D231 - Jesus Christ is the head of the church
D232 - God chooses to work through his (imperfect) church and believers
As imperfect as the church is, God has chosen to work through believers. In the Book of Acts and during the days of the early church, God showed the principle that he was going to use – primarily, God would be operating together with the church so that the church was involved in laying down ‘policy’ statements and making logical decisions.
In Acts 6:1-5, the twelve disciples had to decide on an issue relating to neglect of the Hellenistic (Greek-speaking) widows; God did not show up to give them direct instructions.
In Acts 9:13-17, God directed Ananias to go and lay hands on Paul to heal his sight instead of intervening directly.
And when it came to the first Gentile conversion, again God included a disciple (Peter, in this case) rather than performed a miraculous conversion of the Cornelius household (Acts 10).
Finally in Acts 15:1-11, when there were issues regarding whether Gentile believers should be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, God again left this ‘major’ decision to the church elders and apostles.
Sometimes, though, the Holy Spirit intervened, as when Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit ‘to speak the word in Asia’ but instead was redirected to go to Phrygia and Galatia (Acts 16:6).
What do we know?
As imperfect as the church and believers are, God has still chosen to work through us in formulating decisions and making plans although on occasions, the Holy Spirit might act as in the case of Paul’s intended trip to Asia.
D233 - The Lord prays for church unity
This is a most important doctrine.
The Pharisees had just accused Jesus as being a demon. Jesus turned around and said,
‘Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand’ (Matt 12:25).
For a kingdom to stand, it must be united. We can all recognize that there is strength and power of unity. Hence, in John 17:11, Jesus prayed to God the Father that
‘they may be one as we are one’ and in John 17:21, ‘so that the world may believe that you sent me.’
He finished in John 17:23 repeating the same message,
‘that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.’
If it is important for Jesus to pray this prayer just before his crucifixion, it is therefore even more important for us because we are that church which he prayed for.
Eph 4:3 says,
‘Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
The Greek word for ‘maintain’ is tereo or keep guard/ observe/ watch over. The unity is already there when we become Christians.
Eccl 4:12 says,
‘A man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.’
See also B31 – Be of one mind (united as one people).
D234 - The early church ordained leadership at two levels
Acts 6:1-4 teaches us that there were two levels of leadership in the early church as follows:
- Level One – This group’s role focused on prayer and the ministry of the word (teaching), and
- Level Two – This group’s role was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the church (‘serving table’ was the term used)
In Acts 15:1-11, it also shows that the Level One group was looking after ‘policy-related’ matters. They were making ‘higher level’ decisions.
At the local churches, Paul was also setting the scene through the appointments of elders and deacons.
- Elders were responsible for ‘direct the affairs of the church’ and were also involved in ‘preaching and teaching’ (1 Tim 5:17). In addition, they were also to ‘give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it’ (Titus 1:9).
- Deacons, on the other hand, ‘serve’ as in taking care of the physical and logistical needs of the church.
Most corporations have adopted this model – Directors and Executives. The Directors looks after policy-related decisions while the Executives make the organization ticks on a day-to-day basis.
D235 - Church leaders are appointed after prayer (and fasting)
The early church leadership was not a democracy; leaders were appointed and not voted in.
The disciples were appointed by Jesus (Mark 3:14).
Of course, we do not have disciples anymore and the concept of apostleship might have shifted. Moreover, we now have pastors of large churches giving themselves titles like apostles, bishops, and prophets.
The evangelical churches do not have the same structure as the Roman Catholic churches.
Here are some principles to consider:
- Accountability to a group of reliable Christian leaders is important,,
- At a local church level, leaders should be appointed and not voted in,
- At a nationalistic and/ or global level, church pastors could seek out more recognized leaders who are well regarded by the broader church body in terms of their personal testimonies, to be their mentors and overseers.
D236 - Church leaders must be scrutinized before holding office
In Acts 6:1-7, the disciples met and were identifying a few good men to assist them in the logistics of looking after the poor widows.
They set some basic criteria as follows:
- These were men of ‘good repute, full of the (Holy) Spirit and of wisdom’ (Acts 6:5).
- They were not new but ‘tested’ Christians who were ‘beyond reproach.’
- Men who served were described as ‘good men, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’ (Acts 11:24).
Obviously, they were careful of opportunistic men although during the early church, converts paid a heavy price to be associated with Jesus Christ; sometimes, this association might lead to them giving up their lives for the cause.
