In the most general sense, the notion of the Church of Christ involves gathering under one Head - the Lord Jesus Christ of all Christians, living and dead connected with one another in faith and love of Christ, the church hierarchy, and the holy Sacraments. The church is divided into the Heaven (Holy Mother, Angelic forces, all saints. and the salvaged Christians), and the Earth, which is called the Church Militant, for it leads the battle with the devil and his servants on the Earth. The Church is the Body of Christ, to which all the living and dead Christians, the true believers in Christ, who are united with Him in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, belong through His grace. The Church is the Body of Christ, and believers are members of this body. The theanthropic body of Christ is the Church. The Church is the unity of the Holy Spirit who dwells in people that try to live according to the Gospel. The Creed defines the Church as One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic unity. In the historical context, the Church can be divided into Cherubic, Paradisiac, Patriarchal, Old, and New Testament one. The Church, in a narrow sense, is a community of people, who believe in Christ, with its own hierarchy and organizational structure.
In the Romans 11, Apostle Paul describes the relationship between Israel and the Church. He draws an analogy to the olive tree that represents Israel. The promises of God created the relationship between the Jewish people and God. Those, who turned away from this relationship, were cut off like the dead branches. Gentile believers are just like wild branches that were grafted to a tree among natural branches, to “become a partaker of the roots and the fat of the olive tree,” planted and nurtured by God. The Church is God’s way of including the Gentiles in the blessings of the Covenant, which He made with Israel.
Christianity did not arise from anything. It emerged from highly developed religious tradition and culture of ancient Israel. Jesus Christ thought about the Law and the Scriptures (Old Testament) as the living Word of God. With time, however, many reasons led to the great separation and differences that exist between Israel and the Christian Church today:
- Two unsuccessful wars between the Jews and the Romans in the first-second centuries AD;
- The isolation of the early Church;
- Excessive feeling of vulnerability in conditions of external persecutions and struggle with wrong beliefs and heresy.
With the general Christianization of the entire Roman Empire in the early IV century, the struggle with anti-Jewish roots in Christianity rose to the state level. The church quickly began to get rid of all Jews and everything Jewish. Christian holiday Easter was not connected with the original Hebrew Pesach any more. A Saturday day – Sabbath, a day of the rest prescribed in the Old Testament, was changed to Sunday. Pentecost was spared from any association with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. In Christian teachings, new terms that had never been used by Jesus and his apostles (for example, the Trinity) were introduced. The theology of triumphalism began to gain momentum. It included a replacement theology. Briefly, the concept can be explained as follows: Judaism was replaced by Christianity. Nowadays, the Church is considered the true Israel. In general, a replacement theology teaches that Israel was replaced by the Church in God's plans. According to the replacement theology, the Jews are not the people chosen by God any more. The supporters of the theory assert that God has no specific plans for the future of the Jewish people. Numerous views on the relationship between Israel and the Church can be divided into two main categories. According to the first one, the Church is considered the continuation of the Jewish tradition and Israel; according to the other one, the Christian Church has nothing in common with Israel. The idea that Israel and the Church are separate units is clearly visible in the New Testament. The Church is completely different and separated from Israel, and they shall never be merged or replaced. From the Scripture, people learn that the Church is a completely new creation that came at the day of Pentecost and will last until the rapture to heaven. The Church is not related to the blessings and curses of Israel; previous covenants, warnings, and promises are valid only for Israel. Israel has been only temporarily “suspended” in the divine plan for the past 2000 years.
Despite the fact that each denomination has its own characteristics in the organizational structure, there are three basic forms of the church government – Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Congregational one. Each of them has its advantages and disadvantages. One can assume that, since the very beginning of the Church, different models have been practiced. For example, somewhere the election of ministers was a popular practice. In some cases, however, the apostle appointed a minister to be the head of a community. Episcopal system implicates what today is called “the chain of command,” where the bishop is the central figure. One of its duties is the ordination of other ministers. It is worth recalling the Cyprian famous dictum, “If you are not with the bishop, you are not in the Church.” Presbyterian system, on the other hand, is based on the principle of representative democracy, which implies collective bodies – presbyteries, synods, and assemblies. Christ gave power to all believers who delegated it to their representatives (the elders). The Reformed and Presbyterian churches consider such system of government the most viable and effective one. The congregational system places an emphasis on the priesthood of every believer and the autonomy of the church communities. The key words in this system are the independence and self-governance. Naturally, every community can be included into different Unions and Associations; however, no one can interfere in the internal life of a community. A meeting of all the faithful of the community is the supreme governing body. On a membership meeting, all policy decisions (for example, the budget or the election of ministers, are accepted. Only one level of ministers - the bishop, pastor, and priest provides. They differ only in functions they have.
