ECCLESIOLOGY: THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
(Lesson 21 on Bible Doctrines)
"Ecclesiology is the doctrine or study of the church in its constitution, ordinances, and activities, the last including both work and worship" (Emery H. Bancroft, Christian Theology).
- Our English word "church" is closely related to the Scotch word kirk, the German kirche, and the Saxon circe, all of which probably came from the Greek word kuriakon, a word used by the Greek Christians to designate the house of worship. The word kuriakon is the adjective form of the word kurios, meaning "Lord". It is used twice in the New Testament, once for the Lord’s Supper and once for the Lord’s Day (I Cor.11:20; Rev.1:10).
- The Greek word ekklesia means literally a "called out assembly." The word came to mean a gathering or an assembly of people, and is usually used in the New Testament to designate a congregation. It is employed for the congregation of Israel (Acts 7:38) and an assembly of citizens (Acts 19:39), but usually refers to the local church, meeting in one particular place (Rom.16:5; I Cor.1:2; 16:19; II Cor.1:1; Gal.1:2; et al).
- Definition: "The local New Testament church is the agency through which God has chosen to accomplish His work in this dispensation of grace; that it is an organized congregation of regenerate, immersed believers, voluntarily united together for the purpose of worship, edification, observing the ordinances, fellowship, and service; that the true mission of the church is world evangelization – the fulfillment of the Great Commission" (from our Bible Baptist Church constitution).
- OFFICERS OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
- Pastor (also called bishop or elder) – pastor means "shepherd" (Eph.4:11), the God-appointed leader of the flock. Elder was already an established word among the Jews and is used often in both the Old and the New Testaments. It carries the idea of maturity and experience (cf. Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,4,6,22,23; 16:4, etc.). Bishop means "overseer" (I Tim.3:1; Titus 1:7). These three titles all refer to the same office and are used interchangeably in the New Testament. For example, Paul told the elders in Ephesus that the Holy Ghost had made them "overseers" (bishops) and that they were to "feed the church of God" (do the work of a pastor – Acts 20:17,28). Likewise, Peter exhorted the elders to "feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof" (I Peter 5:1,2).
- Deacon (Phil.1:1; I Tim.3:8-13) – these are men who assist the pastor; the word literally means "servant." Nowhere in the Bible is it suggested that they are to run the church, nor is the concept of a "deacon board" or "board of elders" suggested in the New Testament. These are traditions of men and are contrary to Bible doctrine (and Baptist polity). The office of deacon probably originated in Acts 6, though the word is not used in that passage of Scripture. The office of "deaconess" is not found in the Bible. We are told simply that Phebe was a "servant of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom.16:1). I Timothy 3 refers to deacons’ wives but makes no mention of any "deaconesses."
- ORDINANCES OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
- Believers’ baptism – it is symbolic and does not save; it is only after conversion; it is only by immersion; it identifies the believer with Christ; it is essential for church membership (Matt.28:19,20; Acts 2:41; 8:12,36-38).
- The Lord’s Supper – it too is only symbolic and does not save; it was instituted by our Lord before He died; it is a memorial service (Matt.26:26-30; I Cor.11:23-32). The proper sequence is: first salvation, then baptism, then church membership, then the Lord’s Supper (cf. Acts 2:41,42).
- THE FUNCTION OF THE LOCAL CHURCH
- Evangelism (Mark 16:15,16) and discipleship (I Tim.3:15; 4:13).
- Prayer and worship (Acts 1:14; 2:1; Eph.5:18-20).
- Fellowship (Acts 2:42; Gal.2:9) and helping others (Gal.6:10).
- Sending out and supporting missionaries (Acts 13:1-4; Phil.4:15-19); supporting pastors (I Tim.5:17,18).
- Church discipline (Matt.18:15-20; I Cor.5:1-5).
- Observing the ordinances (Acts 2:41; I Cor.11:23,24).
- THE FUTURE OF THE LOCAL CHURCH (Heb.12:22,23; Rev.19:7-9). Note: the churches are not mentioned in Rev.4:1-19:6. This is because they will not be here on earth during the tribulation period.
Pastor James Barker