The Biblical Concept of the Church

Chapter 1. "MY CHURCH"

by Leland M. Haines

[*] Preface
[*] 1. "My Church"
[*] 2. Jesus and the Church
[*] 3. Meaning of Church
[*] 4. The Church as the Body of Christ
[*] 5. House
[*] 6. Brotherhood
[*] 7. Local and Universal
[*] 8. Names of Early Christians
[*] 9. Designations of the Church
[*] 10. Unity
[*] 11. Relations with Other Groups
[*] 12. False Teachers and Apostasy


When man fell into sin in the Garden of Eden, God had a plan ready to redeem him. Because of God's love, the Son of God, Jesus, came to earth to give His life as an offering for sin. He then arose from the dead so that grace would be available to man. This grace makes it possible for men to become disciples and to live a new life in harmony with God's will.

One result of the redemption brought by Jesus Christ is the church. Jesus said, "I will build my church," and He did through His apostles and other early church leaders. And He is still building His church. The early church was based on the Word thus was to stand firm in the face of severe persecutions. But after the end of the first century, the main stream church slowly slipped into apostasy, with men building their own hierarchial structures. This decline accelerated after A.D. 313 when Constantine stopped persecuting the church and the state began to shower favors on it. One of the favors granted in 380 was that Christianity was made the state religion of the Roman Empire. These favors changed the nature of the catholic church and resulted in its overall downfall.

Even though the church as a whole fell, a faithful remnant of believers continued to exist. During the Reformation in the 1500s, many people became faithful disciples of Christ and sought to build a church patterned after the New Testament. But these faithful men were not the popular reformers, who compromised their position allowing the state to control the church. The faithful brethren taught that infant baptism was not valid and therefore required those who sought to identify with them to be rebaptized. Because of this, the state churchmen called them anabaptists or re-baptizers, a name of reproach. Because these brethren rebaptized, the various state goverments sought to put them to death under a 411 law forbidding rebaptizing. Anabaptist is not a name the brethren chose for themselves. They preferred to be called Christians, but because others who gave no evidence of a rebirth and discipleship used the term, the Anabaptists referred to themselves as brethren. Later, one branch of the Anabaptist movement was tagged by the name of one of its leaders, Menno Simons, and has since been known as Mennonites.

This book endeavors to show what type of church Jesus Christ wants built. Following the practice of earlier books in this series, it freely quotes from the Bible so the reader can see what the church should be from a biblical viewpoint. The reader will soon realize this book teaches a view different from both the Roman Catholic and Protestant concepts of the church. But these teachings are not new. They are the same the early church held and what other remnant groups such as the Anabaptist-Mennonites held throughout history.

Although the more conservative Anabaptist-Mennonites historically stood for and taught the doctrine contained in this book, most Mennonites have slipped away from these teachings. The departure greatly accelerated during the last 100 years, when some Mennonite leaders pushed an institutional approach modeled after American Protestantism. This caused many to think of the church's works as being done outside of the local church in the new institutions. Later it led to a radical change in congregation leadership when the work of the church was done by "professional ministers" who acted alone and by "committees."

Hopefully this book will help the present and future generation to see that the changes brought in have not necessarily resulted in a great awakening and recovery of the Anabaptist vision within the Mennonite Church. May the present generation return and promote the type of church Jesus wants to build!

I wish to thank Richard Polcyn for editing this book, and acknowledge the contributions made by Clarence Fretz, James Goering, Noah Good, Lloyd Hartzler, Emanual Hochstedler, Paul Hoover, Stanley Kreider, Lloyd Kropf, Grace S. Lahman, Ellen Lindsey, Stanley Sullivan, Phil Ruch, Suzanne Wieland, John C. Wenger, and other brethren, made when they reviewed the manuscript.

My prayer is that this book will be useful as disciples seek to build the church on the only sure foundation, Jesus Christ.

Leland M. Haines
Northville, Michigan

1. "My Church"

The Term Church

The English term church is a familiar one, yet the New Testament concept of the church, its organization, and its purpose are little understood today. Webster's definition of the church is "1: a building for public and esp. Christian worship, 2: the clergy or officialdom of a religious body, 3: a body or organization of religious believers: as a: the whole body of Christians, b: denomination, c: congregation, 4: a public divine worship , 5: the clerical profession ."[1] The problem with these definitions is that they do not match the New Testament concept of the church. In this book we seek to present the biblical concept of the church.

The word church comes from the Greek term kuriakon, which means "belong to the Lord" or "Lord's."[2] This term is used only twice in the New Testament: once in I Corinthians 11:20, where it refers to the Lord's Supper, and once in Revelation 1:10, where it refers to the Lord's Day.

