NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH CERTAINTIESBy Wayne Camp
TEXT: Matthew 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I recently had a call that was very interesting. In the process of the conversation with the caller, he made a statement that stuck with me. He said something to this effect, AAny true Christian who has studied his Bible must believe in the perpetuity of the church." After I went back to what I was doing, I was reflecting on our conversation and this statement concerning the perpetuity of the church started me to thinking along the line of Some things we should definitely know about the church." Then I changed my line of thinking to Some things we do definitely know about the New Testament churches."
Now there are some things we definitely do not know about those churches. We do not know who pastored some of them. We know that Paul led them to ordain pastors in several but he did not give us the names of those pastors. We do not know many things about their services, or when they ceased to exist, or all the many trials they suffered. We know more about some of them than we do others. Some are merely mentioned, others have epistles written to them. Seven of them are addressed in the book of Revelation, as we know.
But, there are some things that we do definitely know about those churches and that is what I want to discuss with you in this message.
WE KNOW THAT THE FIRST NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH WAS ESTABLISHED
DURING THE PERSONAL MINISTRY OF CHRIST
There are several evidences that the church was established during the ministry of Christ. We know that before his crucifixion, before his resurrection, and before Pentecost, Christ had established his first local, visible congregation on this earth.
Consider the gifts set in the church during the personal ministry of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. The very first gift set in the church was the gift of apostles and that was definitely done during the ministry of Christ. Luke 6:13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles. The second gift to be set in the church was prophets. Jesus set prophets in the church during his personal ministry, one of whom was John who wrote the book of Revelation.
There are other gifts that were set in the church during the ministry of Christ but these suffice to show any one with any spiritual perception and common sense that there was a church in existence during the personal ministry of Christ. If we can show that just one gift was set in the church during the personal ministry of Christ, common sense tells us a church existed into which he set the gift.
Consider some instructions the church received during the personal ministry of Christ. The first that I would call to your attention is the instructions on how to handle personal offences that cannot be resolved privately or in the presence of mediating brethren. Matthew 18:15-18 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
When Jesus spoke of the church in this passage his disciples apparently raised not one question. There are some who tell us the church was a Divine secret until the day of Pentecost but it did not seem to be a secret to these men. There are others who tell us that the church was a backup plan for God that he executed after the Jews rejected the Messiah and he could not set up the kingdom with them as he was attempting to do all of his personal ministry. I heard a prominent preacher say in a Bible conference in Mobile, Alabama, "God always has a backup plan. If plan A fails he executes plan B. Dear Reader, God's plans never fail. He says, "I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it" (Isaiah 46:11)"
Does it not seem rather strange that Jesus is instructing a church in church discipline if at the time these instructions were given he was not planning to establish a church? Does it not seem strange that he would instruct a church in discipline when no church existed and only came into the purpose and plan of God after the rejection of Christ by the Jews? There is also a rather strange portion in this passage in Mat. 18 if there were no church in existence. ". . . but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican." Notice that he addresses the church as in existence at that very moment. "Let him be unto THEE . . ." He did not say, "Let him be unto them" but, "Let him be unto thee." These instructions were given to a church then in existence and present when Jesus was teaching them.
Contemplate also the fact that Jesus had a definite company, an assembly, that companied together all during his personal ministry. Acts 1:21-22 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. It is so absolutely obvious that there was a company of disciples who had been together from the time that Jesus was baptized by John at the very beginning of his ministry that one wonders why any would hold any other view. It is equally obvious that there were more in this company than the 12 apostles. Notice that the one chosen must be of "these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us." That this was an assembly, a called out assembly, an ekklesia, is evident from the statement that Jesus went in and out among them during his ministry. Jesus walked in the midst of his church then. Jesus walked in the midst of his churches in Johns vision that is recorded in the first chapter of Revelation. Revelation 1:13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. Jesus walks in the midst of his churches today. Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Is Jesus speaking of just any two or three, any time or any where? I call to your attention the context of this verse is the discussion of church discipline which we have already looked at. Jesus has in mind a congregation, an assembly of baptized believers gathered together in church capacity. This reminds me of Pauls instructions to the church at Corinth on the matter of church discipline. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. It is unequivocally evident that Jesus had an assembly which companied together during his ministry.
