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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What is the "Church" and when did it begin?

Jesus Christ established the Church. He announced to his disciples that he would build it upon the revelation of God’s message to men. (Matt. 16:17-18) It seems a trivial matter to have to explain to some that the “Church” is not a building, although we commonly refer to it as such. The Church, rather, is the assemblage of believers both universally and locally. The word Church comes from the Greek word Ecclesia (or Ekklesia) which means “called out ones”. We are called out of the world for the purpose of proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. Before Christ’s ascension into heaven, he gave his followers their great commission. His followers, the Church, were to, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20. This is the business to which we, the Church, are to be about. In essence, the Church is to continue the work and message of Christ. When Jesus first appeared to his disciples after his resurrection he gave them this message, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21. Jesus first reassured them, as he also reassures us, that we have peace with God. After this reassurance he then tells them plainly that they are being given the very same mission as himself. Try and imagine the scene. Here were these disciples, meeting behind locked doors for fear of the Jews, who must have felt enormous shame and sense of failure, confusion, and fear. Then suddenly Jesus appears to them and tells them all is well. They are then told that they are being given the authority and mission as ambassadors of God to spread his message to the entire world. Now put yourself in that room and realize that you too, with all your history of failures and shame, as members of Christ’s church, are being given that same privilege.

The Church is referred to in several different ways throughout New Testament Scripture. In 1 Corinthians and Ephesians the Church is referred to as “The Body of Christ.” This conveys the principle of a living organism made up of many parts with each having a specific purpose. Christ is the “Head” of this body. (1 Cor. 12:27 & Eph. 5:23 & 30). The Church is sometimes referred to as a Fellowship of believers suggesting the idea of unity and mutual support. Paul referred to the Church as the “Bride of Christ” utilizing the concept of an intimate relationship and oneness with Christ. (Eph. 5:31-32). The book of Revelation also provides a glorious prophetic portrait of this reality. (Revelation chapters 19 & 21). We are also referred to as the household or family of God. (Gal 4:6-7). Jewish and Gentile believers are adopted into this family with all the privileges and inheritance son ship brings. We have the wonderful privilege of approaching God as our intimate Father. (Eph. 2:19 & Gal. 6:10). Jesus often referred to his followers as a flock or fold. He is our Shepherd. This suggests the idea of guidance and protection. (John 10:16). Both Peter and Paul referred to the Church as “living stones”. We are a structure which is full of life and constantly growing. (1 Cor. 3:9 & 1 Peter 2:5). Jesus employed the imagery of a garden when he indicated that we were the branches gaining our strength and nourishment from the Vine in a garden being attended to by our heavenly Gardener. (John 15). Paul also refers to us as “God’s field” where we are cared for, watered, pruned and given the opportunity to grow. (1 Cor. 3:9).

The Church age began on the day of Pentecost 50 days after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. We are the laborers planting seed and harvesting souls for the Kingdom. The Church will be about this task until the Lord returns. Once Christ redeems the world (not just our souls) and establishes his earthly Kingdom, we the Church will then rule with Christ on earth for 1000 years. The days of laboring under harsh elements will be over for the Lord’s Church as the final harvest will have finally been brought in. Then the whole earth will experience that seventh day of rest under the Lordship of Christ. The Church’s ultimate goal and mission has been and always will be to bring glory to God.

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