STUDY IX THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Scriptures references: 1 Corinthians 3:11; 3:6-9; Colossians 1:18; Acts 2:47; Ephesians 5:23-27; Matthew 16:16,18; 18:17; Acts 5:11,12; 13:1,2; 14:23; 16:5; 1 Corinthians 11:18-34; 12:28-31; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:14; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 12:22,23; Revelation 1:4,11,20; 2:7,11; 22:16; 22:12-15,17.
THE FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH
What is the Christian Church?—One of the best definitions is as follows: "The church consists of all who acknowledge the Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, the blessed Saviour of mankind, who give credit to His gospel, and who hold His sacraments, the seals of eternal life, in honour." Another definition is: "The church is a holy kingdom established by God on earth, of which Christ is the invisible King." There are some organizations calling themselves Christian churches which have substituted certain philosophical doctrines in place of the principles of Jesus Christ, but it is a fact of history that in proportion as the Divine Lordship of Christ has been exalted the greater has been the growth of the church. The church has been able to meet the needs of the people as He has been lifted up (John 12:32) that men might turn to Him for light and life (John 1:4; 8:12; 12:46; Matthew 11:27-30).
The Head of the Church is Jesus Christ. When Simon Peter made the declaration, "Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God," Jesus said unto him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church" (Matthew 16:16-18; Ephesians 2:20). "The question is, What is this rock? The Romanists say, 'It is Peter'; but Christ did not so say. His statement was, 'Thou art Petros and on this petra I will build My church.' The words are cognate but not identical; the former is masculine and the latter feminine; petra is a rock; Petros is a stone hewn out of the rock." When Christ uttered these words He was on His way to Jerusalem where He was to be crucified. In the face of the cross, the Master was preparing His disciples for a great trial and the time when, in bodily presence, He should depart from the earth. It was necessary that He should now speak plainly in regard to Himself and His mission.
Paul, in writing to the Colossians, said of Christ, "And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:18; compare Ephesians 1:22,23).
However Christian churches may differ from each other in form of government and in other matters they are united in the great essential doctrine of the Headship of Christ, this is their strong bond of union.
A Divine Institution.—The Christian church was not organized by any one man or a company of men, but was given to man as an expression of the compassion of God (John 3:16-21), that in it men might associate themselves together for the proper worship of God and that they might draw near to Him (Hebrews 10:19-25).
1. The beginning of the organization of the church was in the upper room, where Jesus partook of the last supper with His disciples (Matthew 26:20-30). Here He showed the significance of His death (v.28), His relation to the Father (John 14:9), and the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,17; 15:26,27). In the last instructions given by Jesus, and His prayer (John 14:1-17:26) we have a body of teaching which constitutes the basis of the faith of the church.
2. The completion of the organization of the church was in the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-24,32,36-41), which the disciples had been commanded to await in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 1:6-8,14). Those who accepted the word which had been preached through the Holy Spirit were baptized (2:41). "The Lord," not men, "added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).
Ordinances and Faith.—The church, with its ordinances of the Lord's Supper and Baptism, its faith in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, now begins its victorious career.
Human Elements.—The divine institution of the church has been subject to the admixture of human elements, there was a traitor amongst the twelve apostles. The organization and the doctrines have been tampered with in the interest of human ambitions and the pride of human philosophy, but no institution has shown itself so adapted to satisfy the great needs of men of all conditions of life, to purge itself when the human elements proved too great a burden, and to outlast all man-made organizations.
Authority and Teaching.—The church and its ministers have authority to teach through Christ and what He has commanded. There is a certain and quite definite body of truth. This body of truth, preached in the heart of heathendom or in the most fashionable church, in the most highly civilized country, is quite sure to produce certain definite results in awakening men from their sins and causing them to lead a new life. "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:15-20).
Jesus said, "All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you and lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 10:22; John 3:35; 5:32; 13:3; 17:2; Acts 2:36; Romans 14:9).
Paul said, "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Form.—The word church, in the New Testament, is used in three senses to denote the differences in the form.
1. The local congregation worshipping in a house (Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15) or a certain place as, "The church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Corinthians 1:2) and "the church of the Thessalonians" (1 Thessalonians 1:1). This is much the most frequent use of the word.
The Life of the Early Church, as we have seen, had its origin in Jesus Christ. Those who came into the church, did so because of their belief in Him and acceptance of Him as their Saviour.
2. The officers were appointed for certain necessary duties (Acts 6;20:17-23; Titus 1:5-7); it was the Lord who called men into certain vocations for the edifying of the church (Ephesians 4:11,12; 1 Corinthians 12:27,28).
4. The aim was to build up pure and godly lives (Titus 2:1-15) and to bring all men into fellowship with the Master. There was an intense enthusiasm for the faith and propagation of it. There was an extraordinary religious elevation and purity of conduct. The churches set themselves to eradicate the selfishness in man, out of which all forms of injustice sprang and aimed to affect the moral renovation of the individual and of society. There were abuses which arose out of the former lives of believers; it is surprising, considering the evil influences surrounding the early churches, that they were so few.
5. But there arose in the midst of a gross heathenism, with all its great immoralities, a rapidly growing community, which demanded purity of life and conduct from its communicants and supreme allegiance to Christ, the Lord and Saviour; how strong it was is shown by the fact that the Roman Empire tried to stamp it out, failed, and was taken captive itself by the religion it had despised.
THE WORK OF THE MODERN CHURCH
The Activities and methods of work have a wide range. What is highly successful in one community may prove, however, a failure in another. The means, which produce large results at one time, tried again in the same place, at another time, sometimes show small or no results.
