Lesson 2 - The Church of Jesus Christ





What exactly is a church?  The answer may depend entirely upon your personal perspective or what denomination you belong to.   Is the church a building?  Is it a denomination or organization?  Is it a congregation?  The answer is not as simple as you might think.   The word church comes from the Greek word ecclesion, which literally means assembly.  However, when you look at scripture, it speaks of the church using a number of different metaphors, each of which tells us just a little bit about how God views the church.


Metaphors for the Church


The Body of Christ. First are foremost, the New Testament refers to the church as the Body of Christ.  What exactly does that mean?  1 Corinthians 12:27 says “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”  In the broader context of 1 Corinthians 12, Paul is speaking of the fact that every member of the church plays a crucial role in making sure the whole church functions properly.  Just as every part of the human body is necessary for the whole person to operate effectively, so the church is one entity in which every part (that is, every member) is servings its purpose so that the whole of the church operates effectively.  The implication is that we are one body – not many fractured, separated parts, but an integrated whole.

That body, however, is not just any body; it is the body of Christ.  Ephesians 5:23 says “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.”  The unity of the church as a single entity is absolutely dependent upon the fact that we are not our own body (or bodies), but the body of Christ.   Just as your hands or your feet are not independent of you as a person, the church (or rather individual churches and congregations) are not independent of Christ.  Just as your hands or your feet do not have their own identity, so the church (or rather individual churches and congregations) does not have its own identity.  Could it be that the reason many churches are so dysfunctional or the reason that we have so many divisions among our churches is that we have failed to submit to and recognize that our identity is not found in ourselves or our denominations, but in Christ?  We are not Baptist or Presbyterian or Catholic or Anglican, we are Christian – the Body of Christ.  We may choose to attend and be members of a Baptist or Presbyterian or Catholic or Anglican congregation for many different reasons, but it is in Christ – not those organizations – that we are to be identified.


The People of God.  The New Testament also speaks of the church as the people of God. 1 Peter 2:9 says “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”   In the Designs For Hope course Bible and Bible Doctrine, it was presented that the Central Message of Scripture was as follows:


God is creating for himself a people to glorify his name that is saved through faith in Jesus Christ.


In the Old Testament, the people that God chose among all other people to be called by his name as his people were the children of Israel.  He made his covenant with them.  He brought them out of bondage in Egypt and gave them an inheritance in Canaan. As God’s people, the Israelites were to be his representatives in the world.  Instead, the Israelites sought after other gods and turned their back on the one true God who had called them by name.  As a result, God (at least temporarily) rejected his people, prophesying in Hosea 1:9 “ye are not my people, and I will not be your God” – sending them into exile for 70 years.  Then, speaking of how he would eventually grant salvation to the gentiles, he said in Hosea 2:23 “I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.”  

The people of God are those who have confessed faith in Jesus Christ – that is, the church.  They are those that God has chosen as his representatives in the world.  As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.”


The Family of God.  The church is also considered a family.  In fact, the church is considered the family of God.   Paul says in Ephesians 3:14-15 that we are all a family whose surname is Jesus Christ.  Jesus himself is THE Son of God, but  throughout the New Testament, there are numerous references to Christians being referred to as the children of God.  Jesus himself in the Sermon on the Mount spoke of God as our good father.  Paul speaks on numerous occasions about our adoption as God’s children, being able to call upon God as “Abba, Father.”  While we would never suggest that we have the same level of status as Jesus, how amazing is it that Jesus is the Son of God; and yet as John says in 1 John 3:1, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”  It is for this reason that the New Testament saints referred to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Indeed, we still refer to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are a family.  We are the family of God. 


The Bride of Christ.  Perhaps the most beautiful metaphor for the church is that the church, in aggregate, is the Bride of Christ.  The fact that we are his bride speaks primarily to his love, commitment, and his affection towards us.  Just as a husband loves the bride, so the church is loved by Christ (See Ephesians 5:25-27). This imagery is not unique to the New Testament church, though.  God used the image of Hosea and his unfaithful wife to give us a word picture of how he viewed Israel’s unfaithfulness in pursuing after other gods.  Isaiah gives us a similar picture in Isaiah chapters 61 and 62 when he speaks of God's relationship to his people when the Messiah comes.  Jesus himself gave this same analogy in Matthew 9:15 when he described why his disciples did not fast like John’s disciples or the Pharisees, saying that the bride does not fast while the bridegroom is present.  But this idea is portrayed in its ultimate beauty in the book of Revelation.  In Revelation 21, the bride of Christ is revealed as the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven fully adorned for the bridegroom; but then in Revelation 22 we find that the bride is really the people of the New Jerusalem (that is, the body of glorified believers) and they, along with the Holy Spirit, call out for the bridegroom’s quick return.


