Speaking Sound Doctrine

The Work Of The Church

II.     Characteristics Of The Church

A.      The Kingdom Of Heaven

The church is described in Old Testament prophesy as the everlasting kingdom of God that would transcend all kingdoms.

Isaiah 9:6, 7  For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, To order it and establish it with judgment and justice From that time forward, even forever.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.

Daniel 2:44  And in the days of these kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever.

In New Testament terminology, "church" and "kingdom" indicate the same thing (Hebrews 12:23-28).

Matthew 16:18, 19  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

The very first time the gospel is proclaimed, as recorded in Acts 2, Peter explains that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of these prophecies and declares the good news that the kingdom of God has come (vs. 29-36).  He orders the people to be baptized for the remission of their sins (vs. 38), and doing so, God adds them to His church.

Acts 2:47  …praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

1.          The saved

The church is the body of penitent, obedient, baptized believers.  These are forgiven sinners: saved individuals (Acts 2:47; Ephesians 5:23).  The prophets also foretold a suffering savior that would take sins away.

Isaiah 53:10-12  Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.  When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.  By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.

2.          The called out

The English word "church," as defined by Merriam-Webster (M-W), primarily means "a building for public Christian worship."  According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (OED), this was the first use of the word in English, which began around 1200 AD.  The word is actually derived from the Greek word for "lord:" KURIOS {koo'-ree-os}.  The OED further explains that as far back as 300 AD, meeting houses were called KURIAKON, meaning, "belonging to the lord, the lord's, of the lord" (Friberg), as used of the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:20. 

However, the New Testament Greek word translated "church" in our English Bibles is a different word, EKKLESIA {ek-klay-see'-ah}, which comes from combining two Greek words meaning "from out of" (EK) and "to call" (KALEO {kal-eh'-o}).  J. H. Thayer (JHT) describes it in a generic sense as, "1) a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly 1a) an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating…."  It is not the gathering place but the purposed gathering itself.  Incidentally, in New Testament writings, the word "KURIAKON" is never used in reference to the called out body.

The word EKKLESIA with its complete meaning is not easily translated into English by a single word.  A more accurate English word is "assembly," as it is rendered in Young's Literal Translation (YLT), but it still does not relate the full connotation.  Certainly, the word "church" does not represent the meaning, but this is the word the 1611 King James translators were directed to use to align with Anglican ecclesiastical doctrines and politics, as opposed to "congregation," as appears in the 1534 Tyndale New Testament (TNT) (Daniell, 2003, page 439).  In fact, the TNT uses the word "church" only twice, each with reference to pagan structures, as in Acts 19:37 where it translates a compound form of HIERON {hee-er-on'}, the Greek word for "temple."  Consequently, with the KJV, "church" has become the predominate word we have unfortunately inherited for EKKLESIA in our English Bibles.  Therefore, we need to apply the Bible meaning to the word in our studies.

William Barclay further explains that in Athens during the classical Greek period (around 500 to 300 BC), the EKKLESIA was a duly convening assembly of legal citizens who, operating within state law, could appoint and dismiss administrative officials, direct policy, declare war, contract treaties and alliances, allocate funds, elect military leaders, and dispatch troops.  Its premises were that each member had equal rights and the freedom and duty to participate.  EKKLESIA also had a Hebrew sense.  In the Septuagint (writings that include the Old Testament in Greek), the word translates the Hebrew word for "assembly" or "congregation," QAHAL {kaw-hawl'} (Deuteronomy 9:10), which also originates from a root meaning "to summon."  Barclay further explains here the significance of the "calling out" indicated by this word.  When the people of Israel assemble, it is not a happenstance gathering but a summoning by God of all the people together to listen to and act upon the word of the Lord.  Clearly, this describes an ordained body with a mission and a work to accomplish.

