What We Believe: The Church
April 3rd, 1974 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT WE BELIEVE: THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-3-74 7:30 p.m.
Now I do not know whether you all still bring these little Articles of Faith with you or not. If you do, share it with everybody you can get in contact with, and let us read the article on the church. That is our subject tonight: The Church. Everybody just —there is enough of you here to read it out loud with me—why, sharing it with everybody in sight, let’s see if we can read it out loud together, the article on the church:
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a local body of baptized believers who are associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel, observing the two ordinances of Christ, committed to His teachings, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. This church is an autonomous body, operating through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In such a congregation members are equally responsible. Its Scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. The New Testament speaks also of the church as the body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages.
Now for our discussion. I have divided this lesson tonight into two parts. The first part concerns the words used in the Holy Scriptures regarding the church, and the second part concerns observations from the New Testament regarding the nature and mission of the church. And when I begin the lecture, I have a very distinct and deepening feeling that we are just introducing the discussion, even though we have a full hour for it.
There are literally libraries of books that are written on the church, and the church takes—as you look at it in the world, in Christendom—the church assumes such varying, kaleidoscopic forms and features and organizations. It’s just so different. I will not name some of the denominational groups, but they are as different as night is from day, and sometimes as different as hell is from heaven. The sight that you see in the proliferation of the churches in the world today is absolutely amazing!
Well, possibly it will help us to a good understanding of a New Testament church if we just look at the words that are used in presenting it in the Bible. And if we can understand the nomenclature, then maybe we can get a good understanding of the mind of Christ in its purpose, its formation, and its organization. So we’re going to start first with the word church, c-h-u-r-c-h, church, the word church.
Suppose I invite you to go with me to visit Pastor Timothy, who lives in Ephesus, and is the undershepherd of the congregation at Ephesus. So we follow through those beautiful, colonnaded streets, past the temple to Artemis—one the Seven Wonders of the World—and finally come to a certain house, at a certain address, and we knock at the door.
And Pastor Timothy comes to the door, and we introduce ourselves, and we say, “We’re from Dallas, Texas, the United States of America—which is a long way from you—and we have come to visit you, Pastor Timothy.”
And he says, “Well, you surely look strange, and you talk strange, and you dress strange, but come in.” So we come in and we sit down to visit with Pastor Timothy.
So the first thing we say to the young minister of the church, “We have come to talk to you about your church. We want to know about the church at Ephesus.”
And he says, “You want to talk to me about what?”
And we say, “We want to talk to you about the church.”
And Timothy replies, “I never heard of the church. What do you mean the church?”
And we say, “You never heard of a church?”
“No,” says Pastor Timothy, “I don’t know what you mean. What do you mean, church?”
And we explain to him what we mean is, the people of God, the followers of Christ, the disciples of Jesus over which God has called you to be an undershepherd, an overseer.
“Oh,” says Pastor Timothy. “You’re talking about the ekklēsia.”
“Yes,” we say, “the ekklēsia, the church.”
“No,” says Pastor Timothy, “not the church. I never heard of the church.”
Well, what is the matter with Pastor Timothy that he never heard of the church? Well, the reason is very obvious. For the first three hundred years, the assembly of the Lord, the congregation of the saints of Christ, were called an ekklēsia, and it was only after the conversion of Constantine that they changed the name of it from ekklēsia—the called-out people of God—to kuriakos, the lordly house, the Lord’s house.
And as time went on, and as the centuries passed, and as the word went from one language to another, kuriakos, kirkas, kirk, and, finally, in English, church, but there is no such thing in the Bible as a church, a kuriakos, a lordly house, a great monument of stone and brick, and today stained glass, and gracious proportions, and spires pointing up to God. That is a kuriakos, kuriakos, a kirkas, a kirk. A church is the house, but there is no such a thing as that in the Bible. That was only after Constantine.
