THE WICKET GATE
Chapter 5.....The Church
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal Priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar People; that ye should show forth the Praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light." l Peter, ch. 2, verse 9.
EVERY new disciple must soon begin to think about the Church. He has been brought into a new relationship with Christ through some association and contact with Christians, and he will wish to know them, and himself amongst them. It is impossible to emphasise overmuch the significance of the Church. It is declared to be the Body of Christ, and as such, functions the life of Jesus who lives in heaven. It is the one and only society amongst men that has any eternal significance. Every other association perishes at the grave, never to be known again, for ever lost in the dust; but the Church, the living organism of the Living Lord in heaven functions both in heaven and on earth and is as eternal as Jesus Himself. There is nothing in the universe more precious to God than this company of redeemed men and women who acknowledge their Saviour as Lord and Coming King. All true Christians would agree with what has been said, but there are many who, professing to be Christians, have their own ideas of the Church and ostracise believers who do not agree with them. Such ostracism is contrary to the Scriptures, which alone have authority to define the Church. If after carefully studying the New Testament we find we have conformed to the requirements of the Scriptures then we are assuredly in the one and only Church of our Lord Jesus Christ: nothing else matters. To the Scriptures then we turn.
What is the origin of the Church? Matthew records in his gospel (ch. 16, verse 18) the words of our Lord addressed to Peter: "That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." You will notice that our Lord says that the Church is His! "My church. " The Church therefore, is not a building. There is nothing known in the Scriptures of a Roman, Anglican, Greek or Baptist Church. The epistles are addressed to the Church " in " Rome but not to the Church of Rome. Our Lord had very little more to say about the Church, as far as the records go; but having promised the gift of the Spirit, He fulfilled His promise when He ascended into heaven since when He has imparted to every believer the Holy Spirit. Galatians, ch. 4, verses 4 to 6, puts the matter quite simply. In believing we receive the benefits of His redemption in His blood, and by faith we accept sonship through His Son and similarly receive the Holy Spirit. Any person who has thus been sealed by these heavenly ministries according to the Scriptures is saved, and is therefore a member of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. There is no other church. Hence the origin of the Church is in Jesus Himself and in Jesus alone. If, therefore, you have received this grace you are a member of the true and only Catholic Church of the Body of Christ. If on the other hand, you are a member of some religious organisation but have not been sealed by the Spirit, you are definitely not a member of the Church of the Body of Christ.
Therefore no religious organisation has the slightest authority in the sight of God to declare that all within its particular denomination belong to the church of Christ and all outside of that particular ecclesiastical ring, no matter what their attitude to Christ, are unsaved. Now the Romanist denomination are most anxious to keep their adherents away from the Scriptures because they know that the Bible completely demolishes the tyranny of priestcraft over the souls of men. On the other hand when it suits them they quote the Scriptures, and this verse is very popular with them: "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build My church." The Pope of Rome, by virtue of this verse of Scriptures claims to be the inheritor of all the prescriptive rights of Peter. There are many Anglicans who base the authority for their ministry on the fact that they have been ordained to the ministry by a bishop whose consecration can be traced back to Peter. Now if Peter is the rock upon which our Lord builds the church then the Church is not built upon Christ but upon Christ and Peter. And apparently, although I may have received the merits of the blood of Christ, until I am in the succession of Peter, I am lost, whereas if I am in the succession of Peter but have not received the merits of the blood of Christ, I am saved! The theory is simply this: Peter received his commission from Christ, and in due course by the laying on of hands committed that, authority to others. First to ministers and bishops and secondly to common members of the Church, so that without the succession of Peter by the laying on of hands, there is no ministry, and without the same in confirmation, there is no membership.
Hence for time and eternity we are absolutely in the hands of the bishop. The issue is extremely serious for it touches our eternal salvation.
First then, let it be noted that neither in the Acts nor in the epistles does Peter ever suggest that this is the correct interpretation of his position. Nowhere does he affirm that he is an integral and essential factor in the foundation of the Church.
Secondly, Paul is the pre-eminent apostle of the Christian Church. He was never ordained by Peter or by any other apostle so far as we know. The only person in Scripture mentioned as laying hands on him is Ananias, and he would appear to have been what we call a layman. Paul, outside of the Petrine succession, nevertheless withstood Peter to his face because he was to be blamed. Is Paul therefore outside of the Church? And if Peter could be blamed upon a matter of doctrine then is the present Pope infallible in these matters?
Thirdly there is no certain evidence that Peter ever was what is called the Bishop of Rome. The New Testament makes the bishop and the Pastor of a Church identical. There is no evidence in the Scriptures of a special order of persons with significant powers who may lay hands on an individual and thus receive him into the church, or similarly, with different words authorise him to the office of the ministry.
