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Christian saved by grace through faith.

Reviving the Doctrine of Church Studies

 

It’s been a few months since we visited our ongoing study regarding the form and function of church.  We left off with an introduction to the universal concept of church as defined by the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646.  Recall that generally speaking, the doctrine of the universal church finds chief support in Matthew 16:18 as compared with Matthew 18:17, though as we’ll soon see, whether rightly or wrongly some other verses are brought into the mix for support as well.

Additionally, in that last post, we looked at three key issues which have been the source of debate and disagreement regarding the nature of a universal church theory.  They were:

  1. The theory of the universal church conflates the concept of the people of God (church) with the concept of ekklesia (gathering), the New Testamen Greek word that is translated as church in our English bibles..
  2. The theory of the universal church, at its core, asserts too much continuity between Israel and the Church.
  3. The theory of the universal church is rooted in equating the church with the kingdom of God and the church with the family of God.

We left that post with anticipation of a historical look at this theory’s development and to hopefully determine whether any of these objections have merit.  That is where we find ourselves today, reviving our studies on the doctrine of the church.

In order to accomplish this historical review, we’ll lean heavily on the overview provided in the Systematic Theology of Louis Berkhof who provides a succinct history on the doctrine of the church.  I’ll be quoting him extensively as a solid, well-respected, point of reference, but ultimately to show how some of the conclusions we may reach are not unique, but have at least been mentioned in times past.  It of course does not mean that by citing him that we necessarily have come to agreement with his conclusions.  Generally speaking, Berkhof’s conclusions are typical of the Reformed tradition.

By way of continuing our review, in order to resume our series here, and as an introduction to Berkhof, we will follow his outline beginning with a well thought out introduction to the meaning and use of ekklesia in the New Testament (Old Testament as well).  For an expanded study, our post on this issue may be found here: What is an Ekklesia?

Berkhof writes,

“The New Testament also has two words derived from the Septuagint, namely, ekklesia, from ek and kaleo, “to call out,” and sunagoge, from sun and ago, meaning “to come or to bring together.”  The latter is used exclusively to denote either the religious gatherings of the Jew or the buildings in which they assembled for public worship, Matt. 4:23; Acts 13:43; Rev. 2:9; 3:9.  The term ekklesia, however, generally designates the Church of the New Testament, though in a few places it denotes common civil assemblies.” Pg. 555-556

As in our study, Berkof points out the two significant terms in the New Testament which find their roots in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint), sunagoge (synagogue) and ekklesia, which as we’ve mentioned is translated into English as church.  After doubting the validity of deriving the meaning of ekklesia from the compound of ek and kaleo, Berkhof adds,

“Deissmann (1866-1937, German Protestant) would simply render ekklesia as ‘the (convened) assembly,’ regarding God as the convener.  Because the idea of the Church is a many-sided concept, it is quite natural that the word ekklesia, as applied to it, does not always have exactly the same connotation.  Jesus was the first one to use the word in the New Testament, and He applied it to the company that gathered about Him, Matt. 16:18, recognized Him publicly as their Lord, and accepted the principles of the Kingdom of God.  It was the ekklesia of the Messiah, the true Israel.  Later on, as a result of the extension of the Church, the word acquitted various significations.  Local churches were established everywhere, and were also called ekklesiai, since they were manifestations of the one universal Church of Christ.”

Here we may observe a few noteworthy points, namely the recognition that ekklesia refers to the “convened assembly” and that Christ’s use of ekklesia, from Matthew 16:18, alluded to those who were “convened” or gathered around Him.  That’s an important point that is often neglected and may aid to ones understanding of whether Matthew 16:18 is a universal church reference or not.  Remember that this particular verse is often championed as evidence of universal church, i.e. that Christ’s use of ekklesia here necessarily implies that He is talking about the whole community of God’s people.  Contrary to this, Berkhof is describing it as the actual fellowship of those around Him, beginning with the twelve.

