The Church, the Body of Christ, was a new creation, a “secret” (μυστήριον) God revealed to Paul. As such, it did not exist before Paul (Ephesians 3.3-9; Colossians 1.26-27; Romans 16.25-27). Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the Body of Christ. He declared it was a secret God had revealed to him alone. Paul wrote:
1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles 2 if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; 3 that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things (Ephesians 3:1-10).
Paul wrote the Ephesians that “by revelation” the “secret” was revealed to him (v. 3) and that this secret was unknown to “other generations” and “sons of men” (v. 5). What was this secret? It was, “Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body” (v. 6). What body did Paul mean? He meant the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12.13).
One might be tempted to conclude that when Paul wrote “it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets” that God had revealed this secret to the other apostles, the Twelve. Reading further into this passage reveals this was not the case. Paul had declared this secret was to him (v. 2-3) and that God gave him the grace to preach to the Gentiles the “unfathomable riches of Christ and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God” (v. 7-9). The Twelve learned about the “secret” of the body of Christ through Paul. No Biblical evidence exists to support the view that they knew of it before Paul. The doctrine of the Body of Christ is unique to Paul. No other Biblical writer mentions it. The passages in Acts which recorded the events surrounding Pentecost provide evidence the Twelve knew nothing of the Body of Christ. God did not reveal this “secret” to them. Consider Paul’s words to the Colossians:
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. 25 Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, 26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1.24-27).
Note carefully Paul’s words. Paul wrote, “of this church I was made a minister” (v. 25). Which church did Paul mean? Did he mean the Jewish church to which the Twelve had been ministering? No, he meant the Body of Christ. Notice the personal pronoun “I.” Were Peter and the Eleven ministers of the Body of Christ? They were not if we accept what Paul wrote. This was a ministry the ascended Lord gave to Paul, not the Twelve. More evidence of this fact is in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul wrote:
6 But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. 7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised (Galatians 2:6-9).
Paul met with the Twelve and declared his gospel to them (Galatians 2.2). He revealed God had commissioned him as the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11.13; Ephesians 3.1) and that his gospel was the “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20.24). The Lord did not appoint the Twelve as apostles to the Gentiles and had not been ministering to Gentiles (Matthew 10.5-7; Acts 11.19). They were apostles to Israel (cf. Matthew 19.28). No scripture indicates the Twelve ever had a ministry to Gentiles. They did not preach the “gospel of the grace of God.” They preached “the gospel of the kingdom.” In their meeting with Paul, the Twelve officially recognized and set as policy that Paul would go to the Gentiles and that they would go to the Jews. It is helpful to pause and consider when this occurred. Paul was probably converted about 37 A.D. He spent three years in the desert in Arabia. In about 50-51 A.D. the counsel in Jerusalem met (Acts 15). After this, Paul wrote Galatians–perhaps in about 54 A.D. Therefore, a considerable amount of time had passed when Paul met with the leaders of the Twelve. During this time the Twelve had never evangelized Gentiles (with the exception of Peter’s meeting with Cornelius–Acts 10). The reason they had not done so was because they were operating under the kingdom program. They were still operating under the instructions the Lord had given them earlier:
5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (Matthew 10.5-7).
The Twelve ministered to Israel and preached the gospel of the kingdom. They knew Israel must repent for the kingdom of God to come and that it would be in this kingdom that Gentiles could be blessed according to prophecy. They knew nothing about “the Body of Christ” even after Pentecost. Outside of Peter’s going to the house of Cornelius in Acts 10, no Scripture supports the view that the Twelve ever had a ministry to Gentiles. Luke’s account of Peter’s visit to Cornelius reveals Peter did not initiate the visit and that the Twelve were outraged when they learned he had gone to a Gentile’s house. Only when Peter recounted the entire story of how he came to go to Cornelius’ were they silenced. But even after Peter’s defense before his fellow apostles we read,
“So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone” (Acts 11.19).
Could words be more clear?
Chapter 8: The Church
There are beautiful buildings and cathedrals, humble adobe missions and huts that have on them the name “Church.” They have steeples and crosses, bells and towers that have their own way of announcing to passers-by, “This is a church.” These man-made structures are churches in one sense of the word, but the church spoken of in the New Testament is something more.
The church in its larger sense is made up of all believers. It is called the body of Christ. God dwells among these believers by His Spirit. In Lesson 7 we studied about the Holy Spirit and some of His functions. One of the functions we did not mention is that He unites the church. Ephesians 4:3 says. “Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together.”
