THE DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH is sadly neglected in some quarters. On the other hand it must not be thought that it comprises the whole of revelation. Serious results will flow from lack of balance in this matter.
Before the Reformation the doctrine of the Church looked deceivingly simple. It was taught that there was one universal, or catholic, church with its headquarters at Rome and with the Pope as its visible head. For those who like everything neatly docketed and pigeon-holed this had, and still has, its attractions. This, however, was not the Church, but an indiscriminate mass of profession to which the name ‘Christendom’ may be applied. It clarifies our thought if we realize that modern attempts to unite ‘the church’ are really attempts to re-unite Christendom. The world saw a united Christendom in the Middle Ages. It necessarily involved the triumph of one of the greatest of evils – Romanism.
Some who are repelled by Romanism are none the less attracted by the idea of an iron-bound system of assemblies, where each local church is subject to outside interference by some kind of general ‘oversight’. This is popery in another form, and can never be reconciled with the picture given in Revelation 2 and 3 where we have separate assemblies each responsible only to the Lord Himself.
The Reformation resulted in the formation of national churches, a thing never contemplated in the Word of God. Under the Law, God was dealing with a single nation, Israel, but under grace He is calling out a people from all nations to form ‘a holy nation’. In Christ ‘there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free’. ‘National church’ is a contradiction in terms.
The Scriptures know only the whole Church, which includes every believer from Pentecost onwards, and the local church, which is a gathering of Christians who live in the same area.
Evangelical movements have often been accompanied by a soft-pedalling of the facts concerning the Church. It is easy to see why. A surge of Gospel activity is never confined to one group of Christians. When many are born again the evangelists and others naturally become more aware of the things they have in common. Those who hold assembly principles are under special temptation to withhold such teaching since tradition unanimously rejects them. It is argued that for the sake of the Gospel these things must not be introduced. What then of the closing words of the Gospel according to Matthew?
Another factor which may lead to the soft-pedalling of Church doctrine in its local aspects is the clash of personalities in church fellowship. So long as believers merely go in and out of the same building and do not attempt to put New Testament Church principles into practice they may agree very well. But once they try to have closer fellowship the flesh is put under a strain and difficulties arise. The natural reaction is to keep out of church affairs, but if we all did this the local church would be virtually non-existent. Isolationism is not in accordance with the Word of God. Some believers go on without real fellowship for years, and use all kinds of excuses for doing so, but no excuse can bear the test of the Scriptures.
God has great purposes for the Church. It plays a great part in the divine plan. It ‘groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord’. And in the ages to come He will ‘shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus’. By the Church is made known to principalities and powers ‘the manifold wisdom of God’.
At the same time the Church is not the whole of God’s plan. It is a serious error to erase Israel from the Old Testament Scriptures and substitute the Church. This is an old heresy which is raising its head afresh today. It makes God out to be an unfaithful God who by juggling with words denies His promises to the earthly descendants of Abraham.
The Old Testament is packed with clear promises of blessing to the literal seed of Abraham. Restoration to the land, re-establishment of the Davidic monarchy in the person of Christ, earthly prosperity (if words have any meaning) all these things arc promised to the Jews. They have no application to the Church.
The New Testament clearly states ‘And so all Israel shall be saved’. Attempts are made to explain this away by saying every vile sin. Being without excuse God gave them over to unrestrained vileness and depravity. But the Jew abhorring such depravity, boasts himself in the law. Do his privileges give him righteousness and leave him guiltless? No. Outwardly he may seem righteous but inwardly he is as guilty as the Gentile. And as the case of both Jew and Gentile is examined in the light of divine standards, shades of guilt matter nothing; ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’. The hush of the court of divine justice is felt as the verdict is stated ‘the whole world guilty before God’. With this black background Paul moves to show:
2.THE PROVISION OF JUSTIFICATION
Ch. 3. 21 to ch. 5. 21
God has provided, in grace, a righteousness apart from the works of the law. The ground of this righteousness is the death of Christ. This clears the way for God to act righteously and yet reckon righteousness to all who believe in Jesus.
But the question is asked, ‘Surely works, law, circumcision have some weight in this matter? What of Abraham?’ The answer is unmistakable. Abraham believed God, before circumcision and law were brought in and ‘his faith was reckoned to him for righteousness’. Righteousness, by faith, through grace is reckoned to all who believe on Him who was ‘delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification’. Now because we arc justified, we come into all the blessedness of the enjoyment of God’s presence. We joy in God, because we are reconciled and God’s love, through His Spirit, floods our hearts.
The glorious fulness of this, God’s provision, is that the reign of sin and death brought in by Adam, is completely destroyed and the reign of superabounding grace is brought in by Jesus Christ through righteousness unto eternal life.
Such a glorious position opens up:
3.THE POSSIBILITYOF SANCTIFICATION
Chs. 6 to 8
The question arises, ‘If grace gives acceptance whatever my sin – does it matter how I live?’. The answer clearly is that righteousness in standing must find its correlative in righteousness in state. In baptism we confess that we died with Christ, were buried with Him, were raised with Him and, reckon¬ing, obeying, yielding we should eventually produce fruit unto holiness. Freedom from sin can lead to holiness of life.
