What is the universal church?

A church is a gathering of believers, the assembly of Christians in one place under Biblical authority for Biblical purposes. Millions of churches gather together all across the world. Most communities in America are home to many different churches. Though there are millions of local churches in the world, all true churches are part of one single church. Every Christian is a member of the body of Christ and a part of the universal church. Often this idea is expressed in a statement like, “We are all part of the church.”

Hebrews 12:22-23 is the clearest text about the universal church, “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” The universal church is the assembly of all those whose names are written in heaven in the Lamb’s book of life.

Other Bible passages point to a universal church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised to build His church. His promise is can not be the promise of building a single church in Jerusalem or Palestine. The promise of Jesus is of a universal that cannot be overthrown. His church consists of many local churches scattered across the world and stretching through history. In Colossians 1:18 and Ephesians 1:22 Paul says that Jesus is the head of the body, the church. Colossians and Ephesians are clearly referring to the authority of Jesus over the entire church everywhere at all times. The church universal is under the governance of Jesus.

No church or denomination can claim to be the universal church. The universal church is not the conglomeration of all churches and denominations, or is it made up of all people who belong to a church. Many who are members of churches on earth are not part of the universal church. Instead, the universal church is the entire population of all genuine believers who have lived, are living and will live. All the redeemed make up the universal church and only the redeemed are members of the universal church.

The universal church will not be gathered in one place until eternity when all the saved will be assembled together in the presence of God. The universal church is a reality which can not yet be experienced. In the meantime, Christians recognize that they have a connection in Christ with all believers past, present and future. All genuine Christians alive today share a great fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ and as members together of the body of Christ.

The universal church includes all believers now living. The universal church is the future assembly of all Christians who ever lived. The universal church is the entire body of Christ, seen now only in part but one day will be seen in full.

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When did Christian’s start meeting on Sunday?

Why does the church meet on Sunday? In the Old Testament Saturday was the day set apart for the Lord. The Christian church was initially made up of Jews but within a few decades the majority of the church was Gentile. The Jewish way of thinking and living faded away, including the observance a Saturday Sabbath. The church met together on the first day of the week and treated Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Why did the church start to worship on Sunday instead of Saturday?

The New Testament indicates that the early church began meeting on Sunday from day one. The church began on a Sunday. The day of Pentecost, the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and thousands of Jews believed the gospel, was a Sunday. Pentecost Sunday was the beginning of the New Testament church.

Other New Testament passages indicate they church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday. In Acts 20:7 Paul met with the church in Ephesus. The meeting took place on the first day of the week, “when the disciples came together to break bread.” The custom of the church seems to have been to meet together on Sunday. In 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 Paul instructed the church in Corinth to be taking up a collection “upon the first day of the week.” This instruction makes the most sense if the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday.

Church and Roman history reveal that the church was in the habit of meeting on Sunday very soon after the death of the apostles. Pliny was a governor in the Roman Empire in the early 100’s. He wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan asking what to do about the Christians. In that letter he describes their meetings. “They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god.” The early Christians met early in the morning on a certain day each week. Pliny does not say what day that was, but other historical references make clear that day was Sunday. In 150 AD Justin Martyr wrote in “Dialogue with Trypho a Jew”, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read.” “Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly.

The Didache, a series of teachings written to the churches late in the first century, says, “And on the Lord’s own day gather yourselves together and break bread and give thanks.” Though this day is not specified in the letter, the church obviously knew what day was “the Lord’s day.” The epistle of Barnabas, a letter to Christians written around 100 AD, says, “Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead.” In the gospel of Peter, written sometime in the early second century (100-150AD), Sunday is called the Lord’s Day. “And at dawn upon the Lord’s day Mary Magdalen . . . took with her friends and came to the sepulchre where he was laid.”

The change of worship from Saturday to Sunday was something that began very early in the church. The New Testament does not give a definite command to worship on Sunday, but the pattern that unfolds in Scripture and the earliest church history is of the church observing Sunday to gather together in worship and instruction.

