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People's Dictionary of the Bible


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Church. The terms which this word represents are variously used by the sacred writers. Matthew 16:18. It may be sufficient to notice two uses of the term. In the New Testament it is applied particularly to Christians as a body or community. Acts 16:5. It is also applied to the people of God in all ages of the world, whether Jews or Christians, Acts 7:38; Acts 12:1; Ephesians 3:21; Ephesians 5:25; for although there have been two dispensations, viz., that of the law by Moses, and that of the gospel by Jesus Christ, yet the religion of the Bible is one religion: whether before or after the coming of Christ, true believers are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28. Of this church or company of the redeemed, the Lord Jesus Christ is now the Head, and the Church is therefore called the body, Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24, and comprises the redeemed who are gone to heaven, as well as those who are, or will be, on the earth. Hebrews 12:23. Particular portions of the whole body of Christians are also called the church, as the church at Jerusalem, at Corinth, etc. Acts 8:1; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17. As the great work wrought on earth and the reigning of Christ in heaven constitute him the Founder and Head of the Church, as it now exists, he is compared to "the chief corner-stone" in the building, Ephesians 2:20, on whom the whole structure is dependent. For this purpose God "hath put all things under his feet." Ephesians 1:22. The figurative language which is employed by Christ, himself, as well as by his apostles, to denote the nature of his relations to the church (as composed of all true believers), and its relations to him, is of the most significant character. Some of these have been intimated above; others are that of husband and wife, Ephesians 5:30-32, a vine and its branches, John 15:1-6, and a shepherd and his flock, John 10:11. And it is by many supposed that the Song of Solomon is a highly figurative and poetical illustration of the mutual love of Christ and the people of his church in all ages. In modern times the word is applied to various associations of Christians, united by a common mode of faith or form of government; as the Episcopal Church, the Baptist Church, the Moravian Church, etc. The word church is but once (then doubtfully) applied in Scriptures to a building. 1 Timothy 3:15. The visible Israelitish church was divided into twelve tribes separated, yet to be united as the people of God: having one Scripture, one sacrifice, one Jehovah. Christ told his apostles, "Ye shall sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Matthew 19:28. James addresses his epistle, "To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" ("which are of the dispersion," R. V.). James 1:1. In the progress of the church "there were sealed one hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of Israel," Revelation 7:4, showing that the visible church will continue to be divided into tribes, with one Scripture and one Saviour. The world seldom was in greater darkness than when for 1260 years it was controlled by one visible church, the Church of Rome. And the clamor of many to make a united visible church by attacking all creeds and confessions holding the great doctrines of the Scriptures, and in their place to adopt the assumptions of idolatrous churches, will never be realized. The church had in New Testament times, elders, overseers or bishops, in each congregation. Matthew 26:3; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; Titus 1:7; Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Peter 5:3. Compare Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:29. The various tribes of the ancient visible church were constantly adopting the idolatries of the surrounding nations, and were brought into subjection by them, and at last were scattered and the most of them lost on that account. The most of the prophets were sent to the church to upbraid them for their idolatries and for forsaking God. Christ came to the visible church and was rejected. The epistles speak of errors in the churches founded by the apostles. And as was predicted in the second and third chapters of Revelation, the candlestick of nearly every one of them has been removed.

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Bibliography Information
Rice, Edwin Wilbur, DD. Entry for 'Church'. People's Dictionary of the Bible. 1893.

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