Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 5, 1957
NUMBER 31, PAGE 9a-10a

The Church That Jesus Built

Bryan Vinson, Tulsa, Oklahoma

"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of Man am? And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith to them, but whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ. Matt. 16:13-20.

This familiar language very significantly sets forth the thought that the church of Christ was not at the time this was spoken in existence, and as clearly reveals the full intention and determination of Christ to build it. Thus the vital and superior importance of the church inheres in this avowed purpose of Jesus to build it, a purpose so strong that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. Such a strongly avowed determination to build the church evidences the high regard and intense worth he ascribes to it, and should correspondingly induce all who read and reflect on this language to form a most exalted conception of the church which Jesus built. If so much was divinely planned and invested in bringing the church into existence, then the greatest anxiety and care should be exercised by those in the church to preserve its purity, its integrity, its character, its identity and therefore secure its perpetuity. When Jesus made this statement he knew that he was soon to be tried and put to death. "From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." (verse 21.) However, notwithstanding the ordeal thus confronting him, he knew that he would arise from the dead and build his church.

In fact, except as he should die, and triumph over death by his resurrection, he could not build his church. That was an essential antecedent to this; consequently there could be no church of Christ prior to his death and resurrection. Knowing this ordeal confronted him, and, too, that he must be raised from the dead, art unprecedented triumph, he said: "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Jesus was familiar, of course, with the will of God which he came to do, and that whatsoever was written in the prophets concerning him must need be fulfilled. (Luke 24:44-47; Matt. 26:53-54).

Is it possible for anyone, in the light of such consideration, to entertain a depreciated regard for the church? In Isaiah twenty-eight we find a passage which reveals that God knew that those scornful men who ruled the people of Jerusalem would make a covenant with death and an agreement with hades, which was that they would put Jesus to death and thereby think they had removed, finally, the one whom they could not refute and whom they would not accept. And Jehovah said: "Your covenant with death shall be disannulled and your agreement with hades shall not stand." In this death and resurrection there was the trying of the precious corner stone which he was to lay in Zion (Jerusalem) as a sure foundation, and those who believed should not make haste. The foundation was to be laid in Zion; it was to be tried before laid, and it was tried by the supreme test of being able to triumph over hell. This Jesus did, and thus after so doing was the foundation laid. The point here which it is wished to make is can anyone think the church is relatively unimportant in the light of conflict which preceded its establishment, and from which Jesus had to emerge victorious in order that it might be built? The gates of hell shall not prevail against it in Matthew 16 is parallel to the agreement with hell shall not stand of Isaiah 28. If such care and testing preceded its inauguration, then how can its continuation in its pristine purity and apostolic order he of less concern to all interested parties in heaven and on earth? The foundation laid was so determined out of regard for the church that was to be built thereon, and it had to be one which had been proven to be able to withstand the ravages of time and the assault of hell.

Christ loved the church and gave himself for it that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, and that he might present it to himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25-27) He purchased it with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) What is this church which Christ loves so dearly. and which he purchased by an expenditure of himself ? The New Testament references to the church reveal it to be the Temple of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Body of Christ, the Household of Faith and other expressions descriptive in their nature, thus giving a portrayal of the church in its various aspects. It is spoken of as embodying all the redeemed, and also locally or geographically identified. With regard to the worship of God, it is referred to as the Temple of God. Is this an appropriate term only when applied to the church in the universal acceptation? Both the Ephesian and Corinthian churches were specifically told that they were the temple of God. When the church is identified as the kingdom, is such true exclusive of all congregational application? Christ is king of his kingdom and head of his body, and both the kingdom and the body are respectively, the equivalent of the church, just differently considered. Is Christ the head of the local body or church? Surprising, indeed is the information to the effect that he isn't the head of the local congregation, as has been publicly advocated and advanced by a preacher of repute and of seasoned age. No wonder then that this preacher, who also is an editor, would recommend that "we keep all the anti's out of our congregation"! or "pulpits" And his recommendation on this score was deemed to be of such merit as to warrant being copied in a local bulletin of one of the congregations here, and sent to some of the members of other congregations, which, incidentally, was entirely proper for them to do, if they so wished and believed that which was taught therein. But if Christ is not head of the local congregation, but is head of the church universal, then as a member of the church universal a Christian is subject to Christ, but as a member of the local congregation he is not. Hence, any instruction received from Christ and his apostle would apply only to his behavior and practice as a member of the church in its universal sense only, and be of no force in respect to his responsibilities and practices as a member of a local church!

Then to contribute of his means on the first day of the week would have to be related to his duty as a member of the "church universal," and also would this be true of observing the Lord's Supper! No wonder, then, that some brethren are saying the apostolic example of when to observe it is not binding, if Christ is not head of the local church! But Paul affirms that Christ is head of all things to the church; then, we would ask, is the local church embodied in the all things of the church universal? If not, then of what is the church universal composed?; and, if so, then he is head of the local church inasmuch as he is head of all things to the church.

