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Origin and Nature
of the Church
Chapter Two -
The Nature of The Church
As many and as varied as are the theories concerning the origin of the church, they are surpassed in number and variety by those concerning the nature of the church. We may note in passing some of the theories as to the nature of the church; 1.) To some, the church is any society which has a religious atmosphere about it. 2.) Some see in the church simply the religious side of the state. This is most common in those, countries where the church and state are united. 3.) The word "church" is used by some for all of the professors of religion within a given state, nation, or locality. 4.) The word is used by some in a denominational sense as referring to the adherents of a given denomination in a given area. 5.) Many hold the church to be any society which engages in the rectifying of social wrongs. 6.) By far the most common theory concerning the church is that it is the totality of true believers of all time without regard to their locality or present state. This list could doubtless be multiplied at great length, but these comprise the more common theories. We would mention one other view of the church, which we believe to be the scriptural one, and that which we will expound more at length later in this chapter; it is 7.) That the church is the local assembly of professing believers who have been scripturally baptized, and who have entered into a covenant with one another to do God's will.
All of the erroneous theories of the nature of the New Testament church, though varied in some ways, have yet some things in common; 1.) They generally depart from the original meaning of the word ekklesia, and either willfully or ignorantly apply a meaning to the word which was not originally applicable. 2.) They all originated after the first century of the Christian era, and are therefore not apostolic, but are simply the products of human reasoning. 3.) Because the foregoing is true, they are all departures from the uniform New Testament usage of the word.
Satan is well versed in the things of Christianity, and he well knows that God has ordained that the wisdom of God is to be made known by the church; therefore, he seeks with all his power to thwart the plan of redemption by corrupting the vehicle of truth, the Lord's church; and what more subtle and easy way could he choose than to influence men to teach erroneous concepts of the church so that men might be content with a religious society which bears the name of "church," but which embodies none of the essential principles of the New Testament church?
Church truth is very important, yet there is so little study of it; people have become unconcerned and even lethargic, and are content to take any one's word on the subject rather than take the time and trouble to put in some personal study on it. This is a dangerous practice, to say the least.
Perhaps some are negligent of study upon this great subject because it is referred to in the Scripture as a "mystery" (Eph. 3:3-,5:32; Col. 1:24-26), yet a mystery, in Scripture terminology is not that which is unknowable, but that which has been hidden, but is now revealed (Rom. 16:25-26; Col.1:26). We find several things in the New Testament which are called mysteries, but they are all things which have been hidden but are now revealed, and hence are subjects for study.
Before getting to the subject proper, it shall be necessary to consider the NEGATIVE ASPECT OF THE CHURCH, and look at some of the erroneous concepts which are held by the religious world.
1.) A view which is current in state churches is that which makes the church to be synonymous with the state. This is the natural result of infant baptism, and since it is generally required by law in such countries which practice this that each child be sprinkled by a minister of the state church, it makes every member of the state to also be a member of the church. To all intents and purposes it brings the world into the church, and breaks down all distinction between the church and the world. Dr. W. G. T. Shedd, in defending this view, says:
Dr. Shedd's statement is in direct opposition to the word of Christ; Dr. Shedd says that we must not judge a man by his actions, but must assume he is a Christian if he has been baptized as a child. The Lord said, "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 7:16-21). The outward actions of a man proves his inward condition generally. But more than this, the Lord declares that even where a semblance of worship is found, it means nothing if it be not backed up by the substance of true faith in Christ, (v. 21). This is also the heart of New Testament teaching concerning church discipline; the church member must make his life correspond with his gospel profession, or else he is to be purged out of the church, (1 Cor. 5:12-13).
The fact that those sprinkled in infancy generally do not give evidence of regeneration when they come to adult years is practically admitted by the above writer, and it is a condition which commonly obtains in pedobaptist denominations. It is too bad that man will shut his eyes to obvious truths in order to hold to a preconceived idea.
Dr. Shedd's view moves upon several misconceptions, namely: i.) That baptism has superceded circumcision, and partakes of similar requirements, and is to be performed upon the same subjects, but a.) Circumcision was a national ordinance applicable only to the Jews and still in force for them, while baptism is a church ordinance, and is only to be performed upon those who have met strict prerequisites. b.) If baptism has superceded circumcision, why then was Timothy, a Jewish believer, circumcised after he was baptized, but Titus, a Greek, was baptized, but not circumcised? (Acts 16:3; Gal. 2:3). The answer is, that circumcision is a Jewish ordinance, and has nothing to do with the church, while baptism is a church ordinance and has nothing to do with the Jews, except as they meet the requirements for church membership. c.) The council at Jerusalem declared that circumcision was not binding upon the Gentile believers, (Acts 15), but no such decree was made concerning baptism for the Jews, because baptism is required for all church members regardless of their national origin. ii.) The second misconception is that infants are proper subjects for church membership. The few Scripture passages which are applied to this purpose are taken out of their context, else they would not apply to this subject. Such, for example, is Matthew 19:14: "But Jesus said Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven." But a.) They are only to be "suffered," or allowed to come; there is to be no compulsion. b.) "Suffer" and "forbid not" both indicate the ability to reason and choose. Infants are not under discussion, but only those who have attained sufficient age to make a personal choice. c.) Baptism is not even under discussion here; only "coming to. Christ." d.) Jesus never personally baptized, but delegated that to His disciples, (John 4:1-2), so it is obvious that these were not brought to Him for baptism.
Acts 2:39: "For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." But the context limits this: a.) To those whom the Lord has called through His Word, b.) To those who are capable of repenting, (v. 38), or in other words, those who had attained the age of accountability, and c.) Those who were capable of receiving Peter's testimony and exhortation, (v. 40). This is borne out by v. 41: "Then they that gladly received his word were baptized . . . "
Other passages are held to teach infant baptism because of the mention of households being baptized, as, for example, Acts 16:15–33; 1 Corinthians 1:16. But in each of these, the context bears out and fully proves that none in these households were infants. "And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house" (Acts 16:34). This leaves no doubt but that all the jailor's family were capable of believing, for they all did so. "And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed." Here, the household of Lydia is seen to be composed of "brethren," which seems hardly the proper name to be given to infants. These were also comforted by Paul's release, which is again hardly predicable of infants. Concerning the household of Stephanas, (1 Cor. 1:16), Paul intimates in 16:15 that they were adults, since they had "addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints;" this is likewise not predicable of infants.
iii.) The third misconception upon which this view moves is that the church can scripturally form an alliance with the state. This is without Biblical precept or precedent. There is nothing in the whole of New Testament to excuse an alliance of the church with Caesar. Christ said, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things which are God's" (Matthew 22:21).
State churches are built upon a foundation of the sands of humanity and shall not prosper in the Lord's sight, however they may in man's sight. To make membership in a given denomination the means of citizenship is to corrupt both state and church. This view is both unscriptural and unwise, for it makes members of the church those who are still unregenerate, and gives them a false hope.
2.) A second view of the church regards it as the totality of local assemblies within a given area; it is used, now of all the churches in a city, now of all the churches in a province, and again of all the churches in a nation or continent. It is usually referred to as, a provincial church when so used.
There is but one passage in the New Testament which would seem to favor such a usage. That one is Acts 9:31 of which the oldest manuscripts read, "So the church throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, was multiplied," R.V.
This is the only usage of the word ekklesia which seems to be applicable to a plurality of churches, or to believers in more than one location. The noun and corresponding verbs here are singular, where we would expect to find a plural noun and plural verbs. Some ancient manuscripts do have the plural noun and verbs, but the majority of the oldest manuscripts read as does the R.V. Concerning this passage, B. H. Carroll has the following to say:
That the above is the true explanation is borne out by the apostle Paul himself, who says, "I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it" (Gal. 1:13), of which the record in Acts declares, "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1); and again, "Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem" (Acts 9:13). Saul's persecution was directed against the Jerusalem church only, although he pursued them beyond the limits of Judea. There is no universal or provincial church here.
This passage certainly gives no assurance to the advocates of a provincial church, since i.) It stands completely alone in the Scriptures with no other passage to substantiate it; ii.) The theory, if it takes this passage as teaching a provincial church, must not only stand alone, but must also depend upon a contested reading for substantiation; iii.) Even granting the possibility that the R.V. reading is the true reading, the passage still admits a plausible and probable interpretation which applies only to the scattered members of the Jerusalem church; (iv. This interpretation seems probable since we do not read of the existence of any other churches at this time, nor indeed, until some six years later when we first find reference made to the church at Antioch, (Acts 11:20-26).
The provincial idea of the church is the figment of a popish mind, and has no place in the thinking of a devout student of the Word, not being in harmony with either the meaning of the word ekklesia, nor with the New Testament usage of that word.
3.) The third, and by far the most common view of the nature of the church, is that which regards it as a vast, world-wide, invisible body comprised of all believers of all past ages, the present, and all future time to the end of the world. As such, it amounts to making the church of God synonymous with the family of God and the kingdom of God, something which is not to be found in the New Testament teaching on the subject.
There is a great deal of difference in the Family of God, the Kingdom of God, and the Church of God, and they are not to be confused with one another. The distinction between these three was set forth in a tract some years ago by H.B. Taylor, and is quoted by Dr. Roy Mason. For the benefit of the reader it is reproduced.
A clarifying statement is in order at this point; it is not to be denied that there is in prospect the "Glory Church" which will be universal in the sense of being comprised of all the saved, but it is not yet assembled, and so does not constitute an assembly as yet. When it is assembled, it will then also be local. However, the church with which we are presently dealing is that institution which Christ ordained and left in the world to be His witness in this present dispensation.
The Scripture clearly distinguishes between the present institution known as the church, and that which shall come to pass in the future. Paul reveals that, "in the dispensation of the fullness of times" God will "gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth" (Eph. 1:10). The time element of this gathering together is further set forth when we compare Heb. 12:22-23 with Rev. 21:1-3. "But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with me, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God."