Church leadership is an important role. Hence, the disciples and Paul had always scrutinized their criteria before any appointments. In Titus 1:5-9, Paul listed the criteria of elders as follows:
- Someone who is ‘above reproach,
- the husband of one wife,
- having children who believe,
- not accused of dissipation or rebellion.’
- He carried on by saying that ‘the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward,
- not self-willed,
- not quick tempered,
- not addicted to wine,
- not pugnacious (belligerent/ quarrelsome/ combative),
- not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable,
- loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled,
- holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.’
In 1 Tim 3:2-7, Paul wrote another letter detailing out the requirements of church leadership –
‘An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.’
D237 - Church leaders are there to serve (not to be served)
Matt 20:27 says,
‘Whoever would be first among you must be your slave.’
Mark 10:45 reads,
‘For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
The role of a leader (elders/ deacons/ overseers) is to serve the people and ‘give his life as a ransom’ and not to be served.
D238 - The church can have woman leaders
Should women be involved in leadership?
In 1 Cor 14:34-35, the Apostle Paul told the women of Corinth to be
‘silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak but must be in submission, as the Law says.’
Again, in 1 Tim 2:11-12, Paul said that
‘a woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet.’
But we know from Scripture that women were not exactly subservient.
- Lydia, for example, was a businesswoman who had a thriving business dealing with expensive purple cloth, a symbol of power and prestige (Acts 16:14).
- In 2 John 1:1, the Apostle John commended the ‘elect lady’ (an honoring term).
- Philip’s four unmarried daughters were prophetesses (Acts 21:9).
- In Rom 16:3-16, Paul praised several women – Prisca, Mary, the mother of Rufus, Julia and the sister of Nereus. He called ‘Tryphena and Tryphosa, women who have worked hard in the Lord’ (Rom 16:12). Phoebe was addressed as ‘a deacon of the church of Cenchrea’ (Rom 16:1).
It seems rather contradictory therefore that while anecdotally there were several women in leadership and influence in the early church, Paul’s instructions would sound rather condescending to women although the preferred order might well be that men should lead.
Similarly, the resurrected Jesus did not ask Mary to call for his disciples but directed her to
“Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” (John 20:17)
Jesus valued her as an equal.
We know from Scripture that the Corinth church was rather disorderly where Paul had to remind his audience that ‘God is not a God of disorder’ (1 Cor 14:33).
Could that have influenced Paul’s response? And what about his note to Timothy?
- Was Paul’s writing an instruction for those historical churches or a generic rule across all churches?
- How do we reconcile the fact that in other parts of Scripture, we find women leadership?
- And why did Paul address and praise Phoebe as a ‘deacon of the church of Cenchrea’ (a deacon, while not as ‘significant’ as an elder, nonetheless, still has a significant amount of authority vested in the person).
Based on what we can read regarding the practice adopted by the early church, we could see that the early churches did have women leaders. In the same vein, we do not see why such arrangements would be anathema in our current age and time.
For more information, also see B403 – Be involved in church ministry (for women).
In the context of the family, please see B85, Submit to your husbands (for wives’ only).
D239 - The Holy Communion is an important regular practice among Christians
It was Jesus himself who instituted this (Holy Communion) practice just before he was crucified and at his last supper. Jesus explained that the bread and the cup (of wine) was to symbolize his body and blood of the new covenant respectively (Matt 26:24-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:17-21).
The Holy Communion is for the purpose of remembering the work of Jesus on the cross and the forgiveness of sins through his blood. And it is to be carried out until the Lord’s return.
There is a basic requirement, and that is, when we partake of the communion, it is imperative that we examine ourselves so that we do not take the bread and wine in ‘an unworthy manner’.
Taking the communion in a flippant attitude may result in bringing judgment on our own bodies (1 Cor 11:23-28).
D240 - The church is a place of order
The Corinth churches sounded like a place of great disorder. There was immorality when a man took his father’s wife and they were proud about it (1 Cor 5:1-2). There were even lawsuits among fellow believers of the church (1 Cor 6:1-7).
They were not exactly a model church. On top of that, their worship was haphazard, with noises coming from believers freely speaking in tongues even while others prophesied (1 Cor 14:26-32).
Hence, Paul had to remind them that a church is an orderly place. 1 Cor 14:40 says,
‘But everything must be done in a proper and orderly manner.’
In terms of leadership, the church has a structure of elders and deacons as instituted by the disciples and the Apostle Paul. Please see D234 – The Church should ordain leadership at two levels.
As imperfect as the church could be, and believers who have been with the Lord for many years can attest to that – God has chosen to work through his church.