3.          The body of Christ

The apostle Paul metaphorically describes the church as a body in much of his writing (Romans 12:3-16; 1 Corinthians 10:16, 17; 12:11-27; Ephesians 1:22, 23; 3:6; 4:4, 12, 16; 5:23, 30; Colossians 1:18, 24; 2:19; 3:15).  Some teachers today proclaim that, since the church is the body of Christ, the church has the authority to do whatever Christ did in His body during His life on earth.  The problem with this reasoning is its foundation in equivocation, a fallacy of ambiguity, wherein the literal sense of the body of Christ in the flesh is traded upon the metaphorical sense of His body as a group of believers.  Actually, in Paul's use of the word "body," he is figuratively explaining that the unified members are all different yet equal to each other and should be in subjection to Christ, its head, who cares for them.  We need to be careful not to conclude more from this metaphor than what is intended.

According to this reasoning, carpentry should be an ordained work of the church, as this is something our Lord did in his earthly occupation (Mark 6:3).  To the contrary, consider that it is completely reasonable for a man to establish an organization and define its purpose and function as something other than or more specific than everything he has ever done in his life.  So it is with Christ.  The church is His institution, and it is His decision to appoint what is and is not its purpose and function.

B.       The Church Is An Organization

In a desire to disparage orderliness in the church, some people today scoff at the idea that the church is anything more than a collection of individuals.  To illustrate, this could be likened unto a group of people gathered together at a particular airport terminal gate.  Moreover, if someone else happens along and joins their number, he automatically becomes part of that group.  They are a group, for certain, but there is no calling out, no organization, no commonality of purpose, no conditions of acceptance, no leadership, and no established principles of operation.  We ought not think of the church in this way.  We will discuss this further in sections to follow, but scripture reveals that the church is much more than a mere conglomeration of people.  It is indisputably an organization, an institution, a corporation, an establishment, and an association.  Though these words are synonymous, their specific English meanings, given by Merriam-Webster, offer nuance into understanding church function.

1.          Organization:

An organization is simply a body organized with structure.  The church has a head: Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:22); a local body is to be structured with overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1).  Not everyone in a local body is qualified to be an overseer or deacon (1 Timothy 3:1-13).  Therefore, it is more than a mere collectivity of persons.

2.          Corporation:

A corporation is a body legally formed to act as a single entity with various rights and duties (Ephesians 4:16).  It is a functioning entity with a mission executed by members acting cooperatively.  A legally formed entity follows established governing laws (Hebrews 7:12).  A mere collection of people have no duties or rights nor do they need any law or guidelines.

3.          Establishment:

An establishment is a thing which has been established, as if by a ratified covenant.  A covenant is a tangible, lawful agreement or contract which expresses reciprocal or contingent responsibilities and privileges among those accordingly bound.  The church is most certainly founded upon such a basis (Hebrews 10:9).

4.          Institution:

An institution is simply an established organization or corporation.  Any institution, including the church, will be able to identify its founder (Matthew 16:16-18), its time of conception (Acts 2:33, 41), its place of origination (Luke 24:47-49), and its headquarters (Ephesians 1:20-22).  A mere group of people at some random time or place can claim no such thing.

5.          Association:

An association is a society of persons having a common interest.  This sharing is typically described in scripture as "fellowship" (Ephesians 3:9, 10).  From KOINONIA {koy-nohn-ee'-ah}, Thayer's definition includes, "1) …association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse 1a) the share which one has in anything,… 1b1) the right hand as a sign and pledge of fellowship (in fulfilling the apostolic office) 1c) a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, as exhibiting an embodiment …."

An association is also sometimes called a union.  As the term implies, Merriam-Webster's definition includes, "Something that is made one: something formed by a combining or coalition of parts or members, as a confederation of independent individuals (as nations or persons) for some common purpose."  Trade unions are an example of such an association.  A union, by definition, can include either a coalition of individuals or a coalition of corporations.  Scripture indicates no church organizational structure greater than the local congregation, so the church is a union, not of separate denominations, but of individuals with undivided beliefs, principles, and interests.

1 Corinthians 1:9-13  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment….

C.       The Church Is Unique

This unity and fellowship indicates that there is only one true church.  In denominationalism, we see many different groups all teaching and practicing different things.  Since they do not share the same beliefs, they cannot have joint participation, and they therefore exhibit not an embodiment but many different bodies.  If they are different bodies, they cannot be the Lord's body.  As our Lord has only one body, so He has only one church and one standard for teaching and practice.  If Paul wanted to explain to us that there is only one body, he could not have been more clear.

