The English word “Church” is translated from the Greek word “ecclesia”which means an “assembly”, and is only found in the New Testament. The Church was not known to the Old Testament prophets, and Paul explains this to the Ephesian and Colossian Churches where we read: “…to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His 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…”, and “…..his body, which is the church…..the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
. The Church was a mystery to Old Testament believers in that it was only formed after Christ’s resurrection, for the specific reason of making Christ known to all rulers, authorities, and Gentiles as opposed to the failure of the nation of Israel in being God’s witness to the rest of the world. The word “mystery”is not intended to be secret knowledge for a few, but a revelation of divine truths, once hidden, but now openly proclaimed. (NIV Study Bible). As used in the New Testament, the word “Church” is applied to a local assembly of believers in Christ; or to a group of congregations in a specific geographical location (i.e. in Jerusalem; Galatia), it is also used in reference to the congregation of Israelites at Sinai ; but our Lord Jesus Christ was very specific by using the word to describe the world-wide body of believers .
In its universal concept, the Church is the body of Christ; Christ is the Head, believers are the members of His body , and as members of His body we all have important functions. Also referred to as a Building of which Christ is the main cornerstone . It is the Bride of Christ; . Other descriptions can be seen in elsewhere in the Scriptures .
Pentecost is considered the “birthday” of the Church at which time the original members were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, and since that time millions more have been added to the body of Christ. It should be understood here that although the original members were of Jewish origin, and there was some features of Judaism taken into Christianity, no attempt should ever be made to replace Israel with the Church, as some teach today, since the origin, purpose and destiny of Israel and the Church are totally different.
Many of the references to the Church in the New Testament are to local assemblies of believers, and as such, and even in today’s local assemblies or congregations, all the truths and characteristics concerning the universal Church should be mirrored. Unity – there is only one Church : there must be Submission to the Head who is Christ alone , and submission to The Holy Spirit who represents Him. There should be a Universal concern and function : we must all exhibit Holiness because we are the temple of God : and there should be the evidence of Growth in character and maturity, and the use of the gifts that God has given to us . There should also be the Priesthood of believers, making us all function as worshiping priests . It is also the duty of all believers to spread our faith so as to add to the body and to exercise our gifts..
Not only is the Church to be a witness, but in each local Church where believers congregate, God should receive glory and praise from their worship. As to our witness, we should not be deceived or confused with the idea that we will succeed in converting the entire world with the preaching of the gospel, as this would be contrary to predictions of apostasy in the last days .
The holy Spirit is the power in every congregation of believers: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you…”, and as such His leadership should be vital in all decisions and areas of service. Scripture does not direct that all local congregations should be exactly alike in their customs of ritual or worship; but the leaders (elders, deacons) should keep things in order.
Gifted individuals are a part of every congregation of believers, and these gifts have been given (distributed) by Christ, some of which are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers: “It was he[Christ]who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”. We see that the apostles and prophets were for the founding of the Church, and as such they have no successors. The original apostleswere witnesses to Christ’s resurrection and were commissioned by Him (or sent) to establish the Churches in the then known world (e.g. Paul, Peter). The prophetsspoke before the Churches were formed, and no one today has a direct revelation from God since the completed scriptures reveal all that we need to know of and from God. Today evangelists are needed in the Church, and are gifted in winning individuals to Christ through the gospel, and this work adds members to the local Church. Pastors or shepherds, Christ being the Chief Shepherd, provide spiritual food for the members of the body of believers, and thus are closely associated to teachers. Pastors are also encouragers, and call on those members who are not able to attend the regular meetings of the Church, in larger congregations this is now done by those appointed to a visitation committee. The main function of the Pastor is to feed the flock of God and to protect them from the “savage wolves” or false teachers who will conquer and divide the Church. Teachers are those that study and instruct the truths or doctrines of the scriptures .
Orderliness in the Church is very important to its witness: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…… everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.”, and such order should be of God, that is, what is taught in the scriptures. This can, and most times include the appointment of individuals to oversee specific functions or offices of the local congregation .
There are many ordinances or sacraments in the Church today, but the scriptures states only two: Baptism and the Breaking of Bread or Communion. Baptismis considered as the external sign of what has been achieved in the heart, and cannot or does not provide salvation. It is also considered as identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and an act of obedience to Christ’s command . The Communion, the breaking of Bread,or the Lord’s Supper,is the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection, which was established by our Lord Himself: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”.
Another important function in the local Church is one of Discipline, and although this can be sometimes unpleasant, it is necessary if order is to be maintained ; this is one function in which the leaders will need divine help so as to make the process as impartial as possible.