The church is the assembly of God’s people. The Greek word
for church, ekklesia, is derived from the verb ‘to call out’ – it means a
congregation, a community. In the New Testament it refers to all God’s people
(Eph 1:22; 3:10; 5:23), but more frequently, to local communities of believers
(Acts 5:11; Rom 16:4).
The church is the work of the three Persons of the Trinity:
‘In whom [the Lord Jesus] you also are being built together for a dwelling place
of God in the Spirit’ (Eph 2:22). The church is the family of God (Eph 2:18;
3:15; 4:6), the body and bride of Christ (Eph 1:22, 23; 5:23-32; Rev 19:7), and
the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16; Eph 2:19-22).
One Holy Catholic Apostolic
In the Nicene Creed (325 AD) we confess that the church is
‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’.
Christ has one body, the church, made up of many members.
‘For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one
body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ’ (1 Cor 12:12). The church’s
unity is not the result of centralized and world-wide organization. The unity is
spiritual, as the Scripture insists, ‘for by one Spirit we were all baptized
into one body’ (1 Cor 12:13). The church of Christ is manifest on earth in many
different local communities of believers. Through having distinctive slants and
characteristics, the local churches find their unity in their faith in Christ,
their Head and Saviour, and in their love for one another.
The church is a holy because it set apart from the rest of
the world and consecrated to God; it is not sinless, but it is cleansed and
forgiven, ‘sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for
all’ (Heb 10:10). All Christians are saints (holy ones), ‘sanctified by faith’
in Christ (Acts 26:18). The Lord is building us together into a holy temple, the
dwelling place of God by the Spirit (Eph 2:19-22).
The church is catholic (meaning ‘universal’) because it is
made up of people of all languages and countries, Jews and Gentiles. With one
mind and one voice we praise the Lamb: ‘You were slain, and have redeemed us to
God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation’ (Rev
The church is built on the teaching of the apostles and
prophets (Eph 2:20). Their doctrine is recorded in the Scriptures of the Old and
New Testament. A particular church is truly apostolic as long as it faithfully
embraces the teachings of the Bible. A church is not necessarily apostolic
because its leaders claim to be historical successors of the apostles. The Bible
warns us that false leaders (the apostle Paul calls them savage wolves) arise
even from among the bishops of the apostolic churches (Acts 20:29). Doctrine,
and not historical lineage, is the acid test for the church.
Every disciple of Christ has the privilege and duty to join
other believers in a local church for mutual edification. ‘Let us consider one
another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of
ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so
much the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Heb 10:24, 25). The lone
Christian is a contradiction of God’s saving work. Can there be a family if the
brothers and sisters never meet? Can the members of the body, the eyes, the
hands, the ears, live independently of one another? Can there be a temple if the
stones are scattered?
There is no such thing as a perfect local Christian church.
The church is made up of disciples, or pupils, who are still learning. We know
the truth, but not entirely; we live godly lives, but not perfectly. Ignorance,
error and sin are found in every believer, and hence, in every congregation made
up of imperfect members. Moreover, some of the members may be false brethren, as
Jesus said, the wheat and the tares will grow together until the harvest. At the
very extreme, apostate churches and the cults cannot be considered legitimate
Christian churches because of their damnable heresies (such as the denial of the
Trinity or the deity of Christ).
Even so, it is still God’s will for his children to meet
together in local churches. The solitary Christian, puffed up with spiritual
pride, cannot find a suitable church: none is good enough for him! It would be
much better for him to learn a little humility, pull up his sleeves and start
contributing to the edification of the church rather than criticize and whine
about the poor state of the church.
True Christians are the only legitimate members of the
church. The Lord adds to the church those who are saved (Acts 2:47). New
believers are welcomed into the fellowship when they submit to baptism, the sign
of their union with Christ, as was the practice of the apostolic church. ‘Then
those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three
thousand souls were added to them’ (Acts 2:41).
The Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the church (Col 1:18),
sustains his people by the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). The Lord calls men from
among the brethren to serve as bishops and deacons (Phil 1:1). The bishops
(overseers) are also called pastors (shepherds) and elders (or presbyters).
These terms refer to the same kind of leader. Thus, for instance, Paul addresses
the elders (presbyters, v17) in the church of Ephesus, who are overseers
(bishops, v28), and whose ministry was to shepherd (pastor, v28) the flock (Acts
Historically there was a departure from this pattern of
leadership. At first the local church was led by a number of presbyters, who
were also known as bishops. Later on, a distinction was made between the bishop
and the presbyters (or priests, as they were then called). Further on, the
bishops of important cities came to be considered higher than other bishops, and
were called metropolitans. By the fifth century the bishops of five important
cities, Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem, exercised great
authority, each one in his own territory. They were known as Patriarchs. The
final step -- the elevation of one bishop above all bishops, invested with
authority over the entire church – has never been reached.
The elders are appointed to shepherd the flock of God,
serving as overseers, and being examples to the flock (1 Pet 5:2, 3). They are
fully equipped for their ministry by the Scriptures for teaching, reproof,
correction and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:15, 16). The members of the
church should obey their elders and submit to them (Heb 13:17).
The principal activities of the church are teaching (bible
reading, bible study, teaching and preaching), prayer, the Lord’s Supper and
singing to the Lord. ‘And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine
and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… speaking to one
another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in
your heart to the Lord’ (Acts 2:41, 42; Eph 5:19).
All members, not only the leaders, have an active role to
fulfill; all should contribute to the health and function of the body. The Holy
Spirit gives spiritual gifts to every member to serve and build up the church.
‘As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards
of the manifold grace of God. If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of
God. If anyone ministers (serves), let him do it as with the ability which God
supplies’ (1 Pet 4:10, 11).
Together we learn the graces of life – humility, kindness,
patience, forgiveness and love. We learn to help and care for one another. We
should endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace so that
with one voice and one heart we praise and worship God our Father. ‘To Him be
glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen’
A healthy church has an evangelistic outlook. The church is
the light of world. The members are trained and equipped to reach out to a lost
world (especially by their love, holy life and sharing the gospel). They invite
and warmly welcome non-Christians to the church service to hear the message of
the gospel. The unity and peace among Christians is powerful evidence that Jesus
is indeed the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
Christ Jesus loves his bride, the church; he gave himself for
her to sanctify and cleanse her. One day the bride will be gloriously presented
to him, and they will be united as a man and his wife in marriage. The church is
blessed in Christ; he finds his fulfillment in her just as a husband in entirely
happy with his wife.