The Church The Body of Christ

October 5, 2014 / No. 3744

Dear Radio Friends,
I count it an honor and a privilege to be able to address you again in the next several months on the Reformed Witness Hour. In the past I have worked my way through a particular book of the Bible. I intend to do that again. But for the next several broadcasts I would like to address a subject that is of grave concern to me. I intend to speak on the truth concerning the church. There are many heresies afloat in the church world of today, but one particular truth of Scripture that is horribly maligned today is the doctrine of the church. As a church planter I am forced to deal with, not simply a prevailing ignorance on this subject, but total disregard and disdain for the Bible’s teaching on the church. I am convinced that the reason we find so many unchurched people in our society is because it has shot itself in the foot, so to speak. Modern churches no longer teach the importance of church membership—the need to join and be committed to a faithful church institute. Churches do not insist on proper Sabbath observance or church attendance in order to sit beneath the preaching. Churches offer stones for bread by way of their worship. The result is that the members of these churches are leaving by the hundreds, and our society is becoming more and more unchurched.
It is time to return to a proper understanding of the church and the indispensable place she has in the life of every believer. There is a beautiful confession of the Reformed churches known as the Heidelberg Catechism. This confession was written long ago, during a time when the church institute was yet held in high esteem. This confession follows a question and answer format. In Q & A 54, the question is asked: “What do you believe concerning the ‘holy, catholic church’ of Christ?” The answer the Heidelberg Catechism gives to this question is classic and beautiful! I wish the clergy of the churches of today would learn it and follow it. It reads: “That the Son of God, from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to Himself by His Spirit and Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am, and forever shall remain a living member thereof.” In the next few broadcasts we are going to examine where the Bible teaches us this.
A Church Chosen
The Heidelberg Catechism teaches us in Q & A 54, first of all, that the church is “chosen to everlasting life.” The reference here is to the plan of God before He created this world. From eternity in His plan, before time began, God chose to Himself a body of people known in the Bible as the church. So vital is this truth to understanding what the church is that we may not simply pass over it. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians addresses the church of Jesus Christ established in the city of Ephesus. Concerning that church he writes in verses 4 and 5, “According as God hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” This passage leaves no doubt that the church is made up of those whom God chose or elected unto eternal life. To define properly what the church is requires that we confess the truth of sovereign predestination. As is clear from this passage in Ephesians, before the foundations of the world were laid God predestinated unto Himself a people, that is, He chose a certain people, He ordained a certain people unto salvation in Christ. The end to which He chose them is eternal life—that is their destiny; that is where they will go when they die.
Now, we are not interested in every aspect of this truth for what we wish to establish today. What we are interested in is this: the members of Christ’s church in this world are not chosen by God in an individualistic manner. Yes, they were chosen individually, no doubt about that. Each one of God’s people has his name written in the Lamb’s book of life from eternity. God chose each one of us in His great love for us. God’s election is not just some cold, uncaring procedure of God by which He chose to Himself a whole mass of people not really being interested in any one individual. God takes a deep interest in and cares for each one of the members of His church. But at the same time, we ought not to view our election in an individualistic manner—as if God does not care also for the body of the whole of His elect people. We were chosen together with all of God’s other saints. We were chosen together as the body of the elect from eternity. God does not view you and me apart from the whole. He sees us as an intimate part of that entire elect people from eternity. We were not elected as little islands in ourselves. We were not chosen by God to stand alone in this world, as if no one else counts but we ourselves. Our importance to God therefore is not to be found in ourselves, but in our connection with the entire body of His elect. A believer ought to remember that, when he thinks that he can live apart from other believers. That is the height of all pride! God chose unto Himself a people. And He views them from eternity to eternity as a whole.
