Definition, Organization, and Purposes of a Church

Jerald Finney
Copyright © December, 2010

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Note. This written teaching revises what Jerald Finney originally wrote and taught in his audio teaching on the “Definition, organization, and purposes of a church.”

Definition, Organization, and Purposes of a Church8

The church, as such, is never mentioned in the Old Testament. The Old Testament includes, among other things:

  1. a history of man from the beginning in the Garden of Eden, the fall, the success of man when ruled by conscience, the ordination of human government, the establishment of nations and the rules for Gentile nations and the nation of Israel, the success of man under civil government and the fate of civil government and nations;
  2. God’s past, present, and future dealings with nations, especially Israel and Gentile nations as they relate to Israel, God’s chosen people until the Jewish nation/religion rejected Christ as recorded in the New Testament Gospels;
  3. various covenants established by God;
  4. God’s plan of salvation through grace;
  5. prophecies that go all the way to the establishment of God’s eternal kingdom.

As recorded in the New Testament, born-again believers are the people now chosen by God for His purposes and glory and have been since the nation Israel rejected Him. In the Old Testament, God’s light shined through an earthly organization, the nation Israel, including the trail that led to the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, God’s light shines through a spiritual organism, the institution of the church which is comprised of local, autonomous, spiritual bodies. No organism which resembled the New Testament church was described in the Old Testament. Old Testament believers were told at times to assemble to worship God (See, e.g., De. 4.10), but nowhere were they described as the church is described in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit did not indwell all believers in Old Testament times. Since the conversion of Cornelius as recorded in Acts 10, He now indwells every believer at the moment of salvation.

Christ ordained the nations and civil government, and He ordained the church. “And I [Jesus Christ] say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16.18). Christ, through the epistles of Paul, develops the doctrine of the church. Through those epistles we know that the institution of the church is made up of local, autonomous, spiritual organisms, who are heavenly in calling, promise, and destiny. Through those epistles we know the nature, purpose, and form of organization of local churches and the right conduct of such bodies.

SeparationOfChurchAndStateThe author set out to understand what the Bible teaches about the issue of separation of church and state in America. When investigating the biblical principles of church, state, separation of church and state and the American application of those principles, one meets the issue of Covenant versus Dispensational Theology head on; one must examine the biblical doctrines of government and church.

To understand the issues of government, church, and separation of church and state, one necessarily has to study both Covenant Theology and Dispensational Theology. Bible exposition, history, and law mandate this examination. Dispensational Theology literally interprets Scripture (with an understanding of figures of speech and context) whereas Covenant Theology incorrectly allegorizes or spiritualizes much of Scripture. When one believes what the Bible says, he cannot accept the interpretations of various issues made by those religions that have imposed fallacious interpretations upon the Word of God. These matters will be examined in more detail in the teachings which follow.

3The author disagrees with Covenant Theologians in their interpretation of Scripture. The author does not accept the unbiblical definition of “church” given by Covenant Theologians: “The community of all true believers for all time” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan; Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), pp. 859-863 (differences between dispensationalism and Covenant Theology), p. 853 (the Covenant Theology definition of “Church”). See also the lessons which follow in this Section and in Section III.).

The terms “dispensationalism” and “dispensational theology” identify a particular way by which one divides the word of truth. This simplifies discussion just as does the use of the word “trinity.” However, to determine whether any biblical teaching is correct, one must study the Bible. One can, for example, explain the fate of Israel, Gentile nations, and the church without being called a “dispensationalist;” but he is in fact a dispensationalist by definition if he literally interprets Scripture which, without reasonable argument, tells of various dispensations in God’s dealings with mankind. Unfortunately, there are some “dispensationalists” who partially or totally falsely divide biblical teaching. A believer must be careful to “study to shew [himself] approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

Instead, for many reasons, some of which are discussed in Part One (Sections I, II, and III) of God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application which is reproduced in edited form on this website), the author believes that the correct dispensational view of Scripture will, among other matters, make clear that:

