Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

CHURCH - THE BASICS

Everyone has some ideas about what church means, what it's supposed to be like and so on, but many of these ideas have no basis in scripture and are the source of a lot of confusion. In these pages, I'll present what the scriptures say about the church.

Why is it important to learn about the church?

The reasons are as follows:
  • Divine affection: God loves the church - it's dear to His heart (Ephesians 5:25)
  • Divine revelation: it forms part of God's divine revelation - we need to contrast God's truth given to us with man made tradition.
  • Divine purpose: It's part of what God is doing. God did not start a mission board, an inter-denominational organization, etc. but He started the church.
  • Divine ownership: He owns the church (Matthew 16:18). He makes the rules, and we need to know them.

The meaning of the word "church":-

The English word church is the translation of the Greek word "ecclesia", which refers to a called out company. Thus, an "ecclesia" is a called out company - a definite category of people. The church is a called out company of believers (1 Peter 2:3-5). God has separated those who believe in Jesus Christ unto Himself - this is the church. It should be absolutely clear that the church is not:-
  • an institution that a person automatically becomes part of by being born into a certain family or community, or by some rite such as infant baptism.
  • a building
  • a hierarchy such as the Roman Catholic Church
  • the set of all the Christians in a large region. There is no such thing as "the church of India" or "the church of Galatia". But we do have "churches of Galatia" (1 Corinthians 16:1)
  • the set of all the followers of Christ living at a certain time, such as 50 AD or 2009 AD.
There are only two senses in which the word church is used in the New Testament:-
  1. The disciples of Christ who meet together at a particular place: For instance, "The church that is at Babylon" (1 Peter 5:13). I'll call this the local church. A local church is associated with a single city or region small enough for people to travel across on a Sunday morning. There was a local church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2) and another one at the neighboring city of Cenchrea (see the note at the end of Romans).
  2. All the disciples of Christ, from the time of Pentecost to the Rapture: For instance, "...that he might present it to himself, a glorious church" (Ephesians 5:24). I'll call this the universal church.

Differences between the local and universal church

It is God's purpose that every local church should represent the universal church to the world. The local church is the only representation for the universal that God has sanctioned. Nevertheless, we have the following differences:- 

  1. "I will build my church [singular] and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." - Matthew 16:18. There always were, and are, true believers on earth (even in the Dark Ages!!). Thus the universal church will not be extinguished from the earth. In contrast, local churches may die out. Many places which once had thriving churches now have none. The reverse is also true.
  2. Since many believers have died (and others are yet to be born), the universal church is an invisible entity (at least for now!). On the other hand, any local church is visible.
  3. In the future, there will be no local churches, only the universal church, which will be perfect: "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Ephesians 5:27). In the present, however, local churches are always imperfect. There may even be unbelievers inside, pretending to be or mistakenly thinking that they are believers.
  4. In terms of status, everyone is identical in the universal church: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." - Galatians 3:28. However, different classes of people, such as men and women, have different roles in the local church (for instance, see 1 Timothy 2:12).
  5. The universal church is built by God (Matthew 16:18). However, he may use individuals to build up certain local churches (1 Corinthians 3:10)

The prerequisites for the start of the Church:-

Three things were essential before the church formed:
  1. The cross: Its the basis of our existence as a church and all we enjoy. In Matthew:16:18 Jesus was talking about the church. And from that time forth, he started talking about his suffering (Matthew 16:21). This connects the church and the cross.
  2. The resurrection: Our faith is in vain without the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:14). Without the resurrection, Christ is not victorious, sin is not atoned for, and therefore no basis for the church. 
  3. The ascension/exaltation: In John 7:38, we're told about rivers of living water, which refer to the Holy Spirit, which was not yet given because Jesus was not exalted. Thus the ascension is necessary for the Holy Spirit's coming, and thus for the beginning of the church.

