There have appeared from time to time some books and booklets under the title, "The Church That Jesus Built." The mention of these works is not for criticism, but to raise a question: Of what church are they speaking? Did Jesus actually build a church? If so, what church? Was it the church which was at Jerusalem? Was it the "general church" or the "glory church" of which we have already written? Just what do brethren have in mind when they say, "The Church That Jesus Built"?
If the question just offered can be answered correctly, when did Jesus build His church? That is, if it has been built.
We do not mean to be critical when we say that perhaps what these writers have in mind is what we would prefer to call the "model church," that is, the kind of church set forth as a pattern in the Scriptures. In other words, it is not a question of whether or not Jesus has already built a church or of when He built it but rather these works seek to enquire as to what kind of church is set forth in the New Testament as a model. If Jesus has already built a single church, it could be none other than the one at Jerusalem, and if He is still building one, it can be none other than the "glory church" which is to be finished when He comes.
However, if we use the word "church" in the abstract or institutional sense, we can safely ask, when did Jesus build His church? That is, when did He set up the church as an institution? This question is at once like the question, when does a man build his house? He builds it over a period of time. So did Jesus set up the church over a period of time, the time from John's ministry until the final revelation for the church was given. It is more appropriate, therefore, to ask, when was the church founded?
A BACKWARD GLANCE
While the gospel of the Old Testament is the same as that of the New Testament, the church is a new institution. The
incarnation of God in human form, "Christ in you, the hope of glory," has always been the divine objective. The final state of this great hope is its realization in resurrected bodies when "we shall be like Him." The first age of revelation begins with the Garden of Eden, during which time God presents Himself as holy and intolerant of evil, demanding death for the sinner, but still holding out the message of righteous Abel to all who will believe.
Following this, we have the wrath of God expressed upon an evil world through the judgment of the flood. In the new world, God comes closer to men in the kingdom of Israel with His law expressed and spelled out in all its detailed application. Here, again, is the gospel of sacrifice for all who will believe. But this era reveals God through types and shadows as well as in the preaching of the prophets. In the Old Testament we have what seem to be types of the church, such as the tabernacle, and a thorough preaching of the gospel of salvation by the prophets, but while they have in view the day when God comes to abide in men, their view of the kingdom and the church is not clear and distinct. It must wait for the day of fulfilment.
When John the Baptist arrives, the voice of revelation has been still for over four hundred years. During all this time a remnant has been listening for the announcement of the coming Messiah. The righteous Israelite is looking for the kingdom and the King. If the kingdom is not really to appear at this time, and if the church is to come as a new institution with a new purpose, something must take place to clarify the confused expectation of the true Israelite as well as to reveal the true sin of all Israel and the rest of the world.
THE KINGDOM EPISODE
We anticipate some disagreement in many places in this book, and especially at this point, but we must present our views.
The offer of the kingdom to Israel at this time had the special objective and effect of proving to them that they, too, must be born again before they could become fit subjects for the kingdom. Although the prophets had been predicting the kingdom for ages, and although the people had for that long been expecting it, they still had no real understanding of what divine rule on the earth could mean. To the leaders of Israel, it was some sort of political kingdom which would free their nation from the domination of
the Gentile world. Being God's chosen people, they thought that they were righteous, sons of Abraham. The only righteousness they knew was that of the law (Romans 10:2-5), and even of that righteousness they had only a moral understanding. The rich young ruler is a classic example of this. His claim of obedience to the law showed that he had no understanding of its true spiritual meaning.
Therefore, not only was the righteousness of the law impossible in human conduct, but Israel had only a moral, outward concept of obedience to it. Yet, with that understanding, they conceived themselves to be fit for the kingdom, and mainly on the ground that they were Abraham's children. For a nation which had been in rebellion against God's will for centuries, not only in heart but also in open conduct, this kingdom matter was being taken much too lightly. John sets before them what it will be like to live in the kingdom under the rule of Christ.
They are no longer to be concerned only for themselves, but for each other (Luke 3:11). This spirit was exemplified in the church at Jerusalem later (Acts 4:32ff.). When the people came asking what changes should be made, the Baptist warned tax collectors against cheating and extortion. Quit stealing and robbing. As we often hear people say, "Do right!" This is kingdom conduct. Kingdom people must be honest and respect the rights of others.
To the soldiers he said, in substance: "Quit accusing people falsely and victimizing them just because you have authority. Quit taking advantage of your power and committing violent acts. Quit quarrelling about your wages and be content with what you have."