Isn’t that an amazing, dumbfounding, unbelievable thing, that the conversion of the Roman emperor should have changed the whole fabric and the whole nomenclature of the Christian religion? I don’t think in human history there is anything that is so traumatically demonstrable as the vast, immeasurable change that came to the Christian faith when Constantine, the Roman emperor, was converted.
Christianity for the first three hundred years was an ekklēsia. It was a called-out people of God. It had no kuriakos. It had no church house. The church met, and I can’t talk to you without using kuriakos, because that’s our language today, and that’s the way it is in the Bible. Ekklesia is translated, “church,” kuriakos, but there is no church in the Bible, and I can’t talk back there as it was three hundred years ago.
But the ekklēsia, which is the word in the New Testament, it had no house in which to meet. It had no great, lordly temple. It had no priesthood. It was a called-out company of God’s people, and they met just wherever it was that the people would gather together.
When Constantine became a Christian, those great Greek temples— basilicas, those Greek temples—were turned into kuriakos, kuriakoi, houses of the Lord. And the priests rushed to be baptized, in order to be ministers in the kuriakos. And the whole idolatrous worship of the ancient Greek was baptized into the church.
The images: here is Neptune, that’s not really Neptune—that’s Peter. Here is Jove, that’s not really Jove—that’s Joseph. And here’s Artemis, that’s not really Artemis—that’s Mary. And they took the images and changed their names and made Christian saints out of them. And they took the temples, and baptized them, and made churches out of them. And they took the priests and baptized them and made ministers of the gospel out of them. And they took the whole format of the ancient Greek service and religion, and baptized it, and made Christian out of it, so called. And they even changed the name of the church itself. So from an ekklēsia, referring to the called-out people of God, they changed it to kuriakos, kirkus, kirk, “church,” referring to the house in which the people assembled.
Well, what is the New Testament word for the church, this ekklēsia? Ek means “out of,” and kaleō means “to call.” So ekklēsia means “to call out.” And literally translated, the ekklēsia is the “called-out ones of God.” They’re called out from the world, just as the resurrection is ek, anastasis, “called out,” raised up from among the dead. It is a called-out assembly of the Lord.
Now, the word is an ordinary Greek word. It is not a word that is invented. It is not something that Christ used for the first time. The word ekklēsia is a very ordinary word, and it is so used in the Bible.
For example, in the Septuagint translation, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is used for the nation of Israel, referring to the called-out people of God—Deuteronomy 31: 30, for example. Stephen will refer in Acts 7:38 to Moses, who was in the church in the wilderness. Now that’s the way it is translated in the King James Version in Acts 7:38. Moses was in the church in the wilderness. That is, he was in the congregation of the called-out people of God in the wilderness.
In Hebrews 2:12, there is a quotation from the Old Testament, “In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.” They didn’t have any church back there in the Old Testament—the word ekklēsia, the Greek Septuagint translation of the word for an assembly—the nation of Israel, the called-out ones of Israel.
Now in the Greek life, in the Roman Empire, the word was used for a convocation of Greek citizens in a city democracy. For example, in that uproar raised over Paul by Demetrius, in Ephesus [Acts 19:24-34]; in Acts 19: 39, the town clerk says, “If Demetrius has anything that he wants to bring up, why, let him present it in a lawful assembly”—ekklēsia, translated there, assembly. So the word ekklēsia—the one used in the Bible, translated “church”—was an ordinary Greek word referring to a people who are called out.
In the Old Testament, the Septuagint translation, it referred to the called-out people of God, the church in the wilderness [Acts 7:38]. In the life of the Greek people in the Roman Empire, it would refer to a gathering of the citizens who were called together to pass laws, to administer the government of a city [Acts 19:39]. So that is the word that the Lord chose to refer to His called-out people. They are the called-out ones of Christ, the church [1 Corinthians 1:2].
Now there are three different uses of that word ekklēsia in the New Testament. The word is used a hundred fifteen times in the New Testament, ekklēsia. And there are three basic uses of the word, church, in the New Testament.
