ciwlogo_sm.gif What is the Truth about the Church and Fellowship?

Introduction

In a large United States city the Yellow Pages telephone book contains pages upon pages of telephone listings of different churches.  This is by no means all of them, for many other churches, operating out of garages or basements or halls are too small to afford a telephone.  With so many churches, how do we know which church to go to?

Frequently individuals think, “A church is a church.  What’s the difference?”  They then select their church like they do their grocery store and shopping center or market place: the closest one will do.  Others pick a church on the basis of its social activities, its facilities, its pastor, or whether it has the so-called “right kind” of people.

These reasons for selecting a church are incorrect, however, in light of what the church of Christ is, what its commission is, and what the Bible teaches us about church fellowship.  The purpose of this lesson is to learn about Christ’s church, its purpose, and church fellowship.

1. What is the church?

Acts 19:32  . . . for the assembly was in confusion. . .

1. When the silversmiths of Ephesus rioted, people of the city gathered into the theater.  In this verse, as in v.39, 41, that gathering of people is called an assembly.  The Greek word for assembly is translated “church” throughout the rest of the New Testament.  It means a gathering of people who have been called out.
2. A church, then, is an assembly of people who are called out from the rest of the people.

Acts 5:14  And more believers in the Lord than ever were being added to their number, multitudes of both men and women.

  1. A church is an assembly of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Cor.1:2  . . . to the church of God which is in Corinth, sanctified in Christ Jesus, called as saints, with all in every place who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours; . . .

  1. The church is the assembly of all the believers in Jesus Christ wherever they may be.

Eph.1:1  To the saints who are in Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus. . .

  1. Because the believers in Jesus have their sins forgiven and are declared righteous, the Bible calls them saints, which means holy ones.  Therefore the church of believers in Jesus is also called the communion of saints.
The Truth Is:

The church is the assembly of all believers in Jesus Christ wherever they may be.  It is also called the communion of saints.
Note:  The true church consists only of the believers.  It does not include the false Christians and heretics.  Some other biblical names for the church are: the body of Christ (Eph.1:22,23), the bride of Christ (Rev.21:2), the people of God (1 Pet.2:9,10), Zion, or Mount Zion (Ps.48:2; 87:5), the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb.12:22,23), the temple of God (1 Cor.3:16,17), the city of God (Ps.46:4), Jerusalem (Isa.40:2), Jacob (Ps.87:2).
The word “church” is also used for the building in which the believers assemble, a local congregation, and a denomination.

2. Why is the true church called the holy Christian church?

Eph.5:25-27  . . . Christ also loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order that he may make her holy, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he may present the church to himself glorious, not having a stain or a wrinkle or any such defect, but that she may be holy and blameless.

  1. Through faith in Jesus the believers are cleansed of all their sins and are holy.

2 Cor.5:21  He (God) made him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for our sake, so we might become the righteousness of God in him.

  1. Through faith in Jesus the believers have the righteousness of Christ credited to them.

Eph.2:19,20  Consequently, you are no long strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, who have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone.

  1. The believers in Jesus are called the Christian church, because through their faith in Jesus they are built upon him.
The Truth Is:

The true church is called the holy Christian church, because:
1.
Its believers in Jesus are holy, having been cleansed of all their sins and credited with the righteousness of Christ.
2.
Its believers are Christian, having been built upon Christ Jesus, the one and only Savior.

3. What is the nature of the true church?

Mt.13:28,29  So he said to them, “An enemy has done this.” Therefore the slaves said to him, “Then, do you wish that we go and pick them?” But he said, “No, lest while you are picking the weeds, you uproot the wheat together with them.

  1. Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds in the Wheat teaches us about the nature of his church.  It teaches us that we cannot distinguish the true Christians from the false Christians, for we cannot see who has faith in their hearts and who does not.  Consequently, we cannot see who the believers of the true church are.

Ro.11:2-5  Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah? How he appeals to God against Israel, “LORD, YOUR PROPHETS THEY HAVE KILLED, YOUR ALTARS THEY HAVE TORN DOWN, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.” But what does the divine answer say to him? “I HAVE KEPT for myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN, WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.” In the same way also then, at the present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

  1. Elijah thought he was the only believer left, because he could not see the seven thousand who had remained faithful to the Lord.  Likewise, today there is a remnant of believers, though we cannot see who they are.

