The Christian Church, which includes the past, present and the Church to come, consists of all who believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God; who have accepted Him as their personal Savior from sin, and who obeys Him as the Christ, the Head of the Kingdom of God on this earth. He is the head, we are the body (Ephesians 5:23). Therefore, the Christian Church is not the physical structure where people gather, but it is the corporate body of people who believe Jesus is Lord.
The Greek word for church is "ekklesia". We refer to Greek words because the books of New Testament were first written in the Greek language. The word in Greek means to assemble, the assembly or gathering of people. Everywhere the word "church" is used it is referring to those who assemble for the purpose of carrying out the work of Jesus Christ. They assemble to worship and praise God while sharing the testimonies of what they know about Jesus Christ and the work of the kingdom of God. In scripture, church refers to the body of people throughout the known world who are called out spiritually to be an assembly, a nation for God. This is the church, unified spiritually, born of the Spirit of God, and baptized into the Body of Christ, (1Co.12:13,28; 1Pe.1:3, 22-25; Mt.16:18; Ga.1:13; Ph.3:6; Ep.1:22; 3:10; 5:23-26; He.12:23). The English word "church" derives from the Greek word "kuriakos" which means "belonging to the Lord" (1Co.11:22; Re.1:10).
A formal definition that explains what the "Church" is would be, "The assembly of believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who learn and teach, for the purpose of doing work in the Kingdom of God."
The Church is referred to in many ways in Scriptures.
1. A building of God. This is a building made by God (1Co.3:9,16; 2Co.6:16; Ep.2:20-22; 1Ti.3:15), with Christ as the Cornerstone of that building (Mt.16:18; 1Co.3:11; 1Pe.2:6).
2. The Priest. The Believer is the Priest in this temple (He.3:15; 1Pe.2:9; Re.1:6).
3. An Organism. The Church is not an organization, but a living organism, as the Body of Christ (Ro.12:4-5; 1Co.12:12-27; Ep.1:22; 3:6; 4:4; Co.1:18,24; 2:19).
4. The Bride of Christ. The Church is the Bride of Jesus Christ (2Cor.11:2; Ep.5:24, 32). The Church is subject to performs duties as a spouse; i.e., She is faithful (James 4:4), prepares for a wedding (Rev.19:7), is to be married to Christ (Jn.3:29), and will reign with Him (Rev.19:6-20:6).
5. The branches of the Vine, John 15:1-5
6. The Flock, John 10:1; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25.
How the Church Started
1. Most teach the Christian Church began on the Day of Pentecost, in the late spring of 30 A.D. This was fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus and ten days after His Ascension from the Mount of Olives. Acts 1:3; 2:1-4; Leviticus 23:15-16.
2. The truth is, this was not when the Church began, but it was when the church was baptized with power in the Holy Spirit. It was the day each individual disciple was filled with the spirit of God for the very first time.
3. The church actually began when Jesus reached out and started calling people to him through his ministry, Matthew 4:18-22; 9:9-13; 10:1-15.
4. Acts 2:41 tells us that about three thousand souls were added to them that day. These were added to them because the church already had been together during Jesus' ministry.
The Church Given Holy Spirit Power
The Day of Pentecost as recorded in the Book of Acts is when God endowed the 120 who gathered in an upper room. As they were praying in one accord the Holy Spirit came upon them in such a manner that they could see tongues of flames upon their heads. This gave them a new understanding that the Kingdom of God was not a political kingdom, but that it was a spiritual kingdom with Jesus as its ruler. Colossians 2:16-18. For the first time a group of people was given power in the Holy Spirit to do the work of God, Acts 2:4. This gave each and every one of them a power of utter in a fervent spirit. This made their testimonies convincing, and many believed, Acts 5:14. The Holy Spirit abides within any believer as a presence once they have been baptized in the Spirit personally. This is an individual possession though the event took place within the Church.
Since that day all believers were baptized in the spirit after receiving salvation. This was done by those who had been baptized in the Spirit, laid hands on the new believers and the new believers received the Spirit (Acts 8:14-17; 9:17). This was also referred to as being filled with the spirit (Ephesians 5:17). There are some examples of the Holy Spirit falling on those who were hearing the preaching of the Word, and these were filled with the spirit (Acts 10:44; 13:52).
The Church is not Limited to one Local Group
As Jesus went about preaching and people became his disciples, this group of people became the church, the assembly of believers learning the ways of Jesus Christ. Once the Holy Spirit fell on them in power they continued meeting at Solomon's Porch in the Temple (Acts 3:11; 5:12). The Lord added to them daily as they were being saved (Acts 2:47) and they grew to thousands of followers in a short time. As the disciples started receiving more and more persecution and especially after the death of Stephen in Act Chapter 7, they scattered everywhere preaching the Word (Acts 8:4). Then we start seeing follows in many different places throughout the regions.
As local bodies of believers the church is the assembly of believers in that specific place.
The church at Samaria, Acts 8:14-17
The church at Damascus, Acts 9:19-22
The churches at Galilee and Samaria, Acts 9:31
The church at Joppa, Acts 9:36-38
The church at Caesarea, Acts 10:24,44-48.
The church at Antioch, Acts 13:1
The church at Iconium, Acts 13:51-52
The church at Rome, Romans 1:7
The church at Corinth, 1st Corinthians 1:2
There are many more named in Scripture.
There has always been much debate over the question that the church is limited to the local body or universal body of all believers. The answer lies in what the church is, believers in Jesus Christ who assemble together. Paul considered himself a part of all the congregations he helped establish because the church is the Body of Christ (Colossians 1:18, 22). He warns against any kind of divisions, be they sects, denominations, or separations over doctrine (1Cor.1:11-17). No one has the right to say another is not a part of Christ as long as they are a believer in Jesus. It is God's design that all believers are in Christ Body and that we are all in all with Christ (Col. 3:11). Paul did not consider the nationality of a person any longer but he looked at people as believers or non-believers.
The twelve Apostles governed the church together. They stayed obedient to the leadership of the Holy Spirit and followed Christ, which gives little reason for group government. As those placed in leadership show they have integrity, being filled with the spirit, they gained the trust of the believers as they move forward with their visions for their local body and for the Body of Christ.
The leaders of the church are named in a five-fold ministry, Ephesians 4:11-12, for the equipping of all saints and for the work of ministry and for edifying the church.
1. Apostle. Minister who is a delegate or ambassador, an official commissioner of Christ. The word "apostolos" is literally translated "he that is sent".
2. Prophet. Minister who is a foreteller, inspired speaker for God. The Greek word "prophetes" means a spokesman for another or an interpreter for deity.
3. Evangelist. Minister who is a preacher of the Gospel that is not a pastor of a local assembly. The word "euaggelistes" comes from the root word angle who is an announcer or proclaimer. Evangelists are announcers of the word of God to the people.
4. Pastors. Minister who is a leader of a local assembly or ministry. The pastor is a shepherd of the flock of God. The Greek word "poimen" means a shepherd. Matthew 9:36; 26:31; John 10:2; Acts 20:17-28; Ephesians 4:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1Peter 2:25.
5. Teachers. Minister who is an instructor of the Word of God. The word for teacher is "didaskalos" which means a master teacher, one with much experience in the Word of God.
6. Elder. Non-clergy ministers selected for assisting the pastoral staff in spiritual support and teaching to a local assembly. Acts 20:17-28; Titus 1:5-9; 1Peter 5:1.
7. Overseer or Bishop. Ministers who may be or have been pastors, that administrate and guide anything from single assemblies to groups of assemblies. Acts 20:17-28; Titus 1:5-9.
8. Ministers. This is for working the ministry under the leadership of pastors.
Matthew 4:11; Mark 10:43; John 2:5; 12:26; Acts 6:1-6; Romans 15:25; 16:1; 1Corinthians 3:5; Ephesians 6:21; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:7; 1Timothy 3:1-13, 4:6; Philemon 8-14.
Office of the Deacon
There is an office that has been developed within denominations that is not authentic to scripture, yet is taught as a true doctrine, the office of the deacon. Many denominations have indorsed this office as a layman position to service the congregation and physical needs of their church. The title came from the Greek term "diakanas", pronounced “dee-a-kan-ahs”, which means minister, servant, or ministry. There are only five places in scripture you can find the word "deacon" in English translations: 1st Timothy 3:8,10,12,13 and Philippians 1:1. In these five verses the word was transliterated, which means to place endings or prefixes on a word from another language without translating it. English translated versions placed an English ending on the Greek word "diakanas" changing it to "deacon" instead of translating, so they could justify having made up the office.
The office of deacon originated in the Church of England. In order to indoctrinate the English speaking church they transliterated the word in their English translations; proving if it is in the Bible, it is a true office in the church. This is the case with the King James 1611 version of the Bible, and many others that birthed from its translation. If you were to translate the word properly instead of transliterating it, these five verses of scripture read differently; showing either minister or servant to be more accurate in its context. Some of these Bible versions are:
The Bishop’s Bible, 1568; the Darby Bible, 1890; the Common English Bible; and the Message.