Two Perspectives on the Church


Whenever the New Testament speaks of the church, it speaks of it from one of two perspectives – that of the local church and then also of the universal church.


The Local Church – the Visible Church.   Most of the occurrences of the word “church” in the New Testament refer to a local body of believers in a specific location.   The local church is the physical body of believers who have covenanted to gather together regularly (usually at a specific location) to fellowship and worship God.  We call this the “visible” church because it is tangible.  We can see it and reference it.  It consists of a certain number of believers worshipping together in a certain place and a certain time with a pastor to guide them.

In the early days of the church, this could be a small band of believers meeting in someone’s home or it could be all the believers of a particular city or town.   For example, in Romans 16:3-5, Paul addresses the one church that met at the house of Priscilla and Aquila, while in the Epistle of Galatians, he addressed all the “churches of Galatia.”   The point is that whenever believers gather together as a group and covenants with one another to meet and worship on a regular basis, with a duly appointed pastor, it is a very tangible thing that – at least in the biblical sense – can be considered a church.

On the other hand, many denominations have taken the position that just because a group of believers have decided to gather together does not specifically mean they are a church.  Over the centuries, rules for formally establishing a “local church” have been developed and vary by denomination – as do the rules associated with ordaining men to be pastors over those churches and the rules associated with becoming members of those churches.  However, just because an official “church” has been established does not mean that everyone who is a member of that church is a believer.

We have to keep in mind that the membership of the local body of believers is NOT pure.  Jesus himself gave us numerous examples of how non-believers have infiltrated the church as if they were believers.   In Matthew 13:24-29, Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares, implying that among the believers (the wheat) there are unbelievers (tares).  Similarly, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus speaks of the church in terms of the sheep and the goats and how God will ultimately separate the sheep (believers) from the goats (unbelievers).  He also speaks in Matthew 7:21-23 of those who say “Lord, Lord” but who are really not saved.  Even the Apostle John speaks of this in 1 John 2:19-20 when he warns of the dangers for those who do not persevere until the end. 

The irony is that most of these church members have no idea that they are lost and going to hell.  For all appearances, they look and act like other believers -  just like the tares looks like the wheat.  Billy Graham once said that he believed as many as 50% of the people sitting in American churches on a typical Sunday morning are dying and going to Hell.   In most places, but particularly in any country or region where there is freedom of religion and a general, cultural acceptance of the Christian faith, this sad truth will likely be the case.   The local, visible church, therefore, is not the “pure” church.


The Universal Church – the Invisible Church.  The “pure” church is the real church – the invisible church.  The “real” church is the universal church that consists of all true believers.  Sometimes – such as in the Apostle’s Creed - this is referred to as the holy catholic church, because the word “catholic” means universal. This, however, does not specifically mean the Roman Catholic Church – although the Roman Catholic Church does believe that only through the Roman Catholic Church can the believer be in fellowship with the universal church.  While they acknowledge that Christians may exist outside the fellowship of the Roman Catholic Church, they believe that only those belonging to the Roman Catholic Church are in fellowship with the “real” church.  Obviously, Christians from other denominations would disagree with that position. 

The New Testament speaks of the universal church in not in terms of a specific group or organization, but in terms of the combined body of all true believers.  This is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 16:18 when he said he would build his church on the rock.  Paul also refers to the church in this manner in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 where he speaks of how the gifts of the Holy Spirit are used in the church.  The universal church is NOT the collective whole of all the members of all local churches, because there are members in those churches who are not true believers.  For this reason, because we can’t say with confidence who is – and is not – a part of the church, we say that the universal church is actually “invisible.” The universal church is also considered invisible because it includes not only the believers of today, but the believers of yesterday and the believers of tomorrow.  All believers from every age, from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation comprise the universal church. 


