On any Sunday morning, literally around the world, hundreds of groups of people meet together calling themselves the "church."  They are different in entrance requirements, forms of worship, organization, and numerous other ways -- each one, however, believing to be the church that Jesus built.  With so many different, and at times, conflicting beliefs and teachings, how can one know which one is the church that we read about in the Bible?

There is really only one way to answer this question and that is to go to the Bible itself.  It is only there that we can read and understand what God wants and expects of his church.

Although it is made up of people, the church is not a man-made institution.  Rather, the origin of the church was from God himself.  In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "I will build my church."  The gospel accounts, however, tell us that Jesus later was crucified, raised from the dead, and returned heaven without himself establishing a church or any other earthly institution or organization.

When was this church finally established?  Who was involved in the beginning of this church?  What was it like?  More importantly, can we find it today?

The answers to these questions can only be found in the New Testament.  In this study of the church we will look for answers to these and other questions and look at what the New Testament teaches about the church that Jesus promised to establish.  We will begin with a study of the word "church," noticing the meaning of the word and how it was used in the New Testament.  We will notice that the church is a part of God's plan for mankind and that the church was not an accident or afterthought of God.  Various prophetic passages predicted that the church would be established and that it would be a part of God's means of providing salvation and forgiveness of sins.

We will also study how the church came into being and how people became members of the newly established church.  Finally we will examine worship as described in the New Testament and practiced by the early Christians, as well as the organization and work of the first century church.



The Greek word translated as "church" in the New Testament is ekklesia.Jesus first used this word in Matthew 16:18 when he said, "I will build my church."it is actually a combination of two Greek words: ek, which means "out, out of, or from," and kaleo, which means"to call or summon."  The literal meaning of the word is "called out."

Originally, the word was used to designate a "gathering of citizens called out from their homes in to some public place; assembly."  (J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, pp. 195-196.)

The word, ekklesia, was in common usage during the New Testament times and had no religious significance until Jesus said, "I will build my church."  It was used to describe any assembly of people who had gathered for some purpose.  Jesus however, gave the word special significance when he referred to it as "my church."

Usage of ekklesia in the New Testament.

The word ekklesia no was used over 100 times in the New Testament to designate an assembly of any kind.  Some examples of how it was used by the writers are as follows:
  1. A Christian assembly (Act 12:5; 14:27; 1 Corinthians 11:18).
  2. A crowd of people (Acts 19:30 2, 41).
  3. A Jewish assembly (Acts 7:38).

Ekklesia is equivalent to the Hebrew word quhalQuhal is used 123 times in a Old Testament to refer to a "congregation," "assembly," or "multitude"(Genesis 20 8:3 Deuteronomy 8:16 and Nehemiah 13:1).  The basic meaning of the two words is similar: a gathering or group of people.

It is in reference to the church that the word ekklesia has special significance for our study.  Ekklesia is used in the New Testament in four different senses to refer to the church.  These are as follows:
  1. The entire body of Christ (Colossians 1: 18; Ephesians 1:22-23).
  2. The church within certain geographical boundaries (Acts 8:1; 9:31; 1 Corinthians 1:2).
  3. To designate a meeting place for a church(Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).
  4. The assembly of the Church (1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:19, 23).

The nature of the calling.

Why did Jesus choose this particular word to describe his "church?"  Perhaps it is because as Christians or members of his church we are indeed "called out" from the world.  We are to separate ourselves from those around us and to think and act differently than we did before.

The idea of "calling" or being "called" is a common theme in the New Testament.  Consider the following examples of the use of this theme:
  1. We are called by God--it is a divine calling (1 Peter 5:10; 2 Timothy 1:7-9).
  2. We are called into fellowship and peace of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9; Colossians 3:15).
  3. We are called to be children of God (1 John 3:1).
  4. We are called to be saints (Romans 1:7).
  5. It is a holy life for calling (2 Timothy 1:9).
  6. It is a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1).
  7. It is necessary to make our "calling election sure" (2 Peter 1:1-11).

The English word "church."

Where did we get our English word "church?"  Actually, it is an interesting story and related to the Greek word is thought that originally, the Greek word kurios (" of or pertaining to the Lord) was likely used as an adjective to describe ekklesia, meaning basically the "Lord's church."

The expression is believed to have been carried from the Greeks of Constantinople to the Goths as a proper name for the church.  The Goths carried the word to the Anglo-Saxons who then took it to England and Scotland, where it is still commonly written as "kyrke" or "kirk."  Eventually, "kirk" was transformed into "church."


The word "church" is translated from the Greek word ekklesia, which means "called out," and which was used basically to describe a group or assembly of people.  Jesus gave this word special significance when he said, "I will build my church."  The ekklesia of the New Testament is then, a group of people that have been "called out" from the world.  As we study further we will learn more about the church and what it means to be "called out."


Why does the church exist?

The answer is simple: the problem of sin.  No one could live a sinless life, but the Law of Moses could not completely or fully remove sins.  None of the sacrifices performed during this time could bring forgiveness to the sinner.  Once a year on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) sins were remembered and ceremonially placed on the head of the scapegoat to be driven into the desert, but complete forgiveness was to come at later time.

Sin carries with it punishment.  In the book of Romans (3:23; 6:23) Paul pointed out that each of us is deserving of this punishment for each of us are sinners.  The Old Law was unable to solve the problem of sin, so something more was needed to make salvation and the forgiveness of sins available.  Something more than the sacrifices of bulls and goats--the sacrifice of God's own son (Hebrews 10:1-4).

The church was a part of God's plan.

The sacrifice of Christ and the establishing of the church were a part of God's eternal plan (Matthew 25:34; 1 Peter 1:18-20).  This plan can be seen in the pages of God's Word and through the revelation of his will.  In the Old Testament, for example, God revealed his will through special spokesmen--the prophets.  These individuals spoke for God and many of their prophecies were predicting--foretelling of future events.  Several of these prophecies were related to the establishment of God's kingdom or the church.  Thus, the church, as part of God's plan, was first revealed in prophecy.

