A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.
Copyright © January 1, 2018
The New Testament teaches that the New Testament church is a mystery hidden in past ages and therefore not revealed in the Old Testament. That the Gentiles were to be saved was no mystery (Ro. 9.24-33; 10.19-21).[i] The mystery was the divine purpose to make of Jew and Gentile a wholly new thing—the church made up of local autonomous New Testament bodies in this age—and in which the earthly distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears. (Ep. 2.14, 15; Co. 3.10, 11). Jesus Christ established His local assembly while he walked as the God Man on earth and appointed His local assembly as executor of His Will or Testament. For more on this, see, e.g., The New Testament of Jesus Christ: His Executor Named and Empowered. The revelation of this mystery which was foretold but not explained by Christ (Mt. 16.18) was committed to Paul.
Just as the church in the wilderness was an assembly called out by God, an ecclesia (see Ac. 7.38), so the New Testament church is an assembly of called-out ones. Israel was a true church, but in striking contrast with the New Testament ecclesia. Israel in the land is never called a church; they were not assembled after they entered the land. Born-again believers are admonished not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, not to forsake the local church, the only assembly of believers on earth (He. 10.25).
The institution of the New Testament church or assembly is made up of local, autonomous assemblies. Christ will gather all members of his earthly family together in a general or universal assembly in the heavenly Jerusalem (He. 12.22-24) at the marriage of the Lamb (Re. 19.7-10). Before that, there will be no universal assembly or church.
All Bible references to a church here on the earth refer to an autonomous local body of Jewish and/or Gentile believers and not to a universal or catholic church. Nowhere in the New Testament is a church here on the earth ever referred to as anything other than a local spiritual body and nowhere does Scripture teach that a church is to have any type authority above it other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Some examples of references to churches as they existed in the New Testament follow quoted in endnote [ii].
Adherents can do no more than quote Matthew 16.18 or 1 Corinthians 12.12-13 out of context in support of the universal church doctrine. 1 Corinthians was written to a local autonomous church, with principles to be applied by all churches. One must analyze the verse in context of all immediate verses as well as all New Testament doctrine to ascertain its meaning; such an examination gives absolutely no support to a universal church doctrine for this age. See [iii] for links to more resources, a webpage with teachings and links to more sermons, and an article on C. I. Schofield’s “True Church” doctrine.
In his seven letters to seven local autonomous Gentile churches (in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica), the church, the “mystery from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God,” (Ep.3.9) is fully revealed, and fully instructed as to her unique place in the counsels and purposes of God. Through Paul alone, we know that a church is not an organization, but an organism instinct with His life, and heavenly in calling promise and destiny. Through him alone, we know the nature, purpose, and form of organization of local churches, the right conduct of such assemblies, and the commandments for the earthly walk of the members.
A church is a spiritual body made up of many members (Ep. 4, 1 Co. 12). Each member is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and has a proper place in the local body. Christ sets some in the body as apostles,[iv] prophets,[v] evangelists, pastors, and teachers; “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ep. 4.12). The members are to speak the truth in love that they “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” (Ep. 4.15-16).
Click here to go to Bible Study of Ephesians. Ephesians reveals the institution of the church as God’s masterpiece. It is more wonderful that any temple made with hands, constructed of living stones, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1 presents the church as a body.
[i] A mystery in Scripture is a previously hidden truth, now divinely revealed, but in which a supernatural element still remains despite the revelation.
[ii] New Testament verses:
- “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied” (Ac. 9.31).
- Paul said, “Likewise greet the church that is in their house. (Ro. 16.5)” Notice that the church refers to the local body of baptized believers. The house was just the place where they met; it was not a church.
- Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Paul … Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both their’s and our’s” (1 Co. 1.1-2).
- “If therefore the whole church be come together into one place….” (1 Co. 14.23).
- “The churches [Not “the church of Asia”] of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house” (1 Co. 16.19).
- “Paul … unto Philemon … and to the church in thy house” (Phil. 1-2).
- “… [T]hat thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Ti. 3.15).
- The Bible defines “house of God”: “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house; as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken of after; But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (He. 3.4-6).
- In Revelation, the Lord speaks to “the church of Ephesus” (Re. 2.1) “the church in Smyrna” (Re. 2.8), “the church in Pergamos” (Re. 2.12), “the church in Thyatira” (Re. 2.18), “the church in Sardis” (3.18), “the church in Philadelphia” (Re. 3.7), and “the church of the Laodiceans” (Re. 3.14).
[iii] Defining the word Church: Local, Visible, Institutional, never Universal; Origin of the Universal Church Exposed: Constantine, Augustine & Scofield; Rightly Dividing Baptisms: Is 1 Corinthians 12:13 Spirit baptism or water baptism?. For more in depth teachings and sermons on the church, go to the following webpage and scroll down: The Biblical Doctrine of the Church. See also, the article, Scofield’s headnote to “Ephesians” and margin notes on his false “true church” doctrine.
[iv] The word apostle, means “one sent forth,” and is is used of our Lord He. 3:1. Elsewhere it is used for the twelve who were called to that office by our Lord during His earth ministry; of Paul, called to the apostleship by the risen and ascended Lord, and of Barnabas Ac. 14:14 specially designated by the Holy Spirit Ac. 13:2. Of Matthias, chosen by lot by the eleven to take the place of Judas Iscariot, Ac .1:16-26: “And he was numbered with the eleven.” Ac. 1:26
The “signs” of an apostle were (1) They were chosen directly by the Lord Himself, or, as in the case of Barnabas, by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 10:1-2; Mk. 3:13-14; Lk. 6:13; Ac. 9:6; 13:2; 22:10,14-15; Ro. 1:1). (2) They were endued with sign gifts, miraculous powers which were the divine credentials of their office (Mt. 10:1; Ac 5:15; 16:16-18; Mt 28:8-9). (3) Their relation to the kingdom was that of heralds, announcing to Israel only Mt. 10:5-6 the kingdom as at hand and manifesting kingdom powers Mt. 10:7-8. (4) To one of them, Peter, the keys of the kingdom of heaven, viewed as the sphere of Christian profession, as in Mt. 13, were given Mt 16:19. (5) Their future relation to the king will be that of judges over the twelve tribes Mt 19:28. (6) Consequent upon the rejection of the kingdom, and the revelation of the mystery hid in God (Mt .16:18; Ep. 3:1-12), the Church, the apostolic office was invested with a new enduement, the baptism with the Holy Spirit Ac. 2:1-4; a new power, that of imparting the Spirit to Jewish-Christian believers; a new relation, that of foundation stones of the new temple (Ep. 2:20-22) and a new function, that of preaching the glad tidings of salvation through a crucified and risen Lord to Jew and Gentile alike. (7) The indispensable qualification of an apostle was that he should have been an eye-witness of the resurrection (Ac. 1:22; 1 Co. 9:1).
[v] The church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ep. 2.20). These “prophets” were New Testament prophets; to the Old Testament prophets, the church remained a mystery.
- The mystery of the church, “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” (Ep. 3.5).
- “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” (1 Pe. 2.4-6).