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What the Bible Teaches--A Guide to Total Christian Commitment
by Rev. James McRobbie    ©Pillar of Fire, International 
"The word church is not to be misconstrued with a structure, a denomination, or a class of people."
Learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit for personal holiness through Sanctification

[Bottom of page] [The Living Word] [Back: Chapter 14] [Next: Chapter 16] [Index]
Chapter 15 Contents: [The Christian Church] [Significance and Commission] [Membership] [Church Polity] [Sacraments] [Purpose of the Church] [Church Period and Consummation]

 [What the Bible Teaches refers to numerous passages from the Bible. Your study will be greatly
enhanced by looking up the verses as you go along. If you want to look up Bible verses online as you study, clicking here will open up "The Bible Gateway" in a new window. You may then use the title buttons on your browser screen to move back and forth between the Bible and this study. All quotations in What the Bible Teaches are from the King James Version [KJV] unless otherwise specified.]

Chapter 15: What the Bible Teaches ABOUT THE CHURCH

In one way or another I take it that God has always had a church. The Jewish people had their temple, their mode of worship, their organized priesthood, and the Levitical tribal dedication to the service of the Lord. Stephen made reference to that when, in his famous apology, he said, "This is he, that was with the church in the wilderness" [Acts 7:38]. Long before Moses' time, Melchizedek, a priest of God and beautiful type of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom even Abraham gave tithes, stood out conspicuously in those days when as yet there was no given code of laws. Abel represented this nucleus. Following him was the lineage of Seth, of which came Enoch and Noah. Job represented God's witness on the earth in his time.

The Christian Church

    The foundation of the New Testament Church is built upon the "apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" [Ephesians 2:20]. Here the church comes under the beautiful emblem of a temple, a building, the purpose of which is, for "an habitation of God through the Spirit" [Ephesians 2:22]. Coupled with this thought is Christ's word to Peter in Matthew 16, which is so highly stressed by the Roman Catholics: "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" [verse 18]. Apart from the scriptural interpretation of this passage, our good judgment tells us that weak, vacillating Peter would be a poor rock on which to build such a universal structure as the church. Our Lord said, "Thou art petros (meaning a small rock, a cut rock, as a piece cut out of a quarry), but upon this petra (meaning this great substrata rock, which of course is Himself, also including the revelation of His divinity to Peter by the Father) I will build my church." But, say the Roman Catholics, Peter received the "keys of the kingdom." But so did they all; he was just representative. [See Matthew 18:18 with verse 1.] Peter, however, as spokesman and representative of the others, was the outstanding personality at the inauguration of the great Pentecostal movement. In the main, the first twelve chapters of the Acts are connected with his ministry. To say that because of this and our Lord's words in Matthew 16, that the church was founded on Peter, as the Romanists do, is consummate folly. You will remember that Paul had to rebuke Peter and even contend against him [Galatians 2: 1, 14].
    The initiating, guiding and sustaining power in the early church was the Holy Spirit. The birth of the Christian church took place on that memorable occasion "when the day of Pentecost was fully come." The hundred and twenty men and women waiting in the "upper room" in Jerusalem were all baptized with the Holy Ghost. Immediately they began to put into practice their divine commission, for great power came upon them and they preached as "the Spirit gave them utterance," and all those present realized that some supernatural power was in their midst, for all heard them in their "own language."
    In this way the greatest organization the world has even known was divinely attested and inaugurated. It marked the beginning of the church age, sometimes called the age of the Spirit, the Gentiles, or grace. The incomparable story of the church from that day to this presents an epic of reckless self-sacrifice, dauntless courage, and indefatigable zeal beyond all comparison. Contemplate the character, labors and consecration of those who have made up its members through the passing centuries! There are first of all its preachers, from the ministries of Peter and Paul down to our own time. You can name a list by heart. Then there have been those who have molded the church's theology, from Paul and Augustine down to the present day. The record of the faith and exhaustless labors of the gallant band of foreign missionaries is an invigorating study. Consider the legacy of inspiration, beauty and comfort the hymn writers of the church have bequeathed to us in verse and heavenly melody! In a less conspicuous role perhaps, but nonetheless important, have been the devoted lay membership of the church, constituting all classes of business, professional and working men and women, who have cheerfully dedicated their means, talents, and moral support to its advancement.
    The Sunday School, which ranks second to none among the influences for good in the world, is an organization of recent inception. The idea of the Sunday school for children as a direct adjunct of the church was first put into practice by Robert Raikes at Gloucester [Scotland] in 1780.

