Chapter 11: THE CHURCH


Seventh-day Adventists Believe...

The church is the community of believers who confess Jesus

Christ as Lord and Saviour. In continuity with the people of

God in Old Testament times, we are called out from the

world; and we join together for worship, for fellowship, for

instruction in the Word, for the celebration of the Lord's

Supper, for service to all mankind, and for the worldwide

proclamation of the gospel. The church derives its authority

from Christ, who is the incarnate Word, and from the

Scriptures, which are the written Word. The church is God's

family; adopted by Him as children, its members live on the

basis of the new covenant. The church is the body of Christ,

a community of faith of which Christ Himself is the Head.

The church is the bride for whom Christ died that He might

sanctify and cleanse her. At His return in triumph, He will

present her to Himself a glorious church, the faithful of

all the ages, the purchase of His blood, not having spot or

wrinkle, but holy and without blemish.

--Fundamental Belief, 11

 

THE CHURCH

Overcome by anger, the elderly man pounds the rod he

carries against the boulder. Drawing it back, he swings

again, and shouts: "Hear now you rebels! Must we bring water

for you out of this rock?"

A stream of water gushes out of the rock, meeting

Israel's need. But, in taking credit to himself for the gift

of water instead of ascribing it to the Rock, Moses had

sinned. And because of that sin, he would not enter the

Promised Land (see Num. 20:7-12).

That Rock was Christ, the foundation on which God

established His people, both individually and corporately.

This imagery runs throughout Scripture.

In the last sermon Moses preached to Israel, perhaps

recalling this incident, he used the metaphor of the rock to

picture God's stability and dependability:

"`Ascribe greatness to our God.

He is the Rock, His work is perfect;

For all His ways are justice,

A God of truth and without injustice;

Righteous and upright is He'" (Deut. 32:3,4).

Centuries later David echoed the same theme--His Saviour

as the rock:

"In God is my salvation and my glory;

The rock of my strength,

And my refuge, is in God" (Ps. 62:7).

Isaiah used the same imagery of the coming Messiah: "`A

stone for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious

cornerstone, a sure foundation'" (Isa. 28:16).

Peter testified that Christ fulfilled this prediction,

not as a common stone, but a "living stone, rejected indeed

by men, but chosen by God and precious" (1 Peter 2:4). Paul

identified Him as the only sure foundation, saying, "No

other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid,

which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). Referring to the rock

that Moses struck, he said, "And all drank the same

spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that

followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10:4).

Jesus Christ Himself used the image directly when He

declared, "`On this rock I will build My church, and the

gates of Hades shall not prevail against it'" (Matt. 16:18).

He established the Christian church on Himself, the Living

Rock. His own body was to be sacrificed for the sins of the

world, the striking of the Rock. Against a church built on

the solid foundation He provides, nothing can prevail. From

this Rock the healing waters would flow to the thirsty

nations (cf. Eze. 47:1-12; John 7:37,38; Rev. 22:1-5).

How feeble and weak the church was when Christ made that

pronouncement! It consisted of a few tired, doubting,

selfpromoting disciples, a handful of women, and the fickle

multitude that vanished when the Rock was struck. Yet the

church was built, not on frail human wisdom and ingenuity,

but on the Rock of Ages. Time would reveal that nothing

could destroy His church or deter it from its mission of

glorifying God and leading men and women to the Saviour

(cf. Acts 4:12,13,20-33).

The Biblical Meaning of "Church"

In the Scriptures the word church(*1) is a translation of

the Greek ekklesia, which means "a calling out." This

expression was commonly used of any assembly summoned by the

practice of calling people to meet.

The Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew Old

Testament popular in Jesus' time, used ekklesia to translate

the Hebrew qahal, which stood for "gathering," "assembly,"

or "congregation" (Deut. 9:10; 18:16; 1 Sam. 17:47; 1 Kings

8:14; 1 Chron. 13:2).(*2)

This usage was broadened in the New Testament. Note how

it uses the term church: (1) believers assembled for worship

in a specific place (1 Cor. 11:18; 14:19,28); (2) believers

living in a certain locality (1 Cor. 16:1; Gal. 1:2; 1

Thess. 2:14); (3) a group of believers in the home of an

individual (1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2); (4) a

group of congregations in a given geographic area (Acts

9:31);(*3) (5) the whole body of believers throughout the

world (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 10:32; 12:28; cf. Eph. 4:11-16);

(6) the whole faithful creation in heaven and on earth

(Eph. 1:20-22; cf. Phil. 2:9-11).

The Nature of the Church

The Bible portrays the church as a divine institution,

calling it "the church of God" (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2).

Jesus invested the church with divine authority (Matt.

18:17,18). We can understand the nature of the Christian

church by viewing its Old Testament roots and the various

metaphors the New Testament uses in speaking of it.

