Jesus says that the church is like a fold of sheep. The church is those sheep which listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him (John 10:1-15). The church is like a mother for Christians. We are born through the church and to be cared for by the church. But the church itself is a result of the life giving word of God. The church is a coming together of people to hear the word of God. We also express our faith in confession and singing. We bring our needs to God in prayer. The first church was Adam and Eve. Also now a family which is reading the Bible and praying together is the smallest unit of the church. The purpose of missionary work is to establish the church of God in every people group in the world. In the immigrant community we can see how people first form a Bible study group in their mother tongue, then with a larger crowd coming together the fellowship spends time in worship, prayer and counselling. Eventually the congregation will also baptise and celebrate holy communion. A new church has been established. You can find churches like this in your mother tongue in all major cities in Europe.
The followers of Jesus were first called “Christians” in the city of Antioch (Acts 11:26). We carry the name of Jesus and consider it an honour even to be persecuted for his name’s sake. Instead of saying “holy Christian church” often “holy catholic church” is used in the creed. “Catholic” means universally present community and should not be confused with the Roman Catholic church. In all Christian churches we believe in the oneness of the church in all the world and through the ages.
The history of the church is about advancing to new people groups. The chosen nation Israel was called to live in the junction of three continents. Jesus came into this world and was born an Israeli Jew when there was a large empire securing peaceful travelling and one language understood by the learned in all three continents. Churches were established by the disciples of Jesus early on in the Middle East, North Africa and South East Europe. During the first centuries missionaries travelled to West Europe, Ethiopia, Congo, India, China and Indonesia.
At this time the church also experienced divisions: close to the year 500 AD the Syrian Orthodox church and the Coptic Church of Egypt were cut away from the rest of Christianity because of a different emphasis in how to understand the divinity and humanity of Christ. The Coptic church viewed Christ primarily as God and the human nature as a lesser element in him. The Syrians on the other hand emphasized the human side of Jesus. It has been suggested that Islam was influenced by this teaching to the extreme of denying the divinity of Christ.
The next big division came shortly after the year 1000 AD. The argument culminated in the wording of the Nicene Creed: the Bishop of Constantinople defended the original wording of the Holy Spirit being sent by the Father to us, while the bishop of Rome wanted to add that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son. This addition seems quite biblical, but unfortunately it was used for leadership rivalry. So the division between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches was initiated.
The latest big split came with the reformation in the 1500′s. At that time the two important questions were these:
- Is the Bible the only authority in matters of faith and life, or is there some other authority besides the Bible?
- Is a sinner saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus, or is something else needed in addition?
With these essential statements of “Bible alone, grace alone and faith alone” the Lutheran, Anglican and Presbyterian churches started. Later many other protestant and evangelical churches followed. In the past 200 years missionary work has made great advances in taking the Gospel to all ethnic groups of the world. The church has become a complicated tree with many branches. We believe that the church of Christ is still one, but at the same time it is important to acknowledge our historical roots. As the church is visibly divided the oneness remains a matter of faith.