  1. Hyper-dispensationalists divide the Word of God into too many small slices, thereby incorrectly expositing Scripture as to many issues and points. One example is offered here. Contrary to the teachings of some “dispensationalists,” all true believers in Christ after the fall, whether before or after His death and resurrection, are saved by repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    However, the New Testament church is never mentioned in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, as in the New, God dealt with individuals on the basis of their faith or absence of faith in the coming Messiah. In Old Testament times, believers looked forward to the resurrection; but God had not yet instituted any organism which in any way resembled the church ordained by Christ as recorded in the New Testament. After the resurrection, believers look backward to the resurrection. See, e.g., the Messianic Psalms; research the entire Old Testament on the subject starting with Genesis; Genesis 3-4; Psalm 51; John 5:43-47; Acts 10:40;  Romans 4, 9:30-33; 1 Corinthians 10:1-4; Galatians 3:10-18; 2 Timothy 3:15 (at the time Timothy was written, there was no New Testament, only Old Testament Scriptures; Hebrews 4:1-2; James 2:23-24.

    In the Old Testament God also deals with nations, and much of the Old Testament tells of God’s past, present, and future dealings with nations, especially the nation Israel and Gentile nations as they relate to Israel. However, no organism which resembled the New Testament church was described in the Old Testament. Old Testament believers were told at times to assemble to worship God (See, e.g., De. 4.10), but nowhere were they described as the church is described in the New Testament. Therefore, one must not use Old Testament Scripture to teach, for example, on the position and role of the New Testament church pastor.
  2. 9Yes, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13.8); He has always loved mankind, His creation, so much that He has done everything possible to show man that the only way to Him, after the fall, was by grace through faith. Every person since the fall has is a lost sinner unless he repents toward God and places his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Everyone, to the point of salvation, is a sinner whose righteousness is as filthy rags. After salvation, a man still commits sin, but he does not practice sin without consequences as before. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Co. 5.17; see, for more on this, Repentance, the new creature, the new life, and changed behavior).

    Because of the nature and history of man and because God loves man and wishes every person to choose to come to Him, as the Bible explains, He has worked with mankind in various ways since the creation in order to test man and show him that man cannot earn his eternal life; that salvation is a free gift. Every man fails God’s tests and rejects God’s ways or rules which would only benefit man, thus demonstrating that one is saved by grace through faith. The main purpose of God’s tests are to bring men to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Every man fails; God succeeds for the remnant who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. God worked with Adam and Eve before the fall in a special way: they were not saved by faith in Jesus Christ since they had not yet failed God in any way. However, after failing the one test God presented to them, God-instead of killing them instantly as they justly deserved—graciously spared mankind before his inevitable physical death and gave them a way to Him—faith in the coming seed. Thereafter, every time man has failed God’s tests. God—instead of destroying all human beings (except for the faithful remnant)—has lovingly demonstrated His great love for mankind in spite of man’s rejection of and rebellion against God and His Word.
  3. 2Every teaching on the Word of God—whether it be termed Dispensational Theology, Covenant Theology, or something else—should be carefully examined against Scripture as to its truth. For example, C. I. Scofield was a dispensationalist and his Commentaries on the Bible are very helpful in a serious study of the Word of God. However, he was wrong about many things in his footnotes, margin notes, and headnotes. Every believer is responsible to God to seek out the truth of the Bible. All resources one relies on in his study of God’s Word are to be tested by a careful study of the Word of God. Quotes from Scofield in these teachings indicates agreement unless otherwise indicated.

This author agrees, for the most part, with the writings of those dispensationalists which he has read. Fortunately, the Lord did not lead the author to the teachings of the fundamentally errouneous dispensationalists in his studies for the writings of his books and other writings. Yes, some so-called dispensationalists are wrong, according the Bible, in some of their teachings.  Pastor Mike Hoggard points out critical flaws of the false dispensationalists on Facebook at: “Dispensationalism, True Or False?” Does this mean that the correct dispensational approach to understanding Scripture is wrong? Absolutely, not. Sadly, some good men of God point at erroneous dispensationist teachers or teachings and use that error to totally discount dispensationalism. More on the author’s understanding of dispensatonism is to be found in the article, “Dispensational Theology Versus Covenant Theology.”

dispensations-7_02Simply put, the term dispensation as it relates to Dispensational Theology could be defined as a particular way of God’s administering His rule over the world as He progressively works out His purpose of world history. See “Dispensational versus Covenant Theology” for a more thorough definition and understanding of Dispensational Theology. Seven such dispensations are distinguished in Scripture:

  1. Innocency (Genesis 1.28).
  2. Conscience (Genesis 3.23).
  3. Human government (Genesis 8.20).
  4. Promise (Genesis 12.1).
  5. Law (Exodus 19.8).
  6. Grace (John 1.17).
  7. Kingdom (Ephesians 1.10).

