In our research into the FIFTH instruction for receiving God’s grace, ENDURING TO THE END, we have found that we must GROW, and that this growth happens IN STAGES as we try to become more like Jesus every day. We learned that the changes God wants must begin with our WAY OF THINKING, but that it must also show itself in a CHANGE OF ACTION! The Bible is our resource for change because it contains all of the instructions for the NEW AGREEMENT. We discovered that keeping our commitment of loyalty will not be easy and that people who are close to us now may one day become enemies because of Christ. However, God has not left us to bear these burdens alone because he has provided us with a family to take care of us if we need it. This family is Christ’s BODY – his CHURCH – and God joined us in that FAMILY when we were baptized!
In our third part of this series of lessons, we will look deeper into what the CHURCH is and see what we can find as far as descriptions of teachings and practices.
Almost everyone has heard of THE CHURCH. We began our journey talking about the fact that there are hundreds of different CHURCHES in the world today! If you ask, most people will say that the CHURCH is the PLACE people go to worship or pray. Many will also say that the CHURCH is the PLACE where God’s presence lives on the earth. Are these things taught in the Bible? Are they TRUE?
If we study about the CHURCH the first and most important thing we will discover is that the CHURCH IS NOT a PLACE! You will not read any Bible passage in the NEW AGREEMENT saying that “going to church” meant going TO A BUILDING! You will also not find any passages saying that the first Christians were “going to church” in order TO WORSHIP! Finally, there are no passages saying that the CHURCH is the place where God lives! All of these beliefs were started BY MEN who, whether sincere or not, ADDED these teachings into original Christianity!
If we look deeper into this matter, we DO find a very interesting passage. Please read Acts 17:24-25 and record the main points. The context is very important. Paul is in Athens, Greece and is speaking to the people. They were very religious, but believed in many false gods. They had constructed many temples and altars for their gods to live in. Paul found one altar that was made “For The Unknown God.” He told the people that THIS was his GOD and then he revealed TWO very important facts about his GOD to the people. First, he told them that his GOD does not live in buildings made with human hands! (verse 24) Second, he told them that his GOD does not need any help from men!(verse 25)
The modern idea that the church is “God’s house” comes from human reasoning. It seems NATURAL for men to think that GOD needs a PLACE to live. We see evidence all over the world in every generation and in almost every religion that when man thinks he has found a god, he must make a place for him to live. Otherwise, the god might become angry and do bad things to people. However, the idea that the God of the Bible lives in a house could also be an attempt to bring forward from the OLD AGREEMENT things we find concerning God and the way he related to his people. After all, WE KNOW that in the Old Testament God commanded the people to make for him a special tent, which Solomon later changed to a marvelous temple. We also KNOW that God’s presence stayed in that house and the people went there to pray and to “worship”. People today could easily reason that IF this was how God did things in the OLD AGREEMENT, THEN it SURELY MUST BE how he will do things again in the NEW AGREEMENT! Unfortunately, WE ALSO KNOW VERY WELL that we cannot reason things according to what SEEMS RIGHT TO US!1 We do not have the AUTHORITY to make assumptions and so we must study God’s NEW AGREEMENT and see what we find. It may be the same as in the OLD AGREEMENT or it may be different!
Every time we have encountered a topic, we have found answers by going back to the original language and looking at the meanings of words. We need to do the same for this study.
When you hear someone say the word CHURCH, you immediately think of religion because this word is only used to refer to a religious place or group. When you see the word CHURCH in your Bible, the Greek word that is in the original text is EKKLESIA.2 It was used every day in the life of ordinary people and meant, “a group of people called together from their homes for a purpose”, or “an assembly”. Like all the previous Greek words we have studied, this word WAS NOT a religious word during the time of the New Testament. The truth of this can be seen in Acts 19:23-41. Please read this carefully and record the main points. We find what looks like a town riot that was caused by statements made by Paul regarding the town’s idolatry. Verses 32, 39, and 41 use the word EKKLESIA, but we certainly cannot call this a church, in the modern religious way we usually think of the word. These people were not IN A BUILDING, and they were DEFINITELY NOT DOING ANYTHING FOR GOD! They were people who had gathered out of their homes and their purpose was to decide what to do about a “troublemaker” who had come to their town. From the passage, we can easily see that the word CHURCH means PEOPLE. It means A GATHERING OF PEOPLE or AN ASSEMBLY OF PEOPLE!
