WHAT THE CHURCH IS NOT
BY KEVIN J. CONNER
The word “Church” is a word, which has lost most of its meaning today in comparison to what it originally meant in the Early Church times. It is a word that needs to be re-defined in our modern society. There are a number of things and groups in existence today called “The Church” but they certainly are not that which the Lord said He would build, nor do they measure up to that which the New Testament means when it speak of the Church!
It is these false concepts of the Church which have to be rooted out, torn down and plucked up and destroyed before the truth and reality can be built and then planted.
A. The Church is not a Material Building
The word “Church” is never used in Scripture to refer to a material building. The word ”Church” is used about 140 times in the New Testament but never once used of a material building of wood or stones.
Where the word is translated “churches” in Acts 19:37 it refers to “Temple buildings” (Greek “Hierosulos”, NOT “Ekklesia”). They were not “robbers of churches” nor “robbers of temple buildings”.
The language used of the Church in Acts could not be applied to a material building. Note Acts 2:47; 5:11; 7:38; 8:1-3; 11:22-26; 12:1-5; 15:3, 4, 22, 41; 18:22. The Lord added to the Church. Herod vexed the Church. The Church was persecuted. Paul saluted the Church. The Churches had rest. Such language is hardly applicable to a material building!
It is the traditions of men that apply the word “Church” to a material building. We are “going to Church”. i.e., We are going to the building where the Church meets together. The Lord did not mean that He would build “church buildings” when He said “I will build my Church”. The Gates of Hades could hardly prevail against a Church building! When God rent the veil of the material temple at Jerusalem at the death of Jesus, He forever finished with material Tabernacles and Temples and material dwelling places where His glory and presence had been manifested in Old Testament times. The true temple is the Church, made up of living stones. The building is simply the place where the Church meets. The Church is a spiritual house, a spiritual temple, a spiritual building. Thus we do not “go to Church” but the Church meets together in a building, a “sheepfold” (II Chronicles 6:18; Isaiah 66:1, 2; I Peter 2:5-9; Ephesians 2:20-22).
B. The Church is not a Denomination
The Church is not a denomination, organization or sect. The many and multiplied Churches, with their multiplied names, all claiming to be the Lord’s Church are not necessarily His Church. Christ said he would build HIS CHURCH not the various churches named today. Denominationalism is contrary to the Scriptures. Denominations are the evidence of our carnality and divisions.
Thus we speak of the various denominations as Churches. For instance, The Episcopal Church, The Lutheran Church, The Methodist Church, The Presbyterian Church, The Reformed Church, The Roman Catholic Church, The Salvation Army, The Baptist Church, etc. But none of this is in the Bible. Some of the denominations claim to be “THE Church” exclusively, thus excluding all others. Yet it is absolutely necessary that we distinguish between a Denomination and “the Church” This divided condition of Christendom is indeed sinful and evidence of our carnalities (I Corinthians 3:1-6).
There are certain “divisions” that are of God (I Kings 12:24), yet on the other hand most of it is our carnality (I Corinthians 1:11-17). There are people who belong to “A Denomination” which calls itself “Church”, yet they have never been born again, and thus they do not really belong THE CHURCH in the New Testament sense. They belong to ”A Denomination”. Thus distinguishing between belonging to a denomination and to THE Church must be recognized. One may belong to THE CHURCH and yet not to a Denomination. It is also possible to belong to a Denomination and belong or not belong to THE Church! It is also possible to belong to a ”nondenominational denomination” or a “non-sectarian sect!”
Denominationalism is contrary to the Scriptures. The very fact that today there is so much ”ecumenicalism” going on is self-indicting of this divided Christendom.
Denomination is defined as:
1. The act of naming.
2. A name or appellation.
3. A religious sect; such as a Protestant Denomination.
4. A Denominational System.
A Denominationalist is an advocate or believer in denominationalism; a sectarian.
Denominations are usually formed around the following:
1. A certain form or type of Government. i.e., Apostolic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, etc.
2. A Doctrinal emphasis or some truth of Scripture. i.e., Holiness Church, Grace Church, Pentecostal Churches, Charismatic, etc.
