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The organization of the church is clearly set forth in the Bible. Jesus is its Head, and it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the “chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20) In Ephesians 4:11 Paul informs us that the Lord has also supplied evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These have been valuable helpers, but none of them has been inspired in the sense of never making a mistake in expounding the Word of God.

These lesser servants in the church, given the general title of “elders,” are appointed by the local congregations of the Lord’s people. According to the Bible, these appointments are made by a vote of the congregation and not by a centralized authority, as in Papacy. In Acts 14:23, the word “ordained” is used in this connection, and it is translated from a Greek word which, according to Professor Young, means “to appoint by vote.”

In this end of the age, as in times past, a departure from this method of appointing local servants has led to unscriptural dictatorship among the people of God.

In the messages to the “seven churches,” recorded in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation (Revelation 2- 3), an “angel,” or special messenger, is mentioned in connection with each of the congregations named. In Luke 12:42- 44 a special servant is mentioned by Jesus, one whom the Lord would raise up when he returned for the purpose of dispensing “meat In due season” to the “household” of faith. —Mt 24:45-47 These various servants of the church have, in the Lord’s providence, been a rich blessing to the household of faith, and the proof that they have been the Lord’s choice has been the joy which the truths they taught have brought into the hearts and lives of the Lord’s people. None of them has in any sense been the successor of another like servant, but each has been raised up at the proper time to serve the church according to its needs at the time.

The special servant mentioned by Jesus who would be raised up to serve the household of faith at the end of the age is obviously one individual who would be used by the Lord to serve the entire “household.” This servant is riot a class, or group, neither a society, or organization, for the very simple reason that he is mentioned in conjunction with fellow servants. If “that servant” is an organization, then it would be serving other organizations. If it were a class, then the other servants would also be classes, or groups.

The Greek word translated “ruler” in Jesus’ promise that a faithful steward would be made ruler to serve the “household” with “meat in due season” means to “set down” or to place. It does not imply that the faithful steward would rule his fellow servants or exercise lordship over them in any way. His only assignment was to serve his brethren with the “meat in due season,” which the Lord himself would provide through the written Word at the time of his return.

And what is this spiritual food which was served in “due season”? Throughout the Gospel Age the Lord’s people maintained their hopes of a heavenly reward. Truths pertaining to Christ’s return, the “harvest” which is the “end of the age,” the establishment and work of the kingdom were not vital to their needs. But when our Lord did return, these dispensational truths became essential “meat in due season.” During the age it was not the “due time” to proclaim the glorious kingdom hope of “restitution.” But when Christ returned, it was; and in order that this might be included in the witness work of the household of faith, this fundamental truth was restored, and the Lord’s faithful servants have been proclaiming it for almost a hundred years.

The determining of just whom the Lord has used as one or another of his special servants has not been a matter of interpretation or of saying arbitrarily that this or that one has been the Lord’s choice. Rather, it is a matter of discovering from the Bible the nature of the message that was due at any given time, and then noting whom the Lord used to deliver that message. Thus it is in connection with “that servant.” Pastor Russell was the one used to announce the presence of Christ, the work of harvest, the imminence of the kingdom, and the glorious hope of restitution for the world. For this he was hated by nominal churchianity. He was persecuted because he taught that the love and grace of Jehovah extended to the unrighteous dead and that they would be given an opportunity to obtain life when awakened from the sleep of death during the Millennium.

It was this loving message of the grace of Jehovah, this voice of God spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began, that helped to identify Pastor Russell as the one specially used at this end of the age as “that servant.” Obviously his fellow servants delight to proclaim the same glorious Gospel of love. To the extent that they have cooperated in the work of proclaiming this same message the Lord has blessed them—not by large numbers of followers, nor by establishing an imposing institution—but by giving them rejoicing hearts as they sacrifice their all in proclaiming the good news of the “restitution of all things.”

In view of the fact that Pastor Russell died So many years ago, some might ask if we should not now look for another special servant, either an individual or a society. No, this is not necessary, nor is it indicated in the Word of God. Jesus, the Head of the church, is its chief instructor, and we still depend upon the record of what he said more than nineteen centuries ago. New apostles were not needed for the church when the original twelve died. The writings of Paul and Peter and the others are just as vital to us today as they were to the Early Church.

And we still have the glorious message of present truth which that “faithful and wise servant” had found in the Word of God. This message, which continues to live in the hearts of God’s people, is the important consideration; and Brother Russell is still “that servant” to those who continue to rejoice in the doctrines which he had found in his study of the Bible.

