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Jesus built His church in the first century (Matthew 16:18). All serious Bible students agree that He built only one church, and all saved people then were in that one church. But today there are hundreds of denominations, differing from one another in name, worship, organization, plan of salvation, etc. Yet all claim to follow Jesus and to please God.
The purpose of this study is to determine what Jesus wants us to practice regarding church membership. What was Jesus' church like in the first century? Does the church that Jesus built still exist today? If so, how can we find it and become members of it? What does God think about all the many different modern churches?
Why should we study about Jesus' church? Some people think the church has nothing to do with salvation, so people can be saved outside the church. How important is the church to Jesus the Lord?
>>> Read ACTS 20:28. <<
*1* How did Jesus make the church His? Answer: He purchased the church with His ______.
*2* Can we be saved without Jesus' blood? Answer (yes or no): ______.
*3* Then can we be saved outside Jesus' church? Answer (yes or no): ______.
Jesus shed His blood to save us from sin (Ephesians 1:7; Revelation 1:5; Romans 5:6-9). But the people who have been saved and purchased by that blood are the people who are in the church!
>>> Read EPHESIANS 5:23,25. <<<
*4* For whom is Christ the Savior? (a) the nation of Israel only, (b) the body (church), (c) all people will be saved. Answer: ______.
Salvation can be obtained only through Jesus' death (Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Hebrews 5:9; 7:25). But Jesus died to save the church. If the church has nothing to do with our salvation, why did the Lord die for it?
The Lord adds to the church those who should be saved - Acts 2:47. Christ is the Savior, but all those whose sins He has forgiven are in the church. Those outside the church are yet in their sins. This is why it is vitally important for us to learn about Jesus' church. (See also Ephesians 3:10,11; Colossians 1:12-14; Hebrews 10:25; etc.)
In the Bible, the "church" always refers to a group of people, never to a physical building. The word has two primary uses:
1. The church universally - the body of all saved people everywhere (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:22-25; Acts 2:47).
2. The church locally - a congregation of saved people in a certain area who meet, work, and worship together (Jerusalem, Corinth, etc. - Acts 8:1; 13:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:2; Revelation 1:4).
We will study many examples of this word as we proceed.
First let us study the characteristics of the New Testament church, then we will study the origin of the modern denominations.
If the police were searching for a missing person, how would they identify the correct person? They would need a description or list of identifying characteristics: age, name, height, weight, etc. Likewise, if Jesus' church exists today, how could we identify it?
>>> Read MATTHEW 7:15-21. <<<
*5* How can false teachers be identified? (a) by their outward appearance, (b) by their unkind manners, (c) by their fruits. Answer: ______.
*6* What are the "fruits" of God's followers? (a) they do the will of the Father, (b) they just call Jesus "Lord," (c) they just believe. Answer: ______.
The true church can be identified because it teaches and practices the will of God. By learning Jesus' will for His church, we can know the identifying marks of His church. Consider these characteristics:
A. The Doctrinal Standard of the Church
>>> Read EPHESIANS 1:22,23. <<<
*7* Who is Head over all things to the church? (a) John the Baptist, (b) Peter, (c) Jesus, (d) Mohammed, (e) a human headquarters. Answer: ______.
*8* Whose control, then, should the church submit to? Answer: The control of ______.
>>> Read COLOSSIANS 3:17. <<<
*9* What must be done in Jesus' name (by His authority)? Answer: ______we do, in word or deed.
Since Jesus built and purchased the church, it must follow His directions. Remember, His will is revealed in the New Testament.
(See also Ephesians 5:23; John 12:48; Acts 3:22,23; Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 6:46; Colossians 1:18; 2:19; Hebrews 5:9; 1 Corinthians 14:37.)
>>> Read 2 JOHN 9. <<<
*10* What happens if we do not abide in the teachings of Jesus? Answer: We do not have ______.
>>> Read MATTHEW 15:9. <<<
*11* What does God think of worship that is based on man-made teachings? (a) it is vain, (b) He encourages it, (c) it doesn't matter. Answer: ______.
>>> Read GALATIANS 1:8,9. <<<
*12* What happens if we preach a different gospel? Answer: We are ______.
*13* Would a church be honoring Jesus as Lord if it follows doctrines or practices not found in the Bible? Answer (yes or no): ______.
If Jesus' church exists today, it must strive to listen to all His teachings and must avoid practices not found in His teachings.
(See Revelation 22:18,19; Proverbs 14:12; 3:5,6; Jeremiah 10:23.)
