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The Church Christ Built - Marks of Identification

The church Christ built is worthless to man if it is impossible to find (or establish), if
it only existed in ancient history, and cannot be known today. Fortunately, like all
things that exist, there are marks of identification that allow us to know his church
from those made by mere men. We are able to distinguish one thing from another
in life because of characteristics that each possess that differ from another in one
way or another. True, there may be many similarities, as there are say between a
dog and a cat (both have 4 legs, two ears, a tail, walk on all fours, have bodies
covered with hair, etc.) but the differences are such as to make identification easy
in distinguishing between the two.

What are the marks of identification of the Lord’s church versus man made
churches.

(1) The time of its founding. The Lord’s church began in the first century on the Day
of Pentecost in Acts 2. Any church that was built or came into existence centuries
later for the first time cannot be the church Jesus built.

(2) The builder – Christ himself built his church. If a church can trace its beginnings
back to a particular man or group of men that can be named for its founding it is
clearly not the church Christ built.

(3) Its name. If a church is the church Jesus built then one would expect that it
would not have a name attached to it given by men. Actually, no formal name was
ever given to the church Jesus built. It was often referred to by various figures such
as: the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23, 4:12), the Lamb’s bride (Rev. 21:9-10, Rom.
7:4), the church of God (Acts 20:28), the church of Christ (Rom. 16:16), the church
of the living God (1 Tim. 3:15), the church of the firstborn (Heb. 12:23), the
household of God (Eph. 2:19), the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2), God’s field (1 Cor. 2:9),
God’s building (1 Cor. 2:9), the house of God (1 Tim. 3:15), the house of Christ (Heb.
3:6), the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17), and, of course, the most common name
used for the church in the Bible is just the word “church” itself as all Bible readers
know.

The listing above is not an exhaustive list but it is enough of a list as to give you an
idea that the church is not given a formal name in the New Testament. Are there
any implications that can be correctly drawn from what has been studied here? One
thing sticks out to me as I look back over the list – the name Christ or God is given
in all the references found (the Lamb is Christ in the Rev. 21:9-10 reference, Christ
was the firstborn from the dead in the Heb. 12:23 reference). What is the point?

The church built by Jesus does not belong to you or me or man. It is his and he is
the one that is to be honored. When we give a church a man’s name, or give a
church a man made name, such brings no honor to God and in fact deprives him of
any credit whatsoever. A man is honored by the name, or a movement or method is
given honor by the name, but God is to be given glory in the church (Eph. 3:20-21),
not a man or a movement. If a church has an unscriptural name it is just that –
unscriptural – and there is no making that wrong right as long as the name remains
unchanged. A wrong name also becomes a marker for a wrong church, a man made
one rather than the one Christ built.

(4) Its members – their names. In the church built by Jesus no member was called
anything other than a disciple, a brother or a sister as the case might be or just as
brethren when taken collectively, a child of God, a saint, or just by the name
Christian (Acts 11:26). Again this listing is not necessarily exhaustive but is
sufficient to make a needed point. In the New Testament church there was no such
beings as Christians who also had an additional appellation or name to distinguish
them from others. This was the very thing Paul condemned in 1 Cor. 2:4 when he
said, “For when one says, ‘I am of Paul,’ and another, ‘I am of Apollos,’ are you not
carnal?” (NKJV)

No church that wants or insists its members be called by a denominational name in
addition to the name Christian is any part of the church Jesus built. Not only is it
carnal as Paul speaking by the Holy Spirit said but it is also dishonoring to God as if
it is not good enough to just be called a Christian or child of God. The name
“Christian” is a Christ honoring name. Denominational names dishonor Christ as his
name is replaced for that which the Bible knows nothing about. More could be said
about the name but space will not allow it.

(5) Membership – how do people become members of Christ’s church? This is an
easily answered question. The church was established on the Day of Pentecost in
Acts 2. When Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, in Matt. 16:16,
Jesus’ responded by saying, “on this rock I will build my church.” (Matt. 16:18 NKJV)
But then in the very next verse he tells Peter, “I will give you the keys of the
kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 16:19 NKJV) Jesus thus uses the terms the church and
the kingdom interchangeably making them one and the same.

The kingdom of God is not something that in our own time is yet down the road in
the future. Jesus said to those with whom he was speaking in Mark 9:1, “Assuredly, I
say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see
the kingdom of God present with power.” (NKJV) Paul says some years later in Col.
1:13, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the
kingdom of the Son of his love.” (NKJV)

Peter used the keys of the kingdom (the keys being the gospel message with its
requirements) on the day of Pentecost. When the 3,000 that day heard the
message, believed it, repented of their sins (as instructed to do – Acts 2:38), and
were baptized for the forgiveness of sins (as instructed to do – Acts 2:38) they were
then translated into the kingdom of God by God himself. It is in that kingdom, not
out of it, where salvation is found. If saved that day, does anyone doubt that they
were (?), they were that day translated into the “kingdom of the Son of his love.”

Men do not join the church (the kingdom of God) but rather God adds them upon
conditions. “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts
2:47 NKJV) The conditions are those set forth by Peter on the day of Pentecost.
Jesus said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom
of God.” (John 3:5 NKJV) There are only two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and the
kingdom of Satan. One must be in the kingdom of God for salvation but Jesus is the
Savior of the body (Eph. 5:23) which is the church (Col. 1:24). The kingdom and the
body, the church, are one and the same the difference being only in the way it is
being described. The kingdom has a king, the body has a head, but the same one
who is king is also the head – the head of the body and of the church which are one
and the same (Col. 1:24).

