The Last Reformation
By F.G. Smith
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES THE REVELATION EXPLAINED PROPHETIC LECTURES ON DANIEL AND REVELATION
God's true people everywhere are looking for light on the church question. A deep undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the present order of things exists in the ecclesiastical world. The historic creeds are stationary and conservative, but religious thought can not always be bound nor its progress permanently hindered. Honest Christian men and women will think, and they are now thinking in the terms of a universal Christianity. If I am able to discern the signs of the times, the rising tide of Christian love and fellowship is about to overflow the lines of sect and bring together in one common hope and in one common brotherhood all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.
What will constitute the leading characteristics of the church of the future? This is the burning question. Spiritual-minded men are conscious that things can not long continue as they now are, but what and where is the remedy?
After this book was completed and in the hands of the printers, I received a copy of "The Church and its Organization," by Walter Lowrie, and was surprized to find in it much truth that I had already received through independent investigation and embodied in my manuscript. I refer particularly to the charismatic organization and government of the church. It is gratifying to know that other minds are being led to the same conclusions regarding a subject of such vital importance to the future of Christianity.
In writing the present work I have endeavored to present the Scriptural solution of this great problem, a solution which takes into account, and gives due respect to, historic Christianity, the prophecies respecting the church and its destiny, and the fundamental characteristics of our holy religion as it emanated from the divine Founder.
If this work can be of service in pointing out Christ's plan and purpose to "gather together in one the children of God which are scattered abroad," and also be instrumental in helping to accomplish this grand Christian ideal, I shall feel abundantly repaid. F.G. SMITH.
Anderson, Indiana, May 6, 1919.
PAGE Introduction—"The Time of Reformation" 9
Part I—The Church in Apostolic Days
CHAPTER I The Church Defined 19 II The Universal Church 21 III The Local Church 33 IV The Organization and Government of the Church 41
Part II—The Church in History
V Corruption of Evangelical Faith 73 VI Rise of Ecclesiasticism 87 VII The Reformation 101 VIII Modern Sects 111 IX The Church of the Future 125
Part III—The Church in Prophecy
X Interpretation of Prophetic Symbols 141 XI The Apostolic Period 149 XII The Medieval Period 169 XIII Era of Modern Sects 209 XIV The Last Reformation 223
"THE TIME OF REFORMATION"
In ecclesiastical history the term Reformation has been applied specifically to the important religious movement of the sixteenth century which resulted in the formation of the various Protestant churches of that period. Since the sixteenth century there have been other religious reformations, some of considerable importance and influence.
[Sidenote: A present reformation]
There is a present reformation specially distinguished from all those that have gone before. It is resulting from the particular operation of the Spirit of God as predicted in the Word of God, and its influences are being felt in varying degrees throughout all Christendom. Many Christians are already stirred to action by the conscious knowledge of Christ's message for these times, while multiplied thousands of others who love the Lord Jesus are experiencing within their own hearts the awakening of new aspirations and impulses, the real meaning of which they do not as yet understand, but which are, through the leadership of the Holy Spirit, unconsciously fitting them for their true place in this great world-wide movement which is destined to exceed in importance and influence all other religious reformations since the days of primitive Christianity.
Since, as we shall show, the present reformation is the work of the Spirit affecting all true Christians, drawing them together for the realization of a grand Scriptural ideal, it is evident that no particular band of people enjoy its exclusive monopoly. May the same Holy Spirit illuminate our hearts and minds in the contemplation of the truths of the divine Word.
The term reformation signifies "the act of reforming or the state of being reformed; change from worse to better; correction or amendment of life, manners, or of anything vicious or corrupt." In its application to the religion of Christ, reformation means the correction of abuses and corrupt practises that have become associated with the Christian system; the elimination of all unworthy, foreign elements. In other words, it implies restoration, a return to the practises and ideals of primitive Christianity.
[Sidenote: What the final reformation must include]
If we inquire concerning the limits of true reformatory work, we see at once that, if there is to be a final reformation, such a movement must restore in its fundamental aspects apostolic Christianity—its doctrines, its ordinances, its personal regenerating and sanctifying experiences, its spiritual life, its holiness, its power, its purity, its gifts of the Spirit, its unity of believers, and its fruits. This assumes, of course, that during the centuries there has been a departure from this standard.
[Sidenote: The church itself the real object of reformation]
No reformation since apostolic times has covered all this ground. All the reformations taken together fall far short of this standard. They have been reformations only in part, each movement simply placing special emphasis on particular doctrines, or ordinances, or personal experiences. Hence the need of further reformation. The present movement embraces all the truth contained in all the previous reformations of Protestantism. But it does not stop there. It stands committed to all the truth of the Word of God. It goes straight to the heart of the reformation subject and reveals the pure, holy, universal church of the apostolic times as made up of all those who were regenerated, uniting them all IN CHRIST; in the "church of the living God," which church was "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15); the church that was graced with the gifts of the Spirit and filled with holy power.
The true apostolic church has been largely lost to view since the early Christian centuries, when a general apostasy dimmed the light of truth and plunged the world into the darkness of papal night. In modern times the term "church" as applied to a general body of religious worshipers is usually employed in a restricted sense, specifying some particular organization, as the hierarchy of Rome or the aggregation of local congregations constituting a Protestant sect. By a natural reaction from the Romish extreme, wherein the church and church relationship are exalted above the personal relationship of the individual with his God, many teachers now incline to an opposite extreme, which makes little of the church as an institution, substituting therefor a sort of "loyalty to Christ," individualism, subversive of true New Testament standards.
[Sidenote: The true church Scripturally important]
The church is not to be exalted above the Christ, nor is it a substitute for the Christ; but in the light of New Testament teaching we must regard the true church as the instrument—the divinely appointed instrument used by the Holy Spirit in carrying forward the work of Christ on earth. Jesus himself said, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18). At a later time we read, "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47).
If Paul were living today, he also might despise the "church" idea in its narrow sectarian sense. But from the apostle's words, it is very evident that he regarded the church as it existed in his day as an institution crowned with glory and honor, the concrete expression of Christ and his truth. "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" (1 Cor. 12:28). "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith ... that we ... may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [of the body, the church, Col. 1:18] even Christ" (Eph. 4:11-15).
[Sidenote: The church as a divine institution]
Inasmuch as God set in the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, gifts of miracles, of healings, etc., we must regard the church as originally instituted as being more than a mere aggregate of individuals associating themselves together for particular purposes. We must recognize the divine element. This company was the host of redeemed ones whom Christ had saved, in whom he dwelt, and through whom he revealed God and accomplished his work on earth. It was his body—the organism to which he gave spiritual life and through which he manifested the fulness of his power and glory.
[Sidenote: Church relationship vs. individualism]
Any reformation that has not for its object the full restoration of the New Testament church, can not be a complete reformation, but must be succeeded by another. In this respect the church subject is fundamental and all-inclusive. To emphasize a mere "personal-union-with-Christ" theory to the disparagement of the divine ekklesia, is to evade the real issue. Jesus declared, "I will build my church," and that church was an objective reality, which was not intended to be concealed under high-sounding theological verbiage nor dissipated in glittering generalities. It is true that Christ himself must be presented as the ground of our hope and salvation and as the object of our personal faith, love, and devotion; as "the way, the truth, and the life"; but we must not forget that there is also a revelation of the way, the truth, and the life in the church of Christ. The apostles preached Christ as the divine "way"; but when men believed on him, he straightway "set the members every one of them in the body"—the church (1 Cor. 12:18). "And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). They preached Christ as the personification of "truth." But they also taught that the gospel was a special "treasure" committed to the church for dispensing to the nations. Paul said that God hath "committed unto us the word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). Therefore he could represent the church of God "as the pillar and ground of the truth." They preached him as "life," but he was also the life of the collective body of believers as well as of individuals. He dwelt in his church. He was its life, and through it he manifested himself in the only form in which, since the incarnation, he can be fully exhibited to men.
