Basic Christian Training
Lesson 6
Church Life

O.J. Gibson

It is profoundly moving to learn from the Bible that God loves and cares for each person in His creation. The psalmist expressed his delight with the thought that God intimately and personally knew him even before birth (Psalm 139:13-17). God demonstrated His love by giving His only begotten Son to die for us to deliver us from eternal punishment (John 3:16). He invites us, as individuals, to receive the Lord Jesus and become His child (John 1:12). Each individual must be born again to enter into a relationship with God (John 3:3). Even our growth and development depend upon a personal response to God. These thoughts may tempt us to believe that we are solitary believers in the eyes of God, living independent lives, but this is far from the Scriptural picture.

Although we are individual believers, the Bible teaches, “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The Scriptural view of Christians is that we are individuals but not independent from each other. We belong to a larger cooperative society. The Scriptures speak of how we are interdependent with assemblies of believers. We are:

As the gospel went out in the early days, the Lord added new converts daily to the fellowship of believers who were already saved (Acts 2:47). The Greek word for this fellowship is ekklesia, which means “church.” The universal church is made up of all believers from the Day of Pentecost to the Rapture. Since the universal church cannot all meet together simultaneously, there is a need for local churches to spring up throughout the world. The local church is a practical and functioning body of believers who meet together in a specific location. God’s purpose is for each believer to be a part of a local church of genuine believers. We should note that, in the Bible, we are never called “laymen” or “laity,” meaning “common people,” or distinguished from what men call “the clergy.” We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Definition Of The Church

A dictionary will provide many definitions for the word church that are pretty remote from the true meaning of ekklesia and do not match the Biblical meaning. Such definitions include:

  • A building – “The church is on the corner.”
  • A public worship service – “We go to church on Sundays.”
  • The activity of serving – “We have always been very active in the church” or “He considered the church as a career.”
  • A denomination or organization – “We belong to the First Baptist Church” or “we belong to the Salvation Army.”

But the word ekklesia means a “called out company of people” or a gathering of people for some purpose. The same word is used in Acts 19:32, 39, 41 for a mob called together to cry out against the disciples’ preaching. It is a common word for an assembly or gathering of people. The Lord applies this word to the calling together of people by God to Himself. He “called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9, emphasis added). We are called “into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Colossians 1:13, emphasis added). As it applies to believers, ekklesia refers to the people of God—not buildings, services, functions, or organizations. Believers are the church.

Two Aspects Of The Church

The term “church” refers to both the universal church and the local church.

1. The Universal Church
The universal church consists of Christians “out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). It includes believers starting from the Day of Pentecost and concluding at the Rapture of the church (Christ’s coming again for His saints). It consists of the living and those who have already died. The following verses refer to the universal church:

  • “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
  • “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
  • Christ is the head of the body, the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4), of which He alone is the Head (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18).
  • “God has appointed these in the church” – this is the one true church founded upon the New Testament apostles and the prophets (1 Corinthians 12:28).
  • “Jesus Christ Himself [is] the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building [is] joined together” (Ephesians 2:20-21).
  • The Holy Spirit alone makes us members of the church. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized (i.e., placed) into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free” (1 Corinthians 12:13), beginning on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:5; 2:4; 5:11).
  • The Jews, Gentiles, and Church of God are three distinct people groups (1 Corinthians 10:32). But today, believing Jews and believing Gentiles are united together in the church as one. At this point in history, God describes the nation of Israel as being “not My people” (Hosea 2:23; Romans 9:15). All true believers in Christ, and none other, are the people of God during the Church Age. There is no longer a racial divide.
  • The universal church has never been together in one place simultaneously, for it has continued to grow for over 2,000 years. It is not subject to an earthly organization, head, or headquarters since Christ is the head of the church.

