Ecclesiology

The term eKKA^aia, translated church or assembly, means a calledout company. Its counterpart in the Old Testament is the congregation; but Israel's congregation was never the true Church of the New Testament. Israel constituted nevertheless an assembly in the wilderness (Acts 7:38) as did the mob of Ephesus in the theater likewise (Acts 19:32, 41). The deeper spiritual use of the word church refers to a company of saved people who are by their salvation called out from the world into living, organic union with Christ to form His mystical Body over which He is the Head. That outward form of church which is a mere assembly of people must be restricted to those of one generation, indeed of one locality, and may include the unsaved as well as the saved. Over against this, the Church which is Christ's Body and Bride is composed of people of all generations since the Church began to be, is not confined to one locality, and includes only those who are actually saved. The spiritual meaning is thus seen to be far removed from mere recognition of a building which may be called a church, a congregation however organized, or any form of sectarian constituency.

The Pauline doctrine of the true or spiritual Church is second only in importance to the doctrine of salvation by grace. That salvation of which he wrote leads to and provides the supernatural material out of which the true Church is being formed. The two taken together constitute what the Apostle termed "my gospel." Both of the doctrines which composed his gospel were a revelation to the Apostle directly from God (Gal. 1:11-12; Eph. 3:1-6). Each revelation concerned hitherto unannounced and, up to the Day of Pentecost, nonexisting conceptions. Exception to this general statement may be found in the doctrinal patterns set forth by certain Old Testament types which foreshadow phases of truth belonging to the Church alone, and as well by the first twelve chapters of John's Gospel in which Christ is held up as a Savior of the lost, though in anticipation of that qualification as Savior which was afterwards gained through His actual death and resurrection. That the true Church was only an anticipation during the earthly ministry of Christ may be demonstrated in various ways. Christ Himself declared it to be yet future (Matt. 16:18), a crucified and risen Savior had not yet become the Object of saving faith (Gal. 3:23-25), and no one could believe in or preach the present grace-salvation at a time when he did not believe that Christ would die or be raised from the dead (Luke 18:31-34). There could be no Church until it was purchased with His precious blood (Eph. 5:25-27), until He arose to give it resurrection life (Col. 3:1-3), until He ascended to be the Head over all things to the Church (Eph. 1:20-23), or until the Spirit came on Pentecost through whom the Church might be formed into one Body and through whom the Church might be co-ordinated by His indwelling presence.

God has four classes of intelligent creatures in His universe—angels, Gentiles, Jews, and Christians—and there is more difference to be observed between Christians and either Jews or Gentiles than between angels and Jews or Gentiles. Should this statement seem extreme, it must be because the true and exalted character of the Christian is not comprehended. No angel is a son of God by actual generating birth from above, nor is any angel made to stand before God in the nA^pw^a—i.e., fullness—of Christ (John 1:16), which fullness is the nA^pw^a of the Godhead bodily (Col. 2:9-10).

Human history on earth has extended at least six thousand years. This long time may be divided into three periods of approximately two thousand years each: from Adam to Abraham two thousand years, with but one stock or kind of people in the world; from Abraham to Christ another two thousand years, with two kinds of people in the world—Gentiles and Jews, and from Christ's first advent to the present and indeed to His second advent, with three kinds of people in the world—Gentiles, Jews, and Christians.

No Scripture is addressed to angels and very little to Gentiles. About three-fourths of the Bible concerns Israel directly and about one-fourth concerns the Church. Failure to discern between Judaism and Christianity, as the case is with many theologians, proves misleading and wholly without excuse. No attitude of men toward God's truth is more revelatory respecting their habitual neglect of a personal, unprejudiced study of the Bible than the implications and suppositions which some advance concerning God's purpose in the world. That He has been doing but one thing and following but one purpose on earth is a farreaching error.

There is abundant Scripture to indicate that the present divine purpose must be the outcalling of the Church from both Gentiles and Jews.

Seven figures are employed in the New Testament to set forth the relation which exists between Christ and the Church. All seven are needed to the end that the whole revelation respecting this relationship may be disclosed. In connection with each figure and as its parallel there is a similar truth to be observed regarding Israel. (1) Christ is the Shepherd and Christians are the sheep. Israel, too, was the flock of God and the sheep of His pasture. This language brings out Christ's shepherd care and the helplessness of His sheep. (2) Christ is the Vine and believers of today are the branches. Israel was Jehovah's vineyard. This comparison speaks of Christ's strength and life being imparted, without which nothing could be done to enhance His glory. (3) Christ is the chief Cornerstone and Christians are the building. Israel had a temple, but the Church is a living temple for the habitation of God through the Spirit. Here the figure conveys the thought of interdependence and indwelling. (4) Christ is the High Priest and New Testament believers are a kingdom of priests. Israel had a priesthood; the Church in its entirety is a priesthood. This figurative speech introduces truth respecting worship and service. (5) Christ is the Head of the Church which is the Body. Israel was a commonwealth, an organized nation; the Church is an organism very much alive by reason of partaking of one life and being related to its living Head. This comparison speaks of vital relationship and of gifts for service. (6) Christ is the Head of a New Creation and Christians are with Him in that Creation as its vital members. Israel was of the old creation and attached to the earth; the Church is of the New Creation and related to heaven. This figure dwells upon the believer's marvels of position and standing, since he is in Christ. (7) Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is the Bride. Israel was the repudiated (yet to be restored) wife of Jehovah; the Church is the espoused virgin Bride of Christ. This relationship for Christians, foreseen in various types, is all of another sphere and future. It sets forth the glory of Christ in which the Church as His Bride will share above. What marvelous things are wrought in this company of believers that they should become suitable as a bride for the Second Person of the Godhead and such a one as will ravish His heart throughout all eternity!

Pauline Ecclesiology is divided into three major divisions of doctrine: (1) the Church which is Christ's Body, His Bride, His fullness (John 1:16; Col. 2:9-10), and He is made full in them (Eph. 1:22-23); (2) the local church, which is an assembly composed of those who in any locality profess to be followers of Christ; and (3) the high calling for a daily life in conformity with the position which the believer sustains, being in Christ. Along with this is the doctrine of the empowering, indwelling Spirit by whom alone the high calling can be realized. It is evident from the Bible that God had a rule of life for Israel which was the Law of Moses, and that He will yet have a legal requirement for them in the future kingdom. It is equally evident that He has indicated the manner of life which belongs to the Christian, and that it rests not on a merit basis, but calls for a life to be lived on the exalted standards of heaven itself. Let no student imagine that he has progressed far in sound doctrine if he does not comprehend the consistent teaching of the New Testament which declares that the Christian is not under the Law of Moses or any other form of obligation which has for aim the securing of merit.

It is never taught in the Scriptures that Israel as a nation will appear in heaven, though this destiny is open at present to individual believers from among the Jews. The destiny of the nation is earthly, extending on forever into the new earth which is yet to be. The destiny of the Church is heavenly. As His Bride and Body, the Church will be with the Bridegroom and Head wherever He goes.

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