Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST: ITS IDENTITY”

 

The first of this series of the messages dealing with the church of Jesus Christ was very simple and straightforward, bringing before you for your consideration the mystery of the church. As something previously concealed from us but always a concept in the mind of God to be revealed at the appropriate time, the mystery of the church of Jesus Christ is revealed only in the New Testament portion of God’s Word. As well, since the church is declared to be a mystery, it also happens to be a spiritual matter in that decisions reached by church congregations reverberate in heaven, and the primary reason for the creation of the church (which is to glorify God in Christ) is a never-ending and eternal purpose. These things being true, for one reason or another this matter of the church will be understood differently by different people, in part because the Holy Spirit’s illumination of believers so we can comprehend spiritual things is different in different Christian’s lives. The light of illumination is this side of heaven a rather dim light, with each Christian knowing more about some things and less about other things than other believers. Such is the case with the church of Jesus Christ. Two godly members in the same congregation and under the same instruction from God’s Word will always understand somewhat differently different spiritual truths. This holds true with the doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ.

This second in the series of messages about the church of Jesus Christ is even simpler than the first, focusing on the identity of the church of Jesus Christ. By identity I mean whose it is and who owns it, who created it, and therefore by right of creation possesses it and ought to control it. You will please forgive these initial messages about the church of Jesus Christ for being so very basic and simple. This is because there is so much confusion in the world about the church of Jesus Christ that baby steps are very much needed to establish a solid foundation for future instruction. What are some reasons for this confusion? The Roman Catholic Church has their long-held view that they are the church of Jesus Christ, the visible universal church of Jesus Christ. The various orthodox churches such as Greek, Russian, and Armenian have their view of the church of Jesus Christ. The Anglicans (known in the USA as Episcopalians) have their view of the church of Jesus Christ. Even the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Christ, and Seventh Day Adventists add their confusing positions to the Mulligan stew of what the identity of the church of Jesus Christ is thought by people to be. Then there is the Protestant position that is also embraced by some non-Protestants.

If the identity of the church of Jesus Christ reveals to us whose it is and who owns it, who created it and who therefore by right of creation possesses it and ought to control it, then we are faced with two considerations of the type that lawyers frequently talk about, de facto and de jure. Don’t let these two Latin phrases discourage you; they are simple concepts. De facto is Latin for “from the fact.”[1] De jure is Latin for “sanctioned by the law.”[2]

These two Latin phrases will be the framework under which we will consider “The Church Of Jesus Christ: Its Identity.”

 

First, THERE IS THE DE FACTO OWNERSHIP OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST

 

The Latin phrase “de facto,” literally “from the fact,” refers to reality.[3] You see, it is one thing, for example, for a contract to specify who under law is authorized to call the shots, but it is quite another thing to observe who is actually calling the shots, actually making the decisions, and actually controlling the entire operation. Ideally, of course, “de facto” is the same as “de jure.” However, that is sadly not the case in so many different situations.

Allow me to illustrate: We know from God’s Word that the husband is supposed to be the head of his household, yet it is commonplace for us to recognize and admit that despite what is written in the Bible, and despite what oaths and promises are made when two people get married, it is most common in our culture for the wife to be the “de facto” head of the house and leader of the marriage. Whenever you have a married couple with children and the wife and mother has final say concerning the disposition of her children, be it their diet, be it their attire, be it there education, or be it their discipline, then the mother is the “de facto” head of the house and leader in the home for all practical purposes. Boy, does that ruin not only marriages but also children.

Therefore, let us set aside for now a consideration of what different Christian denominations and groups of so-called Christians, and even congregations, claim about who owns the church of Jesus Christ, who owns their church, so that we might actually investigate who is the “de facto” owner of the church by a consideration of their function. Observe and then conclude who actually, and for all practical purposes, owns and runs what they insist is the church of Jesus Christ.

Without turning to any specific passage in the New Testament at this time, I would like to pose a question for your consideration: Does the church of Jesus Christ engage in any legislative activity or is the church of Jesus Christ an entity that is purely executive in its function? That is, does the church of Jesus Christ decide what is right and wrong? Does the church of Jesus Christ, for example, decide who is and who is not a saint? Does the church of Jesus Christ possess authority to depart from the clear instruction of the Bible? Or is the church of Jesus Christ supposed to be restricted to executive action, being restricted to doing what God’s Word directs them to do? Our task then is to discover and then to do His will as it is revealed in the Bible.

I am persuaded, and I hope you are persuaded as well, that God, the Word of God, and the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit to discover God’s will in the Bible, makes the church of Jesus Christ a creation of the Lord Jesus Christ that is supposed to be limited to executive action, without any authority to legislate in spiritual matters. If a congregation, or a denomination, or some religious body claiming to be the church of Jesus Christ engages in spiritual legislation, actually decides what is right and wrong, what is and is not sinful, such as who should be allowed to marry who, then that so-called church of Jesus Christ is the “de facto” owner of the church instead of Jesus Christ Himself.

