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Ecclesiology (The Doctrine of the Church)
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Ecclesiology (The Doctrine of the Church)

I.       Importance Of The Church

A.     What Is a Church?

1.        The Greek word “ecclesia” is translated “church” in English. “Ecclesia” simply means an assembly that is called out (Acts 20:28). In the New Testament, the church is a sanctified assembly redeemed out from the world by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts 20:28; Rev 5:9, 10).

2.        In the Old Testament, God chose Israel to be “a people dwelling alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations” (Lev 20:26; Num 23:9; Deut 14:2).

3.        In the Old Testament, people were circumcised so as to become the children of God (Gen 17:9–14). In the New Testament, people follow the steps of faith by believing, repenting, and baptizing in the Lord to become members belonging to Christ’s body (Jn 3:5; 1 Cor 12:13; Gal 3:27; Col 1:12–14).

B.     The Significance of the Church

1.        The church is the body of Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Eph 1:23; Col 1:24).

2.        Christ is the head of the church and the believers are members of the church. To persecute the church is to persecute Christ (Acts 9:1–5; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 5:23).

3.        The church, as Christ’s representative body, has the power to retain and forgive sins. To obey the church is to obey the Lord; likewise, to reject the church is to reject the Lord (Mt 18:17, 18; Lk 10:16; Jn 20:22, 23).

C.     The Church and Salvation

1.        The church is a place where God grants his grace, manifests his power, and reveals his will to humanity. It is the place where God is glorified (Eph 1:23, 3:10, 21).

2.        The church is the house of the living God. To enter the church is to enter God’s house (Eph 2:17–19; 1 Tim 3:15). Anyone who rejects the true church will not be saved (cf. Josh 2:18, 19).

3.        The church is the only true vine, and believers are like branches. The branches will wither and be burned if they depart from the tree (Jn 15:1–6). Thus, believers will spiritually die if they leave the true church—the Lord’s body (cf. 1 Kgs 2:36, 37, 39–46; 1 Jn 2:19).

4.        The church is the Lord’s fold. Those who are in the fold are the Lord’s sheep and will gain abundant life (Jn 10:1, 7–10, 16; 1 Pet 2:25).

II.    Church Organization

A.     LocalChurch Administration

1.        Each local church is comprised of saints, elders, and deacons (1 Cor 1:2; Phil 1:1).

2.        Paul appointed elders in the church (Acts 14:23), and told Titus to ordain elders in every city (Tit 1:5).

3.        Deacons were established for ministering the church (cf. Acts 6:1–6, 21:8). This office is important in the house of God, and so Paul instructed Timothy on how to ordain deacons in the church (1 Tim 3: 8–13, 14, 15).

B.     Requirements for Elders and Deacons, and Their Office

1.        Elders are also called bishops (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Tim 3:1–7; Tit 1:5–8). The term “elder” refers specifically to one’s spiritual advancement. The Greek word for “an older man” in 1 Timothy 5:1 and 1 Peter 5:5 is translated “elder.” The term “bishop” refers specifically to the office as overseer or guardian of the church, i.e., an elder (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 3:5).

2.        The qualifications of elders and deacons

3.        As in the early church era, the present requirements for elders and deacons, recorded in 1 Timothy 3:1–­13 and Titus 1:5–9, are:

 a.      A holy worker should be full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3; cf. Acts 6:10; 1 Tim 3:13; Tit 1:9).

 b.      A holy worker should be full of wisdom (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim 3:4, 5, 9, 12; Tit 1:9).

 c.      A holy worker should have a good reputation (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim 3:2, 3, 8, 11; Tit 1:6–8).

A new believer must not be appointed as a bishop or elder (1 Tim 3:6). A church should examine the personal background and character of a deacon to ensure he is blameless (1 Tim 3:10).

4.        The elder’s office and duties

 a.      Elders must exhort and convince, by sound doctrine, those who contradict (Tit 1:9; 1 Tim 3:2).

 b.      They should tend the Lord’s sheep (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1–4).

 c.      They are the stewards of God’s house and should take good care of the church (1 Tim 3:5, 5:17; Tit 1:7).

The elders minister the church according to God’s will—not as a forced duty, but willingly; not with eagerness for dishonest gain, but with an eager heart to serve. Thus, elders are not to wield their power over members, but they are to set an example for the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2, 3). Believers should submit to their elders (Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:5) and honor them as God’s workers
(1 Thess 5:12, 13; 1 Tim 5:17–19).