1The author does not agree with Covenant Theologians in their allegorical teaching that the church has replaced Israel. Covenant Theologians believe that the church has replaced Israel, that God is finished with Israel and the Jews, and that God’s promises to and covenants with the nation Israel and selected rules for organization for the Jewish religion should be applied to the church (See Grudem, pp. 859-863). Covenant Theologians reach this false conclusion by allegorizing certain Scriptures. The author addresses this in Section I (reproduced with modifications and editions on this website. Click here to go to the webpage with links to Section I articles.) and Section III of God Betrayed (reproduced with modifications and editions on this website)Click here to go to the webpage with links to Section III articles.). Section IV of God Betrayed shows the anti-biblical consequences of the brand of Covenant Theology practiced in Europe and brought to America by established Protestant churches. (Click here to go to the webpage  with links to Section IV articles.).

UnionOfChurchAndState2The application to modern nations, and the attempt to make the application in America, of certain principles—including the principle of union of religion (or church) and state— regarding the Jewish religion and the relationship of religion to state in Old Testament Israel has had devastating consequences in the United States. Those theologians who would combine religion and state as in the pagan nations of antiquity, as with Israel in the theocracy, as with the established Catholic and Protestant churches who used the arm of the state to kill millions whom they designated as heretics, as with the religion of Islam, etc. have not mastered God’s lessons recorded in His Word and in the historical writings of man. Sadly, America is now overrun with false Catholic and Protestant religions who hate the biblical principle of separation of church and state (not separation of God and state) as enacted in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

To properly explain the issue of the relationship, if any, between church and state (separation of church and state), one must correctly understand what the Bible teaches about the government (covered in Section I of these studies) and church (this section, Section II). Section III will culminate this study as it examines the biblical principle of separation of church and state. Dispensational Theology correctly explains the biblical doctrine of separation of church and state. As is explained in Section III, Chapter or Lesson 4, the principles for church and state are so distinct that the two are mutually exclusive.

A New Testament church is made up of visible people who have made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ,are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and who assemble as members of a local spiritual body. On the other hand, since one cannot see the spiritual condition of people’s hearts, in one sense a church is invisible. “We can see those who outwardly attend the church, and we can see outward evidences of inward spiritual change, but we cannot actually see into people’s hearts and view their spiritual state. Only God can do that…. [An] invisible church is the church as God sees it” (Grudem, p. 855; Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Greenville, S.C.: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), p. 90)[Bracketed material indicates modifications]. Therefore, one can be in a visible church, yet unregenerate, lost, and destined for hell; such a person is not really a part of the true church to which he belongs. He is a tare; he will not be at the marriage of the Lamb (see Re. 19.7-10), and he will not be a part of the “general assembly and church of the firstborn” (see He. 12.22-24). According to the Word of God, the future of the visible Church, except for a remnant, is apostasy.

Church members are not to be “fruit inspectors.” A church is authorized to remove a professed believer from fellowship only, and that for gross immorality in order to “deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (See 1 Co. 5).

Click the above image to go to some heretical Roman Catholic teaching on the issue.
Click the above image to go to some heretical Roman Catholic teaching on the issue.

Obviously, the Bible rejects the Roman Catholic position that the Roman Catholic “church” is the only true church or even a church as described in the New Testament. The Roman Catholic “church” was responsible for the persecution of untold millions of believers when that “church” had earthly authority. Catholicism justified the persecution by a false theology. Study of God’s Word, without brainwashing, a practice which the vast majority of Roman Catholic churches have traditionally condemned, reveals the fallacies of Roman Catholic theology. The author believes that, is spite of the apostate theology or the Catholic church, many Catholics today are probably saved, but ignorant. Otherwise, they would leave the harlot religious organization and join a Bible believing New Testament church. The Bible also rejects Protestant church theology which has also been responsible for the persecution and murder of those deemed to be heretics. Note. See for a Catholic perspective of church and state.

