Spreading the Gospel and the Winds of Change Some say that Jerusalem was not a missionary church and that it did not do its part in sending out evangelists to the surrounding areas. But the record says they worked until they could work no longer. The apostles even remained there until some good time after the persecution that followed the death of Stephen, and it says those members who were scattered â€œwent everywhere preaching the word.â€
In the last installment I had said that in this second part we would examine the form and function of the church.
“So what should a church be, and what should it not be? What is the beginning and form of the church that Christ built? What exactly constitutes a church, and its form and function as it is noted in the New Testament.”
Well deal with these in order taking up the textual use of the words. But we won’t exhaust the study of these items in this part, so please be patient.
If we were to start reading the New Testament in order from the beginning and were to mark each occurrence of the word church, we would find that it initially occurs in Matthew chapter 16:18, where Jesus had asked his disciples who they thought that he was and Peter gave answer with the rest in assent. Jesus then stated:
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17-19)
There are several items worth noting here. First, Jesus said that due to Peters recognition and statement that he was the Son of God that Peter would be blessed for this acknowledgment (I suppose then that we too may be blessed when we recognize and do the same things?). Second, Jesus said that in Peters recognition of this, that Jesus was the Son of God; based upon this truth he would establish “his” that is, Jesus church. Now at no time did Jesus intend to hire a contractor nor did he ever purchase a plot, set up a headquarters or buy a building, and for that matter Peter wasnt the founder or builder of the church in Rome or anywhere else that bears his name today – so the simple conclusion is that the church must be something other than a building or locality. But, more importantly, the founder of this church, the first and only church, was to be Jesus, the Son of God.
Finally, Jesus said that Peter would be given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Keys unlock things – and the keys Peter would be given would then unlock this kingdom of heaven with the implication that with those doors unlocked entrance within could then be gained. It also implies, at the very least, that there is some connection between the church and the mentioned kingdom of heaven.
Therefore Jesus is the founder and thereby the head of his church and it is called his church or his assembly. It is known as the church or assembly of Christ , the church of God and is the only one you will ever find mentioned in the Bible. It was established by him and based upon the truth that he is the Son of God. That explains in part its pending and proposed institution but does not go very far in explaining form and function. So we must read on.
In Matthew 18:15 through 17 you’ll find the second occurrence of the word church.
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
It is implied that one of the duties of the coming church is to monitor or maintain a balance of truth, to as necessary act as a final arbiter in matters of discipline between its members. This tells us something about church organization too because if you are to bring such disciplinary matters to the church as a last step in their dispatch then it also implies that there must be some mechanism to do so, even though the mechanism is not here mentioned. It is useful to note that from this point the word church does not occur again in any of the gospels.
In order, the next occurrence of the word church is found in Acts 2:44-47. This scripture is very important as it implies that the church by this time had now already been established – and that it is no longer something still to come in the future. It also tells us that the church is comprised of obedient believers in Christ.
“Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
It seems then that the Biblical lexicographers definition of the word church (from part 1 of this series) is the correct one; that in fact a church is a collection of obedient believers who are bound together by purpose. Here it also says that the Lord added to the church those who were being saved, and there is no reason to think that things may have changed. Once we do fully what the Lord has instructed he then adds us to his church. Here also is the first mention of the means for gaining membership to the church. I’ll take the particulars of that up in another of these articles; but suffice to say now that the Lord, his apostles and disciples spelled out the necessary requirements in the New Testament so clearly that anyone that desires to could be added to his church on any day.
So as to form and function we have uncovered the following. First, the institution of the New Testament church was by and through Christ. Second, the church is an organization (more particulars of which well discover in succeeding installments), and third, its form is that it is an assembly of purpose of those who have been added to it due to their obedience to Christ. We also noted that its establishment is listed as occurring between the recorded end of the gospel records and the early record following the resurrection of Christ found in the first two chapters of the book of Acts.
Now there is yet a lot to be discovered concerning the particulars of its form and function, more to find out concerning it time of establishment, admittance to it, its purpose and organization, and its connection with the kingdom of heaven. Well take on these things in the coming installments, following the same pattern of looking up the word in the text and letting the context provide the instruction.