What Should the Church of the Present Be? – J.W. Shepherd

J.W. Shepherd

That the church is the bride of Christ is clearly expressed in the following:

Wherefore, my brethren, ye also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be joined to another, even to him who was raised from the dead, that we might bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7: 4).

For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy: for I espoused you to one husband, that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11: 2).

In these passages the bride evidently means the church. That the bride will remain till the Bridegroom comes there can be no reasonable doubt; that she has ever waited his coming is equally certain. She has been in great distress, being driven into the wilderness and deprived of much of her glory, but she has ever looked for the coming of her espoused. In what condition the Bridegroom will find her is a question about which there has been much speculation. Unless we believe that the Bridegroom, when he comes, will find his bride in dishonor—living in fornication with the world—we may not measure the church by human standards. That the bride will be found wearing the name of the Bridegroom and living in chastity when he comes to claim her, there is no room for reasonable doubt. The world may be deeply defiled by crime, but the church will be arrayed in her robes of righteousness. Hence, while the church may have its impurities, as everything composed of humanity has, it must at least he uncontaminated to the extent of fidelity to Christ. This may cut off much of what the world calls the church, but not what God regards as the church. This has ever been the case since the apostasy, and will doubtless so continue to the end.

In the days of the apostles, God had a people in Babylon, but while they were in Babylon they were not of Babylon. Hence the Lord says: “Come forth, my people, out of her, that ye have no fellowship with her sins, and that ye receive not her plagues” (Rev. 18: 4). God doubtless has a people in Babylon now; but they and Babylon are two distinct things. God’s church is not composed of the Babel of sectarianism. Just who God’s people are who may now be in Babylon it is not my purpose to determine. God has revealed to us the things that pertain to his church—the faith, the practice, and the promises—and with these it is my purpose to deal. Here, all is faith and assurance; beyond this, all is opinion and fruitless speculation. Concerning those in Babylon we have but one living direction. “Come forth, my people, out of her.” To this we should give faithful heed. For to console people in the Babylon of sectarianism, and to reconcile them to their bondage, we have no divine right; but to deliver them from it is a divine obligation. Therefore God’s church is an institution separate and distinct from the Babel of denominationalism.

In determining, then, what the church should be, it will be necessary to ascertain the characteristics of the apostolic church. If the church of the present day be essentially different from the apostolic as a matter of preference, it cannot he the church of which God is the author. Hence it cannot be a divine institution, neither can it be the virgin bride of Christ. It follows, therefore, that the church must possess the following characteristics:

It Must Be a Divine Institution

At the beginning the church was a divine institution, and it cannot cease to be divine and still he the church of God, for God does not begin with the divine and end with the human. Beginning in the spirit the things of God are not made perfect in the flesh. A divine institution must have for its organization and essential features divine authority, for the world cannot make an ordinance or an institution divine. It must be specially appointed of God. No human institution, therefore, nor combination of institutions for which there is no special divine appointment, can ever constitute the church of God, for it is of God and not of men. Hence the church must be in all its essential features of specific divine appointment. These appointments are all found in the New Testament; therefore, the church to be a divine institution must be fashioned after that model.

It Must Be Governed Wholly by Divine Authority

The church was governed wholly by divine authority at the beginning. Should it substitute human for divine authority it would cease to be the church of God. A substitute for a divine thing can never itself be divine; therefore, anything substituted for the church as it was in the beginning is not that church. Just as certainly therefore, as Christ will own and accept his church when he comes again, so certainly will it be governed by his authority. Christ will accept only the church which he established. That which he established was governed wholly by divine authority: therefore the church of today must be so governed.

It Should Have Only the Names It Had at the Beginning

In the New Testament there are various names applied to the church and to its members. All these names have their significance, for the Holy Spirit never used them by accident, and for these names, and for these only, is there divine authority. The true church of to-day will be governed by divine authority; therefore, only these will the church accept. This with it is not simply a matter of taste, but of loyalty to Christ. Names unknown to the New Testament have come of the apostasy.

It Must Have the Form of Government

Given to the Church in the Beginning

It must necessarily be true, since it recognizes only the same authority. The church of to-day could not disregard the government of the New Testament church and still be the same church. Its congregations are not bound in the coils of an ecclesiasticism as merciless as it is unscriptural. Its bishops are not diocesan, but congregational. There are not a plurality of churches, under one bishop, but a plurality of bishops in one church. Its government is not in the hands of a legislative body, but it is under the legislation of Christ, executed by the several congregations.

It Has the Unity of the Church of the New Testament

This conclusion is reached from several considerations. (1) Since the church is governed only by divine authority, has the same form of government that it had in the beginning, and wears only the names found in the New Testament, the unity that characterized the first church follows as a consequence. (2) The destruction of the unity of the church was the work of the apostasy; hence when the church is reclaimed from the apostasy it will be freed from this disunion. (3) There can be no doubt that Christ’s prayer for the unity of his people can now be fulfilled as it was at the beginning. This unity can never exist through denominational walls. There were no denominational walls between the Father and the Son, neither was there any between the first disciples. Hence, if that prayer is answered in the restoration of the church, and it must be, there must be the same unity that characterized the church in the beginning.

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Author: Editor

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