[Sidenote: Avoiding extremes]
The fact that Romanism has stressed the "church" idea, parading before the world as the church an organic body devoid of true spiritual life, a mere corpse, is no reason justifying a view which, ignoring the practical church relationship taught in the New Testament, talks glibly of an ethereal, intangible, ghostly something which, without a body, lacks all practical contact with men. The Bible standard is the proper union of soul and body. It is certain that, as in apostolic days, such union is necessary to the proper exhibition of the divine life and absolutely essential to the full accomplishment of the divine purposes in Christ's great redemptive plan.
Christ, the life of his spiritual body, and the life-giver, remains the same in all ages. Hence the church body is the part that has been disrupted and corrupted by apostasy and sectarianism, and is therefore the sphere of reformatory effort. And while reformation pertains to historical Christianity, it implies, as we have already shown, a return to the primitive standard. Therefore, before proceeding to describe particularly the present reformation, we must give attention to the constitution of the apostolic church, the divine original.
The Church in Apostolic Days
The Last Reformation
THE CHURCH DEFINED
[Sidenote: The term "church"]
The word "church" as used in the New Testament is, in most cases, derived from the Greek word ekklesia. The component parts of this word literally mean to summon or call together in public convocation. It was, therefore, used to designate any popular assembly which met for the transaction of public business. As an example of the secular use of the term, see Acts 19: 32, 39. This particular application of the word, however, does not here concern us.
Since the word ekklesia conveys the idea of an assembly of "called ones," it expresses beautifully the Christian's call to churchly association. The divine call of believers is frequently expressed in the New Testament: they are "called with an holy calling" (2 Tim. 1:9); "called in one body" (Col. 3:15); "called unto his kingdom and glory" (1 Thess. 2:12); or, as Peter expresses it, "Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). While these texts and many others describe the exalted rights and privileges accorded the "called ones," there is distinctly implied the idea of their organic association, and it was this association that constituted them the Christian church.
[Sidenote: Its two Christian phases]
"The church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20: 28), is Clearly set forth in the New Testament. And the term "church" in its religious usage is given two significations. In its largest and primary signification, the church of God is the entire body of regenerated persons in all times and places, and is in this respect identical with the spiritual kingdom of God, the divine family. In a secondary sense, church designates an individual assembly in which the universal church takes local and temporary form and in which the idea of the general church is concretely exhibited. Besides these two significations of the Christian term "church," there are, properly speaking, no other in the New Testament. It is true that ekklesia is sometimes used as a collective term to denote the body of local churches existing in a given region, but there is no evidence that these churches were bound together in groups by any outward organization which separated or distinguished them from other congregations of the general church. Therefore this use of the term "church" can not be regarded as adding any new sense to those of the general church and the local church already referred to.
THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH
Matt. 16:18 introduces in the gospel history the subject of the church. Jesus said, "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." This text implies that the church as an institution was not yet founded, and it also clearly implies that Christ himself was to be the founder and builder of his church.
Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and when he sent forth his twelve apostles he commanded them to preach and say, "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus himself taught the doctrines of the kingdom, but in the words of our text there is implied deeper ideas of the kingdom of God yet to be revealed in all their fulness of meaning.
[Sidenote: The body of Christ]
We should divest our minds, temporarily at least, of preconceived ideas of formal church organization and earnestly seek to understand the real signification of that church of which Christ was himself personally the founder. A few texts make this point clear: "And hath put all things under his [Christ's] feet, and given him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all" (Eph. 1: 22, 23). The church, then, is the body of Christ. Of this body Jesus himself is the head. "And he is the head of the body, the church ... that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:18). "For his body's sake, which is the church" (verse 24). Christ is head of but one body. "There is one body" (Eph. 4:4). In these texts the body and the church are used interchangeably, referring to one and the same thing. The body of which Christ is the head is the church that he built, "the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20: 28).
[Sidenote: The atonement its procuring cause]
It is therefore to Calvary that we must look for the specific act by virtue of which Christ personally became the founder of his church. There it was "purchased with his own blood." There we find the application of those sublime words of the Savior, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men UNTO ME" (John 12: 32). By virtue of that act, God "put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church." Yea, by virtue of that act, "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,... and that every tongue should confess" (Phil. 2:9-11).
The church, then, proceeds from Calvary: Pentecost was but its initial manifestation to men and its dedication for service. Of this we shall have more to say hereafter.
[Sidenote: Composed of true Christians]
Since through his death Christ proposed to draw all men unto him, it is evident that all the members of Christ are therefore members of his body, the church. To this agrees the words of the apostle Paul, "For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we [true Christians], being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom. 12: 4, 5). "Now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (1 Cor. 12:18).
[Sidenote: Mode of admission]
Becoming a member of the spiritual body of Christ is necessarily a spiritual operation. Men may admit members to a formal church relationship, but only the Spirit of God can make us members of Christ. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized [or inducted] into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13). This text does not refer to literal water-baptism, but to the work of the "Spirit," by whom we are inducted into Christ. "God hath set the members every one of them in the body" (verse 18). And since this is the work of the Spirit, it is evident that none but the saved can possibly find admittance into the spiritual body of Christ. Under a different figure Jesus conveys the same truth. "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (John 10: 9). "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47, R.V.). Salvation, then, is the condition of membership.
[Sidenote: Family relationship]
The members of Christ are members of God's family. How do we become members of the divine family? "Except a man be born again, he can not see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God ... which were born ... of God" (John 1:12, 13). "Beloved, now are we the sons of God" (1 John 3:2). Since this family, or church, is composed of the saved, or those who are born again, and excludes all the unsaved, we can understand Paul's reference to "a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing," but "holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).
We have spoken of the union of all believers with Christ when he draws them unto himself and becomes their spiritual life. But this unity of all believers with Christ is a spiritual relationship and experience not to be confused with external things. The Bible speaks of Christians as being "in Christ." What does this mean? It certainly means to be "born again," for without that experience we "can not see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). "Therefore if any man be in Christ, HE IS A NEW CREATURE: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him" (1 John 3:6).
[Sidenote: Unity of believers]
But our union with Christ, by which we become members of the divine family, necessarily fixes our relationship with all those who are members of Christ. If, through salvation, we are brought into a sacred unity with Christ, we are by the same act brought into essential unity and fellowship with the members of Christ. This the Word distinctly affirms: "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom. 12: 4, 5). "There should be no schism in the body; but the members should have the same care one for another" (1 Cor. 12:25). While this last text relates literally to the physical body, the apostle applies it in an illustrative way to the spiritual body. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (verse 27).
