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The Church and the Churches

Written by: Vine M.A., W.E.    Posted on: 08/19/2007

Category: Theology



        I Introductory
        2 The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven
        3 The Body of Christ
        4 A Fourfold Description of the Church
        5 The Father's Family
        6 "The Unity of the Spirit"
        7 The Building Up of the Body of Christ
        8 The Church the Object of Christ's Love


        9 Local Churches
        10 "Jesus is Lord"
        11 Spiritual Gifts
        12 Ministry and Deacons
        13 Baptism
        14 "The Table of the Lord" and "The Lord's Supper"
        15 "Reception"
        16 Church Discipline
        17 Giving
        18 The Church, the Churches, and the Scriptures
        19 Local Church Characteristics
        20 The Position and Service of Sisters



In matters of doctrine it is of vital importance that the authority upon which we act shall be one on which we can unhesitatingly rely. There are those who advocate that such authority is vested in the Church. This at once introduces certain questions for our consideration, namely, what the Church is, and what are its calling, constitution and destiny. No claim to authority on the part of any man, or company of men, can be admitted, till it is proved to be well founded. We do not acquiesce in anyone's demands simply because he puts them forward.


It is axiomatic that the Church is the possession of Christ. if Christ were non-existent, there would be no Church. That there is a Church at all rests upon the basic facts of His Incarnation, His Atoning Death and His Resurrection, and upon the fulfillment of His prophetic announcement, "I will build My Church."

Our knowledge of this statement by our Lord is derived from the writings of the New Testament. These are indeed the chief sources from which comes our knowledge of Christ Himself, of the claims He made and the work He accomplished. This would involve, were it necessary here, the accumulation of proofs that the contents of the New Testament consist of authentic historical details and teachings and Divinely inspired writings. The subject of the authenticity, authority and inspiration of Scripture has been adequately dealt with elsewhere and will not be taken up in these pages. Suffice it to say that the evidence of Holy Scripture is of primary importance; all other evidence can be only subsidiary to it. As to their validity, the New Testament books were written by men who lived both in the time and in the country in which Christ lived, by men who wrote immediately for the generation that was born before Christ died, and many of the writers had been witnesses of the events they narrated. Where the writers had not personal experience of some of the events they recorded they had ample means of verifying the statements they made. All the evidence, external and internal, establishes their veracity. The very contrast of the character of these writings with that of non-canonical writings, both contemporaneous and of subsequent periods, pays its telling tribute to their validity and Divine authority and inspiration.

Of the four Gospels the Gospel of Matthew is the only one that contains a direct statement made by Christ concerning His Church. The same is true regarding a local church. But in each respect all that is taught in the rest of the New Testament is consistent with our Lord's statements, the whole forming a harmonious body of doctrine relating to the subject. The establishment of the claims of Holy Scripture and the Divine authority of its teachings necessitate our adherence to it and our acceptance of that alone which is in accordance with it. To follow any teaching contradictory to the doctrines taught by Christ and His Apostles is to challenge at once the accuracy of Holy Scripture and His prerogatives as therein set forth.

We turn, then, to these writings to consider the nature and constitution of the Church and the churches, and the character and scope of the authority given by Christ for the promulgation of doctrine.


In the New Testament the word ekk1esia (lit. "called out"), apart from its application to an assembly of Greek citizens (Acts 19:39), and to a riotous mob (verses 32, 41), and to Israel (Acts 7:38), is used in two senses only, firstly, of the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era, the company of which Christ said, "I will build My Church" (Matt. 16:18), and which is further described as "the Church which is His Body" (Eph. 1:22, 23); secondly, in the singular number, of a company consisting exclusively of professed believers, with reference to the place in which they are accustomed to meet together, and in the plural with reference to a district. [1]


The truth relating to the Church, as formed by the incorporation of believing Jews and Gentiles in one body, of which Christ is the Head, is spoken of by Paul as a mystery (i.e., a truth to be revealed to the saints in the Divinely appointed time) which from all ages had been "hid in God" (Eph. 3:1-9), "kept in silence through times eternal" (Rom. 16:25, R.V.).