Several things present themselves to us here: i.) The holy city, which John saw, is identified with the heavenly Jerusalem, the bride of Christ. ii.) This is identical to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem of which the writer to the Hebrews spoke. iii.) This is the "church of the firstborn ones," or in other words, of all the saved. iv.) This looks to the future, is not a present reality, as B. H. Carroll declares:
v.) The "general assembly" (Grk. panegyris - "an assembly of a whole nation, especially for a public festival"—Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon) is generally agreed by scholars to refer to "the innumerable company of angels," and not to the "church of the firstborn," but the word church (Grk. ekklesia) embodies the meaning of assembly in itself. But this "assembly of firstborn ones" has not yet assembled; how then can we speak of it as a present reality?
Too many have assumed without any reason whatever that ekklesia has lost its original meaning of "a called out assembly," yet no proof of this assumption is ever cited. And there is no more dangerous practice than to assume that a word means different than its primary meaning. If we cast away the native signification of a word, we cast away the only standard for right interpretation, for while it is to be granted that words do sometimes develop different shades of meaning, they never completely reverse their meaning, which would be the case if ekklesia means "an unassembled assembly" as commonly held.
The Greek words ekklesia (assembly) and katholikos (general or universal) are mutually exclusive; the former is expressive of locality and a restricted assembly, while the latter is expressive of universality and all-inclusiveness. Not only so, but katholikos is not even a New Testament word, nor is it to be found in the Greek Old Testament. It made its appearance sometime after the first century when it first began to be applied to the so-called general (katholikos) epistles. It was never applied by inspiration to the church. Dr. Mason observes on this as follows:
But to get back to our consideration of the passages in Hebrews 12 and Revelation 21, we may also note that: vi). When this obtains, Christ will be seen in His character as Judge, (Heb. 12:23; John 5:22). vii.) Then too will be the perfecting (or making complete) of "just men" (i.e., justified men); that is, at this time their bodies will have been redeemed also, resurrected or renovated as their condition may be, and reunited with their redeemed souls and spirits, thus completing, making perfect their redemption, (Rom. 8:23). viii.) At this time Christ will present this church to Himself, a glorious, spotless, unblemished church, purged of all the imperfections that are part and parcel of every earthly assembly at present, (Eph. 5:27; Rev. 21:2). This will doubtless be the "congregation of the saints" mentioned in Psalm 149, the whole of which the psalm is prophetic.
Some of the passages of Scripture which are pressed into service as proof-texts for a present universal church are not applicable as such, but are merely institutional or generic usages of the word. The usage of the definite article with the word is sometimes thought to teach of a greater church than the local assembly, as for instance its appearances in the Ephesian epistle. "The church" as found in Ephesians does not teach that there is a universal church. i.) Since the epistle was written to the church at Ephesus, and the definite article refers only to the church concerned in the epistle. ii.) Even granting that there may be a wider application than the Ephesian church, the phrase cannot be construed as a reference to a universal church; it is used in the generic sense; that is, what is true of one, is also true of every other one of the same species mentioned. If the phrase "the church" teaches a universal church, then the phrase "the husband," "the wife" also teaches a universal husband and a universal wife. But who would be absurd enough to maintain this. The three phrases are used exactly the same way, generically, applicable to any specific one of the class mentioned. iii.) Eph. 5:27 does indeed teach of a glorious church which far surpasses any earthly church in this dispensation, but as the "might" declares, this is not a present fact, but is still in prospect; the subjunctive denotes that which is contrary to present fact.
Other passages are held as proof-texts for this, when actually the original language teaches the very opposite. " . . . the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). But this is not the reading in the original, for the definite articles are missing; the translators are often promiscuous in their dealings with the article in the Greek language; they sometimes put it in where it is absent, or leave it out where it appears in the original. There is no indefinite article. "a" in the Greek language for the simple reason that if something is not definite (that is, if the definite article is missing) there is but one thing that it can be, providing, of course, there are no modifiers to make it definite, and that is indefinite. Here, the article is missing, and the passage should be translated "a church of the living God, a pillar and ground of the truth." The truth presented here is that it is the local assembly, not the universal, invisible church, which is the pillar and stay of the truth. So Dr. Hort translates it, (The Christian Ecclesia, p. 172.) He goes on to say:
Another incorrect rendering which is used by universal church advocates is Eph. 2:21, which reads in the King James Version: "In whom :all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord," but which reads literally as in the R.V.: "In whom each several building…" etc., which teaches quite another thing. i.) This teaches concerning local churches, not a universal church made of several local churches. ii.) The Ephesian church was comprehended as being built up in Christ as a holy temple in the Lord as well as every other congregation. "In whom ye also are builded . . . " iii.) This makes each separate local church to be a habitation of the Spirit, (v. 22). We cannot do better than to quote again from Dr. Hort on this passage:
The Lord has never had but one house of witness upon earth at a time except in times of transition, and He doesn't have two now either. "Reason forces everyone to admit that Christ did not found a variety of churches with conflicting ideas or with ideas conflicting with the Scriptures."—R.J. Anderson, Vital Church Truths, p. 1. When the temple was prepared, the tabernacle passed off the scene, and the same was true of the temple when the church was organized. The rending of the temple veil at the time of the crucifixion was God's signification that the temple had been superceded by the New Testament church, and it gave finality to Jesus' words, "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 23:38-39).
Some say that the "one body" of Ephesians 4:4 is the universal, invisible church, that it couldn't be applied to an insignificant little local assembly; but let us see if this be so. Advocates of the universal, invisible church are constrained to admit there were also local churches in the New Testament, and that these were different in kind to the universal. This means that there were two in kind as well as two in number. This hardly harmonizes with Ephesians 4:4. Indeed, Dr. Scofield has four different kinds of churches in his notes, which only shows the lengths to which this theory will lead one.
Some get around this difficulty by saying "Ah, but the local churches are but parts, and only the universal, invisible church is the whole." But what saith the Scripture? "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch" (Acts 15:22). "Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you" (Rom. 16:23). "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place," etc. (1 Cor. 14:23). In these passages, we see local congregations viewed as complete bodies of Christ within themselves. For that matter, we have but to consider almost any passage which has reference to a church to see this same fact set forth. The very usage of the plural of the noun refutes this theory also; we read of "the churches of Judaea," the "churches of Galatia," the "seven churches of Asia" and many others which shows that each church is comprehended as a complete entity within itself, and several churches are acknowledged as several, and not as parts of one whole.
On the theory of the universal church, we should read of the "whole church of God," instead of "the churches of God" in 1 Corinthians 11:16; the same may be said of 1 Corinthians 14:33; 16: 1; Acts 15:41; 16:5; Romans 16:4,16, and every other place where the plural is used. We may be allowed to ask why this is, if, as the proponents of this theory tell us, all believers and all churches constitute one great church. The truth of the matter is that there is no such monstrosity as a "universal, invisible church" known to the Scriptures; it is a figment of the carnal mind. Well has Joseph Cross, an Episcopalian, said of this:
Again, J. A. Seiss, a Lutheran scholar, has rightly recognized the New Testament teaching concerning the church, for he says:
Since the Scripture itself speaks of the church in the plural, it is obvious that the "one body" of Ephesians 4 does not refer to number. What then does it signify? We are brought back to the proposition that God only has one house of witness at a time; the "one body" then signifies one as far as kind is concerned. There is only one kind of body, just as there is only one kind of baptism, although it is manifested many times and in many places, and that one body is the local, visible congregation of called-out believers who are witnesses of Christ's redemption and glory. But the theoretical universal church does none of the things for which the church was instituted; it does not witness to the world of crucifixion, resurrection and coming again of our Lord, (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 15:1-4, 52-58); it does not observe the ordinances, (Matthew 28:19; 1 Cor. 11:20ff); it does not edify the saved, (1 Cor. 14:12); it does not watch over and contend for the faith, (1 Tim. 3:15; Jude 3); nor does it do any of those things which make for the glory of Christ, which is the purpose of the church in the first place, (Eph. 3:21). But these things are all the natural and regular work of the local assembly. "The functions of a church as outlined by Jesus can only be performed by a local assembly. A universal, invisible Church composed of an unorganized throng of 'members of all the churches,' is, from the functional point of view, simply inconceivable."—Mason, The Church That Jesus Built, p. 33.
Some would endeavor to adduce a universal church from John 10:16: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." This can be applied to a present "flock" only by poor exegesis, for the whole passage looks to the future when both Jew ("this fold") and Gentile ("other sheep") shall indeed become (so the R.V. reads) "one flock." But this cannot be a present reality, for the "fullness of the Gentiles" has not yet come in, and also Israel been cast away for a time, (Rom. 11:12-27). Only when Israel has been restored will this "one flock" obtain.
We may be allowed to ask this question; if there is presently a universal church, when did it become so? If it is an invisible church, when did this come about? For we know that the Jerusalem church was neither universal nor invisible. The same may be said of the Antioch church, the church at Corinth, and indeed, all the churches of the New Testament. That they were local and visible I think no one will deny; nor that there is 4 great disharmony between them and the present conception of a universal, invisible, unassembled assembly. I leave it to the advocates of this theory whether it is a reasonable theory.
Perhaps some will ask "Why be so set against the doctrine of the present universal church, when you grant that there is a time coming when there will be such a universal gathering?" Aside from its being unscriptural, the doctrine of the universal, invisible church as commonly taught is positively harmful to the local church. All too many people use their supposed membership in the universal church as an excuse for shirking their duty to the local house of witness; probably no one doctrine has contributed so much to the disregard and disparagement of the local church as this doctrine. Dr. Carroll says:
How then can any person honor Christ's institution when he dishonors the only present manifestation of it? Let the advocate of a present universal church carefully ponder this.
The universal church doctrine is a men-pleasing doctrine which allows a man to fellowship with any and every one making a profession of Christianity however heretical or depraved he may be on the basis of the plea that "we are all members of the universal church." It is the way of the flesh.
The Jews rejected God and tried to build something bigger and better and grander. The Gentiles left the nations that God established and have been trying to build 'one world' ever since. The Christian world has left the idea of the independent, local church and are trying to build a 'one-world church.'—Norman H. Wells, Article: "Lets Pull The Trigger" in The Central Contender, Feb. 22, 1963.
