Introduction

What is church all about?  There are so many teachings today in the local churches, on television, and radio.  You can purchase books dealing with a multitude of topics in your local Christian book store or your basic book store like Walden’s.  However, there seems to be a difference when one looks at the church and the Bible.  The church of today does not seem to conform to the image that the Bible paints of the Body of Christ.

Today we are bombarded with many teachings on prosperity, confessions, how to receive from God and many others.  However, what is our Christian life really about and what part does the church play?  One minister or pastor says this is the way and another says that while grandmom says it is another way.  Who do you believe?   I asked myself that question once when I stumbled across a contradiction between two prominent ministers (TV evangelists).  The answer I received after prayer and meditation was simple: “Believe me (God).”

How many of us strive to know God and His word so that we can live our lives according to His direction?  How many of us go to church and live our lives according to what the Pastor says (right or wrong)?  I have found that many Christians do not really live their lives according to the word of God and the revelation that they get from God.  They don’t know God for themselves, rather through the eyes of another (usually the pastor).  This is unfortunate in a time when we really need God.

The purpose of this and subsequent works is not to point out all of the problems with the “church general” or to prove that the church is this or that, though there is a great problem with the church of today.  These works are simply to help us focus our lives on God.  Our lives do not center around church rather around God.  The sooner the church realizes this the closer we can all get to God.   Instead, most of us are closer to the pastor or the church organization then we are of God.

I hope that you will become liberated in your thinking to such an extent that you can clearly and freely seek God the Father.  I hope that this and subsequent works in this series will cause you to wake up to the truth, namely Jesus Christ the savior of the world.  Jesus Christ died for our sins, rose again, and ascended to the Father.  Your pastor, evangelist, or deacon may love you very much but they did not die for you so that you can live (become reconciled to God the Father).   Therefore, we should look to Jesus the author and the finisher of our faith (in Him).

Feel free to email me if you have any questions or comments (even disagreements).  I am seeking the truth and do not claim to have all the answers.  If you see where you think I am in error then feel free to speak up.  One major aspect of Christianity is the fact that we should edify each other.  If your correction means my edification then so be it.  God bless you.

Discussion Topic

We will discuss the proper place of church in the life of Christians. First, we need to qualify the word “church.” The word “church” can refer to two different things. It can refer to the general church, that is, the whole body of Christ (believers, those who are born again, followers of Christ, etc.). It can also refer to the gathering of Christians. We will discuss the gathering of Christians in this study.

The Church Defined

The word church only appears twice in the four Gospels (see Matthew 16:18, 18:17)

(Mat 16:18 NIV) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

The word church in the above scripture comes from the Greek word ekklesia. It means a consecrated gathering (calling out), a congregation. In our case it refers to the gathering of Christians.

(Mat 18:17 NIV) If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The word church in this scripture is the same as in the previous.

We should note that the concept of church in these scriptures is not the same as we are familiar with. Recall that there were no Christians at this times thought there were believers (those who believed in Christ as the Messiah). There were no buildings that they met in each Sunday morning and going through the rituals that the typical church goes through today. The church at the time of these scriptures were simply gatherings or congregations of believers.

The local church was also thought of as the visible operation of the “church general” in a given time and place. Therefore, the local church (gathering of Christians) is a kind of representation of the entire sanctified body of Christ.

The Church’s Commission

The great commission of the church is as follows.

(Mat 28:18-20 NIV) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. {19} Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, {20} and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The commission can be dissected as follows.

  1. Make disciples of all nations
  2. Baptizing the disciples
  3. Teaching the disciples to obey what Jesus commanded the original disciples (the eleven)

What is a disciple?

Look at the following scripture.

(John 8:31 NIV) To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.

The word disciple here comes from the Greek word mathetes. It means a learner (pupil). Therefore, Jesus instructed the eleven to make learners (those who would learn and then live what was learned) out of every nation. This discipleship will result in liberty as we learn in John 8:31-32.