Significance and Commission

    The word church is not to be misconstrued with a structure, a denomination or a class of people. The Greek word for church, ecclesia, signifies the called-out ones, comprising all who respond to the call of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the Word or otherwise, and who exercise "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:21], and who, through the blood of Jesus Christ, are cleansed from all sin. There is not a sinner in it and not a saint out of it. It comprises the bloodwashed of all ages; it is the "whole family in heaven and earth" of the redeemed, the militant church -- the church on earth fighting the battle against sin and Satan; the church triumphant -- those who have triumphed in the faith and gone to be with Jesus to wait the first resurrection when they will be crowned and rewarded.
    The moving and directing power that was ever and always conspicuous in the early church was the Holy Ghost [Acts 13:2, 4, 9]. "It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us" [Acts 15:28], said Peter, showing the controlling and guiding influence the Spirit exercised in apostolic times.
    The further work of the Holy Spirit in the church was the unification of its members through His anointing and sanctifying power. The purpose of the various ministries of the church is to lead to a unity of faith. The church of Christ is not divided; it is made one by the Holy Spirit, and as there is "one Spirit and one baptism" [Ephesians 4:4], so there can be but one church. Even members of the respective denominations who are truly forgiven and indwelt and cleansed by the Holy Spirit are all of one mind and spirit.
    The commission of the church is simple: it is to "preach the gospel," to "make disciples of all nations." Simple though it be, through the preaching of the "good news," God is pleased to save those who believe. How great the responsibility -- "How shall they hear without a preacher?" How absurd! -- "To all who perish foolishness." What blessing to all who obey it! -- "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach." What condemnation to all who refuse! -- "Woe is me if I preach not the gospel." How universal! -- "Go ye into all the world;" preach to "every creature;" make disciples of "all nations."
    Omnipotence stands behind the preacher: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth -- Go ye therefore." Note, too, the assurance: "Lo, I am with you alway." His presence is not to be doubted; it is not a question. It is not, I may be with you; I will be with you, but, "I am with you."
 

Membership

    Those who constitute the membership of God's family, the church, must of necessity be born into it. This was how our Lord explained the kingdom of heaven to Nicodemus. His word was, "Ye must be born anew" (R.V.) -- "born of water," typical of the washing away of our sins; "born of the Spirit," showing it is spiritual, of God, supernatural, and the impartation of the life of God through the Spirit.
    Paul's word to the Corinthians was that "if any man be in Christ he is a new creation." In Christ life begins all over again.
    "As newborn babes," is the word St. Peter uses, and St. Paul said that he was born "out of due season."
    An infant is equally as much one of the family as an adult. Yet among members of the family circle, there is a time when adulthood is reached. So it may be said, that the "new birth" into the church is but initial -- the infant stage of membership in God's family; and that it takes the enduing of the Spirit in the sanctification of the believer's heart, to baptize him into the body in full membership. To change the figure, we are "betrothed" to Christ in regeneration and "married" to Him in sanctification.
    What did Paul say to the church at Corinth? "I have fed you with milk (as babes)" (1 Cor. 1:3), because they had not as yet received the fulness of the Spirit in sanctification. They were unstable like children; they had envyings, strife and divisions among them (1 Cor. 3:3; Eph. 4:14).