Do Christians have to go to church?

Many professing Christians do not attend church. Researchers have identified a significant and growing part of the American population that professes to be religious but has no church affiliation. This is somewhat understandable given the many abuses, scandals, fights and problems in churches. On the other hand, longheld tradition and the teaching of most churches is that Christians should attend church on a regular basis. Does the Bible teach church attendance is an obligation for the child of God?

Yes, the child of God is commanded by God to regularly attend church. God specifically commands Christians to make it a habit to go to church. “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25) This instruction carries the weight of an imperative, it is a command. Christians are to be a regular part of the church gathering. The problems of our world and within churches does not justify a lack of attendance. Hebrews 10 says church attendance becomes more, not less, important the closer we get to Jesus retunr.

Besides the specific command to attend church the New Testament also gives commands that a Christian can only obey by participating in the regular assembly of the believers. The Lord’s Supper is an obligation for every Christian to observe on a regular basis. The ordinance of communion is so important it was given to the twelve disciples by Jesus and later Paul was instructed by Jesus Himself concerning its keeping. (1 Corinthians 11:23) The Lord’s Supper is always a corporate event to be observed in the church gathering. For the Christian to be obedient by celebrating Communion on a regular basis he must also be be a regular part of the church gathering.

The Christian is to be active in a wide range of Christian virtues that can only be accomplished by faithful church attendance. For example, Colossians 3 commands Christians to be patient, forgiving, loving and peaceful. In that passage the commands are not given to individuals to be obeyed in isolation. They are commands given to Christians gathered together. Christians are called to have those virtues as part of a body of believers. (Colossians 3:15) Christian virtue must be exercised in the public gathering. The very next verse in Colossians continues in this corporate focus by directing the gathered church to sing together. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” (Colossians 3:16) For the Christian to practice Christian virtues in the church he must be a regular participant in the gathering of believers.

Church attendance does not save a person. Salvation is only received through faith in Jesus without any work on the part of the Christian. To conclude that because a person’s salvation is not dependent on church attendance then a Christian does not have to go to church is to completely miss the point. The Bible is full of commands that have nothing to do with salvation but are nevertheless required for the believer. God expects His children to gather together as part of a church.

Walking in the woods and worshiping God is not the same as attending church. Private prayer and personal Bible study are not the same as going to church. Watching a preacher online is not the same as being in church. Private worship, listening, study and prayer are essential, but the Bible commands the Christian to assemble. Yes, Christians must regularly assemble together as the church.

What is the Protestant Reformation?

October 31, 2017 is the five hundredth anniversary of one of the most significant events in church history. On October 31, 1517 day Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg protesting the sale and abuse of indulgences. Though he did not intend to start a revolution Luther’s actions are considered the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian and Anglican churches came directly out of the reformation. From those churches sprang many more that have spread across the world.

The protestant reformation began as a protest against Roman Catholic errors that initially sought to bring reform to the Catholic church. When these reform efforts failed the reformers became leaders of protestant churches. The reformers boldly preached the Word of God and trained others to do the same. They rejected the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the dogma of salvation through works and many other distinctly Catholic teachings. The reformation spread across Germany and Switzerland, into France, the Netherlands, England and Scotland. By the end of the 1500’s the Protestant church was fully established across much of Europe.

The roots of the Protestant Reformation can be found in the 14th and 15th centuries in men like John Huss and John Wycliffe who opposed the Roman Catholic Church. The 15th century brought an increased focus on the text of Scripture. Martin Luther studied the New Testament to learn how to become righteous. His reading of passages like Romans 1:17 and Galatians 2:16 led him to conclude that righteousness is received only through faith and that salvation is given only by the grace of God without any effort or merit on the part of the person.

