The Church: its Formation, Fellowship and Features (Part 1)

J. M. Davies, Canada

Part 1 of 3 of the series The Church: its Formation, Fellowship and Features

In the consideration of any subject whether it be Biblical or any other, a definition of the terms used is ab­solutely essential. If the writer fails to make clear what he is writing about it cannot be of any benefit to the reader. This becomes doubly necessary when the terms used denote one thing to one person, but something totally different to another.

This is very true in connection with the word "church". To many young people it is part of what is loosely called "the establishment" against which some seem to have a built-in opposition. But to the great majority of people, both professing Christians and non-Christians the word "church" is equated with the Church of Rome, with the Pope recognized as its chief priest, and he himself claiming to be the vicar of Christ with the words "Pontifex Maximus" (the chief or high priest) blazoned in large letters on the walls of the Vatican.

Then again the word is used to designate a place of Christian worship just as the words "Mosque" and "Synagogue" are used to designate Moslem and Jewish places of worship.

The word is also used in a denom­inative sense, indicative of a religious sect or denomination, each with its own peculiar or specific point of emphasis. For example, the Lutheran Church claims to be adhering to the doctrines taught by the great reformer, Martin Luther. Then there is the Episcopalian Church with its system of bishops and clergy, based upon their interpretation of the Greek word episkopos, translated bishop in the English   Bible.   Similarly the   Presbyterians hold to their concept that the church is to be governed by a body of recognized elders, or presbyters, from the Greek word presbuteros, Then a Baptist church emphasizes the view that baptism is by immersion for those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so the list might be lengthened. These are not mentioned in any derogatory sense, but just to point out that in this study the word "church" is not used in any such a limited or sectarian sense, but in the way the Scriptures which will be considered signify.

In the recorded ministry of the Lord the word appears in only two passages. The two passages are Matthew 16.13-20 and 18. 15-35. Passages where important words are used for the first time call for special consideration as they generally contain basic elements which are more fully developed later in the Scriptures.

As an illustration of the importance of this law of first mention the word "grace" might be cited. "Noah found grace", Gen 6. 8, and we are told that he was a righteous man, perfect or sincere, and he walked with God. These are exactly what the grace of God instructs us in, according to Titus 2. 11-12.

In the light of this the two passages in Matthew are of primary importance and significance. The two will be found to be complementary the one to the other. The first represents the church in its aggregate, in its entirety. It em­braces all who have been built into this living edifice as living stones by the Lord. In the epistles it is described as "the church, which is his body". Eph. 1. 22, 23. It is the "church of the firstborn . . . written in heaven", Heb. 12.23.

The second refers to a church in a given place. Where, as in Corinth, all the Christians met in one place, Rom. 16. 23, it is addressed as "the church of God" which is in Corinth. But when, as in Rome, there were more than one, they may be designated by the place where they meet, as, for example, the church which met in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, Rom. 16. 3-5. It is instructive to note that these are the only two ways the church is referred to in the epistles of Paul in which teaching concerning the church is found. For instance, in the letter to the Colossian church he speaks of the church which is His body and of the church in Laodicea, 1. 18; 4. 15, 16. In connection with the first passage we will consider the formation of the church, and in connection with the second, its fellowship and features.

1. THE CHURCH AND ITS FORMATION, Matt. 16. 13-20

This passage is the foundation upon which is based much of what is later taught in the epistles. The confession of Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God", is referred to by the Lord as "upon this rock". In a similar way the Lord refers to Himself in the words, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up". And again, "this is that bread which came down from heaven", John 2. 19; 6. 58.

Christ is the foundation of the Church. Later this is confirmed by Paul in the words, "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ", 1 Cor. 3. 11.

Then by the Spirit Peter expands on the theme, speaking of Christ as the living stone which the builders had disallowed, but made the head of the corner in His exaltation, while Christ­ians, Peter included, are living stones built up into a spiritual house, a holy temple for priestly worship, 1 Pet. 2. 4-8.

In the statement "I will build my church" three things call for consider­ation. They are

(a) The significance of the context, or the time and occasion of the Lord's first reference to the church ;

{b) The significance of the word church, and

(c) The significance of the tense of the verb - I will build.