The most widely used New Testament term for church is the Greek ekklesia. In the Gospels this word is used only three times, all in Matthew. Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). Later, when speaking of discipline, He used the term twice in the same statement: "tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church" (18:17). We have no written record that Jesus gave a formal definition of ekklesia. This term was used widely in the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament and in the New Testament outside the four Gospels, but before looking at their uses, let us look more closely at Jesus' use of church.

Jesus and the Church

One may wonder why Jesus spoke only twice about the church. We do not know but can only suggest reasons. The Gospels emphasize proofs that Jesus was the Christ, His teachings on discipleship, and His redemptive acts bringing in the kingdom of God. These emphases are presented in the author's books Christian Evidences and Redemption Realized Through Christ, which are part of this series.

Since the church is an important part of the kingdom, a brief review of Jesus' teachings on kingdom will be given. At the very start of His ministry, "Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 4:17). Later He taught that "he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (10:38), "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (16:24), and "You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Luke 22:28-30).

Jesus' teachings on discipleship, His giving His life on the cross, His resurrection, and His ascension emphasized in the four Gospels occurred before the new covenant and the Messianic kingdom came in. Since the church came is part of the new covenant and the kingdom, the major teachings about the church were reserved for the apostolic period.

The disciples doubtless were taught more about the ekklesia than it recorded in the New Testament. We know Jesus spent forty days with them, "speaking of the kingdom of God," before His ascension (Acts 1:3). During this period He surely must have given instructions about the church. We do know that the eleven apostles were told to "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19, 20). These instructions to teach "them to observe all" undoubtedly included teachings on the church.

In addition to teaching on the church that Jesus surely gave during this forty-day period, He made provisions for the Holy Spirit to guide and instruct His apostles and followers after His ascension. Jesus told His apostles during His ministry about the coming of the Holy Spirit. He said "the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26); "When the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning" (15:26); and "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (16:13).

In response to Peter's confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus gave instruction on the church. He said, "I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). This indicates Jesus would make provisions for the church's building. He was concerned for His disciples, providing instruction and nurture for them, and this effort would prevail. The church would be vibrant and successful and would not be destroyed. His building would be according to His will and, not man's discretion. Let us now look at the church Christ determined to build.

Meaning of Church

What is this ekklesia or "church" that Jesus was going to build? Ekklesia is a compound Greek term, derived from the verb ekkaleo. The prepositional prefix ek means "out" and kales means "to call", thus the compound word means "called out." The noun would then be a "called-out group" or "an assembly." To learn more about the term Jesus used, let us look at its use in secular Greek, in the Greek Old Testament, and in the New Testament.

In secular Greek ekklesia was an assembly of called-out people. It did not necessarily refer to a religious assembly but to any group of people from the population at large. The term referred to the assembly itself and not the people. It is used in this sense in Acts 19. At Ephesus Paul met much opposition, and some of the city's people gathered together in a theater to confront him. Luke wrote that "the assembly was in confusion" (v. 32), that the matter "shall be settled in the regular assembly" (v. 39), and that the town clerk then "dismissed the assembly" (v. 41). All these references to an assembly or a "called-out people" are to an assembly of rowdies, vastly different from the assemblies of God's people.

Many New Testament terms are derived from the Old Testament. Although this Greek term would not be found in the Hebrew Old Testament, ekklesia is used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term qahal. As H. S. Bender wrote, "In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which Paul and most of the early Christians used as their Bible and from which are taken more than half the quotations from the Old Testament found in the New Testament it [ekkesia] appears some eighty times, always with a religious meaning. In all but three cases it is the translation of the Hebrew term for the whole community of Israel as the people of God, the word qahal."[3] Bender clarified this statement in a footnote, stating, "Since for Israel religious, ethnic, and political aspects of the people of God were merged into one, ekklesia did carry more than a religious import. It could refer to any part of the people assembled for any purpose, in peace or war or worship or civil assembly."[4]

Although qahal is used to refer to nonworship assemblies of the people of Israel, what we are interested in is the term's use for religious assemblies of the people of God. Moses used it in this sense when he spoke about receiving the two stone tables: "all the words which the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly" (Deuteronomy 9:10). In the following passage the Septuagint uses the term ekklesia for the word translated assembly:

    Moses spoke the words . . . in the ears of all the assembly of Israel. Deuteronomy 31:30

    David the king said to all the assembly. I Chronicles 29:1; cf. v. 10, 20

    "There was not a word off that Moses commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel" (Joshua 8:35).

