The Church of God
William Trew, Cardiff
The Holy Scriptures are written, "not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth", 1 Cor. 2. 13. Therefore it is of vital importance in our reading of the Scriptures, that we weigh well the value of every word.
The term, "Church of God", is always used in the New Testament to designate a local company of saints gathered together according to the mind of God, and acting in local responsibility to the Lord. We are accustomed to hear this term used as if it designated the Church of the dispensation, but that the Holy Spirit never so uses the expression is certain. The truth of this statement can be very easily tested, since the term is used twelve times in the New Testament, and three times in its plural form. The fact that we read of "churches of God" ought to make an end of all controversy as to this, for it is very evident that the term used to speak of the Church of the dispensation could not be used in a plural form.
"The church which is his body", Eph. 1. 22,23, is inclusive of every true believer in Christ of the whole dispensation since the day of Pentecost, Acts 2, until the coming to the air of the Lord Jesus and the translation to heaven of all the saved. By the baptism in the Spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 12, 13, every believer has been brought into a unity of life eternal in the risen, ascended Lord, enthroned at the right hand of God. That Church is one. Therefore we never could read of "the churches which are his bodies".
The term, "church of God", is used in a plural form., the Holy Spirit thus designating the local companies of the saints.
The Constitution of the Local Assembly. It has been observed that in the Old Testament there was no suggestion of a dwelling of God among men, until there was the type of redemption. As soon as redemption was accomplished for Israel, Exod. 12. 14, we read, "The Lord is my strength and song ... he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation", Exod. 15. 2. The answer of their Redeemer-God to the expressed longing of His redeemed to enjoy His presence among them was, "Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them", Exod. 25. 8.
The same thing is found in the New Testament, but in a more blessed way. In the Epistle to the Romans - the Gospel of God Epistle in the New Testament - redemption is shown to be accomplished in fact, 3. 24, bringing us into the good of all that has been thus secured for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Epistle to the Corinthians - the Church of God Epistle in the New Testament - God has found a dwelling among His people. The church of God is constituted of "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus", 1 Cor. 1. 2. It is still God's thought for His people, that all His redeemed be gathered together in holy, happy fellowship, acting collectively in local responsibility to the Lord, doing His will according to His Word.
A careful reading of this Epistle will make two things clear:
i. There were true believers who were not gathered together in the fellowship of the saints designated "church of God".
ii. That fact did not make the local company of saints any less "church of God".
To establish this, let us think of two passages.
In chapter 5 the apostle exhorts the saints to excommunicate, because of wicked conduct, one whom he supposes to be truly saved, v. 5. If saved, then he was a member of "the church which is his body", from which he never could be excommunicated. As disciplined for evil behaviour, he was outside the "church of God".
In chapter 14 there is a passage of a different kind. "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all", vv. 23, 24. It is certain that "the unlearned" of the passage are truly saved persons, but untaught in divine things, and therefore have not taken their place in assembly fellowship with "the whole church".
"The apostle confirms his argument by the effect that would be produced on strangers who might come into the assembly, or on unenlightened Christians, if they heard languages spoken which no one understood" (j. K. d., Synopsis).
The word translated "unlearned", 1 Cor. 14. 16, 23, 24, is used "of those who have no knowledge of the facts relating to the testimony borne in and by a local church", (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary).
With such judgment few will be disposed to disagree.
But it still is God's thought for His people, that all be together, gathered around the Lord, to give expression to His will, in ready obedience to His Word, seeking His glory, serving His pleasure. So shall the presence of God among us be manifested in power and grace, and it will be reported of us that "God is in you of a truth".