In the New Testament, we discover that part of God’s NEW AGREEMENT involves a CHURCH! Jesus spoke about it first in Matthew 16:18. Please read this passage carefully. Jesus spoke of building HIS CHURCH on the rock that was the faith Peter had just shown in his confession.3 Jesus was not speaking about a church BUILDING. If we apply the definition of EKKLESIA, then Jesus was saying that he would build his GROUP OF BELIEVERS! It is important to remember that the word EKKLESIA in the New Testament means an assembly of people, never a building.4
We next encounter the church in Acts 2:47, where we discover that the 3,000 people who were first to be baptized, and all the others after them were ADDED BY GOD DAY AFTER DAY TO THE GROUP OF BELIEVERS!
Aside from the word CHURCH – or GROUP OF BELIEVERS – there are several other words and phrases used in the New Testament. Please read Colossians 1:13-14 and record the main points. Paul speaks of God transferring us out of the KINGDOM OF DARKNESS into the KINGDOM OF THE SON THAT HE LOVES.
Several passages speak of the church as the kingdom. Please read 1 Corinthians 12:13 and record the main points. This passage is speaking about unity. Paul mentions baptism and says that when a person is baptized, in addition to their being joined with Jesus’ death, they are also baptized INTO ONE BODY. Paul uses the word BODY to refer to Christ’s CHURCH. He uses the idea of a human body to represent the church, where Jesus is the head and Christians are the rest of the body parts!5 The interesting thing we discover in this passage is the time and place where “God ADDS” people to his church. God does this when a person is baptized!
BAPTISM not only puts us in contact with Christ’s blood, but it also is the place and time that God puts us in his church!
Most passages in the New Testament refer to the church as being GOD’S FAMILY, and as God’s family, Chris¬tians are supposed to live, work, and serve the Father of this family together! PARTNERSHIP is an important part of the Christian life. As we already know, A CLOSE FAMILY is a successful and happy one. Unity among his followers was a great concern of Jesus and, without a doubt; the closer Christians are the more unified they will be!
If we survey all the passages that speak about the early church, one thing we see repeatedly is the fact that they spent MUCH time together. Please read Acts 2:41-47 and record the main points. We learn that the practice of spending time together was something that these first Christians were taught by the apostles. In this early stage of development, the Christians met everyday in the Jerusalem temple and in their homes, where they shared each other’s food and hospitality. Notice how the passage mentions that these first Christians DEVOTED THEMSELVES to certain things that the apostles taught. As long as every member of the church submitted themselves to these things there would be unity, harmony, togetherness, and a caring, sharing attitude - just as God had planned. This spending time together seemed to strengthen their relationship and it motivated them to make personal sacrifices in order to care for the needs of their brothers and sisters.
As the church expanded outside of Jerusalem, IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR ALL Christians to continue meeting daily in Jerusalem. Although we do not have much information about the meeting practices after the church spread out from Jerusalem, we do have several passages that need examination.
Please read Acts 20:7. Here we encounter a situation where the wording and context show that the Christians in that place were in the HABIT of meeting on the first day of the week – or SUNDAY. Paul was traveling and decided to meet these people in their assembly and he spoke to them because he was planning to leave the following day. Evidently, Paul took advantage of what seems to have been a habitual meeting time to speak to these Christians. This is evidence that the Christians set aside Sunday as a special day for Christians to assemble together.
Please read 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. This is another passage that mentions Christians assembling together on Sunday. We find a situation where new instructions were being given to the Christians living in the town of Corinth, and that Paul also gave these same new instructions to the Christians living in Galatia.6 The new instructions were concerning a special collection of money that was being organized to help struggling Christians back in the city of Jerusalem. If we look carefully at these instructions, we find that it was very logical to suggest that they take up their collection of money EVERY first day of the week IF they were already meeting together on THAT day! The fact Paul mentions “EVERY first day of the week” is evidence that it was their habit to meet together on Sunday. The fact that Paul gave the SAME INSTRUCTIONS to the Christians LIVING IN GALATIA would ALMOST CERTAINLY have to mean that they were ALSO meeting EVERY first day of the week.
