What is the Church?
The Church is a human and divine institution in which Christians...
To illustrate: People who become Christians first hear the gospel from their friends, family, or pastor — these are all the Church, the body of Christ.Then, they are baptizedinto the Church by members of the Church, usually by ordained leaders or ministers. Once a Christian, they go to church services to worship God in community with other Christians. They study the Bible,which was written by the apostles — by the apostolic Church itself. And on and on. Every aspect of a Christian's faith life is practiced in the context of the Church, and every Christian is the Church, the body of Christ.
The Church has these aspects...
The Church is about truth, justice, righteousness, holiness.
When he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth. (John 16:13)
The institutional flaws and serious sins of Church leaders cannot be ignored since they result in Christ's holy Church being unholy.
Who are the Church leaders?
The first church leaders were the apostles.
They ordained qualified people to teach the faith and minister to the people.
Sadly, the church institutionalized this process of ordination to the n-th degree until even unholy, corrupt, and highly political men were bishops, and priests were barely educated in the faith at all.
Some say the Church is a work in progress; we should therefore expect flaws. Catholics are especially fond of this argument in defending their view of the Catholic Church institution as the one true church. They quote the parable of the wheat and the tares as proof.
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.
But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this.
The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn. (Matthew 13:24-30)
Notice the kingdom of heaven is like the farmer, not like the field. The kingdom of heaven has an enemy.
The kingdom of heaven is Jesus who plants seeds. These seeds united under Jesus is the Church. Jesus does not plant the tares.
The soil into which Jesus plants the Church is this world of humans. The enemy, Satan, plants his wicked ideas into this world of humans also. But these wicked people are not the Church.
The question is what happens when the wicked people are in the Church? The answer is given in the parable. The seeds planted by the enemy are not part of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, wicked people are not part of the Church. This applies to bishops and popes.
Certainly the Church contains Christians who sin. The question is, at what point are they outside the Church? Perhaps we should use the same criteria as for excommunication, disfellowshipping, or shunning.When a person commits a mortal sin and never repents of it, they can be excommunicated. The Catholic Church teaches that certain actions, such as getting an abortion, result in automatic excommunication.
Since Church leaders (including Catholic bishops and priests) should be living to the highest standard of holiness, we should consider they are no longer in the Church if they are unholy.Certainly those who teach false doctrine should be considered outside the Church.
The problem is the Catholic Church (and other churches in church history and into modern times) don't acknowledge any of this. They seem to think bishops and priests are above the law and can do anything and the poor hapless Catholics over whom they rule must honor and obey them. This is nonsense.
Therefore, when we encounter Church leaders who teach error or who are unholy, we should assume they are not part of the Church after all. And when we encounter Church teachings which are untrue, we should assume these are not part of Church teaching, even if they were taught by councils, bishops, popes, or anyone ese.
Perhaps we should look at it this way: just as mortal sin breaks a person's fellowship with God, so also mortal sin in Church leaders breaks their association with the Church.
It seems the early church typically met in people's houses. Presumably the elders were the leaders of these house churches.
People often say the reason that people met in houses in the early apostolic church was to avoid Roman persecution, but I see no evidence of this; the only early Roman persecution was in Rome in 64 A.D. The most common persecution at the time came from Jews, yet Christians were apparently allowed in some places to attend the synagogue and even to speak in the synagogue.
(Philemon 1:2) And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house.
Paul greets Archippus, the leader of a house church in the city of Colosse.
(Colossians 4:17) And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfill it.
(Colossians 4:15) Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his [her?] house.
One of the local churches in Laodicea met at the house of Nymphas (who was likely a woman).
(Acts 2:46) And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.
They met in the temple and in people's homes. Presumably it is the church at large which met daily in the temple, not every Christian.
(Romans 16:3) Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus...
(Romans 16:4) Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
(Romans 16:5) Likewise greet the church that is in their house. . . .
Priscilla and Aquila hosted a house church.
(Acts 18:24) And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
(Acts 18:25) This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
(Acts 18:26) And he [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
The Christians Aquila and Priscilla as well as Apollos the disciple of John attended the synagogue and were allowed to speak. Aquila and Priscilla brought Apollos unto to them (presumably to their house church; the NIV mentions the word house).
(Luke 7:20) When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
(Acts 12:12) And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
They were gathered together in someone's home. Presumably this kind of gathering was a regular occurrence.
(1 Corinthians 1:11) For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
It seems each of the factions of the Corinthians church factions was led by the leader of a house church.
(Acts 16:40) And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.
Presumably this was a gathering of the church in someone's home.
(2 John 1:1) The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth.
Presumably this letter was addressed to a woman who was the leader of a house church.
Various views about the nature of the Church;whether it is a hierarchical institution or merely the set of all believers, of those who are redeemed, who will spend eternity in the new heavens and new earth.
One thing everyone agrees with: true believers belong to the Church as members. Some include even the unredeemed if they call themselves Christians as Church members; others consider even the Old Testament saints as Church members. But what about the one who has never before heard the gospel and yet, by God's grace, ends up redeemed? Are even these members of the Church?
Most everybody agrees the Church isn't the buildings even if saying, "I'm going to Church." Most also agree the Church has gatherings of Christians uniting together regularly to pray and worship.
But who preached and taught the gospel throughout the ages? the Church or just mere humans? In other words, can we say the Church wrote the Bible?
Does the Church have special called-out leaders,a certain class of infallibleclergy, as its authorized teachers? Some won't believe teaching from an infallible Church unless from clearly designated infallible popes or bishops or councils. But who infallibly designates these?
All the early church writers including the apostles demanded Church leaders to be holy and orthodox, caring for the flock. But church history magnifies the all-too-many examples of "official" Church leaders as wolves in disguise. We should reject such as these.
Once excluding the bad leaders, the institutional and hierarchical aspect of the Church collapses, leaving only a leader here and a leader there worthy of the name; these are the true leaders of the true Church.
A true leader of the Church can be easily spotted...
Some brag thinking themselves above the Church, considerations of this sort being a waste of time. But this answer fails us. The New Testament refers to the Church repeatedly. The New Testament emphasizes this topic, so must we.
You well might ask, "what does study have to do with salvation?" or, "what does the Church have to do with Jesus?"
Church: As I demonstrate, (1) the whole of the message of salvation, (2) the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and (3) the victorious Christian life: all these derive from the Church and are part of the Church. The Church consists of the apostles, the gospel, the Bible, the creeds, the moral law,all the redeemed of all ages (the body of Christ),all who teach the truth, and all who worship God as Trinity.
The word of God is the source of salvation and eternal life. We find the word of God in the Church.
The word of God comes from the Church and is contained in the Church.
When ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)