The Church of Christ – W.P. Risener

W.P. Risener

As used in the Bible, the English word church may refer to any one of the following groups of Christians—an assembly or gathering of Christians for worship, the children of God residing in a certain specified geographic area, or the whole family or house of God.

The following passages refer to a gathering of people for worship: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you” (1 Cor. 11:18). “He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the church” (1 Cor. 14:4). “Yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue” (1 Cor. 14:19).

Christians, collectively, living in a certain area, are referred to in such passages as 1 Cor. 1:1, 2 Cor. 1:1, Rom. 16:1, and many others that could be given. Since this definition is understood by all, and questioned by none so far as I know, let us pass on to the final one.

Jesus said, “….upon this rock I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). This clearly involves more than a local assembly, or God’s people in only one local area. Paul told the Ephesians that God had exalted Christ when He raised Him up from the dead, “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” (Eph. 1:22-23). Here we have the expression, “the church, which is his body” and in Col. 1:24 we have the expression, “for his body’s sake, which is the church.” But let us return to Ephesians where we notice that Christ removed the barrier between Jew and Gentile, “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross” (Eph. 2:16). “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). This clearly has reference to more than a local church or assembly, but at the risk of multiplying scriptures we advance one other. “But if I tarry long, that 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 Tim. 3:15).

So the definition that states, “a church is a body of baptized believers” as given by many religious groups such as the Baptists for instance, may be considered as being substantially correct, if we keep in mind that the size and nature of the body must be observed from the context. The word by itself alone will not indicate whether it is an assembly, a local congregation or the whole family or house of God. It must also be borne in mind that the body of Christ in the aggregate is not a functioning organization, and thus it has no earthly organization. In fact it has no organization save Christ as head of the church and Christians as members thereof. No man or set of men has divine authorization to try to arrange it in such a way as to cause it to function, or to involve the church in this sense of the term in work the doing of which will require the functioning of the entire body. The only way that individual Christians can join with other Christians in worship or work is in the local congregation which has a functioning organization. Since the Lord organized and arranged it that way, it is certain He intended it to function that way.

The Family or House of God

And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem (Isa. 2:2-3).

It is here prophesied by Isaiah that the Lord’s house would be established and this would come to pass “in the last days” and all nations would flow unto it, and the word of the Lord would go forth from Jerusalem. The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of this prophesy.

While talking with His disciples at Caesarea Philippi Jesus promised them that “…upon this rock I will build my church.” This reveals that the building or establishing of it was future at this time, that Christ was to be the builder thereof, and that when built it was to be His church.

Paul admonished the elders of the church at Ephesus to “…feed the church of God, which he bath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). So the church of God is that which was purchased by the blood of Christ.

It is further identified as being the house of God. “But if I tarry long, that 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 Tim. 3:15). Speaking of Christ, the writer to the Hebrews states the matter thusly:

For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who bath builded the house hath more honour than the house. 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 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 (Heb. 3:3-6).

So between the time of the Lord’s promise that He would build His church, and the letters to Timothy and to the Hebrews, we see that Christ did indeed build His church purchasing it with His own blood.

According to the prophesy all nations would be admitted unto it, and the word of the Lord would go forth from Jerusalem. So in giving the commission to His disciples under which this word was to go forth so we see the Lord commanding them to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). But this word was to go forth from Jerusalem, so He commanded that they “…tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49) explaining to them that “Thus it is written that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

Thus we find that when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they became endued with the power from on high, and they began to speak this word of the Lord from Jerusalem unto the uttermost parts of the world under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, or as the Spirit gave them utterance. Furthermore, all nations were to flow unto it. “And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). Then Peter stood up and began to preach this Gospel as established fact for the first time, though it had previously been preached in promise, in prophesy, and in preparation. But it could not have been preached as established fact before this time, for it had been written that this word was to go forth at this time from Jerusalem, and also because this Gospel includes the fact that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1, 3).

So Peter began his discourse by explaining the outpouring of the Spirit, and we need to notice some significant things in connection with this. “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:16-17). But we found that the Lord’s house was also to be established “in the last days” and Peter declares that the outpouring of the Spirit was the fulfillment of an event that was to occur “in the last days.” It is therefore certain that the time was appropriate for the establishment of the house of God according to the prophesy. We also noticed that there were present men out of every nation under heaven. And the place was Jerusalem, from which place the word of the Lord was to go forth according to the prophesy. The record of the events of this day conclude by stating “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41), and Acts 2:47 concludes the chapter by stating that “…the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

From this time forward the church is spoken of as being in existence. Its activities are described, letters are written to it, etc. It must be apparent to every sincere soul that any church which began at a place or time other than this, or that was founded by any other than the Lord, is not the church that we read about in our Bibles.

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