    Then all the people of Israel came out . . . and the congregation assembled as one man to the Lord . . . the assembly of the people of God.. Judges 20:1, 2; cf. 21:8 (The author of Judges wrote about the gathering of the children of Israel before the Lord at Mizpah)

    And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord. II Chronicles 20:5; cf. 18:16; 31:21

    All the assembly said "Amen" and praised the Lord. Nehemiah 5:13

    in the assembly of the Lord.. Micah 2:5

    they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. Numbers 16:3

Ekklesia is used also in the Psalms for the worship assembly (22:22, 25; 26:12; 40:10; 107:32).

Thus the term qahal is frequently used in the Old Testament for an assembly of the people of God. This was where the rule of God was to exist, and where teaching and discipline were carried out. As Lehman wrote, Three fundamental concepts come into close and vital relationship. They are bound up in the words "covenant" (Berith), "theocracy" (God's rule), and "congregation" (qahal). Their interrelation becomes evident when we observe that through the covenant God established His rule, and the people of God who were obedient to this rule composed the congregation. This relationship prepares us to understand the new order of things when Christ through the new covenant established the Christocracy under which His people are the church. This profound relationship among covenant, kingdom, congregation (church) unfolds a basic truth underlying both the Old and New Testaments.[5] It was with this background that the apostles understood qahal. We see this understanding reflected in two Old Testament Scriptures quoted in the New Testament. Stephen spoke about Moses being given living oracles at Mount Sinai to form "the congregation in the wilderness" (Acts 7:37, 38). In Hebrews, Psalm 22:22 is quoted: "I will proclaim thy name to my brethren, in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee" (Hebrew 2:12). In both passages qahal was interpreted as the congregation. Thus we see that the apostles carried over into the New Testament an Old Testament concept to represent the assembly of Jesus' disciples. Bender noted that "all Jewish Christians understood that ekklesia meant the people of God. It must have been equally clear to the Gentile believers, to whom Paul certainly conveyed this meaning."[6] Because the early Christians understood qahal as referring to the people of God, they thought of it as the synagogue. Synagogues apparently developed during the Babylonian captivity, when it was not possible to worship in the temple. Synagogues were different from the temple in that they were located in each community and had no priesthood or sacrificial system. The synagogue was widely accepted among God's people as a center of religious instruction and worship. Luke wrote, "From early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogue" (Acts 15:21). The synagogue was also acknowledged by Jesus, as evidenced by His "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23) and by His going to "the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath" (Luke 4:16). His acceptance of the synagogue worship indicates that God was at work in leading the early church to model its organization and services after the synagogue. It also meant that no formal definition of ekklesia was required. The disciples understood Jesus' use of the term because they knew the Greek Septuagint referred to the assembly of God's people as the ekklesia and understood this to be the familiar local "congregation of Israel," the synagogue.

The church was a new assembly under the new covenant and was separate from the old covenant qahal, but nevertheless the church was modeled after this old covenant institution. This resulted in a continuation of the basic congregational unit between the Old and New Testaments.

The term ekklesia is used at least 114 times in the New Testament and examining its usage can give us a better understanding of the church. Only five of these do not refer to the church. Three of them refer to secular assemblies at Ephesus (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). The other two refer to assemblies of Israel (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 2:12). The other 109 occurrences, by far the predominant usage, refer to the church.

In summary, although no formal definition of the term church is given in the Bible, the usage of this term in the Bible enables us to understand its meaning. The common Greek term ekklesia was used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term qahal, which was understood as the congregation/assembly called out from the world and came to be identified with the place where the people of God met. The early Christians were acquainted with this term from the Old Testament and its use in Greek as the called-out assembly, so no formal definition was required. Although the term was used by the Greeks mainly for non-religious assemblies, this does not mean the early disciples did not readily understand its full significance for them and the kingdom of God.

The church came into being soon after Jesus' ascension (40 days after Easter) on Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter), when 3,000 Jewish people repented and were baptized (Acts 2). The church became the predominant body in the New Testament, as is evident by the 109 usages of the word ekklesia (translated "church"). Let us now examine the New Testament usages of the term ekklesia to learn more about the church.

The Church as the Body of Christ

Paul frequently described the church as the "body of Christ." He used the term body in a metaphorical sense. Let us look at his use of this term in the Scriptures, reviewing first those Scriptures that make only a brief statement that the church is Christ's body. Paul wrote, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (I Corinthians 12:13), which means that every Christian is a part of Christ's body. Paul also wrote that God through Jesus Christ showed "the immeasurable greatness of his power," when Jesus was "raised from the dead and [God] made him sit at the right hand in the heavenly places." This involved God the Father putting "all things under his [Jesus'] feet and has made him head over all things for the church, which is his body" (Ephesians 1:23). Later in the same book Paul wrote: "For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body" (5:29, 30).

