THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
Theme of the Bible Study on Thursday evening, June 12th, 1958.
IN the present series on doctrine, which is particularly arranged for new converts, it is important that the believer should know the society of which he forms a part, its nature, life, purpose and destiny. He will have to be careful because the word " Church" is never understood by an unbeliever in the Scriptural content of the word. It has nothing to do with a building. One of the advantages of the word "chapel " as applied to the building is at least to divorce the idea of the Church from bricks and mortar. Similarly, as this word is on the lips of our Lord for the first time, so far as record is concerned, (Matthew 16:18), it is as He says "MY Church." The Church is not the Church of England, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church, the Catholic Church, but uniquely and alone the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. No Baptist certainly who is taught in the word would ever dream of referring to the Baptist Church!
Now in this reference in Matthew there are certain facts clearly established:-
. 1) The Church of Jesus Christ is founded upon a revelation confessed by the
mouth. " Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not
revealed it unto thee, but My Father Who is in heaven.
2) His Church has special powers since the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. Hades is the realm of death and this Church is evidently proof and secure against all its devices and powers.
Our Lord added His blessing to Peter with the gift of the keys of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of heaven and the Kingdom of God are phrases our Lord often uses. Whether they are precisely the same we will not discuss this evening but some distinction must be understood between the Church and the Kingdom. Some think they are indistinguishable, but that would not appear to be the teaching of the Scriptures. There are some who feel that the word " kingdom, " especially in the modern setting, is unfortunate. The idea is rather rule. There is to be an era of the rule of God and of heaven. When our Lord returns it will be for the purpose of establishing the rule of God on earth and indeed throughout the universe .It is this rebellion against the rule of God that is the basic cause of all our follies and troubles and evils.
In bringing everything first into subjection to Christ and then into subjection to God (ICor: 15: 24/28) the kingdom or rule of God will be established but the church is that company of people in union with Christ who constitute the organism of Head and Body through whom this subjection is achieved. That is to say the kingdom or rule of God is to be established in the universe, including the earth, through the medium of Christ and His redeemed Church of His Body. The rule of God is the end, the Church of Christ the means. Preachers who are devoting their energies to the establishment of the Kingdom have failed to realise that our business is the completion of the Church without which the Kingdom is impossible.
A word must be said about Peter because he is prominent on this occasion. The view is held by the Romanist and the High Church party in the Church of England that the commission here declared to Peter is likewise in principle conveyed to all Peter's successors so that in theory Peter, having received this authority from our Lord, passed it on by the laying on of hands to successors, who in turn conveyed it to their successors, until you have the Pope in the Vatican perfectly sure that this succession of hands is unbroken from Peter to himself. The Archbishop of Canterbury holds that the same thing has happened to himself. He does not question that this is true of the Pope and the Pope does not question that it is definitely not true of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is a heretic, a layman and without any kind of apostolic authority whatsoever! This so-called succession is the heart of the Church as it is visibly manifested amongst men in rites and in the Mass so that whosoever is found in the visible Church of Rome is undoubtedly saved for all eternity and outside of this church there is no salvation.
there are some observations within the Scriptures that do not confirm this view. Let us look at Acts 1. In the intervening days between the ascension of our Lord and the giving of the Holy Spirit a successor was chosen to Judas who betrayed our Lord. Peter undoubtedly appears as the leader suggesting the appointment of another. He declares that from amongst those that have been with the Lord's company from the time of John the Baptist until His ascension must one be chosen. What happened? The company nominated two persons for this apostleship. Peter did not choose these two nor decide between the two. They were elected by the gathered company, including women, and the majority vote was for Matthias. There is no record that Peter made the appointment or confirmed it by any act symbolic of his authority.
on the day of Pentecost it is Peter who preaches the sermon to the astonished multitude. He bears witness solely to Jesus. He has nothing whatever to say upon current problems, the state of society in Jerusalem, the valuable work being done by good people, nor does he suggest that efforts be made to remove misunderstandings between Caiaphas and himself. He preaches Jesus, he condemns His murderers, he shows all this was prophesied in the Old Testament, he declares Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven and has actually shed forth the gift of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples. This has transformed the disciples, given them a message about Jesus and this they now declare. The listeners are smitten in conscience. They ask what they should do; they are told to repent, and be baptised unto the remission of sins, and they too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit as Peter and his companions have done. The promise of all this is to " as many as the Lord our God shall call. " The record proceeds to say that about 3,000 received Peter's word, were baptised, and forthwith continued in the apostolic teaching, in fellowshipand in the breaking of bread and of prayers.
therefore it is clearly of the Spirit and not conveyed by the laying on of
hands necessarily, but is the gift of the Ascended Lord to all who hear, repent,
believe and are baptised. When Peter later preached to Cornelius (Acts 10: 44)
the Gentile centurion and his friends, heard the good news, they believed while
Peter was preaching and forthwith the Lord from heaven baptised them with the
Holy Spirit, so that not even the external rite of baptism was necessary to
the gift of the Spirit. They were baptised in water subsequent to the receiving
of the Spirit.
