Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jonah: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Mat. 16:16-18).
This promise to build His church occurred about six months before He was crucified. Whatever His view of the church is ought to be our view as well. Sadly, when some folks discuss the church among themselves, they disparage it. They have a low regard for it and want nothing to do with what Jesus built. Their faulty concepts need proper information. Such motivates our study. We seek to develop the proper concepts concerning the church that Jesus built. Why does God consider the Church of great value?
Ephesians 1:22-23 inform us of important principles. They reveal God’s view of the church. God “put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.” God did not appoint Jesus as CEO over a mud puddle, though that seems to be the attitude of too many folks. When Paul speaks of the fullness of him that filleth all in all,” he is speaking of the church’s benefit to the people. We gain understanding of this fullness from verse three of this same chapter. Every spiritual blessing is in Christ. Remember, the church is the body. So, if one is in the body he is, by the same token, in the sphere of blessing, meaning he enjoys the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.
By reading Ephesians 3:10-11, we gain even greater insight into the value of the church. Paul says, “To the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Suppose I approach my boss with an idea. I can tell how interested the boss is in my idea by how long the boss thinks about it. God has thought about the church for ages. It does indeed show His manifold wisdom.
Ephesians chapter 5 brings to the forefront a number of principles that demonstrate the value of the church of the New Testament. Verses 22 and 23 record that the Lord is the head of the wife and that He is the Savior of the body. How important is your wife to you? The church holds a greater importance to Christ. Verses 20, 25 and 28 show the value of the church. In a variety of ways, Paul has expressed the sacrifice for His bride. He Himself is the “savior of the body”; He is a husband who gave Himself up for her; He is a husband who loved His wife as His own body.
A number of years ago there was a headline in the paper that narrated an event concerning a husband and his wife. John Smith [not his real name] and his wife were walking along the railroad tracks, enjoying a nice evening stroll. Suddenly the wife slipped and trapped her foot in the railroad tracks. John worked feverishly to release her foot. To no avail. A train came into view, but he could not free her from the destruction bearing down on her. John got up and started to walk off of the track to save his life. Then he turned and picked up his wife, put his arms around her, and held her tight. As the train bore down upon the both of them, John’s giving of himself for the benefit of his wife demonstrated what readers ought to understand Paul is saying concerning the love of Christ for His wife. John’s care and concern for his wife can be multiplied many times concerning Christ’s love for His bride, the church.
In Ephesians 5:26, Paul presents the church as “a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing but that it should be holy and without blemish.” God considers it a glorious spiritual realm because He has taken away sins through His sacrifice.
This removal of sins is “by the washing of water with the word.” “By the washing of water” reiterates water as the element in the act of baptism as the time of the washing. The phrase “with the word” reiterates that the water is of no value without the accompanying word of God. When we include 1 Cor. 12:13, we gain a fuller understanding of this cleansing. Paul teaches that in—or by—one Spirit are “we all baptized into one body.” Take note of these three vital ingredients of salvation: (1) By the agency of the Holy Spirit and (2) by the instrument of the word of God which was given by the agency the Holy Spirit and (3) by being baptized into Christ, the sinner is cleansed of his sins.
However, Paul is not finished demonstrating the value of the church. When he says in Ephesians 5:31-32, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh,” he is stating a vitally important concept concerning the bride of Christ. In the Old Testament, God repeatedly predicted a number of things concerning Christ, concerning the kingdom, concerning the New Covenant, and concerning the coming of the Holy Spirit. His quote of Gen. 2 is a detailed prediction of the church. Someone says, “Wait a minute. “Where did you get that Genesis 2 is a prediction of the church?” In the next verse. Paul tells us “This mystery is great but I speak in regard of Christ and of the church” (Eph. 5:32). Therefore, at the time that God made Eve from Adam’s rib, He had in mind Jesus Christ and His bride, the church.
Since God is thinking about the church, and since He is protecting the church, and since He gave Himself for His bride, and since He labeled Christ’s marriage to His bride as “a great” mystery, we gain a better understanding of God’s view of His spiritual realm, the church. It is detrimental to men who entertain a faulty view of the Lord’s church.