[Sidenote: Unity and uniformity]
Harmony in a normal physical body is not effected by external means, but is organic. The members may be many and diverse, but they are all necessary and have their respective places and work. So also with the body of Christ. Union with Christ is not dependent upon absolute uniformity except in the one thing—the fundamental experience by which we are made members of Christ. In the apostolic period the children of God who loved our Lord and were known of him were not all of one age or size or nationality. They had not all enjoyed the same social advantages, nor had they had the same intellectual attainments. The act of receiving Christ and his salvation did not perfect their knowledge; therefore they had to be patiently taught in order to bring them into the "unity of the faith." And for this purpose divinely chosen instructors were appointed, who must themselves "study" and give careful attention to "doctrine" (Eph. 4:11-14; 1 Tim. 3:13-16). But the gospel penetrates beneath the surface; it goes straight to the heart and reaches fundamental things. "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one IN CHRIST JESUS" (Gal. 3:28).
The unity of believers with Christ is, therefore, based on divine relationship, and this is the fundamental basis of the true relationship of believers with each other. In order to maintain spiritual relationship with Christ and his people, the Christian must have an obedient heart and "walk in the light of the Lord"; but we should always be ready to extend our fellowship to those whom Christ really receives and approves.
How prone men have ever been to ignore this simple, divine standard and set up arbitrary rules of their own by which to measure others! This wrong tendency combined with the carnal ambitions of men who love to parade their own unscriptural ideas before the world and gain adherents has been the real cause of the disunion of Christians. But the Bible standard is what we are now considering. It teaches that the saved people were "members one of another" as well as members of Christ; that they were, in fact, "all one in Christ Jesus."
[Sidenote: Unity a practical reality]
According to the New Testament standard, unity of believers is more than an invisible, intangible, spiritual fellowship. They are "members one of another" as well as members of Christ. That unity was designed to be visible and to form a convincing sign to the world of the mighty power of Christ. This stands out prominently in that notable prayer of our Lord recorded in John 17, which was uttered on the most solemn night of his earthly life. First he prayed for his immediate disciples, then for all believers, in these words: "Neither pray I for these [twelve] alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE that thou hast sent me" (verses 20, 21).
Such unity is a real standard. It will convince the world. The practical force of this last scripture can not be lessened by reference to those other words of Jesus, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another" (John 13: 35), for Jesus taught the inseparable nature of love and unity. Love, as an inward affection, produces deeds and results, and is measured thereby. Jesus said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14: 23). And just as love to God invariably produces union with God, so also true love to man will result in unity. "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). Carnal divisions can not exist where true love reigns.
[Sidenote: Christ died for unity]
For this visible unity Christ prayed—"That they all may be one,... that the world may believe." More than this, he died that unity might be effected. John 11:52 clearly shows that one purpose of Christ's death was that "he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad." Therefore unity of believers is a sacred truth resting on the solid basis of the atonement. That this unity is more than that general union resulting from the personal attachment of separate individuals to Christ as a common center, is proved by the fact that it is designed to gather together in one the scattered children of God. Jesus himself said, "Other sheep I have [Gentiles], which are not of this [Jewish] fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and THERE SHALL BE ONE FOLD [flock] AND ONE SHEPHERD" (John 10:16).
[Sidenote: Jew and Gentile united]
Broadly speaking, there were at that time but two classified divisions of men—Jews and Gentiles. Jesus predicted that his sheep from both sections should be brought together into one flock. In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul tells us how this was accomplished. Although "in times past" the Gentiles were "strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world," in Christ they were "made nigh by the blood." "For he is our peace, who hath made both [Jews and Gentiles] ONE, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us ... that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross" (verses 12-16). Since this glorious reunion through Christ, the Gentiles "are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." They also "are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone ... in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (verses 19-22).
On account of the high standard of unity set forth in his epistles, Paul has been branded an idealist. But what shall we say of Christ who prayed for such visible unity and died for it? An idealist is one who forms picturesque fancies, one given to romantic expectations impossible of accomplishment. The idealist usually has but few practical results. But Paul accomplished things. He broke away from his Jewish prejudices, which brought down upon his head the wrath of his fellows. He went into the synagogs of the Jews and brought out those who were willing to become disciples of Jesus. To build up the work of the Lord he labored night and day with tears; he laid broad and deep the very foundations of the Christian faith in heathen lands. Within a very few years he established Christian churches in four provinces of the Roman Empire—churches in which Jew and Gentile met together in common fellowship, in one body. If this is idealism, Lord, give us many more such idealists.
[Sidenote: The burden of Paul's ministry]
But the unity described by Paul in the epistles which he wrote late in life is not given as a mere ideal standard for the future toward which men should strive. It is given as the record of a historic fact, the accomplishment of which lay at the very foundation of Paul's call to the ministry.
In the second chapter of Ephesians, already quoted, Paul declares that both Jews and Gentiles were reconciled to God in one body by the cross. In the next chapter he shows his part in the accomplishment of that end. First, he was called of God as the apostle of the Gentiles; then by revelation was made known unto him "the mystery of Christ which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men ... that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and OF THE SAME BODY, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3:4-6). The promise referred to was doubtless the "promise of the Father," the gift of the Holy Ghost. "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith" (Gal. 3:14). "For this cause," says Paul, "I was made a minister ... that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery ... 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. 3: 1-10).
[Sidenote: Was divinely attested]
Paul was given a tremendous task—"TO MAKE ALL MEN SEE" that mystery. This task required from God "the effectual working of his power" (verse 7). And in another place he also shows that this power was not lacking: "For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ hath not wrought by me, to make the Gentiles obedient, by word and deed, through mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God" (Rom. 15: 18, 19).
Paul, then, was divinely commissioned "to make all men see" the mystery of this union of all classes of men "in one body by the cross" (Eph. 2: 16), all in "the SAME body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" (Eph. 3: 6). And when Paul's career was finished, the same mystery was given over to others that it might be "known BY THE CHURCH" (verse 10), "the church, which is his body" (Eph. 1: 22, 23). The ministry, then, should have held the ground already attained, the actual union of all the saved in one body, and have labored earnestly "to make all men see" that that body only is the church.
THE LOCAL CHURCH
The words of Christ, "I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matt. 16: 18), convey a deeper meaning than the simple preaching of the kingdom. As we have already shown, the one specific personal act by virtue of which Christ became the founder of the church was his atonement on Calvary, where the church was "purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20: 28). The church, then, as an institution, resulted from the atonement. Paul, describing the union of Jews and Gentiles in one body, the church, declares that it was effected "by the cross" (Eph. 2: 16).
There was power in redemption. It brought into the lives of believers forces that could not but unite them in social compact. It threw them together in living sympathy and united their hearts firmly in the strong bonds of brotherly love. Their outward organic union as a church was the natural and inevitable result of this inward life and love.
[Sidenote: Local church defined]
By the impartation of spiritual life to believers and by the agency of the Holy Spirit operating in the apostles as special agents appointed to do his work, Christ built his church on earth. There was a building of the church, then, which pertained specifically to its local and visible development among men. The expression "I will build" indicates the transcendent element, the divine element, in church organization. This being true, it follows that the local church was not merely an aggregate of individuals accidently gathered together, but was the local, concrete embodiment of the spiritual body of Christ; the unified company of regenerated persons who, as a body, were dedicated to Christ, acknowledged of Christ, and used by Christ through the Holy Spirit for the accomplishment of his work. Jerusalem furnishes the first example, dating from Pentecost (Acts 2).
[Sidenote: Particular example: Corinth]
That this is, generally speaking, the Scriptural definition of a local church of God, is further shown by another particular example. Paul addressed two of his epistles "to the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Cor. 1: 2; 2 Cor. 1: 1). As individuals they are called "saints" and "brethren," but collectively as a church they are called "the church of God" and referred to as "God's building" (1 Cor. 3: 9). And the apostle says to them, "Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (verse 16, R.V.). They had been inducted by the Spirit into the "one body," and they were filled with the gifts of the Spirit—wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and tongues (chap. 12). In fact, the apostle said, "Ye come behind in no gift" (chap. 1: 7). And he said particularly, "Ye are the body of Christ" (chap. 12: 27).