Origin of the Church

The basic structure of the early church can be traced to the structure of the Jewish synagogue. This is evident especially since the original disciples/apostles were Jews themselves and were accustomed to the synagogue worship service structure. There were some differences that were particular to the Christian faith as we will see later in this study.

Synagogue

The synagogue was a congregation of Jews for worship or religious study. The word synagogue comes from the Greek word synagogue (a leading or bringing together). It referred to an assembly or gathering of people for secular or religious purposes. Eventually, however, it came to be specifically associated with Jewish gatherings.

The synagogue was a place where the people gathered for prayer and for the reading and explanation of the sacred Jewish scriptures. The emphasis of the synagogue was on instruction in the Law of Moses. The synagogue was also a place where elementary school children learned to read.

Synagogue Officials

There must be ten Jewish men within a community in order to form a synagogue. The following are the officials of the Jewish synagogue.

  • Elders: devout and respected men of the community who regulated the policies of the synagogue.
  • Ruler of the synagogue: Attended to matters concerning the building and the planning of the services.
  • Minister: (chazzan) He had charge of the sacred scrolls that were kept in the Ark; he attended to the lamps, and he kept the building clean. He also administered the number of lashes prescribed for the scourging of someone found guilty by the council of elders. During the week the chazzan taught elementary children how to read.
  • Delegate of the congregation: This was a capable person, chosen by the ruler before each service, to read the scripture lesson, lead in prayer, and to comment (preach—proclaim) on the scripture. Jesus was a delegate of the congregation in Luke 4:16-20.
  • Interpreter: Interpreted the ancient Hebrew scriptures so that the Aramaic speaking Jews would understand fully.
  • Almoners: Two or three people who received money or other necessities to distribute to the poor.

Order of Synagogue Services

The order of the synagogue service was as follows:

  • The reading of the Shema (Numbers 15:37-41, Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21)
  • Congregational prayer (led by the speaker). The people stood facing Jerusalem with their hands stretched out. At the close of the prayer the people said “Amen.”
  • The reading of the scripture lesson
  • Benediction (if a priest was present) or a closing prayer if no priest was present

The Early Church

The early church met in the Temple and Jewish synagogues, as well as private homes of believers (Acts 5:42).

The early church soon began to meet on the first day of the week in recognition of the “Day of the Lord” (the resurrection of Christ). Note that the early Christians met on the first day of the week and not the seventh as with the Sabbath.

From the above, we see that the Sabbath did not carry over to Christianity. Therefore, anyone quoting the Sabbath law in order to force someone to attend church every Sunday is wrong.

  • The Activities of the Early Church
    • Prayer
    • Scripture readings
    • Breaking of Bread and the sharing of the cup of the Lord’s Day (communion)
    • Offerings for the needy were received.

The organization of the church was flexible in the beginning to meet changing needs. After a while, church officers came into existence to facilitate the great commission of the church. These officers included apostles, prophets, evangelists, elders, bishops, deacons, etc.

Insight into the Early Church

Let’s examine two of the most important scriptures that reveal early church attitude.

(Acts 2:42-47 NIV) They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. {43} Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. {44} All the believers were together and had everything in common. {45} Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. {46} Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, {47} praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

(Acts 4:33-35 NIV) With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. {34} There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales {35} and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

These two scriptures say much about the attitude of the early church people. We can take an example from these scriptures and apply it to our lives and our church involvement. It would be a great thing if the church of today was moved as the early church was and focused on accomplishing the great commission.

Church Government

Church government refers to the organization pattern by which a church governs itself. The early church’s government was flexible in the beginning to meet the changing needs of the church. However, as the church became more established, attention was given to specific procedures that would help in accomplishing its mission.

The apostle directed the work of the church in the beginning. Soon seven men were chosen to help in meeting the needs of the people (Acts 6). Later, prophets, evangelists, elders, bishops, and deacons were chosen for various functions. Again, all of these were to facilitate in the accomplishment of the great commission to the church.

