Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
June 14, 1951

The Identity Of The Church

Earl West, Indianapolis, Indiana

"And it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of Jehovah's house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us His ways, and we will walk in His paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of. Jehovah from Jerusalem. (Isa. 2:2-4)

The New Testament church was no accident or after thought. It was planned according to "the eternal purpose of God. (Eph. 3:11) Following the creation of the world, Jehovah was many centuries developing plans looking toward the church. A physical nation—the Jews —must first be born, and the drama of their history enacted to picture the higher, spiritual Israel—the church—the chosen people of God. It was necessary for Moses to lead the people of God from Egypt, through the Red Sea, and thence to the Promised Land to picture the Christ, "the prophet like unto Moses,' who would lead the people of God from sin to the reality of heaven. Animal sacrifices must be offered to portray the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary, and the prophetic bard must in vivid imagery paint the matchless picture of the coming reign of the Messiah over his kingdom—the church. Since the church must be purchased with the blood of Christ, it would be necessary for the Christ to suffer, and on the third day be raised from the dead. (Acts 20:28) Thus, through many centuries the divine plan was unfolding. How significant the thought that the major events of Old Testament history were eventually to converge in the church!

Essentially the church is a body of saved people. It is generally understood that the word comes from the Greek word, ekklesia, which means "the called out. When the gospel, God's power to save, was preached to the lost, and they heard it, believed it and obeyed it; by this means they were saved. The same thing that saved them added them to the church. By the gospel of God they were called, and by their obedience to its commands, they were saved and simultaneously added to the church. (Acts 2:42-47) This being true, it may be clearly seen that "joining the church'' was unknown to New Testament times. Equally unknown is the now popular belief that one could be saved, and not belong to the church. The church was the saved. and to speak of one's being saved outside the church is to display a gross misconception of the inherent nature of the church.

Seven hundred years before Christ was born, there lived an inspired prophet of Judah named Isaiah. God enabled him to tell his people of the coming of the church. Using language familiar to his day and rich in imagery, the prophet predicted the church. Although he spoke seven centuries before Jesus, the prophet's words state four basic facts about the church: (1) The time of the establishment —"the latter days;' (2) The place of the establishment—Zion; (3) The scope it would embrace—all nations; and (4) The purpose of the church—"teach us of his ways. Each of these demands a more thorough analysis.

The Time Of The Establishment

Isaiah predicted the establishment of the church to occur in the "last days' or the "latter days. When were these days? The prophet Joel predicted the great event of the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon Christ's chosen twelve apostles in these words: "And it shall be in the last days; saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions. And your old men shall dream dreams; Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy." (Joel 2:28) With reference then to this event, Joel prophesied that it would occur in the "last days. It is significant that on the day of Pentecost, (Acts 2) Peter quoted this prophecy, and added, "This is that which hath been spoken through the prophet. Joel," (Acts 2:16) Nothing can be gained by inquiring when the "last days' began and when they will end. One thing can be established as certain: the day of Pentecost, A. D. 33, as recorded in Acts 2, was in the last days. It is upon that day that the student of the Bible finds that the Lord established his church.

Pentecost, usually called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament, was held late in what we call the month of May, or early June, and was essentially in honor of the barley harvest. Jewish tradition, however, states that the Jews by the time of Christ celebrated Pentecost as the birthday of the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. If this be true, how interesting it is that the very day on which the Old Testament Law was given, when the dispensation of the law entered, when three thousand were slain for disobedience—how significant that God should choose this day as the one when the dispensation of grace should be inaugurated, and three thousand should be saved for their obedience to the commands of the gospel! "How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!"

Any church founded before Pentecost or after Pentecost is not the New Testament Church. Roman Catholicism, the result of the great apostasy predicted by Paul (2 Thes. 2), is not the New Testament Church. The many Protestant denominations, although founded by wise and good men, have been born too late to be the New Testament Church.

The Place Of The Establishment

Concerning Zion, the psalmist sang, "Glorious things are spoken of thee, 0 city of God." (Psalms 87:3) Jerusalem was built upon four great mountains, the largest and best known of which is Mt. Zion. The Jews, therefore, used the term, Zion interchangeably with the word for Jerusalem. Hence, when the prophet speaks of the establishment of the church on the Day of Pentecost, he identifies the place as Zion, or Jerusalem. Here is another identifying mark of the New Testament Church. It had its genesis in the city of Jerusalem, "the city of the great King.

Any church established in any other city than Jerusalem is not the New Testament Church. Any church born in Rome, or England, or Germany, or Scotland, or America —any such church cannot be the church of Christ.

The Scope It Would Embrace

Imagine a prophet like Isaiah, born and reared as a faithful Jew, feeling the strong surges of Jewish nationalism in his soul, feeling that the fleshly Jew was the child of God, and the Gentile as low as a dog—imagine such a person predicting glorious things for the Gentiles. To speak of the Gentiles as coming citizens in the coming Kingdom, fellow-heirs of the promises of God; meant that the prophet was going against his Jewish background, and jeopardizing his good name among the Jewish people. Yet, this is precisely what the prophet did predict, and in such a prediction he was "moved by the Spirit of God."

In Isaiah's day, the human race was divided into two broad classifications—Jews and Gentiles. To the Jews had the particular heritage come of receiving the law and the prophets, the adoption and promises. The Gentiles were outcasts. But the church should embrace "all nations' who would "flow unto it." When the Christ should come, the law would be nailed to the cross. (Col. 2:14) Jew and Gentile would be reconciled in one body, the church, through the cross. (Eph. 2:14-16) The Gentiles would then be fellow-heirs of the promises of God. (Eph. 3:1-6)

The commission to the chosen of Christ was to be, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. (Mark 16:15, 16) In Christ Jesus, there is no male or female, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. All are one in him.

The Purpose Of The Church

God's means of saving souls is through the word. Hence, the teaching of the word of God is the instrument of God in the eternal redemption of the human race. By being taught the word men are drawn to Christ. (John 6:44, 45) The commission of the Saviour to his disciples was, "Go, teach all nations . . . ' (Matt. 28:19) The duty of the Lord's Church is to sound forth the word of God to the lost that the unsaved might be saved. The church is the "pillar and ground of the truth. (1 Tim. 3:15) The church upholds the truth to the sinful world. It is this gospel that must be preached and proclaimed by the Lord's church that is the power of God unto salvation.

The word of the Lord is, moreover, the means of God to build up the individual Christian in the most holy faith. "As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word that we may grow thereby. (1 Peter 2:1) It is the word of God's grace that builds the individual spiritually. (Acts 20:32) By this word he grows into the fullness of the stature of Christ. It is little wonder that the prophet, seeing the distant days when the church should be the instrument of God to teach the word of God to the world, should say, "And many peoples shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of Jehovah, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of Jehovah from Jerusalem.

The New Testament Church is a divine institution with Christ as its only Head. It was purchased by the blood of the Son of God. Christ is its sole Owner. It is therefore his church. (Matt. 16:18)


Chester Estes, Sheffield, Ala., May 29: "Recently brother Robert C. Welch of the Popular Street congregation in Florence, did the preaching in a series of meetings with the Highland Park church. The church was pleased with his bold presentation of the truth. I spoke four times at Popular Street in the absence of brother Welch."