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Church Today

FAQ's - Frequently Asked Questions

Michael Hardt

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What does the word ‘church’ mean?
  2. What is the Church?
  3. When did the Church begin?
  4. Is the church revealed in the Old Testament?
  5. Who does the church consist of today?
  6. How do you become a member?
  7. Why does the New Testament use pictures to describe the church?
  8. What do we mean by House of God, Body of Christ, and Bride of Christ?
  9. What do we mean by ‘church of God in X,Y,Z’?
  10. What does it mean to be ‘gathered to the Lord’s name’?
  11. What is a church (or ‘assembly’) meeting?
  12. Who conducts the meetings (is this the role of pastors and/or elders?)?
  13. What is the difference between gifts and offices?
  14. What gifts are mentioned in the New Testament?
  15. What was the role of miraculous gifts?
  16. What is the role of miraculous gifts today?
  17. Why do we not appoint elders?
  18. Who should give ministry of the Word?
  19. What do we mean by ‘the ruin of the church’?
  20. How can you show the unity in a time of ruin and fragmentation?
  21. Who should be received for the breaking of bread?
  22. What is the relationship between local meetings?
  23. What is assembly discipline?
  24. What is a sect?
  25. Are ‘we’ a denomination?
  26. How do we relate to other Christians who do not meet with us?
  27. What is more important - to be doctrinally correct or devoted to the Lord?

1.   What does the word ‘church’ mean?

The Greek word ‘ecclesia’ means ‘called out’. The church has nothing to do with the world. It is heavenly, called out of this world to belong to Christ.

2.   What is the Church?

God’s Word only knows one church. This church consists of all believers. They have been joined together in one body, not through membership of an organisation but by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13 and Eph.1:23).

3.   When did the Church begin?

The church started on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the Lord’s resurrection, before 9 am (Acts 2, esp. v.15).

- why not before?

The church could not start earlier because Christ had to die, rise and be glorified before the Holy Spirit could come (John 7:37-39). In Matthew 16 it was still future: “upon this rock I will build my church’ (verse 18).

- why not later?

It must have started on Pentecost in Acts 2 because we read at the end of this chapter that ‘the Lord added daily to the church such [persons] as should be saved’. So the church existed then.

4.   Is the church revealed in the Old Testament?

No. The mystery of Christ and the church was ‘not made known’ then (Eph.3:5). It was the task of the Apostle Paul to communicate this (Eph. 3:2.7.8). The Old Testament only contains types of the church (for instance Rebecca). But nobody could recognise the truth of the church from those pictures – without the light of the New Testament.

5.   Who does the church consist of today?

All those who have believed the gospel of their salvation (Eph. 1:13) and are hence joined into one body (1 Cor.12:13) – whether they are from the Jews or from the Gentiles.

6.   How do you become a member?

Well, you don’t have to do anything. If you are a believer, you are already a member of the ‘church of the living God’, the only church recognised by the New Testament. You do not need to ‘join’ anyone anywhere. A true believer is a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12).

7.   Why does the New Testament use pictures to describe the church?

How would you explain to a pigmy in the Equatorial Rain Forest – who has never seen an aeroplane – what an aeroplane is? No doubt you would use a picture, e.g. saying that an aeroplane is like a large bird, but made of metal, it cannot land on trees, and drinks petrol, etc. This would convey an idea to the pigmy of what a plane is like. In the same way God used items we are familiar with (body, bride, house) to explain to us what the church is like.

8.   What do we mean by saying

…the church is the body of Christ?

So when God says the church is like a body, this tells us that ( i) we are all different as the members of the body are all different and have different functions, and that (ii) there is unity, just as the members of a body all work together in unity. And, most importantly, Christ is the Head of this body.

…the church is the house of God?

In a house everything must be arranged in such a way that is pleases the master of the house. So in God’s house: there is a certain order to be observed (1 Tim. 3:15). In God’s house, glory must be given to Him (Ps. 26:8) and everything must be holy (Ps. 93:5).  