Those endorsing the office of deacon try to explain their doctrine by using Acts 6:1-7, where the twelve Apostles of Jesus had the church appoint seven men to assist in the daily distribution the church provided throughout the congregation. Their doctrine teaches these seven were deacons. There is no reference of these men being "deacons" other than the obvious that they did serve the people; but then the true context of the translated word "servant" still leaves a more accurate obvious understand. One of these seven men Philip, was known as being an evangelist, not a "deacon" (Acts 8:4-8; 21:8).
Everywhere else in the scripture the Greek word “diakanas” is translated to mean minister or servant. Some examples are:
1Corinthins 16:15; 2Corinthians 3:6, 4:1, 5:18, 6:3-4, 11:15;
Ephesians 4:12, 6:21; Colossians 1:7, 4:7,17; 1Thessalonians 3:2;
1Timothy 1:12, 4:6; 2Timothy 4:5.
Here are people in the scripture who were placed in the service of being "diakanas". None of these have ever been considered Deacons in the literal sense as the office is used in their denominations.
Jesus - Matthew 20:26, Romans 15:8
Paul - 1Timothy 1:12, Ephesians 3:7, Colossians 1:23-25
Timothy - 1 Thessalonians 3:2, 2Timothy 4:5
John Mark - 2Timothy 4:11
Phoebe - Romans 16:1
Rulers - Romans 13:4.
There are many different ways churches today carry on the administration of their local assembly. How the leadership and congregations chooses to operate the daily activities and ministry of their local church is usually determined by the denomination they affiliate with. Methods, procedures, and ministry practices normally follow their denominational preferences. If a church is not part of a denomination, they will operate as the leadership deems necessary to conduct ministry policies and practices.
The Apostle Paul spoke of this in 1Corinthians 12:5-6 when he said there are different ministries and different administrations, but the same God who works all in all. This shows where the importance for administrations and ministry lie, in God and to be all in all; that is to work together as one. Because all local assemblies are a part of the body of Christ, the different ministries can participate together in the name of Jesus and for the work of the Kingdom of God. The ways local churches choose to carry on in their governments does not limit them from participation in the Kingdom of God.
When someone asks you what church you attend, usually they are inquiring as to the denomination of your local church also. This is because there are so many different denominations inside Christianity.
A denomination is defined as "a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices" (From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denomination).
Denominations usually have specific guidelines that define its purpose, doctrinal believes, and ministry directives, that subject their churches to strict obedience. These guidelines are not necessarily wrong in their intentions, however they usually leave few liberties for local assemblies to administer church policies or teach biblical doctrines beyond what is professed in their own doctrinal statements.
The term denomination presents itself with conflicts that do not agree with teachings in the scriptures. The term comes from a medieval Latin denominatus, past participle of denominare meaning "to name", (From http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=denominate&searchmode=none)
There are no "named" denominations in the scriptures. Many make claims by misusing the verses they attach their origins to, but only the Body of Christ could qualify any of the people who follow the teaching of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:30).
In the first century church individuals wanted to identify themselves to only certain leaders. Paul saw this as causing divisions in the Body of Christ. He spoke sharply against this in some of his opening remarks to the church at Corinth. They were forming sects showing patriotism to different leaders so Paul corrected this in 1Corinthians 1:10-17 when he pleaded with them to have no divisions and be of the same mind and the same judgements. He went on to ask why some were saying they were of Paul, some of Apollos, some of Cephas which is Peter, and some of Christ? He continued his argument in 1Corinthians 3:1-4, pointing out people who walk in this manner are carnal, and not capable of being spiritual. Any time individuals want to separate the Body of Christ into what Paul called "schisms in the body" (1Corinthians 12:25), these individuals are being carnal, walking in their flesh. For individuals or groups to insist naming a denomination and its procedures over the unity of the Body of Christ, they are walking in the flesh and not in the Spirit. On the other hand, when individuals or groups are working together with all who believe Jesus is the savior, they are being members individually as they continue edifying the Body of Christ.
All local church organizations participate in the concept of church membership. The argument is, "Is church membership necessary and is it taught in the scriptures?" Paul wrote in 1Corinthians 12:12-31 that membership was an individual activity that made up the full body, and that body being in Christ. The concept of membership is not for the purpose of carrying on administrations but to have a united purpose for edifying one another in Jesus Christ. Membership in Jesus is to see that all are one in God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the helping and maintaining one other. That which you are attached to you will feel committed to and care for. We are members individually, but members collectively also, for the sake of continued existence as the church of Jesus Christ (1Corinthians 12:25).
Local church assemblies use church membership as a means to isolate and identify those who place their commitment and finances in that specific church body. Some denominational churches practice congregational rule as their means of government. In these types of administration practices, business meetings and committees with the members, allows them opportunity to vote and interact with the leadership concerning activities, finances, and policy decisions. Churches that do not practice congregational rule depend more upon their leadership to carry out these tasks.
