What is the church?

The Bible says: He who believes in Christ becomes part of the "church" or "church."
What is that, the "church", the "church"? How is she organized? What is your purpose?

Jesus builds his church

Jesus said: I want to build my church (Matthew 16,18). The church is important to him - he loved her so much that he gave his life for her (Ephesians 5,25). If we are like him, we will love the Church and give ourselves to it. Church or congregation is translated from Greek ekklesia, which means assembly. In Acts 19,39: 40 the word is used in the sense of a normal gathering of people. For the Christian, ekklesia has taken on a special meaning: all who believe in Jesus Christ.

At the point where he uses the word for the first time, Lukas writes: "And there was great fear about the whole community ..." (Acts 5,11). He doesn't have to explain what the word means; his readers already knew. It referred to all Christians, not just those who were gathered in this place at the time. "Church" means the church, refers to all disciples of Christ. A community of people, not a building.

Church also refers to the local Christian gatherings. Paul wrote "to the church of God in Corinth" (1 Corinthians 1,2); he speaks of "all the congregations of Christ" (Rom 4,16). But he also uses the word as a collective name for the community of all believers when he says that "Christ loved the church and gave himself for it" (Ephesians 5,25).

The community exists on several levels. On the one level stands the universal church or church that embraces everyone in the world who professes to be Jesus Christ's Lord and Savior. On another level, the local communities, the municipalities in the strict sense, are regional groups of people who meet regularly. On an intermediate level lie the denominations or denominations, which are groups of communities working together on a common history and faith basis.

The local communities sometimes include non-believers - family members who do not profess Jesus as the Savior, but who still participate in church life. This can also include people who consider themselves Christians, but pretend something. Experience shows that some of them later admit that they were not real Christians.

Why we need the church

Many people describe themselves as believers in Christ, but do not want to join any church. This must also be described as incorrect posture. The New Testament shows that the normal case is that believers belong to a congregation (Hebrews 10,25).

Again and again Paul calls the Christians for one another and for one another, for mutual service, for unity (Rom 12,10:15,7; 1; 12,25 Corinthians 5,13; Galatians 4,32; Ephesians 2,3; Philippians 3,13; Colossians 1; 5,13Thess). Following this appeal is almost impossible for the loner who does not want to be close to other believers.

A church can give us a feeling of belonging, a feeling of Christian commonality. It can provide us with a minimum of spiritual security, so that we do not get lost by strange ideas. A church can give us friendship, fellowship, encouragement. She can teach us things that we would not learn on our own. It can help educate our children, it can help us become more effective "worshiping", it can give us opportunities for social service that we grow, often unimagined.

In general it can be said: The profit that a community gives us is in proportion to the commitment that we invest. But probably the most important reason for the individual believer to join a church is: The church needs us. God gave different gifts to individual believers and wants us to work together "for the benefit of all" (1 Corinthians 12,4: 7). If only a part of the workforce appears at work, it is no wonder that the Church does not do as much as hoped or that we are not as healthy as hoped. Unfortunately, criticizing is easier for some than helping.

The Church needs our time, our skills, our gifts. It needs people on whom it can rely - it needs our commitment. Jesus called to pray workers (Matthew 9,38). He wants every one of us to tackle it and not just play the passive viewer. If you want to be a Christian without a church, you don't use your strength as we are supposed to use it according to the Bible, namely helping. The Church is a "mutual aid community" and we should help each other knowing that the day may come (yes it has already come) that we need help ourselves.

Church / Community: pictures and symbols

The Church is addressed in various ways: People of God, the family of God, the bride of Christ. We are a building, a temple, a body. Jesus spoke to us as sheep, as field, as vineyard. Each of these symbols illustrates another side of the church.

Many parables of the kingdom from Jesus' mouth speak of the church. The church started out small and grew big like a mustard seed (Matthew 13,31: 32). The church is like a field where weeds grow alongside wheat (Verses 24-30). It is like a net that catches good fish as well as bad ones (Verses 47-50). It is like a vineyard in which some work long, some only for a short time (Matthew 20,1: 16). It is like servants who have been entrusted with money by their master and who invested it partly well and partly badly (Matthew 25,14: 30). Jesus called himself Shepherd and His Disciples (Matthew 26,31); his job was to find lost sheep (Matthew 18,11: 14). He describes his believers as sheep that need to be grazed and cared for (John 21,15: 17). Paul and Peter also use this symbol and say that church leaders must "graze the flock" (Acts 20,28:1; 5,2 ​​Peter).