(a) The Significance of the Context. At the commencement of His ministry the Lord was rejected in Nazareth. All in the synagogue were filled with wrath and thrust Him out of the city, Luke 4. 16-30. At the same time John, His forerunner, was put into prison. Matt. 4. 12, 13. Consequently the Lord went to Capernaum and made it His home. It was there that most of His mighty works were done, but they brought about no repentance. Accord­ing to the little parable of the children playing in the market place, they had not mourned at the preaching of judgment by John, neither had they danced for joy at the message of grace by the Lord. Hence He pronounces woe upon them. They had sealed their doom. They would be cast down to hell; cf. Heb. 6.4-8.

Following this pronouncement of judgment there is a change in His message. It is no longer "The kingdom of heaven is at hand", but the kingdom in mystery form, as detailed in the parables of Matthew 13, with their prophetic preview of the course of the age until its consummation—the end of the age. Moreover after this climactic passage   in   Matthew   16   we   read, "from that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how he must . . . suffer. . . and be killed . . . and be raised again", v. 21. In the light of the fact that He would be rejected by the nation, He reveals to them His plans for the future. While rejected by the nation there would be those to whom the Father would reveal Him as possessed of the fulness of deity. As a representative of that company Peter hears the words "Blessed art thou . . .". How different from the words "Woe unto you . . .". Eternal bliss on the one hand and eternal woe on the other.

(b) The Significance of the Word Church. The Greek word ekklesia is made up of two words, the prefix ek which means out of, and the word klesis which means a calling. Together they mean an "outcalling", a company that has been called out. It appears over 100 times in the New Testament. Its equivalent in the Old Testament is rendered "congregation" as in Num­bers 27. 17 where we read of the "congregation of the Lord". In this sense Israel is spoken of by Stephen as the "church in the wilderness", Acts. 7. 38. They had been called out and brought out of Egypt to meet the Lord at Sinai. They were a redeemed company, and in this way they are an illustration of the church as a redeemed company, people who have responded to the call of God in the gospel. Abraham was called to go out, and by faith he obeyed. In this he was an example to the Hebrew believers, called to go forth unto the Lord outside the camp. Thereby they would, like Rahab, be preserved from the destruc­tion of the city.

By the cross the law which gave a priority to Israel was cancelled. It was rendered inoperative. Thereby the middle wall that divided between the Jew and the Gentile was broken down. Therefore this out-calling (the church) is from among Gentiles as well as Jews. It has no national, political or racial overtones. The Lord referred to it as "my church". It is a company which belongs to Christ. They are "his own", John 13. 1.

In keeping with this Paul speaks of the "churches of Christ", Rom. 16. 16. And in his tabloid exposition of the church he says, "This is a great mystery: I speak concerning Christ and the church", Eph. 5. 32. We must never perform a dichotomy and separ­ate the church from Christ. Divorced from Christ the church is nothing and has nothing. It must ever be borne in mind when considering or in speaking of the church that among all things He is to have the pre-eminence.

(c) The Significance of the Tense of the Verb—"I will build my church". It was to be in the future. It was not something that He was engaged in at that time. The four basic facts of re­demption, the death, burial, resurrec­tion and ascension of Christ, were to be the foundation on which the church was to be built. Therefore the building could not commence until after this historical foundation was laid. He is its foundation, its chief corner stone, 1 Cor. 3. 11 ; Eph. 2. 20.

Then the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and pro­phets. Doctrinally they laid its founda­tion in their preaching, Eph. 2. 20. On the day of Pentecost Peter preached Jesus Christ, emphasizing four important facts. He was approved of God. He was crucified. He was raised. He was exalted. The Holy Spirit was sent to bear witness to the fact that Christ had been exalted. And at His exaltation He was made Head over all things to the church which is His body.

This indicates that the church came into being or was formed on the day of Pentecost. On that day were fulfilled the words of the Lord on the day of His ascension, "ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence", Acts. 1. 5.

This is confirmed by the words of 1 Corinthians 12. 13 r.v., "in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body". Here the past tense should be noted. The baptism of Israel unto Moses was a historical and corporate act never repeated, an act by which they were passively integrated under the head­ship of Moses, so on the day of Pente­cost the church was constituted the body of Christ, brought into living union with its Head, Christ in glory. The word ekklesia occurs some 20 times in the book of the Acts, almost equally divided between the earlier and later chapters, so it is self-evident that the building of the church com­menced on the day of Pentecost neither before then nor at a later date. To be continued.