The first glimmer of hope: Genesis 3:15.

This verse is thought to be the first prophecy concerning the church.  It is rather vague, but does give us some hope.  The "seed of the serpent" (or "offspring") is thought to refer to Satan himself and the "seed of the woman" (or "offspring") is understood to be God's son, Jesus, who would later come in the form of human flesh.  In the Gospel accounts we read that he was "bruised" by Satan through his crucifixion and death, but triumphed over sin and death through his resurrection.  Jesus' victory over death also truly "crushed" the head of Satan because sin and death can no longer have power over God's people.

Isaiah's prophecy concerning the establishment of the church: Isaiah 2:2-4.

This prophecy was written in the form of poetry and gives us a very beautiful description of the establishment of God's kingdom or church.  It begins with the expression "last days" or "latter days" which is used in both the Old and New Testaments to denote a particular time period (Hebrews 1:1-2).  Thus, the time period for the establishment of the church was prophesied centuries before the event.

The "mountain of the Lord's house" probably refers to the church as the "house of God."  This is an expression which is also sometimes used in the New Testament for the church (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

The phrase "all nations shall flow unto it" describes the universal nature of the church.  In Acts (2:5-12) we read the list of the people who were present when the church was established and we see the significance of the prophecy.  People were in Jerusalem that day from all over the known world at that time and witnessed the beginning of the church.

Isaiah also predicted the location where this was to take place: "the law shall go forth from Zion and the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem."  Zachariah, another prophet also mentions that God's house will be built in Jerusalem (Zachariah 1:16) and Jesus referred to these passages in Luke 24:46-49.

Daniel's prophecy: Daniel 2:31-45.

In this passage Daniel's interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar's dream contained information concerning the kingdom of God or the church.  Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a massive statue or image, each part of which God used to symbolize a particular world empire.  The kingdoms or empires depicted in the dream are thought to be as follows:

The Image The Empire
Head of gold Babylonian empire
King: Nebuchadnezzar
Ended: 536 B.C.
Chest and arms of silver Mito-Persian Empire
King: Cyrus (Persia)
Ended: 330 B.C.
Belly and thighs of bronze  Macedonian (Greek) Empire
King's: Philip of Macedon
Alexander the great 
Succeeded as a world power by Rome
Legs of iron and feet of iron and clay Roman Empire
Established as a world empire by Octavius Caesar in 30 B.C.

After describing each part of the image, Daniel prophesied that "in the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44).  The "kings" which Daniel referred to were the kings or rulers of the final empire--the Roman Empire.  It was during this period of time that God's Son, Jesus, came into the world in the form of a man, lived, died, was raised from the dead, returned to heaven, and his church established by those followers that he left behind.


Even from this short study we can see that God's church was no accident.  Rather, it was a part of his plan for the salvation of mankind.  Neither did it come as a surprise because many details concerning the church were given centuries in advance through the prophets.  These prophecies predicted the time, place, and even certain events surrounding the establishment of the church.  All of these were fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:4-8; 2:1-47) as God began the final stage in his dealings with mankind--the establishment of his new kingdom, the church.


The testimony of John the Baptist

One of God's greatest prophets, Elijah had confronted kings, challenged prophets of Baal, lived in a cave, and been fed by ravens.  Many years later another prophet, Malachi, predicted thatElijah Wood someday return (Malachi 4:5-6).  Jewish people believe that he will return with the Messiah and are still waiting for him.

For Christian believers, however, Elijah has already returned in the form of John the Baptist.  His strange clothing and primitive way of living would certainly have reminded the people of one of the prophets of old (Matthew 3:1-6).

John began his ministry in the desert areas around the Jordan River.  His teaching was simple and to the point: "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:1-2).  He also introduced a new type of baptism, or immersion, of repentance which anticipated the coming kingdom.

It is perhaps significant the John never spoke of the "church."  Rather, he used the word "kingdom."  The word "kingdom" is used in various ways in the Bible.  Sometimes it is used in the sense of a country with a King.  The term is used elsewhere in a figurative or spiritual sense.  Jesus often used the expressions "kingdom of God" and "kingdom of Heaven" in his teaching.  In the New Testament, the word "kingdom" is used in the present tense to signify the church.  In other places the same word is used in a future tense in reference to heaven as a future, spiritual existence.

From this context we can see the John spoke of a kingdom that was to come into existence shortly.  As our study progresses, we will see that this kingdom that John referred to was the church.

The teaching of Jesus.

Jesus also taught that the kingdom or church would come shortly (Mark 1:15; Matthew 10:7; Mark 9:1).  His message was very much like that of John.  He also taught his disciples a form of baptism similar to that of John and encouraged his listeners to prepare for the coming kingdom.

More importantly, Jesus taught that he would build the church (Matthew 16:18).  This is the first time that the word translated "church" is used in the New Testament and the significance of this will be seen as we continue in this study.

Jesus was more specific than John and taught that certain events would precede the establishment of the church.  Although the disciples failed to understand at the time, Jesus taught that he, himself, would suffer, die, and be raised from the dead before the coming of the Kingdom or church (Luke 24:46-49).  He also instructed them to wait in Jerusalem to receive power from the Holy Spirit after he had returned to heaven (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:7-8; Acts 1:4-5, 8).

The church was established on the Day of Pentecost.

The full account of the beginning of the church is given in the second chapter of the book of Acts.  The apostles were in Jerusalem as Jesus had told them.  Some time that Sunday morning, the Jewish Day of Pentecost, they were together when the power of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus had promised, came upon them and they began to speak in foreign languages.  People from all over the known world were in Jerusalem for the feast and soon a large crowd gathered to see what was happening.