Paul, in emphasizing Jesus' importance, wrote that "he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:17, 18). Later Paul wrote about his own suffering for his readers: "for the sake of his [Christ's] body, that is, the church." He was made "a minister according to the divine office . . . to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints" (vs. 24-26).

The metaphoric sense of the body of Christ is explained in more detail in Romans and First Corinthians. In Romans 12 Paul wrote that different gifts are given to disciples, but we still form one body. "For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them" (Romans 12:4-6). Paul also emphasized this member aspect of the body to the Corinthians, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it" (I Corinthians 12:27).

Paul emphasized these gifts and their purpose when he wrote to the Ephesians that "there is one body." He then wrote that "grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift . . . that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ . . . we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from which the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love" (Ephesians 4:4-16).

The concept that the church is the body of Christ also emphasizes the unity that must be a part of the church. In the above quotation Paul wrote about "the whole body, joined and knit together." To the Colossians he wrote that any Christian returning back from Christ to the law would result in his "not holding fast to the Head, from which the whole body, nourished and knit together its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God" (Colossians 2:19). Thus the church is a single body formed by a number of different members being brought together "in Christ."

The body of Christ, although it is composed of different members, exists as a unity with Jesus Christ as the Head. We can learn about this headship relation by considering what Jesus said about His own relation to His head, the Father. Jesus said He could "do nothing on his own account, but only what he sees the Father doing" (John 5:19), and that He would "do nothing on [his] own account, but speaks as the Father taught me [him]" (8:28). Christ acted only according to His Father's will because, as Paul later explained, "the head of Christ is God" (I Corinthians 11:3). The church should follow this example and act and speak only as her Head, Jesus Christ, directs.

This figurative use of body helps to explain one aspect of the church, but it must not be pressed too far as to make the church on the level of Christ. The church is not an equal with Christ. He is the Head. Just as we would not press the figurative terms door (John 10:7) or vine (15:1) too far, we must not press the body concept too far.

As noted above, Christ is the Head of His body or church. Paul emphasized this elsewhere: "He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1:18); "Christ is the head of the church. . . . As the church is subject to Christ" (Ephesians 5:23, 24); and some do not hold "fast to the Head" (Colossians 2:19). Earlier Paul wrote that in Jesus "the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily." He "is the head of all rule and authority" (Colossians 2:9, 10). A strong consciousness of this will help all members of the church to be careful in exercising their gifts.

Paul did apply the term head only to the relation of Christ to the church. Jesus' headship is used in a wider sense than just being the Head of the church, as we see in the statement that God "made him the head over all things for the church" (Ephesians 1:22). As the head of the human body is the center of intellect and controls the body, so Jesus Christ is the leader of the church and controls her. The body is not equal to the head, nor is the church equal to Christ. The church must be subject to Christ and His word. Since the church is His body, she is not independent to do as she pleases. She is not a democracy where the majority rules. We must remember that the majority is not always right. It is right only when each member closely follows Christ and His word.

In the new covenant the believers are the temple, replacing the stone building of the old covenant. Paul asked, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and that temple you are" (I Corinthians 3:16, 17; cf. 6:19; II Corinthians 6:16; Romans 8:8, 9; Ephesians 2:21). Like Peter, Paul also used many Old Testament terms to describe the church. Here we see the use of temple, but in a different sense than used in the Old Testament. The believers become the temple and dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Paul also used the expressions "My people" (Romans 9:25, 26), "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16), "commonwealth of Israel" (Ephesians 2:12, 19), and "true circumcision" (Philippians 3:3).

Paul wrote to the Ephesians that Gentiles and Jewish believers form

    one body through the cross. . . . So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:16-22

The believers, wherever they are, are joined together to form the temple, and as we have seen earlier, this is the church.

As the Old Testament temple was to be holy, so are the Christians under the new covenant. Paul emphasized the holiness and purity of the church when he wrote, "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27), and "I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband" (II Corinthians 11:2).

Under the new covenant the old is done away with. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). "The Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:6). "Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all" (Colossians 3:11). Christ did away with the barrier between the Jew and Gentile.

Under the old covenant God dwelt in the temple's Holy of Holies among His people, but this was changed under the new covenant. Jesus indicated there was to be a change early in His ministry. He told the Samaritan woman at the well that "the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father" (John 4:21). The time was coming when the location of worship would no longer be of importance. The important thing would be that the true worshiper would "worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him; God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (vs. 23, 24).

Since God was through with the temple, it was destroyed. During the last week before His death and resurrection, Jesus pointed out the buildings of the temple and stated that "there will not be left here one stone upon another" (Matthew 24:1, 2; cf. Mark 13:1, 2; Luke 21:5, 6). This prophecy was fulfilled when the Roman army under Titus destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A. D.