At the same time Luther was protesting indulgences Ulrich Zwingli was leading a reformation movement in Zurich, Switzerland. He began to preach from Scripture, verse by verse, instead of following the church calendar. Soon his parishioners stopped observing Catholic rituals and in 1525 the city council of Zurich voted to abolish the Catholic mass. Ulrich Zwingli insisted that only those things taught in the Bible were to be practiced by Christians. He led his parishioners ot abandon many of the rituals and regulations that so influenced the lives of those living in Catholic Europe.

The Protestant Reformation sought to return to Biblical truth to find the answer to questions about the salvation of men and the authority of the church. The primary answers to these questions came to be summarized in five “only” statements. Salvation is only received through faith and not through any act of obedience or religious observance. Salvation is only by the grace of God not any works of men. Salvation only comes through Christ and there is no salvation in any one else. The only authority of the Christian life is the Word of God. God saves men for His glory and the Christian to live his life only for the glory of God.

Are the miraculous gifts for the church today?

The spiritual gifts are a matter of significant debate and division in the church today. Millions of Christians around the world attend churches which believe the miraculous gifts are a normal part of the Christian life today. The most familiar religious television channels feature a large portion of preachers and ministries who teach the miraculous gifts are still accessible to modern Christians.

The belief in the continued use of miraculous spiritual gifts is the hallmark of the charismatic movement. Charismatics can be found in every major Christian denomination, including Catholicism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism and Baptist. Several major denominations were formed around the belief in the miraculous gifts, including, Pentecostals, Church of God, Assembly of God and Four Square Gospel Churches.

All Christian denominations believe that spiritual gifts continue to this day and that the Holy Spirit is actively at work in the life of Christians. The disagreement centers around the relation of miraculous gifts- tongues, interpretation, prophecy and healing- to modern day Christianity. The argument about the charismatic gifts is not based the interpretation of a single Biblical text. The discussion ranges around the purpose of the miraculous gifts in the early church and the sufficiency of the Word for today.

Everyone is agreed the miraculous gifts were not commonly in evidence during most of church history. A few scattered, small Christian groups may have believed in the continuation of miraculous gifts but the vast majority of Christian churches from the late first century to the early twentieth century believed the miraculous gifts to have ceased after the apostolic era.

This changed in the early 1900’s with the birth of Pentecostalism. Growing out of the Holiness Methodist movement Pentecostalism’s earliest proponents were searching for evidence of the baptism of the Holy SPirit. In Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came upon the first Christians they began to speak in tongues. Thus, the earliest charismatics experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues. This early Pentecostalism soon spread across the world as a result of a three year revival in Los Angeles. Pentecostals poured out from Azusa Street to spread charismatic theology across the globe.

The charismatic movement springs out of a fundamental disagreement regarding the purpose of miracles during the New Testament era. The miraculous gifts were given as signs for the Jews. The miracles of Jesus and the apostles were the Divine stamp of authenticity verifying the validity of the claims of Jesus and His apostles. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs.” (Acts 2:22) “God also bearing (the apostles) witness both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles.” (Hebrews 2:4) (also consider Matthew 11:4-6; Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:22) The miracles done in the earliest days of the church were God’s testimony that Jesus was truly God’s Son and the apostles were preaching God’s truth. The ministry of the apostles has been completed. The gospel has been authenticated. The miraculous gifts are no longer necessary or normal for the church today.

When did the Catholic Church begin?

On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg. That moment is recognized as the start of the Protestant Reformation. Today most of the major Christian denominations trace their beginnings to those early years of the Reformation.

The largest Christian church in the world did not begin in the 1500’s but hundreds of years earlier. The Roman Catholic church has over 1 billion professing adherents. Until the Reformation Catholicism was the supremely dominant expression of Christianity throughout Europe. If the Reformation was a response to the Catholicism of the Middle Ages when did Catholicism begin?

The official teaching of the Catholic church is that it started when Jesus told Peter, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Most historians view the beginning of the Catholic church as much later than this. However, establishing a firm starting point for the Catholic church is nearly impossible.

