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Understanding the Church – Part 1

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Understanding the Church – Part 1
Posted on August 14, 2020  - By Dr. Scott Shiffer

Over the next several months, we will look at the nature of the church. The Church, by definition, is made up of all believers past, present, and future. It is not restricted to any one denomination or building. It has members from all over the world.

To know if any group of people claiming to be “Christian” is actually part of the Church, one must look at the doctrines which that church (group of worshippers) claims to hold as true.  For example, if the church affirms the Trinity, claims that all people are sinners, that Christ is the Saviour, and that He sends the Holy Spirit to indwell believers, then it is a true church. If the church adds to these doctrines or denies any of the basic tenets of the faith, then the church is a false church.

The church is local and universal. The Church is invisible yet visible. We cannot see the spiritual conditions of people’s hearts, but we can see the results or evidence of what believers do. The Church is referred to as the family of God (1 Timothy 5:1-2), the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:32), the branches on the vine (John 15:5), an olive tree (Romans 11:17-24), a field of crops (1 Corinthians 3:6-9), a building (1 Corinthians 3:9), a harvest (Matthew 13:1-30; John 4:35), a new temple (1 Peter 2:5), a pillar of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

We cannot see the spiritual conditions of people’s hearts, but we can see the results or evidence of what believers do

It has been grafted into God’s chosen people and those who have rejected Christ have been cut off. The Church is God’s Israel.

Ministry and calling

The Church has three key ministries in this world:

  • First, it is to focus ministry on God through the act of worship (Ephesians 1:12, 5:16-19; Colossians 3:16).
  • Second, it is to focus on ministry to believers (Colossians 1:28; Ephesians 4:12-13). This involves nurturing other believers through caring for widows, helping the orphans, giving money or goods to those in need, fellowshipping with one another, praying for one another, and teaching one another in the faith (making disciples).
  • Third, it is to focus on its ministry to the world (Matthew 28:19; Acts 11:29; 1 John 3:17). This involves, again, helping the orphans, widows, and those in need, as well as evangelising.

The Church also has the power and the calling to perform several other specific tasks in this world.

  • First, it has the power and calling to engage in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18).
  • Second, it has the power and calling to proclaim and spread the gospel [this is to be done through peaceful means as God’s kingdom is a kingdom of peace] (Matthew 28:19-20).
  • Third, it has the power and calling to exercise church discipline. The purpose of exercising church discipline is so that it will lead to reconciliation and restoration of the person being disciplined. The purpose of discipline is not so that believers can show that they are holier than the one being cast out, and it is not meant ever to be a permanent casting out (1 Corinthians 5).

The purpose of exercising church discipline is so that it will lead to reconciliation and restoration of the person being disciplined

A word on church discipline

Church discipline should be exercised biblically, and those exercising it must remember that they are to do more good than harm. This makes a healthy degree of tolerance an acceptable thing (Romans 14:1-23). Church discipline should be carried out to protect other believers within the body and the purity of the Church (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). It should also be carried out to keep sin from spreading throughout the body (Hebrews 12:15).

There are several other reasons why church discipline should be carried out: when someone is being divisive in the body (Titus 3:10), incestuous (1 Corinthians 5), lazy and refusing to help with any of the church’s work (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10), and disobedient to the teachings of the Apostles (2 Thessalonians 3:15-16).

When church discipline is carried out, it first needs to be done in a way that keeps the knowledge of the sin to the smallest group possible (Matthew 18:15-17). One person should go to the person sinning. If the person refuses to listen, then a couple of others in the church should go back to the person. If this does not work, then the sin should finally be brought before the congregation.

If a church leader sins, it should be brought before the church so that it does not appear like a cover-up or conspiracy at a later date (1 Timothy 5:19-20).

In our next segment, we will discuss the offices in the church and what characteristics someone should have in order to be qualified to be a pastor or deacon.

Dr. Scott Shiffer

About Dr. Scott Shiffer

Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Faith and Culture Now, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations, including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for many years. Scott is married and has four children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges every day.



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