What Is Meant By “The Church”? Part 1
W. Fraser Naismith, Kilmarnock
IN Proverbs 8. 30 Wisdom is referred to as “a master-workman” (R.V.); or “his artificer” (J.N.D.’s note). He who built all things in the material creation is at present engaged on another structure of an entirely different character. The material things form the scaffolding for the spiritual edifice on which Christ is to-day busily engaged; and one day the scaffolding shall be removed to allow of the disclosure of the glories of the spiritual. This spiritual building is the Church. Christ Himself forms the FOUNDATION of it. Bear in mind that massive foundations prognosticate great buildings: so with such a foundation we would expect to have a grand superstructure. Nor are we to be disappointed; for He who said, “ Behold a greater than the temple is here,” will have a building in keeping with that grand foundation upon which it rests. He is also the BUILDER: and let us ever remember that a person is greater than his work. The architectural edifice is the revelation of His mind and heart, and is in keeping with the glorious foundation. He is its POSSESSOR; for said Christ, “On this rock I will build My church.” It is His very own, and is destined to share His glory throughout eternity!
The Apostle Paul speaks of the Church in three different ways in the last chapter of Romans. In verse 23 reference is made to “the whole church”: this term is an embracive one, and has in view every born again soul on earth at any given period. Moffat translates the phrase thus: “the church at large” It is the invisible unity formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In verse 4 Paul refers to “the churches of the Gentiles”; and in verse 16 to “the churches of Christ.” Local Assemblies are in view in such terms as these. Then in verse 5 he speaks of “the church which is in their house.” Persecution prohibited saints from gathering to a common meeting place as is done to-day, so the Lord’s people gathered in private houses; and the Lord in grace refers to such a company as gathered in the house of Priscilla and Aquila as “the church which is in their house.”
Individual faith is the first requisite in a person ere there can be apprehension or appreciation of the truth of this divine unity, and the fellowship that is enjoyed by those who are members of His Body, i.e., The Church.
I propose to confine my thoughts to the general and widest aspect of the Church—“the whole church”; and I presume that the reader has noticed that in the Epistle to the Ephesians the apostle is directed to make reference to the church in every chapter except the last. (The closing chapter is individual in character—there you will find exhortations for the parent and the child: for the master and the servant; and finally instructions for the soldier. We fight individually: it is a misnomer to speak of the “Church militant.” The Church, as such, is not a militant body! Thus the reason the apostle omits any reference to it in chapter 6.)
The following is the outline of reference that is presented in Ephesians for our instruction. In chapter 1 the church is seen as “A BODY,” vide verses 22-23. The exalted Head in heaven has on earth a body; invisible to the natural eye, but discerned by God; and the Lord would not be complete without this body—it is His complement! He functions through His body to-day. Paul learnt that truth on the Damascus road when Christ said to him, “Why persecutest thou Me?” He got to know that Christ on high functioned through His members and that He felt every pang that rends the heart of those who are members of His body.
The simile changes in chapter 2 of Ephesians, for there the Church is seen as “A BUILDING.” (There is no building referred to in the Old Testament until redemption and deliverance have been taught typically): so in this chapter the building is only alluded to after the apostle has shown the Ephesians what they were naturally, and what the cross of Christ had done for them: “breaking down the middle wall of partition; making in Himself . . . one new man, so making peace.” Paul speaks of the building, of which Christ is the chief corner stone, as “the habitation of God by His Spirit.” In the unseen building the Holy Spirit has taken up His abode, and He will abide with us throughout all the pilgrimage.
In chapter 3 there is another simile used, or inferred, viz., that of “A BOOK.” In verse 10 of this chapter we learn that now unto angelic hosts in heaven the polygonal wisdom of God is made known. These creatures, so lofty and invisible to our eyes, are the constant observers of what is taking place in the Church; and they make the Church their study book, as they watch the unfolding of the manifold wisdom of God.
The apostle reverts to the simile of “A BODY” in chapter 4. He does not so much emphasise the fact that the body is the habitation of God through His Spirit, but rather shows that this body is self-edifying. The risen Christ has given gifts unto men with this object in view that the saints might be perfected in view of the ministry and that the body of Christ might be edified. All true ministry comes to us from a risen Christ, and the gifts are the channels through which He sends it to us; and if the exercise of the gift is in submission to the Head then the Body will undoubtedly be edified.
In chapter 5 there is a delightful allusion to that character which the church shall assume in glory, viz., “A BRIDE.” The bride suggests the heavenly aspect of truth. The bride will be composed of all the saints from Pentecost until the last soul has been gathered in, and this dispensation is terminated by the coming of Christ to take out of this scene all who are His. Bridal love is that which supposes a nearness that chases distance for ever away.
Meanwhile the Church is seen as subject to the glorious Head on high, and awaiting love’s consummation; when “He shall present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”
(To be followed by an article on “The Local Assembly.”)