The Church and Israel


As mentioned above, God chose a people for himself  in the Old Testament – he chose the nation of Israel.  In the New Testament, it is the church that is God’s chosen people.  What happened? Why did God’s chosen people change from being the nation of Israel to being the universal church and what is the universal church’s relationship to Israel?  Has God abandoned Israel?  The answer to the last question is a definitive “no,” but the answers to the other questions are a bit more complicated.  There are three primary views for how to address this issue.


The Dispensationalist View.  Romans 11:25 says “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.”   Dispensationalism is a movement that attempts to define biblical history into divisions of time – or dispensations – whereby God has supposedly dealt with mankind differently within those different periods.  According to the Dispensationalist View, the church is not related to Israel in any fashion.  Rather, the church age is a time where God is dealing exclusively with the gentiles and he will return to deal with Israel during the tribulation period.  According to this view, the church is comprised of “gentiles” and so if Jewish people wish to come to Christ, they must essentially covert to Christianity.

There is some truth in this view.  God is dealing with the gentiles because he wishes for all peoples to be saved.  It is also true that only through Jesus Christ can that salvation be found.  However, there are a number of flaws with this view.  First, the church was started by Jews – namely the Jewish believers in the upper room plus the 5000 Jews added on the Day of Pentecost.  Second, Christianity was original viewed as a Jewish sect, not a gentile religion.  In fact, for the first 20-30 years, the church was exclusively Jewish.  The book of James was written to Jewish believers primarily because, at the time of its writing, there were no gentile believers.  Finally, Paul says that Christianity is FIRST for the Jew, then for then Gentile.  It is problematic , therefore, to refer to the church as a time when God is dealing primarily with Gentiles when the Bible specifically says the gospel is first for the Jew.


The Replacement View.  According to this view, the church is the New Israel – a Spiritual Israel you might say.  This view says that God has rejected the nation of Israel because the nation of Israel rejected Christ.  All of the promises and blessings that God promised Israel now belong to the church.  This view has many of the same problems as the Dispensationalist view.  Additionally, there is further evidence that this view is wrong, because – according to Romans 11:11 – the whole reason that salvation was offered to the Gentiles was to make Israel envious and therefore hopefully draw them back to Jesus.  It is problematic, therefore, to say that God has rejected Israel when the very purpose of saving the gentiles is to draw the Jews back to him.  Finally, this view can easily lead to anti-Semitism and, in fact, there has been a sordid history of anti-Semitic sentiment in the church over the years because of the perception that the Jews rejected Christ.


The Engrafted View.  In the Old Testament, God made provisions for non-Jews to be included as part of his people, which required the males to be circumcised to show that they were not a part of God’s people.  Exodus 12:48 says, “And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof.”  The Bible speaks of a number of “gentiles” who became a part of the Jewish people.  Two of them, Rahab and Ruth, are even included in the lineage of Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph.

The engrafted view essentially says that the gentile church is an integrated part of Israel.  According to this view, we are “wild branches grafted in” to Israel.  Speaking to gentile believers in Romans 11:17-18, Paul warns them not to forget that they are included as part of Israel, but not a replacement of Israel - “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakes of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches.”  There ought not to be a distinction between the Israel of the Old Testament and the Church of the New Testament, except that gentile believers are those “foreigners” who have been included in the New Covenant.  According to this view, neither Jews nor gentiles today are required to follow the law and be circumcised like the Jews and converts to Judaism in the Old Testament in order to gain righteousness because we are no longer under the Old Covenant.  Rather, we are under the New Covenant but are still what God and the Bible would consider to be “Israel.”  In support of this, Paul says many times that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, but one people.  In Ephesians 2:11-21, he even speaks to how we are all CITIZENS of Jerusalem.  Then in Ephesians chapter three he reminds us that we are all adopted as children of God and then says in Ephesians 3:6 “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.”


Church Organization – Offices of the Church


There are many different views on how a church should be organized.  Different denominations have made different determinations – most of them based on their assessment of scripture – as to how to organize and run the church.  With respect to the offices of the church, however, there are some commonalities that are based upon clear biblical teaching.


