The Foolishness of Preaching
Men have long railed against God, substituting their own wants, opinions, and dogmas for what is clearly revealed as His will. Outrageous claims are made regarding the efficacious nature of such "new philosophy", designed to replace the old, outmoded, and judgmental standards of the Bible. One has only to look at the current state of humanity to see the fallacy of these claims. While we are at the pinnacle of secular development and "wisdom", our society is literally crumbling under the weight of anarchy and immorality. In this we see the truthfulness of Jeremiah's observation, "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). However much men may protest that they know the best way, God truly is the only one capable of directing us in the right way.
It is with this in mind that we read Paul's statement, "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). We should neither be surprised, nor intimidated when men rail against the Bible way of doing things. Human wisdom breeds arrogance, pride and a mistaken confidence in self. We can rest assured that though men may glory in their own abilities and schemes, their ways pale when compared to the magnificent wisdom of God.
The ineffectual nature of man's designs are seen in great relief when compared to the Divine design of the church of our Lord. Following is an overview, or "primer", designed to encapsulate the Bible's teaching on the church, bringing it into stark contrast with the apostasies of men. While it is by no means exhaustive, it serves to emphasize that God chose, "through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe" (vs. 21).
Over the past 1,900 plus years since the establishment of the church of God, there have been many false views of the church which have influenced men. A gradual apostasy began to infect that great institution from almost the very beginning. Men, not content to recognize and respect God's "blueprint" for the church, called for a centralization of church government. This led to the establishment of a "catholic" church, under the head of an authoritative bishop, or "pope." This apostate, or Catholic church, wields great influence even today. Those responsible for this apostasy secularized the church, distorting the concept of a spiritual kingdom. Even today, Vatican City is considered a sovereign country, with the Pope as head of state. During the Middle Ages (Dark Ages) the Catholic church was so powerful that heads of state were considered to be subjects of the pope, and answerable to his whims. Holy wars were fought on behalf of the Catholic church, despite our Lord's clear statement, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here" (John 18:36). In the 1,500's, the excesses and distortions of the Catholic church were sufficient to bring about a revolt is some quarters. The Protestant Reformation, spearheaded by Luther, Calvin and others came about as a direct response to the errors of Catholicism.
However, the Protestant Reformation fell far short of restoring God's grand design for His church. Instead, human creeds were substituted for the divine will of the Lord, and many religions, each with unique doctrines and practices, were formed. The fomenting of Denominationalism, while a different error from that propagated by the Romanists, was no less error, and no less condemned by God.
With a gradual secularization of society, the recent past has seen a change in emphasis in the work of the church. While in the past it was generally recognized that the primary purpose of the church was evangelization, the effecting of change through the saving of souls; it has become the norm to view the church as a social institution. This perception demands that the church be involved in politics and social reform, and at its basest level, turns the church into a recreational organization which stands for nothing beyond softball teams and ice cream socials. This "Social Gospel" view of the church is just another example of error which distorts the true purpose God has for His church. These errors serve to trivialize both the institution and the work God has given for it to do.
The apostle Paul recognized the awesome nature of the church, and wrote about it in his letter to the Ephesians. Please note chapter 3, verses 8-12:
From this passage we note that Paul felt privileged to have opportunity to preach the gospel. He describes it as "the unsearchable riches of Christ"; as "the fellowship of the mystery"; as "the manifold wisdom of God"; and as "the eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." Similarly, we note the part that the church has in this gospel. That it (the church) is the means by which the manifold wisdom of God is made known. And that this is as God intended from the very beginning, his "eternal purpose."
What a contrast to the secularized version of the church we see today; from the social gospel, the additions and perversions of men, the recreational bent, the toleration of evil, and the 'watered down' preaching. Distortions of the Bible teaching concerning God's church is seen in both Denominationalism and in false doctrines advocated by some within the true church itself. As such, teaching is needed on the nature, organization and work of the Lord's body. This we propose to do, lending our efforts to that of others.
Ask that question, and you will get many answers. We have introduced a few in the paragraphs above. But, what does the Bible teach concerning this institution which had its part from eternity in the mind of God?
The word translated "church" in our English Bibles comes from the Greek word ekklesia. The simplest definition derives from its etymology: ek (out of), klesis (a calling), hence a calling out, or in the noun form "the called out." The term in the greek has no religious significance at all. In the New Testament the word is used to refer to any group of people called out for a specific purpose. For example, it is used of a democratically called body (cf. Acts 19:39), and of an unruly mob (cf. Acts 19:32, 41).
The term gains religious significance in that our Lord used it to refer to his redeemed; those He called out of the world, into His body. Jesus said, "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). The expression denotes a relationship sustained with Jesus. The called out, or the church, consists of those who are saved, "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47); those who are "in Christ", "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27).
The term is used in a general sense to denote all who are in that relationship. In effect, all the redeemed. Paul wrote, "And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:8), using the term in this way. Other examples of this usage of the term are found in Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 1:22; and Ephesians 5:25.