In the Old Testament the term house is often used to refer to the place of worship. For instance, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools" (Ecclesiastes 5:1); "the glory of the Lord filled the house of God" (II Chronicles 5:14); "We have cleansed all the house of the Lord" (29:18); "For zeal for thy house has consumed me" (Psalm 69:9); "I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness" (Psalm 84:10); "The righteous flourish . . . . They are planted in the house of the Lord" (92:12, 13); and "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord!'" (122:1).

The term house is used also in the New Testament. Jesus used it in the Old Testament sense: "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49); "Take these things away; you shall not make my Father's house a house of trade" (John 2:16); and "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'" (Matthew 21:13; cf. Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46; Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11). In Acts, Luke quoted Stephen saying it was "Solomon who built a house for him [God]. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands" (Acts 7:47, 48). Thus there is a new aspect to house under the new covenant.

But it was Paul who brought the terms house and church together: "I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). The writer of the Book of Hebrews also brought Jesus and house together: "Jesus has been counted worthy of as much more glory than Moses as the builder of a house has more honor than the house. (For every house is built by some one, but the builder of all things is God). Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ was faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope" (Hebrews 3:3- 6). And Peter used the term too, writing about a "spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood . . . . a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people . . . . the household of God" (I Peter 2:5, 9; 4:17).

Thus New Testament writers used the Old Testament term house to identify the believers as "God's own people."


The term brotherhood is also used. Peter wrote twice in his first epistle about "the brotherhood . . . . your brotherhood throughout the world" (I Peter 2:17; 5:9). We find many other references where the brotherhood concept resulted in the disciples being called "brethren" in the New Testament: "Peter stood up among the brethren" (Acts 1:15); "Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved" (Philippians 4:1); "To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ" (Colossians 1:2); and "holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call" (Hebrews 3:1). Notice too the term brother is applied to those in leadership, for Paul wrote, "Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord" (Colossians 4:7). Sanford Shelter wrote that church is "a new brotherhood of believers unlike that of any other religion, and there was to be no 'sacred' class of clergy and 'common' laity."[7]

Local and Universal

We have looked at passages that described the church. Let us now look at passages showing that the term church was used in both a local and a universal sense in the New Testament. Approximately 90 percent of its usage is in the local sense. Some of the Scriptures showing the local church sense are:

    Great fear came upon the whole church. Acts 5:11

    News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem. Acts 11:22

    For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people. Acts 11:26

    Now in the church at Antioch. Acts 13:1

    When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders. Acts 15:4

    The church at Cenchreae. Romans 16:1

    The church in their house. Romans 16:5

    To the church of God which is at Corinth. Corinthians 1:2

    To the church of God which is at Corinth. II Corinthians 1:1

    To churches of Asia send greetings. (I Corinthians 16:19

    The grace of God which has been shown in the churches of Macedonia. II Corinthians 8:1

    To the churches of Galatia. Galatians 1:2

    And the church in her house . . . . have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans. Colossians 4:15, 16

    To the church of the Thessalonians. I Thessalonians 1:1

    To the church of the Thessalonians. II Thessalonians 1:1

Some individuals teach that church refers only to local assemblies, but the following New Testament Scriptures clearly show the term was also used in a wider sense.

    A great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem. Acts 8:1 (The church consisted of several thousand brethren and would have consisted of many local churches)

    So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up. Acts 9:31

    The king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. Acts 12:1

    Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God. I Corinthians 10:32

    And God has appointed in the church first apostles. I Corinthians 12:28

    I persecuted the church of God. I Corinthians 15:9

    I persecuted the church of God. Galatians 1:13

    made him the head over all things for the church. Ephesians 1:22

    that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known. Ephesians 3:10

    to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 3:21

    as to zeal a persecutor of the church. Philippians 3:6

Thus we find the term church is used in both a local and universal sense. Sometimes when we speak of the church in one sense, we almost forget the other usage. We should avoid being one- sided in our use of the term. Both the local and universal church are important aspects of the body. We should not minimize either by placing too much emphasis on the other.

Names of Early Christians

Today many are not satisfied with the term church by itself but like to add a modifier to it. This came about for various historical reasons that caused groups of churches to unite together under various types of organizations, from loose fellowships to strong central organizations. To differentiate these organizations, another name was added to the term church. But when one studies the New Testament, he will find that the early church did not use such names. It was wrong to do so. From I Corinthians we see that "names" were a sign of carnality, where groups looked to men as the heads of their "fellowships." Paul harshly condemned this. Christ is the Head of the church. Clearly denominational tags are man-made and generally even man exalting.