Some trace the beginning of the Catholic church to the planting of the first church in Rome. Some believe the Catholic church started during the reign of Constantine. Emperor Constantine declared himself a convert to Christianity in 311 AD. He made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire and is said to have been the first Christian emperor. Others date the beginning of Catholicism with the rise of Pope Leo I in the mid-400’s.

Identifying the beginning of Catholicism is not easy. Catholicism did not step onto the world stage as a fully developed religion. What we know today as Catholicism rose slowly over many years. For example, the uniquely Catholic doctrine of the papacy took many decades to develop. The authority of the Bishop of Rome can be seen to increase during the leadership of several Bishops of Rome. The rise of Pope Leo I saw the culmination of this development. He was not the first to teach a single man was head over the worldwide church but he was the first to successfully implement near universal leadership.

Other distinctive doctrines, like the veneration of Mary, also arose gradually. The first statement that points towards the elevation of Mary in official teachings comes from the council of Ephesus in 431 AD. During that council she was established as the “God-bearer”. Prayer to Mary possibly existed much earlier, but by 600 it was a routine practice. Not until 1854 did a Catholic Pope establish Mary’s immaculate conception as official church teaching.

Similarly, prayer to the saints was being practiced as early as a couple hundred years after the death of Christ. The increase of this practice can be traced throughout the Dark Ages but it was not until 1545 that the Catholic church officially stated its doctrine regarding praying to saints.

Catholicism as it stands today is the result of centuries of growth and change. Its origin was gradual. The Roman Catholic Church grew out of a series of political situations, ecclesiastical decisions, popular beliefs and influential doctrines that merged together to become Roman Catholicism. Though a specific beginning cannot be identified by the late 400’s the Catholic church was in place and increasing in power.

Why do churches have “members”?

Church membership can be a contentious subject. Every church handles the matter of members differently, though churches within the same denomination are likely to treat membership similarly. This author comes from an independent Baptist background and within that small subset of Christian churches the views on membership range from no membership at all, to every one who attends regularly is a member, to very strict membership rules regarding members. This answer cannot address why a particular church holds a certain view about membership. This article will attempt a brief explanation of the Biblical principles regarding church membership.

Membership is based on the practice of the New Testament church. The Bible does not give any specifc command instructing churches to have a list of members yet the earliest churches clearly had a way to recognize who was a part and who not. In Acts 5:12-13, while the church was still in its infancy, there was a distinction drawn between those who received the benefit of the apostles ministry and those who joined themselves to the church. 1 Corinthians 5:1-7 and 2 Corinthians 2:6 make it apparent that the church had a way to expel members by a majority vote and had a way to reinstate expelled members who later repented. From the very beginning the church had a way of defining who was part and who was not. That process, however it may operate, is called membership.

Understanding church membership is made more difficult today by many other groups who have members. You become a member of a country club by paying the dues. You become a member of a political party by registering your affiliation. Some groups, like the Kiwanies or Rotary club, limit their membership to certain kinds of people, such as small business owners. Many organizations have memberships which have more to do with paying the entry fee than being an active participant. This is not the case in the church.

The local church is described as a body (1 Corinthians 12) and the Bible presents a clear expectation of those in the body to be actively involved. The Bible consistently depicts membership in the church as much more significant than paying ones dues, attending services or voting in a business meeting. Membership is a commitment, a serious promise between the individual and the church body. A member is not just one who attends a church, nor even one who has attended a church for a long time. A member is one who has formally stated his agreement with the doctrines of the church, has officially submitted himself to the leadership of the church and has committed himself to caring for the church as a whole and to caring for its members as individuals. Membership is a declaration on the part of the church that they will care for the spiritual well being of the individual member and will work as members together to further the kingdom of God. Membership is a covenant between the individual and the church to seek each others mutual edification.

