The Doctrine of the Church
© 8/29/2010 C. O. Bishop
Ephesians 3:1, 2-13, especially verses 4-6
We hear a lot about “the church” in public speaking (usually in reference to some denomination) and it seems that the world, unsurprisingly, does not see the church the same way God does. Unfortunately, neither do we believers. We have been heavily affected by the world’s point of view. We tend to think of the building as a “church”, though we (supposedly) know that the people are the real church. And even when we think of the “people” as the church, we tend to think of a particular group of believer’s as “the church”, instead of recognizing one body of believers, as God does.
Does this mean that God does not see a local assembly as a church? Absolutely not! He definitely recognizes local assemblies as “churches” (plural), but the two natures of the church (local and universal) are necessary because the living believers still have two natures, and are limited by time and space, whereas the believers who have already gone to be with Christ have only their redeemed nature, and they are all consciously with Him and with one another. (Now, there’s a “Mega-church,” for you!)
In Ephesians chapter one Paul introduced the idea of “The Church,” proper (singular)…one body eternally bonded with Jesus Christ. Let’s read, as he expands on the topic briefly in chapter three.
A Parenthetical Statement
1For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
“For this cause…” (What cause?) The fact that the believers are being built together as a habitation of God, through the Spirit (See previous verse)
v.1 For this cause I, Paul the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
[v.2 If ye have heard…] the following thirteen verses are a parenthesis, from verse 2 to verse thirteen. In verse 14, Paul picks up the thread of his original thought again, and completes the sentence, “For this cause…I bow my knees unto the Father…” He is declaring that because of the church truth being worked out in Jew and Gentile, he is consistently praying that the believers would receive certain blessings from God, and grow in faith and understanding.
It is interesting, and possibly a little ironic that the explanation of the Church is given in parenthetical form, since, as we will see later, the church itself is, in a way, a “parenthesis.” The parenthesis in chapter three is where I want to focus my attention today:
A New Man
Paul began to make a statement concerning his prayers for the believers, but paused to explain why it was his particular duty and pleasure to do so. In Romans 11:13 Paul stated clearly that he was “the Apostle to the Gentiles.” Did he only preach to Gentiles? No: in fact, as we mentioned in Ephesians chapter one, his particular practice in every city was to go to the synagogue first, and offer the message to the Jews. Then, when they turned up their collective noses at the offering (as they inevitably did,) he turned his attention to the Gentiles in the vicinity.
The fact that the Gentiles could and would be saved was NOT a mystery…God had promised an outreach to the Gentiles, and promised that He would save those who sought him. But the fact that He would create a “New Man” (the Church) and include Jews and Gentiles in the same Body, had only vaguely been alluded to by Jesus himself, in John 10:16, and was nowhere spelled out or explained.
2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
Paul was given this ministry by revelation from Jesus himself, beginning on the road to Damascus, as we read in Acts 9:1-20, especially verse 15, and continuing in Galatians 1:15-2:2 (read it). Paul was met by Jesus in broad daylight, and blinded by the light of Jesus’ countenance. He was told by revelation that he was to serve Jesus, and would be used to take the gospel to the heathen (ultimately us!)
Only in the writings of Paul do we find the specific doctrine of the church. It is mentioned, of course, in other writings, but the specific teaching regarding it being made up of saved Jews and saved Gentiles, and that they were one body in Christ, is taught by Paul alone.
5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
Paul underscores the fact that the doctrine of the Church had not been made known “in other ages”—that is, by previous prophets, or, more specifically, during previous dispensations. Paul begins in verse two, saying “if ye have heard of the dispensation of the Grace of God, which is given me to you-ward:” in other words, the gift that God has given Paul is that of “being the Apostle to the Gentiles (see verse 8).”
It would be tempting to use this passage as a proof-text for the concept of dispensations, but that is not what is being taught in this passage, though the doctrine of dispensational theology is definitely taught throughout the scripture. The use of the word “dispensation” in this passage has only to do with the fact that Paul was assigned a particular gift, to be administered toward the Gentiles. However, his pointing out that the church was not revealed in previous “ages” is part of the clear teaching of dispensations. It simply has nothing to do with Paul’s use of the word, here.
When the prophet Daniel was given what was possibly the furthest-reaching prophecy in scripture, culminating in Daniel 9:23-27, it included all the time from the days of Nehemiah to the Messianic Kingdom, but, though it specifically predicted the death of the Messiah, it completely skipped the Church age! Many of the prophets detailed the kingdom age…but none touched upon the church age. The church could be seen as a “parenthesis” in God’s dealing with Israel and the World.
Even Jesus, though he briefly predicted it, saying “Upon this Rock I will build my church…,” did not explain anything about it. And, though he stated the he had come to fulfill the Law, he did not specify how he would do so. Paul’s writings (Galatians 2:19) tell us that “I, through the Law, am dead to the Law, that I might live unto God.” Jesus fulfilled the Law for us by dying in our place, so that we could be “dead to the Law,” thus beyond its reach. I am no longer judged by God’s Law, and am finally free to serve Him without reproach.