After this, Berkhof begins his descriptions of these various uses or connotations of ekklesia in the New Testament, the first of which he discusses is the most frequent usage.  According to him the most frequently used meaning of ekklesia “designates a circle of believers in some definite locality, a local church, irrespective of the question of whether these believers are or are not assembled for worship.”  Here, Berkhof concludes that an ekklesia may be an ekklesia, even if they are not actually gathered together.  Additionally, he concludes that regardless of whether they are gathered or not, geographic location is still a determinant factor.  He then lists several passages as examples for gathered and ungathered, which I’ve included below.[1] This of course brings up an interesting point of discussion, which we’ll take up another time, namely, is a church a church when it is not gathered.

The second use of ekklesia in the New Testament, he concludes, sometimes “denotes what may be called a domestic ekklesia, the church in the house of some individual,” citing instances of this word in Rom. 16:23; I Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15, and Philemon 2.  Along a similar line, Berkhof notes that at least once, Acts. 9:31, the word is used in the singular to denote a collection of churches from Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.  This usage is a debated passage and as he points out, “this does not yet mean that they together constituted an organization such as we now call a denomination.”

His final two uses, again by way of review for our own study here, are critical towards understanding the issue at hand, namely whether it is accurate to speak of an universal church, and if so, what exactly this should refer to.  He states, “in a more general sense the word serves to denote the whole body throughout the world, of those who outwardly profess Christ and organize for the purposes of worship, under the guidance of appointed officers.”  With some hesitancy, Berkhof suggests this is found in 1 Cor. 10:32; 11:22; 12:28 and possibly the intention for the use of ekklesia in Ephesians.  Interestingly, he doesn’t cite Matthew 16:18 as so many do, so we’ll need to examine these additional references if we’re to find evidence of a universal theory of church.  Finally, he states that the word in its “most comprehensive meaning signifies the whole body of the faithful, whether in heaven or on earth, who have been or shall be spiritually united to Christ as their Savior.”  He cites some examples that I’ve listed below.[2]

Wit this point, let’s recall the actual meaning of the word under discussion here, namely ekklesia, which refers to a gathering and note too the most frequent usage cited above.  Would it therefore be proper or accurate to refer to the whole body of the faithful, whether in heaven or on earth, or whether or not they have been united to Christ or not (saved) as the ekklesia, i.e. church?

Summarizing then these uses of ekklesia in the New Testament, at least according to Louis Berkof, we have the following

  1. A convened assembly with God as Covener.
  2. First used by Christ in Matthew 16:18 – a reference to those convened about Him.
  3. A circle of believers in a definite geographic location.
  4. May or may not be gathered together (for worship), meaning that they may be called a church whether they are physically present together.
  5. Ekklesia in the New Testament often referred to a gathering in a particular house of an individual.
  6. Ekklesia may generally refer to the collected body of believers throughout the world.
  7. The most comprehensive meaning of ekklesia refers to the whole body of believers, whether in heaven or on earth, who have been united to Christ.

After giving an overview of how the meaning of the English word “church” was transferred to the use of ekklesia, which we looked at earlier in this post, Berkhof overviews other scriptural concepts that refer to the people of God (i.e. Body of Christ, Temple of the Holy Spirit, New Jerusalem/Jerusalem above, Pillar and ground of the truth) and then opens up his section on The Doctrine of the Church in History.  Here is where we will pick up in the next post for the purpose of understanding how this concept of the universal church has developed in history.

In the meantime, you can get caught up on this series here:

[1]Assembled: Acts 5:11; 11:26; 1 Cor. 11:18; 14:19,28,35; Not assembled: Rom. 16:4; 1 Cor. 16:1; Gal. 1:2; 1 Thess. 2:14

[2]Eph. 1:22; 3:10, 21; 5:23-25, 27, 32; Col. 1:18,24

Stop Asking Why

 

Why is it when tragedy strikes the first question asked is Why? Why is it when personal affliction hits the first question asked is Why? Why is it when a gunman enters a church, the first question we want answered is why?  Why is it when storms hit, the question we want answered is why?  Why is it when a child has cancer, we want to ask why?  Why do we keep asking why?

One theologian has posited that we keep asking why because

“Our minds crave an answer.

Why do we ask why?

We cannot help but ask why because, made in God’s image, we are moral creatures who cannot grasp or understand the world around us without moral categories. We are moral creatures inhabiting a moral universe and our moral sense of meaning is the faculty most perplexed when overwhelmed by horror and grief.”

