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Tuesday
Aug232011

My Church

When you plan to visit an unfamiliar community, or even just when you are passing through somewhere, it is common to look at the places of worship and identify them according to the way they identify themselves. Many are designated as outposts of some well-known Protestant denomination, while others are clearly Roman Catholic or evidence of a modern form of interdenominationalism. Truly, however, the identity of a religious house cannot be fully known simply by looking at the words on the outside wall, but those words do give some indication of what the people inside would aspire to be. What is the identity of the church that belongs to Christ?

I. My Church

A. Christ’s Church

1. it is on the occasion of Peter’s confession about the lordship of Jesus Christ that the son of God announces his intention to build a church (Matthew 16:13-19)

2. the spiritual rock, or cornerstone, upon which the church is constructed is Christ himself, with Peter and the other apostles and prophets forming the church’s foundation through their courageous faith and teaching (First Corinthians 10:4, Ephesians 2:19-22)

3. ultimately, Christ only built one church into which he planned to collect the souls of redeemed people through one faith and one baptism, not the dozens of conflicting models available among men today (see Ephesians 4:4-5)

4. Christ’s church is not a physical structure, but a spiritual association of those with like, precious faith – it is his kingdom, his temple, his body, all assembled according to his pattern (see Hebrews 8:5, First Peter 2:5-9)

 

B. Church of Churches

1. the common understanding of Christ’s church is that it is, in turn, made up of dozens of acceptable denominations, each with slightly different doctrines, practices, traditions, and governance

2. union is found in a shared belief in the lordship of Christ, but disunity reigns in everything else

3. sometimes the parable of the vine and branches is produced as evidence that this either a good or necessary arrangement, but Christ never envisioned his body being dissected into denominations that way (John 15:1-6)

a. Jesus is indeed the vine, but the unified apostles, not modern denominations, were represented by the branches, who produced fruit in disciples like all of us

b. the apostles labored together to build up one church for Christ throughout the world where they traveled, in spite of cultural, racial and social disparities

c. division came later

 

C. Denominating

1. the seeds of the kind of division we endure today were sown long ago, especially in Corinth, where brethren argued and divided over their loyalties (First Corinthians 1:10-15)

2. clearly, it was never supposed to be that way (First Corinthians 3:1-9)

3. the only argument for denominationalism is that it affords believers in Christ the opportunity to worship and work in a system that appeals to them, but shouldn’t the disciple’s goal be to work in a system that pleases Christ and demonstrates harmony with the New Testament?

4. the pursuit of that kind of unity is constantly stalled by loyalty to denominational traditions and names, whether they exalt a man (Lutheran), an ordinance (Baptist, Methodist), a governance (Presbyterian, Methodist) or something else

5. we could never agree on a manmade identity to adopt and share, but the identity of Christ’s church in the New Testament should be acceptable to any believer

 

II. His Church

A. Christians

1. today, we have Roman Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and many, many Baptists, along with all the other churches, denominations, sects, and cults

2. we are not so naive as to believe that merely dropping the manmade names would resolve all our differences and ensure perfect unity, but we are convinced that party loyalties get in the way of objectively teaching and following the New Testament

3. in the New Testament, only people who actively did the baptizing were called Baptists – it was not a denominational name or synonym for disciples; in fact, only Jesus’s cousin, John, enjoys that title, although it could have applied to others who did as he did

4. Christians were not treated to any proper designation that distinguished them from one another, but only from the world

a. they were common called saints (see Philippians 4:21), disciples (Acts 16:1, 20:7), or brethren (Colossians 1:2)

b. properly, they were known as “Christians,” a term that suggested they were like their master, Jesus Christ

1. Luke says that, “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26), possibly as a term of derision among the unbelieving Gentiles to distinguish them from the broader population of Jews, but according to words approved of God

2. King Agrippa rejected discipleship and the preaching of the apostle Paul by saying, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian” (Acts 26:28)?

3. Paul hoped for just that, but Peter demonstrated the costs of discipleship (First Peter 4:14-16)

 

B. Church Name

1. the important little secret about church names is that, in the Bible, there aren’t any – not for local congregations, and certainly not for sects of Christ’s church, for there were none

2. the church is the affianced bride of Christ, however, and any manmade designation that interrupts that loyalty is an unhappy and unscriptural one (see Second Corinthians 11:2)

3. the church Jesus intended to build came into existence after he overcame the gates of hades, was resurrected and ascended to sit upon the throne of David in Heaven (Acts 2:29-33)

4. following that sermon, Peter and the apostles issued the gospel invitation and Christ began to build his church with thousands of Pentecost Day believers (Acts 2:36-41, 47b)

 

C. Nameless

1. the absence of rival denominations made church names unnecessary, and today, their presence merely makes them unscriptural and counterproductive to unity

2. what Paul called the house of God (see First Timothy 3:15-16) or the body of Christ (see Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:18), he also described as “the church of God” (see First Corinthians 1:2) and “churches of Christ” (see Romans 16:16)

3. yet even these are not proper names for a nameless organism, but designations and descriptions of the universal collection of disciples or local groups of them

4. some of the sect leaders agreed

a. Martin Luther: “Leave my name alone, and do not call yourself Lutherans, but Christians” (Schaff, Vol. VII, 473).

b. John Wesley: “Would to God that all the party names and unscriptural phrases and forms, which have divided the Christian world were forgotten, and that we might all agree to sit down together as humble loving disciples at the feet of our common Master, to hear His words and imbibe His spirit and to transform His life into our own” (Universal Knowledge, Vol. 9, 540).

c. Charles Spurgeon: “I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ's name last forever” (Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. 1, 168).

 

Conclusion

The identity of the church is hardly established by something on the outside wall, but is according to what goes on inside. Divisive, denominational names are not only unscriptural, but can also be misleading, but anyone should find certainty in the inspired descriptions of the church Christ built.

Questions for Review

  1. What did Christ predict would try to impede the church’s establishment?
  2. What is the church?
  3. On what is it founded?
  4. Is Christ’s universal church made up of churches? If not, of what?
  5. How were the seeds of sectarianism sown in Corinth?
  6. How is the word “Christian” used in the Bible?
  7. What is the name of Christ’s church?

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