The Roots of the Christian Church

The Old Testament portrays the church as an organized

congregation of God's people. From the earliest times

God-fearing families in the lineage of Adam, Seth, Noah,

Shem, and Abraham were the guardians of His truth. These

households, in which the father functioned as the priest,

could be considered the church in miniature. To Abraham, God

gave the rich promises through which this household of God

gradually became a nation. Israel's mission was simply an

extension of that given Abraham: To be a blessing to all

nations (Gen. 12:1-3), showing God's love for the world.

The nation God brought out of Egypt was called "the

church [or "congregation," RSV, NIV] in the wilderness"

(Acts 7:38, KJV). Its members were considered "a kingdom of

priests and a holy nation" (Ex. 19:5), God's "holy people"

(Deut. 28:9; cf, Lev. 26:12)--His church.

God placed them in Palestine, the center of the major

civilizations of the world. Three great continents--Europe,

Asia, and Africa--met in Palestine. Here the Jews were to be

"servants" to other nations, to extend the invitation to

others to join them as God's people. In short, God called

them out in order to call the nations in (Isa. 56:7). He

desired, through Israel, to create the largest church on

earth--a church where representatives of all nations of the

world would come to worship, learn of the true God, and

return to their own people with the message of salvation.

In spite of God's continual care for His people, Israel

became involved in idolatry, isolationism, nationalism,

pride, and selfcenteredness. God's people failed to fulfill

their mission.

In Jesus, Israel came upon a watershed. God's people were

looking for a Messiah to free their nation, but not a

Messiah to set them free from themselves. At the cross,

Israel's spiritual bankruptcy became evident. By crucifying

Christ they demonstrated outwardly the decay that was

within. When they shouted, "`We have no king but Caesar!'"

(John 19:15), they were refusing to allow God to rule over

them.

At the cross two opposite missions came to a climax: the

first, that of a church gone awry, so centered upon itself

that it was blinded to the very One who had given it its

existence; the second, that of Christ, so centered on love

for people that He perished in their place to give them

eternal existence.

While the cross signified the end of Israel's mission,

Christ's resurrection inaugurated the Christian church and

its mission: the proclamation of the gospel of salvation

through the blood of Christ. When the Jews lost their

mission they became just another nation and ceased to be

God's church. In their place God established a new nation, a

church, that would carry forward His mission for the world

(Matt. 21:41,43).

The New Testament church, closely related to ancient

Israel"s community of faith,(*4) is made up of both

converted Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ.

Thus true Israel is all those who by faith accept Christ

(see Gal. 3:26-29). Paul illustrates the new organic

relationship of these diverse peoples by the imagery of two

trees--a good and a wild olive tree, Israel and Gentiles,

respectively. The Jews who do not accept Christ are no

longer the children of God (Rom. 9:6-8) and are represented

by branches broken off of the good tree, while those Jews

who received Christ remain attached.

Paul portrays the Gentiles who accept Christ as branches

from the wild olive tree grafted into the good tree (Rom.

11:17-25). He instructs these new Gentile Christians to

respect the divine heritage of God's chosen instruments: "If

the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the

branches were broken off, and you being a wild olive tree,

were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker

of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast

against the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do

not support the root, but the root supports you"

(Rom. 11:16-18).

The New Testament church differs significantly from its

Old Testament counterpart. The apostolic church became an

independent organization, separate from the nation of

Israel. National boundaries were discarded, giving the

church a universal character. Instead of a national church,

it became a missionary church, existing to accomplish God's

original plan, which was restated in the divine mandate of

its founder, Jesus Christ: "`Make disciples of all nations'"

(Matt. 28:19).

Metaphoric Descriptions of the Church

The metaphoric descriptions of the New Testament church

illuminate the nature of the church.

1. The church as a body.

The metaphor of the body stresses the unity of the church

and the functional relationship of each member to the whole.

The cross reconciles all believers "to God in one body"

(Eph. 2:16). Through the Holy Spirit they are "baptized into

one body" (1 Cor. 12:13)--the church. As a body, the church

is nothing less than Christ's body (Eph. 1:23). It is the

organism through which He imparts His fullness. Believers

are the members of His body (Eph. 5:30). Consequently, He

gives spiritual life through His power and grace, to every

true believer. Christ is "the head of the body" (Col. 1:18),

the "head of the church" (Eph. 5:23).

In His love, God has given to each member of His church

body at least one spiritual gift that enables that member to

accomplish a vital function. Just as what each organ does is

vital to the human body, the successful completion of the

church's mission depends on the functioning of each of the

spiritual gifts given members. What good is a body without a

heart, or how much less efficient is it without eyes, or a

leg? If its members withhold their gifts the church will be

dead, or blind, or at least crippled. However, these

special, God-assigned gifts are not an end in themselves

(see chapter 16 of this book).