With this body of elect God has chosen to carry on His covenant. Ephesians 1:5 tells us that we have been predestinated unto the adoption of sons. Paul also writes in verse 11 of this chapter that we have been predestined by God to obtain an inheritance. All of this implies that this body of the elect was chosen by God to be the children of His household and to receive the inheritance of their Father. And just as an earthly father loves all of his children, preferring none above the other, so also God. God loves this elect people. He is their Father and they are His children—those on whom He pours out all of His favor and care. He dwells with them in love. From eternity God chose these elect to share in the rich inheritance of heavenly glory—eternal fellowship with Him in heaven. The truth of the church and the truth of God’s covenant cannot be separated. God chose a certain people—a definite number of people. He knows all of them by name because He chose them as a body of people, a church to share with Him in the bliss of heaven to all eternity. And the fantastic part of it all is this: God laid all this out before He even created the world! He knows the beginning from the end, because He is the beginning and the end of all things. He chose a church unto Himself, and it is exactly the members of this church—no more, no less—that will share in eternal life with God.
Now, we might ask at this point, why place such emphasis on this fact? Well, I do so because there is a debate that has been going on for quite sometime. It is a hot debate. There are those who believe that the church of Christ did not become a reality until the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out. All of God’s saints that lived and died in the Old Testament were not members of the church. They were the kingdom people. This kingdom people was saved by the law. They are therefore a separate body of people that may not be mixed up with the New Testament church that began at the time of Pentecost. Those who maintain this view are known as dispensationalists. This debate is an on-going one in the churches of today.
But it is the error of the dispensationalist that destroys the scriptural truth of the church! It leaves shipwreck the blessed truth of God’s covenant. It denies the truth of sovereign predestination. That is why we have emphasized the truth of predestination in our broadcast today. Predestination puts an end to all debate on this matter! It is this body of God’s elect people that comes to manifestation in this world as God’s church. God has elected from before time a church unto Himself. As God’s people are born into this world and as God through the Word and the Spirit brings them to salvation, God builds that church. What He ordained in eternity is indeed coming to pass in time! The members of the church from the beginning of time to the end are born and reborn in this world exactly according to God’s decree of election. At the very beginning of time God created the first two members of His church when He gave life to Adam and Eve.
After the fall of man into sin, God called and saved those whom He had chosen from eternity, and they manifested themselves as members of His church in this world. With them God established His covenant. Adam, Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, believers out of the nation of Israel. Then Christ came, to whom all of these saints looked in faith in the Old Testament. At the time of Pentecost and afterwards God sent out his salvation to people of every language of the earth—all of them chosen unto life everlasting and still looking to Christ in faith. The Son of God has been gathering and preserving unto Himself a church chosen to eternal life. He has been doing that throughout all of history—in the old as well as the new dispensation! Stand back, once, people of God who now live in the last times, and observe what God has done and still is doing! The church that was chosen with all of its members in eternity God has been gathering from the beginning of time. Saints have come and gone. These elect saints have attained their inheritance already. They are in heaven. They have triumphed in Christ.
Now, observe again with me the church. There are also elect saints alive today whom God still gathers from the nations. These elect have not yet attained unto their inheritance. But they know that they are elect—chosen unto the adoption of sons. They are God’s children in this world and they will attain! They know that! In the meantime, they battle long and hard against sin and Satan. They are the church militant! But they are the church, because they belong to the body of the elect.
Now, one last time we look at the church. Christ has not yet returned. He has not come because He is still gathering the body of the elect believers from this world. Not all of the elect are born and saved as yet. This is the church latent—the elect that yet must be gathered in before that body of the church is complete.
Christ has not returned yet because He is not willing that any of the members of the church should perish but that all of them should come to repentance. When all of God’s people are born and brought to glory, the end of all things will come. Then the body of the elect, the church, will be gathered before God adorned as a bride is decked for her bridegroom. All of God’s saints will stand together as a whole. The body of Christ shall shine forth in all her beauty—the beloved bride of God! It is only that concept of the church that is the teaching of Scripture. What a beautiful picture the Bible gives us of the church—the body of God’s elect.