While quite frankly I have difficulty digesting such grandiose statements, for him at least, he is summarizing what he sees as the innate desire in humans to ask why in the midst of grief.  Another has offered his own opinion on the matter by beginning his best selling book with the following, “There is only one question  which really matters: Why do bad things happen to good people?”  He then spends 8 chapters attempting to answer this question.

In the book of Job, two parties wrestle with the “why” question in the case of Job’s affliction.  Because of this, the book has often been viewed as having the answer to why suffering exists in the world and more broadly why evil exists, sometimes called theodicy. These two parties, Job and his friends, wrestle with the question of why and reach their own conclusions.  The latter, as has been stated before, concluded that the answer to why God afflicts must be directly related to sin.  Broadly this is true.  As a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world and in this way all affliction is the product of sin.

However, specifically, as in the case of Job, this is not true, at least not necessarily.  Job was afflicted, but there was no direct correlation with sin, either hidden or open, that was the direct cause.  In the case of Job, his wrestling with the why of his own affliction left him questioning the justice, wisdom, and ultimately the goodness of God.  Job’s conclusion, or answer to the why question, was that God arbitrarily afflicts both the righteous and the unrighteous for no apparent reason.  Conversely, He also blesses the unrighteous.

With the arrival of Elihu into the verbal fray at chapter 32, we have yet a third party arriving to address the question why.  For the first time, the knot of this tangled difficulty begins to be loosened somewhat as he provides at least some reasons, unmentioned previously, for why God afflicts.

However, as Yahweh appears on the scene in chapter 38, the question, or rather the answer, to “why” never even remotely comes up.  For essentially 37 chapters, and in reality who knows how much actual time had elapsed, we have been waiting for an answer to the question of why Job was allowed to be afflicted, if he was righteous.  Extrapolating this question from the context to our present reading of the book, and we may say that we too, along with Job, often find ourselves waiting for an answer to the question “why?”.  Why does God afflict?  Why does suffering happen?  Why are there disasters, disease, and death?  Surely God must answer our interrogations because of our perplexity, grief, and moral creatureliness, as the theologian cited above stated.  Right?

Absolutely not!  In fact, God’s first address to Job is, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? “  God’s answer to the why question begins with a who question, specifically, who are you to ask why.  The answer to Job ‘s inquisition in simple terms is also the answer that the Apostle Paul gives in Romans 9 for those who like to question the Almighty, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?'” Romans 9:20  Contrary to the two views from the theologian and author above in our introduction, we don’t ask why because we are moral agents looking for moral categories in a moral universe.  We demand answers to why because we are immoral creatures living in a fallen world who have failed to come to terms with the WHO.  In order for Job, and by necessary consequence us, to answer rightly this question of “who” we must see ourselves in light of Who God is.

This is precisely how God answers Job in His four chapter long rebuke.  God, fully aware of the questions that have been levied against His character responds, not by self-justifying His wisdom for why He has chosen to act in a particular way, but answers by reestablishing in the minds of His hearers WHO it is that is acting.  The why matters very little, contrary to the author cited above.  In fact, as finite, sinful creatures we would rarely be satisfied with the why even if God should condescend to answer it.  Instead, as God in His majestic wisdom knows, most often our question of why is due to our failure to properly recognize the WHO.  This WHO in the book of Job begins with God as Creator.

Building upon this, God establishes Himself as Sustainer of all that He has created.  Far from being a cosmic clock-winder that simply starts up creation and is hands off the daily operation, God informs Job that it is He that sustains creation.  In doing so, God also highlights several of His attributes, namely His sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, justice, and most certainly His freedom. Perhaps it is this last attribute that causes the most consternation among those who experience affliction or witness calamity in general because it firmly asserts that God is God and we are not, therefore He is free to do as He pleases and answers to no one.

The answer to the why question begins with a “who”, namely who are we to ask such a question. This who necessarily drives us to ask WHO God is and provides clarity for us to view ourselves as finite creatures and God as infinite Creator.  When affliction strikes, and it will, or when calamity happens again, and it will, may we be less prone to ask why and more prone to seek the WHO falling on our faces before the Almighty in recognition of His supreme wisdom to order the creation as He sees fit.  Let us then rest in His justice and goodness knowing well that He has divine freedom to do as He pleases.  Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?  Most Assuredly this is so.