A true local church, then, was the concrete embodiment of the spiritual body of Christ in a given place. It was the body of Christ because it was made up of the people of God, manifested the power of God, was the repository of the truth of God, was filled with the gifts of the Spirit of God, and was actually used by the Spirit in performing the works of God. Such characteristics made it "the church of God."
[Sidenote: Local membership]
Membership in the general body of Christ was conditioned solely on the new birth, or salvation. Since the individual church was the local embodiment of the general church, none but the saved could properly become members thereof, and all who were truly saved (in the same locality) belonged to it by divine right. At this point, however, the human element in the constitution of the local church became manifest. We have pointed out the divine element in the true church—the element that particularly distinguished it as the church of God, but the bringing together of many individuals in one assembly involved also a social element and required the principle of recognition. There is, however, no evidence that such recognition was given by a formal, official act of the church in its corporate capacity. And since salvation is of the heart, it was possible for human recognition to temporarily miss its true purpose. Thus, in the church at Jerusalem we find recognized as a constituent part of the assembly two false members—Ananias and Sapphira. On the other hand, when the converted Saul "was come to Jerusalem, he essayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple" (Acts 9: 26). The church at Corinth, already referred to, had some false members at the time the Pauline epistles were written. The church at Samaria also tolerated for a time one whose "heart was not right in the sight of God" (Acts 8).
[Sidenote: A holy church]
Since the local church was designed to exhibit concretely the spiritual body of Christ, none but saved persons could properly hold membership therein; therefore the local church when in its normal condition was free from sin and sinners. The physical body, which Paul uses to illustrate the spiritual body, is normal only when every member possesses the life of the body and functions properly. So also was the body of Christ. It was not God's will that there should be (as recognized members) "sinners in the congregation of the righteous" (Psa. 1: 5). It was his will to purge Jerusalem "by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning" until "he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem" (Isa. 4:3,4).
[Sidenote: Discernment and judgement necessary]
The local congregation in Jerusalem did not cease to be the church of God because two unworthy persons obtained recognition in it. This incident gave occasion for the church to manifest its inherent life by its ability to discern and then cast off the secret offenders just as a healthy physical body casts off effete matter. As a result of the judgment pronounced on Ananias and Sapphira, "great fear came upon all the church ... and of the rest durst no man join himself to them; but the people magnified them" (Acts 5:11, 13). The fiery judgments of God put an end to formal church-joining there, as a result of which "believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (verse 14). "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47, R.V.).
A clean, pure local church was the divine standard. It is evident that such could never be obtained and maintained except by the power of the Holy Spirit, who discerned evil and prompted its elimination. Peter discerned the condition of the two false members in the church at Jerusalem and removed that blemish. He also exposed the hypocrisy of Simon at Samaria, and Paul pointed out the evil affection in the church at Corinth and directed its removal. Chief responsibility for the maintenance of the normal condition of the church will be considered in our discussion of the particular features of church organization and government.
[Sidenote: Apostasy possible]
We have shown the characteristic, spiritual features of a New Testament congregation in its normal condition; also the possibility of deviation from that standard. A practical question is, How far could such a congregation lapse into an abnormal state and still be a church of God? Or, Can a church as a body backslide? The church at Ephesus evidently was on the verge of such an apostasy. Therefore in the special message addressed to it in Revelation the Lord said: "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place" (Rev. 2: 4, 5). So also the church at Laodicea. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art luke warm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth" (Rev. 3: 15, 16).
[Sidenote: The line of distinction]
The physical body may experience the mutilation of some of its members and still survive, but there is a limit beyond which death will ensue. So also the spiritual body may survive the encumbrance of a few false members. From the general facts and principles already adduced, however, we may safely assert that a local church is a church of God only so long as it is able to function properly as a body. As long as the Spirit of God is in the ascendency, so that the people of God as a body manifest the power of God, maintain the truth of God, are filled with the Spirit of God, and are actually used by the Spirit in performing the works of God, so long they are the church of God. Whenever another spirit gains the ascendency and the divine, spiritual characteristics are lost to view, then is brought to pass the saying that is written, "I will spew thee out of my mouth." Beyond that time they may continue their formal services, singing hymns, saying prayers, and making speeches; but the real message of God describing their condition is, as was true of Sardis, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Rev. 3: 1). Such dead congregations are no longer a part of the true church and are unworthy of the recognition of spiritual congregations.
THE ORGANIZATION AND GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH
[Sidenote: The fact of organization]
We have already shown that the words of Christ "I will build my church" have a deeper meaning than the simple preaching of the kingdom. They imply the formation of an organized structure against which even the gates of hell should not prevail. They can signify nothing less than the visible establishment of the church among men as the concrete embodiment of the divine kingdom or family. The church, then, as made up of local congregations, is an institution of divine appointment. This is shown by the words of Christ in Matt. 18: 17, according to which it sometimes becomes necessary in admonishing and disciplining trespassers to "tell it unto the church"; and the appellation "church of God" is frequently applied to individual congregations (1 Cor. 1: 2, et al.).
Many teachers hold that Christ did not build a church and that the "form of church organization is not definitely prescribed in the New Testament, but is a matter of expediency, every body of believers being permitted to adopt that method of organization which best suits its circumstances and condition." Such is the Protestant view put forth by those who seek an excuse for the modern system of sect-building. The incorrectness of this theory is easily shown. First, as we shall see, it underestimates the need of divine direction in church relationship and ignores well-established facts in the New Testament history. Secondly, if it proves anything, it proves too much; for to admit such a principle of "church powers" is to admit that the papacy and every other human system of church control is justified—systems which can be historically shown to be subversive of the church as a spiritual body.
That the church was actually organized into local assemblies in apostolic days is abundantly shown by the New Testament record. They had regular meetings at stated times (Heb. 10:25; Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:12); officers (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2; Eph. 4:11, 12); recognized authority (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17); discipline (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 10-14); a system of contributions (1 Cor. 16:1, 2); ordinances (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 10:16; 11: 23-29); a common work, etc. On one occasion Paul instructed Titus to "set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city" (Tit. 1:5).
[Sidenote: By whom effected]
The words of Jesus "I will build my church" point us to the Christ as its real founder. Since the life and genius of the church is the superhuman element, which element must at all times be given precedence over mere outward forms and human characteristics, and since this life proceeds from Christ as the Redeemer of men, therefore in all fundamental aspects he is the personal founder of the church. But more than this, working by proxy, Jesus gave even external form to his church, employing for this purpose his chosen apostles, to whom he gave special instruction and authority. Even during his personal ministry Jesus performed some of his work by proxy. It is expressly stated that he baptized many (John 3: 22; 4: 1), and yet explanation is made that "Jesus himself baptized not, but his disciples" (John 4: 2).