To our mind, the Presbyterian form of the church government is the most biblically sound one. Presbyterians believe that a form of the church government peculiar to their denomination is very close to the Apostolic Church. In Christ, they see the Head of the Church. He controls His church through His Word and Spirit, and through the people assigned to the spiritual ministry. The most important features of the Presbyterian form of government are the following:
- There is a collegial leadership in the Presbyterian Church. It is carried out by the clergies of two types, the appointment and duties of which were established by God: the elders and deacons. The elders (presbyters) have to provide spiritual care for God's community. The community, in turn, should elect the elders. Primarily, the deacons were intended to serve others. Deacons assist the needy, the sick, the lonely, and all those who suffer. They collect donations and dispense charity. In addition, they care for the property of the community.
- Presbyterianism is the unified church. It means that the control system unites the church community, consisting of the higher and lower bodies that manage one or more churches.
Presbyterian Church seeks to follow the unity of the Apostolic Church. The governing bodies of various levels are the Council of Elders of the local church, Presbyterate, and the Nationwide General Assembly. The Council of Elders of the local church includes the elders of the certain community that are responsible for its affairs. Presbyterate includes representatives of many churches of one area; it manages all churches located in the area. Presbyterate tests and approves all the elders and then recommends them to churches. The General Assembly is, in fact, the Presbyterate of the higher level, which includes representatives of all churches of the country. This body includes all churches of one denomination. The General Assembly is like the High Court in settlement of any disputes. It considers all the problems that cannot be solved by the Presbyterate.
Baptism and the Eucharist are among seven Holy Sacraments established by Jesus Christ. Baptism was established by Christ after His resurrection. The Church of Christ is a divine-human organism, in which people are connected with God and blessed with God's grace. Through Baptism, believers become members of the Church, can escape death, and receive eternal life. In the Church, they escape from the hands of hell, enter into the kingdom of God, and become children of God. The Church itself is the kingdom of God on the Earth. It unites everyone who has the same faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, participates in the Sacraments of the Church, and who was baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. Thus, the entry into the Church and the communion of all of its benefits (the eternal life, reunion with God, resurrection of the ability to love, enjoy the pure joy, and have spiritual health) is carried out through Baptism. The main point of the office of Baptism is the triple immersion in water. It symbolizes Christ's three-day stay in the tomb, after which the Resurrection was accomplished. In the beginning of the ceremony of Baptism, the priest recites prayers of renunciation of Satan and sin. After these prayers, the priest blows on the mouth, forehead, and chest of the baptized. After that, the office of Baptism starts. The priest blesses the water, in which a person has to wash away his/ her sins. Then after certain prayers and rites, the priest anoints the baptized with oil: a forehead, chest, and shoulders. Oil is a symbol of mercy and, in this particular case, God's mercy to the repentant sinner. The priest plunges a person into the water for three times. Holy oil is specially prepared oil, which is consecrated by Patriarch annually and then sent to all the dioceses where bishops hand it in to the priests. The priest anoints a baptized person with the Holy Oil, namely on a forehead, eyes, nostrils, mouth, ears, chest, arms, and legs. Then, the Scriptures and a few prayers are read, and the order of Baptism is completed. However, a person leaving the church should remember that his/her Christian life just begins, and he/she has renounced Satan and combined with Christ. Now he/she has to begin a new life.
The Lord Jesus Christ had instituted the sacrament of Eucharist during the celebration of Easter, shortly before he was seized. Three major events took place during the Lord’s Supper, the last meal of Jesus with his disciples: Christ’s prediction of Judas’s betrayal, the establishment of the sacrament of Eucharist, and the ablution of feet. On this day, the Lord Jesus Christ instituted the greatest of the sacraments of Christianity – the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. On that day, He made an unusually mysterious and sacred act. He took bread, blessed it, and looking up to heaven, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, “Take, eat: this is my body”. The apostles took these words in their hearts and believed that Jesus Christ was the Bread of life, who came down from Heaven to save humanity.