Summary: This statement is made to a young pastor of a New Testament Church.
The Church Is His Place
ITim.3:15-16 "But if I tarry l ong, that you mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory."
This statement is made to a young pastor of a New Testament Church. It should be clear that this statement and all other such expressions of God's purpose for His people are based upon the logical premise that His people in every age will continue to follow the pattern of discipleship He established when He gave His great commission to that first local church at Jerusalem; as well as to all succeeding churches of like faith and practice. Church history confirms this primitive pattern was closely followed by the vast ma jority of succeeding assembles for some two hundred or more years. The creation of so-called denominations or divisions entailing churches with radically different origins, doctrines or histories would have been inconceivable in a day so close to this simple beginning.
In order to understand the imperative of Paul's statement and make an application to our day, we must define our terms in the simple way they were written and used when Jesus established His assemblies and when Paul wrote to young Timothy urging him to be careful that he knew the truth about church teaching and passed it along correctly to those in his flock. That is the continuing responsibility of every true pastor in every age.
It is not always easy for pastors to continue to contend for the faith in the way Paul sets it out in this letter. (See II Tim. 4:1-4) It might be fair to say the task seems to become increasingly difficult with each
succeeding generation. The pressure to appeal to itching ears has never been stronger. The possibility of those who boldly and fearlessly proclaim the whole truth to be accused of legalism and negativity has never been greater.
It is said that when Wesley sent out young preachers to preach in the countryside he would ask them two questions upon their return. He would first ask if anyone was saved. Then he would ask if anyone became angry. If the answer was no to both questions, he would caution the young man about being in the ministry. He would explain if the gospel was faithfully and forcefully presented that people would either get saved or get mad.
The Greek word ecclesia, from which the English word church used here is derived, could be literally translated assembly. The Greek scholar, Trench, says about this word, "Ecclesia, as all know, was the lawful as- sembly in a free Greek city for all those possessing the rights of citizenship, for the transaction of public affairs. That they were summoned is expressed in the latter part of the word; that they were summoned (called) out of the whole population, as a select portion of it, (neither the populace, nor yet strangers, nor those who had forfeited their civil rights) is expressed in the first part of the word. Both the calling and the calling out are moments to be remembered. ."
The word ecclesia is used more than one-hundred times in the New Testament. Ninety-two times it is clearly used relative to the church as a local body. This usage is as well defined as its application to the legislative assembly to a Grecian free city. In the remaining cases, the word is used either in the generic or institutional sense: referring to local churches in the same way as the word man used generically refers to all men everywhere or the word government refers to the institution of government in any place it might exist. In a few cases it is prospective; in the sense of referring to an assembly that will come together in one place after the Second Coming of Christ.
Simply put, the correct usage of church in our age refers to an assembly of saved, scripturally immersed believers, who agree on the New Testament as their only rule of faith and practice and can assemble together in a particular locality in a particular age to carry out the commands and commission of Christ. Which is to get people saved, baptize them and then teach them to follow the all things He commanded in the Word. This is the only church the Bible speaks of and is the one to which He promised His pres- ence and power until His return.
The New Testament clearly teaches that God's church of the New Testament is very special. That it is local in nature is an obvious truth. The basic meaning of the word and its usage leads to this overwhelming conclusion. In this passage, Paul uses imagery to convey functions of the churches of Jesus Christ. It is spoken of as a little flock, conveying all the intimacy with the Chief Shepherd entailed in that image. If we are really to fully understand and appreciate this particular figure of speech, we must understand the spiritual relationship of the Good Shepherd to His flock as presented in the Old Testament and the gospels as well. All the beauty and assurance of that relationship expressed in the Shepherd's Psalm and in Chapter Ten of the Book of John clearly applies in a very special way to His little flock; His church.