Consider where and how Jesus gathered this assembly. Before we do that, let us look back in history and discover a parallel. When the temple was to be built by Solomon, God arranged for David to gather the money and God gave him the blueprint for the Temple. David also arranged for Hiram of Tyre to prepare the materials for the Temple. The temple is not a type of the church but there is a parallel in the matter.
When God the Father would have his Son build that first New Testament church he sent John the Baptist ahead to prepare the material for that church. When Jesus was baptized of John in Jordan and began his public ministry, he began to assemble his first local, visible church on earth composed of those who had been baptized by the Baptist, John. John 1:35-51 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! 37 And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, What seek ye? They said unto him, Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest thou? 39 He saith unto them, Come and see. They came and saw where he dwelt, and abode with him that day: for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messias, which is, being interpreted, the Christ. 42 And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone. 43 The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. 44 Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! 48 Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. 49 Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. 50 Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. 51 And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. This is the record of the calling out of the first church of the Lord Jesus Christ to ever be planted on this earth.
The Greek word that appears in the Greek text where church appears in the KJV is ekklesia which comes from two Greek words, ek meaning "out, or out of," and kaleo meaning "to call." The meaning is "a called out assembly." It is apparent from John 1:35-51 that Jesus definitely had a called out assembly during his personal ministry and before his death on the cross.
That the church existed before Pentecost is evident from the fact that many were added on the day of Pentecost. Acts 2:41 Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. You cannot add members to a non-existent church. There was an assembly present, 3000 were added to the assembly on that first Pentecost after the death of Jesus Christ.
There are other evidences such as Jesus singing in the midst of the church. Hebrews 2:12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee. There is the account of Jesus instituting the Lords Supper in the church, and the church baptizing, all done before his death and during his earthly ministry, which contribute to the declaration that we can be absolutely certain that the first New Testament church on earth was established by the Lord Jesus Christ during his personal ministry.
WE KNOW THAT THE FIRST NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH AND OTHER CHURCHES OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WERE LOCAL IN NATURE
It could and did assemble together often and Jesus went in and out among them as we saw before. One has only to read the first four books of the New Testament, or even one of them to see that these whom Jesus called out did assemble many times during his earthly ministry. They were saved, baptized, called out, and they assembled often. Only a local, visible body can do that.
They could hear, speak and discipline members. Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. There is no way this could be said of anything but a local congregation. For one to tell it to the church he must tell it to a local assembly. For the church to speak so that one could hear the church, the church doing the speaking must be a local, visible assembling body.
They could have various offices and ministers set in them. 1 Corinthians 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. These were not set in some universal body. Nor were they set in some invisible body. They were set in the first church the Lord Jesus Christ planted on this earth. That first church had apostles set in it. It had prophets and teachers. It had the gift or miracles and all the other gifts which Paul lists in this verse. These were set in that local church in Jerusalem.
They could fear. Acts 5:11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things. Notice that this fear affected all the church. If you believe the church to be some big universal, invisible body composed of all the saved of all the ages, whether they are in heaven or earth, you have all the saved who had died previously in heaven and in great fear. Why would anyone in heaven be in fear of things that are happening on earth? Yet, it is obvious that this fear included all the church. I suggest the solution to the difficulty is to abandon the silly notion that all the church is all the saved of all the ages and realize that, in this case, all the church is the local, visible assembly which was in Jerusalem.
You will never find one persecutor setting his cites on anything but local, visible churches and members thereof. He had as well try to persecute the Holy Trinity as to try to persecute the alleged universal, invisible church!
Another reason to be certain that the church of the New Testament was local and visible in nature is the fact that these churches could be persecuted as was the church at Jerusalem. Acts 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. This is the same church that was fearful in Acts 5. How could the universal, invisible church possibly be persecuted? Only local visible bodies have ever been the objects of persecution. Read church history. Read books about the martyrs. You will never find one persecutor setting his cites on anything but local, visible churches and members thereof. He had as well try to persecute the Holy Trinity as to try to persecute the alleged universal, invisible church!
