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41. The Christian Disciple and the Church

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Matthew 16v16-18 states “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

The Biblical word Church comes from the word ekklesia or assembly and means a group of people called out to God. It refers to people and not property!

  • Universal Church or the invisible Church, which is all believers, whether living or with the Lord. This is the body of Christ (Ephesians 1v22-23)
  • Local Church or the visible Church, which is the body of Christ in action in the world.
  • Christ’s Church - I will build my Church (Matthew 16v18). Christ is building His Church. Christ is the head of the Church, we are the body, He is the head to whom we submit (Ephesians 1v22-23) - leadership, unity, authority.

1. What is “church”?

In the New Testament the word “church” has two distinct, yet inseparable aspects. The first context is in the universal sense when talking about the entire body of Christ (Colossians 1v18). The universal church consists of all believers from the Day of Pentecost until Jesus returns. The second context is used within the confines of the local congregation, such as the Thessalonian church (1 Thessalonians1v1). Within the New Testament, the word ‘church’ has this tension between the universal (invisible) and local (visible) attached to it. Whereas the visible church comprises local communities of believers, the invisible church is the entire fellowship of elected saints. God only knows the invisible church inhabitants, but the visible church can be seen through local faith communities.

The phrase ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ probably remains the best means of identifying whether a church is truly part of the historical church or not. The Church at its inception was “a practice of shared faith”, epitomized by these four dynamic marks. If any church does not bear all of these four hallmarks, then it cannot be a true church of Jesus Christ due to their unquestioned universal acceptance throughout time and through the different strands of historical Christianity. Although definitions may vary, these four hallmarks traverse the broad spectrum of Christendom in the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches.

2. The Church and Jesus

The Church is the Body of Christ and is a living organism and not merely an organization (Ephesians 1v22, 23; 4v15-16). We are all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12v13) and this body is made up of many parts or believers. Each part or believer has a vitally necessary and important function (Ephesians 4v15; 1 Corinthians 12v13).

The Church is the Bride of Christ, which suggests the purity, holiness and faithfulness of God’s people. Furthermore it suggests the great love that Jesus Christ has for His Church, the Bride (Ephesians 5v25-32; 2 Corinthians 11v2; Rev 19v7.22v17)

The Church is the Temple of Christ - Christ is building a spiritual temple with Himself as the Cornerstone or foundation. As Christian Disciples we are living stones and God dwells within the temple, filling it with all His fullness (Ephesians 2v22; 1 Peter 2v5)

3. The Purpose of the Church -

  • · To glorify God (Ephesians 3v10 & 21)
  • · To build up God’s people to spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4v12-13)
  • · To equip God’s people for service (Ephesians 4v11-13)
  • · To evangelise (Matthew 28v10)
  • · To promote the welfare of all people - spiritual and physical (Galatians 6v10)

4. Church Government

The Church was intended to be governed and elders (or bishops) and deacons were appointed by the apostles in the NT Churches to govern the Church to govern, discipline and teach believers (Hebrews 13v17; 1 Timothy 5v17). There are three main types of church government systems operating today, all of which lay claim to having biblical precedence.

a) Episcopalian (Anglican, Roman Catholics). This is a hierarchical system of Church government consisting of Archbishops, bishops and priests, which governs the denomination as a whole.

Reasons for this are:

· claims that the bishops take the place of the apostles.

· Follows the order of the early Roman Government.

· follows the natural human tendency for organization.

b) Presbyterian – The local Church is governed by a group of elders and elected representatives of local Churches govern the denomination.

c) Congregational (Baptist, Brethren) - Stresses the autonomy and independence of the local Church. Each local Church is answerable only to Christ as its head. Elders and deacons are elected or appointed by the local Church, and promotes the priesthood of all believers. There may be support bodies to liaise between similar Churches (e.g. Baptist Union).

5. Marks of the Church

Jesus when praying in John 17v17-21 stipulates these four hallmarks of His church: one (John 17v21), holy (John 17v17, 19), catholic (John 17v21b) and apostolic (John 17v18). These hallmarks are the Spirit’s functioning of Jesus’ continuing works for the kingdom to come, and are the true church’s indisputable marks. The term ‘one holy, catholic and apostolic church’ is a verbal confession, denoting the four visible dimensions of the invisible church and being a community springing forth from its first century founding, and this is what was meant when the Nicene Creed was first agreed. Furthermore, it evolves from generation to generation, but without losing the core beliefs held in the Nicene Creed. Catholic here, in case anyone requires clarification, means universal and not the denomination.

6. Functions of the Church

While these four hallmarks are statements of faith, they also must lead to declarations of function, because the Church must be actively visible. These four derived functions of the church are: fellowship, worship, mission and bible interaction. They are mutually interdependent and are the invisible church’s visible manifestations. These four hallmarks of the Church, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” are what I hope to discuss in the next four discussions.

For more to think about please do read John 17v15-26. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. How much do I as a Christian Disciple love the Church and reflect its complete unity?

Q2. How is the love of God the Father visible in me as a Christian disciple?

Q3. Why am I as a Christian Disciple sent?

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