The Church Universal
The Lord Jesus had led His disciples into the north, far away from the forceful influence of Judaism, and standing under the shadow of an idol’s shrine, in Caesarea Philippi, He declared to them His divine intention to bring into being, by a mighty achievement, something entirely new in the world, His Church. Said He, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock, (Peter’s confession of Christ) I will build My Church,” (Matt. 16:13-20).
Throughout all the ages that preceded the advent of Christ, God acknowledged only two major racial divisions in humanity, the Israelites and the Gentiles; but after Calvary and Pentecost, God speaks of three groups among men, Jews, Gentiles, and the Church of God (2 Cor. 10:32).
To us who live in the period of time frequently called The Church Dispensation, the facts and the features of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ ought to be of great interest and importance. Let us think of the Church as
A Former Mystery
A mystery in the New Testament sense indicates a sacred secret. Let us read the apostle Paul’s explanation of how, in past dispensations, the doctrine of the Church was hidden; “If ye have heard the dispensation (stewardship) of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward; How that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery, (Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ.) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel,” (Eph. 3:2-6).
The mystery that is here connected with the Church is, that through the gospel, Jews and Gentiles are made fellowheirs of Christ, fellowmembers of the body of Christ, and fellowpartakers of the promise in Christ. These are the features which characterize this present age, but which were not known throughout former times.
It should be understood that, although there is no specific mention of the doctrine of the Church in the Old Testament, we now discover therein types and foreshadowings of her position and constitution. Eve (Gen. 2:21-25) typifies the Church in the relationship to Christ of life and love. Rebekah (Gen. 24) foreshadows the Church as the Bride of Christ being brought to Him through the guidance of the Divine Spirit, and Asenath (Gen. 41:45) illustrates the Church called out from among the nations, and united to our glorified Lord who once was rejected. This Church so carefully veiled in the Old Testament Scriptures had
A Definite Beginning
In the minds of some there is considerable confusion regarding the birth of the Church. There are those who contend that she has existed since Adam, and there are others who teach that she is the natural outgrowth of Judaism. The whole tenor of New Testament teaching makes clear that the Church is something distinct in the world, something which began some two thousand years ago, and something concerning which prophecy is positive. From the Scriptures it is possible to ascertain the beginning of the Church. Let us notice four salient and important points. First, it was future when Christ announced it. “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church,” (Matt. 16:18). Second, it could not have begun until after Calvary. Said the Lord Jesus, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock (Peter’s confession of the humanity, “Son of Man”, the Deity of Christ, “Son of the Living God”) I will build My Church.” The Church rests upon the foundation, Christ in His person and work. The apostle Paul declares, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ,” (1 Cor. 3:11) ; “Jesus”, the Saviour; “Christ”, the exalted One. Again, the same apostle writes, “Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Corner Stone,” (Eph. 2:20). The Church could not have existed until after the advent, death, and resurrection of Christ. Third, it could not have begun until Pentecost. This becomes very obvious when the ministry of the Holy Divine Spirit is taken into consideration. This operation is expounded to us at great length in the epistle to the Ephesians, where we read, “In Whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit,” (Eph. 2:21-22). It was on the Day of Pentecost that by one Spirit all were baptized into one body, and the Church was born. Since we have been following the imagery of a building, we might say the great edifice arose since Pentecost. Fourth, it could not begin until the apostles of Christ were in existence and preaching the truth of God, for we read, “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Corner Stone,” (Eph. 2:20). Our blessed Lord Jesus is the doctrinal foundation of the Church, and here the apostles, along with the New Testament prophets, are pictured as its chronological foundation. The apostles entered it first, the prophets followed, and thus portion after portion is progressively added to the mystical building. Now this wonderful Church which began at Pentecost has
A Specific Constitution
The Church is a spiritual body consisting only of those persons who, throughout this present dispensation, have been regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, “And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins,” (Eph. 2:1). Moreover, the Church is composed only of persons born of God (1 John 5:1-2) from among both Jews and Gentiles. These in Christ have been racially reconciled the one to the other, and both alike reconciled to God, “For He is our peace who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in His flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby,” (Eph. 2:14-16). The language of Holy Scripture is beautiful and explicit; the Church is “one new man”, “one body”; consequently, she must be a living organism pulsating with divine life. Such is the organic union between every part, that each has within it the very life of the Head, even Christ.