All this is kingdom conduct. When Christ comes to reign on earth, right will be the rule just as wrong is now. Thus, John's instruction was kingdom ethics. Those who caught the spiritual import of his message and genuinely repented, bowed down in their hearts, not only to righteous rule but to the King Himself. They saw Him as the King of their hearts, and they looked to Him not only as the Messiah who would one day rule the earth but as the "lamb of God who (would take) away the sin of the world." They would be people with a new heart and a new understanding of life. This was to be the kind of people whom God would prepare for the kingdom.
John's demand for kingdom righteousness brought one of two responses from the hearts of his hearers. They either bowed down in genuine heart repentance and cast their hope in Jesus who was soon to appear, or their resistance to the will of God was so aggravated that it crystallized into a hatred which finally brought about His crucifixion.
WAS THE KINGDOM POSTPONED?
In our view, the word "postponed" has never been appropriate in this connection. It is as if God had purposed to set up the kingdom with Jesus as King, but that because the Jews rejected Him, God changed His plan and resorted to the church as His agency for this age. Certainly, God did not change His mind. The question should be, "Did God offer the kingdom?" Without question, the answer is yes.
If one should question God's consistency in the light of this conclusion, one must remember that man being what he is, God deals with him as he does. The offer of the kingdom was necessary to the main purpose of God in calling from both Jew and Gentile those of whom He would form the "one new man," the church, and at last the Kingdom.
The church was the main thing in the purpose of God for this age, but before it could blossom into reality, the kingdom matter must be closed for this time. That is why we have called it "The Kingdom Episode."
It was the coming of Jesus as King that brought about His crucifixion as Saviour. At the cross God cut through the heart of this whole world, both Jew and Gentile, and proved that all men hated His government. Only those who would bow down in repentance could be subject to the King. Thus, God accomplished His purpose for this time by presenting the kingdom and the King, the light of the world, and thereby proved that even His own chosen people "loved darkness rather than light." This was the condemnation (John 3:19) which "concluded all in unbelief" (Romans 11:32).
So, instead of saying that the kingdom was postponed, let us say that the King was offered, rejected and crucified, thus revealing the attitude of Israel, as well as of all mankind, toward the rule of God. This is clearly the attitude of the world today. None of us can be comfortable in the presence of the King without
a penitent heart. Not a nation on earth, at this time or ever, has been or ever will be willing to let Jesus reign. When His kingdom comes to the earth and His will is done here as it is in Heaven, it will be composed of those who have repented toward God and have bowed down in worship to the King.
Having rejected the King and the kingdom, the Jews have had their day until "the fulness of the Gentiles be come in" (Romans 11:25).
THE CHURCH AND THE KINGDOM
This subject has called forth volumes of discussion, and we are not naive enough to think that what we have to say here is at all adequate for even a brief consideration of it. Our purpose in these few paragraphs is merely to set forth our general view of the difference between the church and the kingdom. With full understanding of the complications we leave covered in this subject, we hold the discussion to our main purpose.1
That there is a difference between the church and the kingdom, we have no doubt. As we see it, the kingdom of God is eternal in both directions. Simply, it is the rule of God wherever that may be. As respects this earth, Satan, by permission of God, has ruled this world order since the day of Adam's transgression and will continue to do so until Jesus comes again. All through the ages of Satan's rule on this earth, God has drawn to Himself many of this fallen race and has given to them the spirit of grace, thereby making them subject to His rule. This may include all believers of every age.2
We who are His are not in the kingdom literally, but rather are strangers and pilgrims in an alien land, giving witness to the saving power of Christ until He comes to bring His rule (kingdom) to earth. We are of the kingdom of God now, but not in it, just as we are in the world but not of it. So, there is a sense in which it might be said that the kingdom of God is in us because we are of it, but we will not be in the kingdom literally until the man Christ Jesus reigns upon the earth. In this connection, it
may be helpful to remember that we are born into a family, we enter or inherit a kingdom, and we are added to a church.
On the other hand, a church is a community of baptized believers here in this world, united by covenant in the fellowship of the gospel of Christ, and is the agency of God in this age to call to repentance and faith in Christ those who will compose the kingdom when it comes to earth. The church (generic sense) began with the ministry of John and Jesus; the kingdom of God has always been and always will be. However, the kingdom will not appear in this earth, as we have indicated, until the mission of the church has been completed. The kingdom has to do with the rule or reign of Christ in the earth; the church has to do with the calling of Christ in this age. The church is now calling men from sin to the Saviour; when the kingdom comes, those who have responded to the gospel call may enjoy the reign of Christ.
Maybe this is an over-simplification, but this in general is the way it looks to us.
THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH
The church was founded the day the Lord called the twelve apostles and set them apart to be witnesses of His death and resurrection. This was about two years after He began His ministry. He called them to Himself to be trained for the inauguration of His work through the church. With the New Testament prophets, they were to become the foundation of the church, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:20).
