The Life and Organization of the Church

Shelterglen University
School of Theology



          In Acts 2:1-4 we have the actual recording of the birth of the Christian church. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.


          These were the followers of Jesus Christ who had walked the countryside of Israel with Him, who had witnessed His death, burial and resurrection, and were now huddled together in fear for their lives. They didn’t know what to expect, other than Jesus had told them to wait for the Holy Spirit to come. This birth of the Christian church took place during the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. These early believers knew the power and comfort of intense corporate (collective) prayer. When the Holy Spirit came upon them it was evidenced by power. In their particular case it was the power to speak in known languages that they themselves had not learned how to speak in.


          We often call this experience the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”. It can and still should be experienced in the lives of Christians today. It is always evidenced by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do the work of the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It may look like having a special boldness to share God’s truth with someone in need. Or it may be evidenced by prophecy (the proclaiming of truth), miraculous signs or works of God through someone, or even like these early disciples, speaking in languages that they had not previously known.      


          In Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus we see a beautiful picture of what the Christian Church truly is and how it is “built in unity” by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22 “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens (unified together) with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation (teaching and ministry) of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone (the central and unique figure of the Christian Church). In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together (a continuous process) to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Paul puts exceptional emphasis on the four key points of the Christian Church. They are: 1).  The unity we find together in Jesus Christ  2). The elementary importance of the teachings and ministry of God’s word through the apostles (New Testament) and prophets (Old Testament) 3). Jesus Christ is the central and unique figure in the plan of salvation for all members of the Christian faith  4). Our faith and formation in Jesus Christ’s Church is an ongoing process not only personally but chronologically through the span of time. 




             Theological in the New Testament, we see three churches. They all are actually one, and function together as one. They need each other, and cannot exist without the other. But they are identifiable as three “styles” or “orders” of churches.


1). The Universal Church


            The universal church is a complete group of people who have a common belief in Jesus Christ as their personal savior. They recognize Jesus Christ is the head (cornerstone) of the church They willingly accept without regard or debate the following statements of the faith:


           1). Jesus Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and

                 born of the virgin Mary


          2). Jesus Christ was the only begotten Son of God who lived a sinless

                mortal life.


          3). Jesus Christ died, was buried and was resurrected from the dead by

                the power of God.


          4). Jesus was seen by several hundred people after His resurrection,

                He ascended to heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God

                the Father. He will return to earth again. 


          5). Those who claim to be Christians have become that by personally

                accepting the salvation provided by God through His son Jesus

                Christ for redemption from their sins.  


          6). God has provided a book of written instruction we refer to as the

                Holy Bible which is true and contains all truth, without error and

                applicable to our lives in every way.  


          We see these doctrinal elements most compactly stated by the compact early writings of the fourth century church leaders. During the counsel of Nicaea in 325 AD this gathering of bishops unified the core elements of the Christian faith in a document that has remained a hallmark to the Christian Church and its faith until this day. We refer to it as the Nicene Creed.


             It reads: We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.


          We gain admittance into the universal church by acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal savior. This is a process of the heart and an individual decision that we must each come to make for ourselves. We cannot gain admittance in the Christian faith genetically or because of the faith or practice of our parents or some other family member. We cannot earn admittance into the body of Christ (Christian Church) through good works or eloquent speaking. It is a personal choice made within the heart of each person to follow after the person of Jesus Christ by accepting His free gift of salvation for every member of the human race. Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.(KJV) Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.(KJV)


         Baptism in water is the outward identification that shows others of our commitment to Jesus Christ by obedience to His ordinance. It is typically practiced by another believer assisting the one wishing to be baptized into a posture of immersion into and out of the water. By all scriptural accounts, it should be witnessed by the public, so that one can be identified as a Christian. In other words, there is no such thing as self baptism. Many churches have special services in which new converts are baptized. However, there is no set requirements Biblically for a baptismal service every week or every month.   


       We remember regularly the atoning work of Christ in the ordinance of communion. It is a symbolic meal that we partake of in which Jesus Christ’s death is depicted. It consists of only two elements; the bread and the wine.


       The bread is a representation of the crucified body of Jesus Christ. The wine is a representation of His blood given for the forgiveness of our sins. In some branches of Christianity, they believe that Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, actually comes into these elements as we partake of them. Other branches of Christianity believe that the elements of the communion meal actually become the body and blood of Jesus Christ in a very mysterious spiritual way. And still some other factions of Christianity see the communion meal as a very simple but solemn and sacred symbolic event. Ironically, all three positions have a scriptural defense for their position on the commune rite.   


          The universal church is formulated on a foundation that has been set in the teachings and ministry of Jesus Christ and His apostles and prophets. Something to be noted: Third world universal Christian Church is growing very rapidly, whereas the free world universal Christian church tends to be declining in numbers in the last forty years.      


          The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth and describes an overview of what the universal church might look like. I Corinthians 12:12-20 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

           A parallel passage of scripture was also written by Paul to the Church in Rome. Roman 12:4-5 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.







2. The Local Church


          The local church is a geographically local gathering of Christians who tend to cater to their own preferences and emphasis within Christianity. Two primary divisions within Christianity tend to be seen as Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Each group has several, in some cases a vast array of sub divisions representing many scriptural viewpoints and interpretations.


          This gathering is a place and time where brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ link or are assembled together. Their gathering is an act of worship to God, sometimes referred to as “corporate worship”. The worship may include testifying, or reciting what God has done. It may also include proclamation, which is the issuing of God’s truth (sometimes called prophesying), usually as recorded in the Holy Bible. This corporate worship also includes stewardship, which is the act of giving of our time, abilities, finances and resources.   


