For a number of years, The Dawn has had published on its back cover a brief statement of faith well-known to Bible Students the world over, entitled, “To Us the Scriptures Clearly Teach.” During 1995, in addition to publishing this outline of faith, we will accompany it with a series of Highlight articles dealing more or less in detail with the various statements.

The Church

The first sentence in this outline of faith reads, “The church is the temple of the living God.” Leaving the consideration of the ‘temple’ for a succeeding article, let us here examine the word ‘church’.

A GREAT VARIETY of meanings has been attached to this word, most of them not in harmony with the Scriptures. Its meaning, however, is amazingly simple when the light of the divine plan is focused upon it.

Many have assumed that a beautiful edifice built with marble, or stone, or brick, which has engraved upon it in a prominent place the words, “Church of St. Peter,” or “Church of the Holy Nazarene,” or “Holy Trinity Church,” is what the Scriptures refer to as the ‘church’. But this is not true.

Others think of the word church as applying to some one of the many denominational groups to be found throughout the professed Christian world. It has become customary to refer to these various divisions as the “Roman Catholic Church,” the “Protestant Episcopal Church,” the “Methodist Episcopal Church,” the “Baptist Church,” or the “United Lutheran Church,” or others. From this, many have erroneously concluded that the church is some earthly organization or society of religious worshipers, or perhaps a group of ethical, social, or moral reform workers.

The word church, as used in the Bible, is really a title—not a name—and is applied to any company of faithful footstep followers of the Master, or to all of them combined. It is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which literally means ‘a called out’ or ‘select class’. The Bible applies this term to the consecrated followers of Jesus, and by it identifies them as a class that is being selected as co-workers with him in the execution of God’s great plan of salvation. Those to whom this term applies are the ones foretold in divine prophecy who were to be associated with the Messiah in the work of his kingdom.

Jesus himself began the selection of this class. To his disciples he said, “Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19) While Jesus did not use the word church or ecclesia in this instance, the thought is the same—he was telling the disciples that they were to be part of a specially elected, called out, or chosen company, to whom it would be the Heavenly Father’s good pleasure to give the kingdom in due time.

The Gospel Preached to Abraham

The elect feature of the Christian’s standing in the divine plan is brought clearly to our attention in both the Old and New Testaments. God’s purpose to bless all nations through a select ‘seed’ class was first definitely stated to Abraham when he said to him, “In thee shall all nations be blessed.” (Gal. 3:8) Concerning Abraham, God said, “I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him.” (Isa. 51:2) It is through the spiritual ‘seed’ of this one whom God called ‘alone’, that all the families of the earth are to be blessed.—Gal. 3:14,29

Just as God selected, or elected, Abraham, to whom the promise of a coming blessing for all mankind originally was made, so now he is selecting, or electing, those who are to become the ‘seed’ of that promise—the channel of blessing. Thus in applying the title ‘church’ to this seed class, its elect quality is emphasized.

Membership in this elect company, however, is not upon the basis of an arbitrary choice by God. He makes the selection on the basis of faith and full consecration to him. The necessary steps on the part of any individual who aspires to become a member of the church class are, first, a turning from sin and the acceptance of Christ’s ransom sacrifice; and second, a full and unreserved consecration to do the Heavenly Father’s will; and finally, to live up to the terms of that consecration faithfully even unto death. The joining of an earthly religious organization is not at all involved in the matter of membership in the Lord’s elect company, his true church, whose names are enrolled in heaven.—Heb. 12:23

Although our English word church, which is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, appears only in the New Testament, the thought of a ‘chosen people’ was not a new one with God’s servants before that time. The entire nation of Israel—the natural seed of Abraham—was a chosen people. God dealt with and blessed them to the exclusion of all other nations. In this broad sense of the word, therefore, all Israel was a church, a chosen or selected people. Of them the Lord says, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.” (Amos 3:2) Had the Israelites been faithful to him, God would have completed the selection of the Christian church from them alone.

But the nation of Israel did not prove faithful. When Jesus came at his First Advent, the Scriptures say of him that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not.” (John 1:11) However, some of the Israelites at that time did receive Jesus, and of these the Scriptures say that “as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.”—John 1:12

Gentiles Grafted In

The Apostle Paul explains that because so few of the Jews did receive Christ, the Gospel finally was taken to the Gentiles. In the eleventh chapter of Romans he aptly illustrates this fact by likening it to the breaking off of the natural branches of an olive tree, and the grafting in of wild olive branches.