Paul and Barnabas were able to assemble with the church and teach it for a year, something they could not have done if the church were universal in nature. Acts 11:26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. They assembled themselves with the church. Not with a branch of the church! Not with an arm or leg or eye of the church, but with the church, the local, visible church meeting in Antioch.
It is rather interesting that even those who are champions of the alleged universal, invisible concept admit the word ecclesia (ekklesia) actually means nothing but a local assembly. Dr. C. I. Scofield, editor of the famed Scofield Reference Bible, admits this to be true even though he teaches in his footnotes and references that there are three natures of churches set forth in the New Testament. On page 1021 he notes, "Gr. Ecclesia (ek= out of, kaleo= to call), an assembly of called-out ones. The word is used of any assembly; the word itself implies no more, as, e. g., the town-meeting at Ephesus (Acts 19:39), and Israel, called out of Egypt and assembled in the wilderness (Acts 7:38). Israel was a true church, but not in any sense the N. T. churchthe only point of similarity being that both were called out and by the same God. All else is contrast." Yet, Scofield sets forth the theory that the ekklesia of the New Testament actually has three different ideas. He advocates the local idea as is obvious from the above quote. Then he advocates the city, regional, or state concept of the church. The church in Memphis, the church in Shelby County, or the church in Tennessee, or the church in the South. Finally, he has in his notes what he calls the true church which he says is "composed of the whole number of regenerated person from Pentecost to the first resurrection . . . ."
Thayer, in his Lexicon, also advocates three such concepts of the nature of the church, except that he suggests that the universal church has two conceptsall the saved on earth at any given time, or all the saved dead of all the ages who are already in heaven. Yet, Thayer, when defining the word ekklesia clearly and honestly sets it forth as a local, visible assembly of some sort, even a mob that is called out and gathered to cause trouble.
It is obvious that one must read into the New Testament something that is not there in context or language to come up with the universal invisible or visible concept of the church. The word ekklesia never has the meaning of anything that cannot and does not assemble. It means that and no more. It is used in a generic sense as is husband and wife in the fifth chapter Ephesians. When the church is called the body of Christ one must realize a body is a local, assembled thing. A bunch of body parts scattered all over the world does not a body make.
We can be certain that the churches of the New Testament were local in nature because they could have prayer meetings. Acts 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. The church at Jerusalem was assembled in a place praying for Peter when he was in prison. The is no way one can make the church anything more, and still be scriptural in his interpretation of the word.
The churches of the NT were local independent bodies meeting at various places. There was the church at Antioch. Acts 13:1 Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. Elders were chosen by the various congregations to whom Paul and his co-workers ministered. These were chosen in every church showing they were local visible bodies. Acts 14:23 And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
They could be gathered together as was the church at Antioch when Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey. Acts 14:27 And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles. The word ekklesia was so exclusively used to indicate a local, visible assembly that the inspired penmen never bothered to explain and specify they were speaking of a local assembly. The word church which is found in the KJV where the word ekklesia is found in the Greek has been so corrupted in its usage that one has to often explain that he is not speaking of some big universal, invisible never-assembling assembly, but of the local, visible body, a truly called-out assembling body.
Another evidence that the churches of the NT were local in nature is seen in the fact that they could receive visiting brethren. Acts 15:4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. This is none other than the local body meeting, or assembling in Jerusalem. This was the first local church from which all other true churches have come. She met, she assembled, and when assembled sometimes received visiting brethren from other churches.
These early churches were so certainly local and visible in nature that they could have elders who could be called together. Acts 20:17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. Obviously this is the local congregation which assembled in Ephesus. Paul wrote an epistle to this congregation to be read in their assembly. This church was addressed in the book of Revelation. In fact it is the first assembly addressed. That book was not addressed to the Church in Asia. It was not addressed to all the churches in Asia. It was addressed to seven local, visible churches in Asia, clearly demonstrating that the idea of a regional church such as the Church in Asia, is foreign to the NT idea of the church.
They could be fed as the church at Ephesus could be fed by its elders. Acts 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. This church was a flock, something which truly shows it to be local in nature. It could have overseers as did this blood bought church. It could be fed. This same local body was purchased with Christs own blood. It was interesting to me in checking out Scofields various notes on the church that on this verse he had no notes. The last part of the verse is often used by those who advocate the universal, invisible concept of the church but that requires ignoring the context completely. It is obvious that the body bought with the blood of Christ is also the body which was a flock and the congregation over which the men had been made overseers by the Holy Spirit.