In this lesson we will study what the church is, what it should be doing, and what is going to happen to it. Again, it is the Bible that will give us the right answers.
In this lesson you will study …
This lesson will help you …
- Describe Christ’s church.
- Be committed to the mission given the church.
- Explain future functions of the church.
Objective 1. List several names for the church.
When you hear the words body, building, bride, family, do they suggest something in common? All relate to people and in biblical language these words refer to a specific group of people–those who make up God’s family.
The church is compared to a body of which Christ is the head. Colossians 1:18 says, “He is the head of his body, the church: he is the source of the body’s life.”
God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things. The church is Christ’s body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere (Ephesians 1:22-23).
“All of you are Christ’s body, and each one a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The Bible also likens the church to a building, a temple dedicated to the Lord.
You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through His Spirit (Ephesians 2:20-22).
Another name given to the church is the bride of Christ. The Bible calls Jesus the Lamb and states that the church is the bride that will be married to Him. Revelation 21:9 says, “Come, and I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” “For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it” (Revelation 19:7). Christ is compared to the husband and the church to the wife in Ephesians 5:25. “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it.”
As you read the Bible you will find other comparisons. The important thing to remember is that the church is made up of all those who are truly born-again followers of Christ. It’s a growing group, “praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
Objective 2. Name the two ordinances of the church.
Now that we know who the church is, it is important to understand its ordinances. An ordinance is a rule made by an authority. The ordinances of the church are water baptism and communion, which we also call the Lord’s Supper.
Jesus Himself instituted these two ordinances. His final command to all his disciples was, “Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Water baptism has a special significance:
For when you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and in baptism you were also raised with Christ through your faith in the active power of God, who raised him from death (Colossians 2:12).
As a believer you will want to be water baptized as a testimony of your new life in Christ. You will also want to take part in communion.
Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Last Supper, was the last meeting Jesus had with the 12 disciples before he was arrested by the Roman soldiers. We take communion to commemorate Jesus’ death. “This means that every time you eat and drink from this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26).
For I received from the Lord the teaching that I had passed on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in memory of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup and said, “This is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood. Whenever you drink it, do so in memory of me” (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).
Objective3. Identify the mission of the church.
The mission of the church is to preach the gospel to all mankind. Jesus himself gave this commission before He went back to His Father. Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “This is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-47).
Objective 4. Select Statements describing the future of the church.
Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. For what purpose?
He did this to dedicate the church to God by his word, after making it clean by washing it in water, in order to present the church to himself in all its beauty–pure and faultless, without spot or wrinkle or any other imperfection. (Ephesians 5:26-27).
The church will be praising God both in heaven and on earth where they will reign with Christ.
You have made them a kingdom of priests to serve our God, and they shall rule on earth … And I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, in the world below, and in the sea–all living beings in the universe–and they were singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb, be praise and honor, glory and might, forever and ever!” (Revelation 5:10, 13).
Keeping in mind what you have just read and with a Bible handy to look up Bible verses, take this quiz on your knowledge.
1. Read Psalm 149:1 and select the best title for the church given in the scripture.
b) assembly of his faithful people
c) family of God
d) holy ones
2. Read 1 Peter 5:2 and select the best title for the church given in the scripture.
b) assembly of his faithful people
c) family of God
d) holy ones
3. Read Ephesians 2:19 and select the best title for the church given in the scripture.
b) assembly of his faithful people
c) family of God
d) holy ones
4. What are the two ordinances of the church as given by Jesus?
a) confession and fasting
b) worship and quiet time
c) water baptism and communion
d) penance and confession
5. Choose the answer that best completes this sentence. According to Matthew 28:19, the ordinance of water baptism is for _______________________ .
a) anyone born into a Christian family.
b) those who have believed and are following Christ.
c) joining a church.
6. Select each statement that completes the sentence correctly. Holy communion is _______________________ .
a) an ordinance of the church
b) eating the body and blood of Christ.
c) remembering the sacrifice of Jesus.
d) for every believer.
7. Select each statement that completes the sentence correctly. The mission of the church is to _______________________ .
a) tell of Jesus’ suffering and death.
b) preach repentance and forgiveness of sin.
c) tell of Jesus in every nation.
8. Select each of the following statements that are TRUE.
a) There will be nothing to do throughout eternity.
b) The church will be with Christ forever.
c) The church will serve God as priests and rulers on earth.