2 Tim.2:19  The Lord knows those who are his. . .

  1. We cannot see who the believers are.  Only the Lord knows who they are.
The Truth Is:

The true church is invisible, for we cannot see who the believers are.

4. How is the true invisible church gathered and assembled?

2 Thess.2:14  To this he (the Holy Spirit) called you through our gospel, . . .

  1. Through the gospel the Holy Spirit calls people to faith in Jesus.  In this way he gathers and assembles the whole church on earth.

Phil.1:6  I am convinced of just this, that he (God, the Holy Spirit) who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ Jesus.

  1. Having brought the believers to faith, the Holy Spirit preserves their faith.
The Truth Is:

The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and assembles the true invisible church through the gospel, and keeps it in the true faith.

5. Where can we find the true church?

Isa.55:10,11  For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and does not return there unless it waters the earth and makes it bring forth and sprout, so that it gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater – so will my word be that goes forth from my mouth.  It will not return to me emptily, but rather will accomplish what I desire and make what I sent it for succeed.

  1. Since God promises that his Word will accomplish his purpose of bringing people to faith, we can find the true church where God’s Word is preached and taught faithfully.

Eph.2:19,20  Consequently, you are no long strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, who have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone.

  1. The foundation of the apostles and prophets is their teachings recorded in the Bible.  The true church is built on their teachings and on Christ Jesus.  We can find the true church, then, where the teachings of the apostles and prophets and the gospel of Christ Jesus are preached in their truth and purity.

Mt.28:19,20  Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them. . . teaching them to observe everything that I commanded you.

  1. Believers in Jesus are made through baptizing and through teaching all of God’s Word.  We can find the true church, then, where the means of grace in Word and Sacraments are administered faithfully.  Lessons #15 and #16 will teach us about the means of grace in Word and Sacraments.

1 Cor.10:16,17  The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a sharing of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a sharing of the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf of bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.

  1. The true church celebrates Holy Communion.  Therefore, we can find the true church where the Sacrament of Holy Communion is administered according to Christ’s command.
The Truth Is:

We can find the true church where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s instructions.
Note:  We therefore say that the gospel in Word and Sacraments, or the Means of Grace, are the marks of the one true church.  Where we find these marks, we will find the true church.

6. Why are visible congregations called churches?

1 Cor.1:2  . . . to the church of God which is in Corinth, . . .

Rev.1:4  John, to the seven churches that are in Asia; . . .

  1. The above two verses called local, visible congregations churches.  For the sake of the believers who are in them, the Bible calls visible congregations churches.

Mt.13:47-50  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered up every kind of fish; which, when it was filled, they pulled it up on the shore, and after they sat down, they collected the good fish into baskets, but the bad fish they cast out. So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and cast them into the furnace of fire. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  1. Jesus' Parable of the Dragnet teaches us that the visible church will have false Christians in it, who will be separated from the true Christians in the final judgment.  Though these false Christians hold membership in visible congregations, they are not members of the true invisible church.
The Truth Is:

When a visible congregation or denomination has the marks of the church, the Bible calls it a church for the sake of the believers in it.
Note:  Since false Christians will be in the visible church on earth together with the true Christians, we must not confuse the visible church with the true invisible church.

7. What do we call a visible church that permits or proclaims false doctrine along side of the truth?

Rev.2:12,15,16  And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who holds the sharp, double-edged sword says these things: . . . So indeed you also have those who likewise hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.

  1. The false doctrine of the Nicolaitans infected the church of Pergamum.  The Lord called on the church to repent and to remove the false doctrine from its midst.

2 Tim.4:3,4  For the time will come when they will not put up with correct doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate to themselves teachers according to their own desires, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and will be turned aside to myths.

  1. The Lord foretold through Paul that false doctrine would arise in the visible church on earth.  People would not stand for the truth of God’s Word, so they would gather teachers who would tell them what they want to hear.
The Truth Is:

A visible church that permits or proclaims false doctrine along side of the truth is called a false church.  It is subject to God’s displeasure.
Note:  A false church is also called an erring, heterodox, heretical, or sectarian church.

