TGOC Bible Class Cirricula – The Church of Christ (1st Quarter) - Lesson 1 - What Is The Church? (Part 1)
The purpose of this study is to take a look at the Lord’s church as He intended it to be, as revealed in His Word.
We will show that Jesus indeed had a pattern for every aspect of His church.
We will examine what the church is and what it is not.
We will look at the prophecies about the coming of the church. Then we will see how the establishment of the church fulfilled all of these prophecies.
We will then look at God’s pattern of organization, worship, entrance requirements, and mission for His church. In the latter chapters we will see how the apostles’ prediction concerning the apostasy of the church came true, and the rise of the Catholic denomination.
We will, then, look at man’s attempt to reform the Catholic Church and the birth of many more denominations.
Following this we will see others attempts at restoring true Christianity.
We will close with a look at the undenominational nature of the church and how this is a part of God’s pattern.
This study is not intended to be an exhaustive or in-depth study of this topic. It is intended to be a study of the basic facts. It is intended to give the user a basic understanding of Jesus’ pattern for His church.
If you were to ask ten people the question, “What is the church?”, you would probably get eight or nine different answers. The purpose of this chapter is not to look at all the pieces that compose the church. We will only be concerned with what Jesus reveals His church to be.
I. The church is a gathering of people who have been “called out”:
A. Definition: The word “church” is translated from the Greek word EKKLESIA. It is a compound word, involving two Greek words, namely, EK meaning “out of”, and KALEO meaning “to call”.
While we are talking about definitions and word usage, it might be well to mention that the original use of the word “church”, which the Lord used to refer to the people of God, was a very universal one. It was used to refer to a gathering of any kind, called out for any purpose. It could have been political or social or anything other reason. Jesus took this word and elevated it to a special meaning in reference to His people under His new covenant.
We see divine use of the word in at least two ways in the Bible.
First, it is used in a universal sense to refer to the church as a whole. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said He would build His church. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:22-23 that God made His purpose known to all through the church. These scriptures make reference to the whole church everywhere.
Second, the word “church” is used in the local sense. In 1 Corinthians 1:2, Paul writes to the church located in Corinth, and in 1 Thessalonians 1:1 he writes to the church located in Thessalonica. These are references to the church at a specific location. But no matter which sense is being used, both are talking about the people of God.1
The Bible teaches us that all who obey the gospel are called. The calling referred to is not a miraculous or supernatural event, as some denominations teach. Not since the death of the apostles has there been any miraculous or supernatural manifestation from God (Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 13:8-10).
B. A People Called by the Gospel: (2 Thessalonians 2:14) “14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since Paul tells us that the Word contains all that we need to know (2 Peter 1:3), there is no need to back it up with signs and miracles. Signs and miracles were used at a time when the written Word was not available. They were used to confirm and convince the people that the message was from God. When the apostles died, the signs and miracles stopped. The calling or invitation of God is made only through His written gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2). We answer that call by our obedience to that word. (1 Peter 1:22-23; Ephesians 1:13,14).
C. A People Called to Be Saints: (Romans 1:6-7) “6 And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ. To all in Rome, called to be saints.”The word “saints” is from the Greek word HAGIOS which means “consecrated, sacred, or holy.” It does not refer to some righteous person who is already dead, as some religious groups believe and teach. It simply refers to Christians. The Christian is holy because our Father is holy (1 Corinthians 7:14,34; Ephesians 1:4; 2:21; Colossians 1:22; 1 Peter 1:15). God calls us through the gospel to belong to Christ, and if we belong to Christ, we are saints.
D. A People Called Into Something:
Into Grace (Galatians 1:6): “6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by (KJV: into) the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” Grace is found in Christ (Ephesians 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:9). We get into Christ by answering and obeying the call of God through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Only after we are in Christ, where all spiritual blessings are, can we access His grace (see also Galatians 1:15).
2. Into Liberty: (Galatians 5:13) “13You my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, but rather serve one another in love.” Only in Christ Jesus do we have freedom from the bondage of sin; and we should never use that freedom as a license to sin (Romans 6:15-23; Jude 1:4).
3. Into One Hope (Ephesians 4:4): “4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” The word “hope” is translated from the Greek word elpis which not only means faith, or hope but also means “to look with earnest expectation.” When we answer the call of God through the gospel, we look with earnest expectation for the promised forgiveness. (Acts 2:38). We look with expectation for the salvation found in Christ (Acts 4:12). And we look with expectation to all of the other spiritual blessings that are promised in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). When we answer God's calling through the gospel, we become possessors of this hope.
4. Into Eternal Glory (1 Peter 5:10-11): “10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” Is this passage referring to the presence of God where His dignity, honor, and praise are to be found, or heaven itself? It is probable that the writer has both ideas in mind. In heaven, God’s presence, dignity, honor, and praise will be manifested. To be called into the “eternal glory of God” is the ultimate reward of every person who answers God’s call through the gospel and remains faithful until death (Revelation 2:10).
E. A People Called Out of Something:
1. Out of Darkness (1 Peter 2:9): “9But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
2. Out of Sin (Romans 6:17-18): “17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
3. Out of the World (Romans 12:2): “2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We can conclude, then, that the church is composed of those who have been called out of sin, out of the world, out of darkness into the marvelous light of Jesus Christ. When answering that call, we have access to His grace, to liberty, to hope, and to His eternal glory.
