Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 13, 1960
NUMBER 23, PAGE 2,11b

The Church In The Eternal Purpose Of God

Jerry C. Ray, Irving, Texas

The title of this article presupposes the church to be a part of God's purpose and indicates the nature of the theme, i.e., to show that the church is a part of God's eternal purpose.

But what shall be our authority in determining this matter? God has two revelations of himself to man: nature and the Bible. While nature declares the existence of God (Psa. 19), nature alone cannot instruct man in God's purpose for mankind. This fact was forcefully taught in the ages past when the Gentiles refused the knowledge of God they had and turned to all manner of wickedness and idolatry, wherefore God gave them up to a reprobate mind, unto their own vile passions and the evil lusts of their own hearts. (Rom. 1:28, 26, 24) Without revelation from God, they, by human wisdom, could not know and do God's will. (1 Cor. 1:20-21) It is morally, physically, and spiritually impossible for man to know God's will except God reveal His will to man. Man cannot devise and direct his course to heaven, for "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." (Jer. 10:23) But God has revealed His will to us through His holy apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 3:3-5) who knows the mind of God and revealed this mind to the inspired men in the first century. (1 Cor. 2:11-13) We turn then to the revealed "mind of God" to determine the church's part in God's eternal purpose.

A key word in Ephesians, chapter one, is "purpose." Eph. 1:9 states that God "purposed." God, then, "purposed a purpose," "planned a plan," "schemed a scheme." God chose us in him (Christ) before the foundation of the world (1:3), but this choosing was "in him," according to his plan: "according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his will." (1:11) We were chosen, not individually, but according to the plan, which was in the mind of God before the foundation of the world. (1:3) This wise plan of God, the "mystery" which had been hidden in ages past (Col. 1:26; Eph. 3:5), was the salvation of both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 3:6; 2:16) in and through Christ. (Col. 1:27; Eph. 1:3, 9) That brings us to the next point:

The church is a part of God's eternal purpose. That rational beings act from motive is axiomatic. The design of the universe, from the smallest atom to the largest heavenly body, testifies to the existence of an infinitely rational Architect. This architect, Jehovah God, brought the church into being. His Son gave Himself for the church (Eph. 5:25), and purchased the church with His blood. (Acts 20:28) It must be true then that God has a purpose for the church. The truthfulness of this conclusion is verified in Eph. 3:10-11 where we are told that the church is "according to the eternal purpose" of God. The church began in the eternity before the foundation of the world, When it was but a silent thought in the mind of God, and will reach its full fruition and culmination in the eternal ages after this world is destroyed. (2 Pet. 3:10)

What part does the church play in God's eternal purpose? To better understand this we must realize that the church is the kingdom of God spoken of in the Old Testament prophecies. Whatever part the kingdom of God has in the plan of God is the part the church has in the plan, for the church and the kingdom are the same body under a different figure. That they are the same is evident from the fact that they have the same beginning place, Jerusalem (Acts 2, Isa. 2:2-3); the same boundaries, the entire world (Mk. 16:15, Dan. 2:44); the same owner, Christ (Matt. 16:18, John 18:36); the same ruler, Jesus (Eph. 5:23, 1 Cor. 15:25); the same law, the word of the Lord, that went forth from Jerusalem (Acts 2: 38-47; Isa. 2:3, Lk. 24: 46-49); the same terms of admission (Acts 2: 36-41, John 3:5); the same membership (Col. 1:2, 1:13); the same memorial, the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 11:20-27, Lk. 22:29-30); the same rewards (1 Cor. 15:58, Matt. 25:31-46). Since "things equal to the same things are equal to each other" the church must be the same body spoken of as the church. The church is not an afterthought of God, as the premillennialists affirm. It was in the eternal purpose of God (Eph. 3:10-11); it is the kingdom of Isa. 2:2-3; Mic. 4:1-5 and Dan. 2, over which Christ would reign, sitting on the throne of David (2 Sam. 7:14), which kingdom Christ received when He ascended to heaven after His resurrection. (Dan. 7:13-14, Acts 1: 9-11)

A further understanding of God's purpose for the church can he grasped by considering the other figures used to describe this kingdom. It is the called out body. The word translated church is from the Greek word, "ekklesia" (ek-out, kaleo-to call). The church is composed of those who have been called out of sin and darkness into the kingdom of light (1 Pet. 2: 9, Col. 1:13) by the gospel. (2 Thess. 2:14)

The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23), and it is the fulness of Christ. (Eph. 1:15-23) Thus, in the body we have the "redemption' the forgiveness of sins" (Eph. 1:7), every spiritual blessing (1:3), reconciliation (Eph. 2:16); the saved are added to the body (Acts 2:41, 47) and Christ is the savior of the body. (Eph. 5:23) And since the church is the body of Christ, to be in the church is to be in Christ, for we are baptized into the one body (I Cor. 12:13), but we are also baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:26-27) where salvation is found. (2 Tim 2:10) Being thus with Christ, we are alive. (Eph. 2:1-10)

God's eternal and wise plan was for the salvation of Jew and Gentile through Christ in the one body, hence unto God he "the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever." (Eph. 3:21) And as the beautiful edifice reflects the wisdom of the architect, so the church manifests the wisdom of God. In times past angelic beings and the prophets who prophesied desired to know the mystery (1 Pet. 1: 10-12), but now in the last days there has been known through the church the manifold wisdom of God. (Eph. 3: 10-11)

This brings us to the last point. What is God's purpose for the church relative to its mission? The mission of the church is either revealed or unrevealed. If it is unrevealed, man has no responsibility in the discharge of its mission.

If God's purpose for the church has not been made known, then as far as man is concerned, he has no obligation, the church has no mission, and thus has no right nor purpose for its existence. If the mission of the church has been revealed, it behooves us to hear God's charge and discharge our duty in the carrying out of the mission.

There are many passages describing the work of the church, but one passage sums up the entire work of the church. In Eph. 4:11-12 the work of the church is found to be: (1) The perfecting of the saints (edification: the preaching to those on the inside); (2) The work of ministering (benevolence: this is toward needy saints, Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35, 6:1-6, 11:27-30; Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8-9; 1 Tim. 5:9-10, 16); (3) The building up of the body of Christ (evangelism: preaching to those on the outside).

Any other work carried out by the church is without divine authority for it has not been revealed in the "plan." If it were a part of the "purpose" it would have been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets. This unauthorized activity is a perversion of kingdom business. This includes the use of church property and the spending of church funds for recreation, entertainment and secular activities. It includes the church engaging in farming, real estate, and in any other kind of business for profit, since the finances of the church are to be received through the contributions of Christians on the first day of the week. (1 Cor. 16:1-2) This includes also building and maintaining of human organizations to do the work of the church. This includes unscriptural cooperatives (such as the missionary society and the sponsoring church arrangement). All of these are not found in the mystery of God made known unto His holy apostles and prophets and are not a part of God's eternal purpose for the church.