3. A Personality which God used to emphasize a truth or experience, or used by God in some awakening or revival power.
4. An Experience. i.e., Baptist, Water Baptism; Baptism in the Holy Spirit; Holiness, Second Blessing, Covenant, etc.
Thus denominations are usually formed by a revival or restoration of some truth in which God opened the eyes to see. The people who gather to this truth and see “eye to eye” with the fresh revival are “called out” of some existing system or group to which they belonged. The result is, in due time, another Denomination is formed. Truth after truth has been restored since the time of the Reformation, with the inevitable rejection by some and acceptance by others, which resulted in further division. The ones who came out to follow the restored truth were forced to come out, start another Denomination of their own choice, in order to maintain and uphold the particular aspect of truth restored.
Hence the origin of so many Denominations and Organizations today. The tragedy is that each revival of truth finds its bitterest enemies and opponents from the previous group which had light from heaven. History repeats itself in each generation. The only thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. Revival usually begins in the glory of God and deteriorates to the glory of the Denomination, or a Personality It goes from the Man to the Movement to the Monument! Having begun in the Spirit, they end in the flesh. When the Spirit leaves or moves on, then man takes over, forming Doctrinal Statements or Articles of Faith, instituting Creeds, Regulations and Constitutions and By-Laws to try and maintain the Denomination. Certain of these things are necessary in ”Caesar’s world” but not necessary to the life of His Church!
The Lord did not mean He would build our Denominations. He does not have a variety of Churches nor will there be any such Denominational divisions in heaven. THE Church is NOT a Denomination!
C. The Church is Not a Nationalistic Enterprise.
While the Church is composed of genuine believers out of ”every kindred, tongue, tribe and nation”, yet it is not a national thing, or even international. The Church is God’s ”new ethnic” in the human race. Realizing this will save people from a nationalistic spirit or national
Churches, which have rent the Church as the one Body of Christ. i.e., The CHURCH of ENGLAND! The Church of ROME! The LUTHERAN Church! The AMERICAN Society of Churches in Japan, etc. To stamp the Churches in different countries would be like saying ”The Church of JERUSALEM in China, or Japan, or America. ”
National distinctions cease to exist ”in Christ”, where there is neither Jew Greek, bond nor free, male or female, but all one ”in Christ”. The Church is the new and holy nation, as will be seen in the following chapter.
D. The Church is not Judaism Extended
Although it is recognized that the believers of all ages are of “one olive tree” (Romans 9-10-11), yet it must be clearly seen that the New Testament Church is not an extension of Judaism or the Mosaic Covenant economy. There is indeed “one fold” (John 10:16), and ”One olive tree” (Romans 11:16, 24), and ”The Church in the Wilderness” (Acts 7:38). But Christianity is ”the new wine” of the New Covenant placed in the ”new wineskin”, which is THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH! (Matthew 9:16). The “old wineskin” of the Old Covenant could not receive or contain the ”new wine” of the New Covenant.
We may say that Christianity was born out of Judaism as “the mother”, but it is still the new child of promise and is not as the mother. Realizing this fact will help us to realize that all Mosaic Covenant economy things are fulfilled and abolished. The sacrifices, the priesthood, the temple, the rituals and festivals all find their spiritual fulfillment in Christ and His Church. These things of the Old Covenant were abolished at the cross and cannot be brought into New Testament Christianity or the New Testament Church. It is a ”new man”.
E. The Church is not The Kingdom of God
Although it is clear that there is a relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God (as will be seen), the Church is not the Kingdom in the fullest sense of that word. The Kingdom and the Church have much in common, but the Kingdom is larger than the Church. It includes the whole universe, the angelic hosts, as well as Old Testament saints, and the New Testament saints. In a narrower sense we may say, for the present, that the Church is confined to the believers of this present age and Dispensation of the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is all-inclusive.
F. The Church is not a Parenthetical Plan of God
Certain Dispensationalists teach that the Church is a parenthetical revelation and plan of God. This came because of Jewish blindness and unbelief. The teaching is that the Jew rejected the King and the Kingdom, so the Kingdom was taken from them and postponed to the close of this age. During the interval period God planned the Church as a new thing. However the Church would end in failure and there would be only a remnant of faithful ones when Christ came. After this He would turn again to the Jews who would then take up the Gospel of the Kingdom. In our following chapter we will see that the Church is NOT a parenthetical plan of God but was and is the ETERNAL PURPOSE of God. Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world (Acts 15:18; Ephesians 3).
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS TAKEN FROM THE CHURCH IN THE NEW TESTIMENT, AND PUBLISHED BY BT PUBLISHING, 1982, PAGES 9-11. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.