8. Can there be Christians in false visible churches?

Rev.2:18-25  And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: . . . I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and patience, and your last deeds are greater than the first. But I hold against you that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads my bond-servants astray to practice sexual immorality and to eat meat sacrificed to idols. . . Behold, I will cast her into a bed of affliction, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they should repent of her deeds. And her children I will kill dead. . . Now to you I say, to the rest in Thyatira, to as many as who do not hold this teaching of hers, who have not known the deep things of Satan – as they call them, I am not putting upon you another burden. Nevertheless, what you have, hold fast until I should come.

  1. The church in Thyatira was a false church because of the false doctrine that was taught in it along side the truth.  It had Christians in it.
  2. Christians in a false church, however, are in danger of being mislead from the true faith and into God’s punishment by the false doctrine.

Acts 20:30  . . . and from your own selves men will rise up, speaking perverted things in order to draw away the disciples after them.

  1. False doctrine distorts the truth and misleads Christians from the saving truth into false beliefs and damnation.

Gal.5:7-9  You were running well. Who hindered you to not obey the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough.

  1. The Christians in the church of Galatia had been running the good race of faith.  But then false teachers with their false doctrines hindered and prevented them from believing the truth.  False doctrine endangers Christians’ faith, for just as yeast ferments through a whole batch of dough, so false doctrine spreads through a church until all have accepted its lie.
The Truth Is:

1. There can be Christians in false churches that permit or proclaim false doctrine along side of the gospel of Christ.
2. But the Christians in a false church are in danger of having the false doctrine mislead them from the truth and saving faith into false beliefs and damnation.

9. Which church will we seek out to worship in?

Heb.5:12  For even though you ought to be teachers by this time, you again need someone to teach you the fundamental principles of the utterances of God, and you have become ones who have need of milk, and not solid food.

1. We will seek a church that teaches the basic, fundamental truths of God’s Word.

1 Pet.2:2  . . . like new born babies long for the pure milk of the word, in order that by it you may grow with respect to salvation.

  1. We will seek a church where we can find the pure, unadulterated Word of God for our spiritual growth.

Jn.8:31  If you continue in my (Jesus') word, you are truly my disciples, . . .

  1. We will seek a church that upholds the Word and teachings of Jesus.

Eph.2:19,20  Consequently, you are no long strangers and aliens, but you are fellow-citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, who have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the corner stone.

  1. We will seek a church that is built on the teachings of the apostles and prophets and the gospel of Jesus Christ, so we will be numbered among God’s people.
The Truth Is:

We will seek a church that:
1. Teaches the basic truths of God’s Word.
2. Teaches God’s Word in its truth and purity.
3. Is built on the scriptural teachings of the apostles and prophets and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

10. How do we define church fellowship?

Gal.3:26  For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

  1. Upon bringing us to faith, the Holy Spirit unites us to God and makes us his children.  We become brothers and sisters in the faith.

1 Jn.1:3  That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, in order that you on your part may also have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

  1. When we are brought to faith, we enter into fellowship with the Triune God, the Savior Jesus Christ, and the other Christians who share the same faith.

Acts 2:42  And they were continuing to busily engage themselves in the teaching of the apostles and in fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.

  1. When Christians share the same faith, they do certain things together in Christian fellowship.  They devote themselves to hearing and studying the Word of God together (church fellowship), to taking communion together (altar fellowship), to sharing the same pastors (pulpit fellowship), to praying together (prayer fellowship), as well as to the works of Christ’s church, such as mission work and Christian education.
The Truth Is:

We define church fellowship as:
1. A status in which we recognize one another as fellow believers who share a common faith.
2. An activity in which we jointly express our common faith through worship, Bible study, Holy Communion, prayer, works of service.

11. How can we recognize our fellow believers with whom we will enter into church fellowship?

1 Sam.16:7 & 2 Tim.2:19  For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. . . The Lord knows those who are his, . . .

