The Importance Of and Need For Studying "The Church"
New Testament Church Series #1
From its first occurrence in Matt. 16:18 until its final appearance in Rev.
22:16, the word "church" is found some 115 times in contexts which are
significant. Matthew records Jesus promising to build an indestructible "church"
upon a rock and several decades later on the isle of Patmos, this victorious
Jesus tells John that he had sent his angel to him to testify to "the churches".
"My church" and "the churches" are concepts that ought to stir the interest of spiritually sensitive people. Because of their identification with Christ and things spiritual our desire should be to learn more and to know accurately about the concept of "church" as revealed in the New Testament.
But, as with other concepts in the New Testament, there is much misinformation about "the church" and this inaccurate information comes not just from denominational sources; those in churches of Christ are not immune to careless study and conventional approaches in regard to this subject. Prolonged dependency on Bible class material and tracts pertaining to "the church" that reflect traditional thinking have perpetuated ideas which, in some cases, have contributed to thinking, speaking and acting in ways which are contrary to the best text book on the subject: the New Testament.
Our concepts (how and what we perceive things to be) are more than merely academic matters. There is a definite relationship between the way we think and how we act, for "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks", Matt. 12:34. Our words and actions are but extensions of how and what we think. And if our concepts are improper, our language and actions will reflect these erroneous ideas.
For instance, if our concept of "salvation" is based upon something other than biblical teaching, we might speak of "getting saved" and engage in such activities as waiting for Holy Spirit baptism or some better-felt-than-told, emotional experience that leads us to feel we have been saved. Others speak of "salvation by grace through faith" in such a way as to preclude any "doing" on their part (such as baptism), believing that any "work" they do is unnecessary. Such ideas arise from a faulty concept of the biblical idea of salvation and, sadly, will lead those with such perceptions to die in their sins. An accurate concept of "what must I do to be saved" is, therefore, more than just a theoretical matter; it has eternal consequences attached to it.
And so it is in regard to "the church". As will be demonstrated in greater detail in the articles to follow, many notions about "the church" spring from tradition rather than Truth; from creeds instead of Christ. We will go a long way toward correcting our language and conduct in regard to "the church" by changing the way we think. Allow us to give a short "quiz" to test our concept of "church" and, in the process, demonstrate the need for this study.
Do you think of "institution" when you see the word "church" and when Christ promised to build "my church" (Matt. 16:18) do you think he built some "institution" to which He adds people?
Do you believe the phrases "congregations of the Church of Christ" and "sister churches" convey accurate ideas about "the church?"
Is "I'm Church of Christ" or "I'm a Church of Christer" a correct answer to the question "What are you religiously?"? And when someone wants to know "What does the Church of Christ believe/teach?" do you believe it proper to reply, "the church teaches...?"
Do you think that "we all need to be faithful to the Church" and that "people who have fallen away from the Church need to come back to the Church?" In the "Restoration Movement" do you believe that "Alexander Campbell restored the Church because it had fallen away?"
Is "Attend The Church Of Christ's Choice" a slogan that accurately reflects a scriptural concept? Likewise, does "Church of Christ Meets Here---Established A.D. 33" on a "church building" sign convey a scripturally correct idea?
I respectively suggest that if we answered "yes" to any of the above questions
that such responses are an indication that we need to re-study and re-think our
concept of "the church." Taking issue with such replies involves more than
splitting hairs and nit-picking, mere semantic differences that, after all, are
quibbles over harmless ideas. They are symptomatic of some flawed thinking
which, if not corrected, could lead one to engage in conduct that is as
anti-scriptural as the concepts from which they arose.
During this year we invite you to study and think along with us as we examine a number of matters pertaining to "the church" which we hope will lead you to a greater understanding and appreciation for this great New Testament subject. We trust that such will be profitable to you.
By David Smitherman
From Expository Files 5.1; January 1998