2. The Local Church
The local church refers to a specific group of Christians which meet together in one geographical area. All believers are members of the universal church, but all believers should also be active in a local church. From the Day of Pentecost, history demonstrates that believers met together in fellowship with one another. Those who first believed in Christ were baptized and added to the local congregation in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41). As the gospel spread to surrounding regions, additional local assemblies of believers were established and usually met in homes, not ecclesiastical buildings. The following verses refer to the local church:

  • Believers met together for “the apostles’ doctrine [teaching] and fellowship, breaking of bread, and in prayers” and “all who believed were together, and had all things in common” (Acts 2:42-44).
  • Local assemblies of believers began in neighboring areas (Acts 9:31; 15:41; 16:5). They spread to other areas of the world, such as Asia (1 Corinthians 16:19), Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1), and Galatia (Galatians 1:2).
  • Local congregations were collectively called the “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16), “the churches of God” (1 Corinthians 11:16), and the “churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
  • The names of the local churches were often associated with their location, such as Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:2) or the residents of that city, “the church of the Thessalonians” (1 Thessalonians 1:1). For nearly two centuries, they had no public buildings of worship and commonly met in homes (Romans 16:5; Colossians 4:15).
  • Local churches established a simple leadership structure with overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1), both in the plural. Single leadership by a pastor was not the pattern among these early churches in terms of continuing government. Overseers are also called bishops and elders, but these titles refer to the same people. Both overseers and deacons must meet biblical qualifications (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Leaders must be respected and obeyed (1 Thessalonians 5:12; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:5). Believers are subject to Christ and to the leaders He has appointed for His church.

All members of the universal church are true believers, and the same should be true in the local church.

The Characteristics Of The Church

People often think of the church as an auditorium with a preacher, an organization with a headquarters, and a hierarchy of religious officials. Biblical teaching emphasizes very different concepts.

1. Unity
“Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). He eliminated the division between Jews and Gentiles. Christ “has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity [between Jews and Gentiles], so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity” (Ephesians 2:14-16). What is true of the universal church should be true at the local church level, too. There should be no division or faction of any kind. Every effort should be made to maintain this spiritual unity (Ephesians 4:2-3) and emphasize what unites us (Ephesians 4:4-6). Believers should be recognized as the Lord’s disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35; Romans 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9; Hebrews 10:24; 1 Peter 1:22; 3:8; 4:8; 1 John 4:7-11), not by divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:18; 12:25; 2 Corinthians 12:20). However, we must not tolerate false teachers and evil behavior in the local church (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 3:10; 2 Peter 2:1).

2. Diversity
Each member has a unique contribution to make in the church. The Bible illustrates the church as being like a human body; it is one body consisting of many parts, each contributing to the benefit of the entire body (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The church is said to be the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27), with Christ as the head of the body (Colossians 1:18), and each believer is a functioning member of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5). He assigns spiritual gifts at His discretion (1 Corinthians 12:17). It is appropriate for a local church to desire and pray for people with specific spiritual gifts to see church growth (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1). The critical thing to remember is that each member has at least one spiritual gift essential to the health and development of the entire body (1 Corinthians 12:27). Each member is necessary. Each one should have suitable opportunities and encouragement to function within the local assembly. All gifts differ but work together for the good of all.

3. Interdependence
Just as unused muscles atrophy, the local church is weakened when its members do not exercise their spiritual gifts. Believers are not to remain spectators, individualists, or paralyzed parts of the body. We need one another and are designed to function together (1 Corinthians 12:21-24). The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up other believers to be effective in the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). God calls all believers to cooperate in love in local churches (1 Corinthians 12:31; 13:1-13).

4. Worship
The Bible speaks of assemblies of believers as “a dwelling place of God,” “the house of God,” and a “spiritual house” (Ephesians 2:22; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5). In the Old Testament, the Jews considered the temple as the dwelling place of God and a place of worship. They made the temple with beautiful but lifeless stones. The church is now the spiritual temple, built with “living stones,” which is to say, Spirit-indwelt believers (1 Corinthians 3:9, 16-17; 1 Peter 2:5) who offer spiritual worship. We are called together to praise and worship our wonderful God (John 4:23).

In the Old Testament, the people of God offered worship at a special tent called the tabernacle in the wilderness and later at the temple in Jerusalem. But, “the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands” (1 Kings 8:27; Acts 7:48). We do not offer animal sacrifices as the Jewish people did, but we offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). We give our possessions, not grudgingly or of necessity, but cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:6-7). And we offer personal praise to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15). There is no distinction in Scripture between “clergy” and “laity.” The Bible calls all believers “a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” and “a royal priesthood…that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:5, 9). God’s church must have worship as a primary purpose, which consists of pouring out praise individually and corporately to God, not simply listening to a sermon or repeating words in unison from a book.