Here is the record in Mark 3:13-19: "And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sickness, and to cast out devils. . . ." Then follow the names of the apostles.
We must be careful in seeking the foundation of the church not to pin our case on one lone passage of Scripture. The general sense must be obtained from all references.
It is like, for example, the matter of justification. The Scriptures say that we are justified by His grace (Romans 3:24), by faith (Romans 5:1), by His blood (Romans 5:9) as well as by works (James. 2:24). One would certainly have to see the central idea
in these passages and make whatever distinctions are necessary to find harmony in the doctrine of justification.
So it is when we compare the different passages which speak of the foundation of the church, we must seek the central meaning without making our case conform to one single figure or expression.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said, "Upon this rock I will build my church." The Romanists say He meant Peter, and so do some others. There are others who say that He meant Himself. Still others say He meant Peter's confession, while still others say He meant the Word of God -- the living Logos as well as the written Word.
In Ephhesians 2:20, assuming that this passage is referring to the church, or a church, Christ is spoken of as not the whole foundation, but He is here the chief comer stone with the apostles and prophets completing the foundation. There is also that further difficulty of deciding whether this passage refers to the prophets of the Old Testament or the New.3
Again, Paul, most surely speaking of the church, says: "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 3:11).
From all such passages it seems sensible to draw a central truth about the foundation of the church without making our
conclusion conform to one or another of the figures exclusively. The general truth is that Christ is in some way the foundation of the church, but more especially in the sense that He is the chief comer stone. As B. H. Carroll4 and others point out, there are other corner stones in the building above the chief one, but that chief one is the one by which all the other parts of the building, including other foundation stones, are laid, and the Ephesians 2:20 passage explains fully that the apostles and prophets are in the foundation with Him. The technicalities of these figures should not disturb the main concept.
We feel sure that many people who pound out loudly that Christ is the foundation of the church, the Rock on which he would build His ekklesia, may at the same time have a rather vague idea of what they mean. Actually, the Matthew 16:18 passage makes very clear that it is not just Christ as a person seen in the flesh, but Christ as He is known only by a divine experience of revelation which makes one spiritually alive unto Him. This is the experience Peter had, and the final sense is that the church is founded on and set up after Christ as seen by a regenerated membership. No other concept of Christ would be adequate for this divine institution.
There has long been division over the question of the exact date on which the church was born. It is true that there is much ground for debate on this subject, and we do not mean merely to brush the matter aside. However, it seems to us that the contention over this matter is not as much the determining factor in other matters relating to the church as some may claim. For instance, there are those who think that if we do not have a fully organized church, finished in structure and instructed for its work and endowed with authority to act for our Lord before Pentecost, we lose our claim for autonomy of the church. There are better grounds upon which to establish such claims. This will be shown in a later chapter.
While the twelve were called upon kingdom grounds, and while their first work was to announce the kingdom as at hand (Matthew 10:6, 7, et al.), at the same time they became a part of the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20) which was to be revealed gradually and over quite a period of time.
The kingdom matter had to be settled before the church could
be launched, and the twelve had to walk with Him through this period without knowing the unfolding purposes of Christ in the church. Again, the long session which He had with them as recorded in John 14 to 17 reveals His loving desire to assure them without trying to explain the transition from kingdom talk to church talk. Lovingly He says: "I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:12, 13).
There was so much that they did not yet know. Even after the resurrection it is evident that they did not understand the meaning of this great event. "For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise from the dead" (John 20:9). Furthermore, their ignorance of church plans is evident even on the day of the ascension. During the forty days after the resurrection, He had been speaking to them still about "the things pertaining to the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3), and they are asking on this last day when He will restore the kingdom to Israel (v. 6).
Was the church then not born until Pentecost? In answer to this question, we soften the lines of dogmatism and let the progressive revelation speak for itself. The church emerged gradually.
In the mind and purpose of Christ, it had its beginning with the call of the twelve (Matthew 10, Luke 9), but, as previously indicated, they must walk with Him through the offer and rejection of the kingdom before He could bring the church into its mission. Nevertheless, along the way He gives instruction insofar as they are able to receive it which prepares them for their church mission when it is inaugurated (e.g., Matthew 16:18; 18:15-19; 28:18- 20, etc.).
Those who argue for full church organization and "church authority" at this point have little on which to base their contention.5 So far as the Scriptures are concerned, the church
has no organization at this time as we think of it. It needed no authority, for Jesus was the authority, and the apostles were dependent on Him for each day's revelation. Their church consciousness in this period is very slight.
