By Robert H. Farish
The attempts to escape an “institutional sense” or denominational concept, which some people hold with reference to the church, have resulted in some fleeing to a “simple individual to Christ relationship” concept which rejects the teaching of the Scriptures on “Christ and the church” relationship. The doctrine of “setting in order” and “appoint(ing) elders in every city” and “in every church” is explained away – the Holy Spirit’s words are made meaningless. The divine organization, the local congregation, is scornfully referred to as “the club.” A local church of Christ, composed of “all the saints in Christ Jesus that are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1), must be rejected in order that the “individual to Christ relationship” may be “found.” Fleeing from Rome and 666 A.D. they run past Jerusalem and 33 A. D.
Much ado has been made over the Greek word ekklesia which has been translated “church.” It is asserted that “the word ‘church’ is a mistranslation.” Fortunately, for the average person, we do not have to know Greek in order to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” We can simply examine, in their context, the passages in the New Testament in which the word “church” appears and learn of the existence, characteristics and functions of the ekklesia of Christ.
A Local Church of Christ
The reality of the “Christ and the church” relationship is set forth in a number of passages. From the English translations we can learn of “the existence of an institution in the time of the apostles such as we have today, and which we call a ‘local’ church of Christ.”
“The existence of an institution in the time of the apostles such as we have today, and which we call a ‘local church of Christ,”‘ is established by those passages where a church is designated by its geographical location. A number of letters are addressed to churches in different cities. For example, letters were addressed to the seven churches in Asia according to their geographical location. Error that existed in the church at Ephesus was charged to that local congregation and commendations were expressed of that church. The same is true of the other churches. Two letters were addressed to the “church of God which is at Corinth.” This was a local church of God – it was located in Corinth. In Romans 16:5, Paul wrote that, “all the churches of the Gentiles” gave thanks for Priscilla and Aquila and he also included a greeting for the “church that is in their house.” Was not the church in the house Priscilla and Aquila “a church of Christ”? In the 16th verse of the same chapter, he wrote, “All the churches of Christ salute you.” If there were “churches of Christ” plural, was there not in existence “a church of Christ” singular? This is not “church of Christ tradition”; it is tradition “which ye were taught . . . by epistle of” Paul and other inspired writers. The apostle said for brethren to “stand fast and hold the traditions which ye were taught . . . by epistle of ours.” (2 Thess. 2:15). Let’s stand fast and hold the traditions.
A local church of Christ that existed in the time of the apostles was made up of “all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). This is not the “simple individual to Christ relationship” but is an organization composed of “all the saints etc.” at Philippi. This was “a local church” at Philippi for the apostle wrote, “when I departed from Madedonia, no church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only” (Phil. 4:16). While there are cases of individual Christians having fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel, yet this is not such a case. This is a case of a church, “as such,” having fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel.
We can learn, if we study the passages in their context, that while the church was in its introductory stages it “cometh not with observation,” that is, it was not recognized by the Pharisees. Yet when it came, in fact, it could be observed because it had organic existence. Certainly those within the church as well as those without the church could see (observe) the church in its activities as a church as “they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). The language, “the kingdom cometh not with observation … for lo, the kingdom is within you” was addressed to the Pharisees in answer to their question as to “when the kingdom of God cometh.” The kingdom of God was not “within” the Pharisees at that time! The kingdom of God was “in the midst” of the Pharisees and they knew it not. It was “in the midst” of them in that its king was there and his authority was accepted by some, although his reign, in fact, did not begin until late, when he was raised from the dead to sit on David’s throne. The kingdom came on the day of Pentecost. The church from that time had organic existence (reprinted from The Gospel Guardian, XVII:10 [15 July 1965], 145-146).
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 8, p. 235
April 16, 1992