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The Oath-Bound Promise to Abraham the Hope of Jews, Christians and all Mankind. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal. 3:29

The issues of life, death and a hereafter are all in the power of the Lord. He took counsel of none of us, and holds Himself fully responsible, declaring that all of His purposes shall be accomplished, and that His Word that has gone forth shall not return to Him void, but shall accomplish that which He pleases.

Isa. 40:10, 11. He owed us nothing in the beginning, and will be under no obligations to us in the end. God gave our race life in Adam, but, as he had foreseen, they lost it by disobedience and came under the penalty death.

A ray of hope came with the giving of the Oath-Bound Promise to Abraham, which declared “In thy Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Gen. 22:18.

ASSURANCE OF ALMIGHTY’S OATH

Doubtless Abraham and all of his family, Israel after the flesh, drew a certain amount of blessing and encouragement from this Covenant or promise and the oath of the Almighty,which doubly sealed it, and which gave double assurance of its certainty of accomplishment; but the Apostle Paul intimates that God’s special design in giving that Covenant and in binding it solemnly with an oath, was to encourage Spiritual Israel to give us a firm foundation for faith. He says (Heb. 6:13-18), “That by two immutable things (two unalterable things), in which it was impossible for God to lie, we (the Gospel Church) might have a strong consolation, (we) who have fled for refuge (to Christ), to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” The context show distinctly that the Apostles and the early Christian Church drew comfort from the Oath-Bound Covenant, and clearly implies that this same comfort belongs to every true Christian down to the end of this age.

God well knew that, although 3,000 years from His own standpoint would be but a brief space, “as a watch in the night,” nevertheless to us the time would appear long, and the strain upon faith would be sever; hence the positive statement and the still more deliberate oath that bound it. We cannot but wonder at such condescension upon the part of the great Creator that He would stoop to His fallen creatures and, above all, that He should condescend to give His oath on the subject.

Our Lord Jesus was the great heir of the Abrahamic promise, and the faithful of His consecrated people of this Gospel Age are declared to be His joint-heirs in that promise, which is not yet fulfilled. For its fulfillment, not only the Church is waiting, as the Bride or fellow-members of the Body of Christ, to be participants with the Lord in the glories implied in the Promise, but additionally, the whole creation (the entire human family) is groaning and travailing in pain together waiting for the great fulfillment of that Oath-Bound Promise or Covenant. Romans 8:19-23.

Those who follow the Apostle’s argument and realize that all true Christians are still waiting for the fulfillment of this Promise, will be anxious to know what are the terms of this Covenant which is the hope of the world, the hope of the Church, and the object of so much solicitude and care on the part of God, in that He would promise and then back His Word with an Oath.

We Answer–that every Christian should know what this promise is, since it lies at the very foundation of every Christian’s hope.

How can this hope be an anchor to our soul in all the storms and trials and difficulties of life, in all the opposition of the world, the flesh and the Adversary, if we do not know what the hope is, if we have not even recognized the promise upon which this hope is based?

THE SEED WHICH WILL BLESS ALL

The Apostle Paul referred to this very promise, declaring that the Seed of Abraham mentioned therein is Christ. All Christians agree to this, although they have not distinctively and properly associated it with the declarations of the Promise. But the Apostle makes clear to us that in saying that Christ is the Seed of Abraham, he had in mind not only the Lord Jesus as the Head of the Body, the Head of The Christ, but also the overcoming saints of this Gospel Age as the Body of Christ. This he distinctly states in many places, for instance Gal. 3:16-29.

Here he declares the matter expressly, saying: “if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs according to the Promise.” “The Seed of Abraham” is the Gospel Church, with her Head, the Lord Jesus; as the Apostle states again saying: “We brethren, as Isaac was (typified by Isaac), are the children of promise.” (Gal. 4:28.) It follows that the Seed of Abraham mentioned in the promise is not complete and will not be until the full close of this Gospel Age in the Harvest time of which we now are.

But what a wonderful thought is involved in this plain interpretation of the Divine Word! It is big with hope for Spiritual Israel, the Spiritual Seed, and no less, it means a blessing for the natural seed, fleshly Israel, and ultimately the Millennial blessings to all the families of the earth. Let us examine these three hopes, which Center in the Oath-Bound Covenant the Anchor to the Soul.

