06. The church of Jesus Christ
The term “church” has three different meanings in general usage. On the one hand, it is used in reference to a Christian place of worship (e.g. the local parish) in which the believers gather for divine service. Another meaning of “church” refers to the congregation in a particular place. Beyond that, “church” can be used in reference to a Christian community (denomination), for example the New Apostolic Church or the Catholic Church.
‘Denomination’, derived from the Latin denominatio, (“identification”, “naming”), is a non-judgemental term for a religious community.
In reference to faith the term “church” does not refer primarily to the church building, but to the institution that has the function of imparting salvation in Christ to human beings. Those people who belong to the church are called to have eternal fellowship with God. Beyond that, “church” denotes the fellowship of the believers with the triune God already in the present, in that He turns to the believers, who bring Him worship and praise, in word and sacrament. In the church, the believers have fellowship with one another. The focal point of church life is the divine service.
Yes. Church is necessary for being a Christian, because it is only there that we hear the word of God, receive the sacraments, and experience fellowship with God and with one another. As a whole, these elements are indispensable for attaining salvation. Without church this is impossible for human beings.
Jesus Christ established the church. He not only left instructions, but rather also created an institution for imparting salvation, namely His church. It thus has its source in the Son of God who came to the earth and worked among human beings as a human being Himself: He called human beings to follow Him as His disciples, preached, performed miracles, forgave sins, and promised and sent the Holy Spirit. The person and deed of Jesus Christ are fundamental prerequisites for the existence of the church.
Jesus Christ is the “head” of His church.
The church of Jesus Christ has two functions. The first is to make salvation and eternal fellowship with God available to human beings. Its second function is to allow human beings to bring adoration and praise to God.
Yes, there is a difference. The one church of Jesus Christ is revealed in varying ways and to varying degrees in the New Apostolic Church and in the other Christian churches.
Jesus Christ established the church through the following significant actions: He
- gathered disciples (cf. Mark 1: 16 et seq.),
- preached about the kingdom of God (cf. Mark 1: 14-15),
- elected the Apostles (cf. Luke 6: 12-16),
- instituted the Petrine office (cf. Matthew 16: 18),
- celebrated Holy Communion for the first time (cf. Matthew 26: 20-29),
- brought His sacrifice on Good Friday (cf. Matthew 27: 50),
- resurrected from the dead on Easter (cf. Matthew 28: 1 et seq.),
- gave the Apostles the commission to proclaim the gospel and baptise in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28: 19-20),
- sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (cf. Acts 2: 1 et seq.).
Yes, the Old Testament contains references to the church of Christ, for example:
- the ark: within it, Noah and his family found deliverance from the great flood. The ark served to deliver Noah and His family. Similarly, the church of Christ serves for the deliverance of the sinner (cf. 1 Peter 3: 20-21).
- The Ten Commandments which Moses received on Mount Sinai: in these the will of God comes to expression. This was proclaimed to the assembled people of Israel through Moses, the servant of God. In the church of Christ, the divine will is proclaimed to an assembly of people, namely the congregation, through the preaching of the gospel.
The New Testament uses various images and examples to describe the nature of the church of Jesus Christ. The “body of Christ” is one of the most important images for the church. In this image, the church is compared with a body: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12: 4, 5).
The image of the body of Christ refers to all those who belong to Jesus Christ because they are baptised, believe in Him, and profess Him as their Lord. Just as the members of the body belong to a single organism, so all the baptised belong to the church of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ has two natures. These are also reflected in the church.
Whenever we speak of the two natures of Jesus, we mean that Jesus Christ is both true God and true Man at the same time. This can also be seen in examples from His life: when He brought the dead man Lazarus back to life, He did so as true God (cf. John 11: 43-47).
As true Man, He suffered from hunger and thirst, for example, just like any other human being (cf. John 4: 7).
The divine nature of Jesus was invisible, while His human nature was visible. It is the same with the church: it has an invisible side and a visible side. As with the two natures of Jesus Christ, both of these are inseparably linked with one another.
Among other things, we experience the invisible side of the church in its effects of salvation. These are invisible to human beings and can only be grasped in faith.
For example, we experience effects of salvation
- when God forgives sins,
- when original sin is washed away through baptism,
- when God grants the gift of the Holy Spirit,
- when the body and blood of Christ are given in Holy Communion,
- when the sacraments are dispensed to the departed,
- when acts of blessing (confirmations, ordinations, etc.) are performed,
- when God acts through the human words of the sermon,
- when the blessing of God is laid upon the congregation.
Among other things, we experience the visible side of the church when human beings act in the church. This is perceptible, for example,
- when people profess Jesus Christ,
- when divine services are celebrated,
- when water is consecrated for baptism and the act of baptism is performed,
- when the ministers consecrate bread and wine for Holy Communion and dispense Holy Communion,
- when the Apostles lay their hands upon believers and perform the act of Holy Sealing,
- when the ministers preach,
- when people pray,
- when charity is practised.
Yes, the invisible side of the church of Jesus Christ is perfect. In this way it corresponds to the divine nature of Jesus Christ. The magnitude, measure, and perfection of the church of Jesus Christ is unimaginable for us human beings and cannot even be completely grasped by the believers.
