The Family of God.
1.Family. The Bible calls the church “the household of God.”1 Like a human family, the people of the church have differences, but all believe in the “one God and Father of us all.”2 We are God’s children, for the Bible says “to all who received him (Jesus), who believed in His Name, he gave the right to be called children of God.”3 That is why we call each other brothers and sisters, for we are all “one in Christ Jesus.”4
2.People of God. The Bible calls the church “the people of God,”5 because the New Testament says “those who belong to Christ Jesus are sons of Abraham, heirs according to the promise.”6 That promise is the covenant that God made with Abraham: “to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” 7 Writing to believers, Paul says, “We are the temple of the living God, as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people8
3.Body of Christ. The church exists because Jesus purchased people from every nation with His blood.9 Therefore “Jesus is the head of His body, the church.” 10 “Just as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so it is with Christ, for in one Spirit we are baptized into one body.” 11
4.Universal church and local church. All who belong to Jesus are automatically part of the world-wide church, the body of Christ, also called the “universal church” and “Christianity.” 18 In addition, God expects that believers who live near each other will participate in a “local” church, to “bear one another’s burdens” and grow toward maturity, building up the body of Christ in love as each person does his part. We work together to bring the love of Christ and the message of Christ to the people around us, and even when we do God’s work alone, we are fulfilling the mission of the church. God tells the local church to meet together in order to encourage one another,14 It is in the gathering of the local church that we take part in Holy Communion, in which “the bread that we break is a sharing in the body of Christ,” and “since there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all eat of the one bread.” 13 In the gathering we do together some of the same things that the Bible tells us to do throughout the week individually and in smaller groups: “confess sins to one another,” “pray for all people,” “sing with thankfulness in your hearts,” and “share the word of Christ in all its richness.”
5.The word for church. This “meeting together” is seen in the meaning of the Greek word used for “church¹¹ in the New Testament: the word means a “gathering” (literally, “called-out ones”). 15 The English word for a local church, “congregation,” also means “gathering.” Peter compares the people in the local church to a flock. Just like a flock of sheep has a shepherd, each believer is meant to be cared for by a shepherd¹6. The word “pastor” means shepherd. The local church then typically is a group with a shepherd that supports one another throughout the week and meets together at least once a week. This meeting might be under a tree, as sometimes happens in India, or in a home, as happened in the early centuries.12 Starting in the fourth century, it has become common to construct buildings for the purpose of the weekly gathering of the church. In English, such a building is called a “church,” though some other languages are less confusing because they use a different word for the building and for the group that meets in it.23
6.Visible and invisible church. Jesus tells a parable about weeds that were found mixed in with good seed.17 They will be separated out at the time of the harvest. Christians have commonly taught that not all who have membership in a local congregation are necessarily believers. We cannot look into someone’s heart, so we cannot know which ones are true believers. Therefore, we accept people’s “confession of faith.” If someone says, “I believe in Jesus,” we take him at his word, until further conversation reveals otherwise. The separation of true from false believers will take place later, at judgement day. It is common to use the term “visible Church” for those who have membership in a congregation, and “Invisible church” for the ones among them who are truly believers, This presentation traces the development of the visible church. These pages include the past 2000 years, from the time of Christ to the present. (Chinese translations of words in italics are listed at the bottom of the page.)
7.Tree. The church can also be compared to a tree. There are many branches on this tree, but all are attached to one trunk and depend on one root. The branches together are called the universal church. It is also called Christianity.18 The roots of the tree are our heritage from the people of God in the Old Testament. We are joined to this root because Christ has grafted us in, through faith.19 Just as the younger branches of a tree depend on the earlier branches, in the same way, we benefit from the legacy of the believers who lived before us. I hope these pages will help you to see that legacy.
8.Branches. Almost all believers in the Roman Empire were together in unity for the first one thousand years after Christ. They held delegate meetings called church councils to discuss issues. (Those who didn’t accept some conclusions of the councils often left the Roman Empire, so they could not be forced to conform. Details about these groups outside the empire will be told in lesson ten. ) Among those inside the Roman Empire, after years of growing apart, in 1054 AD, the believers in the Middle East separated from the believers in Europe; this event is called the Great Schism. Because of the Great Schism, the church divided into two branches. The believers in the Middle East are now called the Eastern Orthodox Church. The believers who lived in Europe are now called the Roman Catholic Church.