- D232 – God chooses to work through his (imperfect) church and believers, and
- D57 – Jesus loved order.
D241 - The church is a house of prayer
God’s purpose for the church is always to be a place where believers gather to pray and worship God. It is not a place set up for financial gains either through ‘business’ networking or selling things to the congregation, even if it is seen as ‘godly’ items.
See also S21 to S23 – Profit from things relating to the Gospel, for more information.
D242 - The church is a place of worship
The Apostle Paul encouraged believers to
‘speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts’ (Eph 5:19).
And in Col 3:16, he said quite the same thing.
He admonished believers to come together to sing and make melody to the Lord with our hearts. It is a modern-day worship service.
D243 - The church is there to strengthen one another in the Lord
Heb 10:24-25 says,
‘Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.’
This is a popular verse to encourage Christians to meet together and as a church. It also spells out the purpose as to ‘stimulate one another to love and good deeds.’
Believers cannot live isolationist lives. Jesus never lived his life as a recluse but rather he went out to meet and win people to him (See B126 – Be prepared to mix with people of the world).
How big should a church be?
According to Matt 18:20, Jesus is in our midst even when it is just two or three gathered together in his name. Of course, the bigger the church, the more effective it can be when doing projects.
One thing we know is that everywhere the Apostle Paul went, whether it was in Corinth, Galatia, Colossia or Ephesus, he established ‘churches’ and gave them organizational structures involving elders and deacons. Hence, we could imply that there must have been sizeable congregations.
Should a church operate in a building?
When the church first started, they were operating in homes of people like the prayer meeting dedicated to Peter who was imprisoned by Herod; that session was held in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12). Hence, a church is never about a building but a gathering of believers.
Believers were fellowshipping, observing communion and being taught at these gatherings like the case of Acts 2:42.
Col 3:16 says
‘teach and admonish one another.’
It is also a place where we can build good relationships so that we can ‘confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed’ (James 5:16)
The church is the location where we strengthen one another in the Lord, where we are taught the commandments of Jesus (Matt 28:19).
D244 - The church is where we may exercise our gifts for kingdom building
We are all gifted. Please see D121 – All of us are given talents/ gifts. Eph 4:12 tells us the purpose –
‘for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ.’
James 5:14 says that a sick person should contact an elder for prayer and the anointing of oil on his/ her body for healing. It is a place to exercise our spiritual gifts.
For those believers who are not elders, where do we exercise our ‘work of service’ and ‘building up of the body of Christ’ if it is not in a church?
Having said that, a church is also an organization and like any organization, it is not a simple answer to say that our gifts will be welcomed and acknowledged.
Hence, while the local church should be the first place to consider utilizing the gifts, from a macro perspective, it is for the believer to hear the Holy Spirit and at times use the gifts beyond the local church to the wider body of Christ.
Sometimes, our failure to use our gifts is because of human interaction issues. If we have these, please see B357 to B368 under Handling Offences for more information.
D245 - The church exists to reach the unreached
In Matt 16:18, Jesus says,
‘You are Peter and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’
The Roman Catholic sees the Apostle Peter as the first pope because of this verse. It teaches that Peter became the first bishop of Rome and he was the ‘go to’ man. Subsequently, Peter handed his apostolic authority to anyone who held the position of bishop of Rome. We are not the Roman Catholic church. For more questions, please go here.
There is another aspect relating to this verse; that is, God is building his church to confront hell, and not with a defensive intention. It is one where ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church’.
The church’s role is to reach out to non-believers and to bring those whom the Lord has appointed into the fold. John 10:27 says,
‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.’
Matt 28:19-20 has been very clear to both the church as well as each and everyone of us who is a believer,
‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’
D246 - The church is the foundation and pillar of the truth
In 1 Tim 3:15, the Apostle Paul described the church as
‘the pillar and foundation of the truth.’
The church must speak the truth without inhibition. And that truth is found in the Word of God, our Scripture.
God’s people, and the church, are the salt of the earth. Hence, Jesus said,
‘Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.’ (Luke 14:34-35).
We would like to suggest that, like Jesus, the church should be both ‘grace and truth’ (John 1:17).
It is not easy to operate in an environment when the church is under severe attack at societal levels to compromise our beliefs. Church leaders (even business leaders) need wisdom to operate, balancing truth with grace, while at the same time, maintaining the integrity of the Word of God and refusing to cave in to the demands of the world.
The world will not be kind to Christians but the church must remain to be the salt of the earth.
