And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Who do men say I the Son of man am? And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets, he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, thou art the Christ the son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:13-18).
In the above scripture, Jesus stated, "I will build my church." There are many religious groups in the world all claiming a connection with God. How can a person know for sure which way is the right way? Is it possible to know which way is correct? Indeed it is! Jesus Christ has a church. It can be identified from the pages of God's Word. There are certain identifying marks of the church that belongs to Christ. If a person were to lose his automobile, he would look for it by looking for certain identifying characteristics. He would know the model, the color, the size, vehicle identification number, etc., of his automobile. While there might be some similar features of his automobile with other automobiles, he could know his from all others. Another automobile might be the same color as his, but not the same size or model or number. He would know that it is not his. Likewise, there are some churches that are similar to Christ's church, but are not His! What are some identifying marks of Christ's church?
Jesus Christ is the builder of His church. He said, "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). Any church that has a builder other than Jesus Christ is not the church that belongs to Christ. Denominations are founded upon men other than Jesus Christ (i.e., John Calvin, John Wesley, etc.). These churches were not built by Jesus Christ; therefore, they do not belong to Him. The church of Christ (which is not a denomination) was built by Christ as recorded in Matthew 16:18.
Any church that has any other person than Jesus Christ as its head cannot be the church of Christ. The Bible affirms that Jesus is the only head of His church. "And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). No Pope, Patriarch, nor any other man is the head of Christ's church. Christ is "the head." He has all authority in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18).
The church of Christ was established in the city of Jerusalem. Isaiah prophesied that the Lord's house (the church) would be established and the law of the Lord would go forth from Jerusalem. "And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will work in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:2-3).
In addition to citing the city where the Lord's house would be established, Isaiah, likewise, foretold the time of its establishment. He said it would happen "in the last days." Peter identifies the "last days" as having begun on the day of Pentecost. "But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams"(Acts 2:16-17).
The Christian age or dispensation is the last days. It is called the last days because it is the last dispensation of time. At the end of the Christian dispensation, Christ will come, the judgement will take place, the wicked will go into everlasting punishment, and the saved will enter into life eternal (Matthew 25:46).
Luke, in Acts chapter two, records the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. The apostles were commanded to wait in Jerusalem until they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:46-49). Consequently, they received this power on the day of Pentecost and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church (the Lord's house), was established on this day and the word of the Lord went forth from the city of Jerusalem, as prophesied by Isaiah. The church of Christ was, therefore, established on the day of Pentecost (AD 33), in the city of Jerusalem. Any church that had its beginning in any other city and at any other time cannot be the church of Christ.
When one reads his Bible, he will learn that the church is identified by various designations. Jesus identified it as "my church" (Matthew 16:18). It is called "the church of God" in 1 Corinthians 1:2. When speaking of various congregations, Paul referred to them as "the churches of Christ" (Romans 16:16). One should keep in mind that there were not differing churches or denominations, but rather the church of Christ in different geographical locations. One does not read denominational names in the Bible. There were no Baptists, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventist churches, etc. in the Bible. There are no Russian Orthodox Churches or Roman Catholic Churches in God's word. God says, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). One must speak in scriptural terminology. It is not scriptural to call the church something other than what God calls it. Any church that wears man's name and/or has a name based on man's doctrine is not the church of Christ. The church of Christ, however, is a scriptural designation; "The churches of Christ salute you" (Romans 16:16).
"God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). God says that all who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. To worship God in truth is to worship Him according to God's Word. Jesus identified the truth as the Word of God. "Sanctify them through thy truth, thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The word of God is to be our standard of how we worship God.
The New Testament reveals that there are five acts of worship in which we are to be engaged upon the first day of the week. We are to preach (or teach) God's Word (Acts 20:7), give as we have been prospered (1 Corinthians 16:1-2), pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17), sing, (vocal music--no mechanical instruments; Ephesians 5:18-19, Colossians 3:16), and partake of the Lord's Supper (Matthew 26:26-28, Acts 20:7). These are to be observed on each first day of the week, also known as "the Lord's day" (Revelation 1:10).
Any church that does not observe these items or adds to these items of worship, is not worshipping God according to the divine pattern.
God established His church exactly the way He wanted it. Man, however, has departed from God's organization and has established churches different from the divine pattern. As stated earlier, Jesus Christ is the only head of the church (Ephesians 1:20-21). Each local church, is to be overseen by men known as elders (Acts 14:23). Other names for these elders are "overseers" (or "bishops") and "pastors" (Acts 20:28, Ephesians 4:11). Each congregation is autonomous, serving Christ under its local eldership. Never was there a man or a group of men over a number of churches. There are also special servants in the church of Christ known as "deacons" (Philippians 1:1). The qualifications for the elders and deacons can be found in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. All Christians in the local church (including the preacher and the deacons) serve under the oversight of the elders. The elders are never to make any laws for God, nor change any existing law, they simply oversee the local church, making sure things are done scripturally. They are to shepherd the flock of God committed to their care (1 Peter 5:1-4).
How does one become a member of the church of Christ? According to the Bible, one was to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Jesus said, "I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:24). A person had to repent (turn away) from his sins. Again, Jesus said, "I tell you, Nay: but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). One had to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Acts 8:37, Romans 10:10), and then be immersed in water for the purpose of remission (forgiveness) of sins. "Then Peter said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:38). When one obeyed his Lord in these five acts, he was added to the church by the Lord. "Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).
Likewise, today we must (1) hear God's word, (2) believe in Christ, (3) repent of our sins, (4) confess the Christ, and (5) be immersed in water for the remission of sins. When we do this, the Lord will add us to His church.
The church of Christ is very important. Jesus purchased His church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). When He returns, He will take His church to heaven (Ephesians 5:23). If you have found yourself in some religious group other than the church of Christ, why not return to the Bible as your standard. One may identify the church of Christ by its builder, its head, its place and time of establishment, its names, its worship, its organization, and its terms of entrance. Many people have already come out of religions and churches not authorized of God. The Bible records, "But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up" (Matthew 15:13).
If you have never obeyed God, may we encourage you to do the things listed above. Remember, these are God's steps of salvation for all who would be saved.
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