Number one: it is used generically; that is, for the idea of a church. We talk like that all the time. We use words generically, not individually or locally, but with the idea. For example, a man could say, “The state, and the home, and the school are the great foundations of the republic, the life of a nation.” Well, what does he mean? He’s talking about the state, the government, the home—the idea of the home—the school, the family. That’s the generic idea of the word, the idea of it. It has no reference to any local, particular assembly, as such; family, as such; group, as such; school, as such; home, as such. It’s a generic use of the word; the state, the home, the school, the law—not any particular law, just the idea of the law.
So it is used that way in the Bible; the idea of a church, the generic idea of a church. And it’s used as that in that famous passage in Matthew 16:18. That’s an illustration of the generic use of the word: “I will build My church, upon this rock, I will build My church.”
Here’s another use of it—I mean here’s another illustration of that generic use of the word church in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 10:32, Paul divides all mankind into three parts: the Jew, you know, the whole thing, the Jew; the Gentile, the whole thing, the Gentile; and the church, the whole thing.
In Ephesians 1:22, you have another illustration of it. “God hath put all things under Christ’s feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church.” Now there in those instances—and there are other instances in the New Testament—the word is used generically.
All right second: that word ekklēsia is used to refer to the heavenly assembly, the heavenly church of the redeemed in glory, the church triumphant. It is used that way in Hebrews 12:22-24. “We are not come unto”—the author is saying—“We are not come to Mount Sinai [Hebrews 12:18], that burned with fire and was such an awesome sight that even Moses said, I do exceedingly quake and fear [Hebrews 12:21]. But,” says the author, “we are come unto Mount Zion, and to the general assembly and church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven” [Hebrews 12:22-23]. Now there is a use of the church referring to the redeemed in glory, all the saints of God.
In Revelation 21:9, “Come hither, and I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” That is the church triumphant. In Revelation 22:3-5, it describes the redeemed up there in glory who belong to the church; “They shall reign forever and ever.” Now that is a way the church is used, the church invisible, the church triumphant, the great company of God’s redeemed, whom He shall gather together in glory someday.
You know, I remember a very vivid answer of a martyr. Savonarola, who was a flaming preacher—Savonarola in Florence was imprisoned and condemned to be hanged and his body to be burned. So the papal prelate came from the city of Rome to read in the presence of Savonarola his excommunication, his eternal damnation, and his separation from the church. And the prelate used those words, “I do hereby separate you from the church.” And this is just before he was first hanged in the square there in Florence, and then, while he was hanging, he was burned.
When the papal prelate read that excommunication and damnation of his soul and used that expression, “I do hereby separate you from the church”—and according to their doctrine, the church is identical, it’s congruent with the kingdom of heaven, and to be separated from the church, to be excommunicated from the church, was to be damned, because there’s no salvation outside of the church, no salvation outside of the kingdom, which they identify with the church—when the prelate read that, “I do separate you herewith, hereby from the church,” Savonarola replied, “You can separate me from the church militant, but you cannot separate me from the church triumphant, for that is not in your power to do.”
What Savonarola was saying in answer there was what I am talking about here in the use of the word “church” in the New Testament, the ekklēsia. It is used to refer to the heavenly company of the redeemed, the church triumphant, the invisible church that you’ll see in glory when all of God’s saved, the bride of Christ, are at the marriage supper of the Lamb [Revelation 19:7-9].
But there is another and a third use of that word ekklēsia, and that refers to the church militant, the church that you see down here in this world. And this is the church with which we have to do. Of the one hundred fifteen times that the word ekklēsia is used in the New Testament, at least ninety-two times out of the one hundred fifteen, it refers to a local assembly. And that is the only church you’ll ever have anything to do with in this life. You can’t join the church invisible. And you can’t join the church triumphant. And you are not going to see it or be conscious of being a part of it until you get up there in the presence of the great Glory. So the word ekklēsia, the word church that we know and that we are associated with is a local congregation down here in this earth. And that is practically always its use in the New Testament.