Peter, one of the apostles, took the opportunity to teach them.  Starting with the prophets he explained to them that Jesus of Nazareth, the one that had recently been crucified was the Messiah--the one that was to come.  He explained how he had been raised from the dead and had returned to heaven and that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles was a fulfillment of prophecy and testimony of the authority of Jesus.

Convinced of their wrongs, many of them asked, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And the you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2: 37-38).  Baptism, or immersion, was not something new.  The Jews practice ceremonial washings and both John the Baptist and Jesus had encouraged baptism of repentance.  The difference was this baptism was "in the name of Jesus Christ" and also "for the forgiveness of your sins."

Never before had this been possible.  The Law of Moses dealt with sins, but provided no complete forgiveness.  Now this was possible based upon the authority given by Jesus himself.

That first day three thousand people were baptized forming the first body of believers, or church.  Thus, the kingdom that John and Jesus had spoken of became a reality.

It is also important to recognize that all of the prophecies regarding the coming kingdom or church were fulfilled that day.  These include the following:

  1. Jesus had died, risen, and ascended to heaven (Luke 24:46).
  2. The apostles had remained in Jerusalem as they had been told (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4).
  3. The apostles were given power by the Holy Spirit (Joel 2: 28-32; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
  4. The word of the Lord went forth from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1-2; Acts 2:14-42).
  5. Repentance and remission of sins were preached in the Lord's name (Luke 24:47).
  6. All of this occurred during the proper time period of Daniel's prophecy (Daniel 2:31-45).


The church had its beginning on the Day at Pentecost shortly after Jesus returned to heaven.  Jesus himself did not establish the church.  He left that task to his followers.  Jesus is, however, both the founder and the foundation of the Church (Matthew 16:18; Isaiah 20 8:16), because without his death, burial, and resurrection, there would be no authority for forgiveness of sins or for the church.

Both John the Baptist and Jesus himself had predicted that the "kingdom of Heaven was near."  Jesus had instructed his apostles to remain in Jerusalem after he had returned heaven.  There, as he had promised, they received power from the Holy Spirit, giving him the ability to speak in foreign languages, teach boldly, and perform miracles.

On that first day three thousand believers were baptized, establishing the church or kingdom that had been promised by God.  From Jerusalem, the apostles and others began to carry the good news, or gospel, to other parts of the world.  This church has continued to exist to this day and we too can be "added to their number" (Acts 2:41, 47) by becoming a member of the church of the New Testament.


The necessity of the church

The problem of sin began with Adam and Eve and is still with us today (Genesis 3:1-24; Romans 3:23).   Also, as we noted in the previous lesson, sin carries with it a penalty (Romans 6:23).  That penalty is death and each of us deserves to receive the penalty for all of us have sinned.

The Law of Moses in the Old Testament recognized sin, but could not provide full and complete forgiveness.  It was necessary that another sacrifice be made.  It was the coming of Jesus, Son of God, that would make forgiveness of sins possible for each one of us.  The shedding of his blood and his death upon the cross was the final sacrifice for sin, and it is only through this sacrifice that we can have full and complete forgiveness.

The blood of Jesus also purchased the church (Acts 20:28), making the church a part of God's plan of salvation.  Thus, entrance into the church is necessary to receive those blessings that come through the blood of Jesus.

The church and the body of Christ

In the New Testament there are three terms which are used synonymously: "church," "body," and "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18; Romans 6:23).  Further study of various passages will reveal that baptism is the means of entering into each of these (Acts 2:37-40 1, 47; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:27).  Therefore, baptism is the process which puts a person into the church, into the body, and into Christ.

What is baptism?

In the religious world today there are several different ideas about what constitutes baptism.  In the first century as the church began, however, such confusion did not exist because the words used in the New Testament have a very specific meanings.

The first of these is the noun baptisma.  W. E. Vine defines this as "baptism, consisting of the process of the a immersion, submersion and emergence (from bapto, "to dip") (An Expository Dictionary of the New Testament Words, Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Ravel, 1940).  Similarly, J. H. Thayer defines baptisma as "immersion, submersion" (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975).

The verb form of this word, baptizo has been defined as "to baptize" (Vine) or "to dip repeatedly, to immerse, submerge" (Thayer).

L. O. Richards has made the following comments regarding these words: "Two Greek verbs that are closely related are linked with baptism.  Bapto is the basic verb.  It means 'to dip in' or 'to dip under.'  It is often used of dipping fabric in a dye.  Baptizo is an intensive form of bapto.  From early times it was used in the sense of immersing" (Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985).

We can see the manner in which these words were used by looking at specific references in the New Testament.  Examples of the use of these terms include the following:

Bapto is used only in the literal sense of dipping (Luke 16:24; John 13:26; Revelation 19:13).
Baptizo is always used in a religious sense, e.g.:

  • Jewish ritual washings (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38).
  • John's baptism (Matthew 3:1-6).
  • Baptism into the church (Acts 2:30 8, 41).

When used by the New Testament writers, there was no confusion concerning the words related to baptism.  The original readers were familiar with the Greek language and understood the meaning of the words as they were intended.  It was only in the centuries that followed that the practice of baptism by immersion was altered by various religious leaders who introduced other forms of baptism that we see today.

Examples of baptism in the early church

Perhaps the best way to understand how individuals were baptized and became Christians and members of the church in the first century is to read the specific examples in the New Testament.  There are seven examples in the book of Acts of individuals being baptized as a part of their faith and obedience.  These are as follows:

  1. Believers on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41).
  2. Samaritans taught by Philip (Acts 8:4-13).
  3. Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39).
  4. Saul (Acts 9:17-18; 22:12-16).
  5. Cornelius and members of his household (Acts 10:1-48).
  6. Lydia and members of her household (Acts 16:11-15).
  7. Philippian jailor and members of his household (Acts 16:25-34).