B. The Origin or Beginning of the Church
>>> Read MATTHEW 16:15-18. <<<
*14* What did Jesus promise to build? (a) a social club, (b) an entertainment, recreational club, (c) His church, (d) all the preceding. Answer: ______.
*15* Did the church exist when Jesus said this? Answer (yes or no): ______.
*16* How many churches did Jesus promise to build? (a) one, (b) ten, (c) hundreds. Answer: ______.
This passage and all passages before Acts 2 speak of the church as coming in the future (see also Isaiah 2:2,3; Daniel 2:44; Mark 1:15; 9:1; Acts 1:4-8).
>>> Read ACTS 2:47. <<<
*17* Who was adding people to His body (the church)? (Cf. v38,41.) Answer: The ______.
Many other passages after Acts 2 speak of the church as being in existence (see Acts 5:11; 8:1-3; 11:22,26; Colossians 1:13; etc.).
So the church that belongs to Jesus began in Jerusalem on Pentecost after Jesus' ascension.
*18* Suppose men begin a church at a place and time other than Jerusalem on Pentecost. Would it be Jesus' church? Answer (yes or no): ______.
If Jesus' church exists today, it must be the church that He began on Pentecost in Jerusalem.
C. The Names or Designations of the Church
Names are important to God. He sometimes named people before they were born, or changed their names later (Genesis 17:5,15,19; 32:27,28; Luke 1:13; Matt. 1:21; Isaiah 62:2; etc.). What terms or phrases does the Lord want people to use to refer to the church and its members?
The church of Christ or of
God (Matthew 16:18; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; etc.).
The house or family of God (1 Timothy 3:15; Ephesians 2:16,19; Galatians 6:10).
The kingdom of Christ (Colossians 1:13; Matthew 16:18,19; Revelation 1:9; Hebrews 12:28).
The body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22,23; 4:4-6; Colossians 1:18).
Note that all these terms give honor to God the Father or the Son, and show our relationship to them.
Disciples (Acts 11:26; 20:7; 8:3; 9:1).
Children of God (2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 1 John 3:2).
Christians (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16).
>>> Read 1 CORINTHIANS 1:10-13. <<<
*19* What sin occurred at Corinth? (a) groups were named after men, (b) men were exalted instead of Jesus, (c) division, (d) all the preceding. Answer: ______.
Naming the church after a particular doctrine likewise violates the principles of this passage, promotes division, and fails to exalt God.
One of the fruits of Jesus' church was that it wore names that glorify God and Christ. It never wore names that honored men, were invented by men, or exalted some particular Bible doctrine.
D. The Steps to Enter the Church
Some churches teach that there are things a person must do to be saved, and then afterward there are other things he must do to join the church. But the church is the body of all saved people (Ephesians 5:23,25; Acts 20:28; Colossians 1:13). Therefore, whenever one receives the forgiveness of his sins, he automatically becomes a member of the church at the same time and by the same steps.
You cannot be voted into the Lord's church, you cannot purchase membership in it, and you cannot "join" it. You simply obey the gospel and let God add you (Acts 2:47).
To be forgiven of sins, one must take the following steps:
* Hear the
gospel (John 6:44,45; Romans 10:17).
At baptism, one's sins are forgiven and the Lord then adds him to the church (Acts 2:38,47; 1 Corinthians 12:13).
*20* Suppose a church teaches some other way for people to be saved. Would it be honoring Jesus as Lord, and would the people who believed the doctrine of that church really be saved? Answer (yes or no): ______.
If Jesus' church exists today, it must still teach just what the gospel says about salvation.
E. The Worship Offered in Church Assemblies
The Lord taught His church to do five things when they meet.
>>>Read ACTS 2:42. <<<
*21* In what activities did these disciples continue steadfastly? (a) the apostles' doctrine, (b) prayer, (c) breaking of bread, (d) all the preceding. Answer: ______.
We should teach only God's word. (Cf. Acts 20:7; 11:26; Heb. 10:25.)
In Bible study, God talks to us. In prayer, we talk to God. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:15; Philippians 4:6; Acts 4:23-31; 1 Timothy 2:5.)
>>>Read 1 CORINTHIANS 16:1,2. <<<
*22* How did the church obtain financial income? (a) raffles and bingo, (b) bake sales and rummages, (c) collections, (d) all the preceding. Answer: ______.
*23* When were the collections taken up? (a) on the seventh day of the week, (b) on the first day of the week, (c) as often as possible. Answer: ______.
