This is part 9 of a 10 part series on the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. This reformed systematic theology for children was prepared for my own family. Much of the content is based on Bruce Ware’s Big Truths for Small Hearts. This article reviews the what the Bible teaches the church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Is the Lord of the Church

All real churches, and the whole church from the beginning, belong to one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the Lord of the church. The church belongs to Jesus.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

In John 10, the church is said to be like sheep that need to be fed and watered, sheep that also need protection from dangerous wolves. The shepherd leads, and the sheep follow. The shepherd provides food and water, and the sheep eat and drink as the shepherd directs.

Another way the church is pictured is as a bride, with Christ as the bridegroom.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2-3)

The word church literally means “called out ones.” We are people called out of the sin and rebellion of the world to be devoted completely to Christ.

“Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:24)

Revelation describes the joyous day when the church will be clothed in white for her marriage to Christ.

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)

The church is spoken of in the Bible as the body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12-26) Christ is the head of the church. He directs the church forward, to grow and to become what he wants it to be.

“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

The church where you worship may in one sense be your church, but more accurately, it is Christ’s church.

People of the New Covenant

In the Bible, there are agreements that take place between God and his people. These agreements are often called covenants. They say what God’s people are responsible to do before God, and they also state what God promises he will do.

These covenants are drawn up by God without asking for his people’s ideas about how they think things should be. God decides. He is God. And whatever God has decided, his people must do. This is how God’s covenants with his people work.

The Law of Moses or the Mosaic Covenant, gave very clear and detailed instructions for the people’s lives. God made it clear that if they obeyed this Law, they would receive great blessing from God. But if they disobeyed the Law, God would bring horrible punishment upon them. (Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28–30) But throughout the history of the people of Israel, sadly they often turned away from the Law and disobeyed what God had told them.

God knew that Israel would disobey. He planned all along to replace this Old Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, with a new covenant.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Old Covenant, the Law of Moses, was intended by God to show his people the sin of their own hearts. God knew that they could not keep the Law since their own sin would urge them to break the Law.

“What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.” (Romans 7:7-8)

“Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:19-25)

The church of Jesus Christ is not under the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant. The church is under the New Covenant in which God writes his laws and commands on our hearts. His Spirit works within believers’ hearts to remake their inner lives so that they learn to love the things of God. Over time the Spirit gives God’s people new tastes, new longings, new desires, so that what they want to do is what God wants them to do. The New Covenant is kept because the Spirit works within believers’ lives to make them grow more in wanting to follow God’s ways.

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)

By the Spirit, not by our own efforts, we grow to become more like Christ and live more pleasing to the Lord.

Communities of Christians Who Worship and Serve Together

The word church is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia. The work ek means “out”, and kaleo means “to call.” The word church refers to those who are “called out” by God to join together as his people,

Sometimes church is used of all of the followers of Jesus from the very first disciples down to today. The term universal church is used for this wider meaning referring to all true Christians from the time of Christ to today, from all places in the world. (1 Corinthians 10:32; 12:28; Ephesians 3:10; Colossians 1:24)

Church is more often used in a narrower way, referring to specific gatherings or communities of Christians who meet together regularly for worship and for service. The term local church is used for these individual gatherings of Christians in specific places. (1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; Colossians 4:5)

We should understand that there are many more followers of Christ than those who meet in any of our own local churches. Whether you go to a large or small church, still there are millions more Christians who have been true and faithful followers of Jesus throughout history and across the world. We are part of this larger church even though we don’t know most of those people.

Christians cannot sing songs of praise and gather to worship God in the universal church. Christians must meet in smaller local gatherings to sing, pray, worship, hear preaching, be baptized, take the Lord’s Supper, serve one another, hold each other accountable, and urge one another to love and do good deeds.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Christians gather together to worship God in communities of faith. Christians grow as they participate in singing hymns and songs of praise, as they pray for one another and for needs in many places, as they listen to the reading of God’s Word week by week, and as they hear the Scriptures faithfully taught and preached.

Christians gather together to serve God especially as they serve one another in local communities of Christian people. God has gifted you and me as believers so that we will use our gifts in serving other people.

Baptism: Picturing Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

Jesus gave his followers two practices that show what it means to believe in the Son of God who died and rose again to save them from their sin. Both of these practices were commanded by Christ for his people to carry out; so they are often referred to as ordinances of the church.