In each case we can see that individuals were baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and to put them into Christ and into his church.  Further study of these and other passages in the New Testament will reveal that baptism is only a part of the process of obedience.  In order to fully comply with God's message a person needs to:
  1. Believe or have faith that Jesus is God's son (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9-10).
  2. Repent of his or her sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 2 Corinthians 7:10).
  3. Confess that Jesus is God's son (Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:9-10).
  4. Be immersed, or baptized, for the forgiveness of sins in the same manner as those recorded in the book of Acts.

What is the purpose of baptism?

We have noticed several aspects of baptism already.  We can also more fully understand the purpose and importance of baptism by carefully studying the following references.  In each case we can see that baptism is necessary to receive the particular blessing.
  1. Salvation (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:21).
  2. Remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
  3. To enter into the body of Christ (Gal 3:27).
  4. To have new life (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  5. To receive forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7).
  6. To receive the promise of eternal life (1 John 5:11)
  7. To become a member of the church (Acts 2:41, 47).

The symbolism of baptism.

Baptism is more than merely a religious ritual.  It is a very symbolic act of obedience.  Perhaps the best explanation of this symbolism is found in the sixth chapter of Romans (6:1-14).  Here we read that baptism is a symbolic death, burial, and resurrection.  In baptism, one shares, or is united in the death and burial of Jesus.  We also read that in sharing in his death and burial, we shall also share in his resurrection--a blessing with a promise.  The Christian no longer needs to fear death because of this promise to share in the resurrection of Jesus.  Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, we also can look forward to being raised from the dead one day to live with him forever.

Baptism also symbolizes our own death, burial, and resurrection.  In baptism, the old manner of living dies and is buried (Rom 6:5-7).  The one who is raised up out of the water is a new person, a new creature, a new Christian.


Just before returning to heaven, Jesus said to the apostles, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20).  Go, teach, baptize--these were the commands given by the Lord.  Thus baptism, as a part of an obedient life, was emphasized by Jesus in one of his last statements before returning to heaven.

In the book of Acts we read of the apostles and other early disciples fulfilling this command from Jesus.  In the second chapter we read of Peter teaching for the first time the necessity of baptism for the forgiveness of sins and of the receiving of baptism by the initial believers.  Reading on through the book of Acts we encounter other examples of believers being baptized for the remission or forgiveness of sins.

Further study reveals that belief (or faith), repentance (or a change in manner of living), and confession are also parts of the process of becoming a Christian and member of the church that Jesus built.  By following the examples given us, we today can also become a member of this same church, the one we read about in the New Testament.


What is worship?

Worship has been defined as: "an act of paying divine honor to God; a feeling of respect or reverence for power, position, merit, virtue, etc."  Often associated with religious activities, worship is as old as mankind.  Archeologists who have studied the earliest cultures have found evidence of some form of religious activities and worship.

Today, there are many different concepts of worship and people worship many different things from the gods of eastern religions to the God of the Bible.  Even among those who claim to be Christians we see a variety of different forms of worship.

In this study we will limit ourselves to those aspects of worship that are described in the New Testament.  It is only in this way that we can understand the true requirements and nature of worship as God would have it.

Words used for worship in the Old Testament.

There are five Greek words that were used by the writers of New Testament to refer to worship.  The first of these is doxa which has been defined as "glory or esteem" by Young, and "of good reputation, praise, honor" by W. E. Vine (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Old Tappan, NJ. Fleming H. Revell, 1940).    The word is found only in Luke 14:10 and is translated as "worship" in the King James Version and "honor" in the New International Version.  The modern word "doxology" comes from this Greek word.

A second word used to refer to worship is eusebeo which means "to be reverential, pious." (Young) or "to act piously toward" (Vine).  It is found only in Acts 17:23 and is translated as "worship."

The third word is sebomai.  Young defines this word as meaning "to venerate" and Vine defines it as meaning "to revere, stressing the feeling of awe or devotion."  Thayer says that the word comes from sebas which means "reverence, or awe; to fear, be afraid; two on a religiously, to worship" (J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Zondervan).(For examples see Matthew 15:9 and Acts 19:27.)

Latreuo is the fourth word used by the writers.  It is defined as "to worship publicly" (Young) and "to render religious service or homage" (Vine).  (For examples see Acts 24:14; Philippians 3:3; Hebrews 10:1-2.)

The principle word for worship in the New Testament is proskuneo.  It is used 59 times and literally means "to kiss (the hand) toward" (Young).  Thayer defines the word as meaning "kneeling or prostration; to do homage to one or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or make supplication."  Vine describes the word as: "to make obeisance, do reverence to (from pros, toward and kuneo, to kiss)."  (Matthew 2:2; 4:10; 18:26; Acts 7:43; Revelation 13:4.)

As in the case of the Hebrew words used in the Old Testament, the literal meaning of these Greek words does not fully express the idea.  The word proskuneo, for example, carries the idea of bowing down toward someone or something.  Behind the physical act of bowing, however, is the attitude of respect, honor, and even reverence.  This is the true meaning of worship.  It is as much an attitude as a specific action.

Worship as described in the Old Testament

Worship in the Old Testament has some similarities to that described in the New Testament, but also many differences.  The history recorded in the Old Testament can be divided into two periods of time.  Worship during these time periods was particular to that time and information regarding worship was given by God to those living at that time.

The first of these was the Patriarchal Period which lasted from the beginning to the giving of the Law of Moses.  Warship during this period centered around the family.  The oldest male member of the family (the patriarch) served as priest for the entire family.

There are actually very few details regarding religious practices during this time.  What we can know about worship during the period comes from descriptions of specific persons and events.  We can know that worship during this time included prayer (Genesis 4:26; 12:8; 13:4), and animal sacrifices (Genesis 4:3-4, 8:20; Job 1:5).  The religious practice of circumcision was also introduced during this time (Genesis 17:9-14).

