Youth and the Church
Before dealing with the subject of Church fellowship, it will be necessary to devote some time to a consideration of what the Bible teaches regarding the great doctrine of the Church of God itself. It will surely be obvious that no one can come to an intelligent decision regarding the matter of his Church fellowship until he knows something of the scriptural definition of the Church of God.
During the centuries that have intervened since the Church came into existence at Pentecost, the clear teaching of the Word of God regarding this subject has become obscured by the admixture of a great deal of human misconception in the shape of traditions, innovations, customs, and ideas which have no support whatever in the Bible.
Just as a river, which is clear and pure at its source, becomes fouled by the drainage of the cities through which it flows, so the clear, pure stream of divine revelation concerning the Church has become contaminated by the constant drainage into it of a host of man-conceived ideas, rules, regulations, ordinances, decrees and denominational distinctions to which the Bible makes no reference.
This illustrates the truth of that old saying, “History repeats itself.” The Lord Jesus, in His day, fearlessly denounced the religious leaders of Israel because of this same thing. He charged them with “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men,” and pointed out that, in so doing, they had “made the Word of God of none effect by their tradition.” See Mark 7:6-13.
It will therefore help to clear away this debris of misconception regarding the Church if we first discuss the subject negatively, and see what the Church is not. Then we shall deal with it positively, and discover what it really is.
It is important to notice that there are only two aspects of the Church presented in the New Testament. First, the universal aspect, as composing all regenerated believers from Pentecost to the rapture of the Church at the second coming of Christ. Second, the local aspect, as composing those Christians in a certain area, who gather together, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for either worship, prayer, Bible study, or mutual edification. Let us now discover
What the Church is Not
It is never spoken of as a structure of wood, stone, or brick, erected by man, in which to hold religious gatherings.
This easily can be verified by turning to a few Bible references, and using our common sense: Acts 8:3. Did Paul pull down buildings? No, he arrested Christians who formed the local assembly in that place. Acts 11:22. Does a building have “ears?” Of course not, but a company of believers does. See also Revelation 2:7, 11, 17 etc. Acts 14:27. Did Paul and Barnabas gather bricks and stones and erect a material building? No, they called the people of God together. Acts 15:3. Did a building shuffle off its foundation and accompany them on their journey? No, but the Christians aided them on their way (Acts 18:22). Did Paul salute a building or the Lord’s people? Acts 20:28. Does a building have a mouth and a digestive tract, so that it can be fed? Was “the Church, which is in his house” a building erected inside a private dwelling? Perish the thought! Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Philemon 2; Ephesians 5:25. Did Christ love and give Himself for a material building, or was it the sum total of all believers?
Thus the Church, whether viewed universally or locally, consists of Christian men and women, and never refers to any building erected by man.
The Church does not consist of any sect, denomination, or religious system of men which calls itself by a name that is not common to, and inclusive of all Christians.
For instance, we read of the Roman Catholic church, the Episcopal church, the Lutheran church, the Baptist church, the Presbyterian church, etc., etc. Is every born again person a Roman Catholic, an Episcopalian, a Lutheran, a Baptist, or a Presbyterian? Most decidedly and emphatically not! We gladly concede that within these denominations there are many genuine children of God, who are real members of the body of Christ, the true Church; but the fact that a person is a member of a denomination does not indicate that he is in the true Church, which the Bible describes as composed only of those who have been born again.
The Church is not an occupation. It does not consist of a particular class of men who, by reason of special theological training, plus human ordination, are called “clergymen,” or “ministers.” It is sometimes said of the members of a family, one went “into the army,” another “into the navy,” one into “civil service,” and a fourth “into the Church.” Thus the Church is viewed as an occupation by which a person derives his livelihood.
The Church is not an organization, or a society that one can join by subscribing to its creed, or submitting to its rules.
On the contrary, the Church is viewed in the Bible as an organism, to which the regenerated believer is joined by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 6:17). An organism ‘consists of that which is pervaded by a common life as, for instance, the human body.
In fact one of the most striking similies of the Church is the human body. See Ephesians 1:22-23; 2:16; 3:6; 1 Corinthians 12:7-27. How did the various members of our body, such as the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands and feet, etc, become part of our body? Did these members float around in space, looking “for the body of their choice,” to which to join themselves, or were these members joined to our bodies by the mysterious process of physical birth?
The Bible makes abundantly clear that every member of the true Church the mystical Body of Christ, was joined to the Church, by the Holy Spirit upon his acceptance of Christ as Saviour and Lord. Not only so, but he was united to Christ, the Head of the Church in Heaven, and to every other believer in Christ on earth. This is the great truth of the Church of God, of which Christ is the sole Head, and every believer a member (1 Cor. 12:13).
Once a Christian firmly grasps this fact, and realizes he is already in the Church of God, he will not try to join some other Church, with some one else at its head, but will gladly meet, in happy Christian fellowship with those Christians who have also seen from Scripture this blessed truth, and consequently seek to meet simply in the name of the Lord Jesus, as those who have already been united to Him.
Having viewed the subject negatively, and seen what the Church is not, let us now look at it positively and discover what it is.
What the Church is
We shall think of three things regarding this:
1. The Scripture Definition Of The Church.
The New Testament was written in the Greek language, and the word translated “Church” is “Ecclesia.” This is a combination of two words: “Ek” meaning out of, or out from, and “Klesis,” which means a calling (from “kaleo,” to call). Thus its root meaning is clear, the Church is a called out company.