The problem of each church and community needs to be studied, that means may be properly adjusted and adapted to the ends sought to be accomplished. It is remarkable how Jesus adapted Himself to the times and circumstances. He said to Peter and Andrew, "Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19); He spoke to them in a language they were able to comprehend; to fish for fish meant care, understanding of their habits and much toil to accomplish the desired results. In the conversations with Nicodemus and the women of Samaria Jesus arrives at the same end but uses entirely different means. The letters of Paul fit exactly the needs of the churches to which they are addressed.
It is the really earnest spirit desiring to bring men to Christ which will produce the largest results; this spirit appeals to men and compels them to listen; hence it is the cultivation of this spirit which is most earnestly commended. Mere machinery of effort is doomed to failure, but when the living spirit is in the wheels and is adequate to the moving of them, the results are sure to be large. The disciples of Christ knew all the facts about Christ's life, death and resurrection, but they were not equipped for their great work until after they had spent much time in prayer and the Holy Spirit had come in power; then they became mighty men in the upbuilding of the church.
Worship.—"Men not only need to be urged to be true to their consciences, but their consciences need to be informed." One of the great functions of the church is to teach men how to worship God aright; to do this they must have right thoughts about God. Jesus said, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Men must be led in their worship by a proper exposition of the Scriptures, by prayer and by praise. The place of the church in this matter is clearly defined in the New Testament, it can be taken by no other institution; and no other organization has so high a mission as this, to bring man into harmony with God.
Fellowship.—Man is a social being and he seeks contact with his fellow men. Many of the worldly ways in which this fellowship is sought are ways which lead to the wrecking of man, body and soul, or to the obliteration of all the finer feelings. The mission of the Christian Church is to strengthen the social bond by seeking to cultivate all the better impulses and finer feelings in man, and to place society on a firmer footing in love, purity and righteousness (1 John 1:3; 1:5; Acts 2:42; 1 Corinthians 1:9).
Bible Study.—Christianity is a book religion as well as one in which God enters into spiritual communion with man. The Church has ever acknowledged its duty to teach the Scriptures, for in them it finds the truths which it desires to inculcate (John 5:39).
Evangelization.—Beyond the bounds of the Church there are those, near and far away, who need to be taught about the gospel of Jesus Christ. More and more the church is feeling the responsibility for the welfare of individuals and of society and of the state. If there are great evils and giant wrongs which need to be remedied, they have their origin in the evil in men's hearts. For the cure of bad hearts there is no remedy in all the world save that given by Jesus Christ. Hence the activity of the church in seeking to evangelize men not only at home but throughout the world.
There are three things which every church needs to realize in order that this work may be prosecuted with the utmost vigour and enthusiasm.
1. A clear conception of what the church is and its relations to God and man.
3. That the only real help or salvation of man's soul is through our Divine Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; 16:30,31; Philippians 2:10; 1 John 2:12; Romans 10:13; 1 John 1:7,9; Matthew 9:6).
The Equipment for the carrying on and extension of this work cannot be too good. The cause frequently lags from making it one of the interests of life and not the chief care. Every church building should express in usefulness and beauty, in all its appointments, man's thought of a temple erected to the great and living God.
THE HOPE OF THE CHURCH
The Establishment of the Kingdom of God Upon Earth.—The prophets of the Old Testament had two great thoughts which they continually presented, namely, the coming of the Messianic King and the establishment of the Messianic kingdom. Isaiah said, "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder and He shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end" (9:6,7).
When John the Baptist came, he proclaimed the coming of this King and kingdom (Matthew 3:11,12; John 1:1-28) and when he saw Jesus he said, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is preferred before me: for He was before me" (John 1:29-33). "And I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God" (v.34).
Jesus spoke much about His kingdom, the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. He sought to explain by many parables and by direct discourse what this kingdom was like; it is mentioned by name many times in the New Testament (Matthew 13:11,19,24,31,33,44,45,47, 52; 22:2; 25:1). He claimed that He was the Messianic King (Matthew 26:63,64; 27:11,37; 26:53,54; 16:16,17; John 14:9; Luke 22:67,69; John 18:37; Mark 14:61,62), and the Son of God. He declared that before Him all nations should come to be judged (Matthew 25:31-46). As in the Old Testament so in the New Testament the world-wide character of this kingdom of God is plainly shown.
There are Four Conceptions of the Kingdom of God set forth in the Bible.1. The reign of God over all His creatures.2. The reign of God over men and nations.3. The reign of God over Israel. 4. "The reign of God as Divine Love over human hearts, believing in Him and constrained thereby to yield Him grateful affection and devoted love." It is this fourth conception which is most prominently set forth in the New Testament. The special work of Christ on earth was to reveal the supreme rule of Divine Love.
The Church and the Kingdom.—It is the care of the church to forward the establishment of this kingdom of Divine Love everywhere, in the heart of the individual, in society, in the business world and in the national life. For this we pray, as Christ taught us, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
What is the Christian Church? Define it. Who is the Head of the church? How is the church a divine institution? What can be said of the beginning and completion of the organization? What are the ordinances? What can be said of the human elements? Where is the authority and ground of teaching? What can be said of the forms? What can be said of the life of the early church? What is the chief end of the church? What can be said of the activities of the modern church? What of the worship? What of the fellowship? What three things are necessary to keep clearly in mind, in the work of evangelization? What ought the church equipment to be? What is the hope of the church? What are the four conceptions of the Kingdom of God? What is the chief conception? What can be said of the church and the kingdom?