9In the New Testament, the church is spoken of in two senses. In one sense, the Bible speaks of the institution of the Church, just as it speaks of the institution of marriage. As to the institution of the church, Jesus Christ promised, in speaking to Peter, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (Mt. 16.18). “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ep. 5.25; of course, Ephesians was written to the church at Ephesus, the teachings to be applied by all local churches, Scofield’s misguided headnote notwithstanding. The Bible does not agree with Scofield’s doctrine of what he terms the “true” church. True believers who know and follow the Lord will be part of the marriage of the Lamb (See Re. 19.7-10), at which point there will be only MarriageSupperOfTheLambone church or assembly of the saints. “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect,  And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel” (He. 12:22-24). However, until the marriage of the lamb, the church, as spoken of in the Bible, is an heavenly institution made up of local spiritual bodies or organisms.

In a second sense, the church is a local body of believers. In this sense, a church has a visible aspect—it is a church as church members see it. Only local autonomous assemblies of actual believers give place for the application of spiritual gifts as a body, worship of the Lord, perfection of the saints, work of the ministry, and edification of the church. All biblical references to a church here on the earth refer to an autonomous local body of Jewish and/or Gentile believers and not to a universal or catholic church. Nowhere in the New Testament is a church here on the earth ever referred to as anything other than a local spiritual body and nowhere does Scripture teach that a church is to have any type authority above it other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Some examples of references to churches as they existed in the New Testament follow:

  1. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Ac. 9.31).
  2. Paul said, “Likewise greet the church that is in their house” (Ro. 16.5).  Notice that the church refers to the local body of baptized believers. The house was just the place where they met; it was not a church.
  3. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Paul … Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s” (1 Co. 1.1-2).
  4. “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place…” (1 Co. 14.23).
  5. “The churches [Not “the church”] of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Co; 16.19).
  6. “Paul … unto Philemon … and to the church in thy house” (Phil; 1-2).
  7. “… [T]hat thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Ti; 3.15).  The Bible defines “house of God”: “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house; as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken of after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (He. 3.4-6).
  8. 7 churches of Re.In Revelation, in speaking to “the things that are” at that time, the Lord stands in the midst of the seven candlesticks (churches)(Re. 1.12-13) and speaks to each church individually. He speaks to and has a message for “the church of Ephesus” (Re. 2.1), “the church in Smyrna” (Re. 2.8), “the church in Pergamos” (Re. 2.12), “the church in Thyatira” (Re. 2.18), “the church in Sardis” (Re. 3.1), “the church in Philadelphia” (Re. 3.7), and “the church of the Laodiceans” (Re. 3.14).

Baptists have always recognized the biblical teaching as to this aspect of a church—that is, that a church on earth is only a local spiritual body of believers whose Head is Jesus Christ. As Isaac Backus wisely noted:

ChristIsTheHead “[A] power in councils above particular churches has no foundation in Scripture, and is an endless source of confusion among Christians…. In all earthly governments, the laws are executed in the name of the supreme authority of it, which can see but a little of what is done in its name. But the Son of God is present in every church, as well as through the world, by his universal knowledge and power; and if any of his churches leave their first love, and will not repent, he removes the candlestick out of his place. Rev. ii. 1-5” (Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volumes 1 and 2 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), pp. 339-340).

J. M. Carroll said this:

“[N]either Christ nor His apostles, ever gave to His followers, what is known today as a denominational name, such as ‘Catholic,’ ‘Lutheran,’ ‘Presbyterian,’ Episcopal,’ and so forth—unless the name given by Christ to John was intended for such, ‘The Baptist,’ ‘John the Baptist.’ (Matt.11:11 and 10 or 12 other times.) Christ called the individual follower ‘disciple.’ Two or more were called ‘disciples.’ The organization of disciples, whether at Jerusalem or Antioch or elsewhere, was called Church. If more than one of these separate organizations were referred to, they were called Churches. The word church in the singular was never used when referring to more than one of these organizations. Nor even when referring to them all.” (J. M. Carroll, The Trail of Blood, (Distributed by Ashland Avenue Baptist Church, 163 N. Ashland Avenue, Lexington KY 40502, 606-266-4341), p. 9.

J. M. Carroll was a leader among Baptists who studied history and the Bible in an attempt to “find the church which was the oldest and most like churches described in the New Testament.” In the course of his studies, he gathered “one of the greatest libraries on church history. This library was given at his death to the Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas.” Carroll, Introduction at pp. 1-2.).