This word, “Ecclesia,” had been in common use for 300 years before Christ. It was used to describe that company of Greek citizens who were called out from among the population of a city for the transaction of its public affairs. Thus the word did not originate with Christianity, nor does it have a mysterious meaning.
Our English word, “Church,” is not really a translation of the word “Ecclesia,” The word would have been far better translated, “assembly.” In fact it is so translated twice in Acts 19:31, 41. Thus the word simply means an “out called assembly.” By the word “Church,” in its universal aspect, is meant the sum total of all those who have responded to the call of God in the Gospel, trusted Christ as their Saviour and Lord and, by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, have been joined to Christ and to one another to form one Body, with Christ as the sole Head.
2. Christ’s Own Revelation Concerning The Church (Matt. 16:13-18).
This passage of Scripture is most important for here is the first definite statement regarding the Church, and made by none other than the Purchaser, Founder, and Head of the Church. Let us notice three things:
(1) The Question Christ Asked.
“Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (v. 13). This was Christ’s first direct claim to be the Son of Man. He had previously referred, indirectly, to a person called the Son of Man, and from His description, this Person possessed all the attributes of Deity. See Matthew 8:20; 9:6; 10:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:37, 41. Now He calmly and directly makes the stupendous claim to be this very Person.
(2) The Answer That Peter Gave (V. 16):
“Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God.” In this confession, both the divine titles are combined. the Son of Man is the Son of God. Note our Lord’s words as to the source and blessedness of this confession.
(3) The Revelation Christ Gave Concerning The Church (V. 18).
(a) As to its foundation: “On this rock.” The claim of Roman Catholicism that Peter was the rock on which Christ was to build His Church has no support whatever in Scripture. If Christ had meant Peter, He would have said, “On thee will I build My Church.” Peter himself, in his epistles, makes it crystal clear that the rock Foundation is none other than the Son of God Himself. See 1 Peter 2:4-10; 5:1 cp. Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 3:11.
(b) As to its Builder: “I will build.” It is not left to man with his limited wisdom, love, and power to build the Church. This is the sole prerogative of the omnipotent Son of God. Note also that Christ speaks of the Church in the future tense, for the Church could not come into existence until Christ had died, risen, ascended and was glorified to be its Head. (c) As to its ownership. “My Church.” It is His purchased possession, to the praise of His glory. All directions as to its functioning must come from Him. All additions are only possible through faith in Him (d) As to its material. It is the “Ecclesia,” the called out company of the redeemed who have been brought to know Him as their Saviour and Lord. These and no others form the Church. (e) As to its permanence. “The gates of hell (hades) shall not prevail against it.” Hades refers to the unseen world. At death, a person disappears from view. In the case of the Christian, his spirit goes to be “with Christ, which is far better” (Phil. 1:23.; 2 Cor. 5:6-8). A Christian, at death, does not cease to be a member of the Body of Christ, he is a member forever! Thus the Church does not become less in numbers because of the death of believers, but continually is getting larger. The gates of hades cannot prevail against it.
3. The Formation Of The Church (Acts 2-3).
These two chapters describe one of the greatest events in the history of the world. It was the fulfilment of Christ’s prediction in Matthew 16:18. The Church, which He had promised to build, now became an actuality. Let us note three things.
(A) The Preparation For It (Acts 1:4-15).
Christ instructed His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit, whom He had peviously promised to send, should come and baptize them. See Acts 1:4 cp. John 7:37-39; 14:16-18; 16:7-15. His advent should empower them for world-wide witness (1:8). Then follows the description of His ascension and the promise of His second coming (1:9-11). In an upper room in Jerusalem, about 120 disciples gathered together in prayer (1:14-15).
(B) The Formation Of The Church (Acts 2:1-4).
That which had been hid in God, from the beginning of the world, now came into existence (Acts 3:9). With the sound of a rushing, mighty wind, the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 disciples and baptized them into one Body, of which Christ was the Head and each believer a member. Thus the Church, God’s masterpiece, began. It was the birthday of the Church.
Not only were the disciples now formed into one Body, but each believer was now indwelt by the Spirit and enabled, by His supernatural power, to so witness for Christ in other tongues that 3000 souls were won for Christ and thus added to the Church.
A good illustration has been used to indicate how these 120 disciples became one Body. Let us imagine 120 nuggets of gold grouped together in a pan. Each nugget is different in shape and size. Now let a very strong current of electricity pass through these nuggets and fuse them into one great nugget, yet each individual nugget retaining its own peculiar shape and size. In like manner these 120 disciples were fused together by the Spirit to form one Body, yet each disciple retained his own individuality and distinct personality. Peter was still Peter, and John was still John, etc., but each was now united to Christ and to each other in an organic unity.
(C) The Result Of It Was The Church.
To that which was formed on the day of Pentecost, each believer has been joined by the Spirit of God, and is therefore viewed in the Bible as a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. See 1 Corinthians 12:13. Let each believer, now reading these words, lay hold on this tremendous truth. Let him determine, by the grace of God, that he will say and do nothing that would hinder the outward practical expression of this unity of all true Christians.
Let him remember he is one with all who love the Lord Jesus, worldwide. Therefore may each Christian, as far as is humanly possible, endeavour to “Keep the unity of the Spirit, (which God has made) in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Thus he will enter into the enjoyment of what the Bible declares to be true: “Ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).