2. The Church as a temple.

The Church is "God's building," "the temple of God" in

which the Holy Spirit dwells. Jesus Christ is its foundation

and the "chief cornerstone" (1 Cor. 3:9-16; Eph. 2:20). This

temple is not a dead structure; it displays dynamic growth.

As Christ is the "living stone," Peter said, so believers

are "living stones" that make up a "spiritual house"

(1 Peter 2:4-6).

The building is not yet completed. New living stones are

constantly added to the temple that is "being built together

to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Eph.

2:22, NIV). Paul urges believers to use the best building

materials in this temple, so that it will endure the fiery

test at the Day of Judgment (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

The temple metaphor emphasizes both the holiness of the

local congregation and of the church at large. God's temple

is holy, said Paul. "If any one defiles the temple of God,

God will destroy him" (1 Cor. 3:17). Close alliances with

unbelievers are contrary to its holy character, Paul noted,

and should be avoided, "for what fellowship has

righteousness with lawlessness?...And what agreement has the

temple of God with idols?" (2 Cor. 6:14,16). (His counsel

pertains to both business and marriage relations.) The

church is to be held in great respect for it is the object

on which God bestows His supreme regard.

3. The church as a bride.

The church is represented as a bride, the Lord as the

bridegroom. The Lord solemnly pledges, "`I will betroth you

to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in

righteousness and justice, in lovingkindness and mercy'"

(Hosea 2:19). Again He assures, "`I am married to you'"

(Jer. 3:14).

Paul uses the same imagery: I "present you as a chaste

virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). Christ's love for His

church is so deep and lasting that He "gave Himself for it"

(Eph. 5:25). He made this sacrifice "that He might sanctify

and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word"

(Eph. 5:26).

Through the sanctifying influence of the truth of God's

word (John 17:17) and the cleansing that baptism provides,

Christ can purify the members of the church, taking away

their filthy garments and clothing them in the robe of His

perfect righteousness. Thus He can prepare the church to be

His bride--"a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or

any such thing, but...holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).

The church's full glory and splendor will not be seen until

Christ returns.

4. The church as "Jerusalem above."

The Scriptures call the city of Jerusalem Zion. There God

dwells with His people (Ps. 9:11); it is from Zion that

salvation comes (Ps. 14:7; 53:6). That city was to be the

"joy of the whole earth" (Ps. 48:2).

The New Testament sees the church as the "Jerusalem

above," the spiritual counterpart of the earthly Jerusalem

(Gal. 4:26). The citizens of this Jerusalem have their

"citizenship in heaven" (Phil. 3:20). They are the "children

of promise," who are "born according to the Spirit,"

enjoying the liberty by which Christ has made them free

(Gal. 4:28,29; 5:1). The citizens of this city are no longer

in the bondage of attempting to be "justified by the law"

(Gal. 4:22,26,31; 5:4); "through the Spirit" they eagerly

wait for "the hope of righteousness by faith." They realize

that in Christ Jesus it is "faith working through love" that

gives them citizenship (Gal. 5:5,6).

Those who are part of this glorious company "have come to

Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly

Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the

general assembly and church of the firstborn who are

registered in heaven" (Heb. 12:22,23).

5. The church as a family.

The church in heaven and on earth is considered a family

(Eph. 3:15). Two metaphors are used to describe how people

join this family: adoption (Rom. 8:14-16; Eph. 1:4-6) and

the new birth (John 3:8). Through faith in Christ, those who

are newly baptized are no longer slaves, but children of the

heavenly Father (Gal. 3:26-4:7) who live on the basis of the

new covenant. Now they belong to the "household of God"

(Eph. 2:19), the "household of faith" (Gal. 6:10).

Members of His family address God as "Father" (Gal. 4:6)

and relate to one another as brother and sister (James 2:15;

1 Cor. 8:11; Rom. 16:1). Because he brought many into the

church family, Paul sees himself as a spiritual father. "In

Christ Jesus," he said, "I became your father through the

gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15, NIV). He refers to those he brought in

as "my beloved children" (1 Cor. 4:14; cf. Eph. 5:1).

A special characteristic of the church as family is

fellowship. Christian fellowship (koinonia in Greek) is not

merely socialization but a "fellowship in the gospel" (Phil.

1:5). It involves genuine fellowship with God the Father,

His Son, and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Cor.

13:14, RSV, NIV), as well as with believers (1 John 1:3,7).

Members, then, give anyone who becomes a part of the family

"the right hand of fellowship" (Gal. 2:9).

The metaphor of family reveals a caring church "where

people are loved, respected, and recognized as somebody. A

place where people acknowledge that they need each other.

