The Doctrine of the Church

This session was taught at the Christ Church Manchester School of Theology on Saturday 21st September 2019. The CCM School of Theology was set up to serve local churches in Manchester and beyond.

Topic: The Church

In this session, we look at the The Doctrine of the Church.

Speaker: Andy Wisdom

Andy is part of the team at Christ Church Manchester. He is currently studying a PhD in Biblical Studies.



The Doctrine of the Church


Origins and Distinctives of the Church

And I tell you that you are Peter [petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matt. 16:18).


– From two Greek words: kuriakon, (‘belonging to the Lord’), ekklesia (‘called out from’).
– Ekklesia does not always mean ‘church’ in the NT (e.g. Mt. 18:17—probably referring to a Jewish synagogue group, Acts 7:38—referring to the Israelites in the wilderness, and Acts 19:32—referring to a mob in Ephesus).
– Most uses unambiguously mean ‘church’—a group of ‘called out’ believers who are ‘in Christ’ (Eph. 1:1).
– Usually refers to a local church (e.g. Acts 8:1, 11:22, 16:5, Rom. 16:5, 1 Cor. 1:2, 2 Cor. 1:1, Gal. 1:2, 1 Thess. 1:1, Philem. 2, Rev. 2-3).
– Sometimes refers to the universal Church (Matt. 16:18, Eph. 5:25, 1 Cor. 10:32, Eph. 3:10).
– The Church can be understood to be invisible (as God sees it) and visible (as we see it).

Origins of the Church

– The church is a distinct New Testament entity, despite the use of the word ekklesia in the Septuagint (meaning ‘assembly [of Israel]’).
– Jesus’ declaration that he would build his Church (Matt. 16:18) implied a future construction.
– 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 – the body is formed as believers are baptised in the Spirit. This does not occur until Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Relationship between the Church and Biblical Israel

– Disagreement over whether the Church is the ‘new Israel’ (Berkhof), an entirely distinct entity from Israel (Enns) or the ‘true Israel’ (Grudem).
– The Church is distinct from Israel, insofar as Israel always means the physical descendants of Jacob. Salvation comes through Christ, Gentiles and Jews become members of the Church. Gentiles do not become physical members of Israel through Christ, but become members of the Church (Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11).
– The Church can be understood to be the true Israel, insofar as the dividing walls between Jews and Gentiles have been demolished, and together Jews and Gentiles have been built into a temple of God (Eph. 2:12-20). This would mean that (i) promises made in the OT to Israel will be received bythe Church (e.g. Jer. 31:31-34 in Heb. 8:8-10), and (ii) if there is a mass conversion of Jews to Christ in the future (Rom. 11:12, 15), they will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (Rom. 11:24, see Grudem, p. 861).

Relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God

– The Church is distinct from the Kingdom, because the kingdom has come with Jesus (Matt 12:28), and is yet to come (Matt. 25:34).
– Jesus framed his ministry in terms of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15), not the Church.
– The Kingdom is bigger than the Church, and we cannot know when God will fully establish it (Acts 1:6-8).
– The Church can be understood to be the community of the Kingdom, but not the Kingdom itself.

Biblical Metaphors for the Church

Body of Christ

– And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Eph. 1:22-23).
– Illustrates that the Church is one living organism. Christ is its highest authority. Believers, like different body parts, fulfil different functions in the Church (Rom. 12:4-8).
– Christ is the ‘head’ (Gk. kefale) of the Church, appointed from the beginning (Col. 1:18).
– All authority over the Church belongs to Christ (Eph. 1:22).
– Believers are different parts of the body, performing different functions (1 Cor. 12:12-31, Rom. 12:4-8, Eph. 4:11).
– Function of the body: to grow into maturity under Christ, the head (Eph. 4:15).

Bride of Christ

– Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Eph. 5:25-27).
– Illustrates Christ’s incomparable love for the Church. The Church is awaiting Christ’s return (Rev. 19:7-9, 1 Thess. 4:17).
– Christ’s love for the church is exemplified in his laying down his life for her (Eph. 5:25) and making her clean (v. 26) in order that she might be presented to him blameless (v. 27). The bride, in response, submits to Christ (v. 24).
– Eternal destiny of the bride is to be beside Christ (Rev. 22:17).
– Function of the bride: to prepare for the bridegroom’s return by living holy lives (2 Pet. 3:11-13).


– Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
– Illustrates that the Church is continuously being built as believers are added to its number. The Church is where God chooses to dwell on earth (1 Cor. 3:16).
– The Church is built upon the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).
– In Christ the whole building is joined together (Eph. 2:21), and believers are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit (v. 22).
– Function of the building/temple: to honour God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:18-20). To continue to be built up, stone by stone, into a dwelling for Christ (1 Pet. 2:5).