From these two passages, we have good evidence that there WAS a habitual meeting of Christians in each place and that this meeting took place on the first day of the week – or SUNDAY! There are no passages in the New Testament that mention any other day of the week when Christians habitually gathered together. Therefore, even though the evidence is small, it is easy to understand and this explains why almost every “Christian” group today has a weekly assembly on Sunday.
In order to learn more about these Sunday gatherings, we will look for information about what activities the early Christians did when in their Sunday meetings. While it is not so clear how consistent certain practices were, one practice they had stands out and was referred to as “The Lord's Supper”. Please read 1 Corinthians 11:17-32 and record the pain points. Paul first speaks about his readers “meeting together as a church”—which context indicates was most likely a reference to the Sunday assembly. Careful analysis shows that he found two problems in their meetings. The first was a problem with unity. The second, which Paul goes into more detail about, has to do with this activity known as “the Lord’s Supper” and in dealing with this issue he brings out several points that teach us about the Lord’s Supper. We learn that the Lord’s Supper is an activity where Christians assemble as a group and individually eat small portions of unleavened bread, which symbolize Christ’s body that was sacrificed for sins, and then they drink small quantities of wine, which symbolize Christ’s blood that was shed for sins.
Paul continues saying that the Lord’s Supper is a way for Christians to REMEMBER the death of Jesus, to proclaim that death to the world, and to make a self-examination to see how each person is doing in their commitment. The Lord’s Supper is a TOOL that God has given to help keep both the individual Christian and the whole church going forward in the right direction. From what Paul says, we learn that it is not an ordinary meal, that it is important for everyone to eat it together at the same time, and - if abused – it is something that will make God very upset.
The roots of the Lord’s Supper can be traced back to Matthew 26:26-29, where we read about what many people know as the “Last Supper”. This event was actually a record of Jesus and his disciples celebrating the Jewish Feast of the Unleavened Bread, which was part of the annual Passover Celebration. The purpose of this festival was to remember what happened in the time of Moses when God freed Israel from Egypt through the 10 plagues. The participants ate a special meal together of bread that was made without any yeast. This is why it was called the “feast of the UNLEAVENED bread”!
The Lord’s Supper was a part of the early Christian assemblies and, when practiced correctly, served as a unifying point based upon a common knowledge (of Christ as Lord), a common experience (baptism into the death of Christ), and a common struggle!
A very common practice in religion today is the collection of money during the Sunday assembly. Many religious groups even impose the Old Testament practice of TITHING7 upon their members. The first thing you need to know is that there IS NO passage commanding members of the NEW AGREEMENT to TITHE! As we discovered earlier in our studies, God wants Christians to take care of each another and if that requires money then they should collect money and use it to help those with needs.8 The main instructions that people today say speak about collecting money in the NEW AGREEMENT, are found in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. However the Corinthian people received these instructions several years after they became Christians and since the Christians at Corinth were taught the same things as the new Christians in other places, and since we have seen that taking care of the needs of fellow Christians in one’s place was part of the earliest teachings of the apostles, then it would be difficult to imagine that the Corinthians were not ALREADY taking care of any needs that the Christians IN CORINTH might have. All other Christians in all other places were doing this according to what we read in the book of Acts.
In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Paul gives instructions concerning collecting and storing up money for helping needy Christians living in Jerusalem, which was very far away from Corinth. We looked at this passage earlier and found that these instructions were the same ones that he gave to the churches that were in Galatia. A logical reason why he might have told them to do this collection on Sunday was that they were already in the habit of meeting on Sunday!
Evidently, the Corinthians made a commitment to help but did not keep it because in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 Paul is disappointed that they had not done what they said they would do. He encouraged them to complete what they said they would do. In neither letter does Paul specify any amount or percentage, but simply tells people to do WHAT THEY HAD DECIDED IN THEIR HEARTS and that giving IS NOT FORCED, and SHOULD NOT BE DONE WITH PAIN IN THE HEART, because God loves a person that is GLAD when they give!9
Giving money is necessary WHENEVER THERE IS A NEED for money to help others! It is NOT a command that we give something every Sunday just to have a collection! The instructions of 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 were NEW because they related to something these Christians had never encountered before, helping with a FOREIGN need that was to be shared by ALL Christians living in ALL countries, through a SPECIAL COLLECTION that would be picked up by Paul and taken as quickly as possible back to the ones who needed it so badly.