The Pastor or Elder.  In many respects, we have somewhat confused the concepts of the pastor and elder in modern times, although practically speaking there is not much difference between then.  Scripturally, a pastor is essentially a shepherd.  The Old Testament referred to the Jewish leaders as pastors (shepherds) on numerous occasions, and Paul specifically talks about having the spiritual gift of pastoring in Ephesians 4.   As such, “pastors” do serve in this capacity.  Biblically, though, the person that leads the local church body is referred to in the New Testament as an elder.  

There are actually two words in the Greek that are translated “elder.”  The first is episkopos.  It means an overseer or guardian and can also be translated as bishop.  This is the term that corresponds more closely to what we would call the office of Pastor (see for example, 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:7).  The second Greek word is presbeuteros, which literally means an old man (see for example, 1 Timothy 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5, and James 5:14).  The elder is referred to as one who has some semblance of authority over the church.  These two words are often considered to be interchangeable but some see them as different.  Paul, however, uses them interchangeably himself, saying in Titus 1:5-7


5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:

6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.

7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;


Whether they were truly meant to be one office or two is a matter of interpretation, but Paul clearly used both words (elder and bishop) interchangeably in this particular situation, and many have traditionally ascribe both to the traditional office of pastor.

Titus chapter 1 actually gives the qualifications of this office, which are as follows:


Qualification of the Elder (presbeuteros) or Bishop (episkopos)

                Above reproach

                Husband of one wife

                Children are believers

                Not open to charges of debauchery or insubordination

                Not arrogant, quick-tempered, drunkard, violent, or greedy

                Hospitable, lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined

                Hold firm to the word

                Able to give instruction in sound doctrine

                Able to rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine

                Not a recent convert


1 Timothy 3:1-7 also gives the qualifications of the episkopos, which include


                The husband of one wife

                Vigilant (in the faith)


                Well mannered


                Able to teach

                Not given to wine,

                Not abusive or violent

                Not greedy or materialistic


                Not easily angered

                Not covetous

                One that keeps control in his own house

                Not a novice (new Christian)

                One that has a good report among non-believers


These qualifications of the elder and bishop, which are essentially the qualifications of the pastor, are a very difficult set of qualifications to meet for any man.  Those who are appointed as pastor would all likely look at this list and find deficiencies within themselves.  As such, those who serve as pastors ought to do so with great humility, knowing that truly none of us qualify to be a pastor except the Good Pastor himself, Jesus Christ.


Deacon.  Deacons were first established in Acts 6:1-6.  In that passage, the church was growing to the point that it was difficult for the pastors (the Apostles) to manage the physical needs of the church.  Therefore, after much prayer and consideration, they appointed deacons who would serve in that capacity.  A deacon is not supposed to be an overseer of the church.  Deacons are not supposed to be making the decisions about how the church operates.  The deacon is appointed to serve, not to rule. The word itself, deacon, comes from the Greek word, diakonos, which literally means “servant.”  The qualifications of the deacon are found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and include the following:

•          Dignified

•          Not double-tongued

•          Not addicted to wine

•          Not greedy

•          Hold to the mystery of the faith

•          Must be tested

•          Husband of one wife

•          Good managers of their children


There are even qualification for deacon’s wives, which include

•          Dignified

•          Not slanderers (gossips)

•          Sober-minded

•          Faithful in all things


It should be noted that there are no qualifications listed for pastors’ wives, but one can infer from scripture that they ought at least to be the same as deacons’ wives.


Church Organization - Ecclesiology (Church Governance)


While there are some commonalities associated with the offices of the church, as mentioned before there are a number of different views on how the church itself should be organized.  The term used to describe the organization and governance of the church is Ecclesiology.  Understanding how different groups and denominations view Ecclesiology can help you understand their perspective better and therefore relate to them better.



By far the vast majority of churches are episcopal in nature.  While The Episcopal Church is actually the Anglican Church (see below), there are a number of different denominations that follow the episcopal model of church governance.  The episcopal modl is taken from the Greek word episkopos, which (as was previously mentioned) means bishop.  And while the word episkopos is generally used in the Bible to describe a local pastor, churches with an episcopal ecclesiology consist of groups of churches whose pastors report to bishops organized into synods.  Under this structure, the bishop is essentially a pastor of pastors. 

Roman Catholic.  In the Roman Catholic Church, individual churches are led by “priests” (essentially local pastors) who report up through a series of bishops. Bishops then report to cardinals and ultimately to the Pope, who is essentially a bishop of bishops.  The ultimate church authority in the Roman Catholic Church rests with the Pope, who claims direct apostolic succession from the Apostle Peter.   All cardinals, bishops, priests, and even church members are expected to abide by the decisions of the Pope.