Fourthly, there is no evidence in the New Testament that whatever was conferred upon Peter was conferred upon his heirs, successors and assigns.
Fifthly, there is no evidence that spiritual lineage is bound up in any kind of ritual but always and only by the sovereign act of Jesus in heaven who seals every new believer with the Spirit, and preserves to Himself the exclusive right to call a man to the ministry.
The concluding part of Acts ch. 10 relates the conversion of Cornelius. In the next chapter Peter has to explain his conduct to the church in Jerusalem. He explained his predicament. While preaching the Gospel the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and the rest. They believed and were saved. " Who was I," asked Peter, " to withstand God?" Well, if the Pope of Rome is right, Peter should have said I have the exclusive and infallible authority in this matter and I don't allow anybody to question my conduct ". But he did not! On the contrary they all had a sharp lesson that neither Peter nor any other person or ceremony mattered when God was working. Who was Peter to withstand God? And who else shall presume to do the same grievous sin? Let us now look to the nature of the Church. Again I turn to Peter. The text at the head of this chapter is instructive. Peter is addressing the strangers scattered abroad, " a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people." You should read Dr. Campbell Morgan's exposition of these words in his commentary on l Peter. For our purpose we can see that these Christians were chosen of God to receive from Jesus in heaven His own incomparable life. They were a people for a possession: to be possessed by the Holy Spirit. They were " a royal priesthood " for the ministry of prayer.
Peter is not addressing the diocesan clergy; he is speaking to these scattered strangers. They were a royal priesthood. We are all as believers, kings and priests unto God, part of the " royal priesthood." No human being has any exclusive rights from God and no true child of God is excluded from the priesthood. There are no superiorities in the Christian Church, no preferments, no promotions, but only stewardships and responsibilities.
The Church is, " a habitation of God through the Spirit," and " Christ gave Himself up" for it that it might be holy. We are to show forth the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. Its nature, therefore is heavenly and spiritual, entirely distinct from the world in life, nature, action, attitude, resources, methods and outlook. The prince of the power of the air is the spirit working in the children of disobedience but the Holy Spirit has made the redeemed His habitation. The Church and the world have nothing in common, there never can be a " state church:" the church and the world are essentially distinct.
The functions of the Church are important. What God requires before anything else in His people is the maintenance of a pure worship in spirit. We shall be thinking about that in a subsequent chapter. Then it is to order all its life according to the will of God. A Church Meeting is not an assembly where we endeavour to get what we want but where in great stillness of mind and heart before the Lord we seek to know what the will of the Lord is. The world orders its life according to the will of man but the church according to the will of God. Every member should jealously guard his conscience before the Lord in everything in life and no less in the matters that touch the life and witness of the assembly of the Lord's people to which he belongs. Within the Church we should act in humility one towards another, with great deference, not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, in honour preferring one another; and each recognising the grievous sin of living only to oneself. Every member should by patience, sacrifice and humbleness of mind seek to make the fellowship to which he belongs as much like heaven as possible.
After all the drudgery of life, with its frustrations and disappointments, the saints of God, as they meet together, should not only be comforted of God but comforted of one another. The Christian who sees this duty and seeks to discharge it will find the company of the Lord's people peculiarly satisfying as he endeavours to minister to his fellow Christians. These are matters that need to be watched most carefully. Backsliding in its (shall I say) innocent stages will show itself in a growing neglect of the Lord's people, of impatience with matters that are not agreeable, with the growth of a critical spirit and we need to be careful. No true believer ever turns his back upon the Lord's people.
He may be truly led of the Lord to leave one fellowship and join another. Let him make sure of the leading! But he will not be led of the Lord out from a fellowship into no-man's land. Watch therefore, the tendency that draws away from the company of the Lord's people. Finally, let me say a word upon the destiny of the Church. It is the one society amongst men with a future. The greater part of the Church has passed into a realm of greater felicity. One day by the grace of God we shall join them. We are saved in hope and our hope is the appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The promise is given in l Thessalonians and we look forward to the day when our Lord shall appear in the air, calling those who are what we call 'dead' to Himself and then calling those we call ' alive ' to be raptured into His presence. It is in that way and that way only that we shall first see our Saviour, seeing Him because we are like Him. Great indeed will be our joy as we recognise the Saviour and know as never before how wonderful is the mercy and grace vouchsafed to us. We shall be there because each one has been saved by the precious blood that He shed, and in the power of the Spirit has sought to walk in newness of life. Death is not our portion but life. We are facing not gloom and despair but glory and the marvellous privilege of beholding our Saviour as He is. Hence it is a great privilege to have been redeemed into the Church of Christ by the blood that our Saviour shed on the Cross and which speaks in heaven. Difficult as may be the pilgrim way it is leading to a dazzling glory and in this hope we are confidently to press on.
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