We are “God's building,” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3,9. The foundation is Christ (Vers11), the human building rests on it. Peter calls us "living stones, built for the spiritual house" (1 Peter 2,5). Together we are built "to a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2,22). We are the temple of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3,17:6,19;). God can be worshiped anywhere; but the church has worship as its central meaning.

We are "God's people," tells us 1 Peter 2,10. We are what the people of Israel should have been: "the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy people, the people of property" (Verse 9; see Exodus 2: 19,6). We belong to God because Christ bought us with his blood (Revelation 5,9). We are God's children, he is our father (Ephesians 3,15). As children, we have been given a great legacy, and we are expected to please and honor his name.

The Scriptures also call us the Bride of Christ - a name that resonates with how much Christ loves us and what deep change takes place in us so that we can have such a close relationship with the Son of God. In many of his parables, Jesus invites people to the wedding feast; Here we are invited to be the bride.

"Let us rejoice and be happy and give him the honor; because the wedding of the lamb has come and his bride has prepared " (Revelation 19,7). How do we "prepare"? With a gift: "And it was given to her to dress with beautiful pure linen" (Verse 8). Christ cleanses us "through the water bath in the Word" (Ephesians 5,26). He presents the Church to himself after making it glorious and immaculate, holy and blameless (Verse 27). It works in us.

Working together

The symbol that best illustrates how parishioners should behave against each other is that of the body. "But you are the body of Christ," writes Paul, "and each of you is a member" (1 Corinthians 12,27). Jesus Christ "is the head of the body, namely the church" (Colossians 1,18), and we are all limbs. When we are united with Christ, we are also united with each other, and we are committed to each other - in the truest sense. Nobody can say, "I don't need you" (1 Corinthians 12,21), nobody can say that he has nothing to do with the church (Verse 18). God distributes our gifts so that we can work together for mutual benefit and help and receive help in this cooperation. There should be “no division” in the body (Verse 25). Paul often polemics against the party spirit; those who sow discord should even be excluded from the community (Rom 16,17; Titus 3,10-11). God makes the church "grow in all parts" by "each member supports the other according to his strength" (Ephesians 4,16). Unfortunately, the Christian world is divided into denominations that are often in feud with each other. The Church is not yet perfect because none of its members are perfect. Nevertheless: Christ wants a single church (John 17,21). This does not have to mean an organizational merger, but it does presuppose a common goal. True unity can only be found by striving to be ever closer to Christ, preaching the Gospel of Christ, living by His principles. The goal is to propagate it, not ourselves. However, having different denominations also has an advantage: Through different approaches, Christ's message reaches more people in a way that they can understand.

Provider

There are three basic forms of church organization and constitution in the Christian world: hierarchical, democratic and representative. They are called episcopal, congregational and presbyterial.

Each basic type has its varieties, but in principle, the episcopal model means that a senior shepherd has the power to determine church principles and ordain pastors. In the congregational model, the churches themselves determine these two factors. In the presbyterian system, power is divided between denomination and the church; Elders are chosen who are given competences.

The New Testament does not prescribe a special church or church structure. It speaks of overseers (Bishops), elders and shepherds (Pastors), although these official titles appear to be fairly interchangeable. Peter commands elders to act as shepherds and overseers: "Feed the flock ... take care of them" (1 Peter 5,1-2). In similar terms, Paul gives elders the same instructions (Acts 20,17 and 28).

The Jerusalem community was led by a group of elders; the parish to Philippi of bishops (Acts 15,1: 2-1,1; Philippians). Paul left Titus in Crete so that he should deploy elders there; he writes one verse about elders and several about bishops as if they were synonymous terms for community leaders (Titus 1,5: 9). In the letter to the Hebrews (13,7, Menge and Elberfeld Bible) the community leaders are simply called "leaders". At this point Luther translated “leader” with “teacher”, a term that also often appears (1 Corinthians 12,29:3,1; James). The grammar of Ephesians 4,11 indicates that "shepherds" and "teachers" belonged to the same category. One of the main qualifications of community officials had to be "... capable of teaching others" (2Tim2,2).