THE CHRISTIAN HOPE

Now what hope and interest has the Church of Christ in this promise made to Abraham? To us belongs the very cream of the promise, “the riches of God’s grace.” The promise implies the greatness of the Seed of Abraham, which Seed is Christ and the overcoming Church. This greatness is so wonderful as to be almost beyond human comprehension. The overcomers of this Gospel Age who “make their calling and election sure” in Christ, are to be joint-heirs with Him in the glorious Millennial Kingdom which is to be God’s agency or channel for bringing about the promised blessings the blessing of all the families of the earth. Be it distinctly noted that the Promise to Abraham divided his “Seed” into two parts, (first) “as the stars of Heaven,” (second) “as the sands of the seashore.” From this it is apparent that there was to be a Heavenly, spiritual seed as well as the Natural, earthly seed. Through the Spiritual Seed, during the Messianic Reign, the whole world is to be blessed.

The great blessing of forgiveness of past sins, and even the blessing of being awakened from the sleep of death, would profit mankind but little, if the arrangements of that future time the Millennial Age were not on such a scale as to permit a thorough recovery from present mental, moral and physical weaknesses.

Hence we are rejoiced to learn that in that time Satan will be bound, every evil influence and every unfavorable condition will be brought under restraint, and the favor of God through the knowledge of God will be turned upon the people—“The knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole earth as the waters cover the great deep.” Blessing, aye, favor upon favor, blessing upon blessing, is the Lord’s arrangement and provision! All shall know Him from the least unto the greatest, and none shall need to say to his neighbor or his brother, “Know thou the Lord?” Isa. 11:9; Jer. 31:34.

The prophets spoke repeatedly of these blessings due to the world in the future. Mark how Joel tells that, as during this Gospel Age, the Lord pours out His Spirit upon His servants and hand-maidens, so after these days, in the Millennial Age, He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. There will be world-wide blessing through the knowledge of the Truth. Mark how Moses, the Prophet, spoke of these coming blessings, and told how God would raise up a greater Lawgiver than Himself, a greater Teacher, a better Mediator, and under the better Covenant of the Lord, would bring blessings worldwide! Mark again how he represents the Atonement for the Sins of the whole world in the Atonement Day sacrificial arrangements! Mark how again he typifically foretold the blessings of the Millennial Age, representing them in Israel’s “Year of Jubilee,” in which every man went free and every possession was returned to its original ownership, thus representing the blessings of the future, man’s release from the servitude of sin and Satan, and the return to him of all that was lost through Adam. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, have spoken of these coming times, so that the Apostle Peter, pointing to the future, could truthfully declare that the coming Times of Restitution of all things have be spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began. Acts 3:19- 21.

HOPE FOR JEWS AND OTHERS

The second class to be blessed under this Abrahamic Covenant is Natural Israel. We are not forgetting that the Jews were a stiffnecked and rebellious people; that they slew the prophets and stoned the Lord’s ministers and caused the crucifixion of our Redeemer. Nevertheless, the Scriptures clearly hold for the that after they have had a period of chastisement, which they have been undergoing as a nation since our Lord’s crucifixion, and after Spiritual Israel shall have been glorified in the Kingdom, then a blessing from the Lord will come upon Natural Israel; they shall be saved or recovered from their blindness, and, as the Prophet declares, they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced and shall mourn for Him because the eyes of their understanding shall be opened. We rejoice, too, that the promise is clear and distinct that the Lord will pour upon them the “spirit of prayer and the supplication.” (Zech. 12:10.) See also Romans 11:25-32.

But if God is to have mercy upon the natural Israelite, whom He declares to have been stiff-necked and hard-hearted and rebellious, would it surprise us that the Divine, benevolent intention should be to also bless others than the Jews others who had not  in the past the favors and privileges of this favored nation, and whose course, therefore, was less in opposition to the Light? It should not surprise us. And so we find in this great Oath-Bound Covenant a blessing for all nations all peoples.

POOR, IMPERFECT CREATURES

“We make God’s Love too narrow By false standards of our own.”

Do not misapprehend us. We are not teaching that heathen and imbeciles and unregenerate in general shall be taken to Heaven, where they would be utterly out of harmony with their surroundings and require to be converted and to be taught. Such an inconsistent view we leave to those who are now claiming the heathen will be saved in their ignorance. We stand by the Word of God that there is no present salvation without faith in Christ Jesus, and that the heathen and the imbecile have neither part nor lot in the salvation of the present time. We stand by the Scriptures which say that salvation at the present time is only for the Little Flock, who, through much tribulation, shall enter the Kingdom. We stand by the Scriptures which say that this Kingdom class now being developed is the Spiritual Seed of Abraham under the Lord, their Head, their Elder Brother, the Bridegroom.