The second period of history in the Old Testament was the Mosaic Period.  We know much more about religious practices during this time because there are detailed descriptions given in the books of the Old Testament.

Worship during this time centered around the Tabernacle and later the Temple.  It was there that the priest carried out their functions, animal sacrifices were made, and the feast celebrations were held.  Worship was an integral part of the everyday lives of the Jewish people.  Prayers were offered daily, the Sabbath was a weekly event, feasts and sacrifices occurred on a regular yearly basis.  The social and cultural life of the Jewish community also was part of these regular religious practices.

Worship practices during this period included the following: feasts, such as Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles; sacrifices, such as burnt offerings, and sin offerings (Leviticus 1-9); circumcision; and ceremonial laws, such as uncleanness and food restrictions (Leviticus 11-15).

Worship in the synagogue

During the Babylonian captivity the Jewish people were held in a foreign country.  The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed during the capture of the city.  Separated from their center of the religious life, they began to worship in what were called synagogues and the practice was continued after they returned to Judea.   Much of the activity of Jesus in his ministry and the ministry of the early disciples in the book of Acts was centered around the synagogues.

The first Christians were converts from Judaism.  It is not surprising then, that worship in the early church was similar in many ways to that found in the synagogues of that time.  Synagogue worship was very regular and followed a prescribed series of activities.  At the time of Jesus and the early church, worship in the synagogue consisted of the following:  specified prayers, reading from the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch,  lessons from the Law and Prophets, and a paraphrase or sermon (from Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans).

Worship in the early church

Compared to the Old Testament, which contains detailed descriptions of every aspect of the Temple and religious practices, there is actually very little information about the worship of the early church in the New Testament.  There is some information in the book of Acts and references to other New Testament books to specific topics.  Other information has come from early Christian writers and also from archaeology.

Where did the worship services in the early church originate?  How did the apostles and other new Christians know how to properly worship God?  The apostles, of course, had received special power and knowledge from the Holy Spirit and we can assume that God revealed his will through these men.

From what we can gather from the New Testament and other sources, we can also conclude that the worship was similar in many ways to that practiced in the synagogue.  Again, this is not surprising since these first Christians were Jewish and familiar with the synagogue.

The worship practices in the early church are thought to have included the following (also from Schaff): preaching or teaching, generally directed to non-Christians; readings from the Old Testament that, included a sermon, or exposition of the text; prayers; songs in the form of prayer, poetry, and Old Testament passages; confessions of faith; baptisms; and communion or the Lord's Supper.

Worship as described in the New Testament

The New Testament does not contain any detailed description of worship practices and regulations such as those found in the Old Testament.  There is enough information, however, for us to see how the first Christians worshiped.  This worship involved the areas of prayer, teaching, giving, singing, and the Lord's Supper or communion.  We will look at each of these to see what we can learn about how worship was conducted in the early church.

Worship through prayer

The disciples came to Jesus and said, "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:14).  They understood from the example of Jesus, the importance of prayer.  Prayer should be an important part of the life of each Christian and each of us needs to have the same attitude as these disciples demonstrated.

What is prayer?  It is a means of communicating with God.  God speaks to us in the Bible through revelation.  In prayer we speak to God.  Most of the time we pray personally to God.  This is private prayer and needs to be a part of our daily lives.  At other times we as Christians pray together.  This is what might be called public prayer and is part of the worship of the church.

We have some examples of the church praying together in the New Testament.  In the second chapter of Packs, for example, we read that prayer was an important part of that first body of believers (Acts 2:42; 12:5; 1 Timothy 2:1-5).

Worship through teaching or study of the Bible

Public teaching of the Bible was a part of Jewish worship in the synagogue and also the early church (Acrs 2:42-47; 20:7).  We are not given any prescribed manner for teaching, but it is clearly to be an integral part of our worship and our daily lives.

In an earlier lesson we noticed that Jesus' command was to go, teach, baptize, and teach those who have been baptized (Matthew 28:18-20).  Thus, we are not only to teach those who are not Christians, but also to continue to teach and study ourselves.  Like the example of the early church, we too need to incorporate study and teaching of God's Word into our worship as well as our personal lives.

Worship through giving

Some form of giving, or contribution, has been a part of worship ever since the beginning.  During the Old Testament period it typically involves sacrifices and offerings.  Under the Law of Moses these practices were regulated and followed certain procedures.

In the New Testament we do not see any such rules or regulations.  That is not to say that giving or contributing to the church is not required of Christians.  Jesus himself taught on giving (Matthew 6:2-4; Luke 6:38), and there are several examples of giving in the early church (Acts 2:44-45; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:6-7).  Shortly after the church was established, for example, we read of new Christians selling all that they had and giving it to the Lord (Acts 2:44-45).  Although this may be extreme and perhaps impractical, it does give us an example of true sacrifice.

Nowhere in the New Testament are we told how much to give as was the case under the Law of Moses.  Everything we have, however, comes from God.  Shouldn't we want to give as much as possible back to him?

Worship through the Lord's Supper

There are several references to the Lord's Supper, or communion in the New Testament (Matthew 26:17-29; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:7-20; 1 Corinthians 11:17-34).  It was first observed by Jesus and the apostles on the night that Jesus was arrested.  They had just observed the Passover meal when Jesus introduced this new memorial.  Taking the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine of the Passover, Jesus set an example to be followed by the disciples and us today.  The bread to represent his body, that was nailed to the cross, and the fruit of the vine to represent his blood, that was shed for us.

What does the Lord's Supper represent?  Much like the Passover meal, the communion or Lord's Supper is a memorial.  It is a remembrance of Jesus' death, resurrection, and future return--a time to reflect and remember.  It is a communion (or sharing or fellowship) of Christians with the body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).  It is also an act of faith by the believers--faith in the death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus.