At the risk of excess, or overkill, I will continue for a few lines more showing the churches of the NT were local in nature and not just branches, or body parts, of some universal, invisible church. That they were local in nature is evident because they could have servants such as Phebe who was a servant of the local visible church in Cenchrea. Romans 16:1 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. Phebe was a servant (diakonon), of the local, visible assembly meeting in Cenchrea. At the risk of being criticized, I would point out that this is the same Greek word that is used in Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:8, 12, where it is translated deacons since it is in the plural. Now, brethren and all dear readers, that is the truth and no amount of complaining can change the fact. I am not advocating the ordination of women to the "office" of deacon. I would suggest, however, that we have given an unwarranted idea of the word when men have been ordained and set in such an office. Any man who serves the church is a deacon. He may be the treasurer, the clerk, a teacher, or song leader. We have some dear brethren in our church that are willing to serve anywhere they are asked, whether by the congregation or by me, as pastor. They are godly servants of the church. We also have some women who are constantly doing something for the church and each of them, like Phebe, is a diakonon of the church which is at 3084 Woodrow, Memphis, Tennessee. I have said all this to raise a question. "How could one be a servant (diakonon) of the alleged universal, invisible church?"
It should also be pointed out that any church of the New Testament could come together as did the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 11:18 For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. 1 Corinthians 14:23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? Could the whole church be come together in one place if it is composed of all the saved of all the ages in heaven and on earth? Must we not insist that the whole church is always indicative of a local, visible body, never a universal visible/invisible body?
Yet another indication in Scripture that the church of the NT is local and visible in nature is that they could communicate with missionaries in giving and receiving as did the church at Philippi, while other churches did not. Philippians 4:15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. That expression no church makes it absolutely, unequivocally evident that to Paul, the church was a local visible body. He did not say, "No congregation of the church communicated with me." He did not say, "No branch of the church communicated with me." Nor did he say, "No arm, or leg, or eye, or other part of the body of Christ, ever communicated with me." No, he says, "No church, no local, called-out, and visible assembly communicated with me. That is the idea in Pauls mind and in the mind of the Holy Spirit when he had NT writers pen the word ekklesia whether they used the objective, possessive, or nominative case of the word. The word and the writers and the Holy Inspirer had nothing more in mind.
A church could be so small that it could meet in someones house as did the church which met in the house of Nymphas. Colossians 4:15 Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. In light of the meaning and use of the word in the NT it is obvious that there was an assembly that met in the house of Nymphas. One universal church man after whom I read while preparing this suggested that this meant that these folks in the house of Nymphas were members of the true church composed of all the saved from Pentecost to the first resurrection. Apparently he did not have the conception in mind that there could be a true, local, visible assembly meeting in his house. The reference here in Colossians 5:15 could only mean there were saved folks in his house, but, according to this one writer, it did not mean there was an assembly that regularly met in the house of Nymphas. There have been, there are many congregations that are small enough to meet in a persons house. One does not have to depart from the meaning of the word to interpret this verse of Scripture. A local, visible congregation met in the house of Nymphas!
Indulge me, Dear Reader, as I briefly set forth two more evidences that the church of the NT was a local, visible body, and no more. An epistle could be read before a church as Pauls letter was read to the church of the Laodiceans. Colossians 4:16 And when this epistle is read among you, cause that it be read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea. It would be impossible to read a letter before the universal, invisible body that some affirm is the true church.
The local nature of the churches of the New Testament is evident from the fact that the word appears in the plural 36 times in the New Testament. Romans 16:16 Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you. 1 Corinthians 14:34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 2 Corinthians 8:1 Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia.
I could spend a long time here and stack line upon line with Scriptural evidence that the churches of the New Testament were local, visible bodies of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could show that nothing said in the New Testament ever suggests they ever extolled and praised the mythical creature called the universal invisible church. But, I will close for this issue and will come back to consider other New Testament Church Certainties next time.
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Friday, March 04, 2011