The Attributes of the Church
by Don Roberts, B.A., M.Div.
The church of Jesus Christ is the most important entity on the planet. The attributes assigned to her by Scripture demonstrate that this is no overstatement. The church is the light of the world and the salt of the earth. She is the bride of Christ, the temple of God. Her membership has been purchased by God's very blood, and clothed in His righteousness. His sons and daughters they are by spiritual birth. They are a kingdom of priests, and joint heirs with Christ. Her resources are supernatural, her privileges sacred, and her future secure. The Builder, the Lord Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, makes it viable. The Holy Spirit, inhabiting the lively stones of the building, renders it venerable. As custodian of the oracles of God, she is immeasurably valuable.
The church (Greek ekklesia) is literally a "called-out assembly." Its birth (by strict definition) took place when the first disciples responded in faith to "Follow me!" and "Come and see!" After three years of blood, sweat, and tears, the twelve became six score, and surpassed three thousand shortly thereafter. Armed with Holy Ghost power, the church moved forward in fulfillment of Christ's promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it, melding both Jew and Gentile together in the bonds of love. Paul later wrote that this God-ordained institution is the one place where social, ethnic and racial distinctions are meaningless. Christ is all in all!
In the KJV, ekklesia is used eighty (80) times in singular form and thirty-seven (37) in plural form for a total of 117 occurrences. A dozen or so of these usages have in view the universal body. But its primary usage refers to a local church or group of churches that meet in specific geographical locations. The primary applicability of NT church truth is local, not universal!
The universal body of Christ is currently a general assembly (Hebrews 12:23) that, unlike its local counterpart, has never gathered itself together into one place. The church universal (or general) will not have the credentials of a full-fledged NT church (an assembly of called-out ones) until the Rapture, at which time both the dead and alive in Christ shall be caught up (gathered) together to meet him in the air (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). When the apostle Paul—the subject matter expert on church truth—told the saints at Corinth that they were “the body of Christ, and members in particular” he was referring to the local church at Corinth...not some unidentifiable or abstract body of believers that has yet to assemble itself (I Corinthians 12:27).
Consider the following three attributes of the church. They are:
I. The Agency for Discipleship
Matthew 28:18-20 records what is commonly called the Great Commission. The imperative given by our Lord was to "teach" or "make disciples (learners or followers)." Our Lord employed three meaningful participles to modify His command. All three carry the force of the imperative. The word "Go" appears to be a command in the Authorized Version, but is actually a past participle in passive voice. A slavish translation would read, "having been made to go into all the world, make disciples of all nations." Did Jesus perhaps anticipate that His church, endued with the power from on high, would be driven into a dying world with the message of life? That would certainly explain the passive voice (which should not be misconstrued to imply unwillingness in the objects). The remaining two participlesbaptizing and teachingare both present tense, active voice. These ongoing activities work in tandem to fulfill God's sanctifying purpose in those who embrace the Lord Jesus in response to the Gospel.
This commission is no doubt great! It rests squarely upon the shoulders of the Church. She alone has been tasked to carry forward the Master's mandate! Let's face it! If we are not discipling, we are dying!
II. The Repository of Truth
In Romans 3:1-2, the apostle Paul explained that the Jews were greatly advantaged, and profited in every way, because the oracles of God were committed unto them. The safekeeping and stewardship of that truth has now become the domain of the Church. Paul's exhortation to Timothy, pastor of the church at Ephesus, identified it as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:15). Pillars are columns that support the superstructure. A ground is literally a foundation or basis that provides strength and stability for all that rests upon it. That, my friend, is an awesome privilege as well as responsibility! Many expositors believe Paul had in mind the temple of the Ephesian goddess Diana. That edifice was renowned for its jewel-studded columns and awe-inspiring superstructure. In Paul's mind, however, all the glories of this world, including its glistening towers of Babel, paled in comparison to the truth. What an encouragement this must have been to his young preacher.
Truth is more precious than diamonds or gold! Jesus said, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). There is no greater freedom than deliverance from the bondage imposed by sin and guilt. Again, Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The process of sanctification is the highway to holiness. The word of truth is God's sanctifying agent. The church has been vouchsafed this precious commodity. The only hope for a lost world is the proclamation of that truth by its custodianthe church.
III. The Habitation of the Living God
The title "the living God", also found in I Timothy 3:15, has an enlightening Biblical background. It is found 31 times in Scripture15 in the Old Testament, and 16 in the New. The first usage is found in Deuteronomy 5. That context has Israel at the foot of mount Sinai, and Gods awesome presence at the summit. There the law was dispensed, accompanied by the audible voice of God, a consuming fire, a deafening thunder, and a nation fearful for their lives in the presence of Gods manifested glory! In verse 26 they submitted this query: "For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire as we have, and lived?" After 400 years of exposure to a myriad of lifeless Egyptian deities, the sons of Abraham had encountered a living God Who does indeed speak to sinners, and allows them to live! He is a God of glory and greatness who inspires awe in those to whom He reveals Himself. It is important to see that "the living God" was a title first ascribed to Him by men.
This lends added significance to the first New Testament usage of that title. In Matthew 16:16 Peter affirmed that Jesus was "The Christ, the son of the living God." He had experienced God in the flesh. The Father revealed that truth to him. From his Old Testament background, Peter was essentially saying this: "The living God Who revealed Himself to our forefathers was powerful in presence, thundering in speech, awe inspiring in His acts, and compassionate to sinners! You are just like Him! You must be His Son!" Brethren, this is the God of the local church!
The burden of these truths rests upon no group more than God's pastors and preachers! How is it possible for us to stand behind the pulpit without the Word of God burning in us like a fire! What has happened to the thunder? Where is the manifested presence and power of God? Why does so much preaching take the form of an academic lecture series? Why does our doctrine lack dynamite? Why are our theological gun barrels both straight and empty? Why does conversational pulpit praying lack fervency and heart? Why do pulpit prayers sound like admonitions to the congregation rather than addresses to the God of heaven? Why must hungry souls in search of the living God visit our churches and find dead orthodoxy instead? Where is the church of the living God? Where is the living God of the church?