Expositional commentary on Scripture using an inductive exegetical methodology intent upon confronting the lives of Christians with the dogmatic Truths of God's inspired Words opposing Calvinism and Arminianism, Biblical commentary, doctrine of grace enablement, understanding holiness and wisdom and selfishness, in-depth Bible studies, adult Bible Study books and Sunday School materials Dr. Lance T. Ketchum Line Upon Line: Defining the Church

Monday, January 15, 2018

Defining the Church



Defining the Church


            
         There is almost complete ignorance by most professing Christians of what God’s Word teaches about the Church (Ecclesiology).  Most professing Christians have simply accepted what they have been wrongly taught because they have believed in the authority and expertise of their pastors and priests.  These pastors and priests, in most cases, have never looked beyond what their denominations have taught them. 


          When Christ says to Peter, “That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” what is He saying?  The translation is somewhat misleading.  Jesus is actually saying, “thou art Petros (pet’-ros; literally a piece of rock), and upon this Rock (the foundational truth of Peter’s proclamation of faith that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”) I will build my church.”  The very first criterion for constituting a local church is that every member must be examined to ensure he has this same testimony of faith in Christ before he is added to the church.  Embodied in Peter’s testimony that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” is all the Scriptural testimonies of what “the Christ” (Messiah) was prophesied to do, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Faith in what the Bible teaches about Who Jesus is and what He was incarnated to do is the foundational truth necessary for acceptance into the membership any local church. 

Apart from the reality of Jesus being “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the work of redemption could not have been completed, God could not have been propitiated, and justification “by grace through faith” could not have been offered.  From this proclamation of faith and upon this foundational “Rock,” Jesus would begin to build His church one living stone at a time.

4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (I Peter 2:4-8).

          When we read the Epistles of the New Testament Scriptures, we can clearly see that they are addressed to the Church.  However, is this Church some ambiguous entity without geographical boundaries or theological definitiveness?  Is this Church universal and international in scope and governance?  Is the Church a hierarchal and Theonomic institution intent upon ruling over nations and kings establishing and dictating moral Law to the people of the world?  Does this Church hold the “keys of the Kingdom,” determining who can be saved and who will go to Hell?  According to the teaching of Scripture, we must answer each of these questions with a resounding - No! 

          For what purpose does the Church exist and how is it to be governed and administrated?  Every local church is a gift from God and a “holy priesthood” of every believer (I Peter 2:5).  Therefore, every local church as a “holy priesthood” is governed by our Great High Priest Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the “chief Shepherd” (I Peter 5:4).  Jesus governs every local church by gifting local churches with pastors to teach, guide, and administrate the individuals that constitute the ministering priesthood of believers united with that local assembly.  This Biblical and Dispensational definition of the Church helps us answer all questions about why God has established local churches.  The epistle of Paul to the Ephesians is the Magna Carta for teaching the administration of the priesthood of all believers in every local church. 

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).

          How we answer these questions about the purpose and administration of local churches is singularly important to our worldview and establishing God’s purpose for believers in the world.  Our answer to these questions will also define how believers are to be trained to fulfill that purpose, how believers are to be administrated in their ministry to one another and to the world, and how accountability to God, His truth, one another, and moral culpability is to be administrated.  Therefore, every believer needs a doctrinally sound local church.  Finding a doctrinally sound local church is the great difficulty. 

          When we read of “the church” in the New Testament Scriptures, its use is directed to all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ living after the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3).  The term “church” cannot be divorced from a dispensational transition from the Dispensation of the Law (Mosaic Covenant) to the Dispensation of the Church Age (commonly referred to as the Age of Grace or New Covenant).  Although Jesus began building His church with the Apostles, the Church was not ordained into existence until the coming of the promised Parakletos (Holy Spirit).  This historical event of the coming of the promised Parakletos marks the beginning of the Church Age. 

