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.WHAT IS THE CHURCH? A WORD STUDY
The Greek word translated as "church" in the New Testament is
.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
. 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
Usage of ekklesia in the New
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:
- A Christian assembly (Act 12:5; 14:27; 1 Corinthians 11:18).
- A crowd of people (Acts 19:30 2, 41).
- A Jewish assembly (Acts 7:38).
is equivalent to the Hebrew word
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:
The nature of the calling.
- The entire body of Christ (Colossians 1: 18; Ephesians 1:22-23).
- The church within certain geographical boundaries (Acts 8:1; 9:31; 1 Corinthians 1:2).
- To designate a meeting place for a church(Romans 16:3-5; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2).
- The assembly of the Church (1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:19, 23).
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
The English word "church."
- We are called by God--it is a divine calling (1 Peter 5:10; 2
- We are called into fellowship and peace of Christ (1 Corinthians
1:9; Colossians 3:15).
- We are called to be children of God (1 John 3:1).
- We are called to be saints (Romans 1:7).
- It is a holy life for calling (2 Timothy 1:9).
- It is a heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1).
- It is necessary to make our "calling election sure" (2 Peter 1:1-11).
Where did we get our English word "church?" Actually, it is an
interesting story and related to the Greek word ekklesia
is thought that originally, the Greek word kurios
(" of or pertaining to the Lord) was likely used as an adjective to
, meaning basically the
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
, 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."
IT WAS PROMISED: THE CHURCH IN PROPHECY
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
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 "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
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
|Head of gold
Ended: 536 B.C.
|Chest and arms of silver
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
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
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.
HOW DID IT BEGIN?: THE
ESTABLISHMENT OF 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
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:
- Jesus had died, risen, and ascended to heaven (Luke 24:46).
- The apostles had remained in Jerusalem as they had been told
(Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4).
- The apostles were given power by the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:
28-32; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:1-4).
- The word of the Lord went forth from Jerusalem (Isaiah
2:2-4; Micah 4:1-2; Acts 2:14-42).
- Repentance and remission of sins were preached in the Lord's
name (Luke 24:47).
- 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.
HOW DO I GET IN?: ENTRANCE
INTO THE CHURCH
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
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
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
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
, "to dip") (An
Expository Dictionary of the New Testament Words
Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Ravel, 1940). Similarly, J. H.
Thayer defines baptisma
submersion" (Greek-English Lexicon of the
, 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
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,
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:
is used only in the literal
sense of dipping (Luke 16:24; John 13:26; Revelation 19:13).
is always used in a religious
- 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
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:
- Believers on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41).
- Samaritans taught by Philip (Acts 8:4-13).
- Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39).
- Saul (Acts 9:17-18; 22:12-16).
- Cornelius and members of his household (Acts 10:1-48).
- Lydia and members of her household (Acts 16:11-15).
- 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
What is the purpose of baptism?
- Believe or have faith that Jesus is God's son (Mark 16:15-16; Acts
16:31; Romans 10:9-10).
- Repent of his or her sins (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38; 17:30; 2 Corinthians
- Confess that Jesus is God's son (Matthew 10:32-33; Romans 10:9-10).
- Be immersed, or baptized, for the forgiveness of sins in the same manner
as those recorded in the book of Acts.
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
The symbolism of baptism.
- Salvation (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:21).
- Remission of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16).
- To enter into the body of Christ (Gal 3:27).
- To have new life (2 Corinthians 5:17)
- To receive forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7).
- To receive the promise of eternal life (1 John 5:11)
- To become a member of the church (Acts 2:41, 47).
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
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?: A STUDY OF WHAT THE NEW
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
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
Words used for worship in the Old
There are five Greek words that were used by the writers of New
Testament to refer to worship. The first of these is
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
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
"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.)
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
. 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
, toward and kuneo
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
|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
Singing with melody in the heart
Same with spirit and understanding
|humneo - "to sing a hymn; to sing
||Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26; Acts 16:25
||Jesus and apostles
Sang a hymn
Paul and Silas sang hymns
|sumphonia - "harmony"
||Music at a feast
|mousikos - "musician"
||Reference to the fall of Babylon
||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
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
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.
WHO'S IN CHARGE?: A STUDY OF CHURCH
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 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
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
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;
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
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 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.
WHY ARE WE HERE?: THE WORK OF THE CHURCH
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
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
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 I FIND THIS CHURCH TODAY?: LOOKING FOR
THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH
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.