With this proper concept concerning the Lord’s church, we ought to want to be a part of it. If you love Jesus, if you love the church, if you love the body of our Lord, how can you put it to the side and think so little of it? How can you fail to desire to learn more about the church, its nature and design and make up? You cannot! You must not!
Now we turn our attention to a second reason. We ought to study because of man’s efforts to change the New Testament church into that which the Bible condemns (Gal. 5:19-20).
Men believe the church is made up of all the different so-called “Christian” denominations. Because of vastly different authorities, and different names, and teaching contradictory doctrines, men have gone astray from Biblical teaching. Yet, each claims the same supernatural influence that guides them into their family-dividing conflicts. Such is not from God.
Can you imagine in the first century if the apostle Peter stood before men and said baptism doth now also save you. Then, in the same assembly, Paul proclaimed that baptism doth not save you. Contradiction? Yes. One of these statements must be incorrect. But wait. Both Paul and Peter were guided by the Holy Spirit. Do you see the problem? I know you do. Such contradictory doctrines were not practiced by inspired men when the Lord established His church. They ought not to be practiced today. Upon reading the New Testament, we learn that Paul agrees with Peter’s proclamation that baptism doth now save (1 Peter 3:19-20; Col. 2:11-12).
Religious leaders today teach competing, contradictory doctrines that divide men into separate sects. Such confusion leads to skepticism and agnosticism. Men need to heed God’s warning:
Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God: he that abideth in the teaching, the same hath both the Father and the Son. If any one cometh unto you, and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works (2 John 1:9-11).
Clearly, we must not go beyond that which is written (1 Cor. 4:6, ASV).
We ask, “What denomination does the Bible claim that Peter belonged to?” It does not because he did not. Accordingly, whenever one joins himself to a denomination, then he has gone beyond that which is written—beyond the teaching of Christ. We need to abide by the Scriptures and not by what men have introduced since the first century.
Why study the church? So that we can see the distinction between what God has said and what denominations want said. Denominationalism is too broad.
Furthermore, we need to study the church because men present a sectarian view of it. They have concluded that the Lord’s church is made up of a particular group of churches all wearing one official name, with each member listed in different church directories.
Consider the important principle that there is no single, official name for the Lord’s Church. Students read in Acts 20:28 of the “church of the Lord.” In Matt. 16, the same entity is referred to as “the church.” Then, in 1 Cor. 1:2, Paul identifies it as the “church of God.” These terms help us to identify the ones called out of the world who belong to the Lord—who belong to God. Or, as Paul says in Rom. 16:16, “the churches of Christ salute you”—the called out ones who belong to Christ. These are not man-made terms of identity for the church Jesus built. They are God-given. Each is found in Scripture. They identify the spiritual realm which is the called out that belongs to Christ.
Furthermore, the Lord’s church is a spiritual body made up of individual members, not individual congregations. It is possible to be a member of the Lord’s church but not be associated with any congregation. The Eunuch from Ethiopia had been to Jerusalem to worship God. At this time, he was riding in his chariot, headed home. He was reading of the coming Messiah from the book of Isaiah. God told Philip to go near the chariot. Philip asked the Eunuch if he understood what he was reading. The eunuch said, “How can I, except some one shall guide me?” (Acts 8:31). So the man of God began to preach unto him Jesus. On the way, they came unto a body of water where Philip baptized him. After coming out of the water, the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:39). His new spiritual condition before God caused him to rejoice.
Take note of this important principle: Though he was a member of the body of Christ, he belonged to no congregation. He was, however, added to the church of our Lord by our Lord (Acts 2:47). He was a member of the church because of the authority of Jesus Christ and the act of God in forgiving him of his sins. He was a member of that glorious spiritual realm. No doubt when he arrived back home, he was a congregation of one. Being a Christian, he knew he needed to assemble with others of like precious faith (Heb. 10:25). Scripture teaches that the early church assembled one with another. The Eunuch’s situation helps us to see the church universal and the church local. In the near future, we will further clarify this distinction.
A sectarian view of Christianity is too narrow. It binds were God is not bound. We must include all that God includes and exclude all that God has excluded. Do Bible things in Bible ways and call Bible things by Bible names. By doing this we will be a part of that church that God holds in high regard, though men may have no regard for it at all.