This precious equality of life results in the oneness of all in Christ, “For as many of you as have been baptized (immersed) into Christ have put on Christ, There is neither Jew nor Greek, (no racial distinction) there is neither bond nor free, (no social distinction) there is neither male nor female; (no natural distinction) for ye are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Gal. 4: 27-28). In the epistle to the Colossians another statement is added, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision (no religious distinction),” and then the apostle declares, “Christ is all and in all,” (Col. 3:11). This Church which formerly was a mystery, but began at Pentecost, and is a living organism bears
Two Intimate Relationships
The first of these is to Her Head, Christ: She is the one flock of which Christ is the Shepherd (John 10:16). She is the body of which Christ is the Head (1 Cor. 12:12). She is the bride of which Christ is the Bridegroom (Eph. 5:21-32). She is the priesthood of which He is the Great High Priest (1 Pet. 2:5-9; Heb. 3:1). She is the household over which, as a Son, Christ is supreme (Heb. 3:5-6). She is the building of which Christ is both the Corner Stone and the Cornice Stone (I Pet. 2:6-7). She is the new creation of which Christ is the Last Adam (l Cor. 15:45; 2 Cor. 5:17). Such then is the vital union between Christ and His Church. The second relationship she bears is to all her members. In spite of any difference of function which may exist among them, they together are one whole. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also in Christ,” (1 Cor. 12:12). “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it,” (1 Cor. 12:25-26). Bunyan has described this as “A common ground of communion which no differences of external rites could efface.” We must now consider another characteristic of the Church,
Her Clear Distinctiveness
This distinctiveness reaches out into three directions: First, she is distinct from the world. Augustine, and many since his day, held that good and bad alike were permitted in the Church. His misconception arose from a wrong application of the parable of the wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30). In explaining the parable to His own the Lord Jesus said, “The field is the world,” and not the Church. The relationship of the Church to the world is positively stated in the high-priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus (John 17), “I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world,” (vv. 15-16).
In second place, the Church is distinct from the kingdom. That she is in the kingdom is true, but she is not the kingdom. The Kingdom of the Heavens suggests that sovereignty of the heavens, and embraces all of earth that professes to be subject to the rule of heaven. The kingdom in its present mystical state embraces the whole of Christendom. The Church is not Christendom although she is found within it.
Finally, the Church is distinct from Israel as the following contrasts will show: Israel descended from Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3); the Church began at Pentecost (Acts 2). Israel is an earthly people (Gen. 13:14-18; Hos. 2:23); the Church is a heavenly people (Phil. 3:14; 1 Pet. 2:11). Israel was promised a geographic country (Ex. 3:8); the Church a heavenly city (Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:22). Israel is viewed as the wife of Jehovah (Ezek. 16; Hos. 2:1-17); the Church is viewed as the Bride of Christ to be married in heaven (Eph. 5:22-27; Rev. 19:7-10). Israel is but one nation (Gen. 12-2); the Church is composed of persons out of all nations (Acts 15:14). Israel has in Christ her Messiah (John 1:49) ; the Church has in Christ Her Saviour, Lord, Head, and Bridegroom (Eph. 5:23-27). Israel required a family priesthood through which to worship (Ex. 30:30) ; The Church is herself a holy and a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:2-9) to worship and to witness. To Israel Christ will return as her King in power and great glory (Jer. 23:5-6); to the Church Christ will come again as Bridegroom (1 Thes. 4:13-18).
There is one more major feature of the Church we must notice,
Her Predicted Destiny
The future of the Church is glorious. This glory will be first of all physical. “We look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body,” (Phil. 3:20-21). It will also be spiritual for Christ gave Himself, “That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word. that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish,” (Eph. 5:26-27). Again, her glory will be regal, “We shall also reign with Him,” (2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 5:8-10). Finally, her glory will be divine, “Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife… Having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious;” (Rev. 21:9-11). In all Her splendour of divine glory, the Church, the Lamb’s wife, as His consort will reign with Him in perfect righteousness administering justice over angels (1 Cor. 6:3), and over the whole world (1 Cor. 6:2). Such then is the destiny of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May our hearts be bowed in adoration and praise as we examine the mighty accomplishments of grace, and, as we contemplate our glorious future, may we sanctify ourselves by His Word, and walk closer to our Lord in the path of separation from the world.