Where talents are developed. Where people grow. Where

everybody is fulfilled."(*5) It also implies accountability,

a respect for spiritual parents, a watching out for

spiritual brothers and sisters. And finally, it means that

each member will have toward each other member a love that

engenders a deep loyalty that undergirds and strengthens.

Membership in a church family enables individuals who

vary greatly, in nature and disposition, to enjoy and

support one another. Church family members learn to live in

unity while not losing their individuality.

6. The church as the pillar and foundation of truth.

The church of the living God is "the pillar and

foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15, NIV). It is the

depository and citadel of truth protecting truth from the

attacks of its enemies. Truth, however, is dynamic, not

static. If members claim to have new light--a new doctrine

or a new interpretation of the Scriptures--those of

experience should test the new teaching by the standard of

Scripture (see Isa. 8:20). If the new light meets this

standard, then the church must accept it; if not, it should

reject it. All members should yield to this Bible-based

judgment, for "in the multitude of counselors there is

safety" (Prov. 11:14).

Through spreading the truth, i.e., through its witness,

the church becomes "`the light of the world,'" "`a city that

is set on a hill'" that "`cannot be hidden,'" and "`the salt

of the earth'" (Matt. 5:13-15).

7. The church as an army--militant and triumphant.

The church on earth is like an army engaged in battle. It

is called to war against spiritual darkness: "We do not

wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities,

against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this

age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly

places" (Eph. 6:12). Christians must "take up the whole

armor of God" that they "may be able to withstand in the

evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13).

Throughout the centuries the church has had to fight

against the enemy, both within and without (see Acts

20:29,30; 1 Tim. 4:1). It has made remarkable progress and

obtained victories, but it is not yet the church triumphant.

Unfortunately, the church still has great defects. By means

of another metaphor, Jesus explained the imperfections

within the church: "`The kingdom of heaven is like a man who

sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was

sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat,

and went away'" (Matt. 13:24,25, NIV). When the servants

wanted to pull up the weeds, the farmer said that when "`you

are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.

Let both grow together until the harvest'" (Matt. 13:29,30,

NIV).

Weeds and wheat both flourished in the field. While God

leads the converted to the church, Satan brings in the

unconverted. These two groups influence the whole body--the

one working for purification, the other for corruption. The

conflict between them--within the church--will continue till

the harvest, the Second Advent.

The church's external warfare is not over yet either.

Tribulation and strife lie ahead. Knowing that he has but a

short time, Satan is angry with God's church (Rev.

12:12,17), and will bring against it "`a time of trouble,

such as never was since there was a nation.'" But Christ

will intervene in behalf of His faithful people, who will be

"`delivered, everyone who is found in the book'" (Dan.

12:1). Jesus assures us that "`he who endures to the end

shall be saved'" (Matt. 24:13).

At Christ's return, the church triumphant will emerge.

At that time He will be able to present "to Himself a

glorious church," the faithful of all ages, the purchase of

His blood, "not having spot or wrinkle, but holy and without

blemish" (Eph. 5:27).

The Church Visible and Invisible

The terms visible and invisible have been used to

distinguish two aspects of the church on earth. The

metaphors we have discussed above particularly apply to the

visible church.

1. The visible church.

The visible church is God's church organized for service.

It fulfills Christ's great commission to carry the gospel to

the world (Matt. 28:18-20), and prepares people for His

glorious return (1 Thess. 5:23; Eph. 5:27).

Christ's specially chosen witness, it illumines the world

and ministers as He did, preaching the gospel to the poor,

healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the

captives and recovering of sight to the blind, setting at

liberty those who are oppressed, preaching the acceptable

year of the Lord (Luke 4:18,19).

2. The invisible church.

The invisible church, also called the church universal,

is composed of all God's people throughout the world. It

includes the believers within the visible church, and many

who, though they do not belong to a church organization,

have followed all the light Christ has given them (John

1:9). This latter group includes those who have never had

the opportunity to learn the truth about Jesus Christ but

who have responded to the Holy Spirit and "by nature do the

things contained in the law" of God (Rom. 2:14).

The existence of the invisible church reveals that

worship of God is, in the highest sense, spiritual. "The

true worshipers," Jesus said, "will worship the Father in

spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship

Him" (John 4:23). Because of the spiritual nature of true

worship, human beings cannot calculate precisely who is and

who is not a part of God's church.

Through the Holy Spirit, God leads His people from the

invisible church into union with His visible church. "I have

other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, I must bring

them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall

be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16, NIV). It is only

in the visible church that they can fully experience God's

truth, love, and fellowship, because He has given to the

visible church the spiritual gifts that edify its members

corporately and individually (Eph. 4:4-16). When Paul was

converted, God put him in touch with His visible church and

then appointed him to lead out in the mission of His church

(Acts 9:10-22). Just so today, He intends to lead His people

into His visible church, characterized by loyalty to God's

commandments and possessing the faith of Jesus, so they may

participate in finishing His mission on earth (Rev. 14:12;

18:4; Matt. 24:14; see chapter 12 of this book).