While this great fact of its constituent parts as a living spiritual organism was especially committed to that Apostle (Eph. 3:9), the first specific pronouncement concerning the Church was made by Christ on the occasion of Peter's confession of Him as "The Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt. 16:16). The Lord declared that the Father, and He alone, had revealed this to him, and that on the foundation of that revelation Christ Himself would build His Church, [2] and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. The revelation conveys the great foundation truths of the Person of Christ as such, His eternal relation with the Father, and the fact of His resurrection; He was "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:4). Being eternally the Son of God He was declared to be so in His resurrection. That He would be Himself the Builder of His Church was essentially connected with His death and resurrection. By these, too, He vanquished all that Hades stands for, the gates representing the place where authority is exercised. He brought to nought "him that had the power of death" (Heb. 2:14). Upon Christ risen, victorious, life-giving, immutable, the Church is established. "Other foundation can no man lay."

[1] There is an apparent exception in the R.V. of Acts 9:31, where, while the Authorized Version has "churches," the singular seems to point to a district; but the reference is clearly to the church as it was in Jerusalem, *0m which it had just been scattered, as recorded in 8:1. Again, in Rom. 16:23, that Gaius was the host of "the whole church," most naturally and simply suggests that the assembly in Corinth had been accustomed to meet in his house, where also Paul was entertained.

[2] If we grant that the words, "Thou art Peter," represent the actual original, the Lord was confirming a name which He had already given him (John 1:42), and was indicating the association of his character with that of the truth of his confession. There is, however, considerable ms. authority for the reading "thou hast said." In the contracted form of the last word the lettering of the original is the same, and the difference is simply one of spacing; thus su ei ps is "thou art Peter," and su eips, which stands for su eipas, is "thou hast said." St. Augustine in his Latin version has "tu dixisti" (thou hast said), and must have had ms. authority for this. St. Jerome quotes the passage in one place as "su eipas." Moreover on the occasion, as recorded in this very Gospel, when Caiaphas questioned the Lord as to His being "the Christ, the Son of God" (practically the same U40 as in Peter's confession), He immediately answered, "Thou hast said" (Matt. 26:64).


Conspicuous among the facts relating to the Church as set forth by Christ and His Apostles are its spiritual establishment and its heavenly character and destiny. The Apostle Peter, continuing the metaphor used by the Lord, and speaking of Christ Himself as "a living Stone, rejected indeed of men, but with God elect, precious," says of believers, "ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices" (I Peter 2:5). "All the building, fitly framed together, groweth into a holy Temple in the Lord" (a sanctuary, a spiritual holy of holies), believers being "builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit" (Eph. 2:21).

The Apostles did not establish an earthly system, an organization of churches centralized in ecclesiastical headquarters. Such a policy is significantly absent both from their methods and their doctrine. What took place at Jerusalem, as recorded in Acts 15 provides no example of such a centre. The company which assembled there has been called an apostolic council. Whatever was its nature, no Apostle presided over it; Peter and other Apostles took part, James summed up matters in a closing speech, and an epistle was addressed in the name of the Apostles and elders, and delegates were chosen by the whole local church together with them (verse 22). But this gathering was incidental and not intended as a precedent. No other such assemblage is recorded in apostolic times. Nor did the decision effect a settlement of the trouble. Peter himself was afterwards found acting inconsistently with the decree (Gal. 2:11-14).

A great missionary enterprise was initiated from Antioch, but instead of taking place under the aegis of Jerusalem it was undertaken in entire independence of the Apostles there, and own of their delegates (Acts 13:1-3).


Events at Jerusalem, therefore, provide no support for the establishment of a controlling centre for the organization of churches. One will search in vain in the Acts and the Epistles for even an intimation of the establishment of such an institution.

