a few questions and then look in the Bible for the answers. These are questions like, “Who established the church? Where and when did it begin? How many were established?” At that point, we can compare what we have discovered in the Bible to what the other religions claim. This is such an important matter, because according to the Scriptures, identifying the Lord’s true church is paramount to one’s salvation, (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 2:10; Ephesians 5:30).
    Let’s begin our study by looking at specific things Jesus said about the church. As we mentioned last week, the first time we encounter the word “church” is in Matthew 16:18. “And I also tell you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,” (Matthew 16:18).
     The first thing that should stand out in our minds is Jesus used the word, “I” in reference to building the church. In simple terms, Jesus Christ Himself would build the church. It would not be some man-made institution, a sect, a cult, nor a continuation of the current religious system of the time (Judaism), but rather, a divine creation of His own doing. Jesus also had no connection to the religious sects of His day, nor did He establish any of them. This alone should tell us who the church belongs to, it belongs to Jesus (Ephesians 1:22,23). It is the church of Christ, which is a description of what it is, not necessarily a formal title (Romans 16:16). No church, or any religious system, that cites someone else as its founder, or head, can claim to be the true church of the Bible. That distinction belongs solely to Jesus. Yet, sadly, there is no denying that such religious institutions do exist today.
    The second thing we should notice is, Jesus said He “will build” the church – future tense. This implies it did not exist at the time He spoke those words. We can also infer from this statement His intentions did not include an extension of, or a supplementation to Judaism. It would be something entirely different (Luke 22:20; Colossians 2:14). But, that brings up another question, “Well then, when did He establish the church?” The answer is, again, found in the Bible. Read the following verses, Luke 24:47-49; Acts 1:8; and Acts 2:1-6, 37-41, 47; Acts 5:11, 8:1. Notice the day mentioned? Where did it take place? Then, both Acts 2:47 and 5:11 identify these new believers as “the church.” All of this is after the ascension of Jesus. So, did He still build His church, or did someone else? Jesus did because He said He would send the Helper/Comforter to help the disciples (John 14:16,26, 15:26, 16:7). Any religious body claiming to be the Lord’s church that didn’t start in Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, is making a false claim.
    Thirdly, notice that the word “church” is singular? It is not plural. Jesus did not say, “my churches.” Instead, he said, “my church.” What does that teach us? It teaches the same thing Ephesians 4:4-6 teaches us – there is only one! Therefore, it is impossible for more than one to be accurate. If the Bible says there is only one, yet, multiple groups claim to be that one, with each still having distinct differences existing between them, then how is one to determine which is the correct church? Again, the answer is rather simple, measure it with the Bible! Read and investigate what the church of the Bible looks like, what they did, how they worshiped, when and where they met, what they called themselves, and who were the members. Then, compare those findings (the pattern, or model) with the various groups claiming to be the true church. If they don’t match up with exactly what is in the Bible, then how can they say they are the Lord’s church? They cannot.
    If one will take the time to study what the Bible says about the church, then it can certainly be unmistakably identified. If it can be identified with all certainty, then one can be certain they are in the right church – the one of which God approves. It is the true body of Christ (Colossians 1:18) of which the saved belong (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 5:30).


THE WORD “CHURCH”

   In this series of articles (which began June 9), we have been presenting some of the key principles in the spiritual formation of a Christian. We’ve addressed aspects of two main principles: the personal responsibility of Christian to grow spiritually and the infallibility of the Bible. A third principle every Christian should understand is how to identify the true church. With so much religious confusion in the world, a disciple can easily become confused and disoriented. So, how does one determine if he/she is in the right place? How can we be sure that the church we attend is adhering to the right doctrine? The articles in next few weeks are going to deal directly with these questions and more.
    Let’s begin by looking at the word “church” itself. The word “church” is found more than 100 times in the New Testament. Obviously it is a very important word if the inspired writers recorded it that often! But what does it mean? Is that the word they used? Where did our English word come from? The first time the word “church” appears in the New Testament is in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, …” The word used here in our English Bibles was translated from the Greek word “ekklesia.” Jesus didn’t actually say, “I will build my church.” He said, “I will build my ekklesia.” There’s quite a difference between what He actually said and what word the translators decided to use in the English versions they produced.
    The Greek word ekklesia means “a gathering or assembly, congregation, or community.” Many preachers like to point out that it is composed of two words, “ek” meaning “out of” and “klesia” meaning “to call.” Thus, they say, “Christians are the ‘called out’ as in being called out of the world.” While that may be applicable, the New Testament never uses the word in that manner, or context. Instead, it is always used in the sense of an assembly. Acts 19:32-41 is a great example of the word being used in its general sense, apart from the spiritual connotation. 1 Corinthians 14:23 also explains it well, “Therefore if the whole church [ekklesia] comes together in one place. So, what Jesus actually said implies that He was going to build a gathering, an assembly, or a community. This is a better way to understand what the word church truly means.
    Our English word “church” came from a derivative of an Old English word, “kirche,” (from German influences). Sometimes it was spelled, “circe, cirche, or chirche.” In fact, a man named John Wycliffe used it when he copied and published a translation of the Latin Vulgate (the Bible of the Catholic Church at the time) into the Middle English of his day (the language of Chaucer). In 1380, it became the very first Bible written in English. In it, he translated Matthew 16:18 in this way (in Old English style) “ … Y schal bilde my chirche, ….” He used the term chirche for ekklesia. That word means, “belonging to, or pertaining to God.” So, in that sense of the word, it would be correct to say the “church building” for it is, indeed, a building pertaining to God.
    That wasn’t always the case, however. One hundred and forty six years later, William Tyndale produced the first English translation to come directly from the Hebrew and Greek texts. His 1526 version was also the first English Bible mass-produced. His translation of Matthew 16:18 reads, “… I wyll bylde my congregacion …” (I will build my congregation). The Coverdale Bible of 1535, the Great Bible of 1539, and the Bishop’s Bible of 1568 followed suit and also all translated the word as “congregation.” It wasn’t until the Geneva Bible was published in 1560 that the use of “church” became the common term used among translators. The King James Version then solidified its use which has lasted until now in all English versions of the Bible.
    The word “church” is not a reference to a building, or even a place you go, as so many people typically use it. “Church,” as the New Testament uses the word, is the collection of disciples, or the assembly of the saints. Peter described it this way, “You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood,” (1 Peter 2:5). People are what make up the church. The building is just where the church meets (where they assemble). Do you see the difference in what Jesus actually said? He certainly wasn’t talking about a big, elaborate brick and mortar structure. He was talking about spiritual things. He was talking about His people, His disciples.