The concept of the invisible church has also been

considered to include the united church in heaven and on

earth (Eph. 1:22,23) and the church in hiding during times

of persecution (Rev. 12:6,14).

The Organization of the Church

Christ's mandate of carrying the gospel to the whole

world involves also the nurturing of those who have already

accepted the gospel. New members are to be established in

the faith and taught to use their God-given talents and

gifts in mission. Since "God is not the author of confusion"

but desires that all things should be done "decently and in

order" (1 Cor. 14:33,40), the church must have a simple but

effective organization.

The Nature of the Organization

Let us consider church membership and organization.

1. Church membership.

When they have met certain qualifications, converts

become members of the new covenant community of faith.

Membership involves the acceptance of new relationships

toward other people, the state, and God.

a. Membership qualifications.

People who wish to become members of His church must

accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, repent of their

sins, and be baptized (Acts 2:36-41; cf. 4:10-12). They

should have experienced the new birth and accepted Christ's

commission to teach others to observe all things He

commanded them (see Matt. 28:20).

b. Equality and service.

In harmony with Christ's declaration that "you are all

brethren" and "he who is the greatest among you shall be

your servant" (Matt. 23:8,11), members are committed to

relate to one another on the basis of equality. Yet they

must also realize that following Christ's example means they

are to minister to the needs of others, leading them to the

Master.

c. Priesthood of all believers.

With Christ's ministry in the heavenly sanctuary the

efficacy of the Levitical priesthood came to an end. Now the

church has become "a holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5). "You,"

Peter said, "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a

holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim

the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His

marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

This new order, the priesthood of all believers, does not

authorize each individual to think, believe, and teach as he

or she chooses without accountability to the body of the

church. It means that each church member has a

responsibility to minister to others in the name of God, and

can communicate directly with Him without any human

intermediary. It emphasizes the interdependence of church

members, as well as their independence. This priesthood

makes no qualitative distinction between clergy and laity,

although it leaves room for a difference in function between

these roles.

d. Allegiance to God and state.

The Bible recognizes God's hand in the establishment of

government and commits believers to respecting and obeying

civil authorities. The one who holds civil authority is

"God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who

practices evil." Church members, therefore, render "taxes to

whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom

fear, honor to whom honor" (Rom. 13:4,7).

In their attitudes to the state, members are guided by

Christ's principle: "`Render therefore to Caesar the things

that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's'"

(Matt. 22:21). But if the state should interfere with a

divine command their highest allegiance is to God. Said the

apostles, "`We ought to obey God rather than men'"

(Acts 5:29).

2. The major function of church organization.

The church was organized to accomplish God's plan to fill

this planet with the knowledge of God's glory. Only the

visible church can provide a number of the functions vital

to meeting this end.

a. Worship and exhortation.

Throughout history the church has been God's agency for

gathering believers to worship the Creator on the Sabbath.

Christ and His apostles followed this worship practice, and

the Scriptures admonish believers today not to forsake "the

assembling of ourselves together,...but exhorting one

another, and so much the more as you see the Day

approaching" (Heb. 10:25; cf. 3:13). Congregational worship

brings the worshiper refreshment, encouragement, and joy.

b. Christian fellowship.

Through the church the members' deepest needs for

fellowship are fully satisfied. "Fellowship in the gospel"

(Phil. 1:5) transcends all other relations, for it provides

an intimate relationship with God, as well as with others of

like faith (1 John 1:3,6,7).

c. Instruction in the Scriptures.

Christ gave to the church "`the keys of the kingdom of

heaven'" (Matt. 16:19). These keys are the words of

Christ--all the words of the Bible. More specifically, they

include "`the key of knowledge'" regarding how to enter the

kingdom (Luke 11:52). Jesus' words are spirit and life to

all who receive them (John 6:63). They bring eternal life

(John 6:68).(*6)

When the church proclaims the truths of the Bible, these

keys to salvation have the power to bind and to loose, to

open and shut heaven, because they declare the criteria by

which people are received or rejected, saved or lost. Thus

the church's gospel proclamation exudes "the fragrance of

life" or "the smell of death" (2 Cor. 2:16, NIV).

Jesus knew the importance of living "`by every word that

proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matt. 4:4). Only by doing

so can the church fulfill Jesus' mandate to teach all

nations "`to observe all things that I have commanded you'"

(Matt. 28:20).

d. Administering of the divine ordinances.