Apart from such matters as the supply, by churches in a district, of the needs of poor saints in another region, the only bond binding churches together was spiritual, that of a common life in Christ and the indwelling of the same Holy Spirit. There was no such thing as external unity by way of federation, affiliation or amalgamation, either of churches in any given locality or of all the churches together. Apostolic testimony is, indeed, against the organization of churches into an ecclesiastical system. There is no such phrase in Scripture as "The Church on earth," nor is there anything in the Scriptures to justify such an idea (see p. 57). The only Head of the Church is Christ, and at His hands provision is made for the spiritual needs of each local church. The Church, consisting of all who are joined to Him, the Head, is "visible" as an entity to God alone. In contrast to it there stand out to the eyes of the world ecclesiastical systems, but these include the real and the false. As systems, they are the product of departure from the design of the Divine Founder and Builder and of human interference with the operation of the Spirit of God.

The view has been promulgated that certain decrees of church councils, and potentates, in centuries subsequent to apostolic times, were either developments from apostolic teachings or such additions as were necessary to meet the circumstances of later times. That the accretions were developments is contrary to facts, and that additions were designed or needful is contradictory to the testimony of Christ and His Apostles.

The following pages show something of the departure from the instructions and commandments laid down for the churches by the Lord and His Apostles, and the radical difference between what was established in apostate Christendom and the doctrines of the faith "once for all delivered to the saints." The rise of ecclesiastical systems produced a state of things in the churches which, so far from being developments of the faith, were utterly opposed to it. Such a departure was, after all, the fulfillment of what Christ and His Apostles had foretold, that false teachers would arise, speaking perverse things.

In these later times the Spirit of God has been operating in the hearts of thousands of His people, causing them to return to apostolic teaching.


The Lord's statement to the Apostle Peter, that upon the rock foundation of the truth of his confession, as embodied in His own Person, He would build His Church and the gates of Hades should not prevail against it, was followed by the promise, "I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). It is important to observe the distinction made by the Lord between the Church and the Kingdom of Heaven. To identify the two gives rise to much confusion.

"The Kingdom of Heaven" describes Heaven as the place from which authority proceeds, while the earth is the sphere in which it is exercised. Heaven is God's Throne, the Seat of Divine Government (Ps. 11:4; 103:19; Matt. 5:34; Acts 7:49). When the One who exercises the authority is the predominant thought, the phrase used is "the Kingdom of God," &~ phrase which also extends beyond all the various ages of time with their dispensational features.

"The Heavens" have always ruled (Dan. 4:32). Inasmuch, too, as the Kingdom of Heaven assumed a special phase with the testimony of Christ in the days of His flesh, obviously the Kingdom of Heaven preceded the formation of the Church. While yet the inception of the Church was future Christ denounced the Pharisees for shutting up the Kingdom of Heaven against men: "Ye enter not in yourselves," He said, "neither offer ye them that are entering in to enter" (Matt. 23:13). That alone would be sufficient to show that there is a distinction. They were not hindering men from entering the Church, as it did not then exist.


In saying to Peter, "I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven," He was at once differentiating between the Kingdom and the Church, of which He had just spoken. The keys are symbolic of authority and of the power to give admission to something. In this case the admission was not to the Church. Peter did not open the door into the Church either when He preached to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost or when he preached to Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. If the preaching of the gospel is the opening of the door into the Church, then all who engage in preaching are openers of the door. Moreover, the Lord's commission to preach the gospel was given to all the Apostles, as recorded in Matthew 28:19. While, on the one hand, He was about to build His Church, which would consist of true believers only, His disposition of the affairs of the Kingdom of Heaven, of which He handed Peter the keys, was quite another matter; it had to do initially with the nation of Israel, in the midst of which the powers of the Kingdom had already been exercised, though it was not limited to Israel.