The period in which opportunity will be granted to man is in the Scriptures termed the Day of Judgment a thousand-year day, the Millennial Day. It will be a day of trial, a day of testing, a day of proving the world to see whether, with a full knowledge of God and of righteousness, which He requires, they will choose righteousness in preference to sin, choose life in preference to the Second Death everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His Power.

Thank God for that wonderful judgment, the trial day for the world, secured for all through the precious blood of Christ. “When the judgments of the Lord are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” Isa. 26:9.

 

Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against It.”  Matthew 16:18

THERE are many churches, bearing a great variety of names, and holding to many shades of belief with respect to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles. When we consider these differences of viewpoint it is not out of order, we think, to inquire as to what the church really is, and what the divine purpose is concerning it. Is there any way of knowing which is the true church, or do all the denominational groups together make up the true church?

The word church does not appear in the Old Testament and its first use in the New Testament was by Jesus when he told Peter that “the gates of hell” would not prevail against it. It is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means ‘a calling out’, or ‘a selection’. Jesus said to his disciples, “I have chosen you out of the world.” (John 15:19) Basically, then, the church is a company of people who, in accepting the invitation of Christ, have become separated from the world.

The church is not a building, although the word church is used to denote the place where a congregation meets. If the expression “meeting house” were more universally used to describe the gathering place of a congregation, it might help to lessen some of the misunderstanding which prevails concerning the true significance of the word church itself.

In Jesus’ ministry he used the word church only three times: once in his remark to Peter, and twice on another occasion when instructing his disciples in the proper procedure for dealing with misunderstandings which might arise among them. (Matt. 18:17) The next time the word appears is in Acts 2:47, following the account of the three thousand souls who accepted Christ as a result of Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost. It is a simple statement, saying merely that “the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”

In this simple statement of fact there is room for reflection. On the Day of Pentecost alone three thousand became identified with the ‘church’, and thereafter there were daily additional converts, yet there is no record of any formal initiation services. All of these converts were Jewish people, and when, under the persuasive ministry of the apostle, they recognized that Jesus, whom their leaders had crucified, was the Messiah of promise, they believed on him and were baptized for the remissions of their sins.

It was as simple as that! Later, as the number of the disciples increased, and they assembled for mutual edification, these groups of people were called ‘churches’. In Acts 11:22 we read of “the church which was in Jerusalem.” In Romans 16:5 Paul extends greetings to “the church that is in their house”— that is, the house of Priscilla and Aquila.

From these texts we learn that in those early days of Christianity each group of believers, regardless of its size and location, was, considered a church. And indeed it was a church, because each such assembly of believers was made up of those who, by the Gospel, had been called to separate themselves from the world and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

These individual groups bore no denominational names, but were identified by their location, being spa-ken of as the church at Jerusalem, the church at Philippi, the church at Rome, or, as in some instance, the church that held its meetings in the home of one or another of the believers.

In Revelation. chapters two and three, seven churches are mentioned and identified by the cities in which they were located and the special messages sent to them.

There is reason to believe that these seven churches are in a general way representative of all believers throughout the entire age—which is another, a broader use of the word church as descriptive of all, in every place, whom the Lord looks upon as being “called out” from the world to serve him and his cause.

Jesus had in mind this broader, more general meaning of the word when he said to Peter that ‘the gates of hell’ would not prevail against the church. It is this application also that Paul makes when, in Ephesians 1:22,23, he speaks of Christ as being the “Head over all things to the church, which is his body.” It is in this wise that Paul again writes about “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”—I Tim. 3:15

In I Corinthians 12:12,13, Paul elaborates on the thought of the church being the ‘body’ of Christ. He says, “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

How to Join

How does one join the church—the church, that is, which was established by Jesus and the apostles? Acts 2:47 reads, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” This indicates that becoming a member of the Lord’s church depends upon him. This, we believe, would be conceded by all Christian people. But just how does the Lord add members to his church, and what qualifications must one possess in order to be recognized by the Lord as belonging to his church?

