You’ve asked some very important questions which I will try, by the Lord’s grace, to answer. A passage has come to mind which will serve to illustrate discipleship and how it is vitally connected with the church, but before we look at that we need to define the words “disciple” and “church.”

A Christian “disciple” is a “learner” who is willing to be “taught” the truth about his/her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. We see this brought out in Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came and spoke to them (His disciples), saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and earth. Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING THEM to observe all things that I have commanded you” (NKJV). Jesus had taught His disciples truth and before He went back to heaven, He commanded them to go teach His truth to others and in so doing they would be DISCIPLING THEM. Who would be willing to be discipled? We will see the answer to that in our definition of the word “church.”

In Matthew 16:18 Jesus told Peter (after his confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”; see verses 13-15), “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH.” Jesus was teaching Peter (and us) that the church He would build would be founded upon one’s confession of Him as the Son of God. The church is NOT a building made of wood or stones and it is not an organization; the church is made up of all who have, like Peter, trusted in the Person of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is confirmed in Acts 2:47, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” If you read that whole chapter, you will see Peter preaching the truth about Jesus Christ and there were 3,000 souls that “believed on Christ” that day. Verse 43 says, “that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” So, the Lord “added those who believed on Him to Peter and the other believers” and from that day forward all who have believed on Christ are “added to the church.” We can then say, on the authority of the Word of God, that the church is comprised of everyone who has been saved through faith in Christ. The moment a sinner is saved they are joined to the only church that Scripture speaks of.

Now I would ask you to read Acts 8:1 with 11:19-30 so we can see a very practical example of “Christ building His church.” We learn in 8:1 and 11:19-20 that believers were persecuted and forced to leave Jerusalem. They went to many places “preaching the Lord Jesus” and then we read “and the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (verse 21). In other words, “a great number was saved and added to the church.” What we read next is so important for we learn that after one is saved and becomes part of the church, they need to be DISCIPLED and that the church has a very important role in discipling.

“Then news of these things came to the ears of the CHURCH IN JERUSALEM, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and ENCOURAGED THEM all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord” (verses 22-23). We see here that as soon as the “church in Jerusalem” heard of those being saved in Antioch, they wanted to encourage them so they sent a man of God named Barnabas to do just that. They knew that these souls, who had just believed in Christ, were now “fellow-members of the church, the body of Christ.” Granted, they lived in another city but their faith in Christ had made them ONE IN CHRIST (see Ephesians 1:22 with 1st Corinthians 12:13-14). After Barnabas encouraged them to continue with the Lord, he left to get Saul “and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch” (verse 26). Why did he do that? Ah, because he knew they needed someone who was gifted to TEACH THEM, and thus we read in verse 26, “So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and TAUGHT A GREAT MANY PEOPLE.” In short, Barnabas knew that Saul had the “gift to teach” (Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-12) and they spent a whole year there DISCIPLING the believers.

What have we learned here? We saw that one needs to be saved first in order to be “added to the church” and thus believers need to “do the work of an EVANGELIST by preaching the gospel to them so they can “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved” (Acts 16:31). We then saw that after being saved, one needs to be DISCIPLED, and this is where the gifts of ENCOURAGEMENT and TEACHING are needed. And we saw that all believers make up the church, even though we may be living in different cities, and thus our “unity in Christ” causes us to reach out to fellow-members of the body of Christ so they can “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” (see 2nd Peter 3:18). If we were to read on in Acts, we would see that the “church at Antioch” became established and Barnabas and Paul went out from there on missionary journeys to spread the gospel and to establish new believers so that there would be a “local church in each city” as a testimony to the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church that began in Jerusalem spread throughout the Roman Empire and though they were “separated by distance” they were still “one in Christ.” Let me close by quoting what was true of the “church in Jerusalem” and it should be true of every local church: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).  (DO)  (515.1)