The Church: Its Station, State, and Strategy
The planet Earth is replete with “pedigree” organizations. Membership within them is often predicated upon political, educational, social, economic or philosophical qualifications. Many of these organizations exist for commendable reasons – they serve a worthwhile purpose. There is, however, one group of people whose purpose for existence outshines other organizations however noble they may be, as the brilliance of the sun outshines a flickering candle.
This group has continued as an uninterrupted entity for more than nineteen hundred years.
From without, it has often been maligned and misunderstood. From within, it has at times been guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy, perversion of truth when it was self-serving, activity inconsistent with its exalted calling and spiritual flirtation and adultery with the god of this age.
This group’s uninterrupted existence in light of overwhelming opposition and its continued use of the original “bylaws” drawn at its inception underscore its miraculous element and confirm the words of its Founder and Leader: “. . . I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt. 16:18).
The Church is a supernatural entity, and her greatness lies not so much in her past history as in her present potential and ultimate destiny.
Take away organizations that are political, educational, social, economic or philosophical, and in due course, through the confusion, there will emerge new organizations to replace them. But take away the true Church in this age, and the light on the planet Earth goes out. God sovereignly chose the Church to be His instrument to give light to a spiritually dark and dead planet (Phil. 2:15).
With all of its flaws, the Church is the best the world has, and one day it shall be presented “. . . faultless before the presence of his glory. . . ” (Jude 24).
The Church, properly understood, is not a building. It is a people, a called-out assembly from every kindred, tongue and tribe.
The Church, properly understood, is not an organization. It is an organism – the body over which Christ functions as Head.
The Church, properly understood, is not a denomination. It is “a group of” individuals who have, through faith in Christ, been to Calvary and have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
The Church, properly understood, cannot be entered into through natural birth, inheritance, life style, religious affiliation, baptism or purchase. It is entered into by spiritual rebirth and through the Holy Spirit who baptizes (identifies) the believer into the Church (1 Cor. 12:13).
The Church, properly understood, should always strive for unity within the body, but never, never should unity be achieved at the sacrifice of biblical truth. The Church is commanded to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and to be “set for the defense of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:17).
The Church, properly understood, is not without experience or emotion, but it is never to be guided by either. The Bible alone is the standard, the platinum yardstick, by which all life and doctrine must be measured.
The Church, properly understood, is not only intangible and universal. It is also physical and local. Every believer should be an active member of a local church. Worship, fellowship and service in and through the local church are essential to obedience and growth.
The Church, properly understood, is not synonymous with Christendom. The former is composed of possessors of a new nature, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and enjoying a vital relationship with God. The latter is composed of professors who have never experienced the new birth and to whom Christ will one day proclaim, “. . . I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt. 7:23).
The Church, properly understood, is not a social club, political platform or a place of business contact. It is a place where doctrine is to be taught, the ordinances of baptism and communion observed, discipline administered and where the “saints” gather for mutual comfort and the “bearing of one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).
The Church, properly understood, is being fashioned by God for one overriding purpose – to demonstrate and proclaim to all men for all time what God is like. That is, to proclaim and demonstrate God’s glory (Rom. 11:36).
Salvation of men, wonderful beyond measure as it is, was never intended to be an end in and of itself. Rather, it is intended to be part of the process by which God’s glory is seen.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, written while he was under arrest, contains the highest and noblest Church truth found in all the Word of God.
A subtitle for the Book of Ephesians could well be “The Station, State and Strategy of the Church in the World”.
If the Church is the most important entity in the world, and it is – and if God sovereignly chose to use the Church as His instrument to give life and light on the earth, and He has – then Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which he explains (1) what the Church is, (2) how the Church should live, and (3) what the Church should be is of paramount importance to every true believer.
I. What the Church Is (Eph. 1-3)
In the first three chapters, Paul presents positional truth. He is dealing with what the Church is by virtue of divine design.
In chapter one, the Church is presented as a body over which Christ is the Head. The Church was planned by the Father, purchased by the Son and processed by the Holy Spirit.
In chapter two, the Church is portrayed as a temple in which God dwells. It is a sobering truth to realize that the Church (not a building, but redeemed people) is the abode of God on the earth during this age. In the Old Testament, God dwelt among Israel in a tabernade and later a temple through which His glory was manifested. Today, the glory of God emanates, not through a temple made with hands, but through the Church in which He dwells. Paul discussed the architecture of the temple, the appointments of the temple and the appearance of the temple.
In chapter three, the Church is revealed to have been a mystery. That is, while the concept of the Church was always in the mind, heart and program of God, He chose not to reveal the Church in the Old Testament. The concept of the Church was made known to the Apostle Paul by divine revelation, and in turn revealed to us. The main previously unrevealed concept is that during this age the middle wall of partition, which separated the Jew and Gentile, has been torn down and that in this age “the Gentiles would be fellow heirs with the Jews in the Church.” This was a major and dramatic departure from God’s earlier dealing with Israel. The Church and biblical New Testament Christianity are consistent with, but not a continuation of, the Old Testament. It is the logical outcome of the progressive revelation of the Old Testament. The Church, Paul informs us, was a mystery hitherto unknown.
II. How the Church Should Live (Eph. 4-5)
In chapters four and five Paul turns his attention to conditional truth. He deals now with how the Church should live.
In chapter four the Church is depicted as a new man. Adam was the first man. Created in the image of God and destined to rule as king of the earth, Adam transgressed in the garden, marred his image in the likeness of God, brought sin into the world and lost the reins of kingship. Jesus is the second Adam – the second man – the God-Man. What Adam lost, Jesus has recaptured. He has trailblazed a new and living way into the presence of God, conquered death and regained the reins of kingship. He will rule on the earth. Since the Church is in Christ, it should live not as the old man in Adam, but as a new man in Christ. Paul put it this way: “. . . put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
In chapter five, the Church is depicted as a bride preparing for spiritual union with Jesus, the Bridegroom. As a prospective bride is eager to prepare for, live in the light of and eagerly anticipate her wedding, so too the Church should so conduct herself that the Bridegroom will be pleased with her so “That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).
III. What the Church Should Be (Eph. 6)
If chapters one through three deal with positional truth, “What the Church is,” and chapters four and five deal with conditional truth, “How the Church should live,” then chapter six deals with commissional truth, “What the Church should be.”
Simply stated, the Church is commissioned to be an army fully fitted for conquest in Christ’s name.
Ephesians was written during a period of time when Paul was under arrest. It is, therefore, rightly listed among his prison epistles. But Paul held the enviable position of Roman citizen. Therefore, his imprisonment was probably not consignment to a dungeon, but house arrest under the scrutinizing eye of a Roman soldier.
Perhaps as Paul was coming to the end of the writing of Ephesians, he looked up and saw the Roman soldier in full battle array. With his mind primed by the Spirit of God and with pen in hand, he turned again to the manuscript known today as Ephesians and admonished the Church to “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).
Then, beginning with the “girdle of truth” and progressing to “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”, Paul presents the Church’s armor for the battle to which she has been committed by her Captain.
It is more than coincidental that there is no armor listed for the back. The reason seems clear. There is never basis for retreat or desertion – the back should never be facing the enemy. WHAT THE CHURCH IS – HOW THE CHURCH SHOULD LIVE – WHAT THE CHURCH SHOULD BE – THE STANDING, STATE AND STRATEGY OF THE CHURCH IN THE WORLD – these truths are the theme of Paul’s letter to the church of Ephesus. We, who name the name of Christ, do well to restudy these great truths at this critical moment in church history.