For our understanding her nature, Scripture describes a church in many ways. A church is a family. “Rebuke not an elder, but entreat him as a father; and the younger men as brethren; The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Ti. 5.1-2). “And [I] will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Co. 6.18). “And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Mt. 12.49-50).

A church is called the body of Christ, and therefore a living organism, not a congregation. The Holy Spirit forms the church:

“(2)(g) When Peter opened the door of the kingdom to the Gentiles (Acts 10), the Holy Spirit, without delay, or other condition than faith, was given to those who believed (Acts 10.44; 11.15-18). This is the permanent fact for the entire church-age. Every believer is born of the Spirit (John 3.3, 6; 1 John 5.1), indwelt by the Spirit, whose presence makes the believer’s body a temple (1 Cor. 6.19; Rom. 8.9-15; 1 John 2.27; Gal. 4.6), and baptized by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12.12, 13; 1 John 2.20, 27), thus sealing him for God (Eph. 1.13; 4.30)…. (5) The Holy Spirit forms [a] church (Mt. 16.18; Heb. 12.23, note) by baptizing all believers [] (1 Cor. 12.12, 13)[and the member is then added to a local New Testament church when he is baptized in water], imparts gifts for service to every member of that body (1 Cor. 12.7-11, 27, 30), guides the members in their service (Lk. 2.27; 4.1; Acts 16.6, 7), and is Himself the power of that service (Acts 1.8; 2.4; 1 Cor. 2.4).“(6) The Spirit abides in the company of believers who constitute a local church, making of them, corporately, a temple (1 Cor. 3.16, 17).” (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 pp. 1149-1150 to Acts 2.4). ]Bracketed changes and additions made by the author to clarify or correct Scofield’s note.]

Although the word “congregation” is used several hundred times in the Old Testament, it appears only once in the New Testament, in Acts 13.43, referring to a meeting of the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch where Paul had preached to them on the Sabbath day. A “congregation” is “an assembly of persons, or a gathering; especially, an assembly of persons met for worship and religious instruction” (See AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828) definition of “CONGREGATION” and MERRIAM WEBSTER’S COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY 243 (10th ed. 1995), definition of “congregation.”). According to one Rabbi Hisda, the Hebrew word sbr meaning “assembly” or “congregation” is a contraction of three words: s from saddiqim (meaning “righteous”) plus b from benonim (“middle of the road persons”) and r from reshan (“wicked ones”) (Leonard Verduin, The Anatomy of a Hybrid (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Derdmans Publishing Co., 1976), fn W, p. 216.) On the other hand, a New Testament church is described as a spiritual body wherein each member has a specific purpose. For the church body to function correctly, all the members must perform their functions. The difference between the church, a spiritual body, and a congregation is significant: a church body is a spiritual organism whereas a congregation is an earthly gathering of people.

God, through the Apostle Paul, gives two metaphors of the body:

  1. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.  Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body: but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Co. 12.12-27). “Ye” in the last verse, is plural, and is addressed to the Church at Corinth.
  2. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.  (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:  That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:  From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:4-16).

In other passages, Christ is depicted as the head of the church and the earthly members as the body. Remember that these passages are from Epistles written to local church bodies for their instruction.

  1. “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Ep. 1.22-23).
  2. “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:  From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ep. 4.15-16).
  3. “And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God” (Col. 2.19).

The Bible compares a church to a pearl of great price which “a merchant man sold all that he had, and bought it (Mt. 13.45-46):

PearlOfGreatPrice“Of [a] true Church a pearl is a perfect symbol: (1) a pearl is one, a perfect symbol of unity (1 Cor. 10.17; 12.12, 13; Eph. 4.4-6). (2) A pearl is formed by accretion, and that not mechanically, but vitally, through a living one, as Christ adds to [a] Church (Acts 2.41, 47; 5.14; 11.24; Eph. 2.21; Col 2.19. (3) Christ, having given Himself for the pearl, is now preparing it for the presentation to Himself (Eph. 5.25-27).  The kingdom is not the Church, but the true children of the kingdom during the fulfillment of these mysteries, baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12. 12, 13), compose … the pearl.” 1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 3 to Matthew 13.45, p. 1017.).

