DEVELOPMENT OF THE SCRIPTURAL
PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH IT IS BASED.
WHAT IS "THE CHURCH" TO WHICH THE NEW
TESTAMENT GIVES JURISDICTION OVER OFFENCES?
THE evangelists record but two instances in which the Saviour used the word "church." In each of these instances He employed it in a different sense. In Matt. xvi. 18, referring to the confession of Peter, He says, "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;" and in Matt. xviii. 17, "Tell it to the church," &c. The most casual glance will show that He could not have had in view the same object each time. The inspired penmen of the New Testament make the same distinction in its use. A careful collation of the passages in which the word is found will show that, in its relation to the kingdom of Christ, it has two meanings.
1. It is used to express the whole company of those who are saved by Him,?from righteous Abel down to the last one who shall be redeemed by His precious blood. The following passages may be cited to sustain this meaning: "Gave him to be head over all things to the church." Eph. i. 22. "Unto him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end." Eph. iii. 21. (Here, this glory is to Him in the church in heaven, world without end,?long after all local churches shall cease to exist.) "To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God." Eph. iii. 10. "The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church." Eph. v. 23, &c. "But ye have come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, and to the general assembly and church of the first born which are written in heaven." Heb. xii. 22. Other passages of a like nature may be quoted; but let these suffice.
The Greek word ecclesia, which is translated "church," signifies an assembly. It is objected that it cannot with propriety be applied to the whole company of believers, since they never have met in an assembly on earth. The last passage quoted, however, meets this objection, by suggesting that the place of assembling is not earth, but heaven.
The constituents of this assembly are those who have been called by God?s grace, regenerated by God?s Spirit, and redeemed by Christ?s blood. From the time of Abel they have been gathering together to the place of meeting. In all time, and from all regions, they have been converging to the heavenly Jerusalem; and when the last of the redeemed shall be prepared to answer to his name, they will constitute in fact what they always have in God?s purpose, the general assembly and church universal of Christ gathered together in heaven.
This cannot be the body to whom the Saviour has given jurisdiction over offences. It possesses visibility excepting in the persons of the individual members of it who so live as to show the power of Divine grace; it contains no external organization or officers; and it never will meet together in time. It is maintained by some that the church universal is composed of the aggregate of Baptist churches,?that the Baptist denomination and the church universal are synonymous terms. To this opinion there are the following difficulties:
1st. This would be to include in the general assembly and church of the first-born which are written in heaven, some who have never been converted, and who will finally perish. Every one will grant that many, if not all, the Baptist churches, may contain persons who will live in hypocrisy or self delusion, and die in impenitence and go to perdition.
2nd. This would be to exclude from the general assembly and church of the first born many who have been converted and saved in heaven. On this principle, all the Old Testament worthies would be excluded from the universal church; though we are told that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and all the prophets, shall sit down in the kingdom of heaven. These and multitudes of others now in glory died before the formation of the first Baptist church in Jerusalem. On this principle, the thief on the cross will be excluded, though the Savior said to him, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise;" and even John the Baptist, the Forerunner of Christ, would be shut out; since he never was baptized and never was a member of a Baptist church.
If Christ was made head over all things only to the aggregate of Baptist churches, then He does not and never did bear that relation to Abraham and a vast multitude of others, though they were redeemed by His precious blood.
3d. This would be to use the term "church" in the sense in which we deny it to the Romish hierarchy and other organizations of vast territorial extent.
The Baptist denomination, since the dispersion of the disciples in Jerusalem, never did and never will meet together in one assembly on earth. If, then, the Baptist denomination in the world, which cannot meet together in one assembly, can be called a church, how can we deny to the Methodist Episcopal organization, or the Presbyterian organization, the name of church, on the plea that they cannot thus meet together? The Baptist (and we think the scriptural) local organization is called a church, because it constitutes an assembly capable of meting together in one place. Upon what principles, then, can we call the Baptists denomination a church, when it is composed of distinct churches, that by the very theory of their organization must remain distinct, and which will lose their distinctive characteristics and become annihilated when they are merged into one general organization? If they are merged together in fact, they are annihilated in fact; if the merging is a mere mental conception, then the mental conception is an annihilation of the true scriptural conception. According to the signification of the word ECCLESIA, it is as easy to conceive of the church or assembly of all the Romanists in the world as of the church or assembly of all the Baptist churches in the world. Nay, easier, since in their case nothing prevents but the physical impossibility, while in the case of the Baptist churches to this physical impossibility are added the thousands and thousands of barriers afforded by the organization of each. An assembly composed of individuals, however impossible, may be conceived; but what imagination can picture an assembly whose components are local churches? But
4th. If it is correct in any sense to call the aggregate of Baptist churches A church, where and what is the general organization? A number of machines placed in contact side by side do not become one vast machine: so the array of thousands and thousands of Baptist churches do not in fact or mental conception constitute one general church. They still remain what they were before,?the churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are organizations; but where is the organization par excellence? Where is the head of this church, either in the form of Pope or Bishop, or Pastor?where its place of meeting and what its functions??Let the constituents of the church universal be regenerated persons, the place of meeting heaven, and the period when they shall completely assemble, the time when all Christ?s redeemed people shall gather together in one, and we can perceive the propriety of the term applied to it,?"the general assembly and church of the first-born whose names are written in heaven." Then can we see the pertinence and truth of the apostle?s declaration when he says, "Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it;?that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish," Eph. v. 25-27. Christ?s church universal is composed exclusively of regenerated persons from all Christian organizations, and from no organizations, who have no external bond of union, and who will never all meet together until they constitute the general assembly above.
But this cannot be the church to whom Christ gives the jurisdiction of offences.
2. The word "church" is used again in the New Testament to designate a local society, composed of those, and those only, who profess regeneration and faith in Christ, and who have been immersed upon a profession of that faith,?who are able to meet together in one place, and who observe the ordinances and maintain the worship of God. This is the only external organization which the New Testament designates by the term "Church." To these local churches the followers of Christ unite themselves, securing first their fellowship by convincing them that they have believed with the heart unto righteousness, and submitting to the ordinance of baptism, which is an indispensable prerequisite to membership. These bodies in the management of their internal affairs Christ makes independent of each other and of all the world besides; and to these he delegates sovereignty over their members, enjoining them to watch over them in love, to instruct them in the truth as it is in Jesus, to comfort the feeble minded, to warn the unruly, to restore the wandering, and, if need be, to put away from among themselves wicked persons. It is the Local Church, then, to which Christ has given jurisdiction over offences.
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