In Acts 13:1, and these are just a few instances that I have chosen: “Now there was in the church that was at Antioch”;
- in Romans 16:1, “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant—a deaconess—of the church at Cenchrea.”
- In 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 2 Corinthians 1:1 he introduces himself, Paul, “To the church of God at Corinth.”
- In 1 Corinthians 16:1, “as I gave order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.”
- In Galatians 1:2, Paul, “unto the churches of Galatia.”
In Galatians 1:22, “I was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea.”There is no such thing in the New Testament as a national church. It isn’t in the Bible. Nor is there anything in the New Testament that would even border on referring to a denomination as a church. A church in the New Testament is a local congregation, and if there’s more than two of them, you use the plural form: churches; the churches of Judea [Acts 9:31], the churches of Galatia [Galatians 1:2], the churches of Macedonia [2 Corinthians 8:1]. And that is the—without exception—use of the word in the New Testament. It always refers, as far as we have anything to do with it, to a local congregation: the First Baptist Church in Dallas, meaning, this ekklēsia, this called-out people of God.
Now we’re continuing our study about words. And as I said, if we will look at these words, how they’re used in the Bible, it will bring to us a great understanding of the formation, and organization, and purpose, and meaning of the church.
So we’re going to talk about Simon Peter and the church, the words used about Simon Peter and the church. In the sixteenth chapter of Matthew is that famous passage, “I say unto you, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18]. That was the story when the disciples came to Caesarea Philippi, up there at Dan, up there at the headwaters of the Jordan River; right at the base of Mt. Hermon do you see the tall, ten-thousand foot snow-capped mountain right there? And at the base of the mountain these springs run out. And there at Caesarea Philippi [Matthew 16:13] is a tremendous spring. It’s the beginning of the Jordan River. And while they were there, the Lord asked His disciples:
Whom do men say that I am?
And they said, Well, some say that You are Jeremiah, and some say You are one of the prophets.
Well, whom do you say that I am?
And Simon Peter says, We say that Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And then the Lord said, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: flesh and blood has not revealed that to you, but My Father which is in heaven.
Verily, I say unto you, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Well, what is all that about? Well, the Lord is making a play on words, and the words that we’re looking at right now, and we’re going to look at another one in a minute in that passage, the word that we’re looking at is that word, Peter: petros, petros. It is masculine, Peter: petros. The Aramaic of it would be Cephas. In John 1:42, Simon is called Cephas. That is, “a rock” in Aramaic, but petros in Greek—Peter, in Greek. It is masculine, and it refers to a small stone. If you are walking down the highway, you might kick a petros with your foot; just kick it out of the road. Or if you were with a boy, and he was in a little lake of water, he might pick up a petros and skim it over the surface of the water. He would throw a petros.
Now, petra is feminine. It’s another word, and it refers to a great cliff. It refers to a great stratum, like underneath Manhattan Island. The reason you have those tremendous, tall buildings on Manhattan Island is that after you go down a few feet through the dirt, you come to a tremendous rock formation. And that great foundation on Manhattan Island sustains those vast uprisings of those skyscrapers, and they couldn’t be there without it. That foundation is a petra, petra.
And that’s what the Lord says, “Upon this petra” [Matthew 16:18]. Now I think when the Lord said that, He made a gesture to those great cliffs, those great rock cliffs at Caesarea Philippi, where He was talking. “Upon this petra I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18], upon the great foundation of the confession of Simon Peter, “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16]. And it’s a play on words, “Verily, I say unto thee that thou art petros. Thou art Peter,” petros, a stone, “and upon this petra,” upon the great confession, the substratum, the foundation of the deity of Christ, “I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18].
Now is the church built upon one little rock, a petros? It is inconceivable to me. It is unthinkable to me. Is the church built upon Peter? It is fantastic to me, the idea, and the Lord never said it. “Thou art petros. You are a building block, a stone, one stone, and upon this petra,” upon this great foundation of the confession that Simon Peter made, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” [Matthew 16:16], upon the foundation of the deity of Christ, the confession of the lordship of Jesus, “I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18].