When should the Lord's Supper be observed?  The early church observed this memorial on each first day of the week (Acts 20:7).  Many religious groups today may have abandoned the weekly remembrance, but the example of the first century church remains.  Those who desire to follow the example set by these first Christians, however, still observe the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis.

Worship through song

There has been some type of music in worship since at least the Mosaic Period.  It was also practiced in the synagogue worship and became a part of the newly established church.  In the religious world today there are different types of music used in worship.  Which is correct?  Again, it is best to go to the New Testament to see what information is given and what the early Christians practiced as part of their worship.

There are several words in the New Testament which refer to songs or music.  Some of these are references which have nothing to do with worship while others clearly do.  The following list gives the Greek words, their meaning and a brief explanation for each one.

Greek word References Explanation
ode - "song" Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Revelation 5:19; 14:3; 15:3 Songs used in worship
Songs in Heaven
psallo - "to sing psalms" James 5:13; Ephesians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 14:15 General reference
Singing with melody in the heart
Same with spirit and understanding
humneo - "to sing a hymn; to sing praises? Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25 Jesus and apostles
Sang a hymn
Paul and Silas sang hymns
sumphonia - "harmony" Luke 15:25 Music at a feast
mousikos - "musician" Revelation 18:22 Reference to the fall of Babylon
Other references Revelation 5:8; 14:2; 15:2 Harps in heaven

From this list there are three verses which refer to music in worship.  In 1 Corinthians 14:15 Paul teaches that singing is to be done with the spirit and with understanding.  The others are Ephesians 5:19, which places the music in the heart of the one worshiping, and Colossians 3:16, which teaches that singing must include teaching.  All three of these refer only to singing.  There is no reference in the New Testament to music performed on an instrument as a part of worship.  The history of the early church supports this as well.  Instruments, although a part of the Jewish worship, were not a part of Christian worship until centuries after the church was established.  The commands are simple.  We are to sing, to teach through singing, and to make the music or melody in our hearts.

Instrumental music in worship

There are many people who did not see any problem with using an instrument in worship.  Others feel that this is not acceptable based on the teaching of the New Testament and practice of the early church.  It might be good to notice here some reasons given for using some sort of instrument and a brief response.

One reason given is that it was used in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 20 9:25; Psalms 150).  However, since other practices such as circumcision and sacrifices are not practiced today, why should instruments be a part of worship?  Further, the Old Testament law was taken out of the way by Christ and is no longer binding (Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 10:8-10).

Another reason given is that it does not really say that we should not use an instrument.  The statement is true, but the reasoning is faulty.  The command is given to sing and to make music or melody in the heart.  In other words, we have been told what to do, why not simply follow the command to sing?

Some have claimed that the Greek word psallo authorizes the use of an instrument.  In classical Greek language the word could be used to describe the use of an instrument.   However, the New Testament was written in Koine Greek, which is quite different from classical Greek.  The word psallo is not used in Koine Greek to refer to the use of an instrument, and thus not intended to refer to instrumental music by the writers of the New Testament.

The word psallo is used five times in the New Testament (Romans 15:9; 1 Corinthians 14:15; Ephesians 5:19; James 5:13).  In every case except one (Ephesians 5:19 where it is translated "melody" or "music") the word is translated "sing."   Even in this case, the word psallo is connected to the word for "heart" and clearly refers to something other than an instrument (the music is made in the heart).


What is worship?  Worship is a state of mind or an attitude.  It includes reverence, respect, and submission of one's self to God.  Worship is not merely attending "services" and warming a pew or going through the "acts" of worship.  It is an attitude of respect and reverence which should permeate our lives.

Worship has been practiced in various ways since the beginning.  In the Old Testament we can read of worship practices under the Patriarchal and Mosaic Periods.  In the New Testament we can read of how the first Christians worshiped.  It is only here, in the pages of the New Testament, that we can also understand how God expects for us to worship him today.


Church organization: Universal or Local?

The word translated as "church" is used in both a local and universal sense in the New Testament.  "Local" or individual churches are made up of those groups of Christians which meet at certain locations (1 Corinthians 1:2; Philemon 2; Romans 16:16).   In the early church each local church had elders or bishops to oversee the church (Philippians 1:1) and were, therefore, self-governing or autonomous.
The "universal church" includes all of the individual or local churches (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15 9).  Originally, there was no central governing body over the individual local churches.  In fact, most of what we see today as church organization developed over the centuries.

The New Testament also teaches that the universal church is the one body, the body of Christ) Ephesians 4:4-6) and is made up of the many local churches.  It also teaches that the universal Church has one head, and that is Christ himself (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18).

Special offices in the church

There were specific offices or functions within the first century church, primarily for governing of the individual churches.  There were also some "special offices" which were established by God through the Holy Spirit.  These were temporary and are no longer found in the church today.  These special offices included apostles and prophets, both of which involved special gifts of the Holy Spirit and were necessary for the growth of the early church (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28).

The apostles receive this gift through baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1-4; John 14:26; 16:12-13).  Others, such as prophets, at times received a gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of an apostle's hands (Acts 8:14-17; 19:1-7).  Such gifts were necessary for the early church, but ceased after the first century (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

The word "apostle" come is from the Greek word apostolos which means "to send forth" or "one that is sent."  The word is used in the New Testament to refer to the 12 apostles or special disciples of Jesus (Matthew 10:2-5; Luke 6:13-16) and also apostles of the church such as Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14).  In each case, these men were given special abilities through the Holy Spirit and served as leaders in the infancy of the church.  The twelve apostles were also capable of giving others the power to perform miracles and signs through the Holy Spirit by the laying on of their hands (Acts 8:14-17; 19:6).