Whereas there is no mention of the Church in Christ's previous discourses, He had constantly spoken of the Kingdom of Heaven, as also had His herald John the Baptist in his special mission to Israel. Each had given the nation the message, "Repent ye; for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2 and 4:17), clearly a reference to the fact of Christ's presence in the nation. The Kingdom had been one of the Lord's chief topics in His discourses.

The nation of Israel, though professing allegiance to God, had shared in the general rebellion of mankind (cp. Isa. 1:2, 4). The King had at length Himself come into their midst, but they had refused to recognize Him, and, at the time when Christ spoke of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, the Jews were just about to reject Him absolutely. For this they were eventually to be "cast away," until a time of restoration, an event still future (Rom. 11:15,25). In spite of this, to Peter was to be committed the proclamation of a great amnesty to the nation, and thereafter the gospel was to be carried by him and others t6 the Gentiles.


On the Day of Pentecost, after explaining the circumstances of the sending of the Holy Spirit, and addressing his hearers as "men of Israel" (Acts 2:22), and "brethren" (verse 29), i.e., as his fellow nationals, the Apostle proclaimed the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified by "the hand of lawless men." "All the house of Israel" were to know assuredly that God had "made Him both Lord and Christ" (verse 36). In, his subsequent message to the nation he says, "The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Servant Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied" (3:13). Yet, upon the condition of their repentance, their sins would be blotted out, "seasons of refreshing" would come from the presence of the Lord, and He would send the Christ (verses 19, 20).

Here, then, was a proclamation to the nation, "the house of Israel," and in this and his further testimony the Lord fulfilled His word to the Apostle, that to him He would give the "keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." In other words, besides the new fact that the Church, the Body of Christ, began to be formed at Pentecost, the Apostle Peter, in offering terms to Israel, was dealing administratively with the affairs of the Kingdom of Heaven; not that he was the first to do so (that is not involved in the Lord's word that He would give Him the keys), for the authority of the Kingdom had already been operating, but that he fulfilled a special function in regard to it.

.While members of the Church, the Body of Christ, are thereby in the Kingdom, yet, as we have seen, the Kingdom was preached as the Kingdom of Heaven before the Church began, and will be proclaimed on earth after the Church is complete and is removed from earth to its heavenly destiny at the Rapture.


The Kingdom of God is the sphere in which God's rule is acknowledged. It is said to be "in mystery" (Mark 4:11), that is, it does not come within the natural powers of observation.' The Lord said, "The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation" [4] (margin, "with outward show") (Luke 17:20). The reign of God on earth today is not that of an earthly kingdom (though His Almighty power controls the affairs of kingdoms), but is the reign of His will over the unseen movements of the inner man. Submission to His will involves faith in Christ, and this brings regeneration, or the new birth, of which our Lord spoke to Nicodemus. Then it is that we become children of God, being born of the Spirit, and thereupon we receive eternal life and are justified in His sight, becoming accepted in Christ. Without the new birth all other conformity is vain. The Kingdom of Heaven, as Scripture portrays it, makes all attempt to gain temporal power entirely inconsistent with its objects. Those who would reign as kings to day must reign without the Apostles (see I Cor. 4:8, where Paul deprecates the attempt to reign now, and expresses an ardent longing for the appointed future time for doing so). When hereafter God asserts His rule universally, then the Kingdom will be in glory, and will be manifest to all (cp. Matt. 25:31-34; 2 Tim. 4:18). That is destined to be the ultimate phase of the Kingdom of Heaven, an expression which often covers the same ground as "the Kingdom of God," the two terms being frequently interchangeable (cp. Matt. 19:23 with verse 24, and again with Mark 10:23, 24; also Matt. 19:14 with Mark 10:14; and Matt. 13:11 with Luke 8:10). [5]

[4] See an extended note on the subject in Notes on I and 2 Thessalonians by C. F. Hogg and the writer.