Romans 12:4, 5  For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

Romans 15:5, 6  Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:17  For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

1 Corinthians 12:12, 13  For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

Ephesians 1:10, 23  …that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth – in Him…. 22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 4:4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Colossians 3:15  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

D.      It Is God's Wisdom Manifested

Look again at Paul's description of the church in Ephesians 3 as he explains the ministry given him by God in the gospel:

(NAU) Ephesians 3:10  …so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places….

Our study will show that one work of the local church is to actively and continuously preach and proclaim the wisdom of God.  The original word here translated "manifold" is POLUPOIKILOS {pol-oo-poy'-kil-os}, meaning "1) much variegated, marked with a great variety of colours…" (JHT) or "many sided" (Friberg).  However, the original verb translated "might be made known" (GNORIZO {gno-rid'-zo}) occurs in the aorist tense, passive voice, and subjunctive mood.  The aorist indicates a simple occurrence at one point in time; the passive indicates that the subject is not producing the action but that the action is to or through another; the subjunctive indicates action that may or may not happen.  Therefore, Paul is apparently not here describing the continuous duty of the local church to actively preach God's wisdom.  Instead, the message in this statement is that once God establishes His church, if men will examine it, His wisdom is evident through it.  As a many-sided glass prism will reflect and refract a spectrum of colors in many different directions, so the church reflects the wisdom of God from every perspective.  Whether we look at the church from the viewpoint of its origin, doctrine, fellowship, value, promises, purpose, organization, or mission, we can always see God's wisdom.  In similitude, "the heavens declare the glory of God" by its sheer existence, if we will but look at it (Psalm 19:1-6).

E.       Usage Of The Word "Church"

It is evident that there are at least three different connotations of the word "church" seen in the New Testament.  Look at Thayer's further explanation of EKKLESIA: "…1d) in a Christian sense 1d1) an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting 1d2) a company of Christian, or of those who, hoping for eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, observe their own religious rites, hold their own religious meetings, and manage their own affairs, according to regulations prescribed for the body for order's sake 1d3) those who anywhere, in a city, village, constitute such a company and are united into one body 1d4) the whole body of Christians scattered throughout the earth 1d5) the assembly of faithful Christians already dead and received into heaven."  Let us now look at the scriptures to see these various applications revealed.

1.          General or universal

This refers to the totality of all saved individuals for all times in all places.  This is the one church, one body, which Jesus established (1 Corinthians 10:32; Philippians 3:6).

Matthew 16:18  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.

Hebrews 12:22, 23  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.

Remarkably, scripture indicates no organizational structure of the church in the universal sense, other than Christ as its head and Christians as its members (Ephesians 5:23, 30).  There are no earthly headquarters and no ordained governing officials over the church universally.  Denominationalism has perverted this divine arrangement by introducing earthly headquarters, fragmented bodies, and intermediate layers of government.

Scripture also indicates no active mission or function ordained for the church as a body universally.  As considered previously, the church declares the wisdom of God by its mere existence.  We will later examine the work of individual Christians as members of the universal church, but this is not the church universal functioning as a corporate body.

A person is added to the church in a general sense the moment he becomes a Christian.  This occurs not by the power of man but of God alone (Acts 2:47).  Since it is God who adds a Christian to the church universally, no Christian has the power to demand of God that he be removed from it.  The relationship is likened to a marriage, which God intends to be a permanent bond (2 Corinthians 11:2; Romans 7:1-4; Ephesians 5:23-33; James 4:4).

2.          Specific or local

This refers to local churches in various places; the members of each have agreed to band together to work and worship in a cooperative way according to divinely prescribed ordinances.  This is the only case in which the New Testament writers speak of churches in the plural.

1 Corinthians 14:33  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.

Revelation 1:11  saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."

Though God alone established the church in the general sense, local churches are started by men in accordance with a divinely revealed pattern.  Scripture describes how the very first gospel preachers went from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, just as the Lord had instructed (Acts 1:8; 8:1, 5, 40).  As believers obeyed, they started churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:22, 31).  These preachers eventually took the gospel to the whole world (Acts 13:2-5, 14, 49; 14:21), setting up more churches everywhere, exhorting each one and appointing elders in every church (Acts 14:21-23).  Thus, they established local churches here and there.  New local churches are started today by following this same pattern.  The gospel is like seed.  If you sow pumpkin seeds, you will produce pumpkins.  If you sow the word of God, you will produce local churches (Matthew 13:3-23; 1 Peter 1:23).  Encyclopedias state that that the church of Christ originates in the reformation efforts of Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell (circa 1800), but this is untrue.  These men were calling for a return to scripture for religious authority.

