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Theology -- Christian Doctrine
Christian Doctrine of the Church from the perspective of a believer hinges on several basic concepts. The concept of Church, the nature of the Church revealed through metaphors, the Church's beginning, government, functions and ordinances are all basic elements of Church Doctrine. Researching these concepts, one can see some commonalities and some widely differing beliefs among Christian sects.
Summary of Christian Doctrine of the Church from the Perspective of a Believer
The Meaning of the Greek Word "Ekklesia"
The term "ekklesia" is Greek for "to call out," historically referring to "the assembly of citizens in a self-governed state" who were summoned from other places such as their homes to convene (Broadus 2012, 358). In the secular historical context, this term means only the assembly itself and not the people who take part in it (Saucy 1972, 12). Therefore, this secular historical interpretation does not rise to the level of ekklesia as understood by the early Christian Church. Nevertheless, the Septuagint contains several references to the Hebrew translation of ekklesia - qahal -- meaning "assembly, congregation, or convocation" (Baker 1995, 67) and the New Testament refers to this same secular type of ekklesia in Acts19:32, 39 and 41 (Nelson 1999).
A. The Local Church
Though there is reference to the secular historical meaning of ekklesia in the New Testament, the overwhelming New Testament Christian meaning of ekklesia refers to the local gathering of people who believe in Christ themselves rather than to a mere assembly. Here, ekklesia means "church," as in the churches of: Jerusalem, referred to in Acts 8:1 and 11:22 (Nelson 1999); Corinth, referred to in 1 Cor. 1:2 (Nelson 1999); Galatia, referred to in Gal. 1:2 (Nelson 1999); and Thessalonica, referred to in 1 Thess. 1:1 (Nelson 1999). Having little or nothing to do with a physical building, these churches frequently assembled in people's homes, for example in Rom. 16:5 and Philem. 2 (Nelson 1999).
B. The Universal Church
Yet another meaning for ekklesia within the Christian context is "universal church": "all those who, in this age, have been born of the Spirit of God and have by the same Spirit been baptized into the body of Christ" (Theissen 1979, 307). Here, for example in Acts 8:1:1-3 -- 9:31, the church refers to the community of believers, whether or not they are assembled in a specific place (Saucy 1972, 17). In this context, the universal church is the church that Christ: promised to build, referred to in Matt. 16:18 (Nelson 1999); died for, referred to in Eph. 5:25 (Nelson 1999); stands over as the head, referred to in Eph. 1:22-23 and Col. 1:18 (Nelson 1999); will be glorified by to all generations, referred to in Eph. 3:10 (Nelson 1999); has as his body, referred to in 1 Cor. 12:13 (Nelson 1999); embraces believers who have died and are now in heaven, referred to in Heb. 12:23 (Nelson 1999). This community of people, including all who have been reconciled to God and received new life through Christ's death, is expressed through local gatherings of these believers (Erickson 1998, 1034). This universal church is manifested in a local gathering and that local gathering is the universal church in that specific place (Saucy 1972, 18).
II. The Nature of the Church in Light of Its Different Metaphors
The Bible uses a variety of metaphors to symbolize and illustrate the church.
A. The Body of Christ
The "Body of Christ" is a metaphor of the church as the body and Christ as its head, focusing on the church's: unity, as in 1 Cor. 12:12-13 (Nelson 1999); diversity, as in 1 Cor. 12:14-31 (Nelson 1999); and interdependence, as in 1 Cor. 12:21-26 (Nelson 1999). Specific New Testament references to Christ as the head of the church, which is his body, are found in Col. 1:18 and 2:19; Eph. 1:22-23 and 4:4, 12, 16 and 5:30; 1 Cor. 12:12-31; Ro. 12:5 (Nelson 1999). Furthermore, the metaphor is used in the New Testament to indicate: the head's (Christ's) preeminence over his body (the church), as in Col. 1:15-19 and Eph. 5:24 (Nelson 1999); the head's (Christ's) unity with his body (the church), as in Col. 2:19 (Nelson 1999); and the sustenance that the body (the church) receives from the head (Christ), as in Col. 2:19 and Eph. 4:15-16 (Nelson 1999).
