Sound Teaching

This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

Index by Subject

What is the Church?

Ask that question, and you will get many answers. But, what does the Bible teach concerning this institution which had its part from eternity in the mind of God? The word translated “church” in our English Bibles comes from the Greek word ekklesia. The simplest definition derives from its etymology: ek (out of), klesis (a calling), hence a calling out, or in the noun form “the called out.” The term in the greek has no religious significance at all. In the New Testament the word is used to refer to any group of people called out for a specific purpose. For example, it is used of a democratically called body (cf. Acts 19:39), and of an unruly mob (cf. Acts 19:32, 41).

The term gains religious significance in that our Lord used it to refer to his redeemed; those He called out of the world, into His body. Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The expression denotes a relationship sustained with Jesus. The called out, or the church, consists of those who are saved, (cf. Acts 2:47); those who are “in Christ”, (cf. Galatians 3:27).

The term is used in a general sense to denote all who are in that relationship. In effect, all the redeemed. Paul wrote, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:8), using the term in this way. Other examples of this usage of the term are found in Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22; and Ephesians 5:25.

The term is also used to designate local collectivities (congregations) of the redeemed. For example, “To the church of God which is at Corinth…” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Many other passages use the term to refer to local congregations (2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Rom. 16:4; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2). It is interesting to note that it is only in this local collectivity that God gave His institution organization and work to do. In this the wisdom of man stands in striking contrast to “the foolishness of God.” Where men have established hierarchal church governments, denominations, synods, councils, conventions, interdenominational fellowships, missionary societies, other human institutions and sponsoring church arrangements; God established the local, autonomous congregation to do His work.

Christ, the Foundation

A fundamental truth concerning the church of God is that it is founded upon Jesus Christ. This foundation was foretold by the prophets. Isaiah prophesied, “Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily’” (Isaiah 28:16). The picture of a precious cornerstone, tried, and rejected of men, is seen fulfilled in the Christ. In his first epistle, Peter indicated that we are to “come” to the cornerstone or foundation of our faith. Of Jesus, Peter said, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5). Jesus Christ came to earth to establish His church. He was rejected by the Jews, who were “disobedient to the word”, because as the church’s foundation, he offended them. However, the one rejected of men is precious to God, and is the “chief cornerstone” upon which the church rests.

The Establishment of the Church

One significant identifying mark of our Lord’s church is the circumstance regarding its establishment. Many churches have since been established; from the Catholic Church in Rome, to the to the hundreds of denominations that are the product of the Protestant Reformation. In contrast to these latter day imitations of the church, we find the true church established in antiquity, in fulfillment of plain prophecy (cf. Isaiah 2:2-4).

Jesus gave promise of the establishment of the church shortly before His ascension into heaven. Luke records this event in Acts 1:4-9. As Jesus promised, a few short days later, on Pentecost, these events took place. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the second chapter of Acts in discussion the church of God. On that day the fulfillment of prophecy, and the realization of hope in Christ was brought to fruition.

The Organization of the Church

As we have already mentioned, the term church, as it is used in Matthew 16:18 and other scriptures, refers simply to the relationship sustained between God and those He “called out.” Nowhere in scripture is the church, in the general or unlimited sense, said to have any organization or structure. Christ is head, and the members individually make up the body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:20-23). During the establishment of the church, the apostles had a central work. The apostles were stewards of God’s mystery (1 Cor. 4:1-2); ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). They served as witnesses, testifying concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and his sonship to God (John 15:26-27). Their work in the Lord’s church was foundational (Ephesians 2:19-22,23). They were qualified for the work, their calling divine (cf. Galatians 1:1). They were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ, (cf. Acts 1:21-22); were inspired teachers (1 Cor. 2;10-13); and were given miraculous powers, with the capabilities of laying hands on others to impart miraculous gifts upon them as well (Acts 8:17).

The unique qualifications and work of the apostle clearly reveal that the office is not one that remains through succession. No man today is an eyewitness to Christ’s resurrection. The apostles in the first century did their work well, and their duties on earth were fully accomplished. They, together with the chief cornerstone, remain the foundation upon which the church is built. However, when any man today claims to be an apostle of Christ, his claim is patently and fundamentally false.

As related above, structure is found in the local congregation. God chose through a local collectivity to accomplish his purpose for his people. Whatever work is done collectively by the people of God is accomplished in the local church. This can be shown clearly by looking at the organization, work and worship of the people of God.
The Organization of the local church:

  • Evangelists (Bringer of good tidings) (cf. Acts 21:8; Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5). Their work is to preach the word! (2 Tim. 4:1-2; Tit. 2;15).
  • Elders (Given the work of Oversight or Shepherding) (1 Peter 5:1-5). Names: Elder (older man); Bishop (Overseer); Pastor (Shepherd). Always there was a plurality of elders in a particular congregation (Jerusalem, Acts 11:30; churches in Pisidia, Acts 14:23; Ephesus, Acts 20:17,28, as examples).
  • Deacons (Servants) (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3). An appointed office. Diakones “one who executes the commands of another, esp. of a master; a servant, attendant, minister.”
  • Teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Older women are to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3-5). The aim of teaching: the perfecting of the saints (Eph. 4:12-13).

The Work of the Local Church:

  • Evangelism (Acts 8:4)
    • Those who preach have the right to be supported (1 Corinthians 9)
    • Support is received through the individual churches (2 Cor. 11:7,8; 12:13; Phi. 1:3-7; 4:10-20)
    • This support was always sent directly, without any intermediate institution or sponsoring church. (This is a pattern that is scriptural, and should be followed today).
  • Benevolence (1 Cor. 16:1-2)
    • Destitute Saints (Acts 11:27-30)
    • Money was sent directly to the need (Again, no sponsoring church arrangement, or human institution is found in the pattern).
    • The “widow indeed” (1 Timothy 5)
    • Note: In the New Testament, the bulk of benevolent responsibility is directed toward the individual (cf. James 1:27). Limitations are placed upon the work the local church is to do in benevolent work. Modern trends in the church and in society change that focus, and violate the pattern established by God.
  • Edification (Ephesians 4:11-16)
    • There needs to the be the training of teachers (2 Timothy 2:2
    • Edification means to “build up”, the teaching and worship of the local congregation is intended to build up, strengthen and encourage the brethren. (cf. Heb. 10:25).
  • Discipline (1 Corinthians 5)
    • When the matter is personal, between two individuals (Matthew 18:15-20)
    • False teachers (Romans 16:17-18)
    • The Troublemaker (2 Thess. 3:6-15)
    • The Immoral man (1 Cor. 5:1-13)

The Worship of the Local Church

  • True worship consists of proper attitude, and adherence to God’s will (John 4:24)
    • Singing Psalms, Hymns & Spiritual Songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)
    • Prayer (Acts 2:42; Acts 4:23-31; Ephesians 6:18)
    • Giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2)
    • Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11)

Many of the apostasies that have troubled the people of God in the past revolved around misunderstandings regarding the church. This gave rise to Catholicism, Protestant Denominationalism, the establishment of the Christian Church, and the split over institutionalism in our recent past. Attacks are presently being made on the authority of elders in their oversight of a congregation. Some are calling for women to take a larger role in the church than is allowed in scripture, (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26-36; 1 Tim. 2:8-15). Some are hiding behind the concept of local church autonomy, and calling for an enlarging of the circle of fellowship beyond what God accepts. While some are clamoring for less preaching on the church, it is obvious that more and plainer teaching is needed. It is my prayer that this article will serve as a starting point for some, in encouraging study of that great body established “according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”