Bear in mind that although a man may start a new local church, it is not the church of that man; it is still the church of Christ.  To illustrate, suppose a man named Smith invents a new machine.  He first imagines it, then draws the complete fabrication plans, writes detailed specifications, builds it, and calls it a Smith-machine.  Now suppose Mr. Smith reveals these plans and specifications to Mr. Jones, who likewise builds one, perfectly following the original plans and specifications.  In doing so, he has built nothing more or less than another Smith-machine.  Smith is still the one who invented it, designed it, and originated it.  However, if Jones decides not to follow the original plans but augments, diminishes, or otherwise alters the plans, it is no longer a genuine Smith-machine but something else.  Now if he calls it also a Smith-machine, it is actually a fraud.  This follows natural rules of logical reasoning.

Now apply this reasoning to a local church.  All local churches following the same God-ordained scriptural pattern will teach the same doctrine, worship in the same modes, wear the same name, and work toward the same purposes.  Although there are many different local churches throughout the world, they are not different kinds of churches; they are all churches of Christ, which can be identified by their common features, just as they were in the first century.  As discussed earlier, this is fellowship: a sharing in beliefs, principles, and practices.  However, if a local church stops teaching and practicing things according to the original, divine pattern, it ceases to be the church of Christ, even if they call themselves the church of Christ.  This is the essence of denominationalism: different kinds of churches teaching and practicing different things.  The Lord had exhorted Moses to build the tabernacle entirely according to the pattern he had been given.  We ought to do the same with His church.

Hebrews 8:5  …who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."

Note again that a local church is more than a mere collection of area members.  Just because a number of Christians live in Smithsburg does not mean the church of Smithsburg automatically exists and that they are coincidentally part of it.  A local church is a structured organization with a corporate mission.

A Christian becomes a member of a specific or local church when he joins himself to it and is accepted among them (Acts 9:26-28).  As a Christian can join himself to a local body, he can also remove himself from a local body to join another, as Apollos did, moving from Ephesus to Corinth (Acts 18:27).  Moreover, a Christian can be removed from among a local body due to his unfaithfulness after repeated warnings (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:2, 7, 13).  A clear indication of the association or affiliation of Christians with different local bodies is evident in scripture.  Phoebe was said to belong to the local body at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1).  Aquila and Priscilla were members at Ephesus, where the church would meet in their home (Acts 18:18, 19; 1 Corinthians 16:19).

It is a misconception to think of the general church as simply a collection of all local churches.  Scripture reveals no corporate sub-structure higher than the single, autonomous local body.  It is also incorrect to think of the local church as nothing more than a group of Christians who assemble together several times a week for worship.  We have already noted that the corporate body has a mission, function, structure, and organization beyond merely Christians randomly assembling for worship.

3.          Assembled

The New Testament speaks of the church in yet another special way: when a local body assembles together for divinely appointed activities.

Acts 14:27  Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.

1 Corinthians 11:18  For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.

1 Corinthians 14:23-28  Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. 25 And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. 26 How is it then, brethren?  Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God.

In Acts 14:27 "gathered…together" translates a single word, SUNAGO {soon-ag'-o} (from whence, "synagogue"), meaning, "1) to gather together... 2) assemble…" (JHT).  The shortfall of translating EKKLESIA as "assembly" becomes apparent here; doing so might yield, "they assembled the assembly."  Evidently, EKKLESIA and SUNAGO indicate different collectives.  The church is a purposed group of individuals (EKKLESIA) whether or not they are assembled together in one place (SUNAGO).