No single pattern of church government is found in the New Testament scriptures. Therefore, there are many governing methods used by many churches today. These many methods can be grouped into six forms.

  • Congregational: The local congregation has the freedom to determine what it considers the will of Christ is. Each congregation governs its own affairs. This does not imply self-governing congregations apart from the Lordship of Christ. Each member has the right to determine what they consider to be the will of Christ. This implies a knowledgeable congregation.
  • Presbyterian: Recognizes that Christ alone is Head of the Church and that he rules His church by His Word and Spirit. The church officials do not have legislative powers over the church. The declare, explain, and apply Christ’s will as the Spirit clarifies the scriptures to their understanding. They do not make new laws for the church.
  • Episcopalian: The bishop is the principal officer of the church. Decisions are made at a higher level than the local church.
  • Roman Catholic: The clergy forms a hierarchy that governs the church with the pope as the highest authority. The pope is the “bishop” of Rome; his decisions are authoritative for the entire church.
  • National Church Government: The supreme authority for church matters rests with the state and not the church itself.
  • Quakers: reject any type of church ruler or official and almost every form of physical organization. Everything depends on the Inner Light that any believer has the right and power to receive directly from God. They have no specific rules for receiving members. Decisions are made by mutual agreement of the members.

The important thing to remember is that there is no specific New Testament approved church government. The primary objective is to accomplish the great church commission. These forms of government supposedly help to accomplish this.

What are you doing to accomplish the great commission? What is your local church doing to accomplish the great commission? The answer to these questions will give you insight into what you should do next.

The Purpose of the Church

What is the purpose of the church? The purpose of the church is to teach and to make learners of all people. Church was not developed to be a place where people just gather and follow certain rituals as we do today. The church of today, I believe, is far removed from its original purpose. Church is becoming big business where ministers can make lots of money, buy the best cars, homes, and other luxuries at the expense of the congregation.

We have to step up and become Disciples of Christ. We have to take a stand and learn as the early church people learned. We have to know why we believe what we believe and be able to intelligently explain it to others.

Above all, the church has the responsibility of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that others can be born again and reconciled to God.

The Early Church

Now we will focus our attention on the early Christian church. Our purpose here is to get a bird’s eye view of the church so that we can establish or reveal its true purpose.

Pentecost

The church really started at Pentecost. See Acts chapter 2. Recall that Jesus Christ told His disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait there until they were endued with power.

(Luke 24:49 KJV) And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.

Then we find that this actually happened as recorded in Acts chapter 2. The word spread quickly among the Jews gathered for the feast of Pentecost concerning the disciples’ experience (the tongues, etc.). Peter preached after some stood marveling and some stood accusing the disciples of being drunk. Three thousand people believed and were saved as a result of Peter’s preaching. The church was born.

The early church had the following simple activity.

  • Held to the apostle’s teaching – Thus fulfilling Jesus commandment to make disciples of all nations. The apostles taught what Jesus taught them, therefore holding the apostles’ teaching was the same as heeding Jesus’ teaching which liberates because of discipleship (See John 8:31-32).
  • They were faithful in prayer
  • Partook frequently of the “Lord’s Supper” – This should not be construed as a rule that all Christians must follow. We should consider that the partaking of the Lord’s supper was a way that the early Christians remembered the Lord’s suffering and death.
  • Enjoyed each other’s fellowship
  • Were on one accord

Many believed daily (Acts 4:42-47). This implies that the Gospel spread. In a short time the church grew to five thousand men (not including women and children).

Persecutions

The church was soon persecuted for their actions. This persecution started as a personal contempt between people and not necessarily the nation against Christianity (Ex. Rome against Christianity). However, this persecution resulted in the further spread of Christianity to surrounding areas as Christians scattered all over Judea and Samaria.

There were several reasons why the early church was persecuted. Some are listed below.