A clear church membership defines who the church is responsible to care for. The Christian’s obligations to his fellow church members are significant and time consuming. The New Testament contains dozens of specific commands regarding how Christians are to treat one another. These commands are taught and obeyed within the context of the local church. This kind of care cannot be given to every Christian in a small town much less in the many large communities around America. Many claim to be Christians but have no affiliation with any church. How is a Christian to care for these? How is a pastor to care for their souls? It is difficult to properly care for those who have joined themselves to the local church, much less to show this level of ministry towards those who only attend a few times a year. Church membership defines for the entire church who the church member has a specific responsibility to care for.

Those churches which practice a congregational form of government have members because it defines who has a voice in the direction and decision making of the chruch. This may sound restrictive to some, but it has a Biblical basis (the church in Corinth had a defined body of members who were able to remove from their membership a sinning brother). This is also reasonable. Membership serves the good and necessary purposes of protecting the doctrinal and ministry integrity of a church by restricting the decision making to those who are in agreement regarding core tenets of doctrine and ministry. Membership is not a means of promoting ecclesiastical elitism. Rather, membership is a Biblical means of promoting the health, harmony and growth of the church.

With all the different kinds of churches around, how do I know which one to attend?

When considering what church to attend, the many varieties of churches in most communities can leave some feeling bewildered. For those who are seeking to know the truth about God, the Bible, Jesus and salvation the choice of which church to attend is of utmost importance. How do someone know which church is the best one for him to attend? What should a person consider who is looking for a church?

Unfortunately, many people think the things that matter most in church attendance are how entertaining the service is or how good the pastor makes the peopel feel. The matters of what we believe and how we worship are not ones of personal preference. The question of what church to attend is not like the question of what song is your favorite. This is a question of truth and error, right and wrong. In the Bible, the book of Proverbs says, “There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” In the book of Matthew, we read Jesus’ warning about the importance of believing rightly and obeying His Word. “Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto the, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Just because a church claims to be Christian does not make it so. Just because a person claims to be a Christian does not make it so. Even if a preacher does great deeds in the name of Jesus does not make him a genuine Christian. Jesus doesn’t accept everyone that says they are followers of Him. Jesus doesn’t accept everyone that does good things in His name.

The starting point in answering the question of which church to attend is the Bible. John 17:17 says, “God’s Word is Truth.” Look for a church that reads and explains the Bible. Look for a church that teaches what the Bible means. If you attend a church that pays little attention to the Bible, you need to go somewhere else. If you attend a church that spends its time explaining why the Bible does not mean what it says, you need to go somewhere else. Find a church that teaches the Bible.

As you begin to learn the Bible compare what the Bible says about certain major truths with the teachings of the church. Find out the official statement of the church on things like the Bible, Jesus, God and salvation. Listen to what the church teaches in its services and Bible studies about these central issues. This takes some work, but it is absolutely worth the effort. If the pastor or church leaders won’t tell you what they believe about these things, you need to go somewhere else. If the church never teaches about the Bible, Jesus, God adn salvation, you need to go somewhere else. If the teachings on the core issues are wrong, the consequences are forever.

To know which church to attend you need to compare the Bible’s teachings with the church’s teachings. Attend a church that teaches what the Bible says, especially about the foundational doctrines of the Bible. If you have questions about what the Bible teaches, feel free to contact this ministry. Send an email or contact one of the sponsor churches. We will be glad to help you find the answers.

Why do people make such a big deal about the Pope?

On September 22-27 Pope Francis visited America. He is the fourth pope in American history to visit the United States and the first to address a joint session of congress. His visit attracted much media attention in the days leading up to his arrival and throughout his time here. Those not familiar with the teachings Catholicism may wonder why the visit of this particular church leader is such a big deal.

The Pope is much more than just another church leader. As the leader of the Catholic church he holds spiritual authority over 1 billion Catholics. Catholicism is the largest branch of Christianity with more members than all other Christian groups combined. As a result the Pope is seen by many to be the leader of the Christian world in the same way that the President of the United States was seen as the leader of the free world. Though the president did not actually have power in every democratic nation in the world, his position as leader of the greatest free superpower in the world gave him much influence around the world. Though the Pope does not have any official power in most of the Christian denominations his position as the head of the Catholic church gives him great influence. When the Pope speaks, he is heard by many as speaking for Christianity at large.