No, the visible side of the church of Jesus Christ is not perfect. After all, the people at work within it did not always show the love, compassion, truthfulness, and kindness of Jesus.
The church is run by sinful human beings who are prone to error. It is for this reason that the same mistakes, deficiencies, and blunders inherent in mankind are also to be found in the church.
It is here that the visible side of the church fundamentally differs from the human nature of Jesus. In contrast to the visible side of the church, which is deficient, Jesus Christ was also perfect and sinless in His human nature.
The church of Christ—both in its visible side as well as its invisible side—has these four distinguishing features: oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity. These identifying features of the church are called the ‘notae ecclesiae’.
The church is one because there is only the one God. The church testifies of the oneness of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who works within it. Jesus specifically referred to the oneness of His followers and the love they bear one another as distinguishing features of those who belong to Him. It is in this way that the nature of God is manifest in the church: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4: 16).
The church is holy because the triune God is holy. He is active in word and sacrament in the church of Christ.
The church of Christ is universal because God is there for all human beings, both living and dead. There are no limits to the proclamation of the gospel.
The church is apostolic because apostolic doctrine is proclaimed within it and because the apostolic ministry is at work within it.
The four characteristics of the church of Jesus Christ—oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity—are manifest in different ways and to varying degrees in the various Christian denominations.
These identifying features of the church of Jesus Christ are most clearly manifest where the Apostles are at work: they dispense the three sacraments to the living and the dead and proclaim the word of God with emphasis on the imminent return of Christ. It is here that the Lord’s work of redemption is established.
The term ‘Lord’s work of redemption’ is generally understood in reference to Jesus’ saving act, which has already been completed. When this term is used here, it refers to that part of the church in which Apostles are active in imparting those gifts of salvation that serve to the preparation of the firstlings, the bride of Christ.
In the Lord’s work of redemption, Jesus Christ prepares His bridal congregation for His imminent return through Apostles. Today these tasks are fulfilled by the Apostles who work in the New Apostolic Church..
The church of Jesus Christ first appeared on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Apostle Peter preached, and some 3,000 people came to believe. They allowed themselves to be baptised and, together with the Apostles, comprised the first Christian church. This took place in Jerusalem.
The early Christians “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2: 42). This is of decisive significance for the church of Jesus Christ.
We gain insight into the development of the early congregations from the New Testament, namely in the book of Acts and in the letters of the Apostles.
After Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers, the church of Jesus Christ continued to develop: Apostles and other ministers began to work within it. The gospel was preached and the sacraments were dispensed.
Congregations came into being all throughout the Roman Empire. Christianity began to spread among both Jews and Gentiles.
At the time of the early Christians, the Roman Empire was the power that ruled the world. It encompassed the entire Mediterranean region as far as the Middle East. The Roman Empire, with its good transportation networks and uniform common language of Greek (and later Latin), was of great advantage for the spread of the gospel.
In fulfilment of the Great Commission given them by Jesus Christ—namely to teach and baptise all nations—the Apostles worked in different regions. Apostles Peter and James primarily proclaimed the gospel among the Jews, while Apostles Paul and Barnabas travelled to the Gentile nations of the Mediterranean region. The gospel spread as far as Asia and Africa. Congregations came into being in Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Libya, Macedonia, Syria, and Cyprus.
The Apostles took many troubles, hardships, and sufferings upon themselves in the service of Christ. Apostle Paul describes his experiences in 2 Corinthians 11: 25-28: “Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.”
Many of the believers fled from Jerusalem on account of the persecutions they suffered there (cf. Acts 8: 1; 11: 19). Even in their new surroundings they acquainted people with the Christian faith and proclaimed the word of the Lord, like Philip, for example, in the capital city of Samaria.
The term ‘mission’ derives from the Latin and means “task” or “mandate”. This term is used in reference to the effort of winning non-Christians over to the Christian faith, the gospel
There are only a few vague references to this in Holy Scripture. From extra-biblical texts we learn that many Apostles died a martyr’s death. Apostle John was likely the one who lived and was active the longest of all the Apostles. After the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem (in the year AD 70) he stayed in Asia Minor and worked predominantly in the congregation of Ephesus.
The term ‘martyr’ is derived from the Greek word martys, which means “witness”. Individuals who suffer or even endure a violent death for the sake of their faith are described as “martyrs”. An example of this is Deacon Stephen, who was stoned to death for professing Jesus Christ. The events surrounding his stoning are related in Acts 7.
After the death of the early Apostles, the ministry to which Jesus had entrusted the dispensation of the sacraments, the forgiveness of sins, and the proclamation of the gospel was no longer occupied. As a result, it was no longer possible to dispense the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was also impossible for any other ministerial gifts to come forth out of the Apostle ministry. The gospel continued to spread nevertheless. Believing people continued to bring the gospel and the Christian system of values farther and farther afield.
The members of the early Christian congregations were persecuted as atheists in the Gentile nations because they did not worship the gods in which the people there believed. The Christians were also blamed for crop failures, earthquakes, and floods—which was in turn an excuse to persecute them. The Roman Emperors tried to eliminate Christianity. The first persecution of the Christians was initiated in the year AD 64 under the Roman Emperor Nero.