  • Jewish Fears – The growth of Christianity raised fears that this new and rapidly growing movement would wipe out their constituency (following). Some, such as Saul of Tarsus, honestly thought that Christianity was a perversion of Judaism and opposed Christianity in the name of God.
  • Roman Political Suspicions – Some materialistic Romans thought that the Christians speaking of a Kingdom where Christ is the head and rules referred to an overthrow of the Roman government. We must also note that there was a union of religion and state. Therefore, refusing to worship the Roman God’s (Caesar for example) constituted treason.
  • Social Reasons – Most of the early Christians came from the lower class of society. Therefore they would not participate in much of the social life at that time. Consider that much of the social life in Rome was associated one way or another with some type of idol worship or the like. For example, they wouldn’t participate in games where gladiators fought to the death or prisoners being thrown to wild beasts for the entertainment of the crowd. So many early Christians were ostracized socially.
  • Economic Reasons – The religious priests (Not to be confused with Aaron and his lineage), idol makers and vested religious interest, could not just stand by while Christianity caused their income to dwindle as people moved away from idol worship to the worship of God. See Acts 19:22-41 for an example of this.
  • Religious Reasons – Christianity was exclusive. It did not tolerate other religions and claimed that there was only one way to salvation, namely Jesus Christ. Christians were also very active in converting people from other religions to Christianity. Also, Christianity was the victim of many rumors since it was secretive (to avoid persecution). Some rumors were that they were cannibals (referring to the communion-eating the body and drinking the blood of Christ), and that they were homosexuals (because of the love they had for each other).

The persecution of the Christians by Rome is probably the best known. Roman persecution occurred in periods of time. Many Christians and Christian leaders died at the hands of the Roman Empire. Some were killed by wild beasts in the theatre at the excitement of an entertained crowd, some were burned, and some were beaten and boiled alive. There was some hideous persecution imposed on Christians but all of this did not stop Christianity from growing. There are some good and bad effects of the Christians’ persecution.

Effects of Persecution

The good outcomes of Christian persecution are:

It was believed that it kept Christianity pure because people wouldn’t become a Christian simply for economic reasons or status knowing that they would be persecuted or lose their life for their belief or profession.

It forced Christians to flee to areas that they probably would not have gone

It helped to settle the question of what to include in the canon (the New Testament). Christians would be reluctant to die for something if it were not scriptural. Also, Christians wouldn’t waste time in copying or preserving writings that had no value.

The apologists developed out of a need to defend Christianity against its accusers and opposers. The apologists produced reasoned defense for the Christian claims.

The bad effects of persecution are:

The Christians did not leave many records of their thoughts on the Christian faith or what was going on because they were too busy being persecuted and defending themselves.

A major problem arose when those who had gone back on their profession because of persecution, wanted to be reinstated into the fellowship. Some believed that they could be reinstated into the fellowship while others did not. Some churches were divided because of this issue.

Martyrdom began to be thought of as having special atoning merit.

During the first century

Many events help to shape the early Church and put it on a path to the present age (as far as accomplishing God’s will). Some of these events are listed below:

  • Paul begins his ministry preaching especially to the Gentiles.
  • The council of Jerusalem established guidelines for Gentile converts. See Acts 15:6-8 for the details of this.
  • Tradition holds that the Apostle Bartholomew preached in Armenia
  • Tradition holds that Andrew preached in the southern steppes of Russia and Ukraine.
  • Tradition holds that Thomas preached in Persia and India
  • Tradition holds that Matthew preached in Ethiopia
  • Tradition holds that James the younger preached in Egypt
  • Tradition holds that Jude preached in Assyria and Persia.