The term is also used to designate local collectivities (congregations) of the redeemed. For example, "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 1:2-3). Many other passages use the term to refer to local congregations (2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Rom. 16:4; Col. 4:15; Philemon 2). It is interesting to note that it is only in this local collectivity that God gave His institution organization and work to do. In this the wisdom of man stands in striking contrast to "the foolishness of God." Where men have established hierarchal church governments, denominations, synods, councils, conventions, interdenominational fellowships, missionary societies, other human institutions and sponsoring church arrangements; God established the local, autonomous congregation to do His work.
A fundamental truth concerning the church of God is that it is founded upon Jesus Christ. This foundation was foretold by the prophets. Isaiah prophesied, "Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a stone for a foundation, A tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; Whoever believes will not act hastily'" (Isaiah 28:16). Further, the Psalmist wrote, in Chapter 118, verses 22-24, "The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it." The picture of a precious cornerstone, tried, and rejected of men, is seen fulfilled in the Christ. In his first epistle, Peter indicated that we are to "come" to the cornerstone or foundation of our faith. Of Jesus, Peter said, "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, 'Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.' Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, 'The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,' and 'A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.' They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed" (1 Peter 1:4-8).
Jesus Christ came to earth to establish His church. He was rejected by the Jews, who were "disobedient to the word", because as the church's foundation, he offended them. However, the one rejected of men is precious to God, and is the "chief cornerstone" upon which the church rests.
One significant identifying mark of our Lord's church is the circumstance regarding its establishment. Many churches have since been established; from the Catholic Church in Rome, which, (while in development for centuries), had its birth date in 606 AD when the Bishop of Rome became the first Pope, to the Protestant Reformation, the catalyst leading to the establishment of hundreds of modern day denominations.
In contrast to these latter day imitations of the church, we find the true church established in antiquity, in fulfillment of plain prophecy. Concerning the establishment of the church, or the kingdom of God, Isaiah said, "Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord's house Shall be established on the top of the mountains, And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, And we shall walk in His paths." For out of Zion shall go forth the law, And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, And rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:2-4).
Jesus gave promise of the establishment of the church shortly before His ascension into heaven. Luke records this event in Acts 1:4-9, "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.' Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight."
As Jesus promised, a few short days later, on Pentecost, these events took place. It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of the second chapter of Acts in discussion the church of God. On that day the fulfillment of prophecy, and the realization of hope in Christ was brought to fruition. Note the following events:
As we have already mentioned, the term church, as it is used in Matthew 16:18 and other scriptures, refers simply to the relationship sustained between God and those He "called out." Nowhere in scripture is the church, in the general or unlimited sense, said to have any organization or structure. Christ is head, and the members individually make up the body of Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:20-23).
During the establishment of the church, the apostles had a central work. The apostles were stewards of God's mystery (1 Cor. 4:1-2); ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). They served as witnesses, testifying concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and his sonship to God (John 15:26-27). Their work in the Lord's church was foundational (Ephesians 2:19-22,23). They were qualified for the work, their calling divine (cf. Galatians 1:1). They were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ, (cf. Acts 1:21-22); were inspired teachers (1 Cor. 2;10-13); and were given miraculous powers, with the capabilities of laying hands on others to impart miraculous gifts upon them as well (Acts 8:17).
The unique qualifications and work of the apostle clearly reveal that the office is not one that remains through succession. No man today is an eyewitness to Christ's resurrection. The apostles in the first century did their work well, and their duties on earth were fully accomplished. They, together with the chief cornerstone, remain the foundation upon which the church is built. However, when any man today claims to be an apostle of Christ, his claim is patently and fundamentally false.
As related above, structure is found in the local congregation. God chose through a local collectivity to accomplish his purpose for his people. Whatever work is done collectively by the people of God is accomplished in the local church. This can be shown clearly by looking at the organization, work and worship of the people of God.
The Organization of the local church:
The Work of the Local Church:
The Worship of the Local Church
The preceding article, while lengthy, only touches the hem of the garment regarding the teaching that ought to be done on the Lord's church. Many of the apostasies that have troubled the people of God in the past revolved around misunderstandings regarding the church. This gave rise to Catholicism, Protestant Denominationalism, the establishment of the Christian Church, and the split over institutionalism in our recent past.
Recent controversies also center on misunderstandings about the church. Attacks are presently being made on the authority of elders in their oversight of a congregation. Some are calling for women to take a larger role in the church than is allowed in scripture, (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26-36; 1 Tim. 2:8-15). Some are hiding behind the concept of local church autonomy, and calling for an enlarging of the circle of fellowship beyond what God accepts. The institutional concepts of the Sponsoring Church arrangement, and human institutions are ever present as well. While some are clamoring for less preaching on the church (see Solid Food, this issue), it is obvious that more and plainer teaching is needed. It is my prayer that this article will serve as a starting point for some, in encouraging study of that great body established "according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
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