So also in the organization of the church. The germ of that organization existed during Christ's personal ministry. Doctrine was given, ministers preached, baptism was administered, and people believed, but this embryonic organization could not be completely established as a church before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Therefore provision was made for its progressive development under the tutelage of specially inspired apostles. Doctrine was given gradually, yet invariably through the oral and written teaching of these inspired apostles. Therefore we can not but believe that the same invariable guidance of the Holy Spirit also perfected through them God's own plan of church organization and work. The gradual development of church organization under the labors of the apostles, therefore, no more proves the theory of a constant historic development than does the fact of a gradual unfolding of the Christian faith and doctrine by the apostles prove a constant and unending revelation of the gospel through all succeeding ages. One writer has well said, "The same promise of the Spirit which renders the New Testament an unerring and sufficient rule of faith renders it also an unerring and sufficient rule of practise for the church in all places and times." We must therefore regard the organization of the church, as we do the unfolding of the gospel message, as complete in all its fundamental and essential aspects before the close of the sacred canon.
[Sidenote: Apostolic agency]
There is no doubt that the apostles occupied a special place in the divine establishment of the church and its message. Regarded as a temple, the church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone" (Eph. 2: 20). The Old Testament Scripture "came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1: 21). But now we read, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us BY HIS SON" (Heb. 1: 1, 2). Moses, representative of the law, and Elias, representative of the prophets, appeared in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration; but when Peter suggested that they be accorded equal honors with Jesus, immediately a cloud overshadowed the company and a voice out of the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; HEAR YE HIM." "And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only" (Matt. 17:1-8).
[Sidenote: Model for all ages]
The revelation of divine truth, therefore, as the foundation of our faith, reached its highest level in the Son. We need not look for another gospel—hear him. He has also said, "I will build my church"; hence we need not look for another church—HEAR HIM! Paul declares that the gospel with its revelation of the "mystery" of the union of the saved in one body, the church, was in his day "made manifest," and, "according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:25, 26). See Eph. 2; 3:1-10. While therefore Christ was the author of the truth in its highest form of revelation, also the founder of his church, both reached their fulness of perfection under the inspired apostles and was by them "made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." The unity of all believers for which Christ solemnly prayed was to be accomplished through the direct agency of the apostles, the result of believing on Christ "through THEIR Word" (John 17:20).
In describing how both Jews and Gentiles were reconciled in one body by the cross, Paul says that God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace" (Eph. 2: 6, 7). The unified church of the apostolic day is therefore the divine model for all succeeding ages.
[Sidenote: Paul's relation thereto]
Since the first apostles were employed as special agents in establishing the perfected New Testament church, Paul's connection therewith is of particular importance. Paul was not one of the original twelve, yet he exerted a tremendous influence in that period and was undoubtedly one of the chief agents used in establishing the church and fixing its external form and character.
Many believe that Paul belonged among the twelve as the real successor of Judas. According to this view, the election of Matthias to the apostleship was without divine sanction, being proposed by the impetuous Peter, who, before the descent of the Holy Ghost, often proposed inadvised things. Strength is given this view by the oft-repeated assertion of Paul that he was an apostle, "not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1: 1). We are not forced to that conclusion concerning Matthias, however. In writing the Acts of the Apostles, Luke the companion of Paul, records the appointment of Matthias without intimating that it was a mistake. In Scripture usage a certain parallelism is maintained between the twelve apostles of the Lamb and the twelve tribes of the children of Israel. When we recall that there were literally thirteen tribes in Israel, Ephriam and Manasseh standing for Joseph, we need not be surprized that there should be literally thirteen foundational apostles in the Christian church, Matthias and Paul standing, as it were, in the place of Judas.
There can be no doubt that Paul really ranked with the Twelve. He was a "chosen vessel," the "apostle of the Gentiles." Although as one "born out of due time," he himself saw Jesus and from him received the entire gospel by direct revelation. Consequently the other apostles possessed no advantage over him. He himself says, "The gospel which was preached of me was not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11, 12). He "was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles" (2 Cor. 11:5). And it was through Paul particularly that the revelation of the "mystery" was made complete—"that both Jews and Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the SAME body," and he was commissioned "to make all men see" it.
The general church was, therefore, made up of various local congregations, which were "set in order" by apostolic authority. The essential nature of this organization is determined by the object for which these congregations were formed, the conditions of membership therein, and the kind of laws by which they were governed.
[Sidenote: Nature of its organization]
The primary object for which the local church was formed was the establishment and extension of the kingdom of God among men. A secondary object was the encouragement and mutual edification of the believers themselves, which was best obtained by united worship in prayer, exhortation, praise, thanksgiving, and religious instruction.
We have already noted the conditions of membership in the local church. None but those who were already members of the body of Christ could properly be recognized as members in a congregation which was designed by Christ to exhibit in local and temporary form the true idea of the church universal. According to this standard of membership, every individual owed allegiance directly to Christ himself as the great head of the church. Christ was the only lawgiver. The relation of the individual to the local church, then, did not in any sense supersede his personal relations to Christ, but simply strengthened and further expressed this higher relationship.
In this standard of church-membership is found the secret of the union in one body of all apostolic Christians. The standard was personal relationship to Christ, and this relationship could be obtained only by an experience of salvation and humble obedience to the law of Christ. Therefore all the truly saved were members of Christ and members of each other. This standard being the same for all, it led to absolute equality among members. Hence Paul could say, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
The law of the church, as already stated, was simply "the law of Christ"; first as delivered orally by specially inspired apostles, and afterwards expressed by them in the Christian Scriptures.
[Sidenote: Organization and government]
The closest relationship necessarily existed between the organization of the church and its method of government. It is impossible for us to get a clear conception of either independently of the other; and in order to understand the subject at all, we must bear in mind the fundamental nature of the church itself, what it was and what it was designed to accomplish. The church was not, as we have seen, a mere aggregate of individuals that happened to gather or that assembled for ordinary purposes. A social club or a business organization would have possessed all those features. The church was the body of Christ, the body to which he gave spiritual life and through which he designed to manifest his power and glory. Hence its visible organization was secondary, merely incidental as the means for the accomplishment of those higher ends involved in the transcendental element of the church. The relation of the divine and the human characteristics was, therefore, the relation of soul and body—Christ, the soul; redeemed humanity, the body. The establishment of this relationship was the manifestation to the world of the "body of Christ." It was organization of the church.
From the foregoing considerations, we are certain that in the apostolic church the real emphasis was placed on life and that the governmental power and authority of the church was derived from its divine life in Christ and not from its organization. Apostolic church government was, therefore, more than the adoption of some particular form of external organization and administration.
[Sidenote: Divine administration]
The origin of the church was divine. Jesus said, "I will build my church." And though, as we have seen, he employed human agents in its completion, these agents were so specially inspired and directed by Christ through the Holy Spirit that it was in reality his work. Jesus was not only the initial founder of the church, but he was its permanent head and governor. Isaiah, predicting the coming of Christ, declares that "the government shall be upon HIS shoulder" (Isa. 9:6). And again, we read that "HE is the head of the body, the church ... that in all things he might have the preeminence" (Col. 1:18). He it was who called and commissioned Paul and then personally directed his ministerial labors (Acts 26:13-19; 16:6-9). He it was who walked in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, encouraging or reproving the congregations of Asia (Rev. 1:17, et seq.). He is "alive forever more" (Rev. 1:18); "the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Heb. 13: 8); "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3). "To him be glory in the church ... throughout all ages, world without end. Amen" (Eph. 3:21).
[Sidenote: Christ the living head]
Thus, the general nature of church government was an absolute monarchy, or, to use a better term, a theocracy. Christ was king and lawgiver, governor and administrator. Whoever the instruments employed in carrying out his purposes, whatever the scope of their particular activities, all were governed directly by Christ through the Holy Spirit. It was his church. He was its living head. No other church was known in those days. It was only when the living, vital union of Christ with his church was lost to view that men began endeavoring to strengthen the bonds of external union by unscriptural human organization, just as when life is departed from the physical body we seek by an embalming process to prevent its speedy dissolution.