[5] The phrase "the Kingdom of Heaven" is used only in the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament (in 2 Tim. 4:18, the phrase is "His heavenly Kingdom"). That Gospel speaks of the Kingdom of God four times. There is a distinction between what that Kingdom actually is and what it resembles. In the parables in Matt. 13 the Lord does not say, "the Kingdom of Heaven is so and so," but "the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto" (verses 24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47), and again in the corresponding passage in Mark, "So is the Kingdom of God as if..." (verse 26), and "How shall we liken the Kingdom of God, or in what parable shall we 80 it forth" (verse 30). Just as there is a radical difference between wheat and tares, so there is all the difference between .'sons of the Kingdom" and "sons of the evil one' (Matt. 13:38). Both are to be found in the Kingdom, in its mystery form, outwardly acknowledging the name of Christ. But some yield either merely formal or even feigned obedience. This will be so even in the Millennium, and with hearts unchanged they Will rebel at the last (see Rev. 20:7-10). Only those can enter into the Kingdom in reality and in its eternal blessedness who are born again (John 3:5).


The promise with which the Lord immediately followed His word to Peter about the keys, namely, "and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven," He subsequently extended to all the disciples, as recorded in chapter 18:18. From this it is obvious that, whatever is indicated thereby, it was not, as a principle, to be confined exclusively to Peter. The preceding context in the eighteenth chapter shows that the reference there is to cases of discipline for maintaining the Lord's honour, and the succeeding context shows that the power was to be shared with two or three who would be gathered together in His Name. He would Himself be in the midst of them. The passage in the sixteenth chapter shows that the reference is, as we have seen, to administration in the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Lord's words to Peter, therefore, do not in any wise imply that this Apostle was to receive a primacy of jurisdiction in the Church, or that he was to have supreme authority to teach and govern under Christ. Both this, and the idea that Peter was the rock foundation upon which the spiritual edifice of the Church was to be built, are based upon ecclesiastical misconception and find no support in the pages of Holy Scripture. Christ was neither founding a monarchy in forming the Church, nor was He establishing an individual to be a ruler over it.

Nor again can such superiority or authority be inferred from the Lord's words to Peter, after His resurrection, "Feed My lambs," "Feed (or tend) My sheep." What Christ was doing, as recorded in John 21:15-17, was not the impartation of ecclesiastical authority but a confirmation of Peter after his restoration from his fall, and a preparation for his service. There was no implication in the Lord's words that any specially superior work of pastoral care was to be committed to him. The care of the flock is a responsibility devolving upon all spiritual shepherds; as the Apostle himself says when exhorting elders, "Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight thereof, not of constraint, but willingly, according unto God; nor yet for filthy lucre but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock" (I Peter 5:2, 3, R.V.).


To sum up, the Kingdom is not coterminous with the Church. Holy angels, though they do not form part of the Church, are in the Kingdom of God. The Psalmist, after saying "The Lord hath established His Throne in the heavens; and His Kingdom ruleth over all," calls at once upon His angels to praise Him. They fulfil His commandments, "hearkening unto the voice of His words"; they are "His ministers that do His pleasure" (Ps. 103:19-21). In the present era the powers of the Kingdom work in the hearts of men by means of the preaching of the gospel, but neither the Kingdom of God nor the Church consists of a visible external organization. Christ did not found and build up for Himself a Kingdom upon earth, nor do we find any intimation in Scripture that the Church is an earthly establishment.

When Christ, speaking of a trespass on the part of one brother against another, and of the efforts that were to be made by means of witnesses to remove the difficulty, said that if the erring one refused to hear them the injured brother was to tell it to the church (Matt. 18:17), obviously the reference was to a local congregation. The Church, in the extended significance of the word, is ruled out by the circumstances. The thought of the establishment of a central ecclesiastical institution as a court of judicature for the trying of such cases is as absent from that passage as it is from the rest of the New Testament. The Church is never looked upon, in the teaching of Scripture, as an earthly institution. To conceive of it as the Kingdom of God is to confound things concerning which Holy Scripture makes a difference. That Kingdom is spiritual in its present phase. Its operations do not consist in the punctilious observance of ordinances, in things external and material, but in those which are spiritual and essential, in righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost (Rom. 14:17).


