Nature of NT Church

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by HisRobes4Mine, May 4, 2019.

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  1. HisRobes4Mine

    HisRobes4Mine Puritan Board Freshman

    Hey Everyone,

    I’m currently working through how to understand the nature of the church in the NT. As someone who leans toward a Presbyterian theology, I’m struggling to see how a Presbyterian understanding of theology lines up with what I read in NT epistles about the church being “saints” “faithful in Christ” “elect” etc. In my understanding, those descriptions line up with those who are elect in Christ who have been washed and redeemed by his blood.

    If we are to understand the NC as teaching that there is a mixed community i.e. visible/invisible distinctions in the church, how are we to reconcile the descriptions with the Presbyterian understanding of the church.

    Maybe I am not fully understanding the nature of the church in the NT. I’m looking to learn. If you have any articles, books, or sermons I can go to that would be greatly appreciated.
  2. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Greetings in the Lord, dear brother.
    I will point you to all the warning passages in the NT (especially in the book of Hebrews); Paul, et. al. calls these 'brethren'. Since both of us would agree that the regenerated elect cannot fall away, who are these writers referring to if there isn't a 'mixed community'?

    The Church has always had an internal/external distinction. Some are truly converted, others, not.

    Consider that the Pastor is to 'Preach the gospel'.
  3. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Only those who have been saved and reborn again by grace of God would be part of the true Church of Christ. The true Church would be comprised of all of the redeemed of the Lord.
  4. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    At times the church is addressed what it is ideally or invisibly and at other times what it is at present or visibly (WCF 25.1-2). This is true not only in the New Testament but also in the Old (noting that all parties agree that God's people were, at this time, a mixed multitude): Numbers 23:21, Jeremiah 50:20. These texts and others like them indicate that there is no sin or impurity amongst Israel but from the history preceding and following we know that much sin remained amongst them (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-7, including unbelief Hebrews 3:15-4:2)

    Understanding this distinction between the visible and the invisible church is crucial not only with respect to our theology of the church but to our reading of scripture and how we reconcile paradoxical texts. We can choose to ignore one set in favour of the other or we can work towards harmonizing the whole.

    I would suggest a thorough study of Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25 and its prooftexts.
  5. RPEphesian

    RPEphesian Puritan Board Sophomore

    It's not a mistake to say that the elect and those in union with Christ are the church. After all, the church is the communion of the saints, clearly. The church is for them, for Christ to govern them, to grant the benefits of the Covenant of Grace to them. If there are no elect, and there are none in union with Christ, there would be no church on earth. And it is true that there will ultimately be a church administration where there is no difference between the visible and invisible.

    However, the true church and the governance of the church are still two different thing. The New Testament makes it clear that even with the language you've quoted, the government of the church of the New Testament is itself mixed and administered accordingly. Christ taught it would be, administered it this way Himself, the apostles followed Christ's example, and it will not be administered any other way until Christ comes back.

    The Olive Tree of Romans 11
    The big one for me was the olive tree in Romans 11. We know a few things.
    • One, it must be the church, because we know the elect are joined to it. There are no rival institutions.
    • We know that there is a fatness of the root which gives life to the tree, and that must be Christ. If not, what else would it be?
    • We know too that a person is joined in by belief because v. 20 says that some are broken off by unbelief, but to those who abide he says "but thou standest by faith"; so, one joins by belief. So we know this is the church.

    Well then, how are branches broken off? We can either dispose with our Calvinism on this passage, or we can understand that there are two different aspects to the church: those join its society by profession only, and those joined by real faith. Those who are joined by profession only will eventually be excluded on the grounds of their fruitlessness. However, for the true people of God the connection to the olive tree becomes connection with the sap, and they are nourished.

    So, right here is the twofold visible/invisible aspect of the church. Are those hypocritical branches savingly joined to Christ? No. Does Christ put the church in spiritual governance over them? Clearly yes.

    Christ the Vine, Parallel to the Olive Tree
    Christ says it in another place in these words:

    John 15:1–2, 5 - I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit... I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

    There are two different abidances. In Christ (under Church's governance only), but not Christ in them, vs. they in Christ and Christ in them. And in the whole context of John 15-17 it is apparent that there is a real difference. Some do abide in Him, but for those in whom Christ does not abide, the prayers of John 17 bring them no salvific benefits. If that sounds strange, we just remember that Christ said both. And it's a warning to us. And Christ in John 15 is repeating the principle that He had expounded time and time again in other parables--not all of Israel are true Israel. Perhaps Christ governs you with His officers and gives you His ordinances (ie. Connected to the vine or olive tree), and in this way only you have a connection to Christ, but for all those outward privileges you may still perish.

