Copyright © December, 2010
Sermon by Pastor Jason Cooley: “The Gifts of the Body,” September 5, 2012 (Left click to listen to sermon)
Introduction to the Biblical Doctrine of the Church
These teachings are based upon a literal interpretation of Scripture. Of course, the Bible uses metaphors, personifications, similes, and other figures of speech. However, untold damage to the cause of Christ has been caused by unbridled allegorization or spiritualization of Scripture by Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s witnesses and others. Some of those religions, due to their heinous theologies (false interpretations of Scripture) have violently persecuted and murdered others, including true believers who stood on God’s Word in spite of persecutions and martyrdom, down through the last 2,000 years. Sadly, perversions of Scripture by such religions and the resulting atrocities based upon false interpretations have been attributed to true Christians by the world in general—true Christians and churches have been lumped together with imposters by both secular and Christian revisionists.
This series of articles, a revised and updated version of Section II of God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application, will develop the biblical doctrine of the church. In order to understand why church incorporation and 501(c)(3) status violates biblical principles and grieves our Lord Jesus Christ, one must first be saved. Second, he must understand the biblical principles of government, church, and separation of church and state. He must then understand the facts about and legalities of incorporation and 501(c)(3). Finally, he must apply principles to facts and law. To fully understand this requires a lot of time and study, and God wants His children, and especially pastors, to take the time to do the studying (1 Ti. 2.15). Most pastors are so consumed with their ministries that they need to rely on specialists within the local church body-for example, born again, Bible believing, God honoring lawyers or others who have the time, gifts, abilities, and love for the Lord necessary to examine these matters. Those requirements eliminate many so called Christian “lawyers” who are using “churches” and “Christians” to enrich their coffers while dishonoring and grieving God and His principles. The author has done such a systematic study and published the results in God Betrayed. He is now step by step presenting that study in academic course form on this “Separation of Church and State Law” blog. This series of articles will develop the biblical doctrine of the church.
As foretold by Isaiah (Is. 40.3), John the Baptist announced: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the Prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mt. 3.2-3. See also, Mk. 1.2-3; Lu. 3.4; and Jn. 1.23). The phrase “kingdom of heaven” “is peculiar to Matthew and signifies the Messianic earth rule of Jesus Christ, the Son of David. It is called the kingdom of the heavens because it is the rule of the heavens over the earth (Mt. 6.10). The phrase is derived from Daniel, where it is defined (Dan. 2.34-36, 44; 7.23-27) as the kingdom which ‘the God of heaven’ will set up after the destruction by ‘the stone cut without hands’ of the Gentile world-system. It is the kingdom covenanted to David’s seed (2 Sam. 7.7-10, refs.); described in the prophets (Zech. 12.8, note); and confirmed to be Jesus the Christ, the Son of Mary, through the angel Gabriel (Lk. 1.32, 33)” (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n.1 to Matthew 3.2, p. 996; See also, J. Vernon McGee, Matthew, Volume I (Pasadena, California: Thru the Bible Books, 1980 revised printing), pp. 8-10. The author has diligently studied the biblical principles of government, church, separation of church and state, as well as other principles for years. His studies include extensive study of the Bible and commentaries upon the Bible. He does not agree with Scofield’s doctrine of the church (See C.I. Scofield’s ‘true church’ doctrine). However, he does agree with much of what Scofield includes in his notes and margins. Quoting Scofield indicates agreement unless otherwise indicated.).
After Israel morally rejected the kingdom of heaven, Jesus predicted judgment on the places chosen for the testing of the nation, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, “wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not” (Mt. 11.20-24). Jesus, at that point, turned from the rejecting nation, offered rest and service to individuals in the nation, and turned to the Gentiles (Mt. 11.28-30; Mt. 12.18). “In fulfillment this awaited the official rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ, and the final rejection of the risen Christ” (Lk. 24.46, 47; Acts 9.15; 13.46; 28.25-28; Rom. 11.11; 1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 2 to Mt. 12.18, p. 1012).
Just as God ordained civil government, He also ordained His churches after the nation Israel rejected Him and the kingdom of heaven. The power given by God to His churches on earth was to secure a spiritual good for their members. When Christ asked His disciples whom they thought Him to be (Mt. 16.15, Mk. 8.29, Lu. 9.20), Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16.16; see also, Mk. 8.29, Lu. 9.20). At that point, our Lord announced the out calling of the church when He said: “And I say also unto thee, [t]hat thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt. 16.18-19).
The building of the church is on the rock of Peter’s confession, the Christ he confessed. Peter makes clear that the rock upon which the Lord will build the institution of the church which is made to be made up of local, autonomous churches, which are spiritual houses made up of spiritual beings offering up spiritual sacrifices, and not physical houses made by man, is Christ Himself:
“To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner. And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed” (1 Pe. 2.4-9).
“This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner” (Ac. 4.11, part of Peter’s address to the Sanhedrin). From the context, it is obvious that Peter is speaking of the Lord as being the chief corner stone. Nowhere in the Bible is there any indication that Peter was the cornerstone of a universal visible or invisible church. The words used also make clear that Christ was referring to Himself as the rock on which the church would be built. “There is in the Greek [in Matthew 16.18] a play upon the words, “thou art Peter [petros—literally, ‘a little rock’], and upon this rock [Petra] I will build my church.” He does not promise to build His church upon Peter, but upon Himself, as Peter himself is careful to tell us (1 Pet. 2.4-9)” (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 to Mt. 16.18, p. 1021).