The truth relating to the Church as the Body, of which Christ is the Head, was especially committed to the Apostle Paul, and it was evidently with the design of unfolding it that he set out to write the Epistle to the Ephesians. The teaching that occupies the first twenty-one verses of the first chapter forms the basis of the statement that God gave Christ to be "Head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."

An essential truth laid down in this first chapter, amplified in the course of the Epistle, and conveyed in the symbolism of the head and the body, is that the Church, instead of being an earthly organization built up and established in the world, is heavenly in its design, establishment and destiny. Its individual members necessarily become incorporated into it in this life, according as each one receives eternal life through faith in Christ and is born of God. Each one then becomes part of the Body and is inseparably united to the Head. At no period can all the believers living in the world at any given time have constituted the Church. They could not in that respect be spoken of as the Body of Christ and yet that is an alternative designation of the Church. [6]

[6] A local church, meeting in any particular place, is spoken of as a body in 1 Cor. 12:27, but in a different aspect: "To the church in Corinth," the Apostle says, "Ye are (the) body of Christ" (the definite article is absent in the original), but some of the members, in that application of the word, are themselves part of the head, being spoken of as an "eye," an "car" (see verse 16). Accordingly the symbol is not applied in that passage in the same way as in Ephesians, where Christ is the Head of the whole Church, the Body.


Even at the time of Pentecost those who believed comprised only a small fraction of the whole Church, and if they, or all the truly regenerate in the world at the present time, or at any other time, were the Church, then that of which He is the Head (and there is no other) would be a body maimed and marred and lacking most of its parts. In the early part of the present era most of the Church had not come into being; in the closing part of the era most of the Church has, or will have, departed this life, such, while stiff part of the Body, being present with the Lord. The whole will not be completed till the gospel has fulfilled its object. After its number is complete, the Lord will "descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air" (I Thess. 4:16, 17, R.V.). The Church win then have its full membership as the Body of Christ, and only of that company can the term "the Church" be rightly used, apart from its application to a local company.

Many apply the term "the Church" to all those in the world who profess the faith. But such a view of the Church is not borne out by the teaching of Christ and His Apostles.' Believers [7] are formed into local churches here, each being a separate spiritual temple of God, according to the Divine plan; as the Apostle says to the church at Corinth, "Ye are a temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (I Cor. 3:16, R.V.). But the churches were not externally organized into an ecclesiastical entity, in any district or country, or generally as a universal system. Neither is there any hint in apostolic teaching that such was Divinely intended to be the case. To such a system or combination the word "Church" is nowhere applied in Scripture, and any such organization is a contravention of apostolic testimony and therefore of the will and design of Christ.

[7] The view referred to has been explained by means of the illustration of a regiment in the British Army, which fought, for instance, at the battle of Waterloo, and still bears the same designation, though not a soldier who took part in that battle is alive today. But Scripture knows no such third definition of the Church as would provide ground for the illustration. Again, an attempt has been made to find some support for the view in the suggestion that the letters to the seven churches in the second and third Chapters of the Apocalypse speak of conditions which anticipate represent successive periods in the history of the Christian churches, or of Christendom, throughout the present era. It is argued from this that since the condition prevailing in any one of the periods represents what is conveyed to a particular church in the actual letter, the term "church" way be said to stand for all the Christians in the world during the period intimated. This argument is precarious indeed. To begin with, it is based upon a mere inference, and then, whatever justification there may be for the successive period view, that view involves the teaching that the conditions which are represented by the last of the four letters are not distinctly successive since each of these four last continues from its beginning to the end of the age; so that there are four simultaneous conditions at the time represented by the letter to Laodicea, three represented by the letter to Philadelphia, two by the letter to Sardis, while that which is represented by the one to Thyatira continues through all four. In other words, if we hold the anticipative and prophetic view of these letters to the churches they cannot all be held to represent disti

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