II. The church is the instrument by which the eternal purpose of God was made known:
God has a purpose for His people individually and for the church collectively. To think that all that has happened simply happened by accident is to not understand the Bible and the purpose of God. What is the purpose or plan of God?
A. First, His purpose, or plan, is eternal. The word “eternal” means “without beginning or end.” To say that God’s purpose is eternal is to say that before anything was, it was, and after everything is, it will be. Look at the following scriptures:
Ephesians 3:11-12: “11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.”
Then again, in Titus 1:2: “12In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.”
In 2 Timothy 1:9, Paul wrote, “9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.”
Finally listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:34: “34Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”
We learn from these Scriptures that before the world was spoken into existence; before God reached down, and from the dust of the earth, created man; before the first sin was ever committed on this earth, God planned a plan. He purposed a purpose to bring man back to Him. God knew that man would sin and thereby separate himself from God. This raises a very interesting question, “If God knew before He created man that man would sin and fall away from Him, then why did He create him?” That’s a good question, and the answer is, we do not know. It could have something to do with the depth of God's eternal love:
“On the very day of our wedding, we know that one day the pain of separation from our partner through death is inevitable. We accept this future loss of joy because we believe that the present ennoblement of character in giving ourselves to the other in love even for just a single day is better than no love at all. In marrying, we accept the utter misery of certain separation and death as the end of marriage, because we believe that one day of love and joy is worth more than the ultimate separation and misery at the end of marriage. Evidently, God also feels this way, because, in order to have the possibility of some love, joy, and virtue, He accepted the accompanying certainty of hate and vice. It is a question of balance. Those who have known love will admit that it weighs infinitely more than the distress which its freedom may bring with it. Apparently, the Creator, the God of love, agrees – for He went ahead with our creation in spite of the foreseeable mess which would result. He was convinced that the warmth of true love is worth infinitely more than the bitterness of suffering. Where life is, the opportunity to love exists, too. We shall escape the trials and sufferings of this life at death, but our character of love (ennobled through our trials) will continue to live forever. So whichever way we look, we must admit that the creation, if it produced the possibility of love, is quite worthwhile, even if suffering may be involved. For love is the greatest of all virtues and far surpasses the misery which the freedom to love may entail.” (A.E. Wilder Smith, Why Does God Allow It? (San Diego: Master Books, 1980, pp. 52, 53).
B. Secondly, God’s eternal purpose was not known by anyone until the time was right. In Colossians 1:26, Paul writes, “26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints.”
Then, in 1 Peter 1:12, Peter writes, “12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”
From these Scriptures, we see here that the mystery or purpose of God was not revealed, or made known until the time was right. Man did not know it. The prophets prophesied about it but did not understand it. Even the angels were not aware of it.
C. Next, God revealed His plan. God was patient. When the time was right, when everything was in its place, when man was ready to understand it, God made it known. First, He revealed it to the apostles. Notice the following.
1 Peter 1:19-20:“19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
We are told that Christ and God’s purpose was not revealed until the last times. In the age of the apostles God made it and Him known. Let’s look further:
Titus 1:1-3: “1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— 2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, 3 and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.”
Paul said God made a promise. He made it before the beginning of time. And, He made that promise known through the preaching entrusted to Paul.
D. His purpose was to bring man back through Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 1:3-11, Paul wrote, “3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. 11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
E. His purpose was to be revealed through the church. This fact is clearly stated in Paul’s message in Ephesians 3:10-11, “10His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We can see the plan of God unfolding down through the pages of biblical history. But those who wrote about it did not understand what they were writing. Those who prophesied about it did not understand. God did not reveal His plan even to the angels in heaven (1 Peter 1:12). When all was ready, and the time was right, He made it known through the church. It is our responsibility to see that the eternal purpose of God to save man through Christ is made known to the world. If we fail, the world will never learn how to return to God.
III. The church is a spiritual body.
We have already mentioned that the church is not a building, but a group of people. The building is an optional place where the people of God assemble together to worship Him. Paul told the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 11:18 “18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent, I believe it.”
He said they came together “as a church”, not “in a church”.
“Luke describes those who believed Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost in terms of what they had become (Acts 2:41). Those who were obedient to the Word of the Lord were made into the Lord’s Church…. Luke describes them in terms of their new behavior. They had a new life in their behavior toward God (Acts 2:42).” (Eddie Cloer, What Is the Church?, Resource Publications, Searcy, Ar. p. 16.)
It’s the people who are the church.
Chapter 1 Review
1. What does the word “Church” mean? ____________________
2. Was the word Church used only to refer to the people of God? Yes___No____
3. In what two ways is the word Church used in the Bible? ___________________ sense and ____________________________ sense.
4. Which use of the word Church refers to a specific area? ____________________
5. Which use of the word Church refers to all of God’s people everywhere? ________________________
6. The Church is the instrument to make what known? ____________________
7. In what Scriptures does it tell us God’s purpose was eternal? _________________
8. When did God make His purpose known? ______________________________
9. What was God’s eternal purpose? _____________________________________
10. How would God make His purpose known? _____________________________
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