A church is also compared to:

  1. the Father’s love gift to Jesus Christ (Jn. 17.2, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24);
  2. the bride and wife of Christ, who is the Head of the church as the husband is the head of the wife;
  3. a virgin espoused to one husband (2 Co. 11.1-2);
  4. “the household of God” and “an holy temple in the Lord” (Ep. 2.19-21; see also 1 Co. 3.16);
  5. branches on a vine (Jn. 15.5);
  6. an olive tree (Ro. 11.17-24);
  7. a field of crops (1 Co. 3.6-9);
  8. God’s husbandry and God’s building” (1 Co. 3.9);
  9. a harvest (Mt. 13.1-30; Jn. 4.35);
  10. lively stones, built up a spiritual house,
  11. an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ (1 Pe. 2.5);
  12. Christ’s house (He. 3.6) built by Christ Himself (He. 3.3); and
  13. ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Ti. 3.15). God gave each metaphor for a reason.

Wayne Grudem explains:

“Each of the metaphors used for the church can help us to appreciate more of the richness of privilege that God has given us by incorporating us into [a local] church. The fact that [a] church is like a family should increase our love and fellowship with one another. The thought that the church is like the bride of Christ should stimulate us to strive for greater purity and holiness, and also greater love for Christ and submission to him. The image of [churches] as branches in a vine should cause us to rest in him more fully. The idea of an agricultural crop should encourage us to continue growing in the Christian life and obtaining for ourselves and others the proper spiritual nutrients to grow. The picture of [a] church as God’s new temple should increase our awareness of God’s very presence dwelling in our midst as we meet. The concept of [a] church as a priesthood should help us to see more clearly the delight God has in the sacrifices of praise and good deeds that we offer to him (See Heb. 13.15-16). The metaphor of [a] church as the body of Christ should increase our interdependence on one another and our appreciation of the diversity of gifts within the body. Many other applications could be drawn from these and other metaphors for the church listed in Scripture.” (Grudem, p. 859)[Brackets contain changes made by the author to reflect true Scriptural teaching].

How can one recognize a true church? J. M. Carroll, in describing the overall organization of the church, listed eleven “Marks of a New Testament Church:

  1. “Its Head and Founder—CHRIST. He is the lawgiver; the Church is only the executive. (Matt. 16:18; Col. 1:18.)
  2. “Its only rule of faith and practice—THE BIBLE. (II Tim. 3:15-17.)
  3. “Its name—‘CHURCH,’ ‘CHURCHES.’ (Matt. 16:18; Rev. 22:16.)
  4. “Its polity—CONGREGATIONAL—all members equal. (Matt. 20:24-28; Matt. 23:5- 12.)
  5. “Its members—only saved people. (Eph 2:21-22; I Peter 2:5.)
  6. “Its ordinances—BELIEVER’S BAPTISM, FOLLOWED BY THE LORD’S SUPPER. (Matt. 28:19-20.)
  7. “Its officers—PASTORS AND DEACONS. (I Tim. 3:1-16.)
  8. “Its work—getting folks saved, baptizing them (with a baptism that meets all the requirements of God’s Word), teaching them (‘to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you’). (Matt. 28:16-20.)
  9. “Its financial plan—‘Even so (TITHES and OFFERINGS) hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.’ (I Cor. 9.14.)
  10. “Its weapons of warfare—spiritual, not carnal. (II Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:10-20.)
  11. “Its independence—separation of Church and State. (Matt. 22:21.)”

(Carroll, pp. 4-5).

Certainly, a preacher on the street corner with a crowd around him as he preaches is not a church. Nor is a group of people meeting in a house and preaching the Word. However, if that house group chooses a properly ordained and baptized pastor, organizes and operates according to biblical principles, initiates a proper baptism for new believers, and begins to partake of the Lord’s Supper, an ordered New Testament church comes into existence. The Lord desires that those who are saved be baptized into a properly ordered New Testament church.

Where only false doctrines are preached, no church can exist. For example, the Catholic Church, some Baptist churches, many Protestant churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Islam, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not churches. “When the preaching of a church conceals the gospel message of salvation by faith alone from its members, so that the gospel message is not clearly proclaimed, and has not been proclaimed for some time, the group meeting there is not a church” (Grudem, p. 865). A church can exist only where the Bible is believed to be the inerrant Word of God, where the Bible is the sole basis for faith and practice, and where that Bible is preached.