Finding Christ in Job

 

Having looked at some keys to interpreting the Book of Job in it’s context, it would be irresponsible to leave our studies without addressing its foundational impact on the New Testament, but more specifically how this book anticipates the coming of Christ and informs our understanding of His person and work.  Often, Luke 24:25-27;44-47 has been cited as a principal for how we should allow the Old Testament to inform our understanding of Christ.   In applying this, we must also allow the New Testament to guide our understanding of the Old Testament.  A simple way to view this relationship is the familiar phrase of Augustine, “The New  is in the Old concealed.  The Old is in the New revealed.”  Another way to consider this is that while the Old is foundational to the New, the New is the fulfillment of the Old.  Divorcing this relationship has historically led to a myriad of interpretive difficulties.

There are a few general ways in which this relationship between Old and New Testaments have traditionally been understood, which we’ll mention below, but most importantly we must understand that all of Scripture, its 66 books, is divinely inspired, meaning that above all it has one central Author, the Almighty God, and that His revelation of Himself is perfectly consistent from book to book, human author to human author (1 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21).

A few of the ways in which the Old and New relate to each other are by way of

  1. Direct quotations of the Old in the New
  2. Echoes, how one may see one book or passage resonating with another
  3. Allusions, a passing references of one passage seen in another that may or may not be fleshed out in its original context
  4. Types, a relationship of lesser to greater between people, places, events or institutions (type–>antitype)

Examples of each abound in Job, as in the rest of the Old Testament, while we could certainly spend time examining each of these ways in which Scripture uses, relates, and interprets itself, our focus here will be on how Job himself is a major typological contributor to understanding the person and work of Jesus Christ.  A clear, implicit example of a type/antitype relationship is found in Romans 5:14 as it describes Adam/Christ,

“Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”

Here we see that Adam is called a type of Christ, who appears as the second , albeit greater, Adam.  Returning to Job, in a sense, he lays for us the foundation of how to understand the justice, goodness, and certainly the freedom of God in afflicting the righteous, which culminates in the sin-bearing, wrath-absorbing death of His Son Jesus Christ, by means of a typological relationship with Christ, Job as the type, Christ as the antitype.  He does so in numerous ways, but chief among them is the pattern of a suffering servant, which Christ supersedes as the Suffering Servant.  The type/antitype relationship may be seen in the following summary observations from Job:

  1. The Righteousness of Job
  2. The Priestly character of Job
  3. The Pleasure of God
  4. The Temptation from Satan
  5. The Loss of Possessions
  6. The Physical Suffering of Job
  7. The Derision of Job
  8. The Abandonment of Job Psalm 22:1-2; Matthew 27:46
  9. The Words of Job 1 Peter 2:22; Isaiah 53:9
  10. The Submission of Job
  11. The Vindication Job
  12. The Exaltation of Job

Working through the Book of Job chronologically, the first point of contact between Job and Christ we come to is the righteous character of Job in Job 1:1.  As we’ve discussed before, this righteousness must be taken seriously in order to rightly interpret the book of Job, however, it does not mean that Job was sinless, as per his own admission as well as his final repentant statement in chapter 42.  Nevertheless, the suffering of this righteous man points us to the greater righteousness of another suffering man, the God-man Christ Jesus.  Our Lord was not merely righteous by external standards, but was and is completely holy and sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; 1 John 3:5; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Next, we are informed of the priestly character of Job in offering frequent sacrifices to God on behalf of his children (Job 1:5).  It would be enough to consider this aspect of Job’s priesthood alone, though as the book concludes we know that Job again performs a role of mediation between God and man, though this time of his “enemies” (Job 42:8-9).  Again working from the lesser to the greater, or from type to antitype, the priestly character of our Lord is far superior than that witnessed in Job, first because as mentioned Christ was sinless and needed no sacrifice for Himself (Hebrews 7:26-27).  Second, his sacrifice was not merely anticipatory as those under the Old Covenant, but His was efficacious, truly satisfying the wrath of God.  Third, our Lord’s priesthood was not merely the sacrifice of an animal, but of Himself (Hebrews 9:11-14; 2:17; John 1:29; 1 John 2:2).

