There is but one true church! This is the church we read of in the Bible. It is the church that was purchased by the blood of Christ (Acts 20:28) and started by
the apostles. One must be in this church to be saved. It is these facts we wish to demonstrate to the student in this lesson.
It is our intention in this study to consider the church as it was originally. That means that we must go back beyond all modern day denominationalism, back
beyond the formation of the Roman Catholic church, back to the days of the apostles: almost 2,000 years ago! We believe that from such a study one can see what
the church should be like today.
Acts 2 tells us how the church actually came into existence. You will recall from our last lesson how Peter and the eleven, having been baptized with the
Holy Spirit, were enabled to tell a great audience what they must do to obtain salvation. When the people were moved to ask, "What shall we do?" Peter told
them to repent and be baptized (vs. 38). The record says, "Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were
added to them" (verse 41). Acts 2 closes with this explanation: "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."
From Acts 2, we learn the following important things:
It is both interesting and profitable to notice how the church of Christ worshipped. A study of the Jerusalem church is especially helpful in discussing this topic.
Acts 2:42 tells us: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayer." Four activities are mentioned
here that we will consider in order. To continue in the apostles' doctrine would mean that the early disciples both heard and obeyed the teachings of the apostles.
As inspired men, their teachings were equal to the inspiration of Old Testament writings (see 2 Peter 3:2). Hence the disciples listened reverently and eagerly to
these Spirit-led men.
The word fellowship means "joint participation" or "a sharing together," and, of course, this plays a vital role in Christianity. We are to have fellowship with God
and fellow Christians. One special phase of fellowship is the giving of our money to the service of God. From the very beginning, the disciples were noted for such
generosity (see Acts 4:32, 34, 35). Christ is the Christians' example here inasmuch as He became poor for our sakes that we might become rich through His sacrifice
(2 Corinthians 8:9). The New Testament teaches that Christians are to give according to their prosperity every first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1,2).
The breaking of bread refers to the Lord's Supper and not to the eating of a common meal (1 Corinthians 10:16). This very important part of worship was instituted on
the night of our Lord's betrayal. Every faithful Christian is to partake both of the bread and the cup which recall the Lord's body and blood. Some ask,
"How often should we partake?" Early disciples broke the bread every first day of the week; every Sunday (Acts 20:7). As this is undoubtedly the inspired record and
as it received the approval of the apostle Paul, it would behoove all those wanting to follow the divine pattern to do likewise each Lord's day.
Prayer has always been a most blessed privilege of worship. The Jerusalem disciples continued steadfastly in such supplications to God. Prayer can properly be
counted as an act of worship because in it we praise God and show our dependence on Him (Matthew 6:9-13). God answers the prayers of only those wanting to do His
will (1 Peter 3:12).
Singing, though not mentioned specifically in Acts 2:42, must be included in the worship of early Christians. In Colossians 3:16 we read,
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord." It is significant that though David in Old Testament times used various musical instruments, New Testament
Christians always sang their praised unaccompanied by such. The command and example in each place in the New Testament is to "sing."
As the Jerusalem church is a model to be followed in worship, so it is also in its display of unity: "Now the multitude of those who believed were
of one heart and one soul (Acts 4:32). Such harmony was not a mere accident, but rather an answer to Christ's prayer that all His disciples might "be one"
It was never Christ's intention that there should be many churches. Indeed, the New Testament recognizes only ONE. "I will build my church," Jesus said.
Years later, as the church spread all over the world, Paul could write the Ephesians and exhort them to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"
because there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 4:3-6). In the same vein, Paul told the Corinthians that there is "but one body"
(1 Corinthians 12:12, 13, 20).
Possibly the closest we can come to finding denominationalism in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 where religious division is scathingly rebuked. To the parties
within the Corinthian church, Paul asks, "Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" As the answer to all these
questions is clearly negative, it must follow that: 1) Christ's disciples ought not to be divided. 2) Christ's disciples ought not to wear men's names. 3) Christ's
disciples ought not to follow men (even great ones like Paul or Peter). If people would keep these things in mind, there could be no divisions, no denominations!
The amazing unity of the early church came about because "they continued steadfastly in the apostle's doctrine," whereas the creeds and doctrines of human
council always produce strife and division. God's word provides the basis for true fellowship: "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have
fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).
Simply stated, the New Testament government was congregational in form. Each congregation was independent of all others in rule, yet
closely tied together by fellowship. This may be learned by observing that church officers were appointed in every congregation: "So when they had appointed
elders in every church [. . .]" (Acts 14:23). "And appoint elders in every city" (Titus 1:5). The New Testament elder is also called a "bishop." The qualifications
for this office are set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Their work is discussed in 1 Peter 5:1-4 where Peter talks of three distinct responsibilities: 1) feeding the flock
of God, 2) taking the oversight, 3) being an example.
The modern denominational practice is to place one bishop over many churches, but in the New Testament order, it is many bishops (elders) over one church (Acts 14:23,
Titus 1:5, Philippians 1:1). Since the New Testament does not speak of higher officers, such as "archbishop," "cardinal," or "Pope," we must conclude that the
elders were the only rulers, and the extent of their rule was only over a local group: "the flock of God which is among you" (1 Peter 5:2).
When we speak of the mission of the church, we mean its purpose for existing, and the work it is to do. The Bible tells us that Christ died to
purchase the church (Acts 20:28); therefore, it must have a most valuable purpose in existing. It does! The work of the church is spiritual, designed both
to minister to man and to glorify God. In 1 Timothy 3:15, we are told that the church is the "pillar and ground of truth." As such, the church must teach the
Word of God in two directions, both without and within. Lost and dying sinners must have the Gospel preached to them, Christians must be further taught and edified.
The church is God's exclusive organization in accomplishing this task (1 Timothy 3:15, Ephesians 4:15, 16).
As a third work of the church, we must mention that Christians helped one another in times of need. We have already seen how the Jerusalem Christians shared with
their needy brethren (Acts chapters 2 and 4). We are further told that Christians in far off places sent relief to needy brethren elsewhere (Acts 11:27-30).
In 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2 divine instructions are given showing how these funds were to be raised.
Some would like to make the mission of the church purely "social." These believe that the church exists as a center to provide companionship, entertainment, and
fun. Others see the church as a kind of "glorified" Red Cross, designed to meet the material needs of the world. All such efforts are doomed to failure. They fade
into insignificance when we compare them to the true and glorious mission of the church. Paul said, "For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but
righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17).
We have studied the church as it is revealed in Scripture and as it existed 2,000 years ago. Does that church exist today? We do not mean some
denomination that is somewhat like it, but the exact church of Christ? We are glad to say: "YES." Notice first of all that the Bible tells us Christ's
church was to continue throughout all ages (Ephesians 3:21). Secondly, we have a description of the church of Christ in the Bible. All those today desiring
to pattern themselves after it may do so. In fact, this is just the way you can identify the true church today: study the Bible, noting all the characteristics
of the church. You will want to consider its NAME, DOCTRINE, ORGANIZATION, UNITY, MISSION, WORSHIP. Then, seek out the church that fits the Bible pattern. Don't
be satisfied with anything less. There are probably New Testament Christians meeting in your area, and you should want to be worshipping and working with them.
We will be glad to assist you in locating the church of Christ nearest you.
If you are interested in becoming simply a Christian, we want to assist you. Won't you write us today, letting us know your desire?
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