THE CHURCH THAT JESUS BUILT
Written by Ron Hutchison

Many who study the Bible have at one time or another seen pictures of Noah's ark, or the tabernacle, or the furniture associated with the tabernacle. We know that these are not actual photographs, nor are they pictures drawn by artists who have actually seen these things. Rather, they are drawings based on information obtained from reading the Bible. It is possible to know what the ark and the tabernacle looked like just from the descriptions given of them in God's word.

The same is true of the church that Jesus built. The church is not a material building -- it is a spiritual building. Peter wrote,
"Ye also, as lively [living] stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5). The fact that the church is a spiritual building does not do away with the fact that we can take the description of it in the New Testament, and draw a picture of it in our minds -- and thus come to an accurate understanding of what the church was in the first century. When we do so, basing our picture only on the information given in the New Testament, what will that picture look like? What will we see when we look at a carefully drawn picture of the church that Jesus built?

WE WILL SEE ITS ORGANIZATION

First, we will see a church that has Jesus as its head. Paul wrote, "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). He also wrote, "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18). Notice how many heads the church has. Paul is very specific in using the singular -- "THE HEAD." There are not TWO heads of the church -- one on earth (the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church) and one in heaven (Jesus). Jesus is THE HEAD -- there is only One.

What does the head do? It gives direction to the body. Our bodies obey the direction of our heads. Christ gives direction to HIS BODY -- which Paul says is the church. The church follows no one else's direction. There is no one else who has the authority to give direction to the body - or the church -- but Christ, and that direction is given through the written word of Christ, the New Testament.

When we look at the picture of the church painted by the inspired writer, we will see no human head or earthly headquarters for the church that Jesus built. Anytime you see a church that has an earthly headquarters, you can mark it down that it is not the church you read about in the New Testament. Jesus' church has its headquarters where its head is -- and since Jesus is in heaven, that's where its headquarters is.

As a result of this picture, we see no organization of the church larger than each local congregation. There are no General Assemblies, no synods, no state or national governing boards. Instead each local congregation is overseen in its work by a plurality of men who are appointed by the Holy Spirit (See Acts 20:28). These men are selected because they posses certain characteristics which qualify them in the eyes of the Lord to be overseers of His flock. These qualifications are set forth in 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1 and 1 Peter 5.

Several different terms are used in referring to this group of men, and each term suggests a different aspect of their work.

They are referred to as PASTORS (Ephesians 4:11), a term which underscores their work as shepherds of God's flock. I might add that no where does the New Testament use the term "pastor" in reference to the work of a preacher -- it uses it in reference to the work of the elders.

These men are also called ELDERS (Acts 20:17), suggesting that those who would possess the charactertics these men must have would be elderly or older men. In the Bible we never read of 16, 17, or 18 year old elders. Any church that has "elders" this young cannot be the church that Jesus built.

These men are called BISHOPS (Philippians 1:1 KJV), a term which calls attention to the fact that they are the overseers of the congregation. In fact, the word should be translated by the word OVERSEERS as it is in Acts 20:28.

In 1 Timothy 4:14 the group as a whole is referred to as the PRESBYTERY, a word which suggests a group of elders. [Note: Berry's interlinear translates this word as "elderhood." Other translations translate the word as "elders."] These men were selected from within the congregation itself for Peter writes,
"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed" (1 Peter 5:1). These elders were among the congregation. The congregation did not go out and hire someone from outside the congregation to serve as an elder. The elders are to "know the flock" -- "know the congregation" and thus it would be necessary for them to come from within the congregation they were selected to oversee.

There was always a plurality of elders (pastors, shepherds, overseers, bishops) in each local congregation. Notice the following verses:

And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed (Acts 14:23). And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church (Acts 20:17). For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee (Titus 1:5).

The New Testament's picture of the church also sets forth another group of men who were a part of its organization and that was the deacons. The deacons were not and are not to rule over the congregation. They are not "junior elders." The word deacon itself means "a minister, or a servant." These men were servants of the church. We have a good example of their work in Acts 6 were seven men were chosen to "serve tables" or to see to the benevolent work of the church. They were chosen because that work was being neglected, and because it was not desirable for the apostles to leave the word of God and serve tables (Acts 6:2). The lesson is that the elders ought to be concentrating on the spiritual oversight of the local congregation for the most part, leaving the deacons, under the direction of the elders, to see to the physical things that must be done. The deacons serve under and at the direction of the elders in all matters. The elders are responsible for the oversight of the whole congregation and anything done must be approved by the elders.

