What is The Church? (Part 6)

What is The Church (Part 6)
Robert Wurtz II

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14 NKJV)

Our passage tells us that Christ gave Himself to die on the cross so that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. The us is this passage are they who are the heirs to the righteousness of God that is by faith. God started this assembly with a few individuals scattered through the book of Genesis, but then he called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to bring about a people as numerous as the stars of Heaven or the sand by the sea shore. When we reach the book of Exodus God reiterates this objective:

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. (Exodus 19:5 KJV)

God reminded Israel in Deut. 14:2, 26:18, and Psalm 135:4 of their status as a “peculiar treasure.” When we get to the New Testament we find God’s people described similarly as in Titus 2 and again in 1 Peter 2:9. The word “peculiar” in this context does not mean they are weird (though the world may esteem them as such); but rather, they are uniquely God’s possession. The NASB renders 1 Peter 2:9:

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you eout of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. (1 Peter 2:9-10 NASB) 

We know that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He owns the Universe and everything and everyone in it. Simply put, everything belongs to God. However, God wanted a people to be uniquely His own. He wanted people made in His own image. In the language of the writer to the Hebrews, He is bringing many sons unto glory (Hebrews 2:10). As the Creator, God owns everybody; but He purchased with His own blood – from all humanity – an assembly of people that could be purified into a special people, with God’s desires and attitudes, committed to living by every word that is proceeding from His mouth. 

After His Kind

Jesus started out with twelve Disciples. From those twelve, hundreds of others were added at Pentecost. However, we need to make note of a principal in scripture and nature that traces its roots to the book of Genesis in order to understand this process. Here God commanded saying: Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. (Genesis 1:11) As with trees and grass – so with people. Apple trees bring forth apple trees. Walnut trees don’t bring forth peach trees. This is common sense. So we understand that ministers will generally bring forth after their own kind as well. So it is essential that the ones preaching the Gospel be the first partakers of the grace and power of the Gospel. Unholy men do not produce holy men. Moreover, men that do not understand God’s design and purpose in purchasing for Himself a unique possession are not qualified to handle the Gospel. God has to prepare the ministers before they are qualified to preach. Otherwise, they will gather an assembly, but it will not be what God is wanting. 

When Jesus ascended into Heaven He sent the Holy Spirit to inhabit a group of followers that had committed to being His disciples. The name of the Spirit signifies His prime characteristic: holy. Without holiness no person will see God. The issue is front and center in God’s mind. We have a picture of the process of God perfecting Holiness in man in the story of Israel in Egypt. God called His “Firstborn” – His unique possession out of Egypt. Understand that Egypt is a type of this present evil world, Pharaoh was a type of Satan, and their slavery and bondage was a form of Sin and its oppressive characteristics. The Disciples heard the call to follow Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are “coming out from among them to be separate and to touch not the unclean things.” Figuratively, they had gone through the Passover with the blood applied and were now preparing to head out, once and for all, from their “Egypt.” This was their calling and destiny. The Holy Spirit was coming to perfect their holiness in the fear of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 7:1-2) In a word, the Holy Spirit was for the holy nation. He assists in bringing about God’s purposes in making us God’s unique treasure in the whole earth. 

The disciples had heard the teachings of the Pharisees and scribes as they tried to lead the people in their understanding of holiness. They were bringing forth after their own kind. This is why Jesus said, Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 13:15 NKJV) The problem is that they were better at teaching the holiness than living it. (Matthew 23:1-7) It was hypocrisy. God wants holiness of heart. This means we are clean on the inside of our hearts and minds from things that would offend God. 

Only the Holy Spirit can convict a person of their sin – particularly their inward sins (sins of the heart). This is why the Disciples needed to come under the yoke of Christ. Only God knows what the true controversy is between Him and the individual. Men may guess, but God has a priority list of things He wants dealt with. The Holy Spirit has come to make known the mind of Christ to individuals. From now on the Disciples would take their orders from Him. Christ is their Master and Savior. The consequence of this will be a group of people unlike any on the face of the earth. They will be God’s unique people, doing His will and in agreement with Him. 

A Holy People For a Holy Calling

God’s call to individuals is a High and Heavenly Calling (Phil. 3:14; Hebrews 3:1). This is a calling from Heaven and to Heaven (Vincent). Therefore, the men and women God uses to minister this Heavenly Calling must be moving in that High Calling themselves. Unlike the Pharisees who taught the people but did not do it themselves, God’s ministers must be pressing towards the mark for the prize as they are preaching or they are not qualified to call others to the same. 

After Pentecost the disciples began fulfilling the Great Commission. Jesus commanded them saying, Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 18:18) From this point forward this is what the disciples had done. Now the words will be fulfilled that were spoken Matthew 16:18, And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. 