The practices a local church uses to administrate the business of the their church may make a difference in which type church organization one chooses to be a member of. Some churches only have church membership as means for identity to that body and for collecting and giving of information to the body. Local church membership is only subject to the practices of that specific local assembly. The concept of church membership as taught in the scriptures is only as a unity to the Body of Christ.
The Church's Foundation
We must always remember that the Church of Jesus Christ, His continued presence and work on the earth after His resurrection and return to the Father, is made up of men and women who know they are led by the Holy Spirit in Christ. The church is not a place or building, it is people doing Christ's work. Consider these things when looking at the founding of the Body of Christ, which is the church:
1. Christ is the owner, He purchased the Church (Mt.16:18; Ac.20:28).
2. Christ is the builder (Mt.16:18).
3. Christ is the Head (Eph.5:22-23; Col.1:18).
4. Christ is the Lord and Judge of the Church (Rev.1:12-20; 2:5,16).
5. Christ is the Chief Cornerstone (Eph.2:20). It is upon Christ that the Church was begun; But since Christ went back to heaven, He has left the work to the "lively stones" (1Pet.2:4-5), which includes all Believers.
6. The Apostles and the Prophets. It is evident that twelve apostles, chosen and appoint by Jesus (Acts 1:13), were used as instruments in the early days of the Church. They were used to build it by their leadership and sharing the Word of God, as they received it through Jesus and was prompted by the Holy Spirit. They were instrumental in opening the door of the Gospel to the Jews and Gentiles (Eph.2:20; Acts 2:14-41; 8:14-17; 10:24-48). These men were, as Peter described them, the first of the "lively stones" (1Pe.2:4-5; Ep.2:20).
The Church's Gifts and Abilities
As Jesus started building the church, those who he called out were only ordinary people. They had no social training or social ranking. So they needed God to give them and advantage with supernatural help to accomplish what God had set out for them to do. This was done through mighty signs and wonders (Acts 4:29-30). These powers were not limited to just the twelve original Apostles, but became widespread throughout the Church. For the first time in history God did not limit miracles to just specific people but he manifest wonders, powers and miracles through many undeserving people to attract attention, and opened the hearts of the multitudes to having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
By the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and his power to overcome sin and death, combined with the power of the Holy Spirit the Body of Christ has been given gifts and abilities that allow us to do the works of Jesus, in the kingdom of God on the earth. We have the Gifts of the Spirit (1Corinthians 12:1-10) to edify one another as we minister the Gospel; the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) to help us maintain ourselves with the character and nature of God; and the Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) to have control over the powers of darkness and the world.
A Spirit of Brotherhood
The Church grew so rapidly, there had to be a way to maintain balance and fairness for everyone. They were taught to love one another so this large body of people could walk in a unity of spirit and joy in fellowship continuously. They took all they had and gave it to the Apostles and made all things community property so everyone had all things common. This spirit of brotherhood was shown in all they did together and it made it possible for thousands of people from different cultures and different nations to continue daily with one accord (Acts 2:46-47). Jesus said it was by loving each other people would know that we are his disciples (John 13:35).
The Church's Ministry
The ministry of the Church remains clear, "After you receive power from on high through the Holy Spirit, be witnesses of Jesus Christ unto all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19). The Church carries out this command by sharing the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, and teaching them to observe and do all that Jesus commanded and taught. We are to continue this same work from generation to generation until the time Jesus returns (Acts 1:9-11).
In the first years after Jesus left the church with this command and ascended into heaven to be with the Father, no one really understood how to get this accomplished and in their excitement to tell the good news of Jesus the people endured harsh persecution that required them to leave their homes and cities, scattering throughout the local regions and nearby countries (Acts 8:1-4). As they went everywhere they the preached the word, sharing the stories of Jesus and drawing people to repent and be baptized. The Holy Spirit followed their preaching, filling the new members with his spirit as they witnessed with signs wonders and miracles everywhere they went (Mark 16:17; Acts 8:1-4; 10:44-48). As these new believers were being taught and trained in the Holy Spirit they became local assemblies. Then the Holy Spirit moved on the assembly in Antioch to send out Barnabas and Saul, later known as Paul, and missionary work began (Acts 13:1-3).
The efforts of the Church in that first century were so successful new assemblies known as churches, were as far as Athens, Rome and Spain (Acts 17:15-16; Romans 15:24,28,29; Acts 28:23-28). Governments of the world were affected by the strength and Holy Spirit power that was manifested by the messengers of the gospel.
Today the Church continues to bring life changing affects upon the people of the earth, as believers in Jesus Christ carry out the commanded mission to share the good news and make disciples of nations.