Paul wanted his readers (us, too), to understand how he knew what he did about the church age…and that it really was new information, though completely in keeping with the Old Testament scripture. It violated nothing, and fulfilled everything.
By the Gospel
6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
Paul specifies what portion of this doctrine was the “mystery” (something not previously revealed), in verse 6: “That the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the Gospel” That was largely the sticking point for the Jews, regarding the Gentiles. The Jews could not understand how, after all the years of isolation in God’s blessing, the doors were to be thrown open, and the heathen were coming in. Not only were they coming in, but once they were in, God would no longer make a distinction between Jew and Gentile. That did not sound like “Good News” to the Jews, especially the unbelieving Jews. They were not prepared to share their inheritance.
But how did the Gentiles come in? How did they become fellow-heirs? How did it happen that there was to be only one “Body of Christ? How were the Gentiles to be made partakers of the promised Messiah?
The answer? “By the Gospel:” the Gospel is listed as the only power of God to save those who believe, in Romans 1:16, 17 (read it). And it says that this is how he saves Jews and Gentiles. But this is all new information…and Paul was sent to teach it.
Paul was overwhelmed by the honor and the privilege he had been given. He said, “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints in this Grace given; that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
I wish that I could see the job of world evangelism through Paul’s eyes. I am caught up with day to day living, and sometimes can barely see those around me as an opportunity for the Gospel, or, more specifically, as precious souls for whom Christ died…Paul saw evangelism as the greatest privilege in life!
Each of you who have received Jesus as your Savior has been saved by means of the Gospel. There are no exceptions. That is the only way God saves people. Actually, it has always been the only way he saved people. He gave the promise of the coming Messiah in Genesis 3:15-21, immediately after Man’s fall into sin. Those in the Old Testament looked forward to that coming Messiah—we look back. They brought blood sacrifices, looking forward to the cross. We take communion, looking back. Every saved person in history was saved “by Grace through Faith”, the same as you and I have been saved. That part of the message is not new.
What is new is the Church—the one body of believers, in whom there is “neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female”, etc. This is in reference to the one body of Christ, not the local assembly.
Interestingly, Paul addresses only the universal church in the book of Ephesians…in the letters to the believers at Corinth, he speaks more to the local assembly, and gives directions for the local churches. He gives similar counsel in the letters to Timothy and Titus. But the letter to the Ephesian believers is primarily devoted to teaching them their “position,” or standing, as believers. Then, how to live as believers, and how to stand fast in their faith as believers.
How Old is the Plan?
9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
One thing I find particularly intriguing about this passage is that it is also one of the few that give us some inkling of God’s purpose in creating the church. He says that he purposed it in Himself since the beginning of the world, but that it has been hidden, down through all the ages.
Paul goes on to say that the eternal purpose (verse 11) was that now (verse 10) the angels (various names of various ranks) would observe through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God.
But…haven’t they already seen it, down through all the ages? What is so special about the Church? I really am not sure. But evidently the indwelling Holy Spirit (which also had not occurred before, at least on a wide-spread basis) and the outpoured Grace of God are an amazing thing to the angelic hosts. They are to me, too! I cannot understand His Grace. I do not know why He would go to such lengths to salvage such wrecks as we in the human race really are…honestly.
But God not only says that it is true, but He says that it is his purpose to demonstrate it to the angels. To me, somehow, that makes all the other messed-up things in life seem more bearable, because I know that God is using me to demonstrate His Grace and Wisdom to the angelic hosts.
How can we be a part of God’s Plan?
To take that “heavenly thought” and bring it “down to earth,” so to speak, let us consider: if God is planning to use you to show the angels His Grace and Wisdom…don’t you think He could use you to demonstrate and share His Grace with other humans? Right here on Earth? Right here in town? In your own family? Your own neighborhood? Right where you are?
The answer is yes! We are to be “lights in a dark world,” reflecting God’s light, and drawing people to Him. If people cannot see God’s love in our lives, they will not believe the Gospel when it comes out of our mouths. He can use you. First by your attitude, and behavior, second by your words, but all undergirded by prayer that His Grace will flow through you as it did through Paul, to reach the dying world around you. We meet together as believers, specifically to encourage one another, and to pray for the lost around us, and to pray that God will use each of us for His glory.
Between the times when we meet together, we meet daily with the risen Christ, and get our “marching orders,” so to speak, from Him.
We read our Bibles, and we pray, asking God to reveal Himself in His Word. We sing together, worshipping the Lord, and encouraging each other. That is how believers are to function.
Let us pray that we will be faithful to do all these things. We will continue in His Word, and in fellowship with one another, as He permits.