Beliefs and Practices of Christians - WHAT IS THE CHURCH?
You have perhaps heard people speak of the building in which Christians worship as the "church". This is often done, but the real meaning of the word "church" is not the building, but the believers who worship in it. "Church " is used to indicate the local group of believers in Christ, and it is also used for all believers both those alive on earache, and those who are with Christ in heaven.
In ancient times God chose the Children of Israel to be His special people. He have them His laws through Moses and gave them Palestine as their land, and sent them prophets to teach them and to tell them about the coming of their Messiah. When the Messiah came at the appointed time to Israel, some of the people believed on Him, but most of them refused to believe. Then, from those who believed on Christ, formed a new people for Himself, called the Christian Church. Originally only Israelites were God's chosen people, but men and women of every race on earth who believe on Christ are God's new people. The rite of admission to membership in Israel was circumcision, which God commanded for Abraham and his male descendants. But the rite of admission to the Christian Church, which is composed of God's new people, is baptism, and circumcision no longer has a religious significance. Baptism is administered as Christ commanded to those who repent and believe on Him, indicating they are members of God's family. Baptism itself does not save anyone, for sinners are saved only by faith in Christ. Baptism is a sign or symbol of cleansing from sin and of a new life in Christ. In some churches it is the custom to pour or sprinkle water on the head of the person who is baptized, and in other churches the person is immersed or put under the water. Baptism is administered only once to a person.
In the New Testament the Church is called the "Body of Christ". Christ is the Head of the "Church" and all the members of His Body are one in Him, whatever their race or language or color may be. Accordingly, the Church is one, as Christ is on. The Church also is holy, because it belongs to the Holy God. However, when we consider the state of the Church in the world today, we see that it is divided and sometimes has in it much that is evil. Why is this? In the first place, there are many people who are in the Church who have not been born again by the Holy Spirit and so are really not Christians at all. The Bible says that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Christ.
Also, all the members of the Church are like sick people who have come to a hospital for healing. They have put themselves in the hands of the Great Physician. Jesus Christ and He is gradually making them well and curing their disease of sin. Also, as long as Christians are in this world, they are not entirely free from the effects of sin, and all of us need to confess our sins and repent. All men are sinners and the difference between Christians and others is that true Christians are submitting themselves to the Physician whom God has sent, and are taking His medicine and obeying His directions, while others are not.
While all true believers are one in Christ there are as you perhaps know, many different sects of Christians. The two largest groups are known asRoman Catholics and Protestants, and within these two groups are numerous branches. However, all these Christians have the same Bible. They all believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He died on the cross and rose again, and is the only Savior and Lord. Though they differ in certain matters, some of which are very important, most Christians desire unity - to be one in faith and love, as Christ wishes them to be.
What is the purpose of the Church? Part of its purpose is to enable believers to grow in the knowledge of God and in faith and love and to have fellowship with other believers. Every believer should obey Christ's command to be baptized and become a member of His Church. Every Christian needs other Christians just as every member of the human body needs the other members, and no believer should cut himself off from the fellowship of other believers in the Church.
Also, the Church has been given by Christ the responsibility for doing His work in the world. When Jesus Christ was on the earth as a man He spoke God's Word to men, He healed the sick, comforted the sorrowing, and saved sinners. Before He ascended to heaven Christ commanded His followers to tell the Good News of Salvation to all the people in the world. It is the primary task of all Christians in all lands to give Christ's message to all the people, and invite them to believe on Him. Christians must also show the love of Christ to people of all races and religions by healing the sick, teaching the ignorant, feeding the hungry, and preaching salvation to the captives of sin. Jesus Christ spent His life in serving people, and members of His Church must follow His example.
As every flock of sheep needs a shepherd, so every group of believers needs leaders who will teach and guide and encourage them, Jesus and who will, whenever necessary, rebuke those who have gone astray. From the first, God has provided such persons for the care of His children in His Church. Jesus Christ chose twelve men to be His apostles to give His message to the people of the world and to establish His Church. Then, as we see in the New Testament God appointed others to be pastors (shepherds) and teachers and evangelists and deacons and elders and ministers and bishops (supervisors). All these spiritual servants of Christ are in the Church today.
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