Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST009/1 The Nature of the Church.



(The Doctrine of the Church)

The word "church" has no etymological connection with the word which is used in the Greek New Testament. It is derived from the Greek adjective "kuriakos" which is from the word "kurios" and means "pertaining to the Lord" and comes down to us through the Old English "circe", Old Saxon' "kirika" and Scottish "kirk".

The word was originally used with a noun meaning "house" and thus meant "the house of the Lord". The word as now used refers to "church" in all senses of the word, the building, the congregation, the wider company of God's people everywhere etc.

The word used in the New Testament is "ekklesia", from which we get our word "ecclesiastic". While it does mean a company of people called out, it was quite the normal word for a Greek assembly, political or otherwise. It was used to translate the Hebrew word describing the assembly of Israel in the wilderness and is the usual word for "church" in the New Testament.

It is never used of the building. The word only occurs twice in the Gospels (Matt.16:18 & 18:17). The occurrence in the sixteenth chapter is important as it makes it quite clear that "Christ's intention was to found a church which was to continue His work".

In the remainder of the New Testament, apart from quotations from the LXX, it is

  1. of a regular secular assembly. (Acts 19:32).
  2. of gatherings for Christian worship. (1 Cor.11:18, 14:19).
  3. of local Christian communities. (Acts 8:3, 1 Cor.4;17).
  4. of Christian house-congregations. (Rom.16:5, 1 Cor.16:19).
  5. of the whole body of Christians. (1 Cor.12:28, Eph.1:22 etc.).

Only sufficient references have been given in each case to make the point clear, but it is obvious that in thinking of the church in the New Testament sense, we must consider the nature of the church as a whole, and also the relationship of the various local assemblies to the whole and to each other.

From these introductory remarks we may proceed to deal with the subject under the following sections,

  1. The Nature of the Church.
  2. The Organization of the Church.
  3. The Worship and Sacraments of the Church.

1.The Nature of the Church.

a.Its Spiritual Character.

The Church is far more than something merely natural or material; it is more than any congregation, denomination, assembly or building; it is more even than the greatest visible extent of believers; known to man.

It is more than an organization, it is an organism. The Church has been defined as "the body of people who have confessed Jesus as the Son of God and have believed and trusted Him as their Saviour, uniting under His leadership to carry out His purposes in the world". (J.O.Sayes in "Exploring the Christian Faith" p.396).

And again A.M.Hills says "The Church of God is composed of all spiritually regenerate persons whose names are written in heaven". The Church, therefore, in the fullest sense of the word, refers to the body of all, from every tribe and nation, who have been redeemed, are being redeemed, and will yet be redeemed. It is clear, then, that it is spiritual in character and its spiritual characteristics are the most important.

There are several analogies found in Scripture to describe its nature.

(a1.) The body of Christ.

In 1 Cor.12:12-27, Paul gives a very remarkable comparison between the Church and the human body and describes how the church is bound together and works together as the body of Christ.

Christ is the Head of this body and all is directed by Him (Eph.1:22,23 & Col.1:18,24). Just as surely as the body is held together and arks together and is directed by the head, so it is with the church and Christ. It is this aspect of the church being the body of Christ which emphasises the true basis of the unity of which Christ speaks in His high priestly prayer found in John 17.

It is the unity which springs from life; it is the common life which unites us to Christ and each other. The various types of ministry mentioned in Philippians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 are for the purpose of the edifying and growth of this body.

(b1.) The Temple of the Holy Spirit.

This analogy is revealed in Eph.2:21,22; 1 Cor.6:15,19 & 1 Pet.2:5. As the earthly temple was the place for the worship of God, so the church is the spiritual building where the true worship of the Lord reaches its highest peak.

(c1.) The Bride of Christ.

In the Old Testament God often called His relationship to His people one of husband and wife. In like manner in the New Testament, Christ calls himself the Bridegroom (Matt.9: 14, 1 5) . Likewise in the parable of the Ten Virgins the disciples are waiting for the Bridegroom (Matt. 25:1-13). The same metaphor is also used in Rev.19:7 & 2 Cor.11:2.

(d1.) The Flock and the Sheepfold.

This metaphor is found in John 10:14-16 and again in Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2.

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