Before proceeding with this blessed theme it may be necessary to justify the designation used at the head of this paper. It is customary to refer to the "church": such an appellation conjures before the English mind some material edifice used for religious purposes. Does the word in its Scripture usage justify such a thought? Decidedly not! The word is used some 115 times in the New Testament, even apart from the reference in Hebrews 12:23. Three times it is used rightly in Acts - Acts 19:32, 39, 41. That in Acts 7:38 refers to the congregation of Israel in the wilderness. The use of the word in Acts 19:37 is a mistranslation and should read "temple plunderers." The other three uses in the 19th chapter are related to the tumultuous gathering in Ephesus. The word from which we get "church" is "ecclesia" - meaning "called out." In this and the following papers we desire to speak of this unique company of people who are God's called out ones, under six headings:
- Foretold, 2) Founded, 3) Formed, 4) Furnished, 5) Functioning, and 6) Future. Numbers 1,2,3,4,5 are the direct subject of this article. Number 6 that of Part 2
The first Scripture to which we turn is Matthew 16:13-18 for there we have the first New Testament intimation of this "Assembly." Evidently we cannot expect to find it in the Old Testament, in spite of what theological teachers say.
It was yet future when our Lord spoke of it in verse 18. Accordingly He said, "I will build My assembly" - it was not yet in being. We are indebted to Him for having "foretold" it there. This intimation came from His own lips.
He also foretold the "foundation" upon which it would be built, and that was the truth of His own Person. This was revealed in the confession of Peter in reply to our Lord's query, "Whom do ye say that I am?" Let us consider the circumstances that gave rise to this. He had asked, "Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am?"
Obviously the official title "Son of Man" does not cover the whole truth of His Person. Titles are, in themselves, descriptive of offices which the bearer of them fills. Names are descriptive of the Person who fills them. So then, Son of Man is one of His official titles. "Son of the living God," as confessed by Peter, is His Name. Thus then the Assembly would be founded upon who He is. Peter had replied, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." "Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona," thus our Lord addressed him on the ground of what he was naturally in view of the fact that the confession had not emanated from some natural conjecture, rather it was the result of divine revelation: - "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." This unique revelation came from the Father, out of heaven.
The "Assembly," being founded upon the Son of the living God, is in the distinctive light of the present era - "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." This being so, it would also be true that the "Assembly" would be an heavenly entity, having an heavenly calling, hence the word of the Lord, "Blessed art thou…flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." Note how He equates Himself with deity (verse 18) "And I say also unto thee…" Who but God, manifested in flesh, dare to speak thus! "That thou art Peter (Petros - of the same nature as, but not the rock) and upon this rock (Petra) I will build My assembly." It is not built upon Peter but upon that which he had confessed, "the Son of the living God." This is the rock upon whom the "Assembly" is founded, hence it is incontrovertible, "Like a man which digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock; and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it; for it was founded upon a rock" (Mt. 7:24, Lk. 6:48). So Petros is a piece of rock; Petra a mass of rock. In the course of history how violently the storms of persecution have raged from without against the assembly. How insidiously and persistently have the storms been raised by grievous wolves, entering in among the believers, speaking perverse things, endeavouring to displace Christ in the affections of His own, but they have failed of their purpose. Had not our Lord said, "And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it"?
Note the following Scriptures for the significance of "the gates": Jos. 20:4; Ru. 4:1-12; Acts 14:13. From a consideration of these and other Scriptures we learn that the gates are emblematic of administrative authority and power. It would be well to mention at this point, that before the gates of hell are reached, the portal of death must be gone through. The Son of the living God has gone through death and has come forth in resurrection in order to build His assembly. Peter declared in the hearing of the crowds on the day of Pentecost the verity of the death of Christ and also the verity of His having been raised from among the dead (Acts 2:23).
So far we have considered the Foretelling and the Foundation of the Assembly. We shall proceed to a brief consideration of the historical "Formation" of it. This actually took place on the day of Pentecost to which we have just alluded. Acts 2:1, 44-47 give us some pointers to the blessedness of this occasion. We are led to the consideration of the momentous fulfillment of the prayer of our Lord: "I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He might abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of Truth…" We read earlier, "For the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified" (Jn 14:16 and Jn. 7:39).
We have arrived in Acts 2 at the giving of the Spirit. This was a direct attestation that our Lord had been glorified and Acts 1 gives us in no fewer than five declarations that our Lord has been bodily taken up into heaven (vv. 2, 9, 10, 11 and 22).
The dwelling with and in them (that is the Holy Spirit) was in consequence of His (the Lord Jesus) leaving them and going to the Father. We further read, "For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body" (1 Co. 12:13). Obviously, our Lord needed to be glorified in order to the Spirit being thus given. He "being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, He hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear," so says Peter in the course of preaching in Acts 2:33. Christ being where He is at God's right hand, of necessity - as He had done on the cross - must accomplish redemption. Praise Him! This is just what He did by His dying and blood shedding. As raised from the dead and glorified He has given the Spirit. There are, in consequence, three things true which never could be before: there is a Man in the glory; a divine Person, the Holy Spirit here upon earth; and a new company in union with Christ where He is and that in the power of the indwelling Spirit.
