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*Frequently asked questions*
The Bible, the written word of God, is our sole authority in answering all questions pertaining to our spiritual life. However, in reading the Bible, we must keep in mind that the Bible is not written like a book of science where each statement is exact and complete in itself, nor like a book of law where the goal is to elaborate matters in sections and sub-sections so as to avoid loopholes. The Bible is written for the heart, and can be understood in its proper sense only by those who are spiritually minded (1Co.2:14), and who desire to do the will of God once it is revealed (Jn.7:17). Those who want to argue against the word of God can always find arguments, and those who do not want to obey what God says can appear to find words of God themselves to support their stand. Please read the following with an open heart and a willingness to know God's ways and obey them. - Jacob Ninan
1. What do you mean by 'the church'?
Certainly a church is not a building, as many people think, but a gathering of the disciples of Jesus Christ (1Co.12:12,27). The Greek word used for 'church' in the New Testament is 'ekklesia' which means an 'assembling' of people. Jesus said that where two or three people gathered together in His name, He would be in their midst (Mt.18:20). So the minimum number of members for a church is two! They need not meet in any special building to be a church because the first church did not have any special building for its meetings. They were meeting in houses (Ac.2:46).
I used the phrase 'the church' to indicate that I am talking about the church of Jesus Christ and not just any gathering of people.
2. Who started the church in the first place?
Jesus, not Peter or Paul. Jesus said, "I will build my church" (Mt.16:18).
3. Who is the leader of the church?
Jesus, of course. He is the Head of the church (Ep.5:23). He is the Apostle and High Priest (He.3:1), the Chief Shepherd (1Pe.5:4), the only Mediator between God and man (1Ti.2:5), etc. He has not given that responsibility to any man.
4. What is this I hear about the universal church and the local church?
There is only one Body of Christ on earth (1Co.12:12,13). People refer to this as the universal Body of Christ, and the gathering of Christians in any one place as a local church, even though these are not bibilical words.
5. Is it right to say that there is really only one local church in any place?
In the early church there was only one church in a local place. Therefore the Lord Jesus was able to refer to the Church in Ephesus, the Church in Smyrna, etc. in the Book of Revelation Chapter 2 and 3. That would be the ideal case, when all the disciples of Jesus in a place are united. But it would be difficult to identify a single gathering as the local church. When some church begins to claim that name for itself, it smells of conceit and blindness.
6. What kind of a church must I look for?
There is no such thing as a perfect church, because all churches are made up of people who are imperfect. But you would be very fortunate if you find a church where people are pressing on to perfection - in every aspect of life, our life, relationships with others, our usefulness to God and men - (He.6:1,2), because that would be the right direction. The right way of pressing on to perfection is if we do it with a sincere conviction that we are far from being perfect. If you are among such people, you will receive much encouragement to grow and become fruitful.
The most important thing about a church is what it is aiming for. This depends so much on its leaders. If their aim is to be pleasing to God above all, you will also inherit the same goal and life. But if they are seeking their own - whether it is money, greatness or honour - flee from there for your own safety. Increasing in numbers must not be a primary goal in the church, because the chances are that there will be compromise in the standards in order to accommodate more people.
Of course, the church - its doctrines and practices - must be based on the teachings of the Bible, and not the traditions of men (Mt.15:3). There must be a freedom for the Holy Spirit to move, teach, guide and correct. The old wineskin of rigid rules and forms cannot bear growth.
The church is the Body of Christ on earth now (1Co.12:12,27). There must be freedom for different members of the Body to function in their own special capacity while at the same time being in subjection to Christ who is the Head (Ep.5:23), to the elders whom Christ appoints over the church (He.13:17), and to one another in recognising and giving place for the other's function which is different from ours (Ep.5:21). A one man ministry is something which is carried over by some people from the Old Testament.
7. What can I do because I can't find such a church in my place?
The Bible does not give any specific answer to that. But I can tell you my suggestion. If you can find a church where the leaders love Jesus and are sincerely seeking to live for Him according to the teaching of the Bible, you could bear with many of its shortcomings. Right doctrines and right church practices are important. But even if they are a bit wrong here and there, you could grow well in a church if its direction is right. On the contrary, if the direction itself is wrong, it would be better to keep away.
If you can't find a church like the one I have described in the above paragraph, you could try to meet with at least one or two others who share the same longings like you, and you can grow together. If you can't find others like that you could pray and ask the Lord to bring you in touch with one or two with whom you can have fellowship and grow. If you are not mature enough to stand like that, you could consider moving to a different place if that is feasible.
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