The Apostolic Fathers

Others rose to prominence after the original apostles passed away. These leaders (elders or bishops) are called Fathers (“Fathers in God”) because of their esteem that they were held in by the church members. The apostolic fathers were those early Christian writers believed to have known the original apostles or otherwise lived immediately after them. Fathers can be divided into groups. One such grouping is:

  • Apostolic or Post-Apostolic (AD 95-150)
  • Apologists (AD 140-200)
  • Polemicists (AD 180-225)
  • Scientific Theologians (AD 225-460)

The fathers can also be grouped as follows:

  • Apostolic Fathers (2nd century)
  • Ante-Nicene Fathers (2nd and 3rd centuries)
  • Nicene fathers (4th century)
  • Post Nicene fathers (5th century)

There are five writings that appear in the original seventeenth-century Apostolic Father list.

  • The epistle of Barnabas
  • The 1 epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
  • Epistles of Ignatius
  • Polycarp
  • Hermas

In addition to these are also the Didache and Papias. All of these writings were written before AD 156. These writings are great resources to understanding early Christian thought and practices. It should be noted however that the apostolic fathers’ writings were different from the New Testament writings in that they stressed ethics and not doctrine. They did recognize the authority of scripture and used it extensively in their writings. However, some doctrinal errors did arise even at this early date in Christian history.

 Clement

The First Epistle of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians was written to give advice on restoring harmony in the church. It was written about AD 95 or 96. It is the oldest extra-biblical writing. There is a second writing that was been attributed to Clement but is commonly believed that Clement did not write it. The writing is called 2 Epistle of Clement.

 Hermas, Shepherd of

These writings, written about AD 140-145, consist of five visions, twelve mandates, and ten similitudes. These were purportedly revelations.

  • Visions—Deals with the last days
  • Mandates and Similitudes—teachings on Christian behavior and principles.

A major theme of the book deals with a second repentance for sins (after baptism). There was a direct association between repentance and forgiveness of sins and baptism.

Ignatius

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch. He wrote letters to various churches concerning unity by:

  • Rooting out heresies that denied the full divine/human personality of Jesus Christ
  • Subjection of church leaders to a bishop

These letters were written about AD 110.

Polycarp

Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John. His letter to the Ephesians was the only writing of his that has survived. His emphasis was faith in Jesus Christ. He was not so concerned with church organization as his friend Ignatius.

His church in the writing called “The Martyrdom of Polycarp” recorded the events of his martyrdom. It was written about a year after his death.

Papias

Papias wrote “The Interpretations of the Saying” which is now lost. It was meant to preserve the information obtained from those who had known Christ. Only fragments of his writings appear in the writings of others. These were written at about AD 125.

Barnabas

The writing attributed to Barnabas stressed that Christians must keep the law. This writing was also very allegorical in nature. It is commonly believed that the Apostle Barnabas (who traveled with Paul) did not author these writings. These writings were penned at about AD 70 and 132.

Didache (Teachings of the Twelve)

The didache was a church manual dealing with the following.

  • Christian ethics
  • Baptism, fasting, Eucharist, etc.
  • Ministry and church government
  • The second coming of Christ

These were written at about AD 110.

Use of the Apostolic Fathers

The purpose of the apostolic fathers was to exhort and edify the church. They are criticized for not seeming to grasp the New Testament’s concept of salvation by faith among other things. We must take not that theirs was not a systematic theology. The dealt with problems that were specific to their day. Their emphasis was ethical and not doctrinal. They do sometimes place much emphasis on baptism, martyrdom, and celibacy as having atoning power.

Use the apostolic fathers’ with caution. They provide a minimal sampling of Christian thought at that time. We must also realize that their ideas and thoughts may not have represented that of the majority.

The Apologists

People with higher social status began to be converted into Christianity. Notable of this group were educated people in the area of philosophy. Early Christianity was bombarded with many accusations. The apologists rose to the occasion by defending the faith against accusations as well as seeking legal recognition for Christianity.

The apologists used two literary forms in use in the Roman world at that time.

  • The Legal Speech (apologia)—delivered before judicial authorities.
  • The literary dialogue

The apologists argued that Christianity was superior over paganism and they defended it against various charges.

