What Does the Bible Need to Say about the Church?
Mention the church to several Christians and it’s likely you’ll get a mixed response. Some might say that, while they actually love Jesus, they don’t love the church. Others might respond, “Naturally we love the church.”
Such as a branch that grows due to its link with the tree, we thrive whenever we stay linked to the church.
To explore this matter, it’s important to consider what the Bible says about the church.
The Church in the Bible: Old Testament Life and Worship
Before we can look at what the New Testament (NT) teaches about the church, we first need to see the particular Old Testament (OT) says about life and worship.
God instructed Moses to build a tabernacle-a lightweight tent that represented the presence of God dwelling right in the center of his people. The tabernacle and later the temple were the places where God ordained the sacrifices to be completed and the festivals to be celebrated. The tabernacle and temple functioned as the central place of instruction and teaching about God and his will for Israel. From the tabernacle and temple, Israel sounded forth loud and joyful psalms of praise and worship to God.
The instructions for building the tabernacle required it to be at the guts of Israel’s encampments. Later, Jerusalem, the website of the temple, was viewed as representing the guts of the land of Israel. The tabernacle and temple weren’t only to be viewed as the geographical center of Israel; they were also designed to be the spiritual center of Israel. Like spokes of your wheel that fan right out of the hub, what occurred at these worship centers was to affect every aspect of Israelite life.
The Church in the Bible: Christ and the Gospels
The church did not officially come into existence before day of Pentecost, after Jesus had died and had risen. However, even in the Gospels we learn many things from Christ regarding the church. Let’s review three.
First, we have Jesus’ declaration, “I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). “Gates” likely represents the energy of hell, which is not a match whatsoever for Jesus.
Second, Jesus hands the church its mission statement and purpose for existence when he gives the disciples the fantastic Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. As the church is out into the world, it is named to make disciples, undertaking the duty of baptizing the new disciples and teaching all of them that Christ has commanded. These activities must characterize every local church’s work and life.
The 3rd thing we study from Jesus concerning the church comes from his high-priestly prayer in John 17. By the end of the prayer, Jesus expresses to the daddy, “I made recognized to them your name, and I’ll continue steadily to make it known” (John 17:26). The NT frequently identifies the church as Christ’s body. We live literally the presence of Christ on earth. Along with the church’s mission is exactly the same as Christ’s mission: to proclaim God’s name.
The universal church of Christ’s is noticeable and manifest in local congregations, or churches. These local churches are to be “incarnational.” They are simply to represent Christ, who was incarnated (that is, born as a human) and walked in our midst. The incarnational style of the church means that we live and behave with the entire realization that people represent Christ to the planet also to each other.
The Church in the Bible: The Book of Acts
Acts tells the storyline of the church, from its inception on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, to ch. 28 with Paul at Rome. Among, the church experience tragedies and triumphs, sorrows and joys. The book of Acts tells the story of the young church, persecuted but bold.
Two things stick out in the life of the first church. One concerns the energy of the Holy Spirit. By the end of the Gospels we see apostles who had been scared, even to the idea of hiding. Then in the first chapters of Acts these same apostles boldly turn the earth upside down.
The main element to understanding what happened to them sometimes appears in Acts 1:8 (in Christ’s prophecy), then in Acts 2 (the prophecy’s fulfillment). The apostles received the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit they received power. This same Spirit still binds believers together and brings us in to the family of God (Eph. 4:1-7).
The Holy Spirit graciously gives us spiritual gifts, according to Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. God has designed the church to be where these gifts are discovered, nurtured, and used to build up the body of Christ and bring it to maturity, ultimately for the glory of God (see 1 Corinthians 14). The same Spirit who worked powerfully in the first church is constantly on the work in and through the church today.
Second, the book of Acts shows the way the church functions and what it does. Members of the first church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Each one of these activities are crucial to growing in Christ, and everything occur within the neighborhood church.
The Church in the Bible: The Epistles
Having looked briefly at the tabernacle and temple in the OT, and the church in the Gospels and Acts, we have now come to the NT epistles. With a few exceptions, these books were written to churches, stressing again the God-ordained stature of the church. In the Epistles, especially the letters of Paul to Titus and Timothy, Paul evidently cannot conceive of living the Christian life in addition to the church.
The Church as the Communion of Saints
From the beginning of God’s dealing along with his people, the Bible has stressed community. In fact, biblical discussion of godly living is almost always occur the context of growing together, in community, as God’s people. For Christians today, and going back 2,000 years, God has generated the neighborhood church as the vehicle for your community. Some current movements seek to replace more traditional understandings of the neighborhood church, seeing a group of friends meeting together, for instance, as church. That’s not quite the picture that we see in the NT.
Within the NT, we see young and old mixing, as older people are to instruct younger people. We see people coming together to worship who result from different stages in life, different occupations, and various backgrounds. Paul stressed that the social divides typical of all groups in society have no place in the church. The church should be a place of diversity, where each individual can donate to the whole. Limiting oneself to a circle of peers is not sanctioned by Scripture and does not promote spiritual growth.