5.        A deacon’s office and duties

 a.      The word “deacon” refers to a servant or minister. In the New Testament, “servants” (Mk 9:35; Jn 2:5) and “deacons” (Rom 15:8; 1 Cor 3:5; Col 1:7; 1 Tim 3:8) are more or less synonymous.

 b.      Seven men were appointed the office of deacon, though they were not called deacons at the time (Acts 6:1–3).

 c.      Besides caring for church affairs, deacons should also witness for the Lord and work for God’s glory by his grace and power (Acts 6:8–10).

 d.      Philip, one of the original seven deacons, preached God’s good tiding in every city he went to (Acts 8:5–13, 26–40, 21:8).

 e.      Paul said deacons should hold the mystery of the faith with a pure conscience, and have a boldness for the faith (1 Tim 3:9, 13).

Deaconess may be appointed (Rom 16:1; 1 Tim 3:11, 12). Like the elders, deacons are stewards of God’s house and should serve the Lord with all their mind and strength—exercising their spiritual gifts (cf. 1 Cor 4:1, 2; 1 Pet 4:9–11).

C.     Interrelationship of Various Local Churches

Local churches, while scattered in every town and city, are still all members of Christ’s body. Thus local churches are closely knit together in an organic unity (1 Cor 12:12–27).

1.        The local churches had a close interrelationship during the apostolic time (Rom 16:1, 2, 16, 21–24; Col 4:15, 16).

2.        Ministerial regions should communicate closely with one another.

 a.      During the early church era, regions were divided according to the ministerial work (2 Cor 10:13–16; Gal 3:8).

 b.      Financial assistance was in place and practiced among the regions (Acts 11:27–30; Rom 15:25–27; 1 Cor 16:1–3).

 c.      A communication center was set up for specific ministry. Jerusalem was the center for the Jewish ministry (Acts 8:14, 15); Antioch was the center for the Gentile ministry (Acts 13:1–3, 14:26–28, 15:30–41).

 d.      A headquarters was set up to connect various centers of ministry. Jerusalem was the headquarters of all ministerial regions (Acts 15:1–‑‑4, 18:22, 21:17–20).

 e.      All churches are the members of Christ’s body, of which Christ is the head. “And not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19; Eph 4:16).

D.     The Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Church Officers

The Holy Spirit appoints elders and deacons in each local church in order to complete the saints for the ministry and edify the body of Christ (Eph 4:12; cf. Acts 20:28). In addition, Jesus Christ appoints apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Rom 12:4–8; 1 Cor 12:28–31; Eph 4:11). Thus most workers will simply work in certain local areas, however, some workers will work with a large number of local churches.

1.        Apostles

Besides the twelve apostles, Paul and Barnabas were also called apostles (Acts 14:14). Apostles and prophets are the foundation of the church (Mt 16:18; 1 Cor 3:10; Eph 2:20). Apostles have special authority over the entire church (Mt 16:19; Acts 15:22–33, 16:4, 5; 1 Cor 5:4, 5; 2 Cor 10:6, 8, 13:10; 3 Jn 9–10). They devote themselves to the preaching of the gospel and the establishment of the church (Rom 15:22, 23; Col 1:23, 25).

The qualifications to become an apostle are: first, one must possess spiritual gifts; second, one must have been considered apostles historically among the people. Apostles must have seen the Lord in person (Acts 1:21, 22; 1 Cor 9:1, 15:8), are directly called by the Lord (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1, 12), and have God’s power to perform miracles, signs, and wonders (2 Cor 12:11, 12).

2.        Prophets

Prophets are those who receive the Lord’s revelation and become the Lord’s mouthpiece—to boldly proclaim God’s will to the people. This is a special gift of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:10, 14:2, 6, 30; Eph 3:5, 6). By receiving the Lord’s revelation, prophets often predict future events (e.g.predicting famine or Paul’s imprisonment, see Acts 11:28, 20:23, 21:4, 8–11). Prophetic duties include: prophecy, exhortation, comforting and warning (Acts 15:32; 1 Cor 14:3, 31).

Prophecy comes from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. However, people moved by the Holy Spirit may sometimes mingle human will and personal ideas with God’s revelation—thus tainting the prophecy (cf. Acts 21:4, 10–14). Therefore, we must carefully discern any prophecy  (1 Cor 14:29; 1 Thess 5:20, 21).

3.        Evangelists

Evangelists are preachers (Eph 4:11; 2 Tim 4:5) and bearers of good tidings (cf. Rom 10:15). They receive the spiritual gift of eloquence and have the ability to evangelize (Acts 6:9, 10). In order to make their work effective, God often gives them the power to work wonders, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Acts 6:8; Rom 15:18; 1 Cor 12:28). Philip was known as an evangelist, who by the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel of Christ, worked many miracles, and led many to the baptism in Christ (Acts 8:5–13, 26–40, 21:8). Since the mission of evangelists is to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation,” evangelists will usually not stay in any particular place for extended periods of time.

