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Bible Dictionaries

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary

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1. The Greek word denotes an assembly met about business, whether lawful or unlawful, Acts 19:32; Acts 19:39 .

2. It is understood of the collective body of Christians, or all those over the face of the earth who profess to believe in Christ, and acknowledge him to be the Saviour of mankind: this is called the visible church, Ephesians 3:21 . 1 Timothy 3:15 . Ephesians 4:11-12 .

3. By the word church, also, we are to understand the whole body of God's chosen people, in every period of time: this is the invisible church. Those on earth are also called the militant, and those in heaven the triumphant church, Hebrews 12:23 . Acts 20:28 . Ephesians 1:1-23 Matthew 16:28 .

4. By a particular church we understand an assembly of Christians united together, and meeting in one place for the solemn worship of God. To this agree the definition given by the compilers of the thirty-nine articles:

"A congregation of faithful men, in which the true word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinances, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." Acts 9:31 . Galatians 1:2; Galatians 1:22 . 1 Corinthians 14:34 . Acts 20:17 . Colossians 4:15 .

5. The word is now used also to denote any particular denomination of Christians distinguished by particular doctrines, ceremonies, &c.: as the Romish church, Greek church. and English church, &c. Congregational church is so called from their maintaining that each congregation of Christians which meet in one place for religious worship is a complete church, and has sufficient power to act and perform every thing relative to religious government within itself, and is in no respect subject or accountable to any other church. It does not appear, say they, that the primitive churches were national; they were not even provincial; for, though there were many believers and professing Christians in Judea, in Galilee, and Samaria, in Macedonia, in Galatia, and other provinces, yet we never read of a provincial church in any of those places.

The particular societies of Christians in these districts are mentioned in the plural number,
2 Corinthians 8:1 . Galatians 1:2 . Acts 9:31 . According to them, we find no mention made of diocesan churches in the New Testament. In the days of the apostles, bishops were so far from presiding over more churches than one, that sometimes a plurality of bishops presided over the same church.

See Philippians 1:1 . Nor do we find any mention made of parochial churches. Some of the inhabitants of a parish may be Infidels, Mahometans, or Jews; but Gospel churches consist of such as make an open profession of their faith in Christ, and subjection to the Gospel, Rom.i.7. 1 Corinthians 14:33 . It seems plain, then, that the primitive churches of Christ were properly congregational. The first church at Jerusalem met together in one place at the same time, Acts 1:14-15 . The church of Antioch did the same, Acts 14:27 . The church of Corinth the same, 1 Corinthians 14:23 . The same did the church at Troas, Acts 20:7 . There was a church at Cenchrea, a port of Corinth, distinct from the church in that city, Romans 16:1-27 : He that was a member of one church was not a member of another. The apostle Paul, writing to the Colossian society, says

"Epaphras, who is one of you, saluteth you, " Colossians 4:12 . Such a church is a body distinguished from the civil societies of the world by the spiritual nature and design of its government; for, though Christ would have order kept in his church, yet without any coercive force; a thing inconsistent with the very nature of such a society, whose end is instruction; and a practice suitable to it, which can never in the nature of things be accomplished by penal laws or external coersion, Isaiah 33:22 . Matthew 23:8; Matthew 23:10 . John 18:36 . Psalms 2:6 . 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 . Zechariah 4:6 , &c. 1. Church members are those who compose or belong to the church. As to the visible church, it may be observed that real saintship is not the distinguishing criterion of the members of it. None, indeed, can without it honestly offer themselves to church fellowship; but they cannot be refused admission for the mere want of it; for

1. God alone can judge the heart. Deceivers can counterfeit saintship, 1 Samuel 16:1; 1 Samuel 16:7 .

2. God himself admitted many members of the Jewish church whose hearts were unsanctified, Deuteronomy 29:3-4; Deuteronomy 29:13 . John 6:70 .

3. John the Baptist and the apostles required no more than outward appearance of faith and repentance in order to baptism, Matthew 3:5; Matthew 3:7 . Acts 2:28 .vii. 13, 23.

4. Many that were admitted members in the churches of Judea, Corinth, Philippi, Laodicea, Sardis, &c. were unregenerated, Acts 5:1; Acts 5:10; Acts 8:13; Acts 8:23 . 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 5:11 . Philippians 3:18-19 . Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:15; Revelation 17:1-18 :

5. Christ compares the Gospel church to a floor on which corn and chaff are mingled together: to a net in which good and bad are gathered, &c.

See Matthew 13:1-58 : As to the real church,

1. The true members of it are such as are born again.

2. They come out from the world, 1 Corinthians 6:17 .

3. They openly profess love to Christ, James 2:14; James 2:26 . Mark 8:34 &c.

4. They walk in all the ordinances of the Lord blameless. None but such are proper members of the true church; nor should any be admitted to any particular church without some appearance of these, at least. 2. Church fellowship is the communion that the members enjoy one with another. The end of church fellowship is,

1. The maintenance and exhibition of a system of sound principles, 2 Timothy 1:13 . 1 Timothy 6:3-4 . 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 . Hebrews 2:1 . Ephesians 4:21 .