His importance is greater than his influence as the head of the largest Christian denomination. The Pope holds real authority over the Catholic church. His position is that of the earthly representative of Christ, the spiritual successor of Peter and the bishop over the entire Catholic church. He is believed to have authority directly from God over the entire Roman Catholic church. His words always carry the weight of authority, but when he uses his authority as Pope to define a matter of doctrine or morals he is believed to speak infallibly. His declaration is viewed as free from error and as new revelation from God that is fully binding on all Christians. The Pope is an extremely important figure because he has great power and influence 1/7th of the world’s population.

Though Catholic doctrine declares the Pope to be the head of the church and the mouthpiece of Christ with the ability to speak infallible words of God, their doctrines stand in clear contradiction to the Word of God. The single head of the church is Jesus. He has not and will not give that position to any. The Word of God is the final authority for all men. No edict from any church leader replaces, usurps or adds to God’s Word. 2 Peter 1 declares we have in God’s Word “all things that pertain unto life and Godliness.” All that is needed to live a Godly life is found in the Bible. The Bible teaches fully all that man needs to know for salvation and Christian living.

If you would like to hear more on this topic, tune in October 4 for a fuller answer. You can hear the Everlasting Truths radio show on 92.7 WRPP at noon.

Does God look at the “saved” Christian’s denomination, or their heart on judgment day? (Part 2)

In continuing to answer the question, “does God look at the saved Christian’s denomination or their heart on judgment day”, it is worth considering the judgment of the unbeliever that is coming at the end of the world. As was said in the last article, at death the saved person enters immediately into heaven. The unsaved one enters immediately into hell (Luke 16:22-23). One’s destination after death is determined in this life. To borrow from the American legal systemn, in this life sentence is passaged and upon death judgment is executed. For the unsaved hell is a holding place while this age is brought to its conclusion. There is a coming judgment which is described in Revelation 10:10-15. During that judgment the lost will stand before the throne of God and be judged for their lives. In the course of judgment books are opened which contain the record of the person’s life. The judged will be condemned based upon the content of those books. All who come before the Great White Throne of God’s judgment will be condemned. They will be cast into eternal fire and punishment because their names are not written in the book of life. The book of life is the record of all those who have trusted Jesus for salvation. The ones whose names are written in the book of life are those who have trusted Jesus for forgiveness of sin. The unsaved one is not condemned because of his wrong denomination or even his wrong religion. The factor which seals the fate of the unsaved is his disbelief in Jesus.

No one is saved because of the denomination or church of which he is a part. Salvation is not refused to those who are part of the wrong denomination. Though salvation is not at all dependent on one’s denomination, this does not imply that denominations are unimportant or that denominational distinctions are invalid. A saved person needs to be part of a church which helps his growth in Christ not which hinders it. Some churches teach things that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Some churches make unBiblical demands of Christians. Some churches don’t make any Biblical demands of the Christian. The distinctions between churches and denominations are not like different flavors of the same ice cream. Denominations exist for a reason. In most cases the differences between denominations are much more than differences in worship services or whether the guy up front is called father, reverend or pastor. The differences between denominations are ones of doctrine. One denomination teaches something signficantly different than another The attempts to blur the lines between denominations does a disservice to Christians and to denominations by acting like important differences aren’t important at all. For further information you can read this article.

Salvation is accomplished fully by Jesus. All those who trust only Him for forgiveness will be saved regardless of church background, church attendance or denominational affiliation. Though one’s denomination has no impact on salvation, it will have great impact on the Christian life. What church one attends is important. Those who are saved will be best served in churches which clearly and accurately teach the Bible, applying it effectively to the Christian’s life and helping him to grow in service, obedience and imitation of Jesus.