Before we discuss the names of the church, let us look at the terms used to describe those who are a part of the church. In the Book of Acts the term disciple is used twenty-nine times to denote the Christian (6:1, 2, 7; 9:1, 19, 25, 26, 38; 11:26, 29; 13:52; 14:20, 22, 28; 15:10; 16:1; 18:23, 27; 19:1, 9, 30; 20:1, 30; 21:4, 16). This term was used frequently in the four Gospels. Disciple signifies a person who is a follower of or under the discipline of Christ.

Other terms used are believers ("And more than ever believers were added to the Lord," Acts 5:14; "but set the believers an example," I Timothy 4:12); chosen or elect ("as God's chosen ones," Colossians 3:12); and simply brethren (Matthew 23:8; 25:4; 28:10; John 21:23; Acts 6:3; 9:30; 11:12, 29; 12:17; 14:2; 15:1, 3, 7, 13, 23, 36, 40; 16:40; 17:10; 18:18; 21:7; 28:14, 15; Romans 1:13; 7:1; 8:12; 11:25; 12:1; 15:30; 16:17; I Corinthians 1:10; 2:1; 3:1; 4:6; 7:29; 8:12; 10:1; 12:1; 14:26; 15:58; 16:11, 20; II Corinthians 9:3, 5; 11:9; 13:11; Galatians 1:2; Ephesians 6:23; Philippians 1:14; Colossians 1:2; I Thessalonians 4:1, 9, 13; 5:12, 26, 27; II Thessalonians 2:1; I Timothy 4:6; 6:2; Hebrews 2:11; I Peter 1:22; 3:8; I John 3:14, 16).

The familiar name Christian did not come into use until after the use of the above terms was firmly established. "Christian" was first used as a term of derision, and was not used by the disciples of themselves. It was "in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11:26). The designation was probably first used by Gentiles, because Jews would not have used a term that recognized Jesus as the Christ. Later Luke writes how Paul was brought before King Agrippa to witness to Jesus' ministry. Paul told the king he must have known about it because it was done in the open. Paul then told Agrippa that he evidently had believed the prophets. The king replied, "In a short time you think to make me a Christian" (Acts 26:28). The name Christian was used only once in the New Testament by a disciple to refer to other disciples. Peter wrote, "Yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God" (I Peter 4:16). These three Scriptures are the only places Christian is used in the Bible. It did not become the predominant term among the disciples until the second century.

Designations of the Church

Let us now look at designations attached to the term church. Since ekklesia was the common Greek term applied to called-out assemblies, it would be natural to expect the early disciples to attach another term to differentiate Christian assemblies from other assemblies.

One term used in Acts to describe the New Testament church is the Way. This again emphasizes the concept of discipleship. Luke wrote of, "belonging to the Way" (Acts 9:2), "speaking evil of the Way" (19:9), "I persecuted this Way" (22:4), and "that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers" (24:14).

Other designations were "church of God," (Acts 20:28; I Corinthians 1:2; 10:32; 11:22; 15:9; II Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:13; I Thessalonians 2:14; II Thessalonians 1:4; I Timothy 3:5); "church of Christ" ("All the churches of Christ," Romans 16:16), "church of saints" ("As in all the churches of the saints," I Corinthians 14:33), "church of the living God," ("you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth," I Timothy 3:15, 16). The enemies at one place called the church "the sect of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5).

The group of disciples were also designated as the "household" ("especially to those who are of the household of faith," Galatians 6:10), "people of God," (Hebrews 4:9), "God's people," (I Peter 2:10), and "children of God," (I John 3:1; cf. 3:2).

The church was sometimes referred to in terms of its location, such as "the church of Jerusalem" (Acts 11:22), "church at Antioch" (Acts 13:1), "church at Cenchraea" (Romans 16:1), "church of the Laodiceans" (Colossians 4:16), "church of the Thessalonians" (I Thessalonians 1:1; II Thessalonians 1:1). Some of these names refer to cities, others to states or territories.

These names were not always used throughout the New Testament period. The designation church was soon understood in a technical sense as representing for the people of God and was used by itself.

The above shows that various designations were used, thus the designation of the church is not necessarily important. During this early church period, the major concern and emphasis was that the church was an assembly of true followers of Christ, and that each possessed newness of life.


In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus approached the cross that would make redemption possible, He was deeply concerned about His disciples. He prayed to the Father for them: "Keep them in thy name, which thou has given me, that they may be one, even as we are one" (John 17:11). He later prayed, "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. . . . that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me" (John 17:20-22).

