The Church in her universal aspect may well be called the Holy Catholic Church; she is holy in Christ before God, and catholic, universal, in her membership from among men. In this regard the Church is the general commonwealth of all Christians, the community of all saints throughout the world, both Jews and Gentiles, in each generation since Pentecost.
Different terms are used to designate the Church, and, of course, the most common one is the name Church.
The Greek word: The Greek word is “ecclesia” which means to call or summon a people, to segregate others from the masses. In the New Testament it is used in three different relationships: to the heathen (Acts 19: 39), to the Jews (Acts 7:38), and to the Christians (Acts 2:47 etc.). The full implication of these usages implies not only an apartness but a togetherness, therefore, a congregation. Significantly, the New Translation usually translates the word “ecclesia” into English by the word “assembly.”
The English word: The English word church has no actual connection with the Greek word “ecclesia”; it is derived from another Greek word, “kyriake,” which means, “that which pertains to the Lord.” This is the Greek word from which our English word church is directly derived, so also the Scotch word kirk, and the German word kirche.
The word Church in its Christian sense is used to denote the Church in her universal aspect, as for example in I Corinthians 10:32, Galatians 1:13, etc. It is also used to denote the church in any given locality. We read of the church at Jerusalem, the church at Corinth, and the churches of Galatia.
In another sense it is used in certain passages to indicate the actual gathering of the saints for worship or testimony. Paul writes about being silent or about speaking in a public meeting of the gathering, and he calls that meeting the church (I Cor. 14:19 and 35).
The word therefore in Scripture is given these three different applications.
In Current literature: Attention should also be called to certain terms used in some literature relative to the Church. Reference frequently is made to the Invisible Church. This concept embraces all the saints of the present dispensation. Of this vast host, we have seen and known only a very few. The majority are already in glory.
We also read about the Church Militant. This term is applied only to that part of the Church that is still on earth engaged in the conflict with the devil (Eph. 6:12-18).
A third term occasionally appears, the Church Triumphant. This refers to the Church as a conqueror in Christ Jesus and glorified in Heaven.
From what is now understood, some will be asking, “When did the Church begin?” Is it true, as some say, “The Church is a fellowship of all the faithful who ever lived: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as Peter, James, John, and Paul?”
One gathers from the reading of the Word of God that the Lord’s dealings with man changed after the coming of Christ, and that the Church did not begin until after the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, and after the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Seven reasons found in the New Testament support this contention:
1. In the assertion of Christ to Peter in Matthew 16: 13-20, the building of the Church was still future.
2. The foreshadowings of the mystery (Eph. 3:1-10) in the Old Testament that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body as the Jews had to be fulfilled before the Church could be formed.
3. The cross-work of Christ had to be accomplished in order that this mystery be fulfilled. In His death Christ brought Jews and Gentiles together (Eph. 2:14-16).
4. Christ had first to be exalted and in His exaltation be made the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:19-23).
5. The Holy Spirit had first to descend in order that He baptize all believers into one body; this He did at Pentecost (I Cor. 12:12-14).
6. The ministry of the apostles formed the foundation of the Church; it could not, therefore, commence until their ministry began (Eph. 2:18-20).
7. The Holy Spirit had to come into the world and according to the prediction of Christ (John 14:16-18) remain here to progressively erect that spiritual building that will be God’s eternal habitation (Eph. 2:21-22).
A constitution involves three elements: membership, purpose, and government or administration. All this is perfectly true in the Church of the Living God.
Membership: The entire membership of the Christian Church is composed only of saved persons (Acts 2:47). A literal rendering of Acts 2:47 would read, “The Lord added to the same, or together, those that were being saved.” See also I Corinthians 3:7. Living stones only are built into the spiritual building, the Church (I Pet. 2:5).
These members are gathered from among the nations (Acts 15:13-21), from among Jews and Gentiles alike (Eph. 3:4-6).