The Church is a living organism built upon the foundation living Rock of Jesus being “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  The Church is a building of “living stones” built upon the Rock of the life-giving Stone, Jesus Christ.  These are metaphors revealing deep spiritual Truths defining what the Church is and for what purpose it is created.  Therefore, the Church is much more than an organization (although it is organized).  The Church is a living organism spiritually energized by the indwelling Holy Spirit intended to be a synergism of believers united into a working/ministry partnership with God.  These believers are united by truth {“the faith”) and enabled by the power of God in them. 

1 Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, 2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: 3 If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. 4 To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, 5 Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house {the Church collectively}, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. 6 Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. 7 Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, 8 And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. 9 But ye {the Church collectively} are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. 11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:1-12).

          However, before this spiritual dynamic of the Church being a living organism, believers must be sanctified to bring glory to God.  Therefore, the teachings of the doctrine of grace (supernatural enablement of the indwelling Holy Spirit) must be taught and understood as this doctrine relates to the sanctification and then the consecration of the Priesthood of believers that makes up the living organism Christ calls His Church.
 
          Where then do we find the Bible’s teaching regarding the true doctrine of the Church?  Gathering all that the New Testament teaches about the doctrine of Ecclesiology must be done inductively (the sum of the parts equals the whole).  However, the epistle to the Ephesians gives us the greatest depth of teaching regarding the doctrine of the Church. 

“3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: 4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: 5 Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. 7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; 8 Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. 13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, 14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:3-14).

Notice that every pronoun in chapter one referring to believers is plural.  This is evident in the KJV, but not all other English translations.  This is important in that the election (“chosen,” vs. 4) of Ephesians chapter one is the election of the Church corporately to be a new priesthood.  It is not the election of individuals to be saved.  Election is vocational, not salvational.

If we draw the rest of Scripture revelation together with the teaching of the epistle to the Ephesians, we can formulate a thorough inductive understanding of the doctrine of the Church.  A basic outline of Ecclesiology from the epistle to the Ephesians chapter one is as follows:

A. The Church is a corporation of “saints” (sanctified priests), as “born again” believers, faithful to the commands of Jesus Christ (v.1).
B. The Church is distinct from the nation of Israel and her blessings are eternal and spiritual rather than temporal and earthly (v. 3).
C. The Church is chosen corporately “in Christ,” her High Priest, as a new, spiritual Priesthood before “the foundation of the world” (i.e., not an afterthought, but a before creation thought, v. 4).
D. This whole new priesthood, that is “saved by grace through faith,” is predestined to glorification (v. 5).  This is the meaning of the word “adoption” – translated from the Greek huiothesia (hwee-oth-es-ee’-ah).  The word means the placement or position of the sons of God.  This cannot be understood apart from the placement of the “firstborn” as the typical priesthood now fulfilled in the Church as the priesthood of all believers in the “church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12:23). 
E. This new priesthood is “accepted” (positionally sanctified and consecrated) in Christ, “the beloved” (vs. 6-9).
F. The Church is embryonically what all believers of all Ages will be in “the regeneration” in the new Heaven/Earth – a kingdom of glorified priests (vs. 10-14).
G. Paul’s prayer for the enabling power of the indwelling Christ-life of the believer’s High Priest to be realized, actuated, and released in and through the local church as the “body” of Christ (vs. 15-23). 

Anonymous comments will not be allowed.
Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at: http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/ 
Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist. 
He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

2 comments:

Unknown said...

Thank you for the article. I wonder then how you will define the body of Christ. Is it composed of all believers since Pentecost,alive or dead? Or is it numerous bodies of local churches as the landmarkers believe? Thank you for your answer. Mark

Lance said...

Mark Amen

I am not a "landmarker." I do not speculate on what the Church will be in the Kingdom Age. I do not know of any Scripture that tells us that. We do know what Church Age believers will be doing during the Kingdom in various localities. They will be the "kings" of which Jesus is King and the "lords" of which He is Lord.