B. The Temple of God
Another metaphor widely used in the New Testament to represent the church is the "temple of God." The New Testament often refers to the church as a building, as in Eph. 2:19-20 and 1 Peter 2:4-7 (Nelson 1999), with the character of a hieron or temple, as in Eph. 2:21, 1 Cor. 3:16 and 2 Cor. 6:16 (Nelson 1999). Within the context of this metaphor, the New Testament refers to: the foundation, as in Eph. 2:19-20 (Nelson 1999); the foundation's identification, as in Eph. 2:20, 3:5 and 4:11 (Nelson 1999); Christ as the building's cornerstone, as in Eph. 2:20 and 1 Peter 2:6 (Nelson 1999); believers as the building's stones, as in 1 Peter 2:5 (Nelson 1999); and the building being progressively built, as in Eph. 2:21 and 4:12, 16 (Nelson 1999).
C. The Bride
The New Testament also uses the metaphor of "the Bride" to illustrate the church's relationship with Christ, who is her groom. The church is the bride, as in Rev. 21:9, 2 Cor. 11:2, and Eph. 5:23-32 (Nelson 1999). She is betrothed to Christ, as in Acts 20:28 and 2 Cor. 11:2 (Nelson 1999). Christ is the bridegroom, as in John 14:3, 1 Thess. 4:16-17, and Eph. 5:27 (Nelson 1999), who loves is bride, as in Eph. 5:2, 25-27 and Eph. 3:18-19 (Nelson 1999). The bride is waiting for the time when she will be presented to the bridegroom, as in John 14:3, 1 Thess. 4:16-17, and Eph. 5:27 (Nelson 1999), when they will have their marriage feast, as in Rev. 19: 7-9 (Nelson 1999).
D. The Flock
The metaphor of "the flock" is also used to illustrate the relationship between the church, which is the flock of sheep, as in 1 Cor. 14:40 (Nelson 1999), and their shepherd, who is Christ, as in Jn. 10:16 (Nelson 1999). This metaphor is used to show the subjection of the church (the flock) to Christ (its shepherd), and the shepherd's ownership and care for his sheep (Saucy 1972, 50). Furthermore, care of the flock has been delegated to Christ's ministers, as in 1 Peter 5:2 (Nelson 1999), as his "undershepherds" until his return (Saucy 1972, 51).
E. The Vine and the Branches
"The Vine and the Branches" is another metaphor, primarily used in John's Gospel. Here, Christ is the vine and those who believe in him are the branches, as in John 15:1 (Nelson 1999). This metaphor is used to symbolize various aspects of the relationship between Christ and his church, such as: the organic union between them, as in John 15:1-4 (Nelson 1999); the dependence of the branches (the church) on the vine (Christ) in order to bear fruit, as in John 15:4-5 (Nelson 1999); the fact that the vine bears his fruit through the branches, as in John 15:5 (Nelson 1999); that the branches must adhere to the vine in order to bear fruit, as in John 15:4-7 (Nelson 1999); that the purpose of the branch is to bear fruit, as in John 15:2; and that the branches bear fruit to glorify God, as in John 15:8 (Nelson 1999).
F. The Priesthood
The metaphor of the church as priest illustrates the special relationship between God and his church, and the privileges enjoyed by the church as a result. The church is a holy priesthood, as in 1 Peter 2:5 and 9 (Nelson 1999). Believers are priests who were chosen by God, as in Heb. 5:1, 4 and 1 Peter 2:9, and are sanctified by God, as in 1 Peter 1:2 and 2:5, Hebrews 10:22, and Titus 3:5 (Nelson 1999). As priests, believers have full access to God, as in Heb. 10:19-22 (Nelson 1999), and are privileged to give spiritual service that is acceptable to God, as in 1 Peter 2:5, 9, and Rom. 12:1 (Nelson 1999).
III. The Beginning of the Church
Christ founded the church, setting the groundwork for the church during his life and bringing it into existence until the day of Pentecost. First the church is a mystery with secret thoughts and dispensations by god that are at the divine level and revealed only to those for whom they are intended (Danker 2000, 532). This mystery is that Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the body and partakers of Christ's promise through the Gospel, as in Eph. 3:6 (Nelson 1999). This mystery resides in God's mind and is hidden from men, as in Eph. 3:9 (Nelson 1999), and was not revealed in the Old Testament, as in Eph. 3:5, Rom. 16:25-26 and Col. 1:26 (Nelson 1999). Secondly, Christ referred to the building of the church in the future tense in Matthew 16:18 (Nelson 1999) by using the term oikodomeso,…[continue]
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