This doctrine causes Baptists who embrace it to compromise the principles of the Bible which multiplied millions of our ancient Baptist brethren laid down their very lives to preserve for us. And what does this doctrine give in return? The praise and good will of weak and carnal professing Christians, many who are actually heretics and many others who would delight to see Baptists wiped off the face of the earth. This theory promotes: i.) Unionizing with those unsound in the faith. ii.) Doctrinal laxity so as not to embarrass others. iii.) Irresponsibility toward the local church, the place of God's glory. Is it worth it? I think not! iv.) Pride in one's membership in that which has no real existence.
The believer's position is made clear in Hebrews 13:12-13: "Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach." If we be not willing to do this, then the Laodicean condition of lukewarmness, pride, blindness to spiritual truth, materialism, and utter repudiation by the Lord is certain to come upon us. God grant it may not be!
With these negative aspects behind us, we may pass on to a more cheerful and positive consideration of the nature of the church, and we would begin by defining the church; this has two aspects to it: 1.) From the human side, it is a congregation of professing believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, who have been scripturally baptized, and have entered into a covenant to constitute one body in Christ for worship, for mutual edification, for the evangelization of the lost, and for the perpetuation of the faith. 2.) From the Divine side, it is a divine institution, purchased by the blood of Christ, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, subject to the laws of Christ, superintended by the Spirit of Christ, and answerable to its sovereign Head for every deviation from His Word. It is authorized and empowered for the work of exalting its Head, and shall not be overcome by the hosts of evil. It is, and shall continue to be until the end of this age, the place of Christ's glory upon the earth.
It shall not be our purpose to consider every part of the above definition in this chapter, for some of it comes logically under other chapter divisions. As to the nature of the church we would notice—
I. The Church Is An Assembly Of Believers
This has always been one of the distinctive characteristics of Baptist church polity; one which sets it apart from Catholics and much of Protestantism. Whereas Catholicism and most of Protestantism sprinkle infants and think thereby to make Christians of them, Baptists have always held it to be a cardinal practice to admit to baptism and church membership none but those who give satisfactory evidence of having already become Christians. Contrary to believing that baptism is necessary to salvation, Baptists hold the opposite—that salvation is necessary to scriptural baptism; but we shall speak of this more at length in its proper chapter.
A great deal of confusion has resulted from the theory that the New Testament church is an outgrowth of the Jewish economy; because there are certain parallels between the church and the Jewish economy, men have sought to make them parallel in all things, but this is an error. In comparing the church with the Jewish state the following things have been overlooked: 1.) Citizenship in the Jewish nation was compulsory: the Lord commanded that the national rite of circumcision be performed upon every male of eight days, (Gen. 17:10-14); but the church is only to receive those who have first been added to the Lord in regeneration. 2.) Citizenship in Israel was predicated upon the first, or natural birth, but membership in the church is only for those who have experienced the second, or spiritual birth, (John 3:3). 3.) Citizenship in the nation of Israel was hereditary, and there were no provisions made for expulsion therefrom, nor conditions which would result in such an expulsion. But in the church, one of the earliest teachings was concerning prescribed conditions of membership, and Provisions were made for the expulsion of those who did not meet these conditions, (Matthew 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:1-7, 12-13). 4.) The Jewish economy was preparatory and typical, and as such, it passed away when Christ, the substance came; there is absolutely nothing to indicate that the church is an outgrowth of the tabernacle or temple: i.) The tabernacle and temple were both typical of Christ and His work of redemption, not of the church. ii.) The temple and tabernacle and all of their sacrifices and ordinances, because they were typical, were done away when the Antitype came, (Eph. 2:15). iii.) The church is not the fulfillment of any Old Testament type or prophecy, but is the revelation of that which was formerly hidden, (Eph. 3).
Because of these distinctions, it seems foolish to try to conform the church to the image of the tabernacle or temple, and it certainly is productive of much confusion as the practices of Catholicism and Protestantism abundantly show.
All of the Baptist confessions of faith have this article of faith, for a regenerate membership of the church is one of the basic principles of the Baptists. The reader is referred to chapter nine for a sample of these confessions.
These confessions are in harmony with the Scriptures, for we read the divine requirements for church membership in such passages as: (Matthew 28:19, R.V.): "Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them." A person must be first made a disciple before he is eligible for baptism and church membership. "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47 R.V.) There can be little gainsaying of this passage, for it emphatically declares that as individuals were saved they were added to the other believers ("to the church," A.V.), but in no place is there a clear proof-text of infant church members. "For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light" (Eph. 5:8), wrote Paul to the church at Ephesus, and the declaration is a plain intimation of regeneracy of all the members of that church.
Vastly different is the requirement as set forth in the Westminister Confession of faith (Presbyterian), which declares that "the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized." And again it affirms that the church "consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children." Dr. Strong well says on this that "This definition includes in the church a multitude who not only give no evidence of regeneration, but who plainly show themselves to be unregenerate. In many lands it practically identifies the church with the world."—Systematic Theology, p. 887.
A number of other passages may be considered which plainly teach an adult, believing membership for the Lord's church: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:31-32). "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples" (John 15:8). "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men ... If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues . . ." (1 Cor. 14:20,23).
Of these things, not one is predicable of infants, nor of any but those who have attained sufficient growth and learning to be capable of reason and choice; indeed, the very opposite is commanded in the latter passage; "in understanding be men (i.e. be full grown or adults)." The only children that are to be admitted to church membership are those which are "believing children" (Titus 1: 6 R.V.).
Some of the passages which are held to teach infant baptism, and, consequently, infant church membership, may be considered at this time; "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy" (1 Cor. 7:14). This passage has suffered a world of abuse by Pedobaptists and even Baptists have not always rightly understood it. We believe the best exposition of this that we have seen is that of John L. Dagg, and though it is somewhat lengthy, we believe it justifies the insertion of it at this place.
Another such passage is Genesis 17:7: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generation for an everlasting covenant to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." This promise was to Abraham and to his posterity as a nation, to be their God, but the difference between this and the church is that: i.) These were born into the nation of Israel and into specified families, but one is not born into the church. ii.) It was not the ordinance of circumcision that made a man an Israelite, but his birth; conversely, a man may be born into a Christian family, but this does not make him a Christian; he must be born again to be a Christian, and even then, he cannot be a member of the church unless he has been baptized into it. iii.) Even so, this promise goes no further than the physical inheritance of the land of Canaan except for those who are also the spiritual seed of Abraham, for "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called" (Rom. 9:6-7). "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." "Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham" (Gal. 3:27, 7). iv.) Even this physical inheritance was not given to the infant children in their infancy. " . . . and thy seed after thee in their generation," shows that the promise came into effect for the children only after they had come to maturity and succeeded their fathers. In almost every instance where this promise is made, it is modified by the words "after thee." There is nothing in Gen. 17:7 or any related passage which would authorize infant baptism and infant church membership. In the New Testament are to be found many passages which show that no one becomes an heir to the spiritual promises of God in any way except by faith; nor is it correct to say that an infant can do so through the faith of his sponsor; the Scriptures know nothing of proxy religion. It does declare that "The just shall live by his own faith" (The Greek verb is in the middle voice in all three appearances of this statement, [Rom. 1: 17; Gal. 3: 11; Heb. 10:38; see also Hab. 2:4]. The middle voice represents the subject as acting: 1.) On himself. 2.) For himself. 3.) On something belonging to himself.).
Well has Schleiermacher, himself a Pedobaptist, said that, "All traces of infant baptism which it has been desired to find in the New Testament must first be put into it,"—Glaubenslehre, 2:383. Cited by Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 951. The reader will find infant baptism considered more at length in chapter five.
A second thing we must note in passing is that the church is an assembly of believers. All too many people are content to get their name on the church roll, then never darken its door again. This sad neglect may be illustrated by the tragic but true case of a woman who, after conversing with another for a while, invited her to church only to find that the second woman had already been a member of that church for some time. So irregular was the first woman in attendance that she didn't know the members of her own church.
If everyone in a church was as negligent as part of the members are, there would be, indeed, there could be, no church because no assembling of the members. A church is only able to continue its work so long as its members faithfully attend and support it, those, therefore, who cease to attend, in effect, vote to close the church doors and disband the membership. May we be allowed to express this in the following way:
I passed a church building just today
That was failing through with fast decay.
What caused this fate? I sought to learn.
'Twas caused by Christians' unconcern.
They voted not with upraised hand
The membership thus to disband.
But each by staying from its door
Has closed this church for evermore.
And I wondered as I mused within,
Have I been guilty of this sill?
Does my presence there assure
That my church will yet endure?
Or shall I with thoughtless unconcern
The blood-bought house of Jesus spurn?
If I do this, I cast my vote
For the "Closed forever" church door note.
The true register of the saints is that which is recorded in heaven, (Heb. 12:23), the Lamb's Book of Life, (Rev. 20:15), the church roll in no way guarantees that the person whose name is therein is a genuine saint; and that person who contents himself with having his name, on the church roll yet who seldom or never attends is probably deceiving himself and living with a false hope.
The scriptural admonition is, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching" (Heb. 10:25). i.) Even at this time some were guilty of this sin. ii.) The writer of Hebrews warns against it, and connects it with the willful sin in the case of those who know their responsibility to attend, (v. 26). iii.) Instead of forsaking the assembly, each Christian is to seek to edify and exhort and comfort his brother. iv.) "The day" is a short designation for the Day of the Lord, when the works of man are to be tried, and every one will give account of the deeds done in the body, (1 Cor. 3:13).