How foreign this organization is to modern day denominationalism and Roman Catholicism. We need to get back to the simple organization as God planned it to be.

WE WILL SEE ITS WORSHIP

When we look at the picture of the church painted in the New Testament we also see very simple, yet very meaningful worship. On the first day of every week the members of the church assembled to engage in the acts of worship directed by their Head, Jesus Christ. On the night that He was betrayed He gave His disciples unleavened bread to eat and grape juice to drink. These were reminders to them of His body and blood which was sacrificed to pay for their sins. Jesus said, "This do in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19). This they did on a weekly basis -- each first day of the week ( Acts 20:7).

As we look further into this picture of worship painted by the New Testament, we will see the church involved in singing songs, hymns, and spiritual songs.
"Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Ephesians 5:19). "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Colossians 3:16). It should be pointed out that the phrase in Ephsians 5:19 which is rendered in the KJV "speaking to yourselves" is rendered in the ASV "speaking one to another." This describes exactly what these passages are teaching. In New Testament worship we have painted - a picture of each member of the church "speaking one to another" in their singing -- of teaching and admonishing one another. There is no authority in the New Testament for the singing of solos, for chorus' or choir's or quartets teaching and admonishing while everyone else sits back and listens. The New Testament pictures EVERY member of the church involved in this speaking, teaching and admonishing at the same time. In other words, it was congregational singing. When the church assembled together every member sang the songs, hymns and spiritual songs. Thus, the picture that the New Testament draws for us of the worship assemblies of the church in the days of the apostles, is one of congregational singing.

The New Testament also pictures the fact that this was unaccompanied singing. That is, no mechanical instruments of music were used. It was simply the pure voices of the saints -- singing and making melody in their hearts (Ephesians 5:19) -- which is the only musical instrument named in the New Testament that is pleasing to God.

The picture that the New Testament draws of the worship of the church is that of teaching and preaching the word of God. When the church assembled on the first day of the week at Troas, Paul preached to them (Acts 20:7). In 1 Corinthians 14 the apostle Paul gave instructions concerning the teaching that was to be done in the public worship. It was to be done by men only as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 teach. Even the public prayers were led by men; women were told to
"learn in silence with all subjection" (1 Timothy 2:8-12).

We also see that the New Testament pictures worship as including giving on the first day of each week. Their giving was to be according to purpose and plan (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). It was to be based on their prosperity (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), It was practiced by both rich and poor (2 Corinthians 8 & 9). It was to be each first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). The early Christians considered it a blessing to give (Acts 20:35); and a grace bestowed upon them by God (2 Corinthians 8:1).

The New Testament also pictures worship as including prayer. A number of passages teach this.
And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42). Pray without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5:17). Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, giving of thanks, be made for all men (1 Timothy 2:1). I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Timothy 2:8).

What an inspiration it is for us to see this picture of the organization and worship of the church built by Jesus! The organization of the church is very simple yet very effective. It is the only organization approved by God. If you are a member of a church who claims to have some man as its founder and head, then it cannot be the church pictured in the New Testament -- it cannot be Christ's church. If you are a member of a church that has a different organization than that pictured in the New Testament, then it cannot be Christ's church. The worship of the church is very simple and yet it is also very effective. It is not designed to entertain, but to edify and enlighten. It is not designed to be sensational but strengthening. It is not designed to be engaged in selfishly, or to make the worshipper feel good, but to be engaged in sincerely, for the purpose of adoring Him who so deserves our adoration.

How thankful we ought to be that just as one can read about Noah's ark or the Tabernacle in the Bible and know what they looked like, one can go to the New Testament, read about the church and know what it was and what it is to be today.



God's plan of salvation

Believe in Christ as the Son of God (John 8:24; Mark 16:16)
Repent of your sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38)
Confess your faith in Christ (Romans 10:9-10; Acts 8:37)
Be Baptized for the remission of your sins (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21; Romans 6:3-4).


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