In experience, however, the flesh is constantly opposed to the development of holiness. Wretched man! Good is willed but evil is present. Active conflict is the result. Where is deliverance? Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The power for sanctification lies in the operative energy of the Holy Spirit. As He is allowed to work in unhindered freedom in heart and life He brings victory. Deeds of the flesh are mortified, and the old law of sin and death nullified; life and peace are the result. Through the dominating influence of the Holy Spirit a righteous standing can – should – issue forth in a righteous state. A Spirit-filled life is sanctification.
The apostle closes the great doctrinal section with:
4. THE PROSPECT OF GLORIFICATION
Ch. 8. 12-39
Those justified are destined for glory. We are sons of God by adoption, heirs with Christ of glory, a glory which has been predestined for us. We shall bear Christ’s image. This is a glory which all creation awaits, and shall share the benefit of. Meanwhile, the Spirit helps our infirmities and God orders every event of our life for our good.
What shall we say then? God’s work is perfect. No voice of accusation can be raised. Every enemy is defeated by the con¬quering Saviour. No power on earth, in heaven, in hell can sep¬arate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this great dispensational section Paul deals with Israel’s rejection, present condition and future salvation. The over ruling atmosphere of this passage is his deep concern for his brethren.
Israel was elected of God. His chosen earthly people, privileged highly. And God’s choice was sovereign for He chooses whom He will. It is God’s own purpose which is seen in all His dealings and there is no unrighteousness with Him. Whether it is ‘vessels of wrath’ or ‘vessels of mercy’, He ‘endures with longsuffering’ or ‘prepares unto glory’ and He will finish the work in righteousness.
But Jewish perversity has robbed them of the enjoyment of these high privileges. Because of their unbelief, God has rejected them and has opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. Christ has become the end of the law for righteousness to every-one that believeth. This breaks down national barriers, and the message of God, is that ‘whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’. This position is consistent with Old Testament prophecy. Moses and Isaiah, upbraiding Israel’s perversity, told how God would reject them as a nation and bring the Gentiles into blessing. What then? Has God cast aside Israel forever? All Paul’s Jewish fervour and favour rise in an emphatic ‘God forbid’.
Firstly, he points out that there remains today a remnant according to the election of grace.
Secondly, he emphasizes Israel’s greatness. Their fall, their laying aside, the result of their blindness, has been the enriching of the world, the blessing of the Gentiles. Wonderful fulness! As apostle to the Gentiles, he preaches Gentile salvation through the laying aside of the Jews, but he is insistent upon divine interest and concern for Israel.
Thirdly, he shows the method of God’s dealing. They, as the branches of the true root have been broken off because of fruitlessness. Gentile ‘branches’ – wild olive branches have in grace been ‘grafted’ in to partake of the fatness of the olive tree. Such divine mercy is cause for humble gratitude.
Finally, Paul asserts that Israel will be restored. All Israel in that day, the day of the coming of the Deliverer, will be saved. Their sins will be taken away forever.
What conclusion can be arrived at? Divine sovereignty, divine mercy, so order things, that concluding all in unbelief God can have mercy upon all. The apostle breaks forth in a doxology extolling the wisdom and mercy of God. His inscrutable ways call forth endless praise.
Section 3. Practical
Doctrine must express itself in practice. As Paul opens this practical section he beseeches that such mercies as have been shown should inspire absolute surrender unto God. The goal of the surrendered life should be the perfect will of God. This ideal should transform character and govern all relationships.
I. CHURCH RELATIONSHIP
Ch. 12. I-I3
Christian activities and association in the assembly should be marked by humility, and unselfishness. The growth of one another should be the prime motive of every service. Unselfish devotion to the Lord and to His people is the hallmark of true church life.
Ch. 12. 14-21
Socially, the Christian life should be governed by meekness and the quietness of the Spirit of Christ. Sympathy, honesty, patience, peaceableness and goodness in the presence of evil and its results should mark the Christian in the world.
In relation to the State there should be in every Christian a spirit of subjection to God-ordained powers. An honest discharge of all duties, and freedom from debt, should be marked. Christian life should be peaceable, charitable and undefiled, awaiting Christ’s coming, and displaying His character.
Chs. 14 to 15. 13
In every Christian life there should be earnest care for those weaker in the faith. Sensitive consciences can be easily damaged by careless actions of thoughtless Christians. Judging one another with a critical spirit is wrong; we should live in the light of the Lord’s presence, and with the judgement seat in view. The ‘brother for whom Christ died’, though weak, should be the object of watchful love and care in every action. Then the strong should bear the burden of the weak. In fact every thought of each Christian should be for the good of the other and the glory of Christ. If this spirit obtains, a chorus of praise will ascend from Jew and Gentile believers to the Lord. Thus the God of hope can fill with joy and peace all believers.
Chs. 15. 14 to 16. 27
The epilogue of the epistle is warm with personal feeling. His confidence of their spiritual well-being, his desire to see them and his earnest desire for their prayers, all mingle with the apostle’s personal greetings and as he closes Paul warns against false teachers who would deceive and destroy.
As we feel the glory of the unfolding of the Gospel of God as presented in this epistle we join with Paul ‘To God only wise be glory through Jesus Christ forever’, Amen.