The word "prophet", comes from the Greek prophetes which means "to speak forth."  There were prophets in the first century church, but like the apostles the role of the prophets was only temporary.  The function of the prophets was to reveal God's will.  This was especially needed in the early church since the New Testament had not been written.  At times the prophets would predict future events (Acts 11:27-28; 21:1-11), but generally they served to strengthen, encourage, and build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:1-4; Acts 15:32).

 ow was the gift of prophecy received? The apostles received the gift through baptism of the Holy Spirit (Stacks to: 1-4).  Others received the gift through laying on of the hands of an apostle (Acts 19:6-7).  Thus, as the apostles and those whom they had laid their hands upon to impart the gift of prophecy died, so ended the special "office" of the prophets.


Another group mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 are the evangelists.  This, however, seems to be more of a role than an office.  The word evangelist comes from the Greek euangelistes which means "one who brings good news." The evangelists were teachers, or perhaps more like missionaries since they were often sent to other places to teach (Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5). Philip, whom we read about in Acts 8, is an example of an evangelist.  He is found there teaching others about Jesus and the newly established church.

 The organization of the early church

The organization of the early church was based upon the autonomy of the individual church.  Each local church appointed men to lead and serve within the church.  These men were designated as elders and deacons and are still a part of the organization of the church today.

Many changes have been made in church organization through the centuries.  Once again, the only way to really know what God wants and expects in the church is to go to the New Testament.


In the book of Acts we can read about the early church being led by individuals called elders or overseers.  The leadership role of older men was not something new.  Jewish elders had been serving in this role for centuries.  In Jewish culture each city had a council of elders, and the Sanhedrin, which met in Jerusalem, was the most important council of all.  Other societies, such as Egypt and Greece, also had a similar organization.

There are three terms used in the New Testament for these leaders of the local church.  The first of these is the Greek word presbuteros which means basically an "older person" and is translated as "elder" or "presbyter."

Another Greek word, episkopos is also used.  This word basically means "overseer" and came from every day Greek usage for a "supervisor" or "governmental official."  The word is translated as "bishop" in the King James Version, but should not be confused with the modern use of the word "bishop."  In more recent translations, such as the New International Version, the word is translated as "overseer," which is closer to the original meaning.

A third word found only in Ephesians 4:11 is "pastor."  This English word comes from the Latin word for "shepherd."  The Greek word used in Ephesians is from the word meaning "to feed" and can also refer to a shepherd.

How were the elders chosen in the early church?  We are not given exact details in the New Testament about how these men were chosen.  In one place (Acts 14:23) it points out that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, but in other instances we are not told how this took place.

We do know that certain qualifications were given for the men that were chosen (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9).  In these passages we can see that those chosen should be men of high moral character, spiritually minded, and able to serve not only as leaders, but also role models in the church.

The duties of the elders are given in several places.  These are often described figuratively in reference to shepherds and their role in caring for the sheep.  Some of these include: feeding the flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Timothy 5:17); to admonish (1 Thessalonians 5:12); to tend the sheep (1 Peter 5: 1-4); to guard the flock (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17); and to rule (Hebrews 13:7; 1 Timothy 5:17).

The responsibility of Christians toward the elders are also given.  Some of these include: to respect and honor them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13); to imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7); and to obey them (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Timothy 5:1, 17-19).


The word Deacon is derived from the Greek word, diakonos, which means "a waiter, attendant, servant, or minister."  The word occurs 32 times in the N.T. and is translated as follows: minister (20 times), servant (seven times), and deacon (five times).

The deacons in the early church were men appointed to serve in specific tasks.  Some, for example, had identified the service chosen in Acts 6:1-6 with the role of "deacons."  These men were not at this point identified as "deacons."  The word "ministration," however, is a form of the same word.  These men were chosen to serve a special task of collecting and distributing goods and may have simply been referred to as "servants."

Later, certain qualifications were also given for those appointed to serve as deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13).  Like the elders, deacons must also be of high moral character, spiritually minded, and willing to serve in the tasks assigned to them.

Since the word translated as "deacon" comes from the Greek word meaning "to minister" or "to serve," we have some idea of the role of the deacons.  Unlike the elders, who were designated to lead or oversee, the deacons appear to have been a special type of servant within the church and likely appointed to some specific task such as those mentioned in Acts 6.


When we look at the religious world today we see a variety of forms of church organization, many of which, were not a part of the first century church.  They were all added by someone down through the centuries.

In the early days each local church was guided by a group of elders, or overseers, with the deacons chosen to carry out specific tasks.  The only head of the church was Christ himself, and each local church a part of his body, the universal Church.  If we today want have the same church organization that God wants, then we need again to go back to the New Testament.  Only there can we know how God intended for the church to be organized.


Previously, we noted that the church is a necessary part of God's plan for removing the guilt of sin.  We also noted that a believer enters the church through repentance, confession, and baptism.  Once in the church, what next?  Why are we here?  What is the purpose of the church?

Go and teach

The most obvious answer to these questions is to go and tell others.  In the Gospels we see that Jesus spent most of his time teaching others.  The disciples in the early church were also involved in teaching others about Jesus and the church, and the book of Acts records the teaching ministry of these disciples.

Jesus had told his apostles to go and teach others (Matthew 28:18-20).  Actually he said to go, teach, baptize, and teach some more.  Thus, teaching was a major part of what we often call the "Great Commission."

We may not all be able to be full-time ministers or missionaries to some foreign land, but we can teach others about God and his church.  Some are able to teach children or adults in Bible classes, for example, while others may teach their husband, wife, children, or others around them.  Even if you cannot teach by word, you can teach by example.  A kind word, a get-well card, a phone call, a freshly baked cake for someone having a difficult time, even just a smile, can speak of God and what he has done for us.


The word for fellowship in its various forms is often found in the New Testament.  It can mean "fellowship," "sharing," "partnership," "association," or "participation," and was also used in reference to giving or a contribution.  The root form of the word is found in Acts 2:44 which reads: "All the believers were together and had everything in common."  The key word is "common."  Although we often use the word in other ways, even our English word "common" originally denoted sharing.  It can be seen in the old idea of the "commons," such as the "village commons."  This was an area of land set aside to be used (or shared) by all the members of the community.