The succession therefore is the succession of believers who in every generation hear the word concerning Jesus, crucified, risen, glorified, and who believing are sealed with the Holy Spirit by Jesus Himself (Ephesians 1:13). There is no visible organisation that can claim to be the infallible Church of Jesus Christ. There will always be the tares growing with the wheat. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit personally bestowed by the Lord from heaven upon each new believer that constitutes the spiritual vital succession of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ constitutes the testimony of the Church as He is also the One Eternal Spring of life to the Church.
into the Church is by reason of a relationship to Christ. The sinner comes under condemnation and conviction of sin, he renounces his sinful nature and his sinful disposition. He repents of his sin, turns to God for mercy because Christ has died for him a sinner, is abundantly pardoned and forgiven,is received as a son by adoption, sealed with the Holy Spirit and in the blood of the covenant is joined eternally to Christ. Because of this covenant relationship with Christ, this life relationship, he must seek the fellowship of those who share his experience. A Christian in union with the Lord and yet holding back from confessed fellowship with His people is not contemplated in the New Testament. Such an individual is not mentioned.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
In the New Testament, therefore, we find the local assembly of believers. They are called to be saints. They are so addressed by Paul in his several letters. So far as we can see they are responsible to the Lord alone and are under the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Acts 13 shows the Church at Antioch engaged in sending forth Saul and Barnabas. There does not appear to be any reference to Jerusalem or to any other church or group of churches, and we are bound to believe that what they did was acceptable to God and was indeed in obedience to God.
THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
As Paul moved amongst the churches so he created bonds between them. Many of them sent gifts for the poor members of the Church in Jerusalem and Paul went there with their gifts. There was fellowship, understanding, concern for oneness of doctrine, but there is no evidence in the New Testament that they were under any kind of central episcopal control. Each church appears to have been concerned about its testimony and holiness of life, and in building up the new converts in the faith.
THE MYSTICAL CHURCH
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, sets forth the revelation of the Church as a Body, the life of which proceeds from Jesus the Risen Glorious Head in heaven. He is set by God far above all principality and power, and having put all things under His feet gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His Body. So just as the worldling has not the least vital idea of Jesus the Head in heaven so he has no knowledge whatsoever of the invisible Body of its Lord. The Church is a hidden company as peculiar as was our Lord in His day. Just as the carnal Ishmael taunted the spiritual Isaac even so the carnal thing that is called the visible church struts about amongst men, calling attention to itself, looks down with contempt upon the spiritual Body of Christ. But this mystical Church is composed of every believer from the day of Pentecost, in heaven and on earth, redeemed in the blood of Christ, sharing His life, sealed by His Spirit and testifying with joy and thanksgiving to His glorious salvation. It is the one eterna society amongst men and just as man in his sin is in the succession of Adam unto death so man redeemed out of his sin is in the succession of Jesus the Lord unto life. Finally there is-
THE GLORIOUS CHURCH
(Ephesians 5: 27) which Christ loves, for which He gave Himself, that He is sanctifying by the Word and that one day at His appearing He will present to Himself not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing. All those who are of the Body of Christ revealed in this epistle know in their own hearts the strength of the longing to be holy and the joyful anticipation of the high and holy estate to which by the grace of God they are destined to arrive.
Bearing in mind our destiny we shall understand our duty. The first duty of the individual believer and of the local company of believers is holiness. " Because it is written, Be ye holy ; for I am holy. " (Ist Peter 1:16). The holiness of God is the absolute consistency of His Being. Our concern is the consistency of all our thinking, speaking, doing, willing, planning, proposing, with all the good and perfect will of God. We shall make mistakes and often err, but this is the basic principle of life. We are to be holy because God calls us to be like Himself and by the Holy Spirit Who indwells the believer he shall now by the power of God make him holy. Before anything else believers must be concerned to be holy. It is impossible to be unholy and yet useful. Service is of doubtful value unless we are supremely concerned to be sanctified. Sanctification is the strength of service.
We are to bear witness to Jesus, the Saviour of the world, the Light of the world. Acts 1: 8 makes this plain beyond the shadow of a doubt. This is our duty to the world. We may be persuaded that we have duties and responsibilities and there will possibly be differences of judgment as to how far we are to embark upon social and other services, but let us be quite sure that first and foremost we are to bear witness to Jesus. Nothing can be a substitute for that. Acts of kindness are always good but they will be better if with them goes the testimony. It is the duty of every disciple to bear witness to Jesus.
With all this there is to be a patient understanding love between the Lord's gathered people. Human nature being what it is and our yielding to the Lord exposed to inconstancy we all stand in need of one another's tender and kindly understanding. Within the local fellowship each believer is to seek by the grace of God to manifest love, goodwill, kindness, forgiveness. We should greet one another with genuine love and consideration. If others irritate us let us see in the fact of our irritation an evidence that we lack the grace of Christ. However great the provocation it is the will of God that we should manifest a meek and quiet spirit, a forgiveness, and a tenderness that the Spirit of God dwelling within us may use to the glory of the Lord.
So we can see within the New Testament much light upon the Church. It is the company of those in heaven and earth who have heard the good news of salvation in the blood of Christ, who most earnestly and sincerely have renounced their sins, and believe in Him with all their hearts that He is able to save them. These have been received by the Lord and He has sealed them with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Each one thus sealed is in the Body of Christ for all eternity and is to seek the fellowship of all those who share the same experience.
Their first concern as a gathered company is as the Holy Spirit gives them light from the Word, to promote holiness of life as the supreme privilege of the Lord's people. In holiness of life they are to walk in love towards one another with much tenderness of heart, to succour one another and to help and encourage and inspire. They are to bear a testimony to the world of its need of Jesus believing that as they thus declare Him the Holy Spirit will do for those to whom they speak what He has done for them, and so shall be added continually to the Church such as are being eternally saved. For the great difference between the world and the Church is that in the world are to be found those who are unsaved. In the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ are those who are saved. The predominant passion of the saved is in holiness of life and in love one to another they may be the instruments of the Holy Spirit to rescue the unsaved and bring them into the company of the redeemed in Christ.
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