The Book of Acts Pattern

A close look at the book of Acts shows a pattern of repentance, faith, water baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit as normative for becoming a Christian (Disciple). However, as Paul was leaving Ephesus for the last time he was very concerned that things would not continued as they were designed to. Whereas Ephesus had been built with genuine disciples that had truly repented, were baptized in water, and had received the Holy Spirit, a group would arise that would move them away from the evangelistic practices that they had used at first. They left Christ, their first love. It is my estimation that this leaving of Christ can be traced back to individuals growing cold in the Lord and then replicating that coldness in making disciples. In other words, carnality gives birth to carnality. The only solution was to preach the Gospel again and allow the people to respond to God for real. This is why Jesus told them in Revelation 2 that they must “repent and do the first works.” What were the first works? They were the things that the first members of the church had done when they first believed in order to establish that church. It is beyond the scope of our study here, but a close examination of the church at Ephesus in the book of Acts is very insightful in showing how churches were established in the beginning. The lesson here is that Biblical evangelistic practices are essential to a successful church. If we marginalize this truth we are destined for disaster. 

A Pure Church

Since the beginning of the Church at Pentecost, there have been Christians who were concerned with its purity. “Too much corruption” has been the cry of those that were vexed by the unrighteousness that has existed within. Not only have corrupt forms of worship or false doctrines been of concern, but also corrupt membership. From the Apostle Paul unto this very day there have been those that sought to protect the churches from wicked persons. In the early days of the Church it was easier to keep such persons out because of the persecution associated with converting to Christianity; however, over time, as Christianity became more accepted, the ungodly have knocked at the doors. Knowing that we all are capable of sin, the doorkeepers, under the constraint of their own frailness, have often allowed all but the vilest of sinners inside. As a reaction to this practice, whole sects have popped up within Christianity in an attempt to form on earth a Church “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”

The Donatists

It would be useful at this point to point out some events that took place in the centuries following the book of Acts. In 303 AD a Roman Emperor by the name of Diocletian came to power and sorely persecuted the churches. Many Christians were put to death. Some Christians renounced Christ as a result, and some handed over names of other Christians, as well as sacred writings to be burned. These people were known as traditors (Latin meaning “to turn over”). After Diocletian’s death some of these people attempted to rejoin the Christians. One of these traditors, named Caecilian, had returned to the fold and was consecrated Bishop of Carthage in North Africa. This did not sit well with those that believed that persecution was a means of detecting who was and who was not a legitimate believer. Those who rebelled against him appointed Majorinus as a rival bishop; however, Majorinus died shortly after and Donatus took his place to continue the rejection of such compromise. The group separated from the Church and came to be known abusively as Donatists. Their actions were considered divisive and uncharitable to those that wanted to forgive and forget.

In answer to the Donatists, Augustine devised a theory of the Church, which was to guide orthodox Christian thought on the subject. There were, according to Augustine, two churches. One was the pure but invisible; it included every person living, dead, or yet to be born, whom God had predestined for salvation. The other was visible but not entirely pure; it included all living persons who professed to believe in Christianity. Since not all people that profess Christ are true believers, the “visible church” could not be without spot or wrinkle. Augustine, however, did believe that we should strive to maintain purity within the Church by excluding gross sinners until they visibly repented of their sins. Nevertheless, we were set on course for a time when churches accepted membership of individuals who had little or no testimony to the grace of God working in their lives. 

Church and church 

It is my understanding of the New Covenant that there are only two ways the word church is used. The first is “The Church.” The Church (ecclesia) is similar to how Augustine put it, it includes every person living, dead, or yet to be born, who is written in the Lambs Book of Life. The other way the word church is used is for the local church. The church that assembled at Ephesus was a local church. All of the Saints down through the ages comprise “The Church.” According to the pattern set forth by Jesus in the Revelation, He deals with  local churches ministering to their needs. As the people gather into an assembly and turn their hearts to Him – He begins to deal with the church according to its specific needs. Revelation 2 and 3 gives seven examples of how this plays out. The key is that the people must have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to them. If they hear and obey they will be rewarded, if they do not they will suffer the appropriate consequence. 

So we see then that the Church and the church are comprised of genuine saints that have been born of the Spirit. They are TRUE disciples of Christ and are bent on having Him direct their lives. This is true individually and as an assembly. The saints gather together to remember the Lord, give thanks to Him, honor and praise Him. They assemble to hear from the Lord and to be built up by His grace. These things are done to ensure that the church fulfills its calling to be God’s unique and special possession. Any alteration of the Biblical principals set forth in our study are bound to compromise the capacity of the church or the individual to move in their unique calling. 

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