The "Assembly" is now formed - a substantive reality in the very world from which Christ has gone - having been expelled so ignominiously by way of His cruel and shameful death of crucifixion. We have now viewed three of the features which we set out at the commencement of this paper - the Assembly Foretold, Founded, and Formed.
FURNISHED AND FUNCTIONING
Having considered the Assembly Foretold, Founded, and Formed in our last issue we would say a little now about the Assembly "Furnished and Functioning." For the former we turn to Ephesians, especially chapter 2. Here we learn that this unique company is comprised of Gentile and Jew, formerly estranged and at enmity with each other, religiously and racially. Added to that condition they were both alike children of wrath by nature (Ep. 2:3). The enmity existent between them having been abolished in the flesh of Christ (vv. 14-15), the middle wall of partition has been broken down and, of the two, He has made in Himself one new man. The believing Gentile not elevated to Jewish ground, nor the believing Jew demoted to the lower level of the Gentile but rather both elevated to new creation ground. Then, too, in consequence of their mutual enmity being abolished they have been reconciled in one body to God by the cross. We also learn that additional to their being one new man and one body, they have a united place of blessing as growing together to an holy temple in the Lord. This springs from the fact they are no longer strangers and foreigners - how could they be who have "through Him access by one Spirit to the Father," and now are "fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets."
How does this fit with our earlier consideration of Matthew 16, where we made so much of the Assembly being founded on the truth of the Son of the living God? Here in Ephesians 2 we have the doctrinal basis laid upon the foundation of the Person of Christ. Let us also remember that Paul in 1 Corinthians 3: 9-11, while referring to that which is built by men in their responsibility, speaks plainly of the foundation which he had been used of God to lay, through the preaching of the glad tidings, in the souls of believers in Corinth. Here, in Ephesians 2, we are being taught that the foundation, apostolically laid in doctrine, has produced a building "fitly framed together." It grows with the day of display in view, having "Jesus Christ Himself" as its "Chief Corner Stone." While we are carried in affection to the coming day of glory, we are instructed that even now in this day of grace we "are builded together for an habitation of God in the Spirit." Just as God has been pleased to speak "Sonwise" so He dwells "Spiritwise" in the Assembly as His house. There His pleasure is secured and from it His testimony goes out.
The Assembly is viewed in its corporate aspect as the one Body of Christ; collectively as the House of God, covering all who have believed the gospel of their salvation and in consequence have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise (Ep. 1:13). These are individually in the blessedness of sonship with God, and of acceptance in the Beloved (Ep. 1:4-6).
In a measure we have referred to the "Function" of the Assembly while speaking of its being "Furnished" by the teaching of the apostles. In this connection let us recall that those early converts of Acts 2: 42 have this commendatory feature, "they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." We are not surprised, then, to read in an Epistle which speaks of "the last hour" (1 Jn. 2:18), "We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 Jn. 4:6).
The Function then of the Assembly is to be obedient at any time to the Word of God, the Scriptures of Truth. To the apostle Paul was committed the administration of the mystery - that Christ and the Assembly are one. This fact was implicit in the word of the glorified Lord at God's right hand when He apprehended Saul of Tarsus while exercising his zeal against the disciples of the Lord, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?"
One "Function" of the Assembly as the Body of Christ is to give expression to the life of its Head. As the House of God it is its privilege and responsibility to minister to the pleasure of God and to witness for Him in the world in which it is. He is a Saviour God and the testimony to this truth goes out from those who form His House. The witness of piety, as governing our practice, that is, due reverence to God in all things and at all times, will give moral power to the testimony that the God of the House of God, being a Saviour God, would have all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. This is a crowning privilege to give a true representation of our God. How blessed to enjoy fellowship in this. This fellowship was inaugurated by the apostles teaching, just as surely as it is regulated by it. It is expressed in the breaking of bread; "We being many are one bread, and one body; for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Co. 10:17).
The blessing of the cup and the breaking of the bread identifies all who do so - as to their responsibility - with the death of the Lord. As they do so they practically say "Amen" to the judgment of God expressed in the death of the Lord as to all that they were, and also endorsing His judgment of the world. We would cite, just now, the words of the apostle in Galatians 6: 14; "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
This fellowship, so expressed, can only be sustained by prayers. Those in the fellowship are in it by the calling of God (1 Co. 1:9), and as they join in prayers they are at once confessing their own inadequacy and owning their confidence in the absolute sufficiency of their faithful God.
We believe, in the light of the forgoing truth, they have been thoroughly "Furnished" by the teaching of the apostles.