Vol.XVI No.I Pg.4
March 1979

Nature Of The Church

Robert F. Turner

Practically all church historians relate the development of the Papal system (Universal Bishop) with a much earlier "metropolitan system" and the diocesan concept of church government. Pragmatically, it is an enlarged concept of structure that demands an enlarged government — harness to fit the team. If no effort was made to work churches as a "team," then there would be no need for an oversight larger than that of the local church. This lesson is badly needed today.

But there is something back of the enlarged structure to which little attention has been given. WHY would early churches (beginning of second century) enlarge structure or oversight? Was it pride or hunger for power, as is often suggested? Perhaps we have allowed a certain prejudice to color our thinking. It is highly probable that early Christians had as much or more zeal for doing the work of the Lord as brethren today, and thought they could "do more" with an enlarged organization. And, while we are granting good intentions, let us ask ourselves on what basis any one could justify that which changed the organizational structure and government of the church? Could they have had a concept of the nature of church that encouraged it?

I know that today's organizers justify their actions on a misconception of the nature of the universal church. Bro. Woods, in his debate with bro. Cogdill, argued: l. The Great Commission obligated "the church" to go to the whole world; 2. Without cooperation (collective action) it is impossible for this commission to be carried out; 3. Since the apostolic "church" did preach to every creature (Col. 1:23) it follows that there was cooperative effort (again, he uses "cooperative" in the limited sense of collective action, rft). (See Cogdill-Woods Debate, pp. 195-196, 233, 236). There is no need to re-argue this debate, nor do I attempt it. But I want you to note the concept of "church" here. It treats all saints (the universal body) as some sort of functional unit; and slides into the concept of a universal body of churches. THIS "church" must go into the world. To say it is the "church" distributively, as each member works; or even as each congregation carries out its independent obligations, would destroy bro. Woods' argument. Clearly, he conceives of "the church" as some sort of universal teaching society — as a universal functional institution.

This is the "Catholic" concept of "church" — though I certainly do not charge Woods with the whole consequence. They say the church is "—the society founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ;" "...it is to the Church that Christ has committed those means of grace through which the gifts he earned for men are communicated to them. The church alone dispenses the sacraments. It alone makes known the light of revealed truth." (Catholic Encyclopedia, V.III, p.744, 752.) The society must "administer" grace, sanction the teaching, and must therefore be perpetuated as a viable institution so that it may perform these functions.

This concept caused Augustine to say, "I should not believe the Gospel (continued next page)