Baptism is the ordinance Christ gave to be carried out when a person first puts his or her trust in Christ for salvation, at the beginning of new life in Christ.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The term baptize means “to dip under water,” “to submerge,” or “to immerse.” Baptism is a beautiful picture of what it means for a believer in Jesus Christ to be joined together with Christ in his death for sin and in his resurrection to newness of life.

One who has trusted Christ for his salvation is dipped completely under water, only a moment later to be brought back up again. His being dipped under the water (often called immersion) is meant to picture that this believer is now so closely connected to Jesus Christ by faith that Christ’s own death has become this believer’s death. As he goes under the water, then, the Christian sees his own sin being paid for and his own death taking place as he is joined to Christ who died and paid for his sin in his place. An instant after this believer’s immersion into the water, he is brought up out of the water, showing that he is joined as well to Jesus’ resurrection life.

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:3-7)

Believers’ baptism does not save believers, but it provides a vivid, living picture of what happened when they were saved. Baptism gives an outward picture of what is true of their own inner life.

Lord’s Supper: Remembering Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

God instructed Israel to eat a particular meal just before he sent the angel to strike the homes of the Egyptians, killing the firstborn in every Egyptian home and stable. This was called the Passover meal because when the angel of death came to the camp of Israel in the land of Egypt, he saw the blood on the doorposts of their houses and “passed over” their homes, sparing them from death (Exodus 12:1–20; 13:3). Israel was to celebrate the Passover meal each year, so that they would “remember the day” when God brought them out of the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 16:3).

The second ordinances that Christ put in place for his church to practice is one in which they would regularly remember his death for their sin. At his last supper with the disciples, Jesus used some of the items of their meal as symbols for his own upcoming death.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

  • The disciples of Jesus are to carry out Jesus’ instructions when they come together in a group, as a community of believers.
  • The main focus is on the suffering and death of Christ. The broken bread is meant to picture Christ’s body broken as he hung on the cross. The wine or juice pictures Christ’s blood shed for sinners.
  • Jesus refers to the cup as “the new covenant in my blood.” Jesus brings about forgiveness of sin by his death on the cross. Only because of this may we be sure that the promise of the New Covenant will come true.
  • While the New Covenant says that God will remember our sins no more, in the Lord’s Supper we are to remember Christ’s death for us. Part of what this means is recalling the story of Jesus’ suffering that all four Gospels tell us. As we recall God’s great act of salvation in his Son, we honor and worship God, and we thank him with all our heart for his mercy. Our purpose now is to follow him, love him, and obey him. This is also part of what it means to remember Christ’s death and resurrection for our sin.

Growing the Church through Making Disciples

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

The command Christ gives is to “make disciples of all nations.” Our job is to lead people from anywhere in the world to see Jesus as the great teacher whom they should want to listen carefully to, learn from, and model their lives after.

We are not being called here to seek to make disciples of ourselves. The idea is not that we want others to look to us, admire us, learn from us, and live like us. Jesus commands us is make disciples of himself. We only obey Christ when we direct people’s attention to the teaching of Christ, the wisdom of Christ, the grace and compassion and truth of Christ.

Three words are used in these verses to describe how making disciples of Jesus will take place.

Going

Jesus assumed that they understood that they must go. He knew that the Spirit who was coming would give them power to speak of Christ wherever they went. They have to go to where the people are throughout the world if disciples are to be made from all the nations. Although the command in this verse relates to making disciples, going is a very important and needed part.

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Baptizing

When Jesus says to make disciples by baptizing them into the name of the Christian God, he means to declare to them the gospel of Christ so they can believe in Christ and be saved. Their baptism is only real and it is only truly a sign of their union with Christ if they have in fact trusted Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins and their only hope for eternal life.

Teaching

This command of Christ involves teaching those who have put their faith in Christ as much as it involves leading them to their initial faith in Christ. A disciple wants to learn everything he can from his teacher, to master the truth he knows and to live out the wisdom of his life.

If baptizing had more to do with quantitative growth and seeing that more people are saved, “teaching them to observe” has more to do with qualitative growth.

 

Basic Christian Beliefs Series

Part 1Who Is God?
Part 2What Is the Trinity?
Part 3God the Sovereign Creator
Part 4Our Human Nature and Sin
Part 5Person of Jesus Christ
Part 6Works of Jesus Christ
Part 7Holy Spirit
Part 8Our Salvation
Part 9Church of Jesus Christ
Part 10Second Coming of Jesus Christ

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