  1. We cannot recognize our fellow believers on the basis of the faith in their hearts, for we cannot see their faith.  Only the Lord knows who his true believers are.

1 Jn.4:1-3  Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; . . .

  1. We can recognize our fellow believers on the basis of their confession of faith.
  2. Individuals can be false Christians who confess the faith.  We accept a person on the basis of his confession.  We do not try to separate the hypocrites from the true Christians before establishing church fellowship.  The Lord will do that in the judgment.

Jn.8:31  If you continue in my (Jesus') word, you are truly my disciples, . . .

  1. Those who hold to Jesus’ teachings are his disciples, whom we can recognize as our fellow believers.

Mt.28:20  . . . teaching them to observe everything that I commanded you.

1. The true believers will confess, not only faith in Jesus, but everything Jesus has taught in the Bible.  We can recognize as our fellow believers those who confess faith in Jesus and everything taught in the Bible.

The Truth Is:

1. We cannot recognize our fellow believers on the basis of the faith in their hearts, for we cannot see their faith.
2. We can recognize our fellow believers on the basis of their confession of what they believe and teach in accordance with God’s Word.

12. What should we do when we find those who hold to false doctrine?

Ro.16:17  Now I urge you, brothers, take note of those who cause dissensions and obstacles to make you fall contrary to the doctrine that you have learned, and turn away from them.

  1. The Bible teaches us to take note of those people who hold to false doctrine.  We should turn away from them and not enter into church fellowship with them.

Mt.7:15  Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

  1. The Bible teaches us to beware of those who preach and teach false doctrine.  Since they are wolves who kill and destroy the Lord’s sheep, we will not enter into church fellowship with them.

2 Jn.9-11  Everyone who goes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who remains in the teaching, this person has both the Father and the Son. If someone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house and do not speak a greeting to him. For the one who speaks a greeting to him makes himself a partner in his wicked works.

  1. The Bible teaches us not to welcome anyone who does not continue in the teaching of Christ.  We would not, then, enter into church fellowship with him.

Tit.3:10  Reject a man who is a heretic after a first and second admonition.

  1. The Bible teaches us to reject and have nothing to do with the person who persists in his false doctrine.
The Truth Is:

We should watch out for those who hold to false doctrine and avoid having church fellowship with them.
Note:  This is true of an individual or an entire church body.

13. What mission has Christ entrusted to his church?

Mt.28:19  Go, make disciples of all nations, . . .

Mk.16:15  Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

The Truth Is:

Christ has commissioned his church to preach the gospel to all people, so they too may believe in him and be saved.

Review Questions

1. Which of the following statements are correct?

 a. The true church consists of only believers.
 b. The true church is visible.
 c. The true church is invisible.
 d. The true church is called the holy Christian church because the believers’ sins have  been forgiven.
 e. Only God knows who among us are the members of his true church.
 f. The Holy Spirit calls and assembles the true church through the preaching of the  gospel.
 g. A visible assembly is called a church when it has the marks of the church.
 h. A visible assembly that has the marks of the church is called a church for the  sake of the believers who are in it.
 i. A visible church is made up of only true believers.

2. What are the marks of the church?
3. What is a false, or heterodox, church?
4. What is the danger to those who belong to a false church?
5. When selecting a church, what should we look for?
6. Define church fellowship in your own words.
7. What should we do if:

a. Our relatives or friends ask us to worship with them in their church which is not in  fellowship with ours?
b. It is time to pray before dinner, but we have dinner guests who are not of our  fellowship?  Should we have our table prayer?
c. We are dinner guests and our host, who is not of our fellowship, begins his table  prayer?
d. We are at a public gathering where people of many different religions are present,  and a priest or pastor rises to lead everyone in prayer?
e. We are at a wedding or funeral service in a church that is not of our fellowship?



Unpublished work. Copyright 1995 JCS of Christian Inconnect. All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced for distribution or publication without prior permission from Christian Inconnect.

All Scripture verses on this web page, unless otherwise indicated, are a translation of the pastor of Christian Inconnect and are a part of the Christian Inconnect Version (CIV), on which he is working. He reserves all rights to his translated verses and to their copyright ©. They may not be quoted without his prior permission.
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