 

Then, THERE IS THE DE JURE OWNERSHIP OF THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST

 

To refresh your memory, “de jure” literally means “sanctioned by law.”[4] Thus, regardless of who actually decides how the money is to be spent, how the children are to be corrected and trained, and where the family will go on vacation year after year, the husband is in fact and according to the Word of God the actual head of the household. Thus saith the Lord. What we are interested in, therefore, is not who acts like they are the head of the church of Jesus Christ by redefining what is and what is not sinful, by choosing what commandments to ignore and to obey, and by selecting what portions of God’s Word they will explain away. Such conduct is legislative and should have no part in church life. I maintain that churches are strictly limited in God’s Word to executive action, to doing what our Lord and Savior directed us to do as He gives us grace to do it. Only then is a congregation acting like what the Bible declares to be true, with Jesus Christ owning and governing His church because He created it, He sustains it, and He makes it grow.

That said, what can we find in God’s Word that provides information for us regarding the church of Jesus Christ’s relationship to Him? We begin with Matthew 16.18, where our Lord makes a statement which shows both ownership and intentions concerning His church:

 

“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.”

 

After that passage demonstrating His ownership and intentions, notice next Matthew 18.15-20, showing His instructions to His church:

 

15    Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.

16    But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

17    And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

18    Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

19    Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

20    For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

 

Now turn to Matthew 28.18-20, where we are given the Lord Jesus Christ’s authorization, commonly referred to as the Great Commission, revealing His authority over His church:

 

18    And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19    Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20    Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 

We next turn to Acts 2.47, where, on the Day of Pentecost, we see the Lord adding to His church:

 

“Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

 

We now turn to the epistles, where the Apostle Paul declares Christ to be the head of the church:

 

Ephesians 1.22: “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church. . . .”

 

Ephesians 5.23: “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”

 

Colossians 1.18: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

 

Clearly, the Apostle Paul was inspired to present the Lord Jesus Christ as the head over everything to His church, Who is the Savior of the church, and that He should have preeminence with respect to His church in every way. Our final resort is Revelation chapters two and three, where we find seven letters written to the angels of the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Read each of those letters and one thing stands out above all else; the Lord Jesus Christ in those letters exercises sovereign rule over the men placed by Him in positions of spiritual leadership. In other words, He is in charge in His church.

 

Who does the Word of God show to be in charge of the church of Jesus Christ, as its Creator, as its Lord, as its Head, as the one who provides direction to the church for dealing with sin in our midst, as the one who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth and therefore gives to us our marching orders in the form of the Great Commission so we will know how to serve Him, and who also holds our spiritual leaders accountable because He holds those church pastors in His hand, Revelation 1.16, 20?

What I have described to you from God’s Word shows to us the “de jure” head of the church, the one who on paper is supposed to be in charge. How then does it come to be that the “de jure” head of the church is the “de facto” head of the church? That is, how is the legal head of the church shown to be the practical and the actual in reality head of the church? Only when the church functions as the executive body it is shown to be in the Bible, actually doing what the Lord Jesus Christ in His Word directs us to do.

Christians sometimes sing the tune, “He is Lord. He is Lord. He is risen from the dead and He is Lord.” Those are wonderful words to say, though merely singing those words announces that Jesus Christ is the “de jure” head over His church. What reveals Him to be the “de facto” head over His church is when His church is following His direction, obeying His Word, yielding to His Spirit, engaging in the fulfillment of His Great Commission. The church in Ephesus recognized the Lord Jesus Christ as the “de jure” head of the church, by our Lord’s own testimony, in Revelation 2.2-3, without of course using the Latin phrase:

 

2      I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:

3      And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.

 

However, what was the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ not being the “de facto” head of that church, according to the Savior, in Revelation 2.4?

 

“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.”

 

We know from Second John 6 that love is obedience. Therefore, any congregation that does not comply with the Savior’s wishes has left their first love, and has become the “de facto” head of the church. Thus, what damage, what sin, what an outrage it is when we do not love our Lord enough to obey Him.

The church of Jesus Christ is His and we ought to conduct ourselves as though we truly are His. His marks of ownership should be all over us, in our countenances, in our praises, in our devotional lives, in our evangelism, with everything we do reflecting that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. That properly displays our identity as the Lord Jesus Christ’s church.



[1] Eugene Ehrlich, Amo, Amas, Amat And More, (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1985), page 97.

[2] Ibid., page 98.

[3] Ibid., page 97.

[4] Ibid., page 98.


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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org