Vol.XVI No.I Pg.5
March 1979

Importance Of Proper "Church" Concept

Robert F. Turner

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except the authority of the Catholic Church moved me" (Contra Manichoei). It led Savonarola, in speaking of a pope who commanded something contrary to the Gospel, to say, "Not the Roman Church, but thou errest." It kept Martin Luther, and the English Parliament, and the majority of the Reformers, from the true concept of restoration. They refused to reject the necessity for linkage with the historic "visible church." The concept insidiously permeates the thinking of brethren today who hold that "the great middle section" of the church just could not be wrong. Somehow, the "church" becomes a thing apart from the people who make it up. The people can err, but not "the church."

After centuries of Roman institutionalism, John Wyclif struck at the core of Catholicism when he redefined the nature of the church. Schaff says, "Scarcely a writing has come down to us from Wyclif's pen in which he does not treat the subject, and in his special treatise on the Church, written probably in 1378, it is defined more briefly as the body of all the elect... Of this body, Christ alone is the head" (V. 6, p.331). We would differ with Wyclif's concept of "the elect" but he did make the church a spiritual body, not dependent upon ties with an historic visible society. God's people are "visible," and function in the flesh to serve Him; but an acceptable association with a certain local church is not prima facie evidence that we please the Lord.

The Swiss Anabaptists understood this point. Schaff says they "organized on the voluntary principle select congregations of baptized believers, separated from the world and from the State." "The demand of rebaptism virtually unbaptized and unchristianized the entire Christian world, and completed the rupture with the historic Church" (V.8, pp. 71-77). Schaff, a "historic" church man, did not agree with the Anabaptists, but he recognized the vital role these differing concepts had in history.

What did Christ buy when he bought "the church"? Was it not individual men and women, lost in sin? What did he build when he built "the church"? Is not this a figurative representation of individuals as "lively stones, a spiritual house" resting upon Christ, the foundation? He cleanses the church much as a rancher dips a "flock" of sheep — neither church nor flock are cleansed apart from what is done to individual people or sheep, but in the identical process. When humble, faithful individuals are made free from sin "with the washing of water by the word" (Eph. 5:25-27) the Lord is cleansing His church.

The group of men and women who covenant together, build a place of meeting, and worship and serve God for a time, may leave their first love (Rev. 2:4-5). They may continue to occupy the physical property, and wear the same name, but the Lord's church does not consist, per se, of such things. Its nature is different! It is begun, propagated, and continues only as the Christ is enthroned in our hearts.

Deprecating "the church"? NOT AT ALL. We seek to define its nature, that Christ may be thereby glorified.