Copyright © March 30, 2019
“Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).
Although God has appointed believers to be stewards (trustees) of the mysteries of God, few believers have any knowledge of those mysteries, and fewer take their assigned task seriously. This is especially true of the subject of this article, the mystery the church. Most believers, not to mention the vast numbers of lost “church members,” are offended should a believer even mention something that challenges the traditional, business, earthly, and/or temporal practices of a particular church or churches. Fundamental Baptist Churches of several ilks, those with which I am most familiar, are, for the most part, controlled by their traditions concerning church organization. Few ever preach on Bible church doctrine, fewer get it right when they do preach on it, and, in general, many of those who do preach on it, only touch on it. They give many off hand responses when one asks for discussion about church organizational issues such as legal organization under man’s law (laws establishing churches as non-profit corporations, charitable trusts, unincorporated associations, Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3) or 508(c)(1)(A) tax exempt religious organizations, etc.). This article will:
A. briefly look at Ephesians 3.
B. chronicle a few examples of how pastors, believers and churches treat the mystery of the church.
A. A Brief Look at Ephesians 3
Ephesians 3 is quoted in its entirety in EN[i].
Ephesians 3:1-12 explains:
- That the church is a mystery which God made known to Paul, that “the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel;” “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.”
- That Paul was made a minister … that he “should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ;”
- The purpose: “To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.”
- That the local church may know “the manifold wisdom of God, According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.”
- The mystery of the church is revealed by God through the apostle Paul, and members of Churches under Christ are to know it, “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery.”
Ephesians 3:13-21 then states Paul’s prayer for inner fullness and knowledge; in context, concerning the matters He had written of in the previous 12 verses. My experience has been that churches, believers, and especially pastors, except for a remnant, have never studied; and, therefore, have no knowledge of the “mystery of the church;” they summarily reject any attempts to bring to their attention New Testament principles concerning the revealed mystery of the church and the application of those principles to their local assemblies.
The overwhelming purpose of every believer and every ministry is the salvation of souls and the discipleship of new believers in order to prepare them to go outside the assembly, lead people to salvation, disciple them, and send them out to lead others to Christ. So it is with this ministry. Without being faithful stewards of the mysteries of God, to include the mystery of the church, one’s efforts are insipid. A disciple follows Christ and His principles. How can one follow Christ and His principles without first knowing Him, and then knowing His principles? How can one Know His principles without knowing His Word through Holy Spirit led study of the Word of Christ? Is one following Christ if he knows Christ’s teachings and commandments, to include the mystery of the assembly (church) and related commandments, but does not apply them?
B. Some examples of how pastors, believers and churches treat the mystery of the church.
- A brilliant young man in South Carolina had a tumultuous upbringing. He turned to drugs and vile living and even contemplated suicide. In college, he met a young lady who was a Christian and fell in love with her. She became his friend, but told him that she could be no more than a friend because he was not saved. She led him to the Lord. They married and joined a Charismatic church. He was a serious student of the Word of God. His studies led him to the website of this ministry. There he studied church organizational matters, including the 501(c)(3) issue. He asked his pastor if he would discuss that matter with him. His pastor said, “Don’t be listening to that Jerald Finney guy.” He persisted and the pastor arranged a meeting. At the meeting, the whole group, including the pastor, gave his concerns no consideration, etc. The young man moved his wife and child 1000 miles to attend a church which was not incorporated or 501(c)(3).
- Sometime around 2008, my pastor asked me to teach a class at the church institute due to the teacher being out of town. The institute included young people from other fundamental Baptist churches as well children of members of the church. Two of the students, seventeen year old twin boys made clear by their expressions that they were hostile to my teachings and beliefs. Their father was a pastor (I believe) whom I had met when he visited the church. From my brief encounters with him, I knew he did not like me for some reason. I asked the class, “What is more important, loving God or winning souls?” Then I called on one of the aforementioned students to respond. He said, in a very authoritative tone, “Loving God is important, but if you are called to pastor an incorporated church you should ignore that matter and win souls. There is no need to make waves.” He had been well trained by his heretical father. Thankfully, a couple of the girls in the class responded with godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom and explained that loving God is most important and what that meant in practice. I had known before that some fundamentalists I knew of stated, according to the teachings of Jack Hyles and his followers, that “Soul winning takes care of everything for a church” (a paraphrase). Soon thereafter, I wrote “The Most Important Things: Loving God or Winning Souls?”
- A wonderful couple wanted to approach their pastor about the church 501(c)(3) issue. We talked at length. They loved their church, where they had been members for 40 years, but they loved the Lord more. They had already been alerted to the 501(c)(3) issue by Mark Taylor and others. I sent them links to resources that explained church incorporation and 501(c)(3). I also gave them a thumbnail explanation of how a church can remain under Christ alone, according to New Testament principle, by establishing a common law trust relationship with property, both real and personal (personal property includes money), so as to remain under Christ alone, with the protection of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and corresponding state constitutional provisions. They studied the issue for some time and arranged a meeting with their pastor. Of course, he tried to show them where they were wrong. They persisted and asked him if he would talk with me. When we talked over the phone, his tone was not cooperative as to seeking truth and his rationale was illogical and unstudied. I explained the problems with church incorporation and 501(c)(3) status and also the basics of the common law trust as applied by many churches. Obviously, he was going to follow his traditions and the doctrines of the “commandments of men.” I told him I would be glad to debate any relevant issue with anyone he chose. Instead, he got a written “opinion” from a lawyer who gave him the answers he wanted. I published my analysis of that lawyer’s very disappointingly unlearned opinion at: More lies of “Christian” law firms and lawyers concerning church organization and the common law trust as a means of establishing a church under Christ alone outside civil government law. The couple, of their own desire, left the church and are seeking to do things God’s way as to their local assembly under Christ.
- A much younger member of a church said to me, in a very condescending manner, when I just mentioned a matter of church doctrine in a friendly discussion among several of us, and in which he had lectured on some other Bible matters, “We know that!” He was saying, shut up about that. I love him dearly, but he and I were obviously not on the same page on the matter of the importance of the mystery of the church. I know that he had little or no understanding on the matter and does not wish to hear more.
For more, see the following resources:
- False Reasons of Christians and Lawyers for Church Corporate or 501(c)(3) Status or Legal Status of Any Kind
- Questions, from Pastors and Others, and Answers on Various Matters.
Churches and believers are commanded to shine the light of God’s Word; as to church doctrine, to “make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery” of the church (Ephesians 3:9). “[E]very one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:20-21). “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21).
[i] Ephesians 3:1-12: “1 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 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; 6 That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. 8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; 9 ]And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: 10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, 11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord: 12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him. 13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. 14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”