As a common denominator, it should be noted: community leaders were appointed. There was a certain amount of community organization, although the exact official names were of secondary importance. The members were required to show respect and obedience to the officials (1 Thess. 5,12:1; 5,17 Timothy 13,17; Hebrews).

If the eldest finds something wrong, the church should not obey; however, the church was usually expected to support the elders. What do elders do? You are head of the community (1 Timothy 5,17). They feed the herd, they lead by example and teaching. You watch over the herd (Acts 20,28). They should not rule dictatorially, but serve (1 Peter 5,23), “so that the saints are prepared for the work of service. This is how the body of Christ should be built " (Ephesians 4,12) How are elders determined? We get information in a few cases: Paul uses elders (Acts 14,23) assumes that Timothy appoints bishops (1 Timothy 3,1: 7), and empowered Titus to appoint elders (Titus 1,5). In any case, there was a hierarchy in these cases. We do not find any examples of a community choosing its elders itself.

deacons

However, we see in Acts 6,1: 6 how poor people are elected by the congregation. These men were chosen to distribute food to the needy, and the apostles then placed them in this office. This allowed the apostles to concentrate on the spiritual work and the physical work was also done (Verse 2). This distinction between spiritual and physical church work can also be found in 1 Peter 4,10: 11.

Officers for the manual work are often called deacons, according to Greek deacon, to serve. In principle, all members and leaders should serve, but there were separate officers for the serving tasks in the narrower sense. Female deacons are also mentioned in at least one place (Rom 16,1).

Paul calls Timothy a number of qualities that a deacon must have (1Tim3,8-12) without saying exactly what their service consisted of. As a result, different denominations give deacons different tasks, ranging from hall attendants to financial accounting. What is important for management offices is not the name, their structure, or the way they are filled. What is important is their meaning and purpose: to help the people of God in their maturation "to the full extent of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4,13).

Sense of the community

Christ built his church, he gave gifts and guidance to his people, and he gave us work. A main sense of the church community is worship, worship. God has called us "to proclaim the blessings of those who have called you from darkness to his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2,9). God is looking for people to worship him (John 4,23) who love him more than anything (Matthew 4,10). Whatever we do, whether as individuals or as a community, should always be done for him (1 Corinthians 10,31). We should “offer praise to God at all times” (Hebrews 13,15).

We have to: "Encourage each other with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5,19). When we gather as a church, we sing God's praise, pray to him and hear his word. These are forms of worship. Likewise the supper, as well as baptism, as well as obedience.

Another sense of the church is teaching. It is at the heart of the mission command: "... teach them to keep everything I commanded you to do" (Matthew 28,20). Church leaders should teach, and each member should teach the others (Colossians 3,16). We should exhort each other (1 Corinthians 14,31:1; 5,11 Thess. 10,25; Hebrews). Small groups are the ideal framework for this mutual support and teaching.

Those who seek gifts from the Spirit say Paul should strive to build the church (1 Corinthians 14,12). The goal is: to build, admonish, strengthen, comfort (Verse 3). Everything that happens in the congregation should be constructive for the community (Verse 26). We should be younger, people who get to know and use the Word of God. The early Christians were praised for being “constant” in the teaching of the apostles and in community and in breaking bread and in prayer. (Acts 2,42).

A third main sense of the community is “social service”. "Therefore ... let's do good to everyone, but mostly to comrades of faith," Paul demands (Galatians 6,10). Our primary concern is our family, then the community and then the world around us. The second highest commandment is: love your neighbor (Matthew 22,39). Our world has many physical needs and we shouldn't ignore them. Most of all, it needs the gospel, and we shouldn't ignore that either. As part of our “social service,” the Church should preach the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. No other organization does this work - it is the responsibility of the Church. Every worker is needed - some at the "front", others at the "stage". Planting some, fertilizing others, harvesting others; if we work together, Christ will grow the Church (Ephesians 4,16).

by Michael Morrison


pdfWhat is the church?