Bible Class Curricula - First Principles - Lesson #7 - The Church That Jesus Built
We live in a world where an individual can find a religious group or church that believes and practices almost anything. In the midst of this confusion, it has become increasingly difficult to identify the New Testament church. However, simple laws of logic and reasoning tell us that anything is made according to its kind. In Genesis chapter one, the phrase "according to its kind" or a similar statement occurs 18 times. By using this phrase, God is conveying to us that each creation follows and represents its Maker’s pattern. In this lesson, we will be studying the nature and pattern of the New Testament church. By using the Bible as our blueprint, we will be able to determine what “church” is the true church of the New Testament. In identifying the one true church in the midst of all the denominational and community church chaos, we must first identify what the church is not.
What the Church Is Not
Not A Building. The church of Christ is not composed of walls, ceilings, and pews. The bold martyr Stephen proclaimed, "God does not dwell in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48-50). Even during the time of the Israelites, God did not want His people to trust in the temple. In Jeremiah, the people were crying out, "The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord," (Jeremiah 7:4). Yet, their trust in the building did not save them from the impending Babylonian exile (Jeremiah 25:9-12). Buildings burn, temples fall, yet the church of the living God will stand forever because it is comprised of individuals (1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 12). The church of Christ in the New Testament is made up of people, not pews, carpet, and a pulpit (Acts 8:3-4; 1 Corinthians 12:27). May we never let our meeting hall become our cemetery; may we never confuse merely attending a worship service to be the same as living faithfully to God. The church of Christ is not a building.
Not a Denomination. The word denomination by its very definition is in direct contradiction with the New Testament pattern. Denomination means “to call by or name something after another.” In the New Testament, the idea of naming the church is strongly condemned. There are many descriptions of the church, but not an official name. Paul said to the Corinthians, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). In this context, Paul is dealing with the root problem of denominationalism. Some were saying, "I am of Paul, or I am Apollos, or I am of Cephas" (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul’s inspired questions indicate that the very nature of a denomination is a division when he asks, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or, were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13). For anyone who desires to have a church, Paul sets down two simple criteria. First, one must be crucified as a sinless sacrifice for his followers. No person on earth today can serve as a sinless sacrifice (Hebrews 10:12; Romans 3:23). Second, the leader of any group must have the God-given authority to command baptism in his name. In the New Testament, there is no authority for baptizing into any man’s name – except Christ’s (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 19:1-5). Therefore, denominationalism violates the pattern of the New Testament church. The church of Christ is not a denomination.
Not a Social Club. To many people, the church is nothing more than a glorified social club. It is a place to dress exquisitely and to simply be seen (James 2:1-4). For some, “going to church” is nothing more than a good public relations move. The Jews had the mindset that their religion could be used for social purposes, but Jesus strongly rebuked them. Jesus condemned the Jews because they wore elaborate clothing, loved the best seats, and wore religious titles such as “rabbi” (Matthew 23:1-12). This same rebuke applies today to those who want to make the church into nothing more than a modern-day civic club. To understand that the church is not a social club, we need to realize that we are not the center of worship. God is the center of our worship, and we must make Him the focus of our worship services – not ourselves (John 4:24).
Not an Afterthought. With the recent rise of premillennial fiction books such as Left Behind and others, the church is being looked at more as an afterthought than an original plan. Many in the premillennial camp believe that God planned to set up a 1000-year reign on earth, but His plan was ruined, and the church was created as an afterthought until the original plan could be set up. While this may be an attractive view to many, the Bible teaches the church has always been God’s original plan. Paul said God was making his power known to princes and principalities through the church, which was "according to the eternal purpose" (Ephesians 3:10-11). This passage clearly teaches that the church has been in the mind and plan of God from all eternity. The church is much more than an afterthought. It is the forethought and divine plan of God that will last until Christ comes to receive it unto Himself (1 Corinthians 15:24, Matthew 16:18-19).
The Nature of the Church
If a group of people on an unknown island found a Bible, read it, and decided to do exactly what it said, what church would they set up? These people would not be able to set up any of the denominations we have today. Their only scriptural option would be to establish the church of the first century, and nothing more. Let us consider some characteristics needed to set up the New Testament church.
Only One Church. The Lord promised to Peter, "I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18). Notice Jesus said "church" singular. It was never a part of God’s plan to have a multitude of religious groups all claiming to be His church. One of the clearest and most repeated teachings about the church is its singular nature. The Holy Spirit uses the synonyms body and church interchangeably to represent the Lord’s people. For example, God said, "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). Remembering that the body and the church are the same, Paul later says, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling" (Ephesians 4:4). If the body is the church, and there is only one body, then how many churches are there? Only one! Paul said, "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Colossians 3:15). Christians of Rome were told, "For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Romans 12:4-5). Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12:20). While every man may do that which is right in his own eyes today (Josh 21:25), let us remember that Jesus is only coming back to save His church (1 Corinthians 15:24) for all the saved and only the saved are in the church of Christ (Acts 2:47; 20:28; 1 Corinthians 12:13; 15:24; Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:13; Hebrews 12:25-29).