Jesus Christ, Head of the church, “loved the church and gave Himself for it” (Ep. 5.25). Jesus did not give Peter the keys—a key being a badge of power or authority (see, e.g., Is. 22.22 and Re. 3.7)—to the church, but to “the kingdom of heaven,” the keys in the sense of Matthew 13, that is of the sphere of Christian profession. Peter assumed no other authority. In the council at Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 15, James seems to have presided. Peter claimed nothing more than to be an apostle by gift and an elder by office (See 1 Pe. 1.1 and 5.1). The power of binding and loosing was shared by the other apostles (See Mt. 18.18 and Jn. 20.23). Since only Christ held the keys of death and the place of departed spirits, “this did not involve the determination of the eternal destiny of souls” (1917 Scofield Reference Edition, n. 1 to Mt. 16.19, p. 1022). “I [Jesus Christ] am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Re. 1.18).
Isaac Backus, the great Baptist leader in New England, elaborated upon the faith confessed by Peter:
“This faith is the foundation of the church; against this faith the gates of hell shall not prevail; this faith hath the keys of the kingdom of heaven; what this faith shall loose or bind on earth, is bound and loosed in heaven…. Now it followeth, that whatsoever person hath received the same precious faith with Peter, as all the faithful have, 2 Pet. i. 1, that person hath a part in this gift of Christ. Whosoever doth confess, publish, manifest or make known Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God, and Saviour of the world, that person opens heavens gates, looseth sin, and partakes with Peter in the use of the keys; and hereupon it followeth necessarily, that one faithful man, yea, or woman either, may loose and bind, both in heaven and earth, as all the ministers in the world” (Isaac Backus, A History of New England With Particular Reference to the Denomination of Christians called Baptists, Volume 1 (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, Publishers, Previously published by Backus Historical Society, 1871), p. 12 quoting John Robinson, A Justification of Separation from the Church of England.).
God’s Word describes the church as being the bride of Christ and the wife of Christ. Those designations carry connotations about how He feels about His relationship with His churches, and the Word of God gives ample instruction to alert churches to what this relationship entails. The Lord while on earth did not explain how, when, or of what materials local church bodies on this earth should be built, or what should be their position, relationships, privileges or duties. Instead, He revealed to Paul the mystery of the churches who were to be made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers in autonomous local assemblies. Paul’s epistles develop the doctrine to be followed by the churches. God, through the Apostle Paul, explained the purpose, membership, make-up, and operation of the churches, and the relationship of His churches to the Lord Jesus. Through Paul alone we know that churches are not earthly organizations, but spiritual organisms, local spiritual bodies.
The Bible makes clear that churches here on earth are to be visible, local, autonomous bodies, each operating under the principles of the Word of God. Paul wrote to local churches or assemblies—the church of God which is at Corinth (1 Co. 1.2, 2 Co. 2.1), the churches of Galatia (Ga. 1.2), the church at Ephesus (See Re. 2.1), the church of the Thessalonians (1 Th. 1.1; 2 Th. 2.1). Christ stood in the in the midst of seven golden candlesticks (local churches still on earth) (Re. 1.11-13); and He instructed John to write to those seven churches (Re. 1.19-20). The Lord delivered individual messages to each of those local assemblies (Re. 2.1-3.22).
Although the Lord made clear that He wants every church to be under Him in all things, God allows men in a church free-will to decide whether to do things His way. Our Lord warned against false teachers to come and some writers of the New Testament warned of already existing apostasy in the church and revealed that before the return of Christ true believers would all be raptured and those left behind in the visible “church” would go into total apostasy, be called a whore and not a church, and be destroyed by the nations. Religious apostasy of some churches in America began with the importation from Europe of modernism and has recently accelerated as seen in the recent Church Growth Movement and, after that, the Emerging Church Movement.
Christ is described as the only head, husband, and bridegroom, of His churches. He will conduct a marriage ceremony, the wedding of the Lamb (Re. 19.7-10). The bride who will be called to the marriage supper of the Lamb will be arrayed in fine linen, which is the righteousness of the saints (Ibid). Because of the signs of the times, as related to biblical prophecy, true believers should be vigilant in seeking the salvation of the lost since it appears that the Lord will return soon. Only true believers have the ultimate hope: they will reign with the Lord. The Holy Spirit is now calling out, not the subjects, but the co-heirs and co-rulers of the kingdom. Since the Lord told believers to love others, since believers will be eternally with God, and since nonbelievers will be eternally separated from God for all eternity, those who are saved should have a great burden for the salvation of the lost.
In order to maximize the witness of the local church, believers should be careful to do all they do as individuals, families, as a church body, and as citizens according to the principles of the Word of God. Initial compromise of God’s principles on the church level inevitably leads to further compromise, to heresy, and in most cases to apostasy. Compromise introduces leaven which in turn infects the whole body. Thus, for example, the initial compromise of many Baptist churches after the adoption of the United States Constitution in getting corporate status introduced a little poison into churches. Corporate churches, generally speaking, had no problem with further compromises such as the abandonment of God’s Word in English, and Internal Revenue Code § 501(c)(3) status. The religious apostasy in America among God’s churches has accelerated at an alarming pace.
This section will delve into what the Bible teaches about God’s institution of the church and the local churches which make up that institution.