Briefly, the Scriptures indicate the steps of approach to the church as being, first, a repentant recognition of the fact that we are members of a sin-cursed and dying race, and could therefore have no standing before the Lord in our own righteousness. (Mark 2:17; Acts 26:20)

Next, the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal Redeemer and Savior, realizing that only through the merit of his shed blood can we be acceptable to God. — Acts 13:38,39; 16:31; Rom. 3:22; 5:1

Then, upon the basis of our confidence in the merit of the shed blood of the Redeemer, we are invited to present ourselves in unreserved devotion to do the will of God. We could speak of this as making a consecration of ourselves to God. And let us emphasize that this consecration is made to God, not to man, nor to an organization of men.— Rom. 12:1,2

The Scriptures are very explicit as to what this consecration will mean in our lives. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me [be my disciple], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24)

To deny self does not mean merely the giving up of some petty pleasure or satisfaction for a short period of time, or even for all time. It is, rather, just as the expression implies, a complete denial of self. It is the same word that is used concerning Peter’s denial of Christ—. when he said that he did not know Jesus at all. So to deny self is to deny ourselves the right to recognize our own wills. We renounce our wills and accept instead the will of God as expressed through Christ and the Word.

And what is the divine will for those who, responding to Jesus’ invitation, deny self? It is expressed in his further invitation, “Take up the cross, and follow me.” Jesus used the symbolism of cross-bearing to denote going into death. When Jesus gave this invitation he was himself laying down his life in sacrifice. His sacrifice was completed at Calvary when he cried, “It is finished.”— John 19:30

Those who accept Christ’s invitation to take up their cross and follow him, likewise lay down their lives in sacrificial service. They are not all literally crucified, although in the beginning of the age some were. Many suffered martyrdom in other ways. In the case of every follower of the Master, the will to serve and to suffer regardless of the consequences must and will be present.

Following in the footsteps of Jesus is described by Paul as being “planted together [united] in the likeness of his death.” (Rom. 6:5) Before we came to Christ we were ‘dead’ in trespasses and sin. But through obedient faith in the merit of his shed blood we are released from Adamic condemnation. Yet we die, not as sinners, however, but as joint-sacrificers with Jesus. Paul expressed the thought when he wrote, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, your reasonable service.”—Rom. 12:1

Baptized Into Christ

In Romans 6:3, Paul wrote: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are boned with him by baptism into death, that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” The baptism here referred to is not in water, but into Christ, and into his death.

The word baptism in the New Testament is translated from a Greek word meaning ‘to bury’ or ‘submerge’. Our baptism into Christ is the burial of our will into his will. It is a death baptism because it is the divine will that we die with him.

In Revelation 20:4 this thought is symbolized by the use of the word “beheaded.” Here we read of those who are “beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God.” This does not refer to a literal beheading, but to the renouncing of our will, as represented by the head, and accepting Christ as our Head.

Paul elaborates further on this point, saying, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” (I Cor. 12:13) It is by the influence of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of truth, that we are drawn to the Lord, and led by his love to present ourselves in full consecration to him.

Since this consecration means the renouncing of our own wills and accepting the will of God in Christ, he thus becomes our Head, and we become members of the church, which is his body.

Thus we see how it is that God, by the power of his Spirit, adds members to the church of Christ. Our part in it as individuals is to yield to the influence of his Spirit, and take the steps which the divine Word indicates; that is, the steps of repentance, acceptance of Christ, and the presenting of ourselves in full consecration to do the Lord’s will.

Can we know, after taking these steps, whether or not the Lord has accepted us, and does actually recognize us as probationary members of the church, the body of Christ? We believe so. Paul said, in a text already quoted, that having been “buried [united] with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Ram. 6:4) Are we joyfully walking in ‘newness of life’?

Paul also wrote, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (II Cor. 5:17) Have the ‘old things’ belonging to the times past of our lives passed away, in the sense that they hold no real attraction for us? Do we find our greatest joys in the new things of the Lord—our new vocation of divine service; our new hopes, new aims, new ambitions?

Having taken this step of full consecration to the Lord, our former friends and relatives may fail to understand us; in some cases they may even persecute us. But in any event, they will not find in us the same degree of companionship, for they will not be in harmony with our new way of life. Not that we will love them any less, nor cease to do all we can for them, but simply that the ways of the world and the ways of the consecrated people of God are far apart. Are we having this experience?

Paul again wrote, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Then he adds, “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”—I Cor. 1:9,10

Is the Lord leading us day by day into a deeper appreciation of the marvelous truths contained in his Word? Are the ‘deep things’ of his Word pertaining so our calling in Christ Jesus more clearly understood as we seek so know and to do his will? If so, we have this additional evidence that he has accepted us awl is leading us in the path of righteousness.

Jesus himself gives us a very definite assurance of our standing before the Lord. First he declares that no man can come unto him unless drawn by his Heavenly Father. (John 6:44) then he tells us that those who do come to him he “will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37) What further assurance do we need than this?