Our Lord said, "A new commandment I give unto You, That ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another, By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35). What then of that individual who professes to love the Lord, but despises the congregation of the Lord's people? "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death" (1 John 3:14). Or what shall we say of the one who disdains the Lord's blood-bought church? Can a man love the Lord and still disrespect the Lord's house? "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
Mark this, and mark it well; there are no free-lance disciples in the New Testament. Every professed disciple of Christ in the New Testament is soon found in fellowship with one of the Lord's churches, or else he is soon manifested as a false disciple; Even Nicodemus could not long remain a secret disciple; his love for the Lord brought him out into the daylight to confess his discipleship and claim the body of his Lord. "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels" (Mark 8:38).
This is not to put a blanket condemnation upon all who do not attend services regularly; certainly there are numerous cases where a person is unable to leave home because of sickness, inability, etc. It has been the writer's privilege to know several wonderful saints who were providentially hindered from regular attendance at the Lord's house; some indeed were never able to attend; but these were always concerned with the Lord's house, and were constant in their prayers for the Lord's work and the Lord's workers; not in this category are those who are absent from their post in the Lord's house simply because they stayed up too late on Saturday enjoying their own pleasure; nor those who use the Lord's day as a time to go fishing, golfing, driving, visiting, etc. This is to claim the Lord's day as one's own. Worse still than these sporadic attenders, are those who are "unknown by face to the church" though they are nominal members. Such as these need to take heed to Paul's admonition to the Corinthians: "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?" (2 Cor. 13:5).
Church members should be made to realize that the New Testament church is not only an assembly, but is an assembly of believers; any others within its ranks are there because they have crept in some nefarious and unscriptural way, and are without foundation or hope, and except they repent', they shall as surely perish as any other unbeliever, but their punishment shall be greater because they had greater opportunity for salvation.
II. The Church Is A Local Assembly of Believers
Some, who believe that only believers are comprehended in the New Testament, find it hard to believe that the church is always a local institution in the Scriptures. Several things are the cause of such thinking: i.) All persons are prone to be prejudiced in favor of the first teaching which they received on any given subject. Because of this, many, without realizing that they do so, close their minds to any view except their own; let a person protest to the contrary all he likes, yet this is still true of every person to a greater or lesser degree. Every Christian is honor bound to determine the truth as nearly as he possibly can whatever his previous beliefs may have been. ii.) Others are simply ignorant of the truth of the doctrine of the church because they have never been taught, nor have they ever made a personal study of it. To remedy this situation, there needs to be a greater emphasis put on teaching and studying church doctrine. iii.) A third group favor the universal church theory through pride; that is, they like to have a large, impressive organization behind them; one that will command the attention and respect of the masses; these are prone to disregard and disrespect the local assembly in their zeal for the "big church."
In dealing with this aspect of the church, we believe that it will be well for us to consider individually every one of the 115 appearances of the Greek word ekklesia; this in itself will be enough to convince most unbiased readers that there is no such thing in the New Testament as a "universal, invisible" church.
Matthew 16:18—"I will build my church." This is the first usage of ekklesia in the New Testament; it has application to the church as an institution, but this usage is not inconsistent with the local nature of the church, for whenever the abstract, generic or institutional sense becomes concrete, it is always a local assembly. However, this makes nothing for the universal, invisible theory. We will not tarry upon this passage since it is dealt with in other places.
Matthew 18:17a—"Tell it to the church.
Matthew 18:17b—" . . . But if he neglect to hear the church . . ." I think that no one will try to apply this to any but a local assembly; he must be a mad man if he does.
Acts 2:47—"The Lord added to the church daily." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 5:11—"Fear came upon the church." Jerusalem church.
Acts 7:38—"He, that was in the church." Reference is to Israel while in the wilderness; then they were a "called out assembly", the only resemblance to the New Testament church. It should never have been translated "church" since that word carries a distinctive idea, not in the word as used here.
Acts 8:1—"The church which was at Jerusalem." Self-explanatory.
Acts 8:3—"He made havoc of the church." The Jerusalem church, the only one in existence at this time.
Acts 9:31—"So the church had peace," R. V. The Jerusalem church. See explanation pg. 41–43.
Acts 11:22—"The church which was in Jerusalem. Self-explanatory.
Acts 11:26—"Assembled themselves with the church." The Antioch church. The universal, invisible could hardly do this.
Acts 12:1—"To vex certain of the church." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 12:5—"Without ceasing of the church." Jerusalem church.
Acts 13:1—"Now there were in the church." Antioch church.
Acts 14:23—"Ordained them elders in every church." The churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia, and perhaps, Derbe.
Acts 14:27—"And had gathered the church together." The Antioch church under whose authority the missionaries had gone out.
Acts 15:3—"Being brought on their way by the church." The church at Antioch.
Acts 15:4—"They were received of the church." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 15:22—"With the whole church." The Jerusalem church.
Acts 15:41—"Confirming the churches." The churches in Syria and Cilicia which included the Antioch church, the Tarsus church and others.
Acts 16:5—"So were the churches established." The churches at Derbe, Lystra, lconium, those of Syria and Cilicia, and perhaps others.
Acts 18:22—"And saluted the church." The church at Jerusalem or possibly, but not probable, the church at Caesarea. See context.
Acts 19:32—"The assembly was confused." The Greek civil assembly at Ephesus.
Acts 19:39—"Determined in a lawful assembly," Same as above.
Acts 19:41—"He dismissed the assembly." Same as two above.
Acts 20:17—"Called the elders of the church." The Ephesian church.
Acts 20:28—"To feed the church of God." The Ephesian church, for no other church could the elders feed (shepherd or pastor).
Romans 16:1—"A servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.
Romans 16:4—"All the churches of the Gentiles." The churches comprised mainly of Gentile believers.
Romans 16:5—"The church that is in their house." The church which met in the house of Priscilla and Aquila.
Romans 16:16—"The churches of Christ salute you." The churches which belong to Christ. This shows possession only; it isn't a church name.
Romans 16:23—"Gaius mine host, and of the whole church." The church at Corinth of which Gaius was a member, and which he greatly helped.
1 Corinthians 1:2—"Unto the church of God which is at Corinth."
1 Corinthians 4:17—"As I teach everywhere in every church." Paul had a common doctrine wherever he was. Every church was taught the same faith.
1 Corinthians 6:4—"Least esteemed in the church." The church at Corinth, to which he was writing.
1 Corinthians 7:17—"So ordain I in all churches." Another of Paul's teachings which were common to every church in which he taught.
1 Corinthians 10:32—"Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." The church at Corinth to which he was writing; but even if it had not had application to this local body, it still would have not been a proof—text for a universal, invisible church. Such usages could have no further application than to the church as an institution, if no particular church was meant. Again, this phrase shows possession, and is not a denominational name.
1 Corinthians 11:16—"Neither the churches of God." Those churches which belonged to God by right of purchase, wherever they might be.
1 Corinthians 11:18—"When ye come together in the church." The Corinthian church, where the divisions were.
1 Corinthians 11:22—"Or despise ye the church of God." The church at Corinth, which these were despising by their ungodly deeds.
1 Corinthians 12:28—"God hath set some in the church, first Apostles." The church at Jerusalem, See Luke 6:12 – 13.
1 Corinthians 14:4—"He that prophesieth edifieth the church." The church at Corinth; although doubtless the statement is general enough that the same thing could be said of any one prophesing in any church. A secondary generic application.
1 Corinthians 14:5—"That the church may receive edifying." Paul restricts this to the Corinthian church by the use of "ye" – the addressed.
1 Corinthians 14:12—"To the edifying of the church." Same as above.
1 Corinthians 14:19—"In the church I had rather speak." The church at Corinth, but perhaps with a secondary generic application.
1 Corinthians 14:23—"The whole church be come together." The church at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 14:28—"Keep silence in the church." The church at Corinth; all of these instructions are primarily for the church at Corinth; and for other churches only as they harmonize in kind with the Corinthian church.
1 Corinthians 14:33—"As in all churches of the saints." "Particular churches, as always, plural." — Louis Entzminger, Studies in the New Testament Church, p. 12.
1 Corinthians 14:34—"Keep silence in the church." The Corinthian Church.
1 Corinthians 14:35—"For it is a shame for women to speak in the church." The Corinthian church primarily, but with application to any other church of like kind.
1 Corinthians 15:9—"I persecuted the church of God." The Jerusalem church. (cf. Acts 8:1–3; 9:13.)
1 Corinthians 16:1—"The churches of Galatia."
1 Corinthians 16:19—"The churches of Asia salute you."
1 Corinthians 16:19—"With the church that is in their house." The church that met in Priscilla and Aquila's house; perhaps at Ephesus.
2 Corinthians 1:1—"The church of God which is at Corinth."
2 Corinthians 8:1—"The churches of Macedonia."
2 Corinthians 8:18—"Throughout all the churches."
2 Corinthians 8:19—"Chosen of the churches." The different churches which had made up collections to send to the poor saints at Jerusalem chose an unknown brother to travel with Paul's party to deliver this gift.
2 Corinthians 8:23—"The Messengers of the churches." The men chosen by the churches to convey their gift to Jerusalem.
2 Corinthians 8:24—"Before the churches." Same churches as above.
2 Corinthians 11:8—"I robbed other churches." Paul probably had in mind the Philippian and Thessalonian churches, (Phil. 4:15–18; 2 Cor. 11:9).
2 Corinthians 11:28—"The care of all the churches." Paul, being the apostle to the Gentiles, had the care of the churches constantly upon his heart.
2 Corinthians 12:13—"What is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches." Other churches of like nature to the Corinthian church.
Galatians 1:2—"The churches' of Galatia."
Galatians 1:13—"I persecuted the church of God." The Jerusalem church, (Acts 8:1–3; 9:13.) No other churches then existing.
Galatians 1:22—"The churches of Judea." Including churches at Jerusalem, Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea, Ptolemais, and others.
Ephesians 1:22—"Gave him to be the head over all things to the church." Dr. Entzininger says on this passage:
All the requirements of this language are met when, First, He is head over all things to the church on earth as an Institution.
Second, He is head over all things to any and every particular church on earth:
Third, He is head over all things to the general assembly in Glory. The glorified church. The New Testament Church. p. 15.