A Church Saved
But there is much more that can be said as regards this church elected by God to receive her inheritance. We may not forget that the church was elected before time began in Christ. This elect body of people was chosen by God in Christ, that is, in intimate union with Christ. God chose Christ first. According to I Peter 2 Christ is the elect cornerstone on which the entire church is built. We read in Ephesians 1:4 that God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. This means that the church of Jesus Christ has never been viewed apart from Christ. The church is the body of Christ. It was chosen in Him and it is saved by Him. In the working out of His plan in time God gave the church to Christ. Christ died on the cross to save that church. Christ Himself recognized this: John 17:2, “As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” Or John 17:6, “I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.” Christ did not come into this world to save a large number of people whom He did not know, a number of people of which He was not sure. Christ came into this world to save the specific number of people that God had chosen and had given to Him from eternity. It is exactly because the church was chosen in Christ and saved by Christ that it can be defined as the body of Christ. It is that body of people born and saved out of this world that are united to Christ by a true faith in Him.
This is why I said earlier that our salvation is of no value except it is inseparably connected to the salvation of the entire body of God’s people. Christ did not die just simply to save me from my sin. He died to save the world! He died to save the church that is gathered from the beginning of time to the end and from every nation. Never do we view our salvation therefore apart from the salvation of the church as a whole.
Neither does it matter if many of the elect were born before Christ was born. The dispensationalist likes to argue that point: how can people be saved in Christ if He came after they had already died? Is that so difficult to understand? How are we who are born after Christ’s death saved by Christ? We are saved because God unites us to Christ by the gift of faith. We believe in Christ. Well, so did the saints in the old dispensation. The prophets, the ceremonies of the law, the promises all directed their faith to Christ who was to come. Was their faith any different than ours? Were they united to Christ any differently than we are today? God’s church was chosen in Christ from eternity. And God’s people before Christ were one with Him just as well as we are today. This is what we confess when we say that we believe an holy, catholic church! The true church of Christ in this world, therefore, is made up exclusively of believers. Faith is the earmark of membership in the church. But then we must understand that too.
It is true that all the members of the true church of Jesus Christ are believers. It is impossible to be a member of the holy, catholic church without being a believer. We might be able to be a member of a church institute without being a believer. But we cannot be a member of the elect church of Christ in this world without believing. That faith, however, is not the ground for being a member of the church. We are not accepted by God into His church because we believed first.
The sole grounds for membership in the church is the work of Christ on the cross. There is not a member of the church who is worthy of His place there. There is not a member of the church in any age that has merited a place in that church. No one has earned that right. We are members of the church only because Christ has earned us that right on the cross! He has paid the price for the sins of all of God’s people. He has covered them all in His blood. He went to the cross for those given Him of the Father. He died the death for each and every one of those given Him—not one was overlooked. And as a result of this work of Christ in God’s elect people, they believe. Not before, but after Christ’s work they believe!
But they do believe—every one of God’s true people are brought to faith and repentance—and they believe. The church is made up believers. And that faith is what unites us together with Jesus Christ. The church is one living organism with Christ.
A Church Preserved
It is this church that the Son of God gathers, defends, and preserves throughout all time. It may be that the church is at times small and seemingly insignificant in this world. At all times the church is weak and helpless in itself. God’s people are powerless in themselves against their mighty foes. If it were not for God’s grace, we would be swallowed up alive. Certainly, we have no reason to boast in ourselves. Yet when we walk about Mt. Zion and go around about her, we consider her bulwarks and palaces. She is mighty and strong. She is beautiful and attractive.
But this is true only because God is in the midst of her! God is her refuge and strength! She will not fail because God preserves His people.
And she is beautiful because she is holy. She is clothed in the righteousness of Christ. She is holy in Him. And for that reason the church of which we are a part is all-glorious. Christ preserves His church by His Spirit and Word. He dwells in her in all His holiness. And we are the beloved of God! Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” The church, elect and precious! I am a living member of that church! And I am glad. I would not want to be found anywhere else. The world may go its merry way. Give me a place in the church of Christ!