Purpose: The purpose God had in bringing the Church into existence is more comprehensive than first appears. At least six different phases of the divine purpose are stated in the New Testament:
1. That the Lord have a people for a possession (Eph. 1:14; 4:30). The Church is intended to be God’s personal property. Such is the literal meaning of the word “peculiar” in I Peter 2:9, and to this end He claims His own and seals them.
2. That through the Church glory might ascend to God (Eph. 1:14), both now and evermore (Eph. 3:21).
3. That the Church demonstrate now before angels the manifold wisdom of God (Eph. 3:10).
4. That in the future God display through the Church His kindness and grace (Eph. 2:7).
5. That the Church be the complementary part of Christ (Eph. 1:23). As the body is to the head so the Church is to Christ; and as Eve was to Adam so the Church is to Christ (Eph. 5:30).
6. That the Church be a testimony in the world to Christ (I Tim. 3:15-16) and to God (I Pet. 2:9).
Government: All Church government is vested in the Lord Jesus. After His resurrection He said, “All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28: 18), undoubtedly meaning that He had authority over both the spiritual and material realms.
His authority over the Church is seen in both His lordship (Rom. 14:9; II Cor. 6:17-18) and His headship (Col. 1:18; 2:19). Lordship implies government by decree; headship implies control by co-ordination (Eph. 4:11-16).
The constitution of the Church may also be studied by an examination of the figures of speech used in the New Testament to describe not only the Church but her relationship to Christ.
1. The Church is a flock of sheep and Christ is her Shepherd (John 10:16; 21:15-25. Acts 20:28. I Pet. 5:2).
“Believers cannot be confined to those who have come out of Judaism (out of this fold). ‘Other sheep I have … them also must I bring, and they shall hear My voice.’ Here is opened up the vast panorama of the mission to the Gentiles… “They shall become one flock, one Shepherd.’ The verbs here are in the future tense, not merely because from the standpoint of the narrative the mission to the world lies in the future, but because Jesus must first accomplish the will of the Father.” (The Fourth Gospel; Sir Edwyn Hoskyns).
2. The Church is a temple (sanctuary) and God is there enshrined (Eph. 2:21).
3. The Church is a priesthood (I Pet. 2:5-9) and Christ the Great High Priest (Heb. 2:17; 3:1; 8:1; 10:21).
4. The Church is a new creation (II Cor. 5:17. Gal. 3:27-28), and Christ is the Last Adam (I Cor. 15:45).
5. The Church is a household (Eph. 2:19. I Pet. 4:17) and God, the Father over that household. There is a similar picture in Hebrews 3:6 where Christ is seen to be over His own House.
6. The Church is a Body and Christ is her Head (Eph. 1:22).
7. The Church is a building and Christ is the foundation and Chief Corner Stone; all His people are living stones (I Pet. 2:4-5. Eph. 2:20).
8. The Church is a Bride and Christ her Bridegroom (Eph. 5:24-33. Rev. 19:7. Rev. 22:17).
These three are mentioned last in our list because of their importance for they picture the Church in her complete history: the Body refers to the past, to Pente- cost (I Cor. 12:13). The verb tense in this reference to the baptism of the Spirit points to the past, to an event, undoubtedly to the day of Pentecost. The building aspect of the Church refers to the present. According to Ephesians 2:19-22 this spiritual building is still under construction. The Church pictured as a Bride, of course, suggests her future (Rev. 19:7-9).
The Greek verb “to call” that is used quite frequently in regard to God’s people of the Church era means to incite by language, to bid or to command. Dr. Moule suggests that in the four Gospels this word call refers to outward hearing; in the Epistles that it refers to inward reception, due to a special sovereign influence from above.
The words and the tone we use to invite a person could either induce him to accept or refuse our invitation. Similarly, the language and the tone with which we command can either stimulate prompt obedience or neglect. It is certain that when God calls, He does so effectively for He induces men to accept His invitation.
There are several features of the calling of the Church in relation to the present, and some in relation to the future. These latter we shall consider under Her Consummation.