In the context of this verse (see Acts 2:42-47) the original Greek word also referred to sharing.  The believers had sold their possessions and placed the money in a common pool to be used by anyone in need.  This is fellowship in its fullest sense.  Giving, sharing, and supplying needs of others were expressions of the fellowship shared by these first century Christians.

Perhaps one of the fullest descriptions of fellowship is found in the first chapter of one John (1:3-7).  John here described two levels or types of fellowship.   One is fellowship with God and the other is fellowship with other Christians.  Fellowship with God may be more difficult to understand than fellowship with other human beings.  If fellowship means sharing or a partnership, then one might ask how can we have such a relationship with God?  As it turns out, it is not so much that we share with God, but that God shares with us.

A very beautiful description of our sharing relationship with God was written long ago by Isaiah (53:4-6).  The fulfillment of this prophecy came through the death of Jesus.  The punishment which Jesus endured was not his own.  Notice the pronoun "our" before the words "infirmities," "sorrows," "transgressions," and "iniquities."  These did not belong to Jesus.  He took these things which are rightfully ours upon himself.  In doing so, he became a partner with each one of us.  He took upon himself our sin and our punishment.  He was a participant and actively shared what should have been ours.  The wounds were he his, but the healing was ours.

Paul also wrote of this fellowship or sharing relationship which we have with God in the book of Romans (6:3-7).  In this passage we can see that baptism is in a sense symbolic of our fellowship with God.  Through baptism we share or become partners with God and Christ.  When one is baptized he or she comes into fellowship with God and shares in the death, burial, and resurrection of his Son.  More importantly, this partnership carries with it a promise.  If we will symbolically share through baptism in Jesus' resurrection, then he will share with us in our own resurrection from the dead.

This is not an equal partnership.  Jesus took upon himself the punishment and we receive the blessings.  There is no way, however, that we could ever earn or repay the debt.  It is a gift.  Paul perhaps expressed it best when he wrote: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from your selves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Fellowship with God is a great blessing, but our fellowship is not limited to a relationship with God.  We can also have, as John wrote, fellowship with each other.  Such fellowship is more than food and drink.  Fellowship is sharing and there is much that we can share.  Joys, sorrows, disappointments, goals, problems, and much more can be shared with other Christians.

Fellowship with God and with other Christians are great blessings, but they are conditional.  The blessings of fellowship are promised to those who "walk in the light."  Like other spiritual blessings, fellowship is for those who are in a right relationship with God.  It is only when one is right with God that he or she can have this sharing relationship with God and others which we call "fellowship."


The ministry of Jesus was characterized by teaching and also doing good to others.  Everywhere that Jesus when he did good to those that he met.  He fed those who are hungry, healed the sick, released those from under the bondage of demons, and raise the dead.

We do not have miraculous powers today to heal and raise the dead, but we can still do good to others.  The world is full of people with needs and we as a church can meet many of these.  We have not only in the example of Jesus, but also the early church (Romans 12:13; 15:25; James 1:27).  We noticed earlier, for example, that some of the first Christians went so far as to sell all that they had to contribute to the meeting of needs of others (Acts 2:42-49; 4:32-36).  Giving, sharing, helping--these were all a part of the work of the early church.

In Matthew 25:31-46 is found perhaps the most humbling of all passages related to the needs of others. There Jesus tells us that in helping another person, by even the most simple of tasks such as giving a drink or visiting the sick, we do this to Jesus himself.

Providing food, clothing, shelter, and other basic needs was a work of the early church and should be a work of the church today.  All that we need to do is look around us because the world is full of those in need.


Teaching others, fellowship, and benevolence are just three examples of what we as Christians and members of Christ's body should be doing.  Regardless of what we are doing, the motivation should be the same--love.  Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:35).  Not only are we to love other Christians, we are also told to love those outside the body of Christ as well for Jesus also said, "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:34-40).  Love, the motivation that sent Jesus to the cross should be the same motivation for us as members of his body as we ourselves minister to others.


Can you find the church of the New Testament today?  The answer to that question is both "yes" and "no."  No, you cannot find the actual church of the New Testament.  It existed almost 2000 years ago and the Christians who made up that church are no longer living.

Yes, you can, however, find churches today that seek to use only the New Testament as a guide for matters related to the church.  Down through the centuries various groups have sought to follow only the New Testament and reject any beliefs or practices that had been added by some individual or group.  Often these churches sought to restore what might be called New Testament Christianity, that is, to base everything done within the church upon the New Testament alone.

One such group today is known as the Churches of Christ.  Each Church of Christ is made up of believers who have been immersed for the remission or forgiveness of sins like those described in the New Testament.  The churches are autonomous, or self-governing, and usually have elders and deacons appointed to lead and serve the church.  These churches attempt to follow the example of the early church in matters of teaching, practice, and worship.  They have no creeds or book of doctrine other than the Bible itself, and no centralized church government or hierarchy.

These churches are not perfect.  In fact, if you are looking for the "perfect church," you will only be disappointed.  The church was instituted by Christ, but is made up of human beings, and thus as imperfect as in human being can be.

Individuals within these churches will have problems in their lives just like anyone else.  In this regard, someone made the statement that "a church is not a museum for saints, but rather a hospital for sinners."  If this is true, someone may ask, "What is the difference if there are sinners inside the church and sinners outside as well?"  The difference is that those sinners within the church have been forgiven.  Not only have their past sins been forgiven, but also their future sins can be forgiven as well.  You see, that is the blessing of being in Christ and living in a right relationship with God.  Jesus died for your sins and mine.  There is no longer any punishment required for those who are in Christ.  Not only that, it was a gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and all that one needs to do is accept it, like the three thousand believers that were baptized on the day of Pentecost, and become a member of the New Testament church.