Now does the Bible, does the New Testament bear out that explanation I’ve just made? It certainly does! Simon Peter is one of the rocks built into the temple of Christ, upon the great foundation of Christ Himself. First Peter 2:5, he refers to us, including himself, as “living stones” built into the temple of the Lord.
In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter calls himself merely a fellow elder. He’s a fellow pastor, a fellow elder, a fellow presbuteros, a fellow elder with all the rest of them. In Galatians 2: 9-21, Paul says, “When Simon Peter came to Antioch, I withstood him to the face” [Galatians 2:11]. The early churches attributed no supremacy to Simon Peter.
Who was the head of the church at Jerusalem? In Acts 15:13, the one who presides over the Jerusalem conference is James, the Lord’s brother. James, the Lord’s brother, was the pastor at the church at Jerusalem. In Acts 21:18, when Paul came with the offering from the churches to the poor saints at Jerusalem, he brought it to the pastor of the church, and his name is James.
If there was a leader, and there was no such thing, but if there was a leader of the churches, of the pastors of the New Testament church, it was James, the Lord’s brother. But nobody in the Bible, in New Testament, ever looked upon Simon Peter as in anywise supreme over any of the other apostles. And I repeat, if there was one who presided over them, it was James, the Lord’s brother, who presided over the conference at Jerusalem in Acts 15, and who handed down the final verdict [Acts 15:13-21]. Now that concludes Simon Peter; it is not possible in the New Testament that the church should be built upon him.
Well, we must hasten. The word used concerning the two ordained orders of ministry in the church: they are two. There are only two ordained orders of ministry in a New Testament church. There is the pastor, the elder, the bishop, and the deacon, just those two. In Philippians 1:1, Paul greets the church at Philippi, along with the bishops and the deacons. Well, if there are only two ordained ministries in the church, well, how do you get that name pastor and elder and bishop that are constantly used in the Bible? Well, it is simply this. All three words; pastor, elder, and bishop; all three words in the New Testament refer to the same office. Poimēn, pastor, is the Greek word for shepherd. Poimainō, means “to feed,” or “to tend a flock.” Presbuteros is the word for elder, someone who is older. A presbuterion is an “assembly of elders,” called in the New Testament, “the sunhedrion, the presbuterion. Episkopos, epi-skopos, episkopos, means, “to look over,” “to oversee,” from episkopeō, which means, “to care for, to oversee.” Now, poimēn refers to the shepherdly care of that officer. Presbuteros refers to the dignity of his office.
I want to parenthesize here a minute. Whenever a church looks upon the pastor as a hired hand; “He’s just somebody we pay. He’s just like anybody else down there that works in a store, or in a bank, or in an institution. He’s just hired for the job.” Whenever a church looks upon its pastor like that, you just put it down; they’re going to have troubles in the church. They’re going to lack a grace, and a graciousness, and a holiness, and a sanctity in the church. It just isn’t going to be there.
One of the marvelous things about this church is this; for forty-seven years, the church looked upon Dr. George W. Truett with great deference and great reverence, and they called him the pastor. And when I came here thirty years ago—Dr. Truett was seventy-six years old when he died—I was thirty-four when I came here, I was forty-two years younger. And yet when I came to this church, the congregation treated me, and referred to me, with the same deference and reverence as they did Dr. Truett. Was that a weakness on the part of the congregation? It was an immeasurable and illimitable foundational strength. And you have that feeling in the church. You have the feeling in the church, “This is something more than the Rotary Club, and the pastor is something more than the president of it. This is something more than the country club, and the pastor is something more than the chairman or the director of it.” The feeling in the church is, “This is an assembly of God, and our pastor is God’s undershepherd.” It makes for a tremendous graciousness and strength in the congregation when the people look upon their pastor as a presbuteros, an elder, which refers to the dignity of his office.