Jesus and the New Testament writers never called for an organizational oneness. They did not ask for a super ecclesiastical unity to be built under a central institution or world headquarters. Emphasis on organization unity was developed later by the bishops of Rome, who gained power and their central leader became known by the Latin term for bishop, pope (Latin papa). These clerics wanted a unity among the disciples and in the churches that placed them at the head of the church.

Paul wrote the Ephesian brethren to be "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit" (Ephesians 4:3, 4). This should bring a spiritual unity among disciples, a true oneness among them wherever they are found. This closeness should result in rich fellowship and sharing, and should bring about a oneness in following Jesus and His teachings. But this oneness does not result from the action of a centralized religious authority or organization. Since "centralization" did not exist in the early church, or at most only briefly and temporarily in Jerusalem under the elders and/or apostles at the "birth" of the church, it is not needed today. A continuing centralized religious organization has no real biblical basis, and true unity can and does exist without it today.

Since unity of the Spirit is important within the church, we can expect to find a strong emphasis on it throughout the New Testament. We find it stressed in the following Scriptures:

    For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him. For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Romans 12:3-5

    I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. I Corinthians 1:10

    There is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men? I Corinthians 3:3

    For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. . . . baptized into one body. . . . For the body does not consist of one member but of many. . . . Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it I Corinthians 12:12, 13, 14, 27

    There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. Ephesians 4:4-6

    that their hearts may be encouraged as they are knit together in love, to have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ. Colossians 2:2

    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. Colossians 2:19

    I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. III John 9

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church that "when you assemble as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you; and I partly believe it, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized" (I Corinthians 11:18, 19). So when things do get tense in a church and a division occurs, it is possible that good can come out of the situation. The true disciples can be recognized by their faithfulness.

Relationships With Other Groups

Once when Jesus' disciples were about to turn against others they did not know, Jesus told them, "I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:16). These other sheep Jesus referred to are Gentile believers who would become a part of God's people and form one body with Jewish believers.

The above teaches a timeless principle. Christians in one group should not be quick to judge and condemn others. It is not Christlike to have a harsh attitude toward others who profess and follow Christ. If we they have weaknesses or errors, we should pray for them and be ready to testify to them, desiring that they too would closely follow the one Shepherd. Disciples should concentrate on building the church up, not on running down others.

False Teachers and Apostasy

Christ desires that unity exist within the church, but we must be aware there are forces attempting to destroy that unity. It would be nice if one would not have to write about this, and about false teachers and apostasy, but it would be wrong to ignore this subject as we teach and write.

At the beginning of His ministry Jesus warned His followers:

    Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Matthew 7:15-20; cf. 12:33-35

Jesus' disciples have a clear means to identify false teachers. They can be recognized them by the fruit of their ministry, even though they might come in sheep's clothing. Sound teachers produce faithful disciples of Christ. False teachers produce individuals who are disobedient to Christ and His commands.

At the close of His three-year ministry, Jesus spoke to the disciples about the destruction of the temple. When questioned about it, "Jesus answered them, 'Take heed that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and they will lead many astray'" (Matthew 24:4, 5). The disciples were warned to take heed and be awake; they could be deceived and be lead astray.

In commenting on the tribulation of the last days, Jesus told the disciples that they will be hated "for my name's sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men's love will grow cold" (Matthew 24:9-12; cf. Mark 13:21-23). Lesr some think these warnings and comments do not apply to today's disciples, Jesus' words do have value for us today. False prophets are active, and man's love can grow cold today. These are two important warnings for Christians to keep in mind. We should also remember Jesus' promise that "he who endures to the end will be saved" (Matthew 24:13).

The apostles, who were called by Jesus to further His teaching and put it in written form, wrote much about false teachers and apostasy. Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus: "I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29, 30).

Being warned by Jesus of the ever present danger of false teachers, the disciples were further cautioned not to drift away or fall away. There is a continual danger of gradually growing cool and failing to follow the Lord. To prevent this the writer of Hebrews stated, "Therefore we must pay the closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. . . . how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1, 3), and "Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). Realizing that disciples can fall away, and knowing the high cost of drifting away, we should pay close attention and stay alert. Later the writer of Hebrews warned his readers, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings" (Hebrews 13:8, 9). This warning relates to teachings involving foods and sacrifices. Since Jesus Christ and His teachings remain the same, Christian truth is established and disciples should not be led astray by those who bring false doctrine.

Paul warned the Philippian disciples to "look out for the dogs, look out for the evil-workers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh" (Philippians 3:2). He was writing about Judaizers, who, because of their Jewish background, thought Christians had to live by the law or Old Testament teachings to be saved. Paul wrote also to the Colossian Christians about his concern for them, that they would "have all the riches of assured understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, of Christ." He then explained the reason for this: "that no one may delude you with beguiling speech. . . . See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:2-8).