- D32 – Jesus is the Truth,
- D71 – Jesus (and his name) will be hated more and more by everyone,
- D92 – Satan is the prince of this world,
- D224 – Jesus is Grace and Truth,
- D262, Believers will be hated by all nations, and
- B107 to B116 – Relationship with governments.
D247 - The church exists to serve others in need
As early as Acts 2:44-47, it describes how the early Christians came together, sold their possessions and shared them among each other. They were serving each other.
In Acts 6:1-5, we see the neglect of the Hellenistic (Greek speaking) Jewish widows in their ‘daily serving of food.’
The church is a practical institution and Jesus was practical; remember the feeding of the multitude by Jesus.
‘do good to everyone, and especially those who are of the household of faith.’
James reminded us that
‘religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world’ (James 1:27).
Both the church and Christians are to go about doing good. We are not saved by good works but saved for good works.
See D184 – Repentance is the first part of the two-part salvation package.
The late William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army said,
‘You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet.’
D248 - The church consists of believers from across the world
When Cornelius became the first Gentile (non-Jew) believer, the dynamics of the Gospel changed in an instance; it became global.
Of course, this is consistent with the word given to Ananias in Acts 9:15 when Jesus told him that Saul (or later Paul, the Apostle) was the
‘chosen instrument of mine (Jesus) to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel’ (Acts 9:15).
What was once exclusively reserved for the Jews had from then taken on a different direction to include the Gentiles.
Eph 3:6 says,
‘This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.’
In Revelation, we could see the different races in heaven – when God purchased with his blood,
‘men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God and they will reign upon the earth’’ (Rev 5:9-10).
By the grace of God, Gentile Christians will be welcomed in heaven. Rev 7:9 –
‘Behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands.’
D249 - Church traditions maybe special but they are shadows of things to come
The Sabbath has been highlighted by some Christian denominations as sacrosanct. Yet, Jesus challenged the concept of Sabbath observed by fundamentalist Jews when he was on the earth.
In Matt 12:1-7, Jesus did not chastise his disciples from picking the heads of grain to eat, an action considered ‘work’ and a Jewish taboo of that era.
In Mark 3:1-5, he healed someone with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Again, it stirred up a heated discussion as ‘healing’ was equated to work by these religious elites. They got upset with him and said,
‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath (in accordance with how they expect him to keep it)’ (John 9:16).
In Col 2:16, Paul explained that issues relating to ‘food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day’ were merely ‘things which are a mere shadow of what is to come but the substance belongs to Christ.’
‘Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in – who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery.’
The Greek word for ‘slavery’ is katadouloo or enslave/ impose abject bondage.
Christianity is not a religion of doing but rather a relationship with God Almighty. Church traditions, like even the communion, are special but traditions are only shadows of things to come.
Traditions, carried to the extreme, can result in ‘bondage’ and ‘enslavery’; remember, both the observation of the Sabbath and circumcision are fundamental doctrines of the Jews and Judaism.
The important question is –
Not how we are observing these laws but what is our level of faith in Christ Jesus?
See D182 – Christians are not under the law of Moses
D311 - The church worships on Sundays
When Christianity came on the scene, the Jewish calendar had been in place for centuries, and even those who were not Jews knew when the holy days came round. Jews would close their shops, buy special foods, and gather in the synagogues and homes for communal and family celebrations.
Sunday, wrote Bishop Ignatius of Antioch (who became a celebrated Christian martyr in the Church’s early history), was the day on which ‘our Life’ (that is, Christ) ‘arose’.
It had replaced Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, as the Christian holy day, and even outsiders observed that Christians gathered on a fixed day for worship.
The above is taken from –
Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years (London: Yale University Press, 2012), page 38
In addition, Jesus listed thirteen sins in Mark 7:21-22 but did not mention breaking the Sabbath.
D312 - Key church leaders must call out false teachers
Christian leaders have an obligation to protect their flock from false prophets. Jesus said in Matt 7:15,
‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.’
Paul told the church leaders the same in Acts 20:28-30 –
‘Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.’
In fact, Paul went on to name names and even used strong words, something which many of us are uncomfortable with:
- “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me” (2 Timothy 4:10).
- “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes” (2 Timothy 1:15).
- “By rejecting this [faith and a good conscience], some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander” (1 Timothy 1:19–20).
- “Their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus” (2 Timothy 2:17).
Even the Apostle John, a man known for his love, also did not minced words when he called out Diotrephes in 3 John 9-10 –
‘I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.’
Please see also B116 – Expose the works of darkness.