Apologetics

I think it fitting that I briefly discuss apologetics. Apologetics deals with the defense of the faith. It deals with using reason along with the facts of scriptures to bring someone to Christ. Apologetics attempts to get people past the things that keep them from accepting Jesus Christ.

The significance of apologetics is that it uses reason to show someone the truths of the Christians claims. It does not rely on some mystical faith but on facts. A person is therefore left in a position where they either accept or reject the facts that is placed before them. This is the power of apologetics. It deals with normal human reason to verify the Christian claims.

Charges Against Christianity

The following are some of the charges against the early Christian church.

  • Atheism—Christians refused to worship the Emperor or the Greco-Roman gods. Therefore, the pagan community perceived the Christians as not believing in god (their false gods).
  • Cannibalism—This charge resulted from the misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper. People focused on the fact that the people “ate the flesh and drank the blood of Jesus.”
  • Immorality—This charge resulted from the fact that religious services were conducted in secret or after dark and because they demonstrated great love for one another.
  • Antisocial Action—Christians had to retire from much of the public life because many public activities were linked to the worship of an idol god. For example Public officials had to participate in the sacrifices to the ruler or Roman goddess Roma, the personality of the state. There were also sacrifices at athletic events or drama.

Justin Martyr

Justin Martyr was a philosopher who became a Christian. He defended the faith to Emperor Antonius and His adopted son. His focus was Christ and the final authority the scriptures. Justin was martyred at about AD 163.

Tatian

Tatian was a convert of Justin Martyr. His work “Address to the Greeks” ridiculed almost every pagan practice. He argued that Christianity was superior to Greek religion and thought. Tatian wrote “The Diatressaron” the earliest harmony of the Gospels at about AD 150-160.

Tertullian

He wrote many theological works in Latin and Greek. He became enmeshed in the error of Montanism

Montanism

In contrast to Gnosticism, there arose the strict, ascetic teaching of Montanus of Phrygia in Asia Minor. At his baptism Montanus spoke in tongues, declaring that the age of the Holy Spirit had come and that the end of the world was near. The New Jerusalem was soon to come down out of heaven and inaugurate the millennial age. He and his disciples were the last prophets, bringing the revelation of God to the world. Two women, as his disciples, also were known as prophets giving new revelation. Montanus found refuge in the writings of John and taught that he (Montanus) was the mouthpiece through whom the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, was revealing Himself to the world. While being generally orthodox in his doctrine, Montanus taught “that the Holy Spirit continued to speak through prophets, and among these it included women.”28-7 Because it was the end of the age, the gifts of the Spirit were being manifested.

Montanus emphasized strict moral requirements of his followers and for that reason found a considerable following in Asia Minor. He emphasized fasting and dieting, prohibited a second marriage after the death of a mate, and encouraged celibacy as well as martyrdom.

Although the Council of Constantinople condemned Montanism in a.d. 381, the teaching enjoyed considerable popularity, even converting Tertullian to its teaching.

 

The Polemicists

Doctrinal errors in Christianity began to surface as Christian grew. These errors necessitated defenders of the faith and eventually to the formation of the New Testament Canon (the New Testament Books). We will talk about the New Testament Canon in a later part of this study. The Polemicists were the defenders of the faith specializing in refuting errors in Christian doctrine. They used the New Testament scripture extensively in their works.

Let’s identify some of these error fighters or Polemicists.

Irenaeus

Irenaeus wrote “Against Heresies” about AD 185 at Lyons, France, where he was bishop. This writing was primarily aimed at the error of Gnosticism. A very important figure in refuting Gnosticism and the development of the New Testament Canon.