Membership in this body, this church of Christ, this church Jesus built, is granted
only on the basis of the new birth (John 3:5). It begins with the Spirit in that through
the Spirit’s word, the gospel message, man is led to faith and repentance and a
willingness and desire to confess Christ for who he is - the Son of God - and
culminates in baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16) but more
succinctly to put to death the old man of sin and to arise a new spiritual creation
(Rom. 6:4-6). The old man dies in baptism (Rom. 6:4), “we were buried with him
through baptism into death.” (NKJV) We come up from the water clothed with Christ
(Gal. 3:27 NAS). Paul is thus able to say, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into
one body…and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:13 NKJV)

These then are the terms of membership if one desires to be in the church Jesus
built. One can get into churches built by men on other terms, into manmade
churches, but there is only one way into the Lord’s church. We must go back to the
New Testament and enter the Lord’s church on the same terms of membership that
they did back then. The same process that makes one a Christian also makes him a
member of the church Jesus built, also adds him to the church, the Lord doing the
adding when the requirements are met.

(6) Another mark of the Lord’s church is its organization. Each congregation was on
its own running its own affairs with no guidance from any kind of national church
organization. Each congregation was to have elders appointed who met certain
requirements as set out in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. This group of men was
sometimes referred to under various terms in the same way Christians were as
discussed earlier. The terms used were elders, overseers, shepherds, bishops,
pastors, and rulers.

One of the requirements for a bishop or elder was that he be “the husband of one
wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, Titus 1:6) and thus the church Jesus built was led by men. There
were no women in leadership positions in the church. Perhaps the reason is given
by Paul in 1 Tim. 2 when he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have
authority over a man…for Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not
deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” (1 Tim. 2:12-14
NKJV) This is a historical reason that time will never be able to change and thus it
was not a matter of culture as some teach today.

If you find a congregation that is in violation of God’s plan for church leadership you
can be certain, though cries may be made to high heaven, that it is not the church
Jesus built. The eldership was always made up of a number of men and not just a
single individual (Titus 1:5, Heb. 13:17). Thus in the church Christ built there were
no women in leadership positions or teaching over men (preachers) nor was there
any such thing as the modern pastor system. Those things are from men, not God.

Finally, there was a group of men known as deacons who also had an organized
work to do under the direction of the eldership. Qualifications for these men are
found in 1 Tim. 3:8-13. Some feel the 7 men chosen to supervise the daily
distribution in the church at Jerusalem as found in Acts 6:1-6 were the first deacons.
They certainly filled the role deacons might well serve.

(7) Worship of the church. The church Jesus built never prayed to saints departed
or otherwise. Peter would not allow himself to be worshiped but when Cornelius
attempted to do so, “Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I myself am also a man.”
(Acts 10:26 NKJV) Paul and Barnabas had a somewhat similar experience in Lystra
where the inhabitants wanted to sacrifice to them but they would not have it and
restrained the people (Acts 14:11-18).

By contrast there is one well known religious group today who’s leader not only will
accept worship with men bowing down to him but is even so bold as to make
himself God on earth. Praying to dead saints rather to God is a common practice
among them. Needless to say you find nothing like this in the New Testament and it
is thus no part of the church Jesus built.

But when we talk about the worship of the church there is more to it than just the
correct object of worship – God in heaven. Jesus said we must worship God in spirit
and truth (John 4:24). He then says in John 17:17 that, “Your word is truth.” (NKJV)
This means, obviously, that man is not free to worship God just any old man made
up way he chooses and call it worship pleasing to God. God gets to decide what
pleases, not man. If you recall the church at Corinth in 1 Cor. 11 had a worshipping
problem as it pertained to the Lord’s Supper. Not just any old way of doing things
pleases God.

What are the acts of worship as found in the New Testament that when done in the
right manner pleases God? Partaking of the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the
week is one (Acts 20:7), prayer is another, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual
songs (Eph. 5:19-20, Col. 3:16) is included, teaching of God’s word in which
exhortation would be a part, and giving. Very few if any would object to any of
these things for all are pretty much in agreement that these things can be found on
the pages of the New Testament as things authorized in worship. We can do all of
these things in the name of the Lord Jesus. “Whatever you do in word or deed, do
all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col.
3:17 NKJV)

The problem today, when one is searching for the church built by Christ as far as it
pertains to the worship, is finding a church that has not added to it. All kinds of
entertainment has been made a part of the worship - plays, dramas, musical
entertainment (generally called in my part of the country “special music”), special
events, and around election time even political rallies passed off as worship service.
No, if we want the church the saints had in the first century, the one that belonged
to Christ, we will have to content ourselves with doing what they did under divine
approval and say that is good enough for it is good indeed as it came to us from
“the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James
1:17 NKJV)

(8) The works of the church. The works of the church I think all are pretty much in
agreement on as one looks back at the church in the New Testament. What did they
do? They taught the gospel, they attempted to build each other up in the faith and
lend a hand to one another as needed; they were encouraged in every good work,
and helped the poor and needy.

The mission of the church was spiritual but that did not mean it was divorced from
the cares of this world completely. “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his
brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in
him?” (1 John 3:17 NKJV)

Much that you see being done in churches today was never a part of the New
Testament church. There were no ball teams, no seminars on how to do your taxes,
or lose weight, no business enterprises to raise money versus giving it out of your
own pocket, and the list could go on and on. We need to learn what work the New
Testament churches were involved in and get back to it and forget about everything
else.

In this article I have tried to set forth the marks of identification for the church
Christ built. That is the church we need to be in and need to get back to. If we did
all denominations would cease to exist so men will fight it tooth and nail for it is one
thing to say we want it and it is another thing to really want it enough to give up the
things we have for it. In other words the old saying “talk is cheap” was and is more
than just a saying.

Can we have the church Jesus built in our own day and time? I knew a lady that
once said no. She was in error. We can have it if we want it. Do we really want it is
the question.