This passage gives no help to advocates of a universal, invisible church, because there Would be no disharmony to the statement if it were applied solely to the church at Ephesus, but the language is general enough to permit the application of this statement to any New Testament Church in any age without the necessity of attributing the meaning to a Universal. invisible monstrosity. It shall also find fulfillment in the Glory church, yet still without the necessity of a universal, invisible Church.
Ephesians 3:10—"Might be known by the church." Again the above three applications of this are legitimate, although it is primarily in the particular churches that the manifold wisdom of God has been so gloriously manifested to the world and to the angelic beings.
Ephesians 3:21—"Unto him be glory in the church." Whether we speak in the abstract, of some particular church such as that at Ephesus, of the church as an institution, or of the coming Glory church, this is the high ideal for the church. Nothing in the language necessitates the thought that the apostle had in mind any such nebulous, will-o-the-wisp, thing as a universal, invisible church.
Ephesians 5:23—"Christ is the head of the church." Again, this proves nothing toward a universal church, but finds adequate fulfillment in the three applications mentioned above.
Ephesians 5:24—"The church is subject to Christ." The same thing applies again.
Ephesians 5:25—"Christ also loved the church." This is the motive of His sacrificial death.
Ephesians 5:27—"Present it to himself a glorious church." This indeed looks beyond any earthly church as we now know them; but it proves that this Glory church is not yet in existence for the tense of the verbs are aorist subjunctive—denoting a condition contrary to fact. No present universal church is here.
Ephesians 5:29—"Even as the Lord the church." Whether considered as an institution, abstractly, or as to some particular church, we may truthfully say that our Lord nourishes and cherishes the church, but is not this nourishing and cherishing of the church that which speaks of its earthly existence and needs?
Ephesians 5:32—"I speak concerning Christ and the church." The very terms and figures here used to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the church are a refutation of the universal, invisible theory, for all of these figures are local and visible. The whole of the apostle's teaching in vs. 23–32 of Ephesians 5 is aimed at teaching the church to be subject to her Lord and Head; he does this by showing the husband-wife relationship, the husband-wife affection, the husband's care for his wife, and drawing a parallel in each case. He shows Christ's supreme love in making provision for the church's supreme need, and fulfilling that need so that He might present the Glory church to Himself in all her beauty. The husband's loving care and solicitude for his wife should stir up her love and submission for him; just so is the apostle's aim concerning the church.
Philippians 3:6—"Persecuting the church." Paul's persecution of the Jerusalem church before his conversion.
Philippians 4:15—"No church communicated with me, concerning giving and receiving but ye only."
Colossians 1:18—"The body, the church."
Colossians 1:24—"For his body's sake, which is the church." In these two references, the apostle again uses local and visible figures to picture the church, and while some of the advocates of the universal, invisible theory are outraged that we use the word "body of Christ" for a particular congregation, their rage should be directed against Paul, for he first set the example when he wrote to the church at Corinth, "Now ye are 'a' (not 'the' as in the A.V.) body of Christ, and members severally thereof" (1 Cor. 12:27).
Colossians 4:15—"The church which is in his house." A church which met in Nymphas' house. I doubt that any theorist would hold that this house was sufficient for the universal, invisible church.
Colossians 4:16—"The church of the Laodiceans."
1 Thessalonians 1:1—"The church of the Thessalonians."
1 Thessalonians 2:14—"Followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus."
2 Thessalonians 1:1—"The church of the Thessalonians."
2 Thessalonians 1:4—"The churches of God."
1 Timothy 3:5—"How shall he take care of the church of God?" It would be exceedingly hard for a single man to take care of the universal, invisible church, but Timothy could, and did do a good job of taking care of the church at Ephesus, to which this probably alludes.
1 Timothy 3:15—"The church of the living God." As we have already observed, this reads literally, "A church of the living God," and again is a probable reference to the Ephesian church which Timothy pastored.
1 Timothy 5:16—"Let not the church be charged." See above.
Philemon 2—"The church in thy house." In Philemon's house.
Hebrews 2:12—"In the midst of the church." An Old Testament quotation which had original reference to the congregation of Israel, but which was accommodated to Jesus' singing of a hymn in the Jerusalem church at the institution of the Lord's supper, (Matthew 26:30).
Hebrews 12:23—"Church of the firstborn." As v. 22 shows, this is prophetic, and does not become a reality until after the millennium; it was seen by John also, (Rev. 21:1–3). It is the same as the Glory church.
James 5:14—"Let him call for the elders of the church." The epistle of James was of a general nature, and was meant to be circulated among the believers of the "twelve tribes which are scattered abroad," 1:1; hence, these directions are of a general nature to conform to the epistle. This applies to any given church. I think no one would endeavor to make this a universal, invisible church.
3 John 6—"Thy charity before the church." This Gaius is thought by some to be the same as the Gaius of Corinth who was host to that church, (Rom. 16:23; 1 Cor. 1:13); if that is so, then the church mentioned here is probably the Corinthian church. It is a local institution in any case.
3 John 9—"I wrote unto the church." This is the church which Diotrephes tyrannized; possibly the same as the above.
3 John 10—"Casteth them out of the church." See above.
Revelation 1:4—"John to the seven churches which are in Asia."
Revelation 1:11—"The seven churches which are in Asia."
Revelation 1:20—"The angels of the seven churches."
Revelation 1:20—"The seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches."
Revelation 1:20—"Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus."
Revelation 2:7—"Let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 2:8—"Unto the angel of the church in Smyrna."
Revelation 2:11—"What the Spirit saith unto the churches. "
Revelation 2:12—"To the angel of the church in Pergamos."
Revelation 2:17—"What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 2:18—"Unto the angel of the church in Thyatira."
Revelation 2:23—"All the churches shall know."
Revelation 2:29—"What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 3:1—"Unto the angel of the church in Sardis."
Revelation 3:6—"What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 3:7—"To the angel of the church in Philadelphia."
Revelation 3:13—"What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 3:14—"Unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans."
Revelation 3:22—"What the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Revelation 22:16—"I, Jesus, have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches."
The reader now has before him the 115 appearances of the ekklesia in the New Testament, and he may judge for himself whether there is any such thing as a universal, visible, or a universal, invisible church. Of these references, all but 17 have reference to some particular congregation; of these seventeen, four refer to non-Christian assemblies, (viz. Acts 7:38), Israel in the wilderness; (Acts 19:32, 39, 41), the Greek civil assembly in Ephesus.
Of the 13 remaining references which are sometimes thought to teach that the church may be other than a particular, local assembly, we must delete Ephesians 5:27 and Hebrews 12:23, for these are both prophetic of the coming Glory church which is not a present reality.
Of the 11 remaining, Matthew 16:18 is used in the institutional sense, as we have before noted. As an institution, Christ's church is promised perpetuity until the end of the age; particular churches may fail; the gates of Hades may prevail against them, but this in no way affects the promise so long as there is a continuity of churches of the same kind as the first church. However, if this passage is taken in the sense of a universal church comprised of all true churches of every age since the first century, then this promise has failed, for the gates of Hades have prevailed against many particular congregations of the past. Taken in the institution sense only, this passage is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament, and with history. It cannot be urged as a proof of a universal church.
This leaves the ten references in Ephesians and Colossians, (viz., Eph. 1:22; 3:10,21; 5:23,24,25,29,32; Col. 1:18, 24). Dr. Hort, who was an advocate of the universal, invisible church, has the following to say of this:
Even this great scholar is compelled to admit that historically, we find no evidence of a universal church, but that it arises from reasonings concerning the place and office of Christ. Indeed, all advocates of this theory are compelled to forsake the Revelation for reason in order to arrive at this theory, or else they must take Scriptures out of context.
Concerning the above references in Ephesians and Colossians, we must recognize that not one of them is out of harmony with the view that they apply to the particular congregations at Ephesus and Colosse. That they are broad enough to be applied generically as well, we freely admit, but we cannot see how they could be applied scripturally to a universal church. Dr. B. H. Carroll has the following to say about this:
The generic usage, as found in these references in Ephesians and Colossians, simply refers to others of the same class, yet it does not exclude the church addressed in so doing; indeed, it includes it, for whenever the abstract or generic becomes concrete it is always a particular church in the New Testament. Not one of these verses in Ephesians and Colossians actually teaches that there is any such thing as a universal, invisible; if it is taught any where, it must be elsewhere than here, yet this is always the last refuge of the advocates of this theory. We trust that from the things presented here, there is ample proof to convince any unbiased reader, and those who are biased generally are not convinced by any amount of proof.
There are other things which go to prove that the church is a local assembly of believers. (I. The Scriptures abundantly declare the church to be a local institution by the metaphors used of it: i.) It is likened to a body, (1 Cor. 12:12-14): "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all of the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many," R.V. Notice that: a.) He is speaking to the Corinthian "body"; it is one. b.) It has many members, individual Christians. This church was probably one of the larger churches in the first century, (Acts 18:8). c.) It takes the "many members" to constitute a church, even as it takes several members of the human body, with their individual work, to constitute a normal human body. d.) Some take the A.V., "by one Spirit" as referring to Pentecost, but the correct rendering is that given in the R.V., although the R.V. capitalizes the word "spirit" which is probably a mistake. Dr. A. W. Pink has the following to say about this:
Any person who has been scripturally baptized into a local church may also say "In one spirit was I baptized into one body," for baptism does not initiate a person into the membership of several churches, but only the one authorizing the ordinance. e.) If one has been genuinely saved and scripturally baptized, then earthly distinctions cease, whether as to race, to social status, or sex. "There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female: for ye all are one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28, R.V.) f.) This was written to the Corinthian church as a local institution to correct certain schisms within that body, and to show that though every church member did not have the same office, they nevertheless all had an important place in the body. g.) The literal rendering of v. 27 shows that this is not applicable to any but a local body; "But ye are a body of Christ, and members severally thereof."
ii.) It is likened to a building, Ephesians 2:20-22: "Being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone; in whom each several building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit," R.V. a.) "each several building," which is the literal rendering, can certainly not be interpreted of any but a local church. b.) "groweth into a holy temple" is parallel to being "builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit," and is limited by the context, to the church addressed. c.) "each several building" has the individual duty to so conduct itself as though it were the only church in existence; there is entirely too much "let someone else do it" attitude among Christians and churches today, and it has caused a definite let down in all realms of religious duty.
iii.) It is likened to a wife, Ephesians 5:22-23: "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body." a.) Some would take this as teaching that the church is presently the wife of Christ, but this teaches a likeness between the subordination of a wife to her husband, and that of a church to Christ. The usage of the metaphor of a wife, which can be neither universal nor invisible, implies the same quality in the church. b.) When the Bride of Christ comes on the scene, there will be but one bride, for Christ is no polygamist; now there are many churches, but these are not now the bride. c.) The words "even as" draw a comparison or a type only; they cannot rightly be construed otherwise.