    The Vine Analogy Confirmed by Parables
    Christ also spoke in many other parables--the ten virgins, the wheat and tares, the good and bad fish, the barren fig tree--that the visible church on earth will inevitably be mixed, the difference between true and false will typically not be discernible. Were it possible, we would not have these parables, and there would be no need for excommunication. Even worse--if we aim to maintain a church of 100% regenerate members, we risk pulling up the wheat with the tares--and Christ was more zealous to prevent that than weed out the tares. Not even the perfect angels who excel us in knowledge and understanding were given permission to do this, though they would be more qualified than any of us. Far better to let the hypocrites dwell among the saints than to break the bruised reeds and quench the smoldering wicks.

    Side note: Don't get hung up on the word "world." However you take it, whether the world of the professing church or the whole earth, the principle remains the same: among those who make profession there are wheat and tares. If angels are forbidden to try to discern them without clear and convincing evidence (as spelled out in other passages), then so are we. Whatever you do, don't endanger the wheat.

    Why then "Elect" and "Saints"?
    The church is the communion of the saints, and they are foundational to the visible governance, and the governance exists for them. So why does Christ admit unbelievers, and why is He so far from encouraging us to discern the truly regenerate that He discourages it? Why this break between the true Israel and those who are only outwardly connect? Perhaps it's best to say that the New Testament teaches both and let Christ deal with the fallout :) Such a thing may ultimately end up being too high and wonderful for us. Though, others can give much better answers than I can.

    Is it true that Romans 8 says, "If any man does not belong to Christ, He is none of His"? Yes. Christ still calls that false professor a branch in John 15:2, and Paul calls them such in Romans 11. Is it true that only those who are "born of the will of God" John 1:13 are the only true children of God? Indeed. But go back to Romans 11. Christ still called the Jews in the previous verse, "His own", the ones to whom throughout the whole Old Testament that Christ Himself exhibited Himself in the ordinances of circumcision, passover, the sacrifices, and many other ways. And if someone wants to say "his own" refers to only His according to the flesh as Israelite brethren, Romans 11, they are the olive tree for which Christ was the sap. They are His own as physical brothers, but also His own as the one who gave life to their olive tree.

    There's much more that can be said, but there's some of the New Testament teaching.

    If you want further reading, check out "The Church of Christ" by James Bannerman. There's a good chapter in there toward the beginning on the visible/invisible distinction.
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
  6. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Under the administration of the OC though, there were some who were saved and others were not, but now under the NC administration, all under it are redeemed and now saved.
  7. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

  8. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

  9. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Not really. The epicenter of this is that the Church is NOT a New Testament phenomenon (as u think). The Hebrew and Septuagint supports the church in the OT, as do some NT texts.
  10. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    This conclusion does not follow from the evidence. If one grants that both the OT & NT address the church or the people of God as those who are saved and in other places as those who are not saved, then it cannot be that "all under it [ed. the NC administration] are saved." For the question remains: under what covenant are those in the NT who are not saved that are, at the same time, being addressed as part of the church? Further, how would they be distinguished from those in the OT who are also addressed as part of the church?
  11. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    One of the main provisions of the OC, under the Mosaic law, was to have God grant physical and material blessings to those who obeyed Him, but not all who were numbered as being in Israel were actually under that OC, but all who come under the spiritual aspects of the NC had to be now saved.
  12. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    The key question here is: Why do you specify in the NT? Why do you apparently think the question you bring up applies in New Testament times but not in previous times?

    Before we get to that, let's look at New Testament language about the church. Jesus' Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30 and Matthew 13:36-43) is helpful. In it, Jesus confirms what we know from other Scripture and from experience: unbelievers grow up amid true believers. In verse 41, Jesus speaks as if all of them are in "his kingdom," which might lead us to think all are saved. But no. Although they all are in a sense part of the kingdom for a time, the weeds are cast into the furnace at the end of the age.

    It should not surprise us that the rest of the New Testament speaks the same way Jesus spoke, addressing the church as a whole as "saints" or "the elect." Like Jesus did, those other authors often describe the whole church in terms of the eternal benefits true believers receive even though some unbelieving "weeds" may be mixed in during this age. It is pastorally important, actually, that the Bible speaks this way. True believers need to hear from the Scripture who they are in terms of their final destiny. God builds hope and confidence in us when he speaks to us this way.

    Now, what about the Old Testament? It speaks the same way. Moses addresses the whole assembly of Israel as "sons of the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 14:1). That might sound like all of them are elect, but the rest of Deuteronomy makes it clear that some might not be true believers. Through Ezekiel, God tells all the returning exiles "I will put my Spirit within you" (Ezekiel 36:27) and "I cleanse you from all your iniquities" (Ezekiel 36:33). But all the returned exiles were not saved; some were weeds.

    So it turns out that when Jesus and the New Testament writers use the same kind of language, they aren't doing anything new. They are speaking words that fit those who will be saved in the end, because believers need to think of themselves in this eternal sense and know those blessings to be true. And they speak them to the entire ecclesia, often warning that in this age weeds may be mixed in with the good grain. This is simply God's way of speaking to his people, in both testaments.
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
  13. C. M. Sheffield

    C. M. Sheffield Puritan Board Junior

    That's because, with all due respect to my Presbyterian friends, it doesn't.

    Notwithstanding the many who will explain away this simple and straightforward truth, it is correct.

    Hear John Gill on the subject...

    The persons who are fit materials of a visible gospel church, are described,

    1st. As regenerate persons; “Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit,” of the grace of the Spirit of God, “he cannot enter,” of right he ought not to enter, and, if known, ought not to be allowed to enter, “into the kingdom of God,” into a gospel church state; none but such who are begotten again to a lively hope of the heavenly inheritance, and who, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word and ordinances, that they may grow thereby, having tasted that the Lord is gracious; or, in other words, of whom it is “meet to think,” and, in a judgment of charity and discretion, to hope and conclude that God hath begun a “good work” in them; such were the members of the church at Philippi (Phil. 1:6, 7).

    2nd. As called ones; a church is a congregation of such who are called out from among others, by the grace of God; both the Hebrew and Greek words קהלה and εκκλησια, signify an assembly of persons called and convened together; so the members of the church at Rome are styled, “the called of Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 1:6) such who are called out of the world, and from fellowship with the men of it, “into the fellowship of Jesus Christ”: such who are proper materials of a gospel church, are such who are called out of a state of bondage to sin, Satan, and the law, into the liberty of the gospel; and out of darkness into marvellous light; and are called with an holy calling, and called to be saints, not merely by the external ministry of the word, to outward holiness of life and conversation, who are never effectually called by the grace of God, nor have any appearance of it, and so unfit to be members of churches; for,

    3rd. Such are not only called to be saints, but in and by the effectual calling become really saints, at least are judged to be so, by a charitable discretion of them; so the members of the churches at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, and Colosse, are described as “saints,” and “sanctified” persons, and as “holy temples,” built for habitations of an holy God; hence they are called “churches of the saints,” because they consist of such; and Christ, who is King and head of the church, is called “King of saints” (1 Cor. 14:33; Rev. 15:3).

    4th. They are described as the “faithful in Christ Jesus,” or believers in him: so in the article of the church of England a church is defined, “A congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered.” For only faithful men, or believers in Christ, can have fellowship with the saints in a church state; and none but such can have communion with Christ; for he dwells in the hearts of men by faith, and they live by faith upon him: and only such have a right to the ordinances of Christ, and can receive benefit by them; unless they believe with all the heart, they have no right to baptism; and unless they have faith in Christ, they cannot discern the Lord’s body in the supper; nor is the gospel preached of any profit to them, not being mixed with faith; so that they are on all accounts unfit for church membership; and hence we read, that those who were joined to the first church at Jerusalem were believers (Acts 4:14, see Acts 2:41, 47). Hence,

    5th. Those that were added to the church at Jerusalem are said to be, “such as should be saved;” as all those who believe and are baptized, shall be saved; according to Mark 16:16. And besides, these were added by the Lord himself, as well as to him, and therefore should be saved by him with an everlasting salvation: and such who are admitted to church fellowship, should be such, who, in a judgment of charity or in charitable discretion, may be hoped, that they are the chosen of God, the redeemed of Christ, are called, sanctified, and justified, and so shall be everlastingly saved.

    —John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity, p. 855
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  14. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Even though I grew up in churches that baptized infants (because we regarded them as part of the covenant community (church)), I still had to grapple with the various sides of the debate so that I could be as certain as possible that I believed this way by conviction, not because of tradition.

    Paul said in Col. 3:12a "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved..."

    Did Paul know for certain that all members of the Colossian church were elect? Of course not!

    Similarly, Paul considers children of at least one believing parent as "holy" (1 Cor. 7:14). Both Peter and Paul can both address the household in their Epistles including the children ("children, obey your parents in the Lord..."). This is important because not all of our children are necessary elect, though they are all regarded as holy.

    But even from a Baptist perspective, isn't the church a "mixed community"?

    In the end, the Presbyterian simply practices "household baptism," thereby applying the covenant sign to the household as the church has done since Abraham.
  15. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    The only way this doesn't make any sense to my credo brethren is secondarily to a dispensationalizing of the NT passages.

    To Pastor Sheffield: Sir, I was a Particular credo baptist many years ago; Both Testaments describe the 'faithful', so I have no understanding of what you are saying (unless of course you are saying that out theology (in the absolute) doesn't line up at all, w/ NT teachings; to which I would say, c'mon man.

    As I said earlier, If Paul, thought like you, why did they put warning passages in scripture at all?

    Hebrews 2:1-4

    Hebrews 4:12-13

    Hebrews 6:4-8

    Hebrews 10:26-31

    Hebrews 12:25-29

    Consider the opening statement by the Writer:

    Heb 2 Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. 2 For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; 3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; 4 God also bearing them witness, both with isigns and wonders, and with divers lmiracles, and kgifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

    Heb 3 Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; 2 Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.

    Heb 4 Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. 2 For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, dnot being mixed with faith in them that heard it. 3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. 5 And in this place again, If they shall enter into my rest. 6 Seeing therefore it remaineth that some must enter therein, and they to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief: 7 Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. 8 For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. 10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. 11 Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.

    Heb 6 Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and hof eternal judgment. 3 And this will we do, if God permit. 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

    Heb 10:26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.

    Heb 12:25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven

    In light of all the other warning passages, u have one of two choices:
    1) U subscribe to Arminianism
    2) There are unregenerates in the local church.
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Baptists would see the NC Church as being just those who are in spiritual union now in Christ. Water Baptist is the sign administered to show that one now has eternal life in Jesus, and have received the Holy Spirit of promise.
  17. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    Water Baptism is to be given to those who have faith in Jesus, as the baptism in the Holy Spirit happens before that of the water.
  18. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Hi David,

    I don't want to debate, but I'm curious if you view Rom. 9:6-8 as a doctrine for the NT alone or also for the OT?

    "But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed."

    I appreciate your thoughts!
  19. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    David; both camps presume, based on public confessions of faith. As previously mentioned, Consider Judas, Demas, Ananais and his wife. No one knows who has the HS in the absolute sense. Hence, many times, we apply the sign to unregerates. These unregenerates are part of the local church and considered brethren. For the sake of distinction, they are not (B)rethren.

    In 1 John, we see Paul addressing the church local:

    1 John 2:12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake

    He is assuming they are all believers.

    However, some who he previously thought were believers.....

    18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. 20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
    Last edited: May 4, 2019
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I would see though that God saves out His own . and that sign is the Holy Spirit now upon and in them, so do not see the water baptism as being able to witness to that fact until actually has happened.
  21. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I see the Apostle Paul there using that passage to establish that not all Jews born are really in the NC, but only those who have received Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.
  22. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    I have no idea what you are trying to convey. Can u please, rephrase it?
  23. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    The Water Baptism is the outward sign that testifies that one has already been saved and has the Holy Spirit indwelling them.
  24. Scott Bushey

    Scott Bushey Puritan Board Doctor

    Preposterous. The sign (water baptism) and the thing signified (regeneration and conversion) are not one and the same. You are conflating a confession with actual regeneration and conversion. You say this, in the absolute sense. You kick against the goads in respect to how many people over time, that are credo Baptist, that have rec'd the sign and fall away, never to return to the faith. In that, your statement dies a quick death.

    WCF ch 28
    VI. The efficacy of baptism is not tied to that moment of time wherein it is administered; yet, notwithstanding, by the right use of this ordinance, the grace promised is not only offered, but really exhibited and conferred by the Holy Ghost, to such (whether of age or infants) as that grace belongeth unto, according to the counsel of God’s own will, in his appointed time.
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  25. HisRobes4Mine

    HisRobes4Mine Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks everyone for the replies. I apologize for not responding earlier. I’m finishing up finals week so have had a bit to study for. I’ll continue to study this topic.
  26. Stephen L Smith

    Stephen L Smith Moderator Staff Member

  27. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Doctor

    I am just stating what the LBCF comfession would hold on this position, as water baptism is indeed the outer sign of an already accomplish inner work by the Holy Spirit Himself.
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