At the same time, the preacher ought to remember that. He ought to walk with dignity among the people, which sometimes I don’t think I do. Oh dear! Let’s don’t get off into meddling now.
Now the word episkopos refers to his duties. He’s to oversee all of the work, the whole thing. And as I say, the three words are used interchangeably in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 20:17 and Acts 20:28, Paul calls for the elders. They had a plurality of pastors, and I think that’s good. That’s what we have here. Paul called for the elders of the church, and then he uses the words—he addresses them as bishops and as pastors [Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1; Ephesians 4:11].
In Titus 1:5, Paul says, “For this purpose I left you—talking to Titus—in Crete, to ordain elders in every church.” Then in verse 7, “For a bishop must be blameless. . .” [Titus 1:7], and on-and-on. So in the Bible, referring to the same man, he’ll be called an elder, he’ll be called a bishop, he will be called a pastor.
Now the other is a deacon; diakonos is the Greek word for servant; diakoneō, to serve or to wait upon. Jesus called Himself a deacon. It is translated “minister” in Matthew 20:28. Paul called himself a deacon in Colossians 1:25: “The church whereof I am made”—translated there—“a minister.”
Satan’s false apostles are called Satan’s deacons. In 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, Satan transfers himself into an angel of light. And it’s no wonder, Paul says, that his [Satan’s] ministers are transformed into ministers, deacons of righteousness.
So the word is another ordinary Greek word which means a servant. And the origin of the office almost certainly was in the altercation that arose about ministering to the poor widows in the church at Jerusalem [Acts 6:1]. And in Acts 6:2-4, these men were chosen; seven of them; to serve tables in order that the pastors, the ministers of the Word, might give themselves to prayer and the Holy Scriptures [Acts 6:5-6]. Now the qualifications of both of them, pastor and deacon, is written in 1 Timothy 3:1-13. And the deacon especially is noted in Acts 6:3 and 1Timothy 3:8-13.
Now that concludes the first part of the lecture on the use of words, the words that are used about the church in the New Testament. Now I have some observations from the New Testament regarding the nature and mission of the church.
Number one: we each one personally need the church. That is why Christ organized it, gave it His Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. It was for us and for the world in which we live. We need the church.
Number two: we are commanded not to forsake our assembling together. Hebrews 10:25; we are commanded, “not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” When a man says, I don’t need to go to church or I don’t like to go to church, that’s a sure-fire indication he is not born again. He’s not a child of God. Like draws to like. Birds of a feather flock together. We want to be with God’s people. If you are a drunkard, you will love going to the bar. You will like it. And you will like all the other barflies there who stink just as you stink. You will like that. If you are a crapshooter, you will be thrilled to locate a floating crap game. You’ll just follow it all over the town. If you are a worldling, you will like worldling things.
But if you are a born-again child of God, you will love being with the people of the Lord—when we need the encouragement we bring to each other, and we die without it. That’s why Christ gave the church to us. I don’t think a man can even begin to be anywise approximating his potentiality in the Lord without his association with the people of God in the church. I think his heart and spirit will die, will perish away from the congregation of the Lord.
I one time heard a story that just illustrates that so much. This good pastor had a man in the congregation that ceased to attend the services. He didn’t come any longer. So the pastor went to see him. It was in the wintertime. It was cold and he found the man seated in front of a fireplace with a big roaring fire in the living room. So the pastor sat down by his side, and the two of them were there in front of the fireplace, looking at the fire burn. And while they looked at the fire burn, the pastor took a poker, and he reached into the fireplace and pulled out a burning coal, and pulled it out on the hearth. In the fireplace with all the other coals, it was burning furiously. When he pulled it out by itself, it burned for a moment, then began to smoke and finally went out, there by itself. The pastor never said a word. The man, looking at what the pastor did, raised his head, turned toward him and said, “Pastor, I’ll be there next Sunday.”