[Sidenote: Delegated authority]
In order to understand church government, therefore, we must begin at the central source of authority and proceed to its varied manifestations. We have seen that Christ employed human agents in accomplishing his work; hence, in thus performing the work of Christ as commanded by Christ, and as personally directed by the Spirit of Christ, these men possessed the authority of Christ. Any church governmental authority that does not proceed directly from Christ through his Holy Spirit is but human authority, an usurped authority, and has no place in the real church of Christ.
[Sidenote: Ministerial oversight]
The apostles were the first to whom Christ delegated authority. They became his special representatives. They established the church and became responsible for its general direction and oversight, "the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mark 16:20). But these twelve did not stand alone in the government of the church. Soon a host of ministers were raised up, and these also possessed divine authority for their representative lines of work. To the elders of Ephesus, Paul said, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God" (Acts 20:28). Peter also writes: "The elders which are among you I exhort ... feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof" (1 Pet. 5:1, 2). "The Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them ... so they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed" (Acts 13: 2-4). "AND HE GAVE some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11, 12). In accordance with this standard, we read, "Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account" to him who is "that great shepherd of the sheep" (Heb. 13:17, 20). The ministers were under-shepherds appointed to feed the flock of God, for which service they had to give account to the great Shepherd.
The foregoing scriptures and many others show conclusively that, while in the apostolic church spiritual oversight was, in general, vested in the ministry, it did not originate with them; that it did not proceed from the general body of believers by a majority vote or by conference appointment; but that it came by the Holy Spirit direct from the great head of the church, who alone determined the general bounds of that authority and responsibility. This ministry, or presbytery, consisted of two classes—local ministers and general ministers. Before proceeding from this general classification to a discussion of the more specific duties and responsibilities of the individual ministers comprising this presbytery, I shall call attention briefly to the geographical distribution of their work as a body.
[Sidenote: Local and general phase]
We have already shown that the church in its visible phase was made up of various local congregations "set in order" by apostolic authority. So far as their own local affairs were concerned, these congregations were autonomous. When a matter was purely local, such as the financial oversight and ministration in the church at Jerusalem, the local congregation itself determined the course of action and (excepting that class of officials who were divinely chosen) who should be appointed to oversee it. In the Jerusalem example cited, the apostles suggested, "Look ye out among you seven men," etc., "and the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose" the proper persons for that work (Acts 6:1-5).
But while these congregations possessed such autonomy and were distributed over a wide territory, they were not in all respects independent, isolated units. As members of Christ sharing in a common life and engaged in a common cause, they were bound together in one brotherhood by ties of fellowship and love. In addition to the union of separate individuals in one locality under the care of the local presbytery, the local congregations themselves were brought into close, sympathetic relationship with one another through the labors and influence of those general ministers who were not attached to particular churches, but whose gifts, callings, and qualifications fitted them for general service throughout the various congregations. The responsibility and authority of these general ministers varied in accordance with their own gifts and qualifications and the degree of development attained by the churches among which they labored. In the case of infant churches, it is evident that oversight was of the apostolic kind—direct and immediate. But whenever they became thoroughly established, the principle of local autonomy was recognized and the relation of the general ministers to such congregations was evangelistic rather than apostolic—helpers and advisors, not administrative directors.
[Sidenote: Geographical distribution]
That the foregoing analysis is correct is abundantly proved by the history of events in the Acts respecting the geographical distribution of the churches and their relation to one another. Jerusalem was the original seat of Christianity. Isaiah prophesied, "Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem" (Isa. 2:3). Jesus told the apostles "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). And again, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Philip went from Jerusalem to Samaria and there preached Christ with great success. "Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John" (Acts 8:14). Later we read that when churches had been established throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, "it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelt at Lydda" (Acts 9: 31, 32). It was while he was on this general tour visiting the churches that he came to Joppa and there received the vision which led him to the household of Cornelius, after which he came to Jerusalem and was there called to account for his action in visiting the uncircumcised Gentiles.
There is no doubt that there was exerted from Jerusalem a general care over the surrounding churches. Some of the disciples who were scattered from Jerusalem at the time of persecution, went as far as Cyprus and Antioch, preaching the word, and many believed and turned to the Lord. "Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas that he should go as far as Antioch" (Acts 11: 19-22). Barnabas went to Antioch and there found such a splendid work that he departed at once for Tarsus seeking Saul, and together they returned to Antioch and preached for a whole year.
[Sidenote: Operative centers]
While this principle of general superintendence of infant churches originated with the apostles themselves, it was extended to others who were not of the first apostles. Barnabas and Saul were successful at Antioch and there established the first Christian community outside the confines of Judaism, as the result of which Antioch became the seat of Gentile Christianity. Shortly afterwards "certain prophets and teachers" in the church at Antioch, men who were not of the original apostles, were directed by the Holy Ghost to send forth Barnabas and Saul on their first missionary journey, and they went forth establishing local churches and afterwards setting them in order by ordaining elders, after which these ministers returned to Antioch, gathered the church together, and gave them a report of their work. Antioch was, therefore, an operative center.
At a later time Paul established the truth in Ephesus, the chief city of Proconsular Asia. As might naturally be expected from the strategic position and political importance of that city, Ephesus also became an operative center for Christianity, "so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). Thessalonica in Macedonia and Corinth in Achaia are other examples of the kind.
[Sidenote: Regional units]
The work of the church naturally fell into these geographical units; therefore the word "church" is sometimes used as a collective term designating a body of regional congregations. The church "throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria" (Acts 9:31), "the seven churches which are in Asia" (Rev. 1:11), "the churches of Macedonia" (2 Cor. 8:1), "the churches of Galatia" (1 Cor. 16:1).
We must bear in mind, however, that this regional concept of the church was not an integral part of fundamental apostolic church government, but was merely incidental, the result of geographical location. In fundamental analysis distinctions are always drawn between things that are different, not between things of the same kind. These regional churches were not different kinds of churches; they were not bound together in separate groups by an external organization which placed a wall between them and other congregations of the saints. There was no authority here for the national-church theory nor for the sectarian church idea. Geographical separation there was, but not denominationalism.
[Sidenote: Common bond of unity]
We have already shown from Paul's writings that under his ministry both Jews and Gentiles were united in one body, "the same body." That these regional units to which we have referred were no denial of this clear truth, but that collectively they constituted one body, is further shown by the indications we have of their operative unity. Notwithstanding the poor facilities for communication and travel in those days, which made general cooperation very difficult, and notwithstanding the fact that the record of historic Christianity in the Acts is exceedingly brief, we have, nevertheless, clear proof that there was cooperation throughout the apostolic church. Two instances, one of a business nature, the other ecclesiastical, establish this point. The churches of at least three provinces of the Roman Empire—Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia—united under Paul's direction in establishing a weekly financial system, the immediate object of which was to assist in accomplishing a particular object in which they were all interested (2 Cor. 8:9; 1 Cor. 16:1-3). The ecclesiastical example is the council of the apostles and elders held in Jerusalem and recorded in Acts 15. A question of doctrine and practise arose in Antioch; the church there was not able to settle it; therefore it was "determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other with them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question" (verse 2).
