The 3 pillars of a true church
Today, we shall be considering the 3 pillars of a true church to give us a clear overview of what the church of Christ should be in comparison with what we have turned it to today.
According to the different places and cultures where the first churches were planted, each church in the New Testament had its peculiarities. The church in Corinth, for example, was not the same as Ephesus or Rome.
Surely each varied in minor details of importance, such as the duration of the meeting, the size of the meeting place, the number of attendees, or the format. The Epistles also make it clear that each congregation needed emphasis on teaching at different times in their lives. But what is beyond doubt is that the New Testament dictates the model of a true church.
The church in history
The church was never the meeting place, but the people who gathered to study, share, and worship God. These congregations first met in houses (see, for example, Acts 5:42, 20:20).
The Christians suffered tremendous persecution on the part of the Jews and the Romans. Christianity was strictly forbidden and considered dangerous within the Roman Empire.
Christians were considered atheists for not believing in the pantheon of the Greek gods. They threatened the Emperor by denying him service of worship and devotion. For these and more reasons, the church met for centuries in secret and in houses.
Then, with the rise of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, circumstances changed for Christians. The scourged and persecuted Christian religion climbed from its hiding places to become the official religion of the empire.
With this, everything changed. No longer needed houses for meetings, now the Christians had large temples and luxurious buildings. The empire and its impressive economy were behind the development and expansion of Christianity.
Today, from my perspective, I see a tendency to pigeonhole how the Christian church should be. It can be an extreme culturalization on our part, as it can also be an ecclesiology based not on the Bible but on tradition. We have modeled and modeled how a church should be. But, I ask: According to whom? Culture? The world? The western model? Oriental? Or the Biblical?
In response to this, the minimal guidelines that the New Testament marks for a true church have been minimized. Certainly, you can add many other things to which I will mention, but these are the common denominator of the neo-testamentary church. They are pillars on which any biblical congregation should be built and sustained.
Whether in a house, in a palace, under a palm tree, with or without air conditioning, all had the presence of at least three vital characteristics: the two sacraments were practiced; the Word of God was preached in a healthy and complete way; they were led by male bishops, and served by deacons and deaconesses (Acts 4, 1 Ti 3, Ti 1).
1. The practice of the sacraments
Unlike the church of Rome, who practices seven sacraments, the New Testament church was faithful in practicing only two sacraments or ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Certainly, both had important significance within celebrations and worship.
The Lord’s Supper was taken in order to remember and celebrate what Jesus did for us, and the new covenant by his blood through faith (I Cor. 11:23). The frequency and utensils varied over time, however, their meaning and presence were always a sign of great importance in biblical Christianity.
The church was composed mainly of people who believed in Jesus and were baptized in his name. Baptism has been a fundamental sign of the Christian church throughout history. Certainly, its symbolism and value have been distorted by the Roman church, but the Bible is clear: baptism is a symbol of the spiritual reality of death to the old life and the birth to a new life in Christ (Rom 6: 4).
Both sacraments are representations and celebrations of spiritual realities. Neither of them has any power attached to salvation. In the New Testament, they were never practiced in order to, as it were, earn points with God. The salvation of our soul is by faith in Jesus Christ and not by any work (Eph 2: 8-9).
2. The healthy and complete preaching of the Word of God
The preaching of the Word of God has always been central to the Lord’s church. We see it in Jesus, proclaiming without ceasing the divine word, going through Paul, giving his speeches and writing his letters full of theology, doctrine, and history.
The teaching and exposition of the Word of God were central in the minds of the fathers of the Church, as in the reformers and puritans. In fact, the entire worship ceremony revolved around the Word of God. They believed faithfully that it was God’s power to save the lost world.
In the New Testament, we observe that the theology of Paul and the apostles is a theocentric theology: centered on God. His writings and preaching always sought to exalt the Lord, give Him glory, adore him, and make him known. It was never anthropocentric, that is, centered on man. The main reason for his sermons did not gravitate around the man but around the glory of God.
The New Testament Church had a common goal: to worship their savior and make him known. The rise of anthropocentrism has given way to the system of thematic preaching, where unlike the exhibition, almost never is faithful to the meaning and real application of the text. The wife of the Lamb should always look for the Word of God as the main food.
3. The leadership of elders and deacons.
I see the New Testament Church led first by twelve apostles men, and in each church planted Paul commissioned bishops or elders to take the lead.
Several Greek terms are used in the New Testament to refer to the same office, that of elders, bishops, or pastors. His task was to supervise, direct, and care for the flock.
Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 gives instructions on the qualifications of these supervisors, and clearly Paul refers to men. There is no direction in the New Testament towards any woman to take that role within the Church.
Read also: The integral Mission of the church
The Church has always been led and pastored by men called by God for this task. It is a very important position and a lot of responsibility. Whether they are appointed by other elders or by the church itself, these have been the instrument that God has chosen to lead his Church.
On the other hand, we see in Romans 16: 1 Phoebe, deaconess of the church of the Lord. The word diakonos has the meaning of the server. Both men and women have been servants in the church.
This is a different charge to the elders or pastors, in which there is no requirement of leadership or authority over the flock, but it is also a call of the highest importance and honor in the church.
Any established church, or anyone who has in mind to be planted, should seriously consider having at least these three clear and established qualities. A mere gathering of Christian people is not a church.
People become the church of the Lord when they do what the Lord commands them to do. It is necessary that we take the previous pillars in our ecclesiology very seriously, and not pay so much attention to the secondary elements.
Well said John Calvin: “Wherever we find that the Word of God is preached and heard, and the sacraments are administered according to the institution of Christ, there, without a doubt, there is a church of God.”