All of these likenesses are founded upon objects which are both local and visible, and of which universality and invisibility cannot be rationally predicated. Those who disparage the local assembly for the supposedly universal, invisible assembly forget that for the first century and more, there was not a word written in the New Testament, nor in the writings of the ,so-called church fathers of any thing other than the local assemblies, which in itself should be enough to warn men of the danger of the "traditions of men." Dr. J. Lewis Smith well states the situation when he says:
2.) Locality inheres in the word ekklesia. i.) This is clear from its derivation; a.) It is derived from ek out of, or from, and kaleo, call; it signifies a called out assembly or congregation. Such a meaning is in harmony with New Testament usage and application of the word. b.) Greek words often have many and various derived forms and meanings, but these never are the opposite of the primary meaning unless there is a modifying prefix which would negate the original meaning. "I know of no more dangerous method of interpretation than the assumption that a word must be taken to mean something different from its real meaning. Revelation in that case ceases to be revelation. We are at sea without helm, or compass, or guiding star."—Carroll, Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 28. c.) If the Lord meant for His people to understand the church to be universal, why did He not call it catholic or universal (Grk. katholikos) as writers of the third and later centuries did?
ii.) Locality is also clearly inherent in the word ekklesia as testified by the New Testament usage of the word. As we have already noticed: a.) The word appears 115 times in the New Testament. b.) Of these, all but four refer to the Lord's church. c.) Of the three remaining, all but eleven refer to some particular assembly. d.) These eleven are used in an institutional or generic way, or else apply to some particular assembly, with a secondary generic application as well. e.) In no instance of its usage is it inconsistent with the aspect of locality; indeed, only by "explaining" or "interpreting" it so would it ever be understood of any other than the specific local particular church to which it was written.
iii.) Locality inheres in the Classic, Old Testament, and Apocryphal usage of the word as well. a.) Liddell and Scott's Abridged Greek Lexicon, gives the classical meaning of ekklesia as: "an assembly of the citizens summoned by the crier, the legislative assembly…" Notice that it is first, "an assembly"—which demands locality, for there cannot be an assembling without a locale; second, the ones comprising the assembly are "summoned by the crier," which is also descriptive of locality; thirdly, it is the "legislative assembly" which suggests, not only locality, but purpose of assembling as well. b.) The word is used in the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Old Testament about ninety times, yet of the number, not one departs from the original meaning of "an assembly." Some have challenged four of these, (viz. 1 Kings 8:65; 1 Chron. 28:8; Ezra 10:8; and Ezek. 32:3); but the context in each case settles the matter; there is no deviation whatsoever. (c. In the Septuagint and other Greek versions of the Apocryphal books the word appears over twenty times, again without deviation. "This makes the Old Testament usage amount to about 114 cases, nearly equal in the New Testament usage. In no one of the 114 instances does it mean an unassembled ecclesia."—Carroll, Ecclesia—THE CHURCH, p. 53. Hence. Since it never means other than an assembly, then it logically follows that there is always locality involved, and if this be so, then a universal church, either visible or invisible, is nothing more than a figment of carnal minds.
3.) This locality is not voided by the use of other words used to describe the church; i.) As we have seen, the word "body" cannot be applied to a nebulous, scattered, partly dead, partly living, partly non-existent, partly visible, partly invisible institution without giving a hideously distorted view to the word. ii.) The word "fold" used in John 10:16; Note that: a.) The first "fold" (Greek aules) is a different word from the second (Greek poinme). The first has reference to the place where the sheep are bedded down, hence, a fold, but the second refers to the flock itself. b.) This does not deal with the present time. "And they shall become one flock," R.V. c.) This can only come to pass when the calling out is complete, when the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, (Rom. 11:25; Luke 21:24; Rev. 7:9); when Israel as a nation has been born again, (Isa. 66:7-8; Zech. 12:9-14; 13:8-9). d.) Yet, even this will be local when it comes to pass; it will be "the church of the firstborn ones" (Heb. 12:22-23). However, this is only in prospect at this time. iii.) The "Spiritual house" (1 Pet. 2:5) was not written to a specific congregation, but was meant to be circulated among the various groups of believers "Throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia" (1:1). Because of this, it is not applicable to all in the aggregate, but only to each group individually as they constitute a "spiritual house . . . to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
III. The Church is an Organized Assembly of Believers
The organizational aspect of the church has been denied by some in their zeal to establish the fact of the universal invisible church. It is often said that the church is not an organization, but an organism. However, the very word "organism" implies organization. There is no living organism so small or so simple but that it has organization about it; indeed, organization is an absolute necessity to life. We recognize that the church is an organism, that is, it is a living thing, but we must also recognize that it is an organization as well.
This pitting of organism and organization against one another results from the desire of some to rid themselves of the local church and its attendant obligations and restraints, but this cannot be done. Those who so vehemently disclaim the church to be an organization would do well to consider that the supposed universal, invisible church is propagated and extended only on earth, and only in direct proportion to the number and faithfulness of earthly organizations. It is the local church which the Lord has commissioned to be His witnesses, to preach His word, to administer His ordinances, to teach His people, to guard the faith, to discipline its unruly members, and without the local church, Christianity would fail. The theoretical universal church can do none of these things. This is not to say that it shall fail, for God has ordained that there shall be a faithful few even in the darkest times, but the scarcity of the true assemblies is intimated in the words, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall He find the faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8, literal rendering). This tendency is already to be seen in the unionizing between true churches and false; in the forsaking of the assembling together of Christians; in the doctrinal laxity of professing Christians; in people excusing themselves from duties to the local assemblies by claiming membership in an invisible church. It is no wonder that the universal church idea has such a draw upon this willful and wayward world; it makes no demands except for salvation only, and even this is often a corrupted plan of salvation. On the other hand, membership in the local church demands not only salvation, but also a scriptural baptism, an orderly walk, growth in grace, and a faithful and constant witness for Christ before the world. The lazy, the ungodly, the rebellious do not want this; in the theoretical invisible church they find just what they want—hope of blessings without the inconvenience of responsibility.
Some writers have declared that the local assemblies had little or no organization in their early days, or more specifically, that organization was not to be found in the Jerusalem church until such time as it began to propagate itself in other churches. Of the organization which existed before and immediately following the crucifixion, we have previously spoken, and the fact that the churches grew and were given additional gifts for the edification of the saints, in no way makes the earlier organization void. Both the earlier, simpler organization, and the later, more complex organization of the churches are decided proofs against the hypothesis that the church is not an organization.
It would be hard to conceive of a church without an organization to it when the apostle Paul had written to the church at Corinth that all things were to be done decently and in good order, (1 Cor. 14:40), something which could not be done if every one did whatsoever was right in his own eyes.
The Lord's commitment of the pastorate of the Jerusalem church to Peter (John 21) speaks of organization, as does the apostolic institution of deacons in the early church (Acts 6). The fact that the qualifications for both offices were given in the pastoral epistles is a decided proof that these were permanent offices and not merely temporary exigencies.
The fact of organization in the churches, and the reasons for its existence are given by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." With this may also be compared 1 Corinthians 12:8ff, but with this distinction; here it is the gifts which are under consideration, the different "administrations" (v. 5), while in Ephesians the individuals who possess these gifts or administrations are viewed. But in both places, these different ministries, and the men whom God has chosen to serve in them, are manifestations of the fact of organization in the New Testament churches.
Perhaps the reason why some deny the fact of organization within the church is due to the abuses which have come about in the development of this organization in later centuries. It is not to be denied that there was a certain amount of development within the early churches, but this is not to say that there was none to begin with, for before the crucifixion there was the Head, members, preachers, apostles, missionaries, yes, even a treasurer, in the Jerusalem church. However, that additional organization which was necessary "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" was given before the end of the first century, so that there was no legitimate excuse for the further addition of the numerous offices and degrees of ministries which took place in after centuries. The perfect and all-sufficient organization for the churches was given long before the death of the apostles, and the additions which were brought into the churches in after centuries were only abuses which made for confusion within the churches, and eventually almost bore the churches to the earth under such needless carnal pomp and ceremony. It was during the third century that many of the additional orders and officers were brought in as Dr. Mosheim records:
Thus, because of the laziness and irresponsibility of the officers of these churches, which even prior to this time had already made the offices of bishop and presbyter distinct, contrary to the teaching of the New Testament, the organization of the churches was greatly multiplied and complicated. We have little doubt that these churches to which Dr. Mosheim alludes, had already long since lost their identity as true churches, since they had also corrupted the ordinances and government of the church as well as the plan of redemption. These were the churches which became the state churches in this century, and eventually developed in the sixth century into the Catholic hierarchy. This corruption of the organization and polity of these churches has no effect upon the perpetuity of the Lord's church, since there existed contemporaneous with these, other churches which retained the New Testament image without corrupting it.
IV. The Church is a Divine Institution
Dr. E. T. Hiscox has the following to say about the church and its nature as a divine institution:
Because Of the multiplicity of mere human institutions which claim the name of churches. it has become increasingly hard for the world to recognize false Churches for what they are, and indeed most of the world has now ceased to even examine the claims of the different denominations. There are so many false churches that the world assumes that every professing, Christian society is truly a church, and that there are really no false churches, but only some Christian churches which have strayed a little on their beliefs.