Moving on to our third observation, we read of God’s pleasure with Job by boasting of his righteousness and offering him up to Satan (Job 2:3).  In a similar fashion, we read of God’s commendation of His only begotten Son in Matthew 3:17, “and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  An additional, more comprehensive passage may be found in Isaiah 42:1-9.  Fourth, is that of the Satan’s temptation of Job, through loss of property, family, and health.  Christ too was tempted by Satan, but in a far more direct manner, though Christ Himself had voluntarily experienced far greater losses and was depleted of food, water, shelter, family, and friends in the wilderness, yet He was victorious in every way (Matthew 4:1-11).  Likewise, our Lord was faced with the day to day temptations that this life brings, as well as the added pressures upon Him for being the Son of God ( John 6:15), yet he was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Fifth, and related, was the loss of possessions that Job had experienced, including his children and health.  Again, we point that Christ’s losses were far greater, yet He willingly laid them all aside (Philippians 2:7-8).

Next, and most prominently, is the suffering of Job.  Here we want to broadly consider Job’s sufferings, which could include the majority of the list we’re examining.  Though Job’s suffering is well chronicled throughout the book, including the marring of his physical appearance to the point of being unrecognized (Job 2:12), Christ’s sufferings were far greater (Isaiah 52:14).  The principle passage for our consideration is a familiar one, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, detailing the Suffering Servant.  Here we read of the prophecy of Christ’s coming as Sufferer

  1. Marred physical appearance beyond recognition
  2. No form, majesty, or beauty; undesirable
  3. Despised and rejected by men
  4. A man of sorrows
  5. Acquainted with grief
  6. Despised and unesteemed
  7. Bore our griefs, carried our sorrows
  8. Afflicted by God
  9. Pierced for our transgressions; crushed for our iniquities;
  10. Chastised to bring about peace
  11. Wounded to bring healing
  12. Bore the sins of man
  13. Oppressed and afflicted
  14. Led like a lamb to slaughter
  15. Buried among the wicked
  16. Crushed by the Father
  17. Anguished in soul
  18. Poured out His soul to death
  19. Numbered with the transgressors
  20. Bore the sins of many
  21. Made intercession for the transgressors

Seventh and eighth from our list of observations above on the type/antitype from Job, we consider the derision and abandonment that he faced from his friends, family, and even the young men in the town square (Job 12:4;17:6; 29:7-10, 21-25; 30:9-15) .  So too did our Lord face a similar, though greater derision,

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,[d] and they gathered the whole battalion before him.28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” Matthew 27:27-31

As previously discussed, Job is comprised of monologues and dialogues and speech or words having to do with speech comprise nearly a quarter of the words in Job.  As the conclusion of Job indicates, particularly the speeches of Elihu and Yahweh, Job’s words were bounded with pride and often bordered on blasphemy.  In a very real way, Job was far too free with his words and allowed the circumstances of affliction to stir up indwelling sin and overflow into the words of his mouth.  Conversely when our Lord faced derision and abandonment, suffering and anguish, though He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, He never uttered a word in return.  Note 1 Peter 2:22-23, citing Isaiah 53:9

22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

As the Book of Job concludes, we are drawn once again to the words of Job, though much briefer and penitnent this time around, as he repents of his words towards God (Job 42:1-6).  By way of this contrition and recognition of God’s majesty, Job submits to the divine affliction that he has endured.  Keep in mind, to this point he has no indication that the affliction will subside.  As to the greater, Christ submitted to the will of the Father from beginning to end,

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”

Finally, the vindication and exaltation of Job draw our minds to the greater vindication that Christ received from the Father, namely resurrection from the dead, and His own exaltation to right hand of the throne of God.

19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1:19-23

The sufferings of Job serve as a two-way lens through which on one side we may see the sufferings of Christ magnified while through the other our own sufferings minimized.  The sufferings of Job, great as they were, pale in comparison to the sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only did He bear the marks of suffering in His physical body, which is important, but He bore the weight of sin and the wrath of God.  May Job be an encouragement to us in our sufferings and afflictions, but ultimately may he point us to Christ, who suffered for us willingly, bearing the wrath of God for sin for all who believe.  He also is our far greater example for persevering in our suffering.

1 Peter 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”