Yes, our rejoicing in the spiritual things of the new way of life in which we are walking; our loss of interest in the former things of the flesh and the world; a measure of misunderstanding and perhaps even of persecution, from the world; our increasing appreciation of spiritual things, particularly as they pertain to our heavenly calling—all these are evidences that our consecration has been accepted by the Lord, and that we have actually been ‘baptized’ into ‘the church’, the body of Christ.

Water Baptism

The question of water baptism naturally arises, and properly so, for Jesus himself was baptized—buried–in water, and we are to follow in his steps. What is the purpose of water baptism? John baptized for the remission of sin, and could not understand why Jesus requested baptism, for he knew that Jesus was not a sinner, but rather, that he was the Holy and Just One.

But Jesus was not baptized for the remission of sin. In asking John to baptize him he simply said, “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matt. 3:15) It is Jesus’ example that we follow in our water baptism. To him it was a symbol of his covenant to die, and of his hope to be raised from the dead,

And how aptly water immersion pictures these two thoughts! When one is lowered into the water by the immerser, he becomes helpless in his hands, and would remain buried, as in death, except as raised up out of the water. So in our consecration we give ourselves up to die with Christ, inspired by the promises of God that we will be raised up in the resurrection, even as Jesus was, to be associated with him in the great future work of his kingdom.

Water baptism, then, is a beautiful symbol of our true baptism into Christ is it essential? Not in the sense that it is a saving ordinance. But since those who are properly eligible for water immersion have renounced their own wills, and have covenanted to do the Lord’s will, they will recognize that this is part of the Lord’s will for them, and will gladly comply. Any other attitude would indicate something less than an all-consuming love for the will of God.

Church Organization

The Scriptures do not indicate that the various groups of called out ones in those early years of Christianity had any elaborate organizational arrangements, nor does the Bible teach that this was God’s design for the church as a whale. However, the disciples at that time were not without some organization. Their meetings were not without order, and various privileges of service were assigned to different ones according to their several ability in the Early Church organization, Jesus was universally recognized as the Head. This was in keeping with Jesus’ own instructions to his disciples when he said, ‘One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” (Matt 23:8) Paul wrote, “Christ is the Head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body.” (Eph. 5:23) In I Corinthians 11:3 he presents the same thought, saying that “the Head of every man is Christ. .. and the Head of Christ is God.” Jesus is not only the Head of his church—he is also its foundation. “For other foundation can no man lay,” wrote Paul, “than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (I Cot. 3:11) In Ephesians 2:19,20 the church is referred to as “the household of God,” and is declared to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.”

The Apostle Peter wrote, “Wherefore also it is con-mined in the scripture, Behold I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded.” (I Pet. 2:6) Peter’s affirmation that Jesus is the chief cornerstone in Zion, the church, is specially noteworthy in view of the misunderstanding which has been attached to Jesus’ statement, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”— Matt. 16:18

This assertion has been misconstrued to mean that Peter was to be the ‘rock’ upon which the church of Christ would be built. But this interpretation is at once seen to be in error when we discover that Jesus used two different Greek words in making the statement. When he said, “Thou art Peter,” the Greek word translated Peter is petros, meaning ‘a piece of rock’. But when he said, “Upon this rock I will build my church,” he used the Greek word petra, meaning a ‘mass of rock’, such as a boulder.

Peter had just said to Jesus, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Malt 16:16) Jesus was pleased with this confession. We might paraphrase his reply to Peter in order to get its meaning a little clearer: “Peter, your name means that you are a small piece of rock, a pebble, as it were, but by comparison with the meaning of your name, the great fact of my Messiahship, and that I am the Son of God, is as a great mass of rock, a great boulder, and the church will be built upon me as its foundation.”

Twelve Apostles

In the divine arrangement the entire church, from Pentecost to the end of the age, was to be served by twelve apostles specially appointed by God. It was in keeping with this that Jesus chose just twelve men to be associated with him during his ministry in order that they might receive personal training from him. These were Peter, Andrew, James, John Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas.—Matt. 10:2.4

Judas, as we know, proved unfaithful, and the Scriptures indicate that Paul was chosen by the Lord to take his place. Acts 1:23-26 informs us of an effort by the remaining eleven to make a choice of one to take Judas’place. They decided upon Matthias. However, this action was taken before they received the Holy Spirit, and there is no evidence that the Lord honored their choice. Matthais’ name does not appear after this.