Paul warned brethren to avoid disputes and controversies that tear down unity. To Timothy, one of his assistants, Paul wrote, "Charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; . . . these have wandered away into vain discussions, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions" (I Timothy 1:3-7). Later in this epistle Paul wrote, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in the later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared" (4:1, 2; cf v. 7). At the close of this book, Paul wrote, "Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge" (6:20).

In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote, "Avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers" (II Timothy 2:14). He also wrote to Titus to "avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile" (Titus 3:9). Debating some theological points are unprofitable because little if any good can come of it.

Peter warned about false prophets appearing among the people of Israel, stating, "There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled" (II Peter 2:1, 2). He then wrote that by "uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions. . . . They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption." These had "escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, [but] they are again entangled in them and overpowered." They knew the "way of righteousness" but turned back (vs. 18-21). These warnings are needed today. False teachers still try to bring in destructive heresies that promise freedom from the necessity of following Christ's teachings. They do not bring true freedom. One would think that this license to sin would not be a problem, yet it is perhaps the most prevalent problems that occurs today.

Both Paul and Peter wrote about the last days. Paul wrote: "Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people" (II Timothy 3:1, 4, 5). When writing about the second coming, Paul mentioned "the rebellion . . . the man of lawlessness. . . . The coming of the lawless one . . . with all wicked deception for those who are to perish, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved." They will have "a strong delusion . . . so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (II Thessalonians 2:3-12). Peter wrote, "You should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own passions" (II Peter 3:2, 3). Peter, too, was writing about the second coming of Christ. The above warnings are relevant for Christians today. The lovers of pleasure and scoffers are active and must be avoided.

There are some truths in the Bible that are difficult to understand. For example, in his second epistle Peter said,

    Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do other scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, beware lest you be carried away with the error of the lawless and lose your own stability. II Peter 3:15-17

The Christian should not seek to major in these areas, But should seek to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (v. 18).

John also told his readers to be on the lookout. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1). When men claim to be God's prophets, the church, suspecting they are false prophets, should examine them. Are they of God, or not? The church and every brother should test the prophets to see which group they belong to. If they are from God, accept them; if they are not, shun them.

Following this, John gives a test to determine if one is of God. He writes that if a person "confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" (I John 4:2), he is of God. This does not mean there is only one test, but rather this is the most significant criterion. John goes on to write that "the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (I John 4:5, 6). This is then a second and more widely applied test: Do those who claim to be prophets of God listen to the apostles' teachings? Those from God hear His word and obey His teachings.

In his second epistle, John again wrote about "many deceivers" who would not acknowledge Christ's humanity. He told the Christians "not to lose what you have worked for" (II John 2:8). He then wrote: "If any one comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or give him any greeting; for he who greets him shares in his wicked work" (vs. 10, 11). Although John was writing this in relation to a local issue, the general principle applies today. Do not receive those who teach false doctrines.

Jude wrote to the same Christians whom Peter had warned about false prophets coming to them. Comparing Jude to II Peter 2, we find a very similar emphasis. Peter said false prophets would come, and Jude, writing later, said they had come. He wrote, "For admission has been secretly gained by some who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly persons who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4). Later Jude wrote, "You must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ; they said to you, 'In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.' It is these who set up divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit" (Jude 17).

With two Gospels and five epistles warning about false prophets and ungodly persons, one would think such teachers would not be able to find a place in the church to plant their destructive seeds. But this has not been the case. False teachers are always a threat to the unity and purity of the church. And it is a sad fact that they enter and spread heresy throughout the churches because many refuse to take heed to these warnings.


1. Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Massachusetts, 1986.

2. James Strong, A Concise Dictionary of the Words in The Greek New Testament, New York: Abingdon- Cokesburg, 1890, p. 26.

3. Harold S. Bender, These Are My People, Scottdale, Penna.: Herald Press, 1962, p. 5. Ibid, p. 114.

4. Chester K. Lehman, Biblical Theology - Old Testament, Scottdale, Penna : Herald Press, 1962, p.122-23. 5. Bender, op. cit., p. 6.

6. Sanford G. Shetler, Paul's Letter to the Corinthians 55 A. D., Harrisonburg, Va.: Christian Light Publications, 1971, p. 5.

7. See Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Matthew-Acts, 5: 171; and G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to Matthew, Tappan, NJ : Fleming H. Revell, p. 215.


The above is Chapter 1 of The Biblical Concept of Church, © copyright 1998 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI. All rights reserved. You are welcome to make copies of the above articles provided you copy the complete article and distribute it as a whole unit. Please show copyright information and source of article ( at the bottom.


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June 22, 2000