That’s a good illustration I thought when I heard it. That’s a good illustration of why we need the church. By myself, I just drown in the world. I just sink in it. I’m just overwhelmed by it. I am no match for it. But in the church, I am built up. I am strengthened. I am helped. I am encouraged. I need the church. I do. My heart would stay backslidden all the time if I didn’t have the revival that comes to my soul in the church.
All right, the church possesses the ordinances we are commanded to keep and to administer [Matthew 26:26-28, 28:19-20]. The ordinances do not belong to the Congress. They don’t belong to the city council. They don’t belong to the legislature. They don’t belong to the courts. They don’t belong to civic organizations; the Rotary Club, the Kiawanis Club. They belong to the church! And that is one reason why we need the church, the administration of the ordinances God gave to the church.
All right, number three: the church is the great depository of the truth of Christ: not out there in the political world; not out there in the business world; not out there in the social world; not out there in the financial world or any other kind of a world. The truth of Christ is deposited in His church. In fact, in 1 Timothy 3:15, the church is called, “the pillar and ground of the truth,” the truth of God, the Lord committed to His church.
In John 14:26, the Lord said to the apostles, “My Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Paraclete, will bring to your remembrance all these things that I have said.” And there they are in the church.
In Matthew 28:20, we are commanded to teach the things of Christ in the church. In 1 Corinthians 11:23, the apostle Paul says, “I received of the Lord Jesus that which I delivered to you,” you people there in the church at Corinth. In 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul says to the young pastor, “You teach the men the truth of God, men who will be able to teach others also.”
In Matthew 16:19, that word translated: “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you loosen on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The exact Greek translation of that is, “Whatsoever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatsoever you loose on earth, shall have been loosed in heaven.” That is, when a man of God in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is speaking the truth of God, what he’s saying is the truth as it is written up there in heaven. And that’s the truth of election, it’s the truth of predestination, and it’s the truth of salvation; it’s the whole truth, it’s all of it. And when in the church, we are speaking and working inder the Spirit of God, what we do is what God has elected to be done in heaven. The truth of Christ was not left to philosophers, or to speculators, or to educational institutions, or to political bodies, or armies, or anybody else. It is in the church. And the church is the depository of the truth of our Lord God.
Number four: the church is the evangelizing arm of God. The Great Commission was given to the church to make disciples of all the nations of the earth [Matthew 28:19-20].
And number five: the church is dear to the heart of Christ. “He loved it,” Ephesians 5:25, “and gave Himself for it.” In Revelation 21:9, in John 3:29, the church is called, “the bride” of our Lord. In Acts 20:28, it says that we have been purchased by the blood of God, “the church, which He purchased with His own blood.”
In Ephesians 5:30-32, I think is one of the most magnificent imageries in all literature and in all the Bible. He is talking about there how a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. “This is a great mustērion; but I speak concerning Christ and His church.”
Well, what is that mustērion? What is the mustērion, the secret God kept in His heart until He revealed it to the apostle Paul? “But I speak concerning Christ and His church. This is a great mustērion.” What is the mustērion? Well Paul, in the fifth chapter of Ephesians is describing there, in those latter verses, Eve and Adam [Ephesians 5:30-32], and how Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, out of the side of Adam. And out of the side of Adam, God made the bride of the man and brought her to him [Genesis 2:21-24].
Now the imagery is this and the mustērion is this; as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam [Genesis 2:21-23], so the church was taken out of the side of our Lord [Ephesians 5:30-32]. The church was born in the sobs, and tears, and blood, and agony, and suffering, and crucifixion, and death of our Lord [Matthew 27:26-50].
The atonement of Christ issued in a church; that’s what came of Him. That’s what came out of Him. That was what [was] born from Him. That was what came out of His riven side [John 19:28-34] and out of His broken heart; the church, His bride. And that is the imagery that lies back of that passage in Ephesians 5, called a great mustērion. “I am speaking of Christ and His church, Christ and His bride” [Ephesians 5:32].