Eastern Orthodox (and other, similar Orthodox organizations).  The Eastern Orthodox Church is very similar to the Roman Catholic Church except there is no Pope.  In its place are regional “synods” of bishops who determine the direction of the churches in that region.  While the Eastern Orthodox Church also claims apostolic succession, local church authority is determined by the synods.  No one priest or bishop has ultimate authority, but the local churches must abide by the decisions of the synod.

Connectional (Methodists).   All Methodist churches are semi-independent, but they are also connected to all the other Methodist churches through the bishopric.  Pastors are assigned to a local church by their regional bishops.  All churches are expected to participate in regional and national council meetings.  Local churches are ultimately expected to abide by the decisions made at the council meetings.

Anglican.  The Anglican Church (sometimes referred to as The Episcopal Church) ultimately associates itself with the Church of England, whose ultimate authority is the British sovereign.  Like Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, Anglican Churches are led by priests who report to regional bishops.  These bishops report to Archbishops, who ultimately report to the Archbishop of Canterbury.  While the British sovereign is the ultimate authority for the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the effective spiritual leader.  All Anglican Churches are expected to abide by the decisions of the Archbishop of Canterbury.



As the Episcopal format is taken from the Greek word episkopos, so the Presbyterian format is taken from the Greek work presbeuteros, which means elder.  There are a number of different Presbyterian denominations.  However, within each denomination, the local churches are led by a group of elected elders.  A higher board of elders called a presbytery then leads groups of churches.  Groups of presbyteries are governed by an even higher board of elders called a synod.  This structure is very similar to the episcopal format.  However, while regional and synod bishops in episcopal churches are (or were) pastors or priests, the elders in the presbyteries and synods of the presbyterian churches do not necessarily have to be pastors.  The ultimate authority for prebyterian churches is general assembly of all of the synods.  All churches are required to abide by decisions passed down to them from the general assembly.



Congregationalist churches are all independent and autonomous.  They may be completely independent, as is the case with non-denominational churches, or they may associate, confer, and cooperate with other congregations.  Some may even form collaborative conventions and express joint beliefs, but ultimately each church can do or believe as it determines locally.  In recent years, a number of large, non-denominational mega-churches have begun expanding beyond the local church and have formed either satellite churches or church networks.  However, these cooperative efforts generally fall short of having the formal hierarchical authority of the episcopal or prebyterian church models.

 In a congregationalist church, there is no authority over the local church except as established in the by-laws (or equivalent organizational documents) of the local church.  The authority of the congregationist churches can, therefore, vary widely.  Some may have elder boards similar to a local presbyterian church.  Others may have a governing board.  Still others may grant primary authority to either the pastor or possibly the deacon body.  However, with all congregationalist churches, the ultimate authority, at least in principle, is Jesus Christ.


The Purpose and Mission of the Church


It would be appropriate to end this lesson on the church by answering an all-important question…Why is the church here?  What is its purpose? The church has three primary ministries – a ministry to God, a ministry to believers, and a ministry to the world.

The church’s ministry to God is to worship him.  Speaking of the church in Ephesians 1:12, Paul says, “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.”   Our worship may come in the form of praise and singing, proclaiming the word, corporate prayer, and the observance of ordinances such as The Lord’s Supper.  In more liturgical churches, the very purpose of the liturgy itself is to bring glory to God. 

The church’s ministry to believers is to nurture them.  This may be taking care of the members and ministering to their physical needs, but it also means discipling and teaching them the ways of God.  Again speaking of the church in Colossians 1:28, Paul says that as a church we are to be  “warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”  The ministry to the believers also means fellowship.  Acts 2:42 tells us that after the day of Pentecost, the believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

Finally, the church’s ministry to the world is to evangelize it.  The church’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is to make disciples of all men.  Our responsibility for this is spelled out in Romans 10.  In order for the world to call upon the name of Jesus they must believe, but they cannot believe until they hear.  And how can they hear unless someone shares the gospel with them.  And how can the gospel be shared unless someone is sent to them.  The church’s ministry to the world, therefore, is to go into it and share the gospel.