*24* How did the members decide how much to give? Answer: Each one gave according as he had ______.
The church took up collections from the members on the first day of the week. Each member gave generously according to prosperity. The church never used tithing (requiring 10%), nor man-made fund-raising methods like bingo, raffles, rummages, etc. (Cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 9:6,7.)
>>> Read 1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-26. <<<
*25&26* What do the bread and cup remind us of? Answer: The bread reminds us of Jesus' ______. The cup reminds us of Jesus' ______.
*27* May we use bacon and eggs on the Lord's table? Answer (yes or no): ______.
We should eat the bread and drink the fruit of the vine in memory of Jesus' body and blood. (Cf. Matthew 26:17-30; Acts 2:42.)
>>> Read ACTS 20:7. <<<
*28* When did the disciples break bread? (a) at Easter and Christmas, (b) on the last day of the week, (c) on the first day of the week. Answer: ______.
*29* How often does the first day of the week occur? Answer (give a number): The first day of the week comes (give a number) ______ time each week.
When God specified memorial feasts, He always told people when to do them. If He said to do it on a certain day of a certain month of the year, it would be an annual feast (Ex. 12:6,14,24ff; Lev. 23:24,27). If He said to do it on a certain day of the month, it would be a monthly observance (Ezek. 46:1,6,7). If He said to do it on a certain day of the week, then it would be observed weekly (like the sabbath - Ex. 20:8-11).
Likewise, God has revealed that disciples had the Lord's supper on the first day of the week, so we should do it as often as that day occurs. The collection and communion occurred on the same day. When churches today practice annual or monthly communion, do they also take up collections only annually or monthly?
>>> Read EPHESIANS 5:19. <<<
*30* What act of worship is commanded here? Answer: The verse instructs us to ______ and make melody in our hearts to the Lord.
*31* What purpose(s) are accomplished by singing? (a) praising God and teaching others, (b) showing off musical ability, (c) entertainment to draw big crowds, (d) all the preceding. Answer: ______.
Every New Testament passage that mentions music in worship, specifies singing (Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Romans 15:9; Hebrews 2:12; James 5:13). There are two kinds of music - singing (vocal) and playing (instrumental).
*32* Since Jesus expressly says to "sing," are we honoring Jesus if we add another kind of music (playing on instruments)? Answer (yes or no): ______.
To use instruments of music in worship is to follow human authority. It fails to honor Jesus just like bacon and eggs on the Lord's Table.
>>> Read HEBREWS 10:25. <<<
*33* What error should Christians avoid? Answer: We should not forsake the ______ of ourselves together.
*34* Would a church be following Jesus as Lord if it worshipped in ways that are not found in the gospel? Answer (yes or no): ______.
If Jesus' church exists today, it must worship by this same pattern.
F. The Work or Mission of the Church
>>> Read ACTS 11:26. <<<
*35* What work did the church in Antioch accomplish? Answer: The church assembled so people could be ______.
The church is the "pillar and ground of the truth" - 1 Timothy 3:15. It teaches the gospel to the lost and edifies the members (see also Acts 11:22; 20:7; Hebrews 10:24,25; Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 4:14-18). The church also cares for its own physically needy members (Acts 4:32-35; 6:1-6; 1 Corinthians 16:1,2; 2 Corinthians 8 and 9; 1 Timothy 5:16).
The primary work of the church is spiritual. It helps people be right with God so they can receive eternal life. If Jesus' church exists today, it is not a social or recreational club nor a general welfare society. Any church that does these other works fails to honor the Lord. (See also John 18:36; 6:63,27; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.)
(This study will be continued in Lesson 8.)
(These questions are for you to ponder. Your answers will help us understand your thinking, however they will not affect your "score.")
*36* What church have you been a member of in the past? __________
*37* Does that church properly teach people how to be saved from sin as taught in the gospel? __________
*38* Does that church teach the gospel truth about how to worship God, what the church should be called, etc.? __________
(C) Copyright David E. Pratte, 1999 (click for copyright information)
The Importance of the Church
Divine Authority vs. Human Authority in Religion
The Bible vs. Denominational Creeds
Importance of Attending Church Meetings
The Proper Day to Partake of the Lord's Supper
Instrumental Music in Worship
Observing Religious Holydays
Power of Prayer
Giving to Finance Church Work
Instrumental Music in Worship
Should We Observe Religious Holy Days?
Origin of Jesus' Church & Denominations
Church Organization, Government, & Work
Women Preachers & Church Leaders
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.