The duration of the church one earth:-

The first mention of the church is in Matthew 16:18, by the Lord Jesus himself. In this verse, the Lord Jesus says, "I will build my church". The future tense used shows that the church was an entity not yet existing when these words were spoken. Thus the church does not refer to Israel or the 12 disciples living with the Lord Jesus Christ.  The church began at Pentecost.

One point needs to be clarified: In Acts 7:38, the word "church" is used for the Israelites of the Exodus. This is to be taken in a general sense - the Israelites were a called out group of people. They were not the church, in the specific New Testament sense, since the Lord Jesus speaks of the church as something that was in the future (Matthew 16:18).

The church will continue on earth till the Rapture.

The foundation of the church:-

We learn about the foundation of the church from the following passage:-
 
"When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? So they said, Some say John the Immerser, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. He said to them, But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-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 (Greek: Petros), and on this Rock (Greek: Petra)I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against It." - Matthew 16:13-18
 
Thus, the foundation of the church is Jesus Christ - the reality that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ), the Son of God.
 
Some people believe that Peter is the rock on which Christ built the church.This is not true for the following reasons:-
  1. Jesus did not say to Peter, "Upon you will I build the church". He said, "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church". Notice the contrast between YOU and THIS.
  2. Matthew uses different Greek words for Peter and the Rock. Peter is "Petros", a masculine word referring to a single stone or piece of rock (also see John 1:42). The rock on which Christ would build his church is "Petra", a feminine word referring to a huge rock, such as a cliff. While it is true that Jesus was speaking in Aramaic, it is also true that God inspired the writing of the New Testament in Greek. The different words indicate that Peter was not the same as the Rock.
  3. Peter was more like sand. The very next moment, he asked Jesus not to die. If Jesus had followed Peter's advice, there would be no church!! When Jesus was being tried, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus thrice!!
  4. It was Paul, and not Peter who received most revelation from God about the church.
  5. When Paul became a disciple of the Lord Jesus and wanted to join the church at Jerusalem, Peter was terrified of him and tried to avoid him (Acts 9:25, 26). How could the "foundation rock" of the church fail to recognize the greatest instrument of church growth and development?!
  6. When Gentiles (non-Jews) were added to the church, Peter joined with Jews who did not want to fellowship with them (Galatians 2:11-14). But the unity of Gentiles and Jews was a fundamental principle of the church (see Colossians 3:11). How could the "foundation rock" of the church fail to implement such a basic principle?!
  7. Not once after the founding of the church, did Peter or anyone else refer to Peter as the Rock.
  8. Other Bible passages provide clarification: Jesus Christ is mentioned as the Foundation in 1 Corinthians 3:11. Only God is a rock according to Psalm 18:31. Jesus Christ is called the chief cornerstone of the church in Ephesians 2:20, with the apostles and prophets providing the rest of the foundation.
Taken together, the evidence is conclusive. Christ, the perfect, stable Son of God, and not Peter, the imperfect impulsive man is the foundational rock on which the church is built.
 
The Roman Catholic Church is the primary organization that promotes the error that Peter is the rock on which the church is founded. The Vatican even teaches that Peter was the first "Pope" (head of the Catholic church). This is a grosser error, for the following reasons.
  1. In his two epistles, Peter does not refer to himself as the Pope, or the rock on which the church was founded. His death was imminent (2 Peter 1:14), but he makes no mention of his successor, nor is there any mention anywhere else in the Bible.
  2. The Vatican would have us believe that the second and third popes lived when the Bible was being written but Bible authors didn't bother to mention them, although they mentioned so many other Christians. This is ridiculous.
  3. There is no resemblance between Peter, a married Jew who was always broke and forbade people from bowing down to him, and the popes of the RCC, who are celibate (at least that's what they claim), champions of antisemitism, living in great wealth and luxury, putting out their feet for people to kiss, and brutal to true Christians whom they considered heretics.
  4. Roman Catholic teachings are markedly different from those of Peter and the rest of the apostles and prophets.