The church is God's instrument for the administration of

the ordinance of baptism, the rite of entrance to the church

(see chapter 14 of this book), and the ordinances of foot

washing and the Lord's Supper (see chapter 15 of this book).

e. Worldwide proclamation of the gospel.

The church is organized for mission service to fulfill

the work Israel failed to do. As seen in the life of the

Master, the greatest service the church provides the world

is in being fully committed to completing the gospel

"`witness to all nations'" (Matt. 24:14), empowered by the

baptism of the Holy Spirit.

This mission includes proclaiming a message of

preparation for Christ's return that is directed both to the

church itself (1 Cor. 1:7,8; 2 Peter 3:14; Rev. 3:14-22;

14:5) and to the rest of humanity (Rev. 14:6-12; 18:4).

The Government of the Church

After Jesus' ascension the leadership of the church

rested in the hands of the apostles. Their first

organizational act, in counsel with the other believers, was

to elect another apostle to take Judas' place

(Acts 1:15-26).

As the church grew, the apostles realized the

impossibility of both preaching the gospel and caring for

the church's temporal affairs. So they turned the church's

practical business over to seven men whom the church

appointed. Though the church distinguished between the

"`ministry of the word'" and "`serving tables'" (Acts

6:1-4), it made no attempt to separate clergy from laity in

discharging the mission of the church. In fact, two of the

seven, Stephen and Philip, were noted for their effective

preaching and evangelism (Acts 7 and 8).

The church's expansion into Asia and Europe called for

additional steps in organization. With the establishment of

numerous new churches, elders were ordained "in every

church" to ensure stable leadership (Acts 14:23).

When a major crisis developed, the parties involved were

allowed to state their respective positions to a general

council comprised of apostles and elders representing the

church at large. The decisions of this council were seen as

binding upon all parties and were accepted as the voice of

God (Acts 15:1-29). This incident illustrates the fact that

when it is a matter of issues affecting the entire church,

counsel and authority on a much broader level than that of

the local church are necessary. In this case the decision of

the council grew out of the agreement reached by the

representatives of all parties involved (Acts 15:22,25).

The New Testament makes it clear that as the need arose

God guided the leadership of His work. With His direction,

and in counsel with the church, they formed a church

government that, if followed today, will help safeguard the

church from apostasy and enable it to fulfill its great

commission.

Biblical Principles of Church Government

1. Christ is the head of the church.

Christ's headship over the church is based primarily on

His mediatorial work. Since His victory over Satan on the

cross, Christ has been given "`all authority'" in "`heaven

and on earth'" (Matt. 28:18). God has put "all things under

His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the

church" (Eph. 1:22; cf. Phil. 2:10,11). He is therefore

"Lord of lords and King of kings" (Rev. 17:14).

Christ also is the head of the church because the church

is His body (Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:18). Believers are "members

of His body, of His flesh and of His bones" (Eph. 5:30).

They must have an intimate connection with Him because from

Him the church is "nourished and knit together by joints and

ligaments" (Col. 2:19).

2. Christ is the source of all its authority.

Christ demonstrates His authority in (a) the

establishment of the Christian church (Matt. 16:18), (b) the

institution of ordinances the church must administer (Matt.

26:26-30; 28:19,20; 1 Cor. 11:23-29; John 13:1-17), (c) the

endowment of the church with divine authority to act in His

name (Matt. 16:19; 18:15-18; John 20:21-23), (d) the sending

of the Holy Spirit to guide His church under His authority

(John 15:26; 16:13-15), (e) the appointment within the

church of special gifts so that individuals can function as

apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and

teachers to prepare its members for service and to build up

"the body of Christ" till all experience unity in the faith

and reflect "the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:7-13).

3. The Scriptures carry Christ's authority.

Though Christ guides His church through the Holy Spirit,

the Word of God is the sole standard by which the church

operates. All its members are to obey that Word because it

is law in the absolute sense. All human traditions, customs,

and cultural practices are subject to the authority of the

Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

4. Christ's authority and the offices of the church.

Christ exercises His authority through His church and its

specially appointed servants, but He never transfers His

power. No one has any independent authority apart from

Christ and His word.

Seventh-day Adventist congregations elect their officers.

But while these officers function as representatives of the

people, their authority comes from Christ. Their election

simply confirms the call they received from Christ. The

primary duty of the elected officers is to see that the

Biblical instructions for worship, doctrine, discipline, and

gospel proclamation are followed. Since the church is the

body of Christ, they are to seek its counsel regarding their

decisions and actions.

The New Testament Officers of the Church

The New Testament mentions two church officers--those of

the elder and the deacon. The importance of these offices is

underscored by the high moral and spiritual requirements set

for those who would fill them. The church recognized the

sacredness of the calling to leadership through ordination,

the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6; 13:2,3; 1 Tim. 4:14;

5;22).

1. The elders.

a. What is an elder?