It is easy for us, two thousand years after Pentecost, to think of the church before that date as having been fully organized and instructed as churches are today, but a fair look at the revelation will show that their whole concept of the church and its mission at this point is very immature. In fact, long after Pentecost they are learning of the mission of the church (Acts 9, 10, 11), and it remains for Paul to make the final revelation about this great institution (Ephesians 3).
THE QUESTION OF JOHN'S BAPTISM
If John's baptism began with the offer of the kingdom, and if this "kingdom episode" was to transpire before the church could blossom into reality, how can his baptism qualify as a baptism of the church? That is, is there a difference between John's baptism and what is often called "Christian baptism"? It seems to us that they are the same. It is only a matter of progressive revelation.
John's baptism was unto repentance, that is, a change of heart toward God and a willingness to be subject to the Messiah. However little they undertsood of all that was to be revealed, it involved also a faith in Him who would come baptizing in the Holy Spirit, as Paul plainly points out in Acts 19:1-7. It was not necessary for all who came to John's baptism to understand all God's purposes in the church in order for their baptism to be valid. It was necessary for them to bow down in their hearts to the rule of the Messiah and to cast their hope of salvation in Him whom John had declared to be "the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world."
To make this confession of John's disciples to be merely a moral acceptance of the King is to contradict the teaching of Paul in Acts 19:1-7. These and all other believers back to the gates of Eden were saved in the same way, by repentance toward God and faith in a promised Saviour. They did not at this point have the experience of the indwelling Spirit, but with this exception, their repentance and faith were as genuine and complete as those who were saved on and after the day of Pentecost. It remained for the Holy Spirit and the new revelation to teach them more about their salvation, but as far as they were concerned,
their hope was in the Lamb of God, and that is genuine repentance and faith. The fact that their church consciousness at this point was not mature had nothing to do with the genuineness of their repentance.
It must be remembered that the presence of the Holy Spirit in us is not what saves us. He is the divine agency by whom the experience of repentance and faith is worked within us, and He is the gift of God to those who believe, the earnest of their salvation, but we are saved just as were Old Testament saints, by faith in the Sacrifice.
In the case of John's disciples, the Holy Spirit had not come to abide in them, nevertheless, they were well qualified to walk with Jesus through His period of rejection, crucifixion and resurrection, thus emerging into the mission of the church.
Thus the church has been founded and is on its way.
1 Among the recent books which more nearly represent our views on the Kingdom is Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God, by George E. Ladd (Grand Rapids, Mich., The Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1954).
2 We are aware of different views as to who will compose the Kingdom, and, while admitting there is room for debate, we think an enlargement upon this phase would lead us too far from our main subject.
3 If the passage had meant the O. T. prophets, the order would have been "Prophets and Apostles," (See Ephesians 2:20 -- BHK), and the previous statements referred clearly to Christian times, to the preaching after Christ's death. Hence, the prophets are to be understood as Christian prophets, of whom large mention is made in the Book of Acts and the Epistles -- the NT prophets who in this same Epistle (iii. 5) are designated as Christ's prophets and are named (iv. 11) among the gifts of the ascended Lord to His Church. The frequency with which they are referred to (Acts xi. 28, xv. 32; I Corinthians xiv., etc.) and the place assigned them next to the Apostles (Ephesians iv, 11) show the prominent position they had in the primitive Church. The statements made regarding them in the non-canonical literature (The Teaching of the Twelve, Clem. Alex., Strom., the Shepherd of Hermes, etc.) show how they continued to exist and work beyond the Apostolic Age and help us to distinguish their ministry as that essentiality of teachers and exhorters, whether itinerant or resident, from the essentially missionary ministry of the Apostles. Further, the association of these prophets with the Apostles suggests that the latter term is not to be restricted here to the twelve, but is to be taken as including all those to whom the name Apostle is given in the NT . -- S. D. F. Salmond in Expositors Greek New Testament, Vol. III, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., London, New York, Toronto, pp. 299, 300.
See also, Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; I Corinthians 12:28, 29; Ephesians 3:5; 4:11. (BHK).
4 Carroll, op. cit. (Ephesians), p. 117.
5 To support the view that the church was fully organized and authorized to "do business" for the Lord before Pentecost, there are those who claim (1) that they had a treasurer (Judas), and (2) that they had a "business meeting" (when Matthias was chosen as an apostle -- Acts 1:15ff.) et cetera. While many who recognize these claims as solid proof of this view stand also firmly with the author in his position against "alien baptism" and "open communion," it is our feeling that such claims are weakened by the fact that a treasurer is not a scriptural office, and a business meeting is not a Scriptural requirement for a New Testament church.
[From Buell H. Kazee, The Church and the Ordinances, Lexington, KY, 1965, pp. 35-45.]
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