Belonging To God: The Church
Lesson 3

Lesson Three

Multiple Religious Uses of “Church” as People Who Belong to God

Texts: Acts 8:1-3; Ephesians 5:23-32

In this lesson the focus will be on the New Testament’s use of the word “church” in regard to the men and women who belong to and follow Jesus Christ as he directs us to God (John 14:6).


First, look at the contrast of Acts 8:1-3 and Ephesians 5:23-32.  Act 8:1-3 concerns the “church” in one particular place—Jerusalem.  Ephesians 5:23-32 concerns Jesus’ headship over all his people in all congregations (also see Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18).  In the New Testament the “church” can refer to followers of Jesus Christ in one place or in numerous places who have differing cultures. It is used to refer to (in our concepts) a congregation of Christians or numerous congregations of Christians.


Second, note Jesus did not use the word “church” much in the four gospels included in the New Testament.  Jesus’ usage of “church” in the New Testament gospels is confined to Matthew 16:17-19 and 18:15-20.  Jesus’ ministry was basically to the Jewish people (Matthew 10:5, 6; 15:21-28; Acts 13:44-46). In the New Testament gospels, Jesus was more likely to use the concept of kingdom, though Jesus acknowledged people who were not Jews would be in that kingdom (Matthew 10:10-12).  Most of the uses of “church” are found in Acts and the epistles.


Third, all Christians everywhere look to Jesus Christ for guidance and direction.  Only he is the head of Christians on earth.  All living Christians everywhere are a part of and compose collectively his body on earth—in spite of differences in language and customs expressed in procedures.  Jesus Christ is not restrained by differences in language or ways of doing things.  Those things may challenge us, but they do not challenge the Lord of all who are in Christ.


How did Jesus Christ envision men and women who would be his disciples?  How did he see people who would be subjects and citizens in God’s kingdom?  Did he think in terms of an institution that was controlled by a human CEO or a group of humans who acted collectively as a CEO group?  Did he think in terms of a democratic government where everyone was a law to himself or herself?  Did he think in terms of correct and incorrect procedures that represented his preferred culture?  Was he interested in controlling human behavior or producing a people of faith?  Would people follow him out of a sense of fearful obligation or be overwhelmed by his loving forgiveness?


Consider some things as you ponder this essential question.  One, the message of the writings in the New Testament made sense (were understandable) to the people to whom those writings were sent.  They were not written to make sense centuries later to peoples and in a world those people could not imagine.  The better we understand the Mediterranean world of the first century, the better we will understand the context and meaning of those writings.  The old adage that “they mean what they say and say what they mean” usually declared scripture meant what the teacher or commenter thought.  The issue was, “How informed was the thought presented?”


Two, they understood a rule by kings who must be obeyed, but the modern forms of democracy did not exist.  Never in the “church” was any human called the king.  Nor was there a neat form of hierarchy that existed to control the “church” as was and is often the case in the “church” through the centuries.


Third, the industrial revolution with its manufacturing processes had not occurred.  The concept of a CEO or a group of CEOs was not in their thought process.  That may be the way we think, but it was not the way they thought.


Fourth, little is said about controlling others as today we think of religious control.  Much is said about having faith in Jesus Christ and being motivated by that faith.


Fifth, there is much emphasis on being guided by God’s values as Christians made choices and exercised behavior decisions.  Christians were urged to be God’s people, not to seek to control harsh situations.  Consider 1 Peter 2:11-3:17.


Sixth, rarely was fear used as a motivation for accepting the good news concerning Jesus.  People became disciples in the joy of deliverance, not because they were afraid of hell.  Hell is real, and eternal accountability is certain. Jesus is the means of living before God in hope rather than fear.  Early Christians were people filled with hope, not terror.


Early congregations cared for Christians and respected people—even those who did no believe in Jesus (Galatians 6:10).  They did good works all the time wherever they were—at home or elsewhere.  They were God’s light, salt, and yeast in all circumstances.  They learned that being an individual who behaved by God’s values was bigger than language, bigger than procedures, bigger than ways of doing things, and bigger than cultures.  Being God’s “church” locally and worldwide was a devotion of joyful hope, not a matter of fearful privation.


How pitiful it is that those who are God’s people through the risen Jesus are seen as those who declare, “You are headed for hell!  Come be a part of us, and we will teach you how to really feel like guilty failures!“  The risen Jesus, our Lord and King, died to give us the privilege of existing in the joy of an indestructible hope!



For Thought and Discussion


1. What is the focus of this lesson?


2. Give the basic contrast between Acts 8:1-3 and Ephesians 5:23-32.


3. Discuss Jesus’ use of the word “church” in the New Testament gospels.


4. All Christians everywhere look to Jesus for what?


5. Discuss ways of looking at men and women who are Jesus’ disciples.


6. What six things were you asked to think about?


7. What did early congregations do?


8. Where were early Christians God’s light, salt, and yeast?


9. What is pitiful?


10. Why did the risen Jesus die for us?

Link to Teacher's Guide Lesson 3

Copyright © 2009
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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