However, this is a false premise; Paul pronounced a curse upon any and every departure from evangelical doctrine when he said, "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:8). Again he says, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
The assumption that the church is a mere human institution is the basis of this acceptance of any and every religious society as a New Testament church. But the Scriptures do not so teach. It becomes clear that the church is not a human, but a divine institution when we consider that: 1.) The New Testament church as a Divine Founder. All of the founders of this world's religions were nothing but mortal men; but this is not true of the church's founder; the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ was manifested on numerous occasions and in numerous ways, as: i.) By His miraculous birth, which proved that He was not an ordinary man, (Isa. 7:14; Jer. 31:22; Luke 1:26-35; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 2:9,14; 10:5). ii.) By His extraordinary life, which was devoid of any sin, (John 8:46; Heb. 4:15). iii.) By the miracles which He performed, (John 3:2; Acts 2:22). iv.) By the resurrection from the grave, (Acts 2:24; 29-31; Rom. 1:4). v.) By the spoken attestation of God the Father, (Matthew 3:17; John 12:28; Luke 9:35). vi.) By the coming of the Holy Spirit, (John 14:16; 16:13; Acts 2:1-4; 11: 15-17). vii.) By the witness of men, (Matthew 27:22-24; Luke 23:13-15; 46-47; Acts 17:2-3).
The existence of the church is the result of sovereign will of the Divine Christ, and as such, it makes the church to be a divine institution. When He called out the apostles and disciples and constituted them into a body which He designated "my church," he gave the church the character of a divine institution which cannot be invalidated by the reasoning of carnal minds. Nor is this all; the fact that the church was purchased with Christ's own blood, (Acts 20:28), gives it a divine character also; it manifests God's great love for it.
2.) Not only is Christ the divine founder of the church, but He is also the Divine Foundation upon which the church is built, (1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20; Matthew 16:18; Isa. 28:16). Here is a double guarantee of its endurance; not only is the Founder of the church All-wise and All-powerful, but the Foundation is also stable and steadfast like a vast and immutable rock.
3.) The Church also has a Divine Builder, for the Lord says, "Upon this Rock (Himself), I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). This is also intimated in Ephesians 2:20, "Being built," R.V., not "building yourselves." This is another reason why each church is to take care that she be always in complete subjection unto her Lord, for He is the builder, and "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it" (Ps. 127:1).
Man may indeed build an organization, call it a church, and give it a quasi-divine character, but it will all be in vain unless it be built upon, and by, Christ the true and only Head of the Church. Many are the nominal churches which have only the sands of humanity for a foundation, and only a mere mortal or group of mortals for architects and builders. Of such a building, Christ said, 'And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:27). How this declaration reminds us of that singular prophetic picture of the final end of apostate religion which shall be an amalgamation of Protestantism, Catholicism, and every other false church, with its center in Rome. "And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory. And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying BABYLON THE GREAT IS FALLEN, is FALLEN . . . Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come" (Rev. 18:1-2, 10).
4.) The church has also a Divine Teacher, Guide and Comforter; in a word, it has a Divine Superintendent in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is declared in John 14:16-18: "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you." And again, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:13-14).
The recognition of the superintendency of the Spirit is the true antidote for every heresy, immorality, or schism; "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:5). "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).
Whenever any church troubles start, whether they be false doctrine, ungodliness of life, refusal to do God's will, or offences against a brother, they are manifest deviations from a Spirit-led walk, for He never leads in such paths. It is the failure to realize the Holy Spirit's superintendency over the church that brings about most of the church troubles in the world today. That person who fully realizes this superintendency of the Holy Spirit, will be more desirous of yielding to the leading of the Spirit, and less of merely getting his own way.
Inasmuch as the Holy Spirit does have this great work within the church, it may also be property said that the church is a spiritual body; it is: i.) Holy Spirit indwelled, (John 14:16; 20:22). This is not to be confused with the indwelling of individual believers, (Rom. 8:9). ii.) Holy Spirit empowered, (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). iii.) Holy Spirit guided, (John 16:13). iv.) Holy Spirit comforted and encouraged, (Rom. 8:11, 14-17).
5.) The church has divine material for its membership; this material is the host of sinners, saved by grace, born again by the Spirit of God, which comprise each congregation. There is much said today about the "spark of divinity" which resides within each person regardless of what their moral or spiritual condition may be. However, this is the result of carnal reasoning, and not divine revelation. The divine word on this is, "If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God . . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do" (John 8:42, 44). "Beloved, now are we the sons of God . . ." (1 John 3:2). "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not." (1 John 3:1). He that committeth sin is of the devil . . ." (1 John 3:8, 10). "And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in the evil one." (1 John 5:19, R.V.)
The Oft-cited passage in Malachi 2:10: "Have we not all one father?" is limited by the next phrase to creation only; "hath not one God created us?" It is further limited in that it was written specifically to Israel, God's chosen nation. In no sense does it teach a "Universal Fatherhood of God." A New Testament passage which at first glance may be thought to teach a universal Fatherhood of God is 1 Corinthians 8:6: "But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him." But this manifestly deals with believers only; the united teaching of the New Testament is that man, in his natural state, is totally depraved and unable to do any thing acceptable or pleasing to God until grace has entered in and wrought regeneration. Man is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1), until the Lord has lit his candle, (Ps. 18:28). In a word, he is a child of the devil until conversion.
When, therefore, we speak of the material of the church, we refer to the membership, not to the physical building; this material is divine because it has been regenerated, born again into the family of God. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God" (Eph. 2:19). This passage with its context declares that man is dead and infinitely separated from God until salvation; then only does he become a member of the household of faith and the family of God; this, however, does not make him a member of the church; he must be baptized into the church.
6.) The church also has a divine mission and commission, which is briefly comprehended in this: "Unto him (God) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end" (Eph. 3:21). The church exists for the purpose of glorifying God; when it ceases to do this, it fails in its mission and becomes a definite hindrance to the glory of God. There is no middle ground; one is either for or against the Lord, as He says in Luke 11:23: "He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth."
The mission of the church breaks down into several parts which we may briefly consider at this time. The church is to make known the manifold wisdom of God, (Eph. 3:10). This is nothing else than: i.) Being witnesses unto the whole world, (Acts 1:8), by preaching the gospel, (Mark 16:15). ii.) Making disciples of all nations by so preaching and witnessing, (Matthew 28:19, R.V.) iii.) Baptizing each new convert into the fellowship and faith of a New Testament church. iv.) Teaching the converts to observe in a practical way, all the things commanded by the Lord, (Matthew 28:20). v.) Edifying, exhorting and comforting, and thereby strengthening and perpetuating the church as God's witness in the world, (1 Cor. 14:3,12).
Some have endeavored to free themselves from the responsibility of this commission by holding that it was delivered only to the apostles as such, and, had this been true, there would be no such commission today, for it would have died with the last apostle. Likewise, those who hold to a Pentecostal origin of the church free themselves of this commission, for any church that originated on or after the day of Pentecost has neither commission nor authority, for both were given prior to that time. But the commission was not given to the apostles in individual capacity, but in corporate capacity, for every record of this commission was spoken to them as a group; never did he say "Each of you go into all the world," etc. Also, it must be noted that the commission was not carried out so much by the apostles, as it was by the ordinary disciples. And again, the endowment with power, which was promised with the commission, (Luke 24:46–49), came upon the whole church, not just upon the apostles; the "they" of Acts 2:1-4 were the 120 disciples of 1:15.
If more Christians recognized the divine mission of the church, no doubt they would be more conscientious in their attendance and support of it. One does not dishonor the church, without at the same time dishonoring the Head and Founder of the church.
7.) The church also has a Divine Message which is its duty to proclaim, and without which it cannot long remain a scriptural church. That message is the Bible, the Word of God, the divine revelation of God's will for man. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:1-2).
This passage states: i.) The Word is given "by inspiration." ii.) It is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction. iii.) It is given that Christians may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works. iv.) Paul charged Timothy to "preach the word." v.) The Word is to be put to all of its uses; not one is to be ignored, (v. 2).
With a divine Founder, a divine Foundation, a divine Builder, a divine Superintendent, composed of divine material, with a divine mission and a divine message, there is no reason why a church should ever fail to do God's will or to be victorious. But it is common knowledge that this often happens. Why? Because all too often churches reject Christ's Headship, or the Spirit's Superintendency, or the regulations of the Word. When any of these are done, failure comes as a natural consequence. Nor is it necessary to vocally reject these to be guilty; it is possible to do, and is more commonly done, by practice than by profession.
V. The Church is a Sovereign and Authoritative Assembly
This subject necessarily involves not only the sovereignty of the church, but also its autonomy and independence. There can be no entrenching upon the authority of a church without at the same time entrenching upon its sovereignty, autonomy and independence as well.
Speaking of the attempts in his day to form super-church organizations with each church having representatives, Francis Wayland says:
That the New Testament church is a sovereign and authoritative assembly is clear when we realize the great responsibilities which have been placed upon it by its Founder and Head Himself; to obey or not to obey the letter of the Scripture is not a matter of choice or option to the church; it is obedient only so long as it follows the letter of the Scripture, and disobedient any time it goes contrary to any Scripture precept or example. The church is not sovereign in the sense that it can do any thing it pleases; it is sovereign in the sense that it is authorized and empowered to do what the Lord commands, and neither needs, nor is to subject itself to any other authority.