2. The support of the ordinances of Gospel worship in their purity and simplicity, Deuteronomy 12:31-32 . Romans 15:6 .

3. The impartial exercise of church government and discipline, Hebrews 12:15 . Galatians 6:1 . 2 Timothy 2:24; 2 Timothy 2:26 . Titus 3:10 . 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 : James 3:17 .

4. The promotion of holiness in all manner of conversation, Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:15-16 . 2 Peter 3:11 . Philippians 4:8 . The more particular duties are.

1. Earnest study to keep peace and unity, Ephesians 4:3 . Philippians 2:2-3 . Philippians 3:15-16 .

2. Bearing of one another's burdens, Galatians 6:1; Galatians 2:1-21 :

3. Earnest endeavours to prevent each other's stumblings, 1 Corinthians 10:2-3 . Hebrews 10:24; Hebrews 10:27 . Romans 14:13 .

4. Stedfast continuance in the faith and worship of the Gospel, Acts 2:42 .

5. Praying for and sympathizing with each other, 1 Samuel 12:23 . Ephesians 6:18 . The advantages are,

1. Peculiar incitements to holiness, Ecclesiastes 4:11 .

2. There are some promises applicable to none but those who attend the ordinances of God, and hold communion with the saints, Psalms 92:13 . Isaiah 25:6 . Psa 122: 13, 16. Psalms 36:8 . Jeremiah 31:12 .

3. Such are under the watchful eye and care of their pastor, Hebrews 13:7 .

4. Subject to the friendly reproof or kind advice of the saints, 1 Corinthians 12:25 .

5. Their zeal and love are animated by reciprocal conversation, Malachi 3:16 . Proverbs 27:17 .

6. They may restore each other if they fall, Ecclesiastes 4:10 . Galatians 6:1 .

7. More easily promote the cause, and spread the Gospel elsewhere. 3. Church ordinances are,

1. Reading of the Scriptures, Nehemiah 9:3 . Acts 17:11 . Nehemiah 8:3-4 . Luke 4:16 .

2. Preaching and expounding, 1 Timothy 3:2 . 2 Timothy 2:24 . Ephesians 4:8 . Romans 10:15 . Hebrews 5:4 .

3. Hearing, Is. 4: 1. James 1:21 . 1 Peter 2:2 . 1 Timothy 4:13 .

4. Prayer, Psalms 5:1-2 . Psalms 95:6 . Psalms 121:1 . Psalms 28:2 . Acts 12:12; Acts 1:14 .

5. Singing of psalms, Ps. xivii. 1 to 6. Colossians 3:16 . 1 Corinthians 14:15 . Ephesians 5:1-33 .

6. Thanksgiving, Psalms 50:14 . Psalms 100:1-5 : James 5:13 .

7. The Lord's supper, 1 Corinthians 11:23 , &c. Acts 20:7 . Baptism is not properly a church ordinance, since it ought to be administered before a person be admitted into church fellowship.

See BAPTISM. 4. church officers are those appointed by Christ for preaching the word, and the superintendence of church affairs: such are bishops and deacons, to which some add, elders.

See these articles. 5. As to church order and discipline, it may be observed, that every Christian society formed on the congregational plan is strictly independent of all other religious societies. No other church however numerous or respectable; no person or persons, however eminent for authority, abilities, or influence, have any right to assume arbitrary jurisdiction over such a society. They have but one master, who is Christ.

See Matthew 18:15; Matthew 18:19 .

Even the officers which Christ has appointed in his church have no power to give new laws to it; but only, in conjunction with the other members of the society, to execute the commands of Christ. They have no dominion over any man's faith, nor any compulsive power over the consciences of any. Every particular church has a right to judge of the fitness of those who offer themselves as members, Acts 9:26 . If they are found to be proper persons, they must then be admitted; and this should always be followed with prayer, and with a solemn exhortation to the persons received. If any member walk disorderly, and continue to do so, the church is empowered to exclude him, 1 Corinthians 5:7 . 2 Thessalonians 3:6 . Romans 16:17 . which should be done with the greatest tenderness; but if evident signs of repentance should be discovered, such must be received again, Galatians 6:1 . This and other church business is generally done on some day preceding the sabbath on which the ordinance is administered.

See art. EXCOMMUNICATION; Dr. Owen on the Nature of a Gospel Church and its Government; Watts's Rational Foundation of a Christian Church; Turner's Compendium of Soc. Rel; Fawcett's Constitution and Order of a Gospel Church; Watts's Works, ser. 53. vol. 1:; Goodwin's Works, vol. 4:; Fuller's Remarks on the Discipline of the Primitive Churches; and Bryson's Compendious View.

Bibliography Information
Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Church'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​cbd/​c/church.html. 1802.
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