First Years of Christianity: No. 8

 •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Listen from:
The Church, Its Ministry—And The Doctrines Taught. Eph. 3
Our being in Christ is evidently all of God. And it is to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul prays in Eph. 1:1717That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: (Ephesians 1:17). Now he bows his knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He longs that we may comprehend the subject before us: therefore he prays unto the Father, knowing the delight that the Father has in Christ and in us. He prays “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory.” The glory given unto His Son, and unto us. (See John 17:2222And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: (John 17:22).) According to this glory, that we might be “strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints, what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.”
So great is this mystery, this eternal purpose of God as to the church, that it is not enough to know what Christ has done for us, and what it is to be in Him risen from the dead, we need also to be strengthened with the Spirit, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. We are lost in the infinity of the purpose of God. “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Oh, think of this amazing place of privilege: the risen Man in the glory of God. “He is the head of the body the church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.” It pleased the fullness to dwell in Him. “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power.” And we are in Him, and He dwells in our hearts by faith. And all is grounded in love, the love of Christ unclouded and unchanging, filled with all the fullness of God. Well might the apostle bend the knee to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ that we might comprehend all this. “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages”—to the ages of ages.
Such was and is the church. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” Yes, every believer in Christ, in every land. He may be down in some dark mine, or in some ship far away at sea, on a distant island, or in the center of a continent: he may know it or not, yet it is true. “So we, being many, are one body in Christ.” And just as with the human body, if members of the body joined to the head, we are members one of another. What a strange mistake to suppose that all sects compose this one body. We must see that it is only those who are in Christ. And mark, Christ is in heaven; the church, then, His body, is not an earthly society, but joined to Him in heaven, though as to our persons we are on earth. A heavenly people on earth, but our politics are in heaven, and we are waiting for Him to come and take us there. Paul was a prisoner of the Lord for this very truth; had he circumcised the heathens who believed, and thus incorporated them with the national system of Israel, the offense of the cross would have ceased—the high priest might have become the pope.
But according to the eternal purpose of God, the church is separated from every worldly thing unto Himself. It is one, and its absolute unity excludes every imitation or competition. Is it a light matter to he treated with indifference? Paul says: “I... beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love.” Mark, it is not a question of mere agreement in opinion; but the entire state of soul: lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance. Lord give us more of this. It is not a human organization, but “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” How important, then, to be quite sure that the unity we are seeking to keep is the unity of the Spirit. How am I to know this? What are the marks, the facts? These are the facts, the marks, the circles of unity:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” One body excludes the idea of many christian bodies, just as one Spirit excludes the idea of many Holy Ghosts. The idea is repugnant in either case to scripture. There is one body; we have not to make it, it is formed, it exists. How this has been forgotten. This one body is the first circle. “One body in Christ,” as we have seen. Then “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” “One Lord” excludes the many lords of the heathens. “One faith” excludes all schools of mere human thought. “One baptism” excludes the many baptisms of the law. The believer professed discipleship to the one Lord, by one baptism.
“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” The unity of the Godhead excludes all idolatry. One Father excludes all so called holy fathers: and what need of them? How Satan has sought, by the help of men, to deface and to deny the unity during the dark ages of departure from the truth, as held in the first years of the church. But does not the truth remain the same? Do not the facts remain the same? We must remember that these three circles of unity refer to the true church of God as seen in the beginning.
Can the eternal purpose of God fail or change, as to the church? Can the love of Christ cease to His church? “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-2725Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, 27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25‑27).) If you are in Christ all this is certain to you as a member of His body, the church. Is it not most blessed? You are, though all unworthy in yourself, yet in Christ you are the object of the Father’s love, even as Christ—the unchanging object of the love of Christ, Just think, you are part of Himself, members of His body, the church for which He gave Himself to die, ever applying the water of the word. He says “I come quickly.” As Eve was presented to Adam, the figure of Him that was to come, so surely shall the church, the heavenly Eve, be presented to Christ.
We will now inquire a little more fully as to what was the christian ministry in the first years of the church. We know how men are educated and ordained by men now for the various churches of men. Was it so in the beginning? Assuredly not, for there were no such churches then. There was the one body of Christ, the church. And we may now look at Eph. 4 as to the ministry Christ gave for His church. Verse 8 is a quotation from Psalm 68:1818Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them. (Psalm 68:18). And this is the ascension of Christ as man, victorious over the enemy. Hence, in the Psalm it is, “Thou hast received gifts in the man.” (Margin) That is, Christ has received gifts as man, having accomplished redemption and ascended up on high; so that true christian ministry dates from the ascension of Christ. That poor rebellious sinners can thus be used of Christ, is a proof of the complete efficacy of His redemption work. As man on this earth, He descended into death and the grave for us; and now, as ascended in victory over Satan and sin and death, He gave gifts in men.
Individuals are His gifts. “And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers: for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These are not the sign-gifts of the Holy Ghost; but permanent gifts for the growth and edification of the body, the church. The apostles and prophets remain in their inspired writings, and, revelation being completed, we need no more.
There are two distinct gifts which remain, and are needed: the evangelist for the conversion of sinners, and adding to the building; and the pastor and teacher, which would mostly be the same gift, for building up, feeding, and nurturing the body of Christ as here below. These are the abiding gifts of Christ; but not for any denomination or national organization, but “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” And not only this ministry, but that ministry was so exercised that we “speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Such then was ministry in the beginning. If a man was a gift from the ascended Christ, he was a gift for the body of Christ wherever he was. This did not hinder, but help and give opportunity for the manifestation of the Spirit, to be given to every man in the assembly used by Him. “Dividing to every man severally as he will.” (Read 1 Cor. 12) The Spirit does not now work by the gifts of healing and miracles, which were for signs and witness in the beginning; but all that is needed for the increase and edifying of the body of Christ remains. We have seen the specimen of church order and ministry in Acts 13 Let us then remember that the same Holy Ghost still remains to the end. He is as really present now as then, but we do not own Him—imperceptibly man takes His place, and some Christians are not ashamed to elect a president to take the very place of the Lord and of the Holy Ghost. Who can conceive the loss this is to modern Christendom. Some are so ignorant of His real presence on earth, that they pray for Him to come; others regard Him only as an influence. But who owns Him as acting here for the Lord, who is as truly present and acting by the Spirit, as if we saw Him?
It may be asked, but if confusion comes in, and many are found to speak to no profit, must we not have order, and appoint a minister over the local assembly, so as to avoid confusion? Is not all this fully anticipated? What will not man abuse? Very early in the first years this very confusion did actually come in at Corinth. Did the Holy Ghost appoint a minister over that assembly to correct the confusion? Never. No, the same order that we see in Acts 13:1-41Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. 3And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. 4So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia; and from thence they sailed to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1‑4) is directed to be carried out; “Let the prophets [such as speak to edification] speak two or three, and let the other judge.... For ye may all prophesy one by one that all may learn, and all may be comforted,” &c. And Paul regards these things which he thus writes, as “the commandments of the Lord.” Now if this was the order of ministry and worship alone pleasing to the Lord, the very order He set up by the Holy Ghost in the first years, has He ever altered His mind for the church?
We must admit that episcopacy, or a man-elected minister over an assembly, is the very opposite of the order of ministry here described in the beginning. Then when afterward did Christ set up that episcopacy, or one-man ministry? Can a single text be found for it in the New Testament? Is it not a great mistake? Is there any wonder, then, that what men call the christian ministry is leading the church to idolatry and infidelity? Can that be christian ministry which is not of Christ? The Lord lead us back to His word.