5A church has responsibilities. Strong, knowledgeable believers who are walking in the spirit will practice all their God-given responsibilities and apply their spiritual gifts. Included in those responsibilities, but not developed in this chapter or section, is the responsibility to “present [the church] as a chaste virgin to Christ” (See 2 Co. 11.1-4).

Worship is preeminent for the believer and for a church. “Worship” means “[t]o adore; to pay divine honor to; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration” (AMERICAN DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, NOAH WEBSTER (1828) definition of “WORSHIP.”).  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3.16).  “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ” (Ep. 1.12). “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ep. 5.19-20).

The principles of worship set out in Exodus 30, the great worship chapter, still apply. Exodus 30.38 condemns “making worship a mere pleasure to the natural man, whether sensuous, as in … music …, or eloquence, merely to give delight to the natural mind” (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 3 to Exodus 30.38, p. 112).  Christians are to worship God in spirit and in truth (See Jn. 4.23-24). The Word of God contains principles regarding appropriate music, dress, conduct, and attitude for worship. The Lord commanded, “Ye shall offer no strange incense [on the altar of incense], nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon” (Ex. 30.9). No ‘strange’ incense was to be offered (that is simulated or purely formal worship forbidden) and no “strange” fire was permitted (referring “to the excitation of ‘religious’ feelings by merely sensuous means, and to the substitution for devotion to Christ of any other devotion, as to religious causes, or sects” (See 1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 to Exodus 30.9, p. 111; I Corinthians 1:11-13; Colossians 2.8,16-19).).

The local body assembles to worship God, for the perfection of the saints, for the work of the ministry, and for the edification of the members of the body, not to preach to the lost. Believers go outside the assembly and seek the salvation of the lost. This does not mean that lost people may not attend the assembly, but the purpose of assembly is not to win the lost. God gifted members of a church “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ep. 4.12-13).  A church is to preach the whole counsel of God, “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Col. 1.28).

A church has the responsibility to evangelize. “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16.15).  “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mt. 28.19).

Along with the obligation to evangelize goes helping and doing good to fellow believers as well as to unbelievers:

  1. “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful’” (Lu. 6.35-36).
  2. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him” (1 Jn. 3.17)?
  3. “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea” (Ac. 11.29).
  4. “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men” (Ro. 12.17). “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men” (1 Th. 5.15).
  5. “Praying us with much intreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints” (2 Co. 8.4).
  6. “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (Ja. 2.14-17).

a5A church is united together and to Christ by the baptism with the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 12.12-34). As such, it is a holy temple for the habitation of God through the Spirit (Ep. 2.21, 22); is “one flesh” with Christ (Ep. 5.30, 31); and espoused to Him as a chaste virgin to one husband (2 Co. 11.2-4). Other metaphors, as pointed out above, have also been used to describe a church. Local churches assemble in His name for the breaking of bread, worship, praise, prayer, testimony, the ministry of the word, discipline, and the furtherance of the Gospel (He. 10.25; Ac. 20.7; 1 Co. 14.26; 1 Co. 5.4, 5; Ph. 4.14-18; 1 Th. 1.8; Ac. 13.1-). Every such local church has Christ in the midst, is a temple of God, indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Co. 3.16, 17), and is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Ti. 3.15). Only the assembly where the true doctrine is preached is a church: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Ga. 1.8). A church is the body of Christ of which He is the Head. Christ desires that a church remain solely under Him: “And [God] hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church” (Ep. 1.22-23). “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church” (Ep. 5.23).

3 thoughts on “Definition, Organization, and Purposes of a Church”

  1. very interesting articles. so how should a church be properly set up and own a property? Reading your articles i i see a clear discouragement from accepting government so called tax exemption, grants and corporations money due to 501c3 requirement. to do good the church will have to rely on its members or those who will give without the 501c3 requirement.

    1. If you are a pastor of a church who desires to organize according to the principles of the New Testament, please contact me at (H) 512-385-0761 or (C) 512-785-8445. I would be glad to discuss your situation and help you in your efforts. If you are ready to act, you will need more specific direction for your particular situation. If you are not a pastor, I address your concerns in my articles, books, and audio teachings. To fully understand these matters takes a lot of time and study.

      For His Glory,
      Jerald Finney

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