Its source: “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:29). God’s attitude toward the recipients of His gifts and call, no matter who they may be, Israel or the Church, remain unchangeable. Furthermore, it is well to remember that the calling of the Church is always referred to as of God the Father, and that it is part of His eternal purpose.
Its object: God’s calling is such that He chooses to salvation the foolish things of the world in order to put to shame the wise by giving Christ to the called ones in order that He be their wisdom (I Cor. 1:26). The called of God, generally speaking, are not from among the important and illustrious of earth; notwithstanding, many of the world’s great have become humble believers in the Lord Jesus.
Its character: “Called with an holy calling” (II Tim. 1:9). It is according to the eternal purpose of God not only to call men and women to salvation but to call them to a life of holiness. Such a life was a part of the testimony to the Lord of which Timothy was not to be ashamed.
Its purpose: “The high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1).
The calling of the Christian is an upward calling. The path of God’s people is ever upward, heavenward, and will terminate in perfection in Heaven. Paul, although he knew the perfect state would be true only in the resurrection, struggled upward toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).
Partakers of the heavenly calling are those whose inheritance is in Christ and who anticipate, not the prosperity of earth, but the joys and glories of Heaven.
The consummation of the Church has to do with her glorious future. As demonstrated, the Church has been divinely called from among the nations to be a people gathered to the name of the Lord. This call is more than a mere proclamation of the gospel, it is the effectual call of God’s chosen ones; every member of the Church has been called.
Called to a hope: Paul prayed for the Ephesians, “That ye may know what is the hope of His calling.” Later he wrote, “Ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Eph. 1:18; 4:4).
In her call through divine grace the Church has many eternal prospects: the rapture of the Church by Christ (I Thess. 4:13-18), the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7-9), an incorruptible inheritance (I Pet. 1:3-4), to be forever perfect like Christ (Phil. 3:20-21. I John 3:1-2), to be manifested with Him in glory (Rom. 8:19-24. Col. 3:1-4), an opportunity to reign with Christ during the kingdom period (II Tim. 2:12. Rev. 5:10). Furthermore, the Church throughout Eternity will glorify God (Eph. 3:21). The eternal existence, designation, and relationship of the Church seem to be implied in the doxology at the close of Ephesians three.
Called unto His kingdom and glory: The Apostle Paul exhorts the saints at Thessalonica, and of course all others, to walk worthy of God who has called them unto His kingdom and glory (I Thess. 2:12).
The devil in his temptation of the Lord Jesus offered Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory if He would only worship Satan (Luke 4:5-6). The Lord Jesus calls His own unto His kingdom and glory, and His kingdom is in contrast to the rebellion of Satan and man. Obviously Paul not only presented Christ to the Thessalonians as Saviour but also as King (Acts 17:7). All believers are effectively called unto the kingdom and they enter it by the new birth (John 3:3).
The kingdom and glory referred to in Thessalonians indicate the future aspect of the kingdom when it will be manifested in glory. The Church has been called to share the joys, privileges, and responsibilities of the glorious kingdom age.
The power of her calling: As we think of the call and the consummation of the Church, like Nicodemus we may exclaim, “How can these things be?” Paul replies to any such concern, and directs attention to the Lord as He is presented in Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.” His faithfulness: “Faithful is He that calleth you.” His persistence: “That calleth.” His effectual call is constant, not merely a voice in the past. His power: “Who also will do it.”
Tests on This Chapter
1. In your own language give a definition of the Church.
2. When did the Church begin?
3. Give at least three scriptural proofs, and name them, to support your answer to the second question.
4. From what races are members of the Church gathered?
5. Does the Church have a democratic form of government? State the form of government positively.
6. What is God’s purpose for the Church in Time, and separately, in Eternity?
7. Name at least three pictorial figures of the Church, and what relationship to Christ they indicate.
8. What is the character and purpose of God’s calling for the Church?
9. What is involved in the hope of the Church?
10. Who will accomplish the glorious consummation of the Church?