5. Affectionate Relationship
A biblical marriage relationship should picture the relationship the church has with Christ. The church is called “the bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Revelation 21:9; cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-32). The Bible pictures the church as a beautiful woman engaged to a great Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. He loves His bride with a surpassing affection and seeks to “present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27). By contrast, the Bible likens the nation of Israel to a divorced woman (Isaiah 50:1). The church has a near and dear relationship to the Lord Jesus, and it has a central role in His present and future purposes. The Lord Jesus has only good in mind for His Bride. The church must have eyes always centered on her Bridegroom.

6. Other Characteristics

Love, life, and light, by which we manifest Christ, must radiate from a local assembly of believers.

The Role Of The Church

What is the church’s role today? It is to continue the work that Jesus called us to do. It must include the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). The church is to preach the gospel everywhere (evangelize) and make disciples. We see the blueprint for the church in Acts 2:40-42. We are to call people to salvation and baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are to gather new Christians together to form active local assemblies of believers. The local group of believers is to continue “steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). We would express this as meaning: solid Biblical teaching, interacting with other believers publicly and privately to build up one another, remembering the Lord in the breaking of bread (communion service), and praying jointly with fellow believers. Why is the breaking of bread or communion mentioned in this list? It appears to have been a central meeting for the early church (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-33). Our meetings and our service should be an expression of our love and worship of the Lord Jesus.

The early church won people out of the deadness of the religion of that day by love in action (Acts 2:45) and by bold proclamation of the Word of God (Acts 4:13, 29, 31). As believers were scattered under intense persecution, their faith spread throughout the region. They “gossiped the gospel” wherever they went, and people came to know the Lord.

The church is not perfect. Paul rebuked some believers for being carnal or led by human desires (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). Paul challenged some to examine their own lives to make sure they were Christians (2 Corinthians 13:5) and rebuked others for false doctrine (Galatians 1:6-9; 3:1-3). When Christ walks among His churches, He commends them for godly behavior and corrects them for ungodly actions (Revelation 2-3).

Nevertheless, the churches spread throughout the civilized world, and the Christian faith became dominant. Whatever they were lacking, there was life in the churches. Moreover, God was working out His plan.

The local church should come together to grow. We should see the church:

The Future Of The Church

The glorious future of the church of Christ is that we will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Jesus is coming again – first for His saints and later with His saints. He will instantly change us when we see Him. Our earthly body will be put off, and our heavenly body will be put on (1 Corinthians 15:51-54). We will be with Him, and we will be like Him spiritually (1 John 3:2-3). We will be without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Ephesians 5:27). The church will be the eternal object lesson in heaven, “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). What an amazing plan God set in motion to bring believers together to form the church – the body of Christ – to be with Him and like Him for all eternity.

BCT Lesson 6 Study Guide
Church Life

  1. In the New Testament, the term ekklesia refers to the universal church and the local church. To which “church” do the following Scriptures refer? (Write universal or local).
    1. 1 Corinthians 10:32
    2. Galatians 1:1-2
    3. Ephesians 5:25
    4. Colossians 1:18
    5. 1 Thessalonians 1:1
  2. Describe the universal church and its members (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:15-16).
  3. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) Acts 2:42.
  4. What are the principal activities of the local church (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 2:42)?
  5. What is the purpose of Christian fellowship (Proverbs 27:17; Ecclesiastes 4:9-10; Hebrews 10:24-25)?
  6. How do you fulfill your role in the local church concerning:
    1. The Apostles’ doctrine?
    2. Fellowship?
    3. The Breaking of Bread (also known as the Lord’s Supper or Communion)?
    4. Prayer?
    5. Worship?
    6. Love for one another?
  7. How would you answer someone who says, “I don’t need to go to church; I can worship God just as well in my living room or at my cabin at the lake with my family”?
  8. What spiritual leaders has God provided for the local church (Philippians 1:1), and what qualities of character must they possess (1 Timothy 3:1-13)?
  9. What are the responsibilities of the spiritual leaders of the local church (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4)?
  10. What is the individual believer’s responsibility to the spiritual leaders in his local church (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:5)?
  11. All believers are individual members of the body of Christ. What is your role in the body? (1 Corinthians 12:12-17)?
  12. Why has God given each believer a spiritual gift? (Ephesians 4:11-16)?
  13. What proper attitudes should you display in the local assembly (Ephesians 4:2-3; John 13:34-35)?
  14. In your opinion, at what point does a person cease to be a “meeting attendee” and begin to be a functioning member of the local church? Which are you? Explain.
  15. If you moved to another town, on what basis would you choose a local church? What Scriptures would you consider?