The Church: God's Program for Ministry
- Thursday, January 22, 2004
When Did the Church Begin?
There are two important reasons for believing that the church began after the earthly ministry of Christ. First, when Jesus said, "I will build My church" in Matthew 16:18, the church was clearly still the future tense of "I will build" shows that at the time Jesus spoke these words the church had not yet begun. Second, the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:13), which is essential to the church's existence, did not begin until Acts 2. It was not until Acts 2 that the Holy Spirit began His work of baptizing believers into the Body of Christ. In Acts 1:5 Jesus said, "for John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." The apostles had ministered with Christ for more than three years and had seen dramatic results from their preaching and miracles, but they still had not been baptized with the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:8, Jesus told the disciples, "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” This was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples. It was on this day that the church began.
Who Makes Up the Church?
A person may drive past our building in Lincoln and say, "There is Indian Hills Community Church," equating the church with a building. The church, however, is not a building of brick and wood. The church is made up of those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Our building is where Indian Hills Community Church meets, but it is not the church. Believers in Jesus Christ make up the church. The New Testament teaches that on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) a new union of believers came into existence. Both Jews and Gentiles (all non-Jewish people) became united in the Body of Christ- the church. This union of Jews and Gentiles in one body did not exist in the Old Testament era.
The Church: Universal and Local
First, there is what we call the "universal" or "invisible" church, comprised of all true believers from the time of Acts 2 onward. It includes all those who are related to Christ by faith through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. All believers from around the world make up this universal aspect of the church. For example, the believer in China is linked to the believer in the United States in a universal, invisible way.
Second, the New Testament also refers to what is called the "local church" or "local churches," made up of people who are believers in Jesus Christ and who meet together in a local or specific place. Local churches are not only related spiritually to Christ but also have a physical and geographical identity.
Should local churches be hesitant to call themselves the "church of God" since each local church only makes up a small fraction of all believers in Christ? Acts 20:17-38 helps answer this question. This section records Paul's message to the Ephesian elders from Miletus. Significant to our discussion is what Paul told them in verse 28: "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Here Paul is speaking to the elders of the local church at Ephesus. Notice, though, that this church is called "the church of God." He does not say "they are part of the church of God" but they are "the church of God." Despite the fact that each local church consists of only a small fraction of all true believers, each local congregation can properly be called the "church of God."
The Parachurch Explosion
The church of Jesus Christ, as we have seen, has two dimensions-universal and local. However, though both notions are present, the emphasis in the New Testament is not equal. The Greek word for church, ekklesia, is used 114 times in the New Testament. Of the 114 times the word for church is used, more than 90 refer to the local church. Less than 25 references to "church" in the New Testament refer to the universal church.
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