A keynote to consider in this matter is the reason or purpose for the gathering.  Remember that the church is the EKKLESIA of God: a calling out of people from their own places into one place to execute the purposes of the one by whom they are summoned.  Though this has significance with respect to the church in the universal sense, there is a particular implication relating to the gathered local sense.  If the gathering is not for the purposes of the Lord's summoning, it is not the Lord's gathering.  At the risk of getting ahead of our study, we will see in scripture that church gatherings have a spiritual emphasis.  If the reason that brings the people together today is purely secular, whether it is for social, recreational, or entertainment purposes, it is not the church as such in the assembled sense.

As a point of clarification, consider the state of the local church after it is no longer assembled together.  For example, most of the people in any church assembly are identified with that local body, just as Paul "joined himself" to the local church at Jerusalem (Acts 9:26).  However, after the gathering is dismissed and each one is separated to their homes, that church no longer exists in its assembled condition until they assemble again.  Nevertheless, the church in the local or specific sense does not cease to exist.  Otherwise, the elders and deacons would no longer hold their positions.  Instead, they are all still members of that local body.  Even though they are no longer assembled together in one place, they may very well still be conducting divinely ordained cooperative activity under the elder's supervision. 

We will examine these things in greater detail when we later discuss the distinction between the individual Christian and the local church as a corporate body.

F.       Church Autonomy

Scripture indicates that each local church is a stand-alone entity.  No church is ever seen as a smaller part of a larger group or as an agent of another church.  One church is never in a position of authority over another nor is it ever in subjection to another.  Otherwise, there could not be equality among those churches (2 Corinthians 8:14).  The word "autonomous" does not appear in scripture, but it accurately describes the independent nature of each local body as revealed in scripture.  Let's examine attributes of the church that expound upon this concept.

1.          Self-managing

The New Testament scriptures reveal no level of church government greater than the local church.  Elders, that is, overseers or pastors, are appointed within the churches of whom they are among.  Those leaders have the supervision only over their own local church, none others.

Acts 20:28  Therefore take heed to yourselves and to 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.

Paul here makes clear that the elders are to be among the flock they are supervising.  "Flock" and "church" are singular in this passage.  Scripture says nothing about elders ruling multiple churches of whom they are not among.

1 Peter 5:1-3  The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;

Hebrews 13:17  Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. 

Elders are appointed to have rule over the church they are among, but their rule is executive, not legislative.  It is not the place of elders to issue law but to carry out the Law of Christ.  Elders rule in matters of judgment and expediency in the church, but even then, not as domineering overlords.  In matters of doctrine, the church is subject to Christ alone (Acts 5:29; Ephesians 5:23, 24).  If an elder becomes disorderly, Paul gives instruction for the local church to admonish him openly.

1 Timothy 5:17-20  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." 19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. 20 Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.

The jurisdiction of elders is limited to their own local body.  Churches are never to be in subjection to the elders of some other church, but each church is to have its own elders to oversee its own work (Acts 14:23).  Moreover, elders rule over matters pertaining to the church as a body, not in the personal lives of individual Christians (Ephesians 4:11, 12).  We will closely examine the distinction between the church and the individual in the next section.

2.          Self-ministering

Churches also appoint their own deacons, or servants, from among their own members to care for their own needs (Philippians 1:1).

Acts 6:2-4  Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. 3 Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; 4 but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

It is debatable whether the men appointed in Acts 6 are deacons in the official sense (1 Timothy 3:8-13) or simply men appointed to a task or as servants in a generic way, as were both men and women at times in the churches (Romans 16:1; Colossians 1:7).  Either way, our conclusion concerning autonomy is the same.

3.          Self-monitoring

Churches decide on their own whom they accept among them and who they refuse to accept.  They are instructed to do so on the basis of what they know regarding another's faithfulness and moral worthiness, not on orders from another church.  If a church knows a brother to be faithful according to the law of God, no other church has the jurisdiction to demand they refuse him fellowship.  Likewise, if a church knows a brother to be unfaithful, no other church has the jurisdiction to demand they fellowship him.  They might advise or warn them of a brother's character (Romans 16:2, 17), but each church is to investigate on their own and reach their own conclusions (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Acts 9:26-28  And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles.  And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out.

1 Corinthians 5:1-5  It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles -- that a man has his father's wife! 2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus….

1 Corinthians 5:11-13  But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. 12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside?  Do you not judge those who are inside? 13 But those who are outside God judges.  Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."