This was not a general council of the church. No other sections or provinces were represented. Nor did it meet as a legislative body, even though there were present specially inspired apostles, to whom had been given the commission to unfold the gospel as an authoritative revelation. It is clear that the ministers of this council even sought to avoid the legislative function. "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things" (verse 28). While this incident does not prove an administrative human headship of the whole church centralized at Jerusalem, it does prove that the individual congregations were not isolated units, but that they had respect for, and sought the advice and counsel of, older established congregations, and particularly of those general ministers whose gifts, qualifications, and reputation fitted them for general care of all the churches.
When we consider the divine nature of the church's organization, with the ever-living Christ working mightily in all his ministers and through them in particular administering its government, we can see that the entire church was necessarily one body joined together in a common fellowship and actually laboring together in the performance of common tasks.
[Sidenote: Bishop and elder]
The presbytery, to whom was given particular oversight and government of the church, was set apart by the Holy Ghost for this special work. Different terms, such as "elder" and "bishop," were used to designate this office. The term "bishop," which literally means overseer, implies the duties of the office, while "elder" denotes its rank. That these terms were used interchangeably and applied to the same order of persons is proved by Acts 20:28 (cf. 17); Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1, 8; Tit. 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1, 2. This was admitted by many early writers, as Jerome, Augustine, Urban II, Petrus Lombardus, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and others.
From the general classification already given, let us proceed to the specific. This body was made up of elders or bishops. The fact that the terms "elder" and "bishop" were applied to all the presbyters shows equality of rank; that the office was one. We find, however, that these elders as individuals were diversified in their gifts and callings in accordance with the specific work which the Holy Ghost designed them to perform. Under one classification there were, broadly speaking, two kinds of elders—local and general; that is, those whose sphere of operation was particularly local and those whose influence, work, and responsibility extended beyond any congregational limitation. This distinction was not made arbitrarily, however; for it was essential to the performance of the twofold class of work to be done and was the inevitable result of that operation of the Spirit in individual ministers which fitted them particularly for these distinctive lines of activity.
[Sidenote: Divine gifts]
To be still more specific, we must go a step farther and consider the reason why and the process by which ministers became differentiated from other saints. In this we shall find the inner secret, both of particular spiritual organization and of divine church government. The apostle says, "By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body" and "God hath set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (1 Cor. 12:13, 18). These texts suggest more than a mere attachment to the body: they imply functional activity in the body. The functions of the body as described by Paul means the exercise of spiritual gifts. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit ... there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will" (1 Cor. 12: 4-11).
[Sidenote: Basis of ministerial authority]
The foregoing scripture is a mere enumeration of the gifts that God implanted in the church as a body. The more particular application of these gifts and their relation to church organization and government are given further on in the same chapter. "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 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. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts" (verses 27-31).
Comparison of verses 4 to 11 with verses 27 to 31 of the chapter just quoted shows conclusively that one is the counterpart of the other, the latter merely amplifying and explaining the former. From this clear teaching it is evident that the work of apostleship, of teaching, of governing, etc., were all based upon and grew out of divine gifts implanted in the heart by the Holy Spirit.
The same truth is taught by Paul in another place. Speaking of Christ, the apostle says, "When he ascended up on high, he ... gave gifts unto men ... and he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4: 8-12).
According to these scriptures, the very governmental positions of the church with their authority and responsibility were the product of those gifts and qualifications bestowed upon certain individuals in particular. Such gifts could be legitimately coveted with a view to spiritual edification of the body (1 Cor. 12:31; 14:12). "If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work" (1 Tim. 3:1). "Helps" doubtless included that class of assistants commonly called deacons (1 Tim. 3:8-11).
Since in the primitive church organization and government were determined by the divine gifts and callings possessed by individuals, it is evident that we have in this something totally different from that later conception of church government as a mere human arrangement. At a subsequent time, as we shall show, church government was patterned after the forms of political government in that it was vested inherently in men. Four such forms have been developed—the imperial, or papal; the episcopal; the presbyterial; and the congregational. While these four differ in external form, they are all alike in fundamental character, in that they assume that the governing power rests inherently in men.
None of these forms of government represent the New Testament church. The organization and government of that church was based upon the charisma, or divine gifts and callings, of individuals composing the church. The power and authority of an apostle or of an evangelist, for example, did not rest upon any selection or appointment made by men. The church did not act in a corporate capacity and confer ecclesiastical power and authority upon any one. All such power and authority came direct from God through the Holy Spirit, and it was in God's name and by his authority alone that they acted. The organization of the church was therefore charismatic. If, for example, the gifts of an apostle were conferred by the Holy Spirit upon an individual, he possessed apostolic responsibility and authority. The brethren recognized such gifts when these were evident, and submitted themselves voluntarily to such spiritual leadership and oversight; for at this period there had not been developed that ecclesiastical system by which human election and appointment gave positions and authority to men. In fact, we shall clearly show later that the true church can not be legally organized. Every attempt of men to assume the reins of authority and give governmental form and administrative direction to the church has been denominational and sectarian.
The true church was the whole family of God directed by his Holy Spirit. Ministerial appointment, with its authority and responsibility, was therefore divine. We have seen that through the spiritual operation called the new birth, one became a member of Christ, and hence by divine right belonged to whichever congregation of the church he might be able to associate with; but that in practical experience, such local membership involved recognition on the part of the other members. So it was with the divine appointment to the ministry. The only other essential to its practical operation was simply recognition of that call. Such recognition, in the last analysis, belonged to the whole church (1 Tim. 3: 2-7; Tit. 1: 6-9), but was given formally by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
[Sidenote: Plurality of local elders]
The development of ministers in an apostolic church was a divine, natural process, the inevitable result of the emphasis placed on the gifts and callings of the Spirit. This free exercise of the Spirit's gifts working in the members doubtless accounts for the plurality of ruling elders found in those local churches. See Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:16, 17; Tit. 1:5. It could not be otherwise as long as the churches were Spirit-filled, working congregations and the Spirit of God had his way. The system that limited local church government to a one-man rule originated in the apostasy, after the gifts of the Spirit had died out. It is simply one part of that great system of human organization that developed the full-grown papacy. Of this we shall learn more hereafter.
The same principles that developed local ministers produced also ministers of the general class. While some naturally became "pastors," "teachers," and "helpers" in the local church, particular gifts and qualifications fitted others for "apostles" and "evangelists," whose particular sphere was general oversight and work in the churches. The prophet was not limited to either class.
[Sidenote: Apostolic oversight]
As it is not germane to my present purpose, I shall not here attempt to define the various phases of ministerial work designated by various terms but all included under the one generic term "elder." The work described by the term "apostle," however, requires brief notice, on account of its bearing on the subject of church government. The fact that Paul had particular "care of all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28) and that he gave special instructions to Timothy and Titus, other ministers (1 Tim. 5: 21; Tit. 1:5), forms the basis for the episcopacy argument—church rule by a superior order of clergy called bishops.
"Apostle" literally signifies "a planter." The term belongs specifically to the first founders of the Christian faith, but is loosely applied in a more general sense to any minister who plants Christianity in a new territory. It is clear that the first apostles were especially inspired for a particular work in laying the foundations of the Christian church and in writing the New Testament Scriptures. Hence the apostolic office in this special sense passed away with them. But there was, nevertheless, an apostolic work such as planting and overseeing the infant work in a new field, and in this sense Barnabas also was an apostle (Acts 13:46 with 14:4).