          In the context of corporate worship fellow Christians exhibit the qualities of Christian lifestyles such as faithfulness, or consistent Christ-like living; fellowship, the social interaction of the community of believers; and forgiveness, which is the act of grace and mercy that looks beyond the fellow Christians sinfulness and encourages them to continue on in the faith.


          In Ephesians 4:11-13 we find a passage of scripture written by the Apostle Paul which tells us the function of the local church to itself. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. It is to be built up, or together into a unified spiritual structure.  


         In this same line of thinking the writer of Hebrews makes these statements Hebrews 10:23-25 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging {one another;} and all the more as you see the day drawing near. The word “assembling” comes from the original Greek  word “sunago”  from another Greek word “episunagoa” which by definition means a collection of parts to be put together. By implication these parts need to be put together to form something useful or productive. This is what the local church becomes when they are gathered together and built together part by part by God’s hand. 




3). The Individual Church – The Believer


          We as individual believers in Jesus Christ are a church, or a habitation of the Holy Spirit of God. So a church building is not really a “church” - it is gathering place for the churches of God, or the vessels that God inhabits.   

          In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 the apostle Paul writes these words “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”

         Paul also writes later on in I Corinthians 6:19-20 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

         The word “temple” that Paul uses in these text is the Greek word “naos” which is a word that describes the Holy of Holies, or the Most Holy place of the Old Testament Jewish Temple. The Most Holy Place was where the Ark of the Covenant rested. The Ark of the Covenant was the actual physical tangible presence of God to the people of Israel in that day. Now Paul says that because the Holy Spirit of God is living within you, that you as an individual are indeed the “naos” or the place where God’s actual presence is – a holy place. You are the dwelling place of God’s inhabitation


          The psalmist says in Ps 22:3 Yet Thou art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel. When you as an individual worship God, and praise Him for all He has done you are inhabited by God and you (individually) become a place of worship.




         There are three common denominators that are or should be found in each one of these church entities. They are; Jesus Christ is the central and unique focal point of salvation from sin; The Holy Spirit dwells within the church as a whole and each member of the church; The purpose is to bring glory to Jesus Christ and this is done by worshipping Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth John 4:24  God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (NIV) and by fulfilling the great commission found in Matthew 28: 19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."


           The great commission is Jesus Christ’s command to make disciples out of all the people of the world. Dr. Dann Spader, author of a book and seminar enititled  “Growing a Healthy Church” defines the church as “The chosen vehicle by which believers are assisted in fulfilling the great commission.” We are truly called to not just be the “church” but to grow the church through evangelism and effective disciplemaking.  




1). The Ministry Gifts


            In Ephesians 4:11-15 we read  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,          to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. This passage of scripture deals with what we commonly call the gift ministry. There are five specific gift ministries listed in this text.

         They are the apostle, which is defined as one sent forth with a specific message or purpose, usually a missionary or church planter in our days. The second is the prophet, which is the proclaimer of truth, which may be past , present or future truth. The prophet is sometimes called a preacher. Then there is the evangelist, which is one that is gifted in leading others to salvation through Jesus Christ. The pastor or shepherd as it appears in some translations, is the guardian or protector of the people of God, and the teacher is the instructor and mentor in the truths of God. A good way to remember the five gift ministries and what they do is as follows 


The Five “Gs” of the Gift Ministries


APOSTLE                   GOVERNS

PROPHET                      GUIDES


PASTOR                        GUARDS

TEACHER                   GROUNDS


2). Church Leaders


               In Acts 6:1-6 we see that there are basically two positional categories designated for church leadership. It says In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word." This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. They are the elders (spiritual ministry leaders) and deacons (practical ministry leaders). All these leaders should be gifted in the ministry gifts of one or another.  


Spiritual Ministry Leaders


               In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy and gives him the qualities of an elder and a deacon. Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap. Bishops, Elders, Overseers and Pastors  are all Biblically synonymous ministry names.


Overseers must have three important spiritual traits

     1). good manager of his home and family

     2). spiritual maturity

     3). good reputation outside of the church real – good character (vs.7)

          This is defined as follows:

              a). above reproach  (cannot be continually being accused)

              2). cannot practice polygamy (not more than one spouse)

              3). practices self control (not explosive in situations)

              4). respected by other Christians

              5). hospitable towards those in the community

              6). be able to teach the Bible (communication skills)

              7). not an alcoholic (no abuse of alcohol or mind altering substances)

              8). non violent

              9).  gentle (dependably kind)  

             10). does not engage in unnecessary arguments

             11). does not have a love of money.




Practical Ministry Leaders


            In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 we also read, “Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus. Deacons are held to the same character and spiritual requirements, but must be tested before placed in authority. Deacon’s wives may serve with them if they comply to the same standards. Some churches refer to these women as deaconesses.  




        The Christian church will continue to worship Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him as the Savior of the world, spreading the good news of the gospel and making disciples until He actually returns to earth. He will eventually literally return to earth. The Bible tells us that we don’t know when. Acts 1:6-7 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. We do know what will happen when He returns literally and physically to the earth. Revelation 1:7-8 Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

          And so we wait for His joyful and triumphant return. Acts 1:8-11 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. "Men of Galilee," they said, "why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven." Jesus Christ will come again to earth. We don’t know when or what the precise circumstances of that day will be. We must live our lives in that expectation, in a state of preparedness realizing that hope.



Shelterglen University home page

Shelterglen University
P.O. Box 750491
Dayton, Ohio    45475