Church Polity

    It is said that Christ "ordained twelve, that they should he with him" (Mark 3:14). The record does not tell us how He did this. It signified their dedication to Him by which they were set apart from their former secular employments. Timothy was evidently ordained by the "laying on of hands of the presbytery" [1 Tim. 4:14]. Titus was counseled by Paul to "ordain elders in every city" when he was left in Crete [Tit. 1:5].
    The word bishop in the Greek is episcopos, and means "overseers." It is translated "bishop" in 1 Timothy 3:1-2, and "overseers" in Acts 20:28. Paul's charge was to the "elders of Ephesus." There were then in the early church the overseers, the elders, the presbyters, the deacons. An elder was an officer in the church; it did not necessarily imply seniority in years; but spiritual seniority. Peter called himself an elder: "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder" (1 Peter 5:1).
    There were some called the "pillars" of the church; they were outstanding in the supervision and direction of the new movement. "James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars" (Gal. 2:9), said Paul. In Acts 15, at the Jerusalem council, Peter and James were apparently vested with special authority.
    In Acts 6 we see the choosing of the first seven deacons, although this name is not applied to them there. A deacon was primarily to be responsible for the temporal economy of the church, but in this instance at least, two of them became eminent speakers. Deacons were to have a sevenfold qualification [1 Tim. 3:8, 10], and they were set apart with prayer and the laying on of hands.
    In the early churches three things are clear: (1) all churches had services; (2) officers were then appointed; (3) the sacraments were administered.
    In order to promote the ministry of the Word and the spiritual edification and perfection of Christ's body, the church, we see by Ephesians 4:11 that God endued various ones with special gifts for their respective ministries. Some were to act as apostles. They were the pioneers; they were the "sent" ones, as the word would indicate. This was the special title of those who had seen the Lord. It applies to all who are truly sent of God. "Prophets" come next on the list, signifying those who foretell, or forthtell. They were to speak to "edification, exhortation, and comfort;" they were to expound the promises of God relating to future hope and eternal destiny. "Evangelists" would apply to those with the special gift of awakening sinners, conducting revivals and establishing churches. "Pastors" have reference to those in charge of a church, the word signifying shepherds. Some were to act as "teachers," being gifted and qualified to inoculate true doctrine and to unfold the hidden mysteries of the Word.
    Women also are shown to have had a prominent place in the apostolic church. In Paul's salutation in Romans 16, their names are placed side by side with the names of the men. Women labored with Paul "in the gospel." Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, had four daughters "which did prophesy" (Acts 21:9). The words in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 are not to be misconstrued as a prohibition of the work of women in the gospel, for this refers solely to domesticity.
    The two verses more than all others that have been used to prohibit the preaching of the gospel by women are those in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. How futile is this contention when the verses are examined. Verse 34 says: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak." Note the next verse: "If they will learn anything." They were not teaching or preaching at all. It is clearly seen that they were desirous of learning; they were talking in the church during the sermon asking questions, asking what the minister was saying. They were eager to know the meaning of his words, so they kept babbling. The words "to speak," used here, mean to babble or gabble. Paul was writing to prohibit them from babbling, not from preaching. He did not desire them to remain in ignorance, but said they were to "ask their husbands at home" -- not in the church. Besides, these were evidently married women, nothing is said about the unmarried. Perhaps they were not making a noise in the church. Strange, isn't it, that learned,  dignified divines would use this to close the mouths of women in the work of declaring  God's truth and the winning of souls!
    In 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul confirms the fact that women did "prophesy." Just what it is to prophesy is seen when compared with 1 Corinthians 14:3. This is nothing less than preaching the gospel.
 

Sacraments

    The word sacrament means sacred rite. The Protestant churches observe two as obligatory -- baptism and the Lord's supper. These have nothing whatever to do with our justification or sanctification. "Baptism is an "outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace." It does not create the spiritual grace. Seeing that it is wholly external, the much argumented mode of its administration makes little difference. The Lord's supper, too, has been the object of much controversy. Yet the words of I Corinthians 11:23-26 are so plain that no argument should be necessary. This is to show the "Lord's death till he come," and, since we are still partaking of it, it is conclusive that the Lord has not yet appeared.
    The Greek and Roman Catholics, who are exceptionally fond of pomp and ceremony, have seven sacraments. They are: The Lord's supper, baptism, confirmation, penance, holy orders, matrimony and extreme unction [or the anointing of the sick].
 