The Proper Founder. The church we read about in the Bible only has one founder – Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "I will build My church" (Matthew 16:18). Paul said, "No other foundation can any man lay except that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11). Jesus Himself promised He would be the builder of the church. The New Testament teaches that Jesus is the owner of the church: "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). Today, Jesus is still the head of the New Testament church. "And He put all things under His feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church" (Ephesians 1:21-23). In matters of doctrine, Jesus has all authority in His church: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18-20). Since the church is the bride of the Lord, it should wear the name of her husband – Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:21-31). These passages teach us that the church belongs solely to Jesus and should follow His direction and wear His name. Therefore, it is sinful for men to come along hundreds of years later; name the church after some man, method, or doctrine; and make up creeds for it to follow. If we are going to be members of the Lord’s church, we must wear His name and follow His teaching (2 John 9-11). It is the Christian’s God-given responsibility to "prove all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV). If Jesus is the legitimate founder of His church, then naturally one wonders who founded all the denominations that exist today. John Wesley founded the Methodists. John Smythe helped to start the Baptists. John Knox and John Calvin aided in conceiving the Presbyterians. Pope Boniface II was highly instrumental in bringing to full maturity the Catholics. Martin Luther founded the Lutherans. Joseph Smith originated the ideas of the Mormons. Etc. The one thing you will notice about denominations that exist today is that they all have the wrong founder. In view of this, Jesus said, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:13-14).
The Established Period. The Bible is very specific as to when the Lord’s church/kingdom would be established. In Daniel 2:44, we are told that in the time of the fourth kingdom, God would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed. Beginning with the time of Daniel who was under the rule of the first kingdom, Babylon, and going through the Medo-Persian (second) and Grecian (third) kingdoms, there was no new kingdom set up. God’s people were still under the rule of the Old Covenant kingdom. But, during the time of the fourth kingdom (the Roman Empire), God established the kingdom of His dear Son, namely, the church of Christ (Mark 9:1; Colossians 1:13). Jesus promised He would build His kingdom (Matthew 16:18-19). On the day of Pentecost after the resurrection of Jesus, the “new” kingdom was established, and the Bible says, "The Lord added to the church daily" (Acts 2:47). From this information, we learn that the church of the Bible was established on the day of Pentecost around A.D. 30. This is very important to note because most modern, man-made denominations began between A.D. 1500–1800. Most modern churches were established 1500 years too late. If the church of which you are a part was established some other time after approximately A. D. 30, it is not the true church of the New Testament.
The Established Place. The Bible also tells us where the church of the Lord would be established. In Isaiah 2:1-4, God promised that the "Lord’s house" would be established in Zion, the hill upon which Jerusalem sits. Isaiah cannot be talking about the Old Testament Temple because it was still in existence during the time of Isaiah’s writing. So then, what is this “house of the Lord” about which Isaiah is speaking? This phrase refers to the church of the Lord. In 1 Timothy 3:15, the Bible says that the house of the Lord is "the church of the living God, the pillar, and ground of truth." It was in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost that the Lord’s church was established (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:4, 12; 2:5, 38-47). Did the church you of which you are a part begin in Jerusalem or somewhere else? Please remember that most denominations in existence today began either in the Americas or England.
Can a Person Be Saved Outside the Church of Christ?
Can a soul be saved outside the church of Christ? Absolutely not! Why not? The answer is simple: Jesus is the Savior of the body (Ephesians 5:23). Since the body is the church, then Jesus will only save those in His body (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Scriptures teach that grace and salvation is only found "in Christ" (2 Timothy 2:10). When one is baptized into Christ and, therefore, into His body (1 Corinthians 12:13), then salvation is only in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27). The Scriptures teach that those who are a part of the Lord’s church are the ones who have their names registered in heaven (Hebrews 12:22-23). If you are not in the Lord’s church, then you are not on heaven’s registry. The Bible promises that at the second coming of Christ, Jesus will deliver His Kingdom to the Father (Hebrews 9:28; 1 Corinthians 15:24). Jesus is presently ruling His kingdom through His church because they are one and the same (Matthew 16:18-19; Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13; Mark 9:1).
May each of us realize how important the church is to God! It was so important that our Lord purchased the church with His own precious blood (Acts 20:28). May we be motivated to seek first God’s church and live faithfully for Christ every day of our lives (Matthew 6:33; Revelation 2:10).
- Explain the principle behind making something "according to its kind."
- How does that relate to the Lord’s church?
- Do the Scriptures teach the church is or is not the building?
- What is a denomination?
- What two criteria does Paul give for having a church named after an individual?
- According to Ephesians 3:10-11, was the church an afterthought?
- How many churches did Jesus build?
- Why then do so many people miss this point?
- Who founded the New Testament church?
- Who founded all denominations that exist today?
- Explain when and where the Bible prophesied the church would be started.
- Must any church that claims to be a Bible church meet these requirements?
- Is the church necessary to salvation?
- Must I be a member of the Lord’s church to be saved? Why?
- Should Christians try to apologize for, or beat around the bush about, any of these truths concerning the Lord’s church? Why or why not?
The Gospel of Christ
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