WE HAVE NOW TO INQUIRE into the reasons why God has established the Church upon earth and we shall find that here, as in all His works, His aim is to glorify His Son the Lord Jesus.
Firstly, let us consider some of the statements made by the Saviour in His prayer to the Father recorded in John 17. We learn that the disciples were being left in the world now that the Lord was leaving it, and that they were being given the great honour and responsibility of representing their absent Master. ‘As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them …’, v. 18. We learn too, from this prayer, that the disciples were to be loved of the Father just as Christ was loved. Also we discover that as the world had hated the Master so it would hate the disciple and we, therefore, hear the Lord praying for them that they might be united and that they might be kept from the evil one. In addition they had received from the Lord the very words of God, and finally their destiny was to be with Christ and to behold His glory.
The Christian Church is an expression of God’s answer to these requests; and the responsible duty of carrying on the testimony of Christ to the glory of God and of the absent Lord devolves upon the believers, the members of His Church. The power and the wisdom needed to do this effectively arc supplied by the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and a careful study of John 14, 15 and 16 will be helpful and necessary if we wish to know what His functions are.
Further, the Church has been given two ordinances which every member is expected to observe, each of which has a relation to the testimony which should be borne in the world. One of these is the ordinance of baptism which, as a careful study of the first part of the Acts of the Apostles will show, was uniformly obeyed in the early days. This should be the pattern for today as well; the New Testament does not contemplate an unbaptized believer!
Baptism is a figure of death, burial and resurrection, and tells all who witness it that the person baptized has identified himself with Christ in His death, has been buried with Him and has now to live a new kind of life born in him by the Holy Spirit and displayed in everyday life before men in the world. Read Rom. 6.
The other visible ordinance is the Lord’s Supper, sometimes called Holy Communion or the Breaking of Bread. This ordinance is commemorative and anticipatory. It is a remembrance of the Lord’s coming into a human body in order to die for men. We remember that ‘Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it’, also that ‘he loved ME and gave himself for me’. The bread and the wine are symbols of His body and blood. The feast is anticipatory because it is to be carried out only until the absent Lord comes and removes His Church from the world. See i Cor. n, 23 et seq. Every member of the body of Christ is expected, nay earnestly desired by Christ, to keep this ordinance.
Secondly, we learn from Eph. 3. 10, that the Church is a witness to great spiritual powers of the ‘manifold wisdom of God’. There are immense spiritual forces, both for good and evil, in the heavenlies and these powers observe the manifold activities of God among His creatures. The presence, testimony, behaviour and functioning of the Christian Church in the world displays to them His ‘many-coloured’ wisdom.
This, surely, is a very important matter. Its effectiveness depends on two things, viz., that the collective witness of the Church should be a real reflection of the mind of God and they had also been given His WORD, that is, a body of truth as a unit. Of course they also had the Old Testament scriptures and they afterwards received the gift of the Holy Spirit to open their understanding. These great gifts to the Church were added to later by the writings of the New Testament, first some of the letters of Paul and later the Gospels and the rest of the Scriptures. Thus the Church inherited the completed communications of God which were given for a dual purpose, namely, that the members should be instructed in the will of God as to their worship and service, and the leading of godly and consistent lives; and then that they should have the treasure of the Gospel to be preached in all the world so that others might be brought in and the testimony perpetuated.
It will be evident from all this that the Church has some responsibility for the evangelists and missionaries who have been called into the service of preaching. They depend primarily on the Lord, but His resources have been entrusted to His people who will have to give account to Him of their stewardship.
The simple act of faith in the Saviour is enough to make us Christians, but these studies are intended to show that there is very much more in the living of a Christian life. We shall see in further studies, how we may be prepared for and led into this ‘life more abundant’ promised by the Good Sheph