Gnosticism

The name Gnosticism comes from a Greek word that means “knowledge,” and stresses the character of this heresy. Gnosticism was a philosophical system built upon Greek philosophy that stressed matter was evil but spirit was good. This being the case, God could not have created the material world. In their philosophical system, therefore, the Gnostics constructed a series of emanations or aeons, beginning with the highest God who was entirely spirit. One of the intermediate beings in the chain was a demiurge, the God of the Old Testament whom they disliked. This demiurge “had enough of spirit in him to have creative power and enough of matter to create the material world.”28-6

This philosophical system also affected the Gnostics’ view of Jesus. There were two differing views: one view was that because matter was evil, Jesus could not have actually come in human form; He only appeared in human form and only appeared to suffer. The other view suggested that the divine Logos came upon the human Jesus and departed prior to the crucifixion. Salvation was also philosophical—it was knowing the truth, which was imparted only to the esoteric (those who are especially initiated). Sin and evil were associated with ignorance or lack of knowledge. A modern form of Gnosticism is Christian Science.

Hippolytus

Hippolytus also defended the faith against Gnosticism in his “Refutation of All Heresies” (written about AD 200). It is said that he was the most important third-century theologian. Hippolytus also wrote “The Apostolic Tradition” which provides a picture of Roman church order and worship (about AD 200). It deals with baptism, the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper), ordination, and other church activities. He also wrote a commentary on Daniel, which survives today in its entirety.

Tertullian

Tertullian was an apologist and scientific theologian depending on which of his works you focused on. He did much to overthrow Gnosticism. He was greatly opposed to paganism, Judaism, Unitarianism, and Gnosticism. He, unfortunately, fell to the Montanists error.

Cyprian

He was an opponent of Novatianism. Novatian held that once a person lapsed (gave in) during persecution, they could not be restored to the faith by the church. He effectively challenged the authority of the church that was conscious of its unity. Novatus (the founder of Novatianism) held that only God alone could forgive such a sin.

OVERVIEW

Though I love Christian history I think it is time to stop this part of our discussion. One thing that you will find consistent in Christian and church history is that the perpetuation of the Word of God was and is of utmost importance. People died and suffered because they preached the word in one way or another. May councils and organizations were formed to protect the truth.

There arose corruption in the church, but that is to be expected when dealing with human beings. However, the purity of the word of God was preserved throughout the history of the church. We indeed have the Holy Bible as the written record of God’s revelation to us. We can always go back to it to weigh anything that we are told. We also have the Holy Spirit that will help us to discern truth from false doctrines.

I would say that the purpose of the church is to please God. That is the purpose of His creation anyway. However, the church has another purpose as it deals with humans. Its purpose is to provide a place of fellowship and edification. Through the church, we should be edified in terms of sanctification. However, many have turned this into a set of rules and regulations. People never learn to know God, but can tell you all about their religion.

From the beginning of church history, there have been false teachings and this will continue. We thank God for the written record of His word to us. Now how does all of this fit into a Christian’s life?

The Place of Church

We typically think of church as the place that we go to on Sundays for worship services or a facsimile thereof. However, that is not church. The church is really the people collectively. There are local churches and there is the universal church of God, the community of believers. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together in his name that he would be with them (Matthew 18:20).

Why do you go to church? Church services should be a place of fellowship, edification, and collective worship of God. Many have turned it into religious ceremonies celebrating self. One should return from a fellowship encouraged, more knowledgable, and fulfilled. It is unfortunate that we have to protect ourselves from church (the religious organizations) because many are not concerned about the things of God. Many churches are focused on the personal agenda of the pastor in building a kingdom of sorts. We have to guard ourselves against anything that would take us away from the Lord, including church.

It is important that we learn to feed on and feed the church as God has equipped us. You are part of the body of Christ and therefore will have a part to play. God has equipped you with something that you can use in ministry of the truth. You practice your gift so that others might be edified. The place of church is edification, worship, and fellowship. It should not be another job so to speak. It should not be perceived as another responsibility.

 


Church in the Christian Life
By William R. Cunningham
(c) 1998  All rights Reserved

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