Purpose of the Church

    God's purpose in and through the church is that it may serve as a witness for Him before a sinning world. When Christ spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples, He said: "Ye shall be witnesses" (Acts 1:8). In this they were to imitate their Lord and Master who came into the world for this sole purpose. The gospel is to be preached in all the world "for a witness unto all nations." When this is fully accomplished the "end" will come. The world is to be evangelized, but that does not mean that it is to be converted in this age.
    The second great purpose of God in and through the church is to "take out of them a people for his name" (Acts 15:14). The ones He is taking out are those who respond to the call of the Holy Spirit. They are  those who renounce the devil and his works; who see the emptiness of the world's glory and the transitoriness of all earthly things, who cast themselves upon Christ and who find joy and contentment in doing His will.
    Christ tasted death for every human being (Heb. 2:9, W.), but that does not mean that all are to be saved, for such was never in the mind of God. Christ "gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world" (Gal. 1:4). The evil world will go on in its gambling, Sabbath breaking, revelry, worldly pleasure, and fortune seeking; but the bride of Christ, though in the world, does not set her heart on these things; she has a heavenly citizenship and divine call, and is eagerly looking for the return of her divine Lord and King.
 

Church Period and Consummation

    The church period had a definite beginning and it is to have a definite ending. The character of the church age has been prophetically given to us in the seven churches of Revelation [chs. 2-3), with which is linked the seven parables of Matthew 13. This makes an interesting study. Ephesus corresponds to the parable of the sower. It represents the first period or apostolic church era, covering the period from Pentecost to the death of John, about 100 A.D. Smyrna and the parable of the wheat and tares, represents the next church period which reached from the apostolic age to the time of Constantine, at the beginning of the fourth century. It was a period of intense persecution, yet the church kept pure until Constantine embraced the Christian faith, figuratively, the sowing of the tares, when pagan rites and heathen superstitions became incorporated into church worship. Next is Pergamos and the parable of the mustard seed. In this period is seen the development and the organization of the Papacy -- from the Constantinian period to the crowning of the first Pope. The church period which Thyatira represents is in conjuncfion with the parable of the leaven, and covers a thousand years, roughly from the sixth to the sixteenth century -- the period so often referred to as the "dark ages." The light that rose to dispel the gloom and superstition of the dark ages was the Protestant Reformation which is seen under the emblem of the church of Sardis and the fifth parable -- the finding of the hidden treasure. The next period, that of Philadelphia and the parable of the pearl of great price, coincide with the great missionary movement of the last two hundred years and the Wesleyan revival. The last church period, the one in which we are now living, is to manifest the Laodicean characteristics of lukewarmness. Here, too, is the last parable, that of the dragnet, signifying the end of the church dispensation and judgment; the good are gathered into vessels, the bad are cast away, to which is added: "So will it be at the close of the age. The angels will go forth and separate the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into a fiery furnace. There shall be weeping aloud and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:49-50; W.).
     The consummation and glorification of the church will take place at the rapture. Then the "dead in Christ" will be raised and the living saints will be "caught up" to meet the Lord in the air. Associated with this will be a three-fold miracle: (1) the miracle of the resurrection -- the "dead in Christ shall rise first;" (2) the miracle of instant change-- "we shall all be changed" -- we will receive glorified bodies; [3) the miracle of translation -- "we shall be caught up." [See 1 Thess. 4:13-17; I Cot. 15:51-54.)
    The church will escape "all these things" that are to come upon the earth (Luke 21:36), by which we understand that it will be taken away before the outbreak af the tribulation wars upon the nations. The individual members of the church, caught up to be with the Lord, will be rewarded, after which they will return with Him and the redeemed of all ages to sit with Him on His throne, the throne of David. The saints will then be associated with Him during His reign of righteousness upon the earth (Rev. 20), after which, throughout the eternal ages, they shall make up the Holy City, and enter into their inheritance in Christ, and enjoy those things which their faithful Creator has laid up for those who love Him.
    Now, in our earthly probationary relationship the Spirit calls one and all to forsake the world and sin, so soon to be judged, to surrender self, to take Christ as God's sufficient and only remedy for the sinful soul, and thus become one of the "members in particular" of His glorious church.
Have you answered the Spirit's call?
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