The "elders" (Greek, presbuteros) or "bishops"

(episkopos) were the most important officers of the church.

The term elder means older one, implying dignity and

respect. His position was similar to that of the one who had

supervision of the synagogue. The term bishop means

"overseer." Paul used these terms interchangeably, equating

elder with overseers or bishops (Acts 20:17,28;Titus 1:5,7).

Those who held this position supervised the newly formed

churches. Elder referred to the status or rank of the

office, while bishop denoted the duty or responsibility of

the office--"overseer."(*7) Since the apostles also called

themselves elders (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), it is

apparent that there were both local elders and itinerant

elders, or elders at large. But both kinds of elder

functioned as shepherds of the congregations.

b. The qualifications.

To qualify for the office of elder a person must be

"blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, soberminded,

of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to

wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not

quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well,

having his children in submission with all reverence (for if

a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he

take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being

puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as

the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among

those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the

snare of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:1-7; cf. Titus 1:5-9).

Before appointment to the office, therefore, the

candidate must have demonstrated his leadership ability in

his home. "The family of the one suggested for office should

be considered. Are they in subjection? Can the man rule his

own house with honor? What character have his children? Will

they do honor to the father's influence? If he has no tact,

wisdom, or power of godliness at home, in managing his own

family, it is safe to conclude that the same defects will be

carried into the church, and the same unsanctified

management will be seen there."(*8) The candidate, if

married, should demonstrate leadership in the home before

being trusted with the responsibility of the leadership of

"God's household" (1 Tim. 3:15, NIV).

Because of the importance of the office Paul charged, "Do

not lay hands on anyone hastily" (1 Tim. 5:22).

c. The elder's responsibility and authority.

An elder is first and foremost a spiritual leader. He is

chosen "to shepherd the church of God" (Acts 20:28). His

responsibilities include supporting weak members (Acts

20:35), admonishing the wayward (1 Thess. 5:12), and being

alert for teachings that would create divisions (Acts

20:29-31). Elders must model the Christian lifestyle (Heb.

13:7; 1 Peter 5:3) and set examples of liberality

(Acts 20:35).

d. The attitude toward the elders.

To a large extent, effective church leadership depends on

the loyalty of the membership. Paul encourages believers to

respect their leaders and "to esteem them very highly in

love for their work's sake" (1 Thess. 5:13). "Let the elders

who rule well," he said, "be counted worthy of double honor,

especially those who labor in the word and doctrine"

(1 Tim. 5:17).

Scripture makes clear the need to respect church

leadership: "Obey those who rule over you, and be

submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who

must give account" (Heb. 13:17; cf. 1 Peter 5:5). When

members make it difficult for the leaders to perform their

God-assigned responsibilities, both will experience grief

and miss the joy of God's prosperity.

Believers are encouraged to observe the leaders'

Christlike lifestyles. "Consider the outcome of their way of

life and imitate their faith" (Heb. 13:7, NIV). They should

pay no attention to gossip. Paul warned, "Do not receive an

accusation against an elder except from two or three

witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19).

2. The deacons and deaconesses.

The name deacon comes from the Greek diakonos, meaning

"servant," or "helper." The office of deacon was instituted

to enable the apostles to give themselves fully "to prayer

and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). Although

deacons were to care for the temporal affairs of the church,

they were also to be actively involved in evangelistic work

(Acts 6:8; 8:5-13,26-40).

The feminine form of the term appears in Romans 16:1.(*9)

Translators have rendered this word either as "servant,"

(KJV, NIV), or "deaconess" (RSV). "The word and its usage in

this text suggest that the office of deaconess may have been

established in the church at the time Paul wrote the book of

Romans."(*10)

Like elders, deacons are also selected by the church on

the basis of moral and spiritual qualifications

(1 Tim. 3:8-13).

The Discipline of the Church

Christ gave the church the authority to discipline its

members and provided the proper principles for doing so. He

expects the church to implement these principles whenever

necessary to maintain its lofty calling of being a "holy

priesthood" and "holy nation" (cf. Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Peter

2:5,9). Yet the church must also attempt to impress upon the

erring members their need of amending their ways. Christ

commends the church of Ephesus because it "cannot bear those

who are evil" (Rev. 2:2), but He rebukes the churches of

Pergamus and Thyatira for tolerating heresies and immorality

(Rev. 2:14,15,20). Note the following Biblical counsel on

discipline:

1. Dealing with private offenses.

When one member wrongs another (Matt. 18:15-17), Christ

counsels the wronged person to approach the offender--the

sheep that went astray--and persuade him to change his

behavior. If unsuccessful he should make a second attempt,

accompanied by one or two unbiased witnesses. If this

attempt fails, the matter should be brought before the

entire church.

