The Features of the Church
J. M. Davies, Canada
One definition of the word feature given in the dictionary is a salient point, and it gives the word characteristic as a synonym. And this in turn it defines as distinguishing peculiarity, with the words attribute and character as synonyms. So with these definitions in mind let us consider what the Scriptures teach as to the distinguishing features of the Church and what should be the distinguishing marks of the churches.
Features of the Church. Moses was the channel through whom the teaching relative to the tabernacle and its ministry was communicated to the nation of Israel, and so the apostle Paul was the chosen vessel through whom the truth relative to the church was revealed. He was constituted a steward of the gospel of the grace of God. This stewardship he fulfilled, not only by preaching it more abundantly than all the other apostles, but by his full exposition of it in the Epistle to the Romans.
He was also in a unique sense the minister of the church. To him was given the stewardship of filling up or bringing to its completeness the Word of God relative to the mystery, which had been hidden from ages and generations, Col. 1. 25, 26. This stewardship he fulfilled in that marvellous document, the Epistle to the Ephesians. In both Romans and Ephesians he does not associate anyone with himself in writing them.
In the Ephesian letter he thinks and writes in terms of eternity: from before the foundation of the world - throughout all ages. And he thinks in terms of the universe. The Christ of Ephesians is the cosmic Christ. He refers to the "mystery of the gospel", the "mystery of Christ" and the "mystery of his will", 6. 19; 3. 4; 1. 9, 10. While these three are inter-related they are not to be confused,
It is with the "mystery of Christ" that we are here concerned very briefly. It does not concern the mystery of His person, the union of deity and humanity - sinless and holy, in one indivisible personality, a mystery too deep, too unfathomable for us for "no one knoweth the Son, but the Father", Matt. 11. 27.
The "mystery of Christ" relates to the church as summarized by the apostle in the following verses, Eph. 3. 3-6; Jewish and Gentile believers made fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the one body, and fellow-partakers of the same promise in the gospel.
In so far as membership in the body of Christ is concerned, all barriers have been removed, whether they be national, racial, social or natural. Irrespective of all these differences, all believers have been reconciled to God in one body by the cross. In Romans all our gospel blessings, such as justification, etc., come by way of the cross. I n Thessalonians our part in the rapture is based solely on the fact that He died and rose again and that He died for us. So in the Epistle to the Ephesians our membership in the body is based on our having been reconciled to God in one body by the cross.
Metaphorically the apostle refers to the church as the body of Christ, Eph. 1. 22. 23; as the habitation of God through the Spirit, 2. 21, 22; and as the bride-elect of Christ, 5. 25-27. These three metaphors are very suggestive. The body speaks of being partakers of the same life, every member animated by divine life. The sanctuary was the sphere of light, so we have a company illuminated by divine light, while in chapter 5 we read "Christ loved the church". Life, light and love are attributes of God. He is the living God, and God is light, and God is love.
Here then are three very important distinguishing marks of the church. Eve partook of the life of Adam for we do not read that God breathed into her nostrils the breath of life. Rebekah shared the love of Isaac, and Asenath shared in the glory of Joseph. Paul quotes the principle laid down in Genesis saying, "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife . . . This is a great mystery ... I speak concerning Christ and the church". He left the Father, and Israel, who is referred to as the mother in Revelation 12, to become joined to the church and make her share His life, love and glory, John 17.
The Features of the Churches.
It is but natural that each church, each local company referred to collectively as churches of God, churches of the saints, churches of the Gentiles, should reflect that which is characteristic of the whole. This is seen in that each of the three metaphors, temple, body, bride, are applied to the church at Corinth, 1 Cor. 3. 16; 12. 27; 2 Cor. 11.2, 3.
The first relates to the church in its priestly ministry Godward—in the sanctuary; the second to the church in its ministry of edification—churchward. It is a many-member ministry rather than a one-man ministry. The figure of the body demands that every member has a function to fulfil. The attempt at differentiating between the church meeting and the church service in order to find room for a one-man preaching-teaching ministry is a theory with feet of clay.
In the first Epistle to the Corinthians the apostle emphasizes four important principles which should be characteristic of every church.
(1) The recognition of the Lordship of Christ. Note should betaken of the nearly 100 references to this.
(2) The recognition of the presidency and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Note should be taken of the over 20 references to the Holy Spirit.
(3) The many appeals to the written
Word shows that it must be the final court of appeal.
(4) Then twice the apostle appeals to his own example. Apostolic precedent should not be lightly set aside.
It is instructive to note how the eleven in the upper room typify the church, and its features. They were His own. They belonged to Him; He had called them. In this they represent those referred to in Romans as "the called of Jesus Christ", those chosen in Him. They were the objects of His love, He loved them to the uttermost, just as we read that He "loved the church, and gave himself for it". They acknowledged Him as Lord and Master. On that evening five of them asked Him questions, and each prefaced his question with the word Lord. Never once do we read of any of the disciples addressing the Lord by His human name Jesus.
As their Lord and Master He had given them an example of humility. Hence "lowliness and meekness" head the list of the things which are essential to a worthy walk, Eph. 4. 1, 2. The two phrases, "ye in me", and "I in you", expressive of union and communion respectively, could be adopted as titles for the twin epistles, Ephesians and Colossians, with their respective emphasis on in Christ Jesus, and Christ in you. They are equally suitable for the first and second half of the letter to Ephesus.
Then they were given to understand how totally dependent they would be on the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the other Comforter, not a heteros Comforter but one of the same kind as Himself. He would bring that which they had heard to their remembrance, which assures us of the inspiration of the gospels. And He would lead them into all the truth, which insures the inspiration of the Epistles, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, Jude 3. It was He who would bring about the conviction of sin and lead sinners to trust the Saviour. Hence in the Ephesian Epistle we have an abundance of references to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Then in the third metaphor, the bride, there is the inescapable emphasis on love as being the badge or hall-mark of true discipleship, even as faith in the Lord Jesus is to issue in love to all the saints. It is in the Epistle dealing with local church ministry that we have the apostle's lyric about love, 1 Cor. 13. Love then is the fruit of the Spirit. On that night the Lord gave the disciples a new hope. He would come again and receive them to Himself and take them to the Father's house. Accordingly the apostle petitions that his readers might know "what is the hope of his calling", Eph. 1.18.
So if we wish to know the features of this Christian fellowship we need to be immersed in the ministry of the upper room.