…the church is the bride of Christ?

The bride has to do with affection. This picture tells us that there is a relationship of love between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:25). The affections of the church must be undivided, only for Christ (2 Cro. 11:2). And the bride has one great desire: that the bridegroom comes! ‘Even so, come Lord Jesus’ (Rev. 22:17.20).

9.   What do we mean by ‘ church of God in X ,Y,Z’?

  1. The church of God in a place (say Plumstead) consists of all believers in Plumstead. It is part of the church of God (see question 2).
  2. In the old days (New Testament time), this was easy to see because the Christians came together in one place. They were known. No unbelievers dared to join them (Acts 5:13). If they were too numerous to meet in one place they would meet in different houses, but they did so in fellowship with one another.
  3. Today, things are more complicated (but God’s principles always apply). Men have formed churches, organisations, sects, etc. by introducing memberships (other than the membership of the body of Christ). So how can you ‘see’ or ‘show’ the church of God in a place today? Only by coming together on the basis of Scripture with all those willing to do so – but always bearing in mind that those who come together may not be the whole church in this place’.
  4. The local church (assembly) gives expression to the church (which is universal).

10. What does it mean to be ‘gathered to the Lord’s name’?

A Christian wants to do all things in the Lord’s name, even eating and drinking (Col. 3:17). But if you want to meet unto His name (Mt.18:20) the Lord needs to be at the centre of the meeting, when He can direct everything and when He is the focus of attention. You can only be gathered to the Lord’s name if you recognise His authority. In summary:

  1. ‘ where’ – a divine place
  2. ‘ two or three’ - the divine number,
  3. ‘ are gathered’ - the divine power, (gathered by the Holy Spirit)
  4. ‘ together’ - the divine unity,
  5. ‘ unto my name’ - the divine name and gathering center,
  6. ‘ there am I’ - the divine Person and presence,
  7. ‘ in the midst’  - the divine centre.

11.  What is a church (or ‘assembly’) meeting?

A meeting where ‘the whole church’ comes together (1 Cor. 14:23), ‘as assembly’ or ‘as church’ (1 Cor. 11:18). When we say the whole church this is, of course, those who are able and willing. The NT gives at least three purposes for assembly meetings:

  1. to break bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:24-26),
  2. to pray (Acts 12:5.12 and Mt.18:19.20), and
  3. for edification (1 Cor. 14:22-25).

12. Who conducts the meetings (is this the role of pastors and/or elders?)?

When believers are ‘gathered unto His name’ (Mt. 18:20) then Christ must be at the centre. He directs everything. It is not a meeting led by man. Christ is in charge and the Holy Spirit directs ‘as he wishes’ (1.Cor.12:4-6). There is liberty for every brother (as women are silent in the assemblies – 1.Cor. 14:34) to contribute: by giving out a hymn, by praying audibly, or by speaking for edification (1.Cor.14:26-33).

13. What is the difference between gifts and offices?

Gifts are spiritual abilities (gift of teacher, evangelist, etc.). Offices are charges or responsibilities such as deacons or elders.

Gifts are for the whole body of Christ (Eph.4:12), so a teacher, for instance, can teach in other cities or countries but offices are for a given locality: ‘elders in every city’ (Titus 1:5) and ‘shepherd the flock of God which is among you’ (1 Peter 5:1.2).

14. What gifts are mentioned in the New Testament?

Five principal gifts are mentioned in Ephesians 4: Christ has given

  1. apostles – men who had seen the Lord (Acts 1:22 and 9:4.5)
  2. prophets – those who prophesied (gave God’s word to the people). Before the New Testament was completed, prophets had revelations (Eph. 3:5). Now that the Bible is complete, the revelation is complete. But there is still prophetic ministry: a word from God for the moment, based on Scripture, for edification (1 Cor. 14). There were also women who prophesied (Acts 21:9), but in their own context and certainly not in the assembly (1 Cor. 14:34).
  3. evangelists – bring the Gospel to lost sinners (Acts 21:8).
  4. pastors – show care for the individuals as a shepherd for the sheep of the flock [today, many understand something else by a ‘pastor’ – kind of a ‘one-man-does-all’ person, but this is not the ‘pastor’ of the Bible].
  5. teachers – have the ability to present the truth of the word of God in such a way that the hearts of the hearers will burn for the truth.

