These are notes from our study on the church.
The church is the community of all true believers for all time.
You have to be truly saved to be part of the church.
Ephesians 5:25 – The church refers to all the people Christ died to redeem. These believers are included from all of time. Both Old Testament and New Testament believers or believers from the past, present, and future.
God has awesome plans for his church. So great are these plans that he has exalted Christ to the position of highest authority – Ephesians 1:22-23
Jesus himself is responsible for building his church. Matthew 16;18, Acts 2:47
The word church comes from the Greek word ekklesia which means assembly. Stephen in Acts 7:38 speaks of the people of Israel as a congregation or a church.
The author of Hebrews in chapter 11 mentions what he calls a great cloud of witnesses. These witnesses along with the believers in the NT (including us) are part of God’s church.
The church is invisible because we do not have the ability to see the spiritual condition of people’s hearts. We can see people who attend church and see outward evidence of inward spiritual change but we cannot actually see inside a person to view the spiritual state of that person. Only God can do that.
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:19 that The Lord knows those who are his.
The Roman Catholic church has argued in the past and they still argue today that only in the visible organization of the Roman church can you find the one and only true church.
John Calvin fiercely disagreed with this teaching. Calvin said the Catholic church had organization but it was just for show. Calvin also said that Caiaphas (the high priest at the time of Jesus) was descended from Aaron but he was not a true priest. Calvin said likewise the Roman Catholic bishops had “descended” from the apostles but they were not true bishops in Christ’s church. Calvin said the Roman Catholic church had departed from the true preaching of the gospel. Their organization is far from the true church.
The visible church is the church as Christians on earth see it. This means that the church is as it is perceived by those who are genuine believers and have an understanding of the difference between believers and unbelievers.
Paul writes his letters to the visible church in each community
- Corinth 1 Cor. 1:2
- Thessalonica 1 Thess. 1:1
- Galatia Gal. 1:2
- Philemon 1:2
Paul also understood that there were unbelievers in some of the churches who had made a profession of faith that was not real. They gave the appearance of being Christian but would eventually fall away. Paul did not know who these people were so he wrote to the entire church that met together in one location.
The visible church will always have some unbelievers because only God can see the true state of a person’s heart.
Paul speaks of:
- 2 Timothy 2:17-18
- 2 Timothy 4:10
- Acts 20:29-30
Augustine said, “Many sheep are without and many wolves are within.”
Calvin said that to keep from being overly suspicious of people – we recognize members of the church as those who “by confession of faith, by example of life, and by partaking of the sacraments, profess the same God and Christ with us.”
The church should not tolerate in its membership “public unbelievers” who by character, behavior, lifestyle, give evidence that they sin and do not have a desire to repent. They show they are not truly regenerated and prove themselves to be outside the church.
For further study on the church, please see Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology.