PROTESTANTISM, THE CHURCHÂ—OF GOD OR MAN?
Lecture given by Mr. N. Roe, (Pastor, Mt. Olivet Chapel, Sheffield), at Evington Chapel, Leicester, 1965.
In consideration of the importance of Protestant teaching concerning the Church of God an attempt will be made to answer the question, “Is it of God or Man?” The truth of Divine revelation concerning the Church of God is a great mystery and Paul, writing to the Ephesian church states, “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (5, 32). The words of the Lord, in the gospel according to Mark, (4, 11), are also emphatic when, replying to His disciples’ question as to why He spoke in parables. He said, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God; but to them that are without, all these things are done in parables”. How dependent we must be upon the teaching of the Holy Spirit as we consider this “Mystery”.
There are three questions which we should consider with the Lord’s help,Â—
First. What is meant by the “Church”?
Second. What is the true church, and who are the members of it?
Third. What are the outward signs by which we may distinguish the true church?
The Church, What Is It?
What do we mean by the “Church”? “Surely”, it may be said, “When we hear so many declaring that they belong to the true Church, this is not a difficult question to answer”. But can these claims be justified? How solemnly true it is, that in every age there are those who claim to be members of the “Church” and yet many of these may be but members or adherents of a “Church” which is of man only. The Pharisees were sure that they were the people of God, but the Lord clearly taught them that they had set aside the truths of God and had substituted the traditions of men. Throughout Christendom today there are many who still claim to be of the true church; such is the claim of the Church of Rome, and yet they are teaching, with the utmost fervour, the traditions of men instead of the truth and doctrine of the Word of God.
What is the meaning of the word “Church”? The simple meaning of the word is, “An assembly of called out people”. This is completely descriptive of the true church of God, for it consists of an assembly of people called out by the gracious and distinctive teaching of the Holy Spirit. In the churches which claim the name of God or Christ there are many that clearly shew that they have no right to claim to be the true church as it is described in the word of God. Looking upon many denominations of “Christians” today and seeing the materialistic worldliness and ritualism that is so prevalent, whereas we should see the shining of God-given truth, a spiritual lamp, must we not ask, “Can ever God dwell here?” The present-day picture is a sad one. Many are most actively seeking unity among all the varied denominations of churches but, upon a basis most solemnly contrary to the teaching of the Word of God which declares the necessity of complete separation from all apostacy. The true Church of Christ is most graciously and truly united in the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ and HERE alone IS the true unity of the true Church.
The Church, Who Are Its Members?
Who are the members of the true Church? The true Church of Christ is exclusively the work of God from beginning to end and was founded in the glorious Covenant of God from before the foundation of the world. If the foundation and building of this Church depended, in any degree, upon the integrity and ability of man then the building must fall and be destroyed for that which comes from the corrupt stock of human nature can only be corrupt.
The Lord has founded the one true Church upon Himself and Jesus Christ is the chief Corner Stone of that glorious building. In the Word of God there are several illustrations given of the Church of God and the following are three of these:Â—
(i) The Church of God is compared to a building of which Jesus Christ is a sure foundation and abiding comer stone.
(ii) This Church is also compared to the body of a man of which the Head is the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
(iii) The Church of God is described also as a Bride, the wife of Christ.
These three comparisons do wonderfully declare the Covenant love, mercy and grace of God toward His chosen people.
Having Christ as the sure foundation, the Church is exclusively the work of God, His own gracious work from eternity, when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit entered into an everlasting Covenant in which the Father chose a people for His own honour and glory, not because of any good he foresaw in them but because He would do so of His own will. In His love and sovereign mercy the Son of God undertook to redeem these people from the curse of a broken, dreadfully violated holy law, the Law of God. In the same everlasting covenant the Holy Spirit undertook to “Call out” those whom the Father chose and the Son redeemed, so that they might really know themselves and know Him whom to know is life eternal.
Consider the Church as a glorious building built upon the one foundation, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God. Christ himself teaches this after asking Peter, “Whom say ye that I am?” and Peter replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”. The Lord said to Peter then, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. (Matthew 16, 15-18). Not, as the Roman church erroneously teaches, that it is upon Peter that the Lord did build the church, but upon that Holy One so blessedly confessed by faith when Peter declares of Christ that He is the Son of the living God. Upon that great abiding Rock, the Man, Christ Jesus, was built the Church of God, “The general assembly and church of the firstborn” (Hebrews 12, 23), and upon Him alone.
Peter teaches this most clearly, (1 Peter 2, 4-8), “To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious. Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore it is contained in the Scripture, Behold I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed”.
The “Stones” of this building are all “Hewn out of the quarry of human nature” and are dead in sin and hard of heart, but by the gracious quickening of the Holy Spirit they are awakened to life and shaped by the gracious work of the same Holy Spirit to take their place upon that “Corner Stone “.
During the building of the Temple of Solomon the noise of the mason’s hammer or carpenter’s axe was not to be heard. All had to be prepared outside of the temple precincts so exactly that it could be fitted into the position which was planned for it. So it is with the members of this mystical temple. By the work of the Holy Spirit these “Lively stones” are “Made meet for the Master’s use”, (2 Tim. 2, 21), and to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. This church, “Is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord. In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2, 20-22). Here is shewn the durability of the Church of Christ. The Lord Himself declares “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16, 18). The powers of hell, the devil and all his angels together with the malice and evil of men, has continuously assailed the Church of Christ, but because of its foundation and protection this blessed habitation, built for the worship of God, shall never be destroyed.
The Body of Christ
The Church of God is also described in Holy Scriptures as “The body of Jesus Christ”. This is a great mystery, beyond the ability of reason to understand. In this is shewn the “Closeness” of the Church of God to the Lord Jesus Christ and its complete dependance upon Him. Is there any closer union than that which exists between the head and the body of a person? So as the Church is described as the “Body of Christ” there is shewn a sacred union which none can sever. There is much seeking for unity today but, thanks be to God, the Church was never divided from Christ, her blessed Head, and does receive from Him all gracious direction and instruction.
The Bride of Christ
What a blessed description is that given of the Church when described as the “Bride of Christ”. Hear the words of Paul, when writing to the Ephesians, (5, 25-29), “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. 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. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church”.
Here is shewn the great love of Christ to His Church which he undertook completely to redeem. What a precious truth is taught here. The Church of Christ is shewn as being “Without spotÂ—holy and without blemish”, holy before a Holy God. How can these things be? For when we consider the state of the visible
church and churches today it appears to be very far from this condition.
The members of the true Church of God differ in nothing from the rest of mankind in the flesh. They are corrupt in their nature and come from the corrupt stock of Adam. When Adam, their universal father, fell into sin and guilt before God the whole of his posterity fell with him (“As in Adam all die”, I Corinth. 15, 22). Before God we are sinners indeed and God cannot look upon such but with great displeasure. Unless the grace and mercy of God prevent, all men must come under the sore and eternal condemnation of a Holy God.
From whence then does the Church obtain this blessed holiness as it is taught in Ephesians 5; this beauty in which to appear before God, holy and acceptable in His sight? Truly it is in the blessed bridegroom of the Church, the Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ; in His finished atoning work and in that alone. The Bride of Christ, in this way, is gloriously described in the Revelation of John, (Chapter 19), where we read, “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted, that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints”. How great is this love of Christ to His Church that “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinth. 8, 9).
Yes, such was His love that Christ was willing to endure, and able to endure the whole wrath of God against the iniquity of each and all the members of that One blessed Church.
The Signs of The True Church
Consider further the question as to how we may be able to distinguish the members of the true Church from that which is of man. Is it not in the nature of its teaching and the effect of that teaching upon its members? The Lord Himself said, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7, 16-20). What is the “FRUIT” of the teaching of the churches which constitute what is called Christendom, all with their varied and conflicting doctrines. Indeed, what is their authority for these? Without hesitation I state this solemn conviction, which is that of the church of God in all ages, that the only authority for Faith, Hope and Practice is to be found in Holy Scripture, the Word of God. If we deny this authority we deny the TRUTH, the Word of God given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In this Word the true Church is most carefully described and its teaching and practice is shewn in detail.
The True and The False
There are those religious organisations who claim that they are the “True Church” and that all who are outside of their pale have no hope of salvation. Let us consider the claim of such, especially the Church of Rome which is a great “Religious” organisation and gaining adherents rapidly in many places. In
this land the Church of Rome is exceedingly active in its propaganda. In the town in which I live, (Then in Northampton. Ed.), on a Sunday morning over 4,000 persons will attend the Roman Catholic cathedral. Let us not be mistaken, for the Church of Rome is making mighty efforts to subjugate Britain to the Papal yoke. The Roman priesthood wields great power over those who admit its claims; but what are they? Let us examine them by the light of the word of God, the Holy Scriptures.
A claim is made that the head of their church, the Pope, is in direct apostolic succession to the apostle Peter and that he is the great Vicar of Christ on earth, the head of the true church outside of which there is no salvation. Here the Papacy stumbles at that stone upon which the church of Christ is builded instead of building thereon. They erroneously teach a false foundation in Peter. By the great grace of God Peter was an apostle, greatly used of God and made of rich blessing to the true church of Christ. Peter could never have been the foundation of the Church for he needed to be built upon a sure foundation himself. Peter was but a man, a lineal descendant of Adam, prone to sin of which we have evidence in the record of his life contained in the Scriptures. There is no good historical evidence that Peter was ever in Rome or that he was the Bishop of Rome.
Very solemnly, the word of God teaches that “God shall send them strong delusions that they should believe a lie” (2 Thessalonians 2, 11). How false, how dreadfully contrary to the whole of the teaching of the word of God, is the assertion that the church of Christ is founded upon a man, a poor sinful man though saved by grace in Christ Jesus.
Added to this is the teaching that the way of salvation is of the “Free will” of man or by the observation of various traditions of men that have no warrant of Christ or His word. On the contrary the teaching of the TRUE Church is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. The ONE and ONLY hope of the Church and the ONLY Saviour of poor, sinful men is Christ Jesus. The only way to God is through the atoning blood and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Romish perversions of these simple but blessed doctrines will not bear the light of Divine truth and still must be condemned.
There are many persons who claim to be “Protestants” but do all such form part of the one Church of Christ? Can the claim of the Anglican church that the King or Queen of this land is the “Head of the Church” be substantiated by the teaching of the word of God? Though through the effects of the glorious Reformation the Anglican Church has been greatly reformed since it was severed from Rome by Henry VIII as a result of his quarrel with the Pope over his divorce plans; yet today there is clear evidence that many of the errors of the church of Rome are rapidly spreading in the Church of England. The false traditions of men
are taught instead of the truths of the word of God in so many of the Protestant churches today.
But, to come closer home, what of the teaching and practices of the Baptist Churches today? Here is an extract from the Nonconformist catechism first published in 1773 which states that the Scriptural order of a church of Christ is:
“A congregation or voluntary society of Christians, who commonly meet together to attend Gospel ordinances in the same place and every society has a right to transact its own affairs according to the judgment and conscience of the members thereof, without being accountable to any but Jesus Christ, or restrained ay any laws but His”.
In the face of such an exposition of the constitution and practice of the Church of Christ, how difficult it is to distinguish the Church today. But, thanks be to God, there is still a remnant who desire to teach and practise that which Scripturally marks the true church of God. May we be found among those who would cleave to the Lord and hold fast to His revealed truth.
The Teaching of the True Church
Let us consider briefly the teachings and practice of the true church according to the Scriptures of Truth.
In the Word of God we are taught, and would teach, that there is One God in three glorious persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who, in the beginning, created this world and all things. By the power and purpose of this great God all things exist and continue. God hath given, through His Word, a revelation of man, perfect in his creation but ruined and lost by reason of his sin and depravity of heart, mind and will. The true church teaches that which the Scriptures so clearly state, that there is only one way of salvation from this death in sin, and it is to be found alone to the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. Here is the one foundation of the Church and its teaching, and there is no acceptance for sinners before God but through the finished work of righteousness and atonement in the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The true church also teaches what the Scriptures declare as being vitally necessary to the knowledge of this great salvation that has been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ, which is the regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit, as the Lord declared to Nicodemus “Ye must be born again”. (John 5), and also of that sanctifying and sealing operation of the same blessed Spirit in the souls of His people. This work is dependant on the grace of God aloneÂ—”For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast”. (Eph. 2, 8 & 9). It teaches also the final perseverance of the people of God; that all those whom God the Father chose. God the Son redeemed and God the Holy Spirit called, shall be brought at last through the irresistible
grace of God to that place that He has prepared for them, even heaven. God’s blest abode.