I’ll be through in a second. The church is a divine and a forever institution. I wish I had an hour just to talk on this alone. The church is a divine, it is a heavenly and a forever institution. I don’t know if anybody ever used that word like that, but I like it. I framed it, a “forever institution.”
In Matthew 16:18, katischuō, “Thou are Peter, upon this rock I shall build My church; and the gates of hell shall not katischuō against it.” “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Well, everybody says, “You know that means the church is going to be here until Jesus comes again. You know the world can’t do anything against the church. The gates of hell are not going to attack the church.”
Did you ever in literature, did you ever read of gates attacking anything? Did you ever? The imagery is ridiculous. It is just inane. Gates don’t attack. Gates shut out, and gates keep in. And the word “Hades,” of course, is the grave, death. What Jesus said is a very simple and plain thing there. He said, “and the gates of death shall not katischuō”—have the strength to hold it down! [Matthew 16:18].
And what He is saying is that death dissolves every other relationship in life. You may be the president of the bank, but when you die you’re not going to be president of the bank anymore. You may be president of the United States, but if you die you’re not going to be president of the United States anymore. You may be the king of England, but if you die you’re not going to be the king of England. And you may be the richest man on the earth, but if you die you’re not going to be the richest man in the earth.
Death dissolves every relationship in life—all except one. There is one exception. Death does not dissolve the relationships we have with our Lord in the church [Romans 8:38-39]. And if you want to be together you’d better get in the church, because everything else is going to be dissolved [2 Peter 3:10-11]. If you’re going to have somebody that you want to be with in glory, you’d better get them into the church—better get them into the Lord, because all of the things are dissolved by death except the relationships we have in the church. That’s what Matthew 16:18 means, and it doesn’t mean anything else. That is it.
Now there are many figures that are used to express the nature of the church before God. It is called God’s husbandry, God’s plowed field in 1 Corinthians 3:9. It is called God’s family, in Romans 8:14-17. It is called the pillar and ground of the truth in 1 Timothy 3:15. It is called according to Moffat a “colony of heaven,” his translation of Philippians 3:20. It is called a sounding board of the gospel in 1 Thessalonians 1:8. But there are three main figures by which the Bible refers to the church.
Number one: it is called a building. It is a temple of God. In 1 Corinthians 3:9, and 1 Corinthians 3:16, and Ephesians 2:20-22, and 1 Peter 2:5, among others, and we all are building stones in the great temple of God. Now that’s one imagery. That’s one figure of the church.
A second figure of the church in the New Testament is a body, with Christ as the head. Ephesians 1:22-23, Romans 12:4-5, Colossians 1:18, and in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, practically the whole chapter is given to that kind of an idea, that we’re the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:12-31]. And the foot cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you.” And the hand cannot say to the head, to the eye or the ear, “I do not need you” [1 Corinthians 12:15-17]. But we all fitly joined together make up the body of Christ [Ephesians 2:19-22]. The church is an organism. It’s a body [Ephesians 1:23]. It’s not an organization.
And then last: the church is looked upon as a bride. In Romans 7:4; 2 Corinthians 11:2; John 3:29; Ephesians 5:22-32; Revelation 19:7-9; Revelation 21:2, the church is looked upon as a bride, as a bride adorned for her husband. And as John, who Jesus said was the greatest man born of woman [Matthew 11:11], as John said, “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: and the friend of the bridegroom rejoices to hear His voice” [John 3:29].
Well, if we have those understandings of the church, there are ten thousand doctrinal aberrations that we won’t fall into. You will love this church, a New Testament church. And you will love to support it and to pray for it. And you will love to attend it, to sit at the feet of the minister, and to learn in the school of Jesus.
I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand.
Dear is the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
I love Thy church, O God.
For her my tears shall fall.
To her my toils and cares be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.
[from “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” Timothy Dwight, 1800]
And for us to come down here and to sit together, and to pray together, and to sing together, and to listen to God’s Word expounded together, and to associate together, and to love one another, pleases God and blesses our souls, world without end. God love you, everyone, members of the body of Christ!