In all the passages where giving takes place in the NEW AGREEMENT, there is NEVER a set amount, or percentage, demanded nor is there an “authorized time” for the giving to take place! It is regulated only BY THE HEART of the giver and THE TIME OF THE NEED and God expected the giver to give only what he or she committed to give and to give it when they committed to give it! Do not forget that God uses these commitments of giving to fulfill his promise10 of support for his children who suffer loss because of keeping their commitment of loyalty to him! This is what collecting money is supposed to be about!
One of the main purposes for the Sunday assembly is for Christians to strengthen and encourage one another. 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 gives us a picture of the activities those people did during their assemblies. Please read this, get your paper and record the main points. From what Paul says, we know that when these people came together in their assembly they sang songs, listened to people teach lessons, and people who had special gifts from the Holy Spirit did miraculous things. Notice that Paul did not command the people to do any of these activities, but instead told them that whatever they did 1) should be for the purpose of building people up, verse 26, 2) should be done by the men, verse 34, and 3) should be done in an orderly way, instead of everyone doing whatever they wanted all together at the same time, verse 40! These three guidelines should help US determine what activities should be done in our assemblies today.
Another passage that helps us understand the purpose of the Sunday assembly is Hebrews 10:23-25. Please read this passage and record the main points. One of the main points here is that people were encouraged not to miss attending the assembly. The reasons mentioned indicate that the assembly is to be a time when Christians meet together TO ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER in their struggles. The original language here is interesting because it speaks of “stirring one another up” to love and good works. The phrase “stirring up” is actually based on a Greek word that means, “to agitate someone”, or “try to start a fight with someone”. This was very necessary during that period of history because without the continual encouragement from others, individuals who faced hardships would most likely give up. This same need for encouragement exists today and will remain because as long as time continues then problems and temptations will also continue - until the Lord returns to put them away for the last time!
It is not easy to keep the commitment of the NEW AGREEMENT. However, God has given several things to help us achieve success. Aside from his promise about limiting temptation, he also gave us HIS CHURCH, which is NOT a BUILDING, but A WORLD-WIDE FAMILY! In addition, he gave us the Sunday assembly and the Lord’s Supper to help keep us going onward to the goal of faithfulness and IF we all will use these TOOLS in the way God intended, there is no reason for any Christian to be lost! However, we must remember that it IS possible to DO things in a wrong way and end up causing more harm than good, as we saw in the case of the Corinthians. In the end, we will be accountable for our participation in the CHURCH just as we are in everything else!
This concludes our study of the instruction, REMAINING FAITHFUL TO THE END. There is more that we could study and need to study about these matters, but this is all we need to study at this time in order to see the main point, which is that being faithful involves not only each person keeping the promise of loyalty that each person makes when they stand in the water of their baptism, but also becoming an active part of God’s family—which is God’s group of believers or his CHURCH!
1 Do not forget what we learned in the beginning of our studies from Proverbs 14:12!
2 EKKLESIA is pronounced ek-lā-sē΄-ă
3 Some people mistakenly teach that Peter was the rock that Jesus built his church upon, but this is not very likely because of the wording of the original language in the verse. Besides that, all other passages in the New Testament that speak about the foundation of the church mention Jesus as the only head or chief!
4 The New Testament has a word for “meeting place”. The Greek word is SUNAGOGE and is pronounced sūn-ă-gō-gāy΄. Even though the word has a simple meaning, it is transliterated in our Bibles as synagogue! This word usually refers to the Jewish meeting places in the New Testament, but in James 2:2 the word is used to refer to a Christian meeting place. A SUNAGOGE is a place where an EKKLESIA could gather.
5 You can see this in Ephesians 1:22.
6 Please remember that Galatia was a geographical region, in what is now the modern nation of Turkey, that contained several towns that evidently had churches in them.
7 This was a practice that God gave to Israel as part of their AGREEMENT. They were to give 10% - a tithe - of everything they had. These tithes were collected by the Levites and used to support their people because the Levites had no way to make a living for their tribe because God gave them no land! Their job was to serve God and so HE supported them through the collection of the tithes from their countrymen.
8 Remember what we learned from Mark 10:28-31.
9 See 2 Corinthians 9:7.
10 Remember Mark 10:28-31.
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