If the erring member rejects the wisdom and authority of

Christ's church he severs himself from its fellowship. In

disfellowshipping the guilty person, the church simply

confirms his or her condition. If, under the guidance of the

Holy Spirit, the church has carefully followed the Biblical

counsel, its decisions have been acknowledged in heaven.

Said Christ, "`Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in

heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in

heaven'" (Matt. 18:18).

2. Dealing with public offenses.

Though "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of

God" (Rom. 3:23), flagrant and rebellious offenses bringing

a reproach on the church should be immediately dealt with by

disfellowshipping the offender.

Disfellowshipping both removes the evil--which otherwise

would work like leaven--restoring the purity of the church,

and acts as a redemptive remedy for the offender. Upon

learning of a case of sexual immorality in the Corinthian

church, Paul urged immediate action. "In the name of our

Lord Jesus Christ," he said, "when you are gathered

together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord

Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the

destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in

the day of the Lord Jesus....Purge out the old leaven, that

you may be a new lump" (1 Cor. 5:4,5,7). Do not associate

with anyone who calls himself a believer, he said, "but is

sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a

drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even

eat....`Expel the wicked man from among you'"

(1 Cor. 5:11,13, NIV).

3. Dealing with divisive persons.

A member who causes "divisions and offenses" (Rom.

16:17), "who walks disorderly," refusing to obey Biblical

counsel, should be avoided so that "he may be ashamed" of

his attitude. "Yet do not count him as an enemy," Paul said,

"but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3:6,14,15). If the

"divisive man" refuses to listen to the "second admonition"

of the church, he should be rejected, "knowing that such a

person is warped and sinning, being selfcondemned"

(Titus 3:10,11).

4. Restoration of offenders.

Church members should not despise, shun, or neglect the

disfellowshipped. Rather, they should attempt to restore

their relationship with Christ through repentance and a new

birth. Disfellowshipped individuals can be restored to

church fellowship when they reveal sufficient evidence of

genuine repentance (2 Cor. 2:6-10).

It is especially through restoring sinners to the church

that God's power, glory, and grace are revealed. He longs to

liberate the captives of sin, transferring them from the

kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. God's church,

the theater of the universe, displays the power of Christ's

atoning sacrifice in the lives of men and women.

Today Christ, through His church, invites all to become a

part of His family. "`Behold,'" He says, "`I stand at the

door and knock. If any one hears My voice and opens the

door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with

Me'" (Rev. 3:20).

References

1. On the origin of the term church Berkhof wrote, "The

names `Church', `Kerk' and `Kirche' are not derived from the

word ekklesia, but from the word kuriake, which means

`belonging to the Lord.' They stress the fact that the

Church is the property of God. The name to kuriakon or he

kuriake first of all designated the place where the Church

assembled. This place was conceived of as belonging to the

Lord, and was therefore called to kuriakon" (Systematic

Theology, p. 557).

2. "Church, Nature of," SDA Encyclopedia, rev., ed., p.

302; "Church," SDA Bible Dictionary, rev., ed., p. 224.

3. According to the modern translations that accept the

Tisschendorf reading of the singular, based on the Codex

Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, and Ephraemi

Rescriptus.

4. Except for their teaching about Jesus, the beliefs of

the early church were very similar to those of Judaism. Both

Jewish and Gentile Christians continued to worship in the

synagogues on the Sabbath, listening to the Old Testament

being explained (Acts 13:42-44; 15:13,14,21). The rending of

the Temple veil signified that the rituals had met their

antitypical fulfillment. The book of Hebrews intends to turn

Christian minds away from the types to the underlying

reality of the types: the atoning death of Jesus, His

priesthood in heaven, and His saving grace. The New

Testament era was a transitional time and although the

apostles sometimes participated in the Old Testament

rituals, the decision of the first Jerusalem council shows

that they perceived no saving value in them.

5. Charles E. Bradford, "What the Church Means to Me,"

Adventist Review, Nov. 20, 1986, p. 15.

6. See SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 5, p. 432.

7. See SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 6, pp. 26,38.

8. White, Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 618.

9. Diakonos can be either male or female in gender,

therefore the gender in this case is determined by the

context. Because Phoebe who is "our sister" is also a

diakonos, this word must be feminine even though it is

spelled as a masculine noun.

10."Deaconess," SDA Bible Dictionary, rev. ed., p. 277. In

New Testament times the term diakonos had a broad meaning.

"It was still employed to describe all who served the church

in any capacity. Paul, though an apostle, frequently

described himself (see 1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:23;

Eph. 3;7; Col. 1:23) and Timothy...(see 1 Tim. 4:6), as

diakonoi (plural of diakonos)." (SDA Bible Commentary, rev.

ed., vol. 7, p. 300). In these instances it has been

translated as "ministers" or "servants" instead of

"deacons."