4.          Self-delegating

Churches choose preachers on their own and appoint them on missions of evangelizing.  Each church selected on their own those who were assigned certain tasks.

Acts 11:22  Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.

1 Corinthians 16:3, 4  And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. 4 But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me.

2 Corinthians 8:18-19  And we have sent with him the brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, 19 and not only that, but who was also chosen by the churches to travel with us with this gift, which is administered by us to the glory of the Lord Himself and to show your ready mind.

Scripture reveals no such thing as a regional council, international synod, or a head church that designates pastors, evangelists, teachers, or ministers in other churches.

5.          Self-financing

Churches collect their own funds and keep their own treasuries to finance and manage their own work (2 Corinthians 8:8-12). 

1 Corinthians 16:1  Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2 On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.

Scripture does not reveal that churches ever sponsor other churches or control another church's expenditures.

6.          Self-motivating

A local body has its own responsibility for exhortation and admonition within itself to empower each member of the body to work together to perform its ordained mission (Romans 12:4-8; Hebrews 10:24, 25). 

Ephesians 4:16  …from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-14  And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake.  Be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.

Scripture nowhere authorizes that an outside leading coalition ought ever be formed to develop national programs or out-reach campaigns that are imposed upon the local churches.

Questions And Thoughts For Review: Characteristics Of The Church

1.      What is the difference between the church of Christ and the kingdom of heaven?

2.      What is the original Greek word translated "church" in our English Bibles?  Explain in your own words what this word means.  Be specific and include details.

3.      Would you say that the church is an organization?  Explain your answer.

4.      What do the concepts of unity and fellowship reveal about the nature of the church of Christ?

5.      In Ephesians 3:10, Paul explains that the church declares the "manifold wisdom of God."  What is the meaning of "manifold wisdom?"  In this context, how does the church do this?

6.      What are the three different uses of the word "church" we see in the New Testament?

7.      How can we identify what kind of church a church is?

8.      Is a local church more than just a collection of Christians that meet together regularly?  If so, what more is it?

9.      What is the significant connection between the purpose of a summoning and the function of the people thereby gathered?

10.  Explain local church autonomy in your own words.  What is the scope and limitation of the elders of a local church?


Some material in this study is derived or directly quoted from the following texts, which are suggested for further study and additional information:

         (BDB) "Revised Whittaker's Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon," 1906, 1997, Logos Research Systems, Inc.

         (JHT) "A Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament," Joseph Henry Thayer, 1979, Zondervan Publishing House

         "Greek-English Lexicon Of The New Testament: Based On Semantic Domains," Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, 1989, New York: United Bible Societies

         "Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament,", Timothy and Barbara Friberg, 1994

         (WEV) "Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words," W. E. Vine, 1966, Flemming H. Revell Co.

         "A Manual Grammar Of The Greek New Testament," 1927, 1955, Dana and Mantey, Macmillan Co.

         LXX Septuaginta (LXT) (Old Greek Jewish Scriptures) edited by Alfred Rahlfs, 1935, the German Bible Society

         "New Testament Words," William Barclay, SCM Press Ltd., 1964

         (TBA) "The Bible Almanac," Packer, Tenney, White, Jr., 1980, Thomas Nelson Publishers

         (OED) Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com

         "The Bible in English: Its History and Influence," 2003, David Daniell

         "Walking By Faith," Roy E. Cogdill, 1957, 1967, The Gospel Guardian Company

         "Old Issues Do Not Fade Away – A Study In Centralization Of Churches And Institutionalism," Gene Frost, 1975, 1976, Gospel Anchor

         (M-W) The Merriam-Webster American English Dictionary Online, 2012

         Wikipedia: web-based free-content encyclopedia, 2012


Bible translations referenced in this work include:

KJV:      King James Version (1611)

ASV:     American Standard Version (1901)

NKJ:     New King James Version (1982)

NAU:    New American Standard Bible (1995)

YLT:      Young's Literal Translation (1862, 1898)

TNT:     Tyndale New Testament (1534)

Bible quotations in this work are from the NKJ unless otherwise indicated.  Anglicized equivalents of Greek and Hebrew words appear in all upper case characters with the approximate pronunciation following in braces.


Copyright 2012, Speaking Sound Doctrine