In this illustration the apostle likens the Gentile converts to ingrafted wild branches. These now had the privilege of becoming the sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ, even as did the believing Jews. From the standpoint of scriptural terminology this means, in reality, that the entire church of Christ is Israelitish—whether Jew or Gentile, its members are the spiritual ‘seed of Abraham’.

Doubtless this is the reason the Lord, in one of the symbolisms in the Book of Revelation, describes the church, or elect company of his associates in the kingdom, as being made up of twelve thousand of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The nucleus of this elect class was indeed from among those who originally were members of one or another of the literal twelve tribes of Israel. But Gentiles had to be brought in to fill up the foreordained number, and in this symbolism they, too, are spoken of as Israelites. The calling out from among the Jews of this select Christian company to be ‘spiritual Israelites’ began at Pentecost. In Acts 2:47 we are told that “the Lord added to the church daily,” and at that time all the converts were Jewish.

Later, however, the Lord began to graft Gentiles into the places vacated by unfaithful Jews who had lost their privilege of becoming the spiritual seed of Abraham through which all the families of the earth were to be blessed. The first of these Gentile converts was Cornelius. In order to emphasize this change in God’s arrangement of dealing exclusively with the Jewish people, the Apostle Peter was sent especially to Cornelius, and when he accepted the Gospel there was a unique demonstration of God’s acceptance through an outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit coming upon him and “all them which heard the Word.”—Acts 10:44

Following the conversion of Cornelius, other Gentiles began to come into the church, and it was not long before many of the local groups of disciples were mixed companies, made up partly of Jewish converts, and partly of Gentile converts. Paul’s letter to the Romans indicates that the church, or ecclesia, at Rome was made up of both, and the first few chapters of his epistle to them are devoted to the matter of showing that in God’s sight there is now no difference between the two—that all must come to him through faith in the shed blood of Jesus.

The Bride of Christ

The word church is not the only title given in the Bible to this elect Christian company. In addition to their being called ‘the temple’ of God—the significance of which we will consider in a future article—this people, called to be separate from the world, and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, is also identified, symbolically, as the ‘bride’ of the ‘Lamb’, and again, as the ‘body’ of Christ.

Shortly before Jesus was crucified he prayed that he and his followers might become one even as he and the Father were one, and the application of these various titles to the followers of the Master is designed to help us visualize the full sense in which Jesus’ prayer for oneness is to be answered.

The expression, ‘body of Christ’, is used in the Scriptures in much the same sense that we speak of a legislative body. It simply means that this elect company is to function under the dictates of its Head, Christ Jesus, the King of kings, and that they, as under-kings, will share with him in the work of the kingdom. Paul carries out this illustration in much detail, and indicates that the many members of the Christ body may properly be likened to the various members of a literal body. Some may be likened to a foot, others to a hand, etc., but all must function under the direction of the one Head, Christ Jesus.

In this we see that the body illustration represents the present relative oneness of the Christ company, from the standpoint that every member is expected to function in harmony with every other member because all are subject to the dictates of the Head. Oneness of the body of Christ, while its members are still in the flesh, is only approximate, because the church is as yet merely in the process of preparation.

However, one of the most important lessons for all Christians to learn is to be submissive to the will of Christ. Until that lesson is learned by all, there cannot be perfect unity in the body. The Apostle Paul writes concerning the present state of the church, saying that we should. be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit,” but full oneness will not be attained until all the body members have proved their faithfulness unto death, and have been raised from the dead and united with Christ in glory.—Eph. 4:3

Future Oneness

In Revelation 19:7, Jesus, the Lamb of God, is represented as being married to his faithful followers. “The marriage of the Lamb is come,” writes the apostle, “and his wife hath made herself ready.” In Revelation 22:17 this class, having become the ‘bride’, is represented as being the agency through which the promised blessing of life for the world is dispensed—“the Spirit and the bride say, Come. … Take the water of life freely.”

The title of ‘bride’ as applied to the followers of the Master seems to represent more particularly their future oneness with Christ—a oneness which will be shared with him in the glory of the kingdom. As in the natural realm the bride shares the honor and riches of the bridegroom, so the bride of Christ is to be a joint-heir with her Bridegroom in the honor and glory of the kingdom.

It is when we recognize what constitutes the true church of Christ, and what the work of the church has been throughout the Gospel Age, as well as what her future work and glory is to be in the Millennial kingdom, which is to reign for the blessing of all mankind, that we realize the plan of God in connection with the selection and development of the church has not been a failure.

The only thing which will save the faith of Christians today is a clear understanding of the plan of God as it relates to both the church and the world. In an endeavor to contribute what we can to help others to a better understanding of the divine plan, we will continue this series, and our next article will be entitled, “The Temple of God.”

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