4.        Pastors

Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Cor 3:6). “Planting” refers to evangelical work, while “watering” refers to pastoral work. Pastoring entails consolidating the members’ faith and spirituality. Apollos was a good pastoral worker. Pastoral work is an important part of church ministry. Before the Lord’s ascension, the Lord told Peter to feed his church three times (Jn 21:15–17). Bearing children is a one-time deal, but feeding and nurturing them is a life-long job. Thus pastoral work requires a great deal of long-suffering and patience to bear through difficulties. Pastors should possess the qualities of love, meekness, tenderness, sincerity, and forbearance (1 Thess 2:7–11; 2 Tim 2:24, 25, 4:2, 5). Elders in a local church may perform pastoral work (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1–3). Others, like Peter and Paul, may perform pastoral work in many churches (Jn 21:15–17; Acts 8:14–17, 18:11, 20:31; 2 Cor 11:28).

5.        Teachers

A teacher’s responsibility is to teach God’s word in faith and truth (Gal 6:6; 1 Tim 2:7). The Bible is their best text (2 Tim 3:16, 17). Teachers receive the gift of spiritual knowledge and are able to correctly handle and analyze the word of truth (1 Cor 12:8; 2 Tim 2:15). Apollos was a very good teacher (Acts 18:24–28). At first, Paul was a teacher at Antioch; later, he became the teacher of many (Acts 13:1; 2 Tim 1:11). Teachers play an important role in the work of spiritual progress and edification of the church (1 Tim 4:13;  2 Tim 2:2).

Believers should have sound biblical knowledge to prevent being “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles” (Eph 4:14; Hos 4:6).

E.     Characteristics of Church Administration

The Lord Jesus tells us, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:25, 26).

The church is the house of God, and no one can rule over her as a king or a governor (1 Tim 3:15). Thus people can only uphold and care for the church as a faithful steward.

1.        The head of God’s house is the Lord Jesus

Jesus is the only head. No one can replace Jesus Christ as head, for the Lord lives and works with the church (Mt 28:20; Eph 4:15; Col 1:18; cf. 1 Sam 8:4–9, 12:19).

2.        All believers are brethren (Mt 23:8)

Paul (2 Pet 3:15), Apollos (1 Cor 16:12), Silas (1 Pet 5:12), and Timothy (Heb 13:23) were called brothers. Phoebe was called a sister (Rom 16:1). The apostles in Jerusalem called themselves brothers (Acts 15:23; Rev 1:9).

3.        Elders, evangelists, and pastors are not appointed to have dominion over believers, but to be their servants (Mt 20:26; 2 Cor 4:5; 1 Pet 5:1–3).

4.        Elders and young people should form a parent-children relationship (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2; Tit 1:4; 1 Jn 2:1, 12, 18, 3:7). The younger members should treat the elderly members like their parents (Phil 2:22; 1 Tim 5:1, 2).

5.        Paul was sorry to say that there were ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers (1 Cor 4:15). Paul himself treated believers like a loving father (Acts 20:31–35; 2 Cor 12:14, 15; 1 Thess 2:7–11).

III. Requirements For A TrueChurch

The Lord predicted that false prophets and false Christ would arise in his name to deceive many (Mt 24:4, 5, 11, 23, 24). Thus, we must take care to judge which church is true—distinguishing the true from the false (cf. Prov 14:12). A true church should meet the following requirements:

A.     TrueChurch Must Have the Holy Spirit

1.        The church is the Lord’s body, and she must therefore have the Holy Spirit. Without the true infilling of the Holy Spirit, a church is not accounted a church of Christ—no matter how many members she boasts, no matter how remarkable her organization, no matter how much she receives in contributions. A church without the Holy Spirit is only a secular organization created out of human will (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 12:13; 1 Jn 3:24).

2.        Evidence of the Holy Spirit’s abidance with the church confirms she is from God rather than human will (Jn 1:32, 33, 3:34).

3.        With the Holy Spirit working in the midst of the church, the church has the power to forgive and retain sins. So the Holy Spirit is the pledge of the heavenly inheritance of believers (Jn 20:21–23; Eph 1:13, 14).

B.     TrueChurch Must be Followed by Signs, Wonders, and Miracles

1.        The Lord promised, “And these signs shall follow them that believe.” Signs, wonders, and miracles are to confirm the Lord’s abidance with his true believers (Mk 16:16–20).

2.        God bears witness to the true gospel with signs, wonders, different miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 14:3; Heb 2:1–4).

3.        Signs and wonders are signs of apostleship, i.e., signs of those who are truly sent by God (Mt 11:2–6; 2 Cor 12:12).