9.Terms. The English word orthodox is from Greek words that mean “straight” and “teaching.” The English word Catholic20 is from Greek words that mean “for all,” or “universal.” By using these names, both groups were claiming to be the correct church. During the first thousand years, before the schism, all the believers used both of these terms about themselves. .
10.Reasons for Schism. The churches in Europe and the churches in the Middle East had been developing different customs and viewpoints since AD 395, when the Roman Empire divided into two parts. The part in Europe was ended in AD 476 by less-civilized tribes, who eventually formed the countries that are now in Europe. The part in the Middle East continued for another 1000 years. The churches of the Middle East used Greek, while the church of Europe at that time used Latin, so communication was hindered. One major difference was over church leadership, as explained below.
11.Leaders in Europe. The regional authorities – the leaders of a city or a region – were called “bishops.” This term is a translation of the biblical word “overseer,” 24 and is still used today in the Catholic Church, the Orthodox church, and some other churches. All gave honor to the bishop in Rome as “first among equals,” because he was the leader in the historic capital of the empire, and because around 68 AD Jesus’ disciple Peter was killed in Rome. The bishop of Rome is called the “pope.”
12.Leadership in the Middle East. After Constantinople was made the capitol of the Eastern Roman Empire in 324, the bishop there was accorded a place of honor also. 25 The churches there believed that each bishop had authority in his own area, so they did not agree when the bishop of Rome claimed to have authority over them, and this became one cause of the Great Schism of 1054. Even after the Great Schism, though, many attempts were made at reconciliation. Finally, in 1965, the Catholics and Orthodox cancelled their mutual rejection they had made in 1054, but they still are separate organizations. More details about the Eastern Orthodox churches are in chapter 12.
13.Reformation. In the sixteenth century, a Roman Catholic monk named Martin.Luther found comfort In the Bible’s promise that we are saved by grace through faith, and emphasized this view in his teaching. The Catholic Church did not accept his views, and so in 1521, Martin Luther was expelled from the Catholic church; this began a movement called “the Reformation.” Many others then also left the Catholic church, and so the reformation movement led to the formation of many churches, such as Presbyterian and Lutheran. All these new churches together are called Protestant Churches.21 More details about why the Protestants separated from the Catholic Church are presented in the next lesson.
14.Three Branches. All three branches, Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic, accept that God is three-in-one, (triune) and that Jesus is the savior. All three branches still exist today （ See tree diagram）., and the legacy of all three branches can be found in China today..22 These pages will explain how these groups developed and how they differ, so that we can be sensitive and wise as we represent the church in this new millennium.
15.Century Pages. To get added value from this presentation, you are invited to create “century pages” by preparing a notebook or computer file with a separate page or section for each century from 1 AD to the present. At the top of the first page or section, please write “Century pages. First century.” On the next page, write second century, on the next page write third century, and continue until you have reached the twenty-first century. Any sentence that begins with a date is to be copied to the suitable century page. For example, the second sentence in paragraph eight above says “in 1054 AD, the believers in the Middle East separated from the believers in Europe; this event is called the Great Schism.” Copy this sentence on the page for the eleventh century. Then at the end of the sentence, write (1-8) because it is from lesson 1 paragraph 8. In the future, when you need more information about any important event, you will know which lesson to look in. Now please find every dated sentence in this lesson, and copy it to the correct page. You would do this at the end of each of the 40 chapters you will be reading. You do not need to memorize any of the dates. — the exact years are given only in order to help you create the century pages..
Footnotes. 1 1 Timothy 3:15, and see Ephesians 2:19. 2 Ephesians 4:6. 3 John 1:12, also see 1 John 4:1. 4 Galatians 3:28. 5 1 Peter 2:20, also Romans 9:25-26. 6 Galatians 3:29 7: Genesis 17:7 8 2 Corinthians 6:16, quoting Leviticus 26:11-12. For more details about Christianity and Judaism, see Lesson 19. 9 Revelation 5:9. 10 Colossians 1:18. “ 11 1 Corinthians 12:12-13. 12 In Romans 16:5, Paul speaks of a church that meets in a house.
13 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. 14 Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 6:4, Col 3:16, James 5:16, 1 Tim 2:1-2 Ephesians 4:11-16.