Royal Priesthood

– But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Pet. 2:9).
– Illustrates the continued role of priestly service to God, now via spiritual sacrifices by God’s chosen people (1 Pet. 2:5).
– Israel was described as a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod. 19:5-6).
– Peter describes the Church as a ‘royal priesthood’ (1 Pet. 2:9).
– In Israel, priests could only come from one tribe (Levi) and kings could come from another tribe (Judah). In the church, the roles can be combined – thus, the Church is a distinct entity from Israel.
– All believers can have access to God at any time through Christ, the ‘great High Priest’ (Heb. 4:14-16).
– Function of the priesthood: to offer spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Pet. 2:5, Rom 12:1). To declare God’s praises (1 Pet. 2:9).

Flock of the Good Shepherd

– “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:14-16).
– Illustrates Jesus’ care for and guidance of the Church, and illustrates the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church.
– Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 15, see also Acts 20:28, Ps. 23).
– The Good Shepherd’s flock includes ‘those who are not of this pen’, and he draws them together into one flock with one Shepherd (John 10:16).
– Elders are instructed to emulate Jesus’ shepherding of the flock until Jesus returns (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
– Greek word translated as ‘pastor’ (poimén, e.g. Eph. 4:11) also usually means ‘shepherd’.
– Function of the flock: to trust and follow Christ. Special responsibility for the church’s leaders to shepherd the flock until Christ’s return.

Branches of the True Vine

– I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5).
– Illustrates that the church is united around a common source of life, and that connection to the right source produces good fruit. Being cut off from the vine produces nothing good.
– It is impossible to bear good fruit which glorifies God without being abiding in Christ (John 15:4).
– Good fruit includes prayer (v. 7), love (v. 9) and joy (v. 11).
– Bearing fruit which comes from Christ glorifies God (v. 8).
– The indwelling of the Holy Spirit produces good fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
– Function of the branches: to glorify God by producing good fruit, which can only be done when drawing from the lifegiving source that is Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

Models of Church Government (Polity)

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. (Heb. 13:17) 

Biblical Offices within Church Government

– Overseer (Gk. episkopos, KJV ‘bishop’). Probably used interchangeably with ‘elder’, stresses the overseeing function of the office.
– Elder (Gk. presbuteros). Similar to ‘overseer’, though presbuteros stresses the maturity and dignity of the office.
– Deacon (Gk. daikonos) sometimes translated ‘minister’ or ‘servant’. A position subordinate to elders/overseers, may have an emphasis on pastoral/material care for congregants (Acts 6:1-6).

Models of Church Government




Biblical Basis

Episcopal From Gk. episkopos (‘overseer’, ‘bishop’ [KJV]).
Bishops have authority over several churches and appoint ministers. Varying degrees of complexity.
Methodist, Anglican/Episcopal,
Roman Catholic.
Gal. 1:19, 2:9, Acts 15:1-21 (esp. v.19), 1 Tim. 3:1-7.
Presbyterian From Gk. presbuteros (‘elder’). Elders have
authority, usually over one church. Elders are
usually elected by the congregation.
Presbytarian, Reformed (e.g.
URC), Pentecostal.
Acts 14:23, 20:17, 1 Tim. 5:17, Tit. 1:5-9, Jam. 5:14.
Congregational Entire local congregation has authority. Emphasis on autonomy (no outside authority) and democracy, due to priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). Baptist, URC,
Acts 15:12, 22-25, 1 Pet. 2:9, Eph. 4:4-6.

Ministries of the Church

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42).

Ministry to God (Worship)

– Reciting psalms and singing hymns was an encouraged part of church life in the first century (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, 1 Cor. 14:26).
– We are those whom Jesus said would worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

Ministry to the Body (Unity and Maturity)

– The Church should be centred around biblical teaching (2 Tim. 3:16- 17) by leaders whose goal it is to bring the Church to maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:15).
– Fellowship (Gk. koinonia, also translated ‘sharing’ or ‘communion’) should be central, to bring unity in the body (1 Cor. 10:16, 2 Cor. 13:14, Phil. 1:5, Acts 2:44-45, 4:36-37).

Ministry to the World (Evangelism and Service)

– The primary outward call of the Church is to evangelism (Matt. 28:19).
– Believers are also called to good citizenship (Rom. 13:1, Col. 3:17) and imitation of God’s love toward those who do not respond (Lk. 6:35-36, 10:25-37).


Questions for Further Study

What is the most biblical model of church government?
What is the role of spiritual gifts in the modern Church?
To what extent should the Church be actively involved in matters of social responsibility and politics?


Further Resources

  • Sermon by Andy Wisdom,
  • Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1941), pp. 553-603. Formerly one of the top systematic theologies in the world. Now quite dated but an excellent point of reference for ecclesiology. Reformed and conservative, downplays the role of the Spirit and Spiritual gifts. Cessationist.
  • Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), pp. 347-370. As reformed and conservative as Berkhof, but less dated. Interesting point of comparison with Grudem. Cessationist.
  • Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), pp. 853-1049 (Part 6). Gold standard for evangelical non-cessationist theology.





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