The Bible indicates that of the three primary institutions (family, Church and State), only the Church will last into eternity (Matt. 22:29-32). The Church as a corporate body is composed of those who have placed faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation and is variously called a pure virgin, the Bride, the Body and the temple or building of Christ (2 Cor. 6:16, 11:2, Eph. 2:21, 3:16, Rev. 21:2, 9). The Church is also called a flock of sheep, a chosen generation, a royal priesthood a holy nation and the people of God (John 10:14-16, 1 Peter 2:9-10).
© June 2006 By D. Eric Williams
As can be seen by the illustrations from the New Testament, the Church is one. This does not necessarily mean that the expression of the Church in one place is a carbon copy of its expression in another. The Church is unified but in that unity there is diversity. Although the world may interpret the diversity of the Church as disharmony, it is important to recognize that the Church is a body and to tear that body apart brings death (Eph. 4:4f).
When we say that the Church is holy - set apart - we do not mean that it is to stand aloof from the world. Instead we mean that it must remain untainted by the world even while it represents Christ to the world. The Church cannot adopt worldly wisdom as its guiding light but must remain true to the word and the mission of evangelism and nurture in obedience to the word of God.
The Bible really does not provide a clear picture of the organization of the Church. We do know that the word was preached, the sacraments were administered and that fellowship was enjoyed. Granted, the Apostles (or their direct associates), appointed leaders in many of the first century churches (Titus 1:5). Yet this does not necessarily set a precedent for the entire Church age. The Apostles are no longer with us - except through their writings. Obviously they continue to rule the Church through their inspired writings; but there is no indication in the Bible that they initiated an apostolic succession to which we owe submission today. Moreover we must not forget that the Apostles (especially Paul), were doing missionary work and it is natural and acceptable for a missionary to be involved in the organization of a Church they plant. However, once a local church has been established, the responsibility for their government resides with the congregation itself. We see this portrayed in the way that the Church at Antioch had the authority to commission (ordain), Paul and Barnabas at the bidding of then Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2-3). It seems clear that, once established, the early Church functioned in a way that today we would call congregational.
There are two rites, or sacraments entrusted to the Church. They are baptism and communion.
Water baptism is administered "in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 28:19). Baptism is the outward expression and testimony of faith in Christ and symbolizes the believer's baptism by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ (Rom. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 12:13). Baptism may be administered by immersion or by sprinkling to believers in Jesus Christ and to their children. Baptism replaces circumcision as the rite of covenant inclusion (Col. 2:11-13), and there is no indication that the Apostles withheld the sacrament from the children of Believers. When Peter Preached the Gospel to the household of Cornelius and the "Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word" the entire household was baptized (Acts 10:44-48). Lydia a seller of purple from Thyatria, believed the message of salvation and "she and her household were baptized" (Acts 16:14-15). Paul told the Philippian Jailer to "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." As a result "he and all his family were baptized" (Acts 16:30-34). Paul also baptized the "household of Stephanas" while ministering in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:16). None of these passages indicate that the children and infants in the households were excluded from the rite of baptism. This is in keeping with the Abrahamic character of the covenant as discussed in Galatians. 3:13-14, 16, and 29. As a pastor I present this understanding of baptism to my congregation and allow believing parents to decide when their own children will be baptized (those who do not hold to infant/child baptism are encouraged to have their babies dedicated).
The Lord's Supper is the commemoration of Christ's death (1 Cor. 11:26), wherein we proclaim His sacrifice on our behalf and the establishment of the New Covenant in His blood. It is a renewal and fulfillment of the Passover celebration with Jesus Christ being our Paschal lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). Just as the Passover event and participation in the Passover celebration signaled the validation of the nation of Israel as God's chosen, forgiven, protected people, likewise, the Lord's supper proclaims that (through Christ's death), we are part of a new nation of priests, chosen, forgiven, and protected (1 Peter 2:9-10). In the Lord's Supper we partake of the broken bread representing His body to commemorate His body "broken" for us, and we partake of the wine which is the blood of the New Covenant. The broken bread reminds us that Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for our sins (He was "wounded for our transgressions and crushed for out iniquities" Is. 53:5-6), and the wine recalls the sealing of the covenant (indeed the creation of the covenant relationship), by the blood of the Sacrifice (Ex. 24:8, Matt. 26:28, Mark. 14:24, Luke 22:20, Heb. 9:22). As with the Passover celebration (which the Lord's Supper fulfills and replaces), every member of the covenant family is allowed to partake (Ex. 12:3-4, 26, 13:8, 14).