That the word "apostle" really signified a planter and was therefore descriptive of the kind of work done is shown by the words of Paul himself: "For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles" (Gal. 2:8). And again, he says to the Corinthians, "If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you; for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:2). In another place he says to the same church, "Though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15).
The special, personal relation that the apostle, or planter, sustained to the work which he had founded and over which he exercised general jurisdiction, was but temporary, a sort of fatherly care. He was obliged to oversee the work as a whole, including young ministers, until it became thoroughly established. After others were able for the work and the apostle's special oversight was withdrawn, there might be ten thousand other instructors, but no more fathers. This disproves entirely the episcopal idea as an essential feature of church government. The apostle Peter even classes himself simply as an elder in common with other elders (1 Pet. 5:1). But with the exception of the original apostles, who were specially commissioned to reveal the doctrine and message of the gospel and to establish the Christian faith, the difference existing between elders in the primitive church was not a difference in kind, but in degree only, varying in accordance with their ability to put forth some portion of that moral and spiritual power by which alone Christ governs his church.
The Church in History
CORRUPTION OF EVANGELICAL FAITH
It is not my purpose to write an ecclesiastical history, but in order to make clear the work of final reformation, it will be necessary to present at least a brief sketch of historic Christianity, outlining particularly those leading features which show a radical departure from the true church as originally constituted by our Lord and his apostles.
[Sidenote: "The faith"]
In the days of primitive Christianity there was something called "the gospel," "the truth," "the form of sound words," "the faith." To understand its fundamental nature is not difficult, for it has been preserved and handed down to us in the writings of the New Testament. According to this record, the gospel message, or "the faith," centered in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose again that he might be a "Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31). "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Around this central fact of salvation from sin through faith in Christ clustered those other truths and facts which either necessarily resulted from the new relationship of redeemed humanity with God or were essential to its visible manifestation and propagation. Prominent among these features were the entire sanctification of believers, holy life and conduct, the baptism, gifts, and leadership of the Holy Spirit, and the visible unity and relationship of believers in one body, the church.
[Sidenote: An apostasy foretold]
I need not take time or space to describe the wonderful successes of Christianity as long as the primitive purity and power of the gospel message was sustained and its results realized in a living, Spirit-filled church. But facts compel me to record a change from that happy condition. This transition was foreseen by those who "spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Paul declared: "Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1); "Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Peter predicted, "There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies" (2 Pet. 2:1). Jesus himself declared, "Many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Matt. 24:11, 12).
Paul gives a more particular description of the coming apostasy in the second chapter of Second Thessalonians. Asserting that the second coming of Christ was not at that time imminent, he says: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (verses 3, 4).
The development of the "man of sin," which was occasioned by the "falling away," was to be gradual, but should finally assume great proportions, "so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God showing himself that he is God." The apostle further states: "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming" (verses 7, 8). We should not seek for the fulfilment of this prediction in those minor sects and heresies which at an early date arose and soon passed away: the description refers to some great power occupying the greatest prominence, making the most pretentious claims, a power that is to endure until the second advent of Christ. We must, therefore, look for its fulfilment in what we may term the main line of historic Christianity.
[Sidenote: First evidences of decline]
The "falling away" from the simple truths and standards of the gospel began at a very early date. The mystery of iniquity was already working in the apostles' day. Before the close of the first century we find in the churches of Asia Minor a sad deflection from their primitive condition. The church at Ephesus had left its first love (Rev. 2:4); the church at Pergamos was tolerating false teachers and being ruined by false doctrines (2:14, 15); Thyatira had lost the spirit of holy judgment against wrong-doing and was therefore affected by a shocking degree of immorality (2: 20-23); the message to Sardis was, "Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead (3:1); Laodicea had become so lukewarm that the Lord said, "I will spew thee out of my mouth" (3:15, 16).
[Sidenote: The apostolic fathers]
The transition from the apostles to the age of the early church fathers is involved in considerable darkness. Not until the middle of the second century, when Justin Martyr appears on the scene, does the church emerge from its obscurity into the clear light of history. The apostolic fathers—Clement of Rome, Ignatius, the Pastor of Hermas, Papias, and the unknown author of the Epistle to Diognetus—all these lived and wrote during that transitional period, and they could have told us much, but they have told us little. We can not but admire the beautiful spirit in which they wrote, and their style is earnest and vital. Nevertheless, we discern in these works two leading tendencies which stand, so to speak, as prophecies of what was to predominate in the ecclesiastical thought of succeeding centuries.
In the mind of the author of the Epistle to Diognetus, the grand central thought is the incarnation and the spiritual presence of Christ in redeemed humanity, by which they are led to the "free imitation of God," as a result of which they become to the world what the soul is to the body—its life and the means of holding it together. This teaching is an epitome of the Greek theology developed later by Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Athanasius. But in Papias, who attaches much importance to oral traditions that "came from the living and abiding voice"; in Ignatius, who exalts the bishop above other presbyters; and in Clement, who, writing as a Roman, is concerned with matters of administration and subordination to authority—in these we discern the beginnings of the Latin theology developed later by Tertullian, Irenaeus, Cyprian, and Augustine, which produced the papacy, and which, as we shall show, has in a great measure dominated the ecclesiastical thought of the world until the present day.
[Sidenote: The Ante-Nicene age]
After emerging into the clear field of historic Christianity in the time of Justin Martyr, we find everywhere evidences of a rapidly developing apostasy. In one respect we approach an examination of the Ante-Nicene church with feelings of admiration. This was a heroic age, an age of Christian martyrs. The struggles of Christianity against the powers of heathenism enthroned in the Roman Empire and throughout the world form a bright chapter in the annals of historic deeds and supreme loyalty to lofty ideals. When we view the subject from this angle, it would almost seem to be an act of irreverence or of sacrilege to call in question the doctrines and practises of that period when the church was baptized by fire and waded through rivers of blood. Reverence for the martyrs and for their noble efforts to extend the cause of Christ is praiseworthy, but in justice to truth, we must remember that even the martyrs were not inspired teachers commissioned to build a model for all succeeding ages. That they were heroic does not prove them infallible. We should never hesitate, therefore, to compare their teaching with the pure doctrines of the Word of God, and wherein there is any lack of harmony, we should be guided by the truth as it is in Jesus.
However much we may admire the early church fathers, we can not help noticing the sharp contrast between them and the first apostles; between their writings and the sublime, inspired teaching of the divine Word. If, after reading Paul, Peter, or John, we turn to Tertullian, Irenaeus, or Cyprian, we instinctively realize that we have, so to speak, been transferred from sunny Italy to frigid Siberia. We are conscious of a change to another era, and to another country. Notwithstanding the fact that we find numerous familiar objects, we know that we are moving in another atmosphere amid foreign surroundings.
[Sidenote: Growth of ritualism]
The church of the Middle Ages was the natural fruitage of the seeds planted during the second and third centuries. There we began to notice particularly foreign elements which stand out in bold contrast to the simple forms of primitive Christianity. One of these innovations was the development of the ritualistic spirit, according to which undue importance was attached to particular forms of worship, such as time, place, positions of the body, and ceremonial observances in general. Take baptism for an example. Apart from erroneous notions concerning the efficacy of baptism, which will be referred to under another head, the writings of the church fathers abound with the most minute and puerile details concerning how the act is to be performed—details of catechism, of consecration of waters, of dressing and undressing, exorcism, anointing from head to foot with oil, the laying on of hands, etc., all of which were to be carried out in the most exacting and solemn manner.