In addition, there are many other gifts (1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12).

15. What was the role of miraculous gifts?

Why did God give them? For evangelisation? For emotional spectacles? To reduce the sufferings of believers? None of these. God gave miraculous signs to prove that God made a new start. The time of the law was over. God had formed the church by the Holy Spirit. So He enabled the disciples on the day of Pentecost (=the beginning of the church) to speak in foreign languages which other people could understand. Who could deny that God was at work? Note that the languages (‘tongues’) were a sign for the Jews only (1.Cor.14:21). On some occasions there were healings (e.g. Acts 3) but not to relieve the sufferings of  believers but give a sign to unbelievers (Acts 4:16;30 and Heb. 2:4).

16. What is the role of miraculous gifts today?

The church bells ring when the service starts, not when it finishes, right? It’s like that with miraculous gifts. Of course God can still work miracles today, and He does. But that’s different from exercising a gift. And how about tongues? Well, let me ask you: do you know one person who can speak in a language he never learned (because that’s what happened in Acts 2)? And where people claim they speak in ‘tongues’, let me ask you: do they adhere to the rules of ‘game’ in 1 Cor.14? Is every contribution translated (V. 13 and 27)? Are they used as a ‘sign for unbelievers’ (1 Cor. 14:22)? Do the women keep silence in the church (v.34)? If God gives a gift (as described in the New Testament) we want to recognise it. But beware of the counterfeit ‘gifts’ which are praised as ‘gifts’ but are far from Biblical practice.

17. Why do we not appoint elders?

In the New Testament, elders were always appointed either by apostles (Acts 14:23) or by their delegates (Titus 1:5) who had an express command from an apostle to do so. Today there are no apostles any more (because they had to have seen the Lord, Acts 1:22 and 9:4.5). Therefore, there are no apostolic delegates either who can appoint elders.

But there are still men who have the qualifications set out for elders (1 Tim.3:1-6). A careful reading of the list of these qualifications will show that such men have become very rare though. But those who meet these criteria can still do the work of elders (1 Peter 5:2 and Acts 20:28).

18. Who should give ministry of the Word?

By ‘ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4) we mean the teaching and preaching of the word of God to believers. This should be done by those who have received a gift for this (teachers and pastors). This ministry may also have prophetic character: a word from God spoken to the conscience of God’s people. God’s word does not know churches with ‘one man ministry’. In Antioch, there were ‘prophets and teachers’ (not ‘a pastor’, Acts 13:1). Paul says to the Corinthians: ‘How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine... Let all things be done unto edifying’. All must be done in love, and in the holy fear that comes with the presence of God.

19. What do we mean by ‘the ruin of the church’?

Simply that things today are very different from the way God made it in the beginning at Pentecost. Christians are fragmented into diverse groups. Many have become members of organisations instead of simply acting as members of the body of Christ. There is ecclesiastical evil (one man ministry etc.) and doctrinal evil (about Christ, His sinlessness, His incarnation, His manhood, about His work, salvation, and so forth). The verbal inspiration of the scriptures is called into question. In many places moral evil is now tolerated, it seems to be a constant downward spiral… Also, there is a lack of separation from evil in many Christian circles.