C.     A TrueChurch’s Gospel Must Follow the Bible Completely

1.        A true church must be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (Eph 2:19, 20).

2.        No one should transgress Jesus’ doctrine, nor should any one teach beyond what is written in the Bible, in the sense of perverting the gospel (1 Cor 4:6; 2 Jn 9–11).

3.        Paul stressed anyone who preached any other gospel other than what Paul and other apostles preached would be accursed. The severity of Paul’s claim is due to the fact that a false gospel cannot save humanity from sin. Rather, a false gospel leads people to condemnation (2 Cor 11:4; Gal 1:6–9).

4.        If a church has both the Holy Spirit as well as signs and
miracles, yet still keeps some “leaven” in her message, namely, partially distorted or incomplete doctrines, she is not a true church (Isa 8:20; Mt 28:20; Rev 22:18, 19). Satan may take advantage of this lack of true knowledge by confusing the scriptural truth and misleading the church with false
spiritual experiences (cf. Rom 10:1–3). As a result, if the Holy Spirit did work in such a church, it will eventually depart from a straying church as it spiritually deteriorates. In the end, Satan and human traditions will suffocate the truth and “kill” the church.

IV.  Mission Of The True Jesus Church In The Last Days

A.     Restore the Early Apostolic Church

1.        The destruction and restoration of the temple in the Old Testament typifies the decline and restoration of the church in the New Testament.

2.        The downpour of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the latter rain, restores the true church that existed in the apostolic era (Zech 4:6, 10:1; cf. Acts 1:8).

3.        The temple will be rebuilt “as in the days of old.” This typifies the true church in the last days will be likened to the apostolic church in its construction and ministry (Ezra 3:3; Jer 33:7; Amos 9:11; Gal 1:8; Eph 2:19, 20).

4.        The glory of the latter temple—the true church or spiritual temple—will be greater than the glory of the former temple (cf. Hag 2:9).

B.     Correct the Fallen Churches

1.        Elijah is a prefiguration of the true church in the last days.

2.        He prayed for the coming of rain that had been suspended for three years and six months. Before his being caught up he fought for the Lord and scolded apostate Israel in order to bring Israel back to God. Likewise, the true church, in the last days, should courageously denounce the errors of churches who have strayed from the truth, humbly lead them back to God, and present them for the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (1 Kgs 18:17–40; Mic 3:8; Mal 4:5, 6; Tit 3:5).

3.        The Lord sent the twelve apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6).

4.        Paul, following the Lord’s will, testified for Christ to the Jews (Acts 13:44–46). He pleaded to God for Israel’s salvation for while Israel was religiously fervent and devout, they did not have the truth of the gospel (Rom 10:1–3).

At present, many Christians, as well as many churches, are like the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Many Christian churches are zealous for God; they have devoted themselves to the work of God’s salvation. However, they do not follow the truth of the gospel found in the Bible. Therefore, it is our duty to spread the life-saving message to them and pray the Holy Spirit would move and lead them to return to the same fold of the Lord (Jer 23:3, 4; Jn 10:16).

C.     Admonish Idolatrous and Atheistic Unbelievers

1.        The Lord Jesus commanded the disciples to preach the true message in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the uttermost part of the earth after they received the power of the Holy Spirit (Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8).

2.        An angel warns people in the last days against the danger of idolatry, and urges them to turn to God (Rev 14:7, 8; cf. 1 Thess 1:9; Rev 9:20, 21).

3.        The true church proclaims the last day is coming. God’s people should immediately depart from “Babylon”—the sinful world—in order to avoid being destroyed along with it (Isa 52:11; Jer 51:6–9; Acts 17:29–31; Rev 18:1–5; cf. Rev 21:8).

D.     Complete the Construction of the TrueChurch

1.        The destruction of the world in Noah’s days is a type for the destruction of the world on the last day.

2.        Noah preached the message of righteousness and salvation while building the ark. Likewise, the true church should preach the life-saving gospel to the world while devoting itself to the building and perfecting of its members, thus fulfilling the Lord’s entrusted mission. The true church has to be perfect or complete before the day of the Lord’s coming (Gen 6:13, 14; Mt 24:37; 2 Pet 2:5; Rev 21:1, 2).

3.        Members of the true church receive the same Spirit and they will be in the unity of faith in order to fulfill the Lord’s will before his second coming (Jn 10:16, 17:11, 21–23; 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 1:10, 4:3, 13).

4.        Before the marriage of the Lamb, the Bride, i.e. the church, should make herself ready (Rev 21:2). The church’s faith, love, and holiness are perfected through the trial of fire, i.e. tribulations. After perfection, the church will be taken up to meet with the Lord (Mal 3:2, 3; 1 Pet 1:7, 4:7, 8; 2 Pet 3:11–14; Rev 19:7, 8).

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