Yes, even after the death of the early Apostles and despite the Christian persecutions, the church grew. People who believed in Jesus Christ and professed Him as their Lord received the sacrament of Holy Baptism with water, and so they were incorporated into the body of Christ. In this way the church of Jesus Christ spread throughout the whole world.
The expectation of the imminent return of Christ eventually faded into the background in the sermons. Belief in the life and activity of the Son of God, in His death and resurrection, was nevertheless kept alive.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the early church creeds were enshrined in writing. At church gatherings known as “councils”, the doctrines of the Trinity of God and of the dual nature of Jesus Christ were formulated and proclaimed binding for Christian faith.
After the Apostles of the early apostolic period had died, there were no more bearers of the Apostle ministry. The Apostle ministry itself continued to exist unchanged, however. In the year 1832, God occupied this ministry once again.
Believers of various confessions in England, Scotland, and Germany prayed and hoped that the Holy Spirit would once again become active in the same great power as at the time of the early Apostles. This was associated with the expectation that God would once again send Apostles.
Finally, in the year 1832, a believing man in London by the name of John Bate Cardale was called to the Apostle ministry by the Holy Spirit, and designated as an Apostle by Henry Drummond. At Christmas 1832 John Bate Cardale performed his first ministerial act, an ordination, as an Apostle.
With the renewed calling of Apostles there were once again bearers of the Apostle ministry in the church of Christ. The ministry which has the authority to dispense all sacraments, keeps alive the certainty of the imminent return of Christ, and prepares the bridal congregation for this event, was once again occupied, as it was in the founding phase of the church of Christ: the gift of the Holy Spirit was once again dispensed. Beyond that, forgiveness of sins was once again proclaimed by Apostles. Likewise ordinations were performed again.
Jesus Christ rules His church. To this end He makes use of the Apostles. The Apostle ministry is the original ministry of the church. It is the only ministry given by Jesus Himself. The most important tasks of the Apostles include the proclamation of the gospel throughout the world, the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, the dispensation of the sacraments for the living and the dead, and the ordination of ministers. So it is that the bridal congregation is gathered and prepared for the return of Christ through the activity of the Apostles.
The Apostles are presently active in the New Apostolic Church. Nevertheless, the Apostle ministry has not only been given for the New Apostolic Church, but rather for the whole church of Jesus Christ. The Apostle ministry has the commission to work its way into all parts of the church.
The Apostles have been sent to all nations. They fulfil this commission by establishing congregations around the world and leading believers to Jesus Christ.
The dispensation of all the sacraments— Holy Baptism with water, Holy Communion, and Holy Sealing—has been entrusted to the Apostle ministry. The Apostles also dispense the sacraments for the departed.
Holy Sealing is only dispensed by Apostles.
In the New Apostolic Church, Holy Communion and Holy Baptism with water are also dispensed by priestly ministers by commission of the Apostles. Holy Baptism with water has been entrusted to the church as a whole: wherever baptisms are performed with water in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, believing human beings are incorporated into the church of Christ.
At the return of Christ, one part of the church—namely the bridal congregation (firstlings)—will be caught up to God. It will experience the “marriage” in heaven with Jesus Christ (cf. Revelation 19: 6-7).
The other part of the church will remain on the earth and will have to prove itself in the tribulations to which the Christians remaining on the earth will be exposed (cf. Revelation 12).
“‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
Revelation 19: 6, 7
“Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child. [...] And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Revelation 12: 13, 17
All people who believe in Jesus Christ and profess the Son of God as their Lord are part of the church of Christ. They are baptised in the name of the triune God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But by far not all the baptised believe and profess. Accordingly, not all who are baptised belong to the church of Christ.
The multiplicity of Christian communities (denominations) has come about owing to varying interpretations of the gospel, as well as cultural, social, and historical differences.
Anything formed by human beings can, in the broadest sense, be described as ‘culture’. People and nations have differing cultural features owing to their way of life, their history, their experiences, their religious and political origins, their customs, their worldviews and convictions, etc.
The word ‘social’ derives from the Latin word socius and means “together”, “united”, or “allied”. We use it when we want to express that an individual is interconnected with his neighbour and the community, and cares about others.
The church of Christ can be experienced wherever oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity—albeit to varying degrees—are present.
The church of Christ is most clearly revealed where the Apostle ministry, the dispensation of the sacraments to the living and the dead, as well as the proper proclamation of the word are present. It is there that the Lord’s work of redemption is manifest, in which the bride of Christ is being prepared for the marriage in heaven.
At the return of Christ, one part of the church—the bridal congregation—will be caught up to God. Another part of the church will remain on earth and must prove itself in antichristian tribulations. In the kingdom of peace the church will be revealed when the royal priesthood proclaims the gospel to all human beings who have ever lived. In the new creation, worship and praise will be brought to God forever.
Binding elements in the individual Christian denominations include baptism in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the profession of Jesus Christ, and belief in the triune God.
Through the baptised who live their faith and profess Christ as their Lord, the church can be experienced as a fellowship of faith, hope, and love.