Rome teaches that the church has all power in heaven and on earth; power to reverse the decisions and councils of man and power to reverse even the pure Word of God itself. Such presumption assumes legislative power. The authority which the New Testament gives to the church is judicial and executive within prescribed limits, but never legislative. Dr. R. B. C. Howell observes:
The Word of God contains the all-sufficient legislation for our faith and practice; it is "the perfect law of liberty" (Jam. 1:25). Rome cites Matthew 16:18 as proof of Peter's, and consequently the Pope's, supreme authority in all religious matters; Matthew 18:18 and John 20:23 are cited as proof that the church has unbounded authority to open or close heaven as it will. However, all three of these passages have one thing in common; they are so translated as to convey the very opposite to what they were intended. Both the A.V. and the R.V. fail to take note of the fact that, while there is a future verb used, there is also a verb which denotes a past action as well. Many translators would let the future verb take precedence over, and determine the tense of the second verb. This, we believe is unnecessary, if it is rightly translated. The Greek words for "bound" and "loosed" are all perfect passive participles, and should be translated as that which has taken place in past time, but which has effects continuing to the present. The Williams translation of Matthew 16:19 reads: ". . . whatever you forbid on earth must be what is already forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth must be what is already permitted in heaven." Similar translations are to be found also in the Amplified New Testament, and in Wuest's Expanded Translation. "The teaching of Jesus is the standard for Peter and for all the preachers of Christ . . . All this assumes, of course, that Peter's use of the keys will be in accord with the teaching and mind of Christ." —A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol. 1, p. 134.
As to the meaning of these passages, it is certain that there is involved nothing more than authority relative to the acceptance and rejection of members of the church as they qualify for membership, and in such cases where the requisites for continued membership are violated. Dr. Edersheim says:
Even those who do not go to Rome's extreme, reject the authority of the local church and would invest it in a large state-wide or nation-wide body which usurps authority over local churches.
Little wonder that the authority of the local church is a disputed doctrine when we consider how far the religious world has digressed from the scriptural position. Rome has its hierarchy to which every Catholic must bow in submission; the Lutherans have their Synods which have authority over each local assembly in their given district; the Methodists have their Conference to which each local assembly must apply for authority to do this or that; the Congregationalists have their councils which exercise authority over the local congregations; the Presbyterians have their Presbytery Board which has the final word to the local church; and many Baptists, no less, have surrendered their authority to boards, fellowships, conventions, associations, etc. and however they may protest to the contrary, they are still not sovereign and autonomous so long as they are in subjection to a higher power than the local assembly in even one matter. Any prescribed conditions of membership in any extra-church organization which entrenches upon the most insignificant duty of the church, detracts from the autonomy and independence of those churches which participate. Brother M. L. Moser, Jr. has well stated the situation in a pamphlet published by the Central Baptist Church of Little Rock, Ark. He says:
Too many times, and too many people seem to have the idea that the ancient plan for the churches will not work today; thereby they impugn either the Lord's foreknowledge, or His wisdom. Brother Moser goes on to say:
We have already considered the major duties of the church, and these were committed to the New Testament church alone. When the Lord authorized His church to do these things, He manifestly excluded any other organization from having that authority; specificatio, unius, exclusio alterius - the specification of one thing is the prohibition of every other thing.
Let the student of the Bible search all he likes, but he will find in the New Testament no higher authority than that of the local assembly, and its decision, when scripturally reached and executed, is the final word. "Tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican" (Matthew 18:17).
Some, while granting that the church is the only divinely authorized body on the earth, would at the same time give the church the power to re-delegate that authority to another body. But only original authority can be delegated to another; this the church does not possess. When Christ said, "All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth" (Matthew 28:18, R.V.). He revealed that He had original authority; when He said, "Go ye therefore . . ." He authorized the church to do these things, but this authority which He gave to the church was delegated authority, and as such, it cannot be scripturally re-delegated. If it were proper for a church to re-delegate the authority to another organization to send out missionaries, then it would be just as proper to re-delegate the authority to another to baptize, to administer the Lord's Supper, to exercise discipline, etc. But the Scripture condones none of these.
The judicial authority of the church is clearly defined in such passages as 1 Corinthians 5:12-13: "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." Matthew 18:17-18: "And if he shall neglect to hear thee, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (1 Cor. 5:3-5, et. al.).
The church is clearly to exercise judicial discernment over its members and to purge out those who refuse to repent of their sins and clean up their lives-, this is the secret of a holy church; let every Christian purify his life or be purged from the church, for "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (1 Cor. 5:6).
But judicial authority without executive authority would be useless, and would make church authority a laughing stock; but the Lord has also given the church executive authority as well. However, both judicial and executive authority are definitely limited by prescribed conditions. Most places that teach of the judicial authority of the church, teach also of the executive power. "Deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh…Purge out therefore the old leaven…with such an one no not to eat . . . put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (1 Cor. 5:5,7,11,13). ". . . withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly...have no company with him, that he may be ashamed" (2 Thess. 3:6,14; et. al.).
But though we find the authority for these things quite prominent in the New Testament, we find not a word of any legislative power. Why? Simply because the Lord is the only authority for legislation, and He has given an all-sufficient legislation in His Word, but man will not submit to that, but wants human authority. He wants to make his own rules for Christianity, but such can never be. There is no scriptural justification for any individual or group to formulate new laws or dogma for Christianity, for it has all already been given. Any thing that man may further add will only cause confusion.
This authority of the Church, therefore, is not to be mistaken for any thing other than limited judicial and executive power; this authority must be executed in complete obedienc6 to the Word of God, and in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. The judicial and executive power here, as in all realms, is completely subservient to the legislative power, which is lodged in God alone, and is manifested to and for man in the Divine Revelation, the Word of God.
VI. The Church is a Militant and Missionary Assembly
The very purpose of the church as expressed in the Great Commission speaks of its responsibility to be a militant, missionary body; this too we recognize in the fact that any organization lives only as long as it perpetuates itself in new members. Hence, there is both a divine duty, and a rational responsibility for the church to be militant and missionary. What do we mean by militant? When we apply it to Christianity, the term means a readiness and willingness to fight the fight of faith; aggressiveness; an esprit de corps in the church; to serve as a soldier of the faith.
In an age of lukewarmness and unconcern, when personal comfort and pleasure are foremost in the minds of most nominal Christians, this is an unpopular doctrine. Most preachers will have many followers if they only preach a soft and easy Christianity, one which never makes the need for workers and servants for the Lord felt personally by the hearers. But let a man preach that every believer and every church member is under obligation to not only be in the Lord's house at each service, but also be ready to work and serve, and that man will find himself unpopular with the masses of the church. He will be termed a radical, and perhaps even worse calumnies will be heaped upon him. Yet, it is the stated requirement for disciples that "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
It is a popular thing with many church members to stay home and listen to "some good sermon" on the radio or television on the Lord's day; but this does not honor the Lord; it does not witness to one's faith; it does not support the Lord's house; but conversely, it dishonors the blood-bought house of the Lord; it places more importance upon personal comfort and convenience than upon piety and honor to the Lord; it places Christ second in a man's affection, which is nothing less than idolatry.
The apostolic age of Christianity was the most militant and missionary age of the Christian era; yet, in these times there was probably as much persecution as at any subsequent time in history. Why then was this militant spirit so prominent? No doubt, because persecution kept out of the churches all except those of truly devoted hearts and indomitable spirits, whose love for the Lord surpassed their fears even of death. Today, in many churches, all a person has to do to join the church is "sign a card," and consequently, the churches are filled with spiritual "4Fs" unregenerate cowards, and those whom Paul described as worshippers of their own bellies (the comfort crowd), (Phil. 1:19).
We find the militant and missionary spirit clearly manifested in the early churches; indeed, the Great Commission which was given to them demanded just such a spirit, and no church of this day will be able to meet its obligations as set forth in the Commission, without being both militant and missionary.
When we consider that even under persecution or perhaps we should say, especially under persecution the Jerusalem church manifested this militant, missionary zeal, for it is written, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). Both Pagan and Jewish forces met in Christianity an equal force which, though it would not lift a finger for personal defense, put forth every effort toward the propagation of the gospel even when it meant persecution and death.
Nor was the Jerusalem church alone in this zeal, for from Acts 13 to the end of the book, we read of the militant and missionary operations of the Antioch church through her foremost missionary. It was through these that many of the other churches of the New Testament came into being, and these too manifested the same zeal for the faith.
It is indeed gratifying to know that even as early as the writings of the epistle to the Roman church, they had been busy enough in the Lord's work that Paul could say, "I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world" (Rom. 1:8). Even if this had reference only to the Roman Empire, it is still a great testimony to the labors of this church. That this church, being organized and pastored apart from any apostolic help and direction, should become a source of thanksgiving to Paul, and a source of amazement to people throughout a wide area of the east, is ample commentary upon the militant and missionary character of the early Christians. Oh, that there were such churches today.
The Thessalonian church also was of a like stamp with the foregoing churches, for it is also said of this church, "For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1:8-10). "For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus . . ." 1 Thess. 2:14).
There can be scarcely any higher commendation than this, unless it be to hear the Lord's own "well done, thou good and faithful servant." But these are not isolated cases; the churches of the New Testament took it as a matter of course that they had a duty to their Lord, and they counted it a privilege and a joy that they were counted worthy to suffer for the Lord. "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42). "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Phil. 1:29)
But where do we find such militant zeal for the Lord today? It is all but non-existent! Today, a pastor contents himself with three messages per week and perhaps the teaching of a Sunday School class; church members think they should get a gold medal if they attend all the services in a week; young folk and adults alike must be coddled and pampered and carried about upon a silk pillow stuffed with down in order to even keep them regular in attendance, much less to get them to put their hand to the plow of Christian service. What is wrong? Where is the original zeal for the Lord? Sad to contemplate, it has been swallowed up of the lukewarmness, richness and ease which characterizes this Laodicean age, (Rev. 3:15-18).
The Lord meant for His church to be a militant and missionary institution which would make the world see its need for a Saviour, and see their need met in the Lord Jesus Christ. This can never be done while sitting upon the stool of do-nothing, or stretched full length upon the bed of creature-comfort watching the blinking one-eyed household god called TV. Today's churches need a spiritual pep pill and a shot of power from the Word of God, together with a good stiff dose of heart medicine from the God of love Himself.
Until this happens, the church will continue to be far short of the divine standard and apostolic example; any church whose nature does not conform to these divine requirements, has missed the mark, and this is nothing short of sin. May God burden the hearts of His people and of His churches to wake up to, and to do their duties to Him.