The New Testament Church - What is it? - Part 3
- The New Testament Church - What is it? - Part 1
Jesus Himself initiated the church. Jesus Himself died for His church. Jesus holds the church close to His broken heart. So what exactly is the church?
- The New Testament Church - What Is It? -Part 2
The New Testament Church was birthed at Pentecost by the coming of the Holy Spirit to unite all believers into one body with Christ as her head. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, ". . . upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell
So far in our study of the New Testament Church we have learned that the church is a called out assembly. In other words, God calls out whom He wills, and joins them together in the body of Christ. The body is not a universal church or the invisible church, but rather many local bodies joining themselves together for several purposes that we will look at later in this study. We have also learned that there are no lone ranger Christians. It is God's plan for Christians to function in the body of the called out assembly that Christ, the Head chooses.
We have also seen that Jesus said He will build His church. That took place on the Day of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit united believers to each other as well as to Christ as their Head. Thus, the church has become a living organism. No man is an island,and the whole movement of the body is to be controlled by its Head.
Thirdly we have seen that salvation by grace through faith is necessary to be part of a church. This severely limits the number of true churches in the world. I recall going to a funeral once where the deceased was a child of God. She knew the Lord and had witnessed in her life of her assurance in Christ. The "pastor" made the remark that this woman knew she was bound for Heaven, and continued to talk of her great faith. His closing remark was "I hope I have that much faith someday."
Here was supposed man of God who did not even possess the knowledge of salvation. If I sound harsh, I cannot apologize for this man was not a pastor and he did not lead a church. He may have led a group of people, but he did not participate in a New Testament Church. Salvation God's way is the only way, and is required to be part of a New Testament Church.
Acts 2:41 tells us, "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls." Before these were added unto the church, two things had to take place. First of all they needed to be saved; that is, they received the word. secondly, they were baptized according to the Scriptural formula.
Baptsim is not part of salvation, but it is the first command received by a believer after salvation. John 14:15 gives us the instruction - "If ye love me, keep my commandments." Peter gives us the command in Acts 2:38, "Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."
I have seen a certain denomination misuse this verse, and interpret it to mean that baptism is necessary for salvation. If that is the case, then verse 38 contradicts many other Bible verses dealing with the topic of salvation. Repentance is what is necessary for salvation. A change of heart must be made. God sees the heart of an individual, but remember man looks on the outward appearance. Baptism is nothing more that a mark of identification. It can not and does not wash away sin.
What Did Peter Mean?
So what is Peter saying? Let me go back to the story of Elijah running from God in I Kings 19. In verse 10 Elijah says this to the Lord, " And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away."
Now carefully - very carefully read verse 14. " And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." In these two verses Elijah is saying the exact same thing - except for one word. Did you find it?
Did you notice verse 10, ". . . for the children of Israel . . ., " and verse 14 " . . . because the children of Israel. . . ." The word for can mean the word because. Now, go back to Acts 2:38. Peter says ". . . for the remission of sins, . . " or because of the remission of sins. Because I have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins by faith and repentance, I am to be baptized.
New Testament Immersion
So how does that take place within a New Testament Church? By immersion. Sprinkling is not the New Testament way. Pouring is not the New Testament way. The only mode of baptism that lines up with New Testament Scripture is immersion.
Let me give you a verse. We read of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water . . . . " This should be a no-brainer. If Jesus went up out of the water, it was necessary for Him to go down into the water. He was immersed as He identified Himself with His nation. He did not need salvation as He was the supplier of salvation, but He did fulfill all righteousness by His identification. We too, are to take part in the righteous act of baptism as an identification with Jesus, Likewise, the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:38 also went down into the water and back up. We could look at other examples, but this is a hub on the New Testament Church. For further information about baptism I point you to my hub Born of Water at .the link below.
- Born of Water
The main teaching of these groups is that baptism is an essential act for salvation.
The Actions of the New Testament Church
Something else happened in Acts 2:41. This group of called-out, baptized saints united themselves under the authority of Christ. Acts 2:42 gives us the rest of the story - " And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
This verse gives us at least four things the New Testament Church is to be involved in. First - the apostles' doctrine. Contrary to some beliefs, there was preaching and teaching in the early church. The living, infant, organism called the church grew as it was grounded in the Scriptures. And they continued stedfastly in them.
They participated in fellowship. May I mention that true fellowship is always centered on Jesus Christ. They were not talking about the new amusement park in town or fellowshipping around the TV watching the Super Bowl. They were focused on Jesus, the love of their life.They participated in the breaking of bread, the Lord's Table ( Acts 20:7, 11; 1Corinthians 10:16-17, 21; 11:20-26).
Perhaps one of the most remarkable elements of the New Testament Church were their prayer meetings. Acts 12:4-16 tells the wonderful story of the praying church rescuing Peter from prison. Read it and think about the power of God that was manifested. Is God any less able to do these things today? It was the prayer meetings of the New Testament Churches that shook prisons. Surely we can expect the same today. God does not always fit the box we put Him in.
I wanted to bite my tongue, but that is not working for me. When it comes to prayer meetings please keep them prayer meetings. Too many "churches" crowd their prayer time with singing and Bible study. Is one hour a week really too much to give God in prayer. Try shaking some foundations and claiming the precious promises of God and see what happens. Your mid-week service just might be transformed.
There is no Plan B
The Great Commission of the Church
Lastly the church was given a three fold commission. We find that in Matthew 28:19, 20. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen."
We have already talked about two of them. In verse 19 we see that we are to spread the Gospel and baptize converts. In verse 20 we find an added command. The church is to make disciples and teach the truths of God's Word to the new, baptized convert. They in turn are to go out and do the same.
The focus is always on Jesus as the Head. The body always follows the direction the head turns. So is the destiny of the New Testament Church.