The Catholics teach that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ; that is, he acts in Christ's stead and therefore is the head of the church. Hence, the Pope comes in between the people and Christ and such claims and pretensions actually dethrones Christ. In many quarters today brethren are as effectually dethroning Christ as has the Catholic hierarchy by such teaching as the above, coupled with the idea that "elders can do no wrong." Instead of the Pope being the head of the church universal, some are making the elders the absolute and only head of the local congregation! Hence, any program they formulate or subscribe to, any anathema they pronounce or excommunication of brethren-(even outside their congregation) which they execute becomes as revered and infallible as papal pronouncement! To refuse to acknowledge and accept such teaching is no denial of the rightful province of the elders and their legitimate authority in the congregation, be' with such perverted conceptions of their authority there is sometime found the view they have authority beyond the limits of the particular congregation "over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers." Such perversions will inevitably destroy the governmental, organizational and functional purity of the New Testament church as the developing papacy once did. Yes, Christ is the head of the church, locally as well as in the aggregate, and any impeachment or diminution of his headship is heresy of the rankest sort.

The Church which Jesus built is said to be his body, and he is the head of the body. In a book currently circulated in defense of the brotherhood-wide operations, "How Churches Can Cooperate," with the subtitle "God's Work in God's Way," by Lewis Hale, who is esteemed for his "keen analytical ability and regard for the scriptures," we find the following:

"Is A Local Church The Body Of Christ? — Until recently, we have never had any difficulty in understanding what the "one body" of 1 Cor. 12 is. It has been universally understood as referring to the church in its widest sense. This view has been held without respect to denominational ties. Now we are informed that it refers to the local church in Corinth. As proof, verse 27 is introduced: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." That this is not limited to the church in Corinth is amply demonstrated by the following verse (28) "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." No one would contend that God set the apostles in the local church of Corinth. That local church did not even exist when the apostles were set in the church, the one body. Yet these Christians of Corinth were members of the body of Christ in which the apostles had been set. Let brethren face their own unanswerable presentation to the denomination world of the absurdity of one head having hundreds of bodies." Please note that in the same church which this passage states God set the apostles, ha also had "governments" and diversities of tongues. Did they have these in the local church at Corinth? If not the apostles, then not these. Therefore, the local church has no government and away goes all authority as existing and regulating the local body of Christ! Further, he says that until recently it has been universally understood as referring to the church in its widest sense (and thus not to the local congregation). Listen: "27. Now ye are the body of Christ, — The ye' referred to the membership at Corinth as a whole. They constituted the body of Christ. Not a part of it, but the body complete and entire, within itself a complete body of Christ. To another church Paul says: 'In whom ye also are builded together for a habitation of God in the Spirit' (Eph. 2:22) The Bible clearly recognizes each separate congregation as the body of Christ, as builded together for a dwelling place in the Spirit. So that God in his Spirit dwells in each distinct and separate church. The church is the body of Christ in the community in which it is situated. It is not a foot in Corinth, an arm in Colosse, an eye in Ephesus, and an ear in Thessalonica; but each was a complete integral body of Christ composed of all the members needed to make up his body. Take the church in Jerusalem, it was in existence before any other church. Was it not the body of Christ when it was the only church on earth? Did the planting of another and another church take from it any of its parts, and of its functions, despoil it of its integralism and completeness as a body of Christ? Certainly not." Who said this? Why, David Lipscomb in a commentary on First Corinthians, note on Chapter 12, verse 27. Yet brother Hale said until recently no one ever thought of such an idea.

In conclusion, we ask why such airy, fantastic reasoning as his and others? Even it has been taught recently that one congregation is the foot, another the hand etc.!!! The answer is found in the frantic, desperate and stubborn effort to justify the actification [activation] of the church universal through "brotherhood operations" If it were not for such a sensed need for something to sustain and defend what they are doing no such exegetical distortions and contortions as brother Hale's would be made and published along with material by others in this book, including the "constituent elements" and "component parts" of recent fame. Why have some thought that the members of the body are congregations (brother Hale does not advance this thought in his book, but divorces the local church from the body of Christ), one the foot and another the hand, for instance? Simply to justify a congregation assuming a work for the church general of universal, and other congregations contribute to it to do their work for them. This is the reason. When any cause has to resort to such fantastic and utterly absurd reasoning as this, then it is not the cause of truth. The weakness of the defense of brotherhood-wide operations is reflected by the character of reasoning, such as the above, employed to support it. It is hoped that the above will awaken you who read it to the groundless foundation on which much that is currently being done rests, yes, by those who profess to do Bible things in Bible ways, and speak where the Bible speaks, and only so.