15 The English word “church” is used to translate the Greek word “ekklesia.” The ek means “out” and the kl means “call.” This was the common Greek word for gathering. It reminds us that God has called us out of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). From the Greek word ekklesia comes the English word ecclesiastical, which means “regarding the church.” Sometimes individual believers who belong to different churches form Christian organizations to meet specific needs, such as feeding hungry people or helping refugees. These organizations are called “parachurch” groups (para is a Greek word that means “alongside.” ) Well-known parachurch groups include Campus Crusade, which was formed to help the faith of college students, Navigators, formed to help those in the military, and World Vision, formed to help suffering people around the world.
16 1 Peter 5:2. The English word for the shepherd of a group of believers is “pastor” 牧师 牧師, which comes from the Latin word for shepherd. In the Catholic Church, a pastor is also called a “priest” 神父. The English word “priest” developed as a short way to say the Greek word “presbyter,” which means elder 长老 長老. In the early church, the church leaders are called “elders,” and some of them had the role of shepherd. See 1 Peter 5:1-4.
17 Matthew 13:24-30.
18 ji du zong jiao 基督宗教。 Believers in Jesus were first called “Christians” (基督徒) sometime after 35 AD in a city called Antioch (安提阿), which is in Syria (敘利亚), according to Acts 11:26.
19 Romans 11:17.
20 The word “catholic” first appears in 107 AD, when Bishop Ignatius wrote “where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
21 Galatians 2:16 says that a person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Protestant church is usually translated into Chinese as jidujiao, 基督教， which is commonly translated by the word “Christian.” In English, the word “Christian” means the believers in all three branches, whereas in Chinese, the word jidujiao 基督教 refers only to the Protestants. One way used by some Chinese writers to remedy this confusion is to use ji du zong jiao 基督宗教 to represent all three branches, since ji du jiao only represents Protestants. Other translations for Protestant sometimes seen in the Chinese language are “New churches” [xin jiao 新教] or “protesting religion [kang yi zong 抗议宗 抗議宗] or “corrected group” (geng zheng pai 更正派) or “restored group” [fu yuan pai 复原派].
22 All three branches are in China. In 1245, the first Catholic missionaries came to China. In the course of time, several thousand Chinese accepted Catholicism, but in 1368 the Ming dynasty came to power and ended this work. The Catholic Church began work again when in 1583 the Catholic church again began sending missionaries to China. Their leader was Ricci (li ma dou). 利玛 窦 利瑪竇 . The Catholic church has continued in China up to today. In 1807, the first Protestant missionary came to China. His name was Morrisson 马礼逊 馬礼遜. Today there are millions of Catholics and Protestants in China. The influence of the Orthodox Church in China has been comparatively small: in 1683, eastern orthodox believers came to China from Russia. Today, there are about ten thousand eastern orthodox believers in China, mostly in the north. Another smaller branch came to China even earlier. This branch will be introduced in lesson ten.
23 The English word church comes from the Greek word “kuriakos” which means “those who belong to the Lord.” As English developed, the letter “k” gradually changed to the “ch” pronunciation, )though it is still a “k” in the Scottish word “kirk” and the German word “kirche.”) The ending and the letter i were dropped, resulting in the English word “church.” This word originally meant a group of people, not a building. In Chinese, there is a distinct word for the church building: jiao tang 教堂which means a place to hear teaching. The English word “chapel” means a building where religious services are held, but where those who attend are not necessarily all members of one local church. A chapel might be provided for a military base, for a hospital, or for a nursing home. The person who leads services in a chapel is called a chaplain. A “cathedral” is a church building where a bishop leads services.
24 First Timothy chapter 2 talks about “overseers.” This word in Greek is “episcopos.” Epi means over and scopos means one who sees, so the word “overseer” is a good translation. The word “supervisor” means the same thing. (in Latin, super means over and visor means one who sees.) The Greek word episcopos became the English word “bishop” by a process of language simplification, as follows: Remove the beginning and ending letters, and you have “piscop.” Change the first p to a b, change the sc to an sh, and the result is the word Bishop. The original Greek word was used to create the English term episcopal, which means “pertaining to a system that uses bishops.”
25 The second council, held at Constantinople in 381, gave the bishop in Constantinople equal honor with the bishop of Rome (Wikipedia article “Eastern Orthodox Churches.”)
Click here for a complete bilingual index of terms and proper names.