Where Are the People of God?
Indianapolis, Indiana 46221
The Bible deals with the people of God. In Old Testament times the nation of Israel was made up of the people of God. The New Testament is concerned with new Israel, the church as the people of God. Where are the people of God today?
Where Christ's Name Is Invoked?
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) There is an idea that the people of God are to be found in any assembly where the name of Christ is invoked. Reference is made to Matthew 18:20 and it is assumed that any religious or pious assembly of believers fits the picture. But invoking the name of Christ over an assembly does not magically make the group the church of Christ, nor does such use of Christ's name identify with what Jesus meant in Matthew 18:20. Jesus is talking about a meeting called by his authority, operating in behalf of his will and respecting his prerogatives. Invoking the name of Christ in a gathering of pious people does not make the assembled individuals the' people of God. Such an use of our Lord's name might involve a case covered by Matthew 7:21-23: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful work? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
In and Among Religious Bodies?
It is sometimes asserted that the people of God are the real "born again Christians" to be found in the midst of the nominal believers of all denominations and sects. It is assumed that there is a difference between "born again Christians" and "nominal Christians". The true church is supposed to be the spiritually elite in the various church bodies. But the same thing that saves a person gets him into the Lord's church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47), and if what he did in seeking salvation put him into something other than the Lord's church he was not born again. The new birth never put one into an unscriptural church relationship, and if a person were "born again" while in an unscriptural church relationship he would naturally come out of it and "be ye separate" (II Corinthians 6:19). Epistles of the New Testament were directed to congregations composed of "saints" (Ephesians 1:1, Colossians 1:2). The church in any given locality of New Testament times was made up of folks who had been baptized into one body (I Corinthians 12: 13) and who assembled together as a congregation because they were all "born again". It was not a matter of the church being composed of a few out of every group. The church was made up of baptized believers and was seen in local congregations to which epistles were directed or to which reference is made in the books of the New Testament.
A prominent view considers all the various bodies of Christendom as comprising the church of Christ. It is supposed that all bodies proposing to represent Christ and the gospel are a part of the body of Christ. This is the historian's view. He sees the church as a movement composed of major faiths and minority factions. But the New Testament makes no such usage of the term church. The noun "church" is used of the great body into which people are baptized (Matthew 16:18); it is used for the local congregations as in Romans 16:16; it is used in reference to the local assembly as in I Corinthians 14:34. In the New Testament the word church is never used to include faiths within bodies within the universal body which are larger than local independent congregations; it is not used to allow for denominational organisms or to accommodate diversified creeds. Therefore, to accept Christendom as the church of Christ is to be unscriptural, non the one faith; never used to include biblical, and presumptuous.
Under Ecclesiastical Authority?
The true church is to be found, according to Roman Catholicism, under the authority of a hierarchy succeeding from the apostles of Jesus Christ. This contention is based on the assumption that the apostolic office is continued through the centuries in legal succession. As the true church in the first century was under apostolic authority so the true church today is supposed to be found under the successors to the apostles. But no provision was made for the continuation of the apostolic office. The peculiar qualifications of the office (Acts 1:21-22, 2:1-6) do not allow for its perpetuation and the special work of the office was completed (John 16: 13, II Peter 1: 3, Jude 3). The idea of succession and perpetuity of the apostolic authority is based on the organizational apostasies of the second century, not on what is revealed by the Spirit of God in the inspired literature of the New Testament. The "missing link" needed to substantiate the ecclesiastical hierarchy is Bible authority for it. But the link does not exist.
The 1 44,000?
The "Jehovah's Witness" cult advances the theory that the church (congregation) is a "select, predestinated" number of 144,000. The contention is based on an arbitrary and fanciful interpretation of Revelation 7 and related passages. But in Galatians 3:27 we are told that "as many" as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is one baptism (Ephesians 4: 5) . The one baptism that puts you into the one Christ gets you into the one body (I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:4). The one body is the one church (Ephesians 1:22-23) and there is no limit to the number invited into it (Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 2:38). All who are baptized into the one Christ get into the one body, which is the one church. God started adding people to the church daily (Acts 2:47) over 1900 years ago as they were baptized (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). If he has continued this daily process on the average of only one a day, there are already about 700,000 in the church--several times the limited numbers of 144,000.
The church is the individual? How strange for anyone to take the position. It can be set aside with one passage--I Corinthians 12:14--" For the body is not one member, but many."
Where Are the People of God?
The people of God are to be found comprising any given congregation where the distinctive and distinguishing characteristics of the New Testament church are upheld and illuminated so as to reflect a candlestick still in place (Revelation 2:5).
Truth Magazine IX, 3: pp. 14-15