20. How can you show the unity in a time of ruin and fragmentation?

Right, so man has spoiled everything? Yes, but that does not mean that it has been impossible to practice biblical principles. If men form organisations etc. you can still do what the Bible says: simply gather around the Lord Jesus (Mt.18:20), realising that we are members of the body of Christ (1.Cor 12:12.13). Pray, and the Lord will show you other believers who want to recognise Him as Lord. Meet with them and simply try as best you can to put into practise what the Bible teaches. Now, this does not mean you try to form a new church. God formed the church long ago and that is enough. Today, we simply have to recognise that He has done it.

21. Who should be received for the breaking of bread?

Well, every believer – who is not disqualified. Why every believer? Because this is a privilege of every member of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 10:17). So what about the ‘disqualification’? How can this happen? Well, there are mainly three reasons:

  1. moral evil: the man in 1 Cor.5 for instance, had to be ‘put out’.
  2. Doctrinal evil: if someone does not bring the doctrine of the Christ (2 John 9-11) you must not even receive him into your house, even less can you celebrate the memorial meal with him. Doctrinal evil is ‘leaven’ (Gal.5:9).
  3. Association with evil. The one who greets the heretic in 2 John 9-11 becomes a ‘partaker of his evil works’. Those who visit the idol temple in Corinth become ‘partakes of the table of demons’ (although they did not believe in the idols themselves, 1 Cor. 10:19-22). See also 1 Cor. 15:33; Rev. 2:14.

22. What is the relationship between local meetings?

A local meetings (or assembly, church) is part of the whole church of God (1.Cor. 1:2). Local meetings therefore act in harmony with one another (as members of the human body work with one another, not against one another). When a local assembly takes a decision (say, in discipline or in receiving a believer into fellowship) then this is binding for all other assembly: ‘what you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven’ (Mt.18:18). Paul’s repeats that his instructions to the Corinthians were also binding in all other places (1.Cor.1:2; 4:17; 7:17; 11:16).

23. What is assembly discipline?

The aim of assembly discipline is to help restore a person who has acted in a way that is not consistent with the Christian doctrine. The type of discipline to be used depends on the case. There are seven different types:

  1. overtaken in a fault: Gal. 6:1.2
  2. Warning and withdrawing from those walking disorderly: 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:14.15
  3. Public rebuke: 1 Tim 5:20; Gal. 2:11-14
  4. Dealing with a heretic and marking division makers: Titus 3:10.11; Romans 16:17
  5. Discipline of silence: 1 Tim.1:3.4; Titus 1:10.11
  6. Personal Trespass: Mt. 18:15ff
  7. Putting away wicked persons: 1 Cor. 5:13

24. What is a sect?

That the word sect is used in different ways.

Originally, it meant ‘school’ or ‘party’, based on the opinions of their leaders. Sects, in this sense, come about when a special doctrine is formed (or a scriptural doctrine is overemphasised) and, in order to belong to this school or party, you have to subscribe to this doctrine (see 1 Cor.11:18.19).

In everyday language, various (and sometimes all) groups of Christians are called ‘sects’ – normally in a derogatory way (see Acts 24:4.14; 28:22).

Now, what is it that really makes a group of Christians a sect, or sectarian? Mainly two things. One is to formally create an organisation to which you need to belong before you can enjoy fellowship with the other ‘members’. The other is to impose conditions on those who are received into fellowship – not the biblical conditions of pure walk, doctrine and association – but extra-biblical requirements, e.g. a certain dress code.

See also: What is a Sect? by J N Darby

25. Are ‘we’ a denomination?

If you are part of a denomination (an organisation with a name) then you better leave. The early Christians did not have a name (they were simply labelled ‘Christians’ because everyone new they had to do with Christ, were linked with and interested in Him) and we do not need a name today, either. We can be happy with just being members of the body of Christ.

26. How do we relate to other Christians who do not meet with us?

They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We may not be able to walk with them (break bread with them) but we love them. How do we show this love? By seeking their best! By trying to help them in a brotherly way, trying to build them up and further their faith. This often involves giving teaching from the Word of God.

27. What is more important: to be doctrinally correct or be devoted to the Lord?

It is no use playing one off against the other. We need both!