The word apostle simply means ‘one who is sent’, or a ‘delegate’, an ambassador of the Gospel. From this broad standpoint every Christian is an apostle, for we are all ambassadors of Christ. In fact, the word is used in the Bible with reference to others than the twelve apostles, but this does not mean that they occupied the same high position of authority in the church as that given by divine appointment to those specially chosen by the Lord.

In John 17:12 Jesus refers to these divine appointees as those whom his Heavenly Father had given him. These special apostles did not select each other for the position, so they had no authority to select Matthias to take the place of Judas. Just as the Lord had selected the others, so in his own time and way he selected Paul, and gave him authority as one of the twelve apostles.

These twelve were more than just preachers of the Gospel They were miraculously inspired by the Holy Spirit, which enabled them to speak and write the truths of the Gospel with authority and accuracy. Their word was, and is, law to every Christian. It is because of this authoritative position which they occupy in the organization of the church that the completed church—likened to a city—is shown to have twelve foundation stones and in these stones are written the names of “the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”—Rev. 21:14

Other Servants

In Ephesians 4:11 the Apostle Paul informs us that the Lord provided for other servants in the church; that, in addition to apostles, he arranged for prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Peter speaks of the Old Testament writers as God’s “holy prophets.” (II Pet. 3:2) These wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit; so the Christian takes their word, even as that of the apostles, as authoritative. (II Pet. 1:21) But when Paul speaks of ‘prophets’ as servants in the church, he uses the term in a much broader sense, applying it to public expounders of the Gospel.

These prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, are all essential servants in the church, but not inspired as were the twelve apostles. Nor are they appointed in the same miraculous way as were the apostles; Paul instructed Titus to ‘ordain’ elders in every city.—Titus 1:5

The expression in the New Testament, ‘laying on of hands’, is, according to the Greek text, more properly the stretching forth of the hand, as in voting. The clear implication is that by apostolic authority the lesser servants of the church were to be appointed, or elected, by the congregation which they were to serve.

Thus, while Jesus is the Head over the whole church, from Pentecost throughout the entire age, all the other servants were to be chosen by the brethren themselves, as they were needed, and as there were opportunities to serve.

The scriptural term. ‘elder’, applies generally to all who serve the church along spiritual lines. A pastor, a teacher, an evangelist, or a prophet would come under the general designation of ‘elder’. The Greek word presbuteros, from which it is translated, signifies one who is mature. In the church it would describe one who is recognized as being sound in the faith and spiritually mature in experience.

The word ‘bishop’ is also used in the New Testament, and applied to servants elected by the church. The Greek word episkopos. from which it is translated means ‘superintendent’ or ‘overseer’. All elders are properly, according to opportunity and ability, overseers in the church; for it is their duty to watch over the flock of God and care for their needs, particularly along spiritual lines.

The word ‘deacon’ appears a few times in connection with the arrangements of the Early Church. It is a translation of a Greek word, diakoitos, which means to ‘run errands’ or give assistance. The indications are that deacons were appointed to help with the material arrangements of the church. The first of these to be appointed were in the church at Jerusalem. See Acts 6:2-4.

The scriptural qualifications for those who can properly be elected by a congregation to serve as elders, or bishops, and deacons are set forth by Paul in I Timothy 3:1-13. In these qualifications, the expression, ‘apt to teach’ implies a proper understanding of the truth of the divine plan as taught in the Bible. Any group of consecrated brethren, large or small, which has brethren who meet these qualifications is authorized by the Scriptures to elect them to these services. When this is done, these appointments are recognized by the Lord.

The Scriptures make it clear that no group of Christians needs to look to a parent church for authority to elect servants, hold meetings, and carry on the work of the Lord in its community. Nor do congregations need to be large in order to exercise their liberty along these lines. The Biblical record is that many of the churches, or groups of Christians, in apostolic times were organized in the homes of believers who held their regular meetings in these homes.

The same thing is being done today. And now, as in the past, the Lord is richly blessing those who find others with whom they can cooperate as a group—or, within the scriptural meaning, a church. These can elect their own servants by the simple method of stretching forth the hand. No membership roll is needed, nor is such authorized by the Scriptures.

There is not much information in the Scriptures to indicate the nature of the meetings held by the various groups in the Early Church. Certainly the apostles, andothers, on occasions, gave discourses. But profitable meetings can be held even though there may be no one qualified to preach a sermon. Meetings for Bible study in which all present have an opportunity to express their thoughts or ask questions are very helpful. An elder. if one has been elected, should serve to keep the study orderly. Prayer and testimony meetings are also spiritually profitable to those who are seriously endeavoring to know and do God’s will.

