Confirmation Journey 8. The Church
(Read Chapter 11 of “What Christians Believe” and complete Assignment 8 before this Session. We also will use the booklets “The History of the Presbyterian Church” and “About Being Presbyterian”)
In the Bible the church is never spoken of as a building but a body of people. To belong to the church is not belonging to a particular building, but to a particular group of people. In Greek it means “The Assembly Of Called Out Ones.”
The Invisible Church.
Ephesians 5:23 “Christ is the head of the church, the body of which He is the Savior.”
Ephesians 5:25 “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her”
The Church is an invisible community of all who are “Saved” by the grace of God in Christ. Only God truly knows who they are.
The Visible Church
Hebrews 10:24-2 “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Christians are encouraged to meet together to learn God's requirements, to learn how to serve and to worship. In the New Testament, when a person became a Christian, they became part of a local community of Christians. To ask “Do you have to go to church to be a Christian?” would never enter their minds! Being with other believers was the natural outcome of believing in Christ.
If a person accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior then they are already part of the church. (The invisible Church). But there is a further step to take, which is to identify with a local community (The Visible Church)... which is where church membership and confirmation comes into it.
The Church exists primarily to worship God. Worship is a HUGE thing. It involves service of other people and of God. It involves the whole of our lives. It's not just what we do on Sunday! But an important part of it IS what we do on a Sunday.
Exodus 20:8-10 “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God.”
God's people have always found it necessary to meet together to worship, pray, learn and serve. In the Old Testament the Sabbath was a Saturday, but after Jesus rose again from the dead, Christians would meet on Sunday, the day of resurrection.
P167 of “What Christians Believe” speaks of the New Testament uses several pictures of the church to help us understand what it is. No one picture gives us the full truth, but together they show up what God intends God's church to be like.
A Body. Ephesians 1:22-23 “And God has put all things under His (Jesus) feet and has made Him the head over all things for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Just as the various parts of the human body work together, so everyone in the church makes different contributions, but in unity. Jesus like the head of a body, gives the church its direction and life.
Christ's bride. Ephesians 5:31-32 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.”
Paul says that Christ loves the church and gave up his life for her. Because of this, God's people are called to be morally pure and wholly given over to Jesus.
God's temple. Ephesians 2:19-21“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord”
In the Old Testament, the Jerusalem Temple was the place where God was present. The church is God's temple, not built with bricks and mortar, but with the living stones of committed men and women. God is present among his people the church, and he is active by his Holy Spirit.
A royal priesthood. 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
Priests in the Old Testament provided a bridge between the people and God. Because all Christians are adopted children of God, they all have direct access to him through Jesus Christ.
Lights in a dark world. John 12:46“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” Each local church represents Jesus and is message like a candle in the night. This attracts other people to new life through Him.
The New Testament tells us clearly that Jesus meant to start the church – it wasn't an invention by the first Christians. His church is permanent feature of our world until the end of time. Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 “I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it.”
A Very Very brief Church History
After two thousand years, Christianity is the faith, at least nominally, of one-third of the earth’s population. From a handful of fishermen, tax collectors, and youthful troublemakers in an obscure province of Judea, the faith has spread over the globe to claim the loyalty of almost two thousand million inhabitants of our planet. However, the church is divided into different groups, called “denominations”... that all have quite a history! But it all began with...
The Age of Jesus and the Apostles Christians have always considered the age of Jesus and His apostles a kind of model for all the other ages. It gave to the church its faith in Jesus, the resurrected Messiah, and the hope of forgiveness of sins through Him. And the age demonstrated, in the life of Paul, that the gospel of grace recognized no boundaries of nation, race, gender, or culture.
The Age of Catholic Christianity (70–312)
The catholic Christianity, which accepted this truth, spread rapidly throughout the Mediterranean world. It confronted other philosophies and religions by appealing to the apostles writings and to the bishops who guarded them. At the same time, Christians faced the persecuting power of Rome and dared to die heroically as martyrs, witnesses to their faith in Jesus.
The Age of the Christian Empire (312–590)
The Imperial Age began in 312 when Constantine caught a vision of Christ n the middle of a battle. Before the fourth century closed, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire. Under the emperor’s influence, the church learned to serve the seats of power by creating a faith for the masses. Many great councils were held. Some Christians felt the faith was losing it's way and headed for the wilderness in search of a differnt way to experience grace. They became the founders of monasticism.
The Christian Middle Ages (590–1517)
Other Christians, saw the hand of God in the wedding of the Christian church and Roman state. But in the fifth century, barbarian forces shattered the Empire’s defenses and swept into the eternal city of Rome. Many turned to a book by a man called Augustine called “City of God” for explanations. They found in his writings a vision for a new age. We call these centuries “medieval.” People who lived in them considered themselves “Christian.” Their reasons lie in the role of the pope, who stepped into the ruins of the fallen empire in the West and proceeded to build the medieval church upon Rome’s bygone glory. As the only surviving link with the Roman past, the Church of Rome mobilized monks and deployed them as missionary ambassadors to the Germanic people. It took centuries, but the popes, aided by Christian princes, slowly conquered and baptized a continent and called it Christendom, or as it later became known....Christian Europe.
In the East however history took a different course. The fall of Constantinople saw the rise of Moscow, the new capital of Eastern Orthodoxy. In 1054 “The Great Schism” took place between the Orthodox church of the East and the Roman Church of the West.
As the church gained worldly power much took place that seemed more concerned with building earthly kingdoms than the Kingdom of God. Though there were some in the church who had sincere faith, for many it became the religion they were born into and forced to adhere to. Wars, Crusades and many other unsettling events led some to feel that the true message of the gospel had been lost.
The Age of the Reformation (1517–1648)
One such man was Martin Luther who felt the church needed to “re-form” itself. Others rallied to the cause. The period we call the Reformation marks the beginning of of Protestant Christianity; Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, and AnaBaptist. By the mid sixteenth century the Reformation had shattered the traditional religious unity of western Europe. It was during this period that the Presbyterian Church came into being.
(For the rest of the story take a look at the Channing Bete brochure “The History of the Presbyterian Church.”)