The Bible Students will gladly render any assistance possible to those who may need help in establishing meetings of this sort. We may even know of others in your area who would rejoice to participate in such an arrangement.

The Mission of the Church

The present mission of the church is the perfecting of the saints for a future work of service, to develop in herself the graces of Christian character, and to be God’s witness to the world concerning Christ’s kingdom of blessing now so near. And there is also a glorious future work for which the church is now being prepared!

Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” (Matt. 16:18) That which is ‘built’, in due time reaches completion. It is not God’s design that the ‘building’ of the church shall go on forever. It is not a case of all who will ever obtain salvation through Christ becoming members of the church. The very meaning of the word, ‘a calling out’, is contrary to this concept of God’s purpose through the church. The church is called out from the world. It is not God’s plan to bring the world into the church.

“Thou art the Christ,” Peter testified, “the Son of the living God.” This expression identified Jesus with the messianic promises of the Old Testament, and indicates that Peter properly recognized in Jesus the one whom God had sent to fulfill those promises. In order to see clearly the full divine purpose through the church, it is essential to keep in mind the Old Testament promises concerning Christ for the church is called out from the world to be associated with him in the fulfillment of those promises.

God said to Abraham, “In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3; 22:18) In Galatians 3:16 Paul informs us that this ‘seed’ of promise is Christ. But Paul gives us additional information concerning the seed of promise. In verses 27 and 29 we read, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ,.. . and if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Here is unmistakable proof that those who, through full consecration to do God’s will, become members of the church, which is the body of Christ, are part of the promised seed through which all the families of the earth are to be blessed.

This means that instead of the fullness of God’s purpose toward the children of men being represented in the establishing of the church, it is only the beginning of his plan to bless mankind. In James 1:18 we are told that the church is a “kind of firstfruits” of God’s creatures. This expression is also used in Revelation 14:4 and applied to those who are associated with the “Lamb” on the symbolic Mount Zion.

In the 15th chapter of I Corinthians, Paul points out very clearly that the hope of life for both the church and the world depends upon the resurrection of the dead. “If there be no resurrection of the dead,” he argues, “then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (vss. 13,18) But he gives us assurance of the resurrection, saying, “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”—vs. 22

Then Paul shows that there is to be a definite order, or sequence, in the resurrection: “every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” (vs. 23) The firstfruits here referred to include the church, for as James explains, we are a “kind of firstfruits [unto God] of his creatures.”

But “afterward” (I Cor. 15:23) others are to be resurrected. Who are these? Paul explains that they are those who, “are Christ’s at his coming.” This is a faulty translation; a proper translation of the Greek text would be, “those who become Christ’s during his presence.” This is a reference to the thousand years of his kingdom. when Christ and his church will reign for the purpose of destroying sin and death, and giving all an opportunity to accept the gift of life provided by his shed blood. This is shown by Paul’s further statement, which immediately follows:

“Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (vss. 24-26) Yes, this is the great, the ultimate, purpose of God to be accomplished through Christ and the church—the ‘afterward’ blessing to reach all mankind when the building of the church shall have been completed.

Heavenly and Earthly

In his lesson on the resurrection Paul reveals that some are to receive heavenly bodies, and some human. or earthly bodies, the determining factor in each case being the sort of seed, or “bare grain,” that is sown.— vss. 37,38

To those who, through full consecration to do God’s will, are buried with Christ in sacrificial death, and throughout the remaining years of their natural lives “walk in newness of life,” there will be given a celestial, or a heavenly body. They are prepared for this during their earthly pilgrimage by continuing to “set their affections on things above.” Their hopes are heavenly. Through faith they are seated together with Christ “in heavenly places,” while still here on earth pursuing their heavenly goal; therefore, they are made spiritual seed. In the resurrection, these will receive a heavenly body as a reward.

However, the vast majority of people are not interested in spiritual things. This does not mean that they are necessarily wicked. Most of them are not. They love the good things of the earth because they were created human, earthly beings, and God does not condemn them for their lack of aspiration to heavenly things. it is in the very nature of things that these are earthly seed, and as a result will be raised from the dead as human beings.

But speaking of ‘the’ resurrection of the church, described in Revelation 20:6 as the “first resurrection,” Paul explains, “It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: “it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.”— 1 Cor. 15: 42-44

To this Paul adds, “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” In other words, he would have us understand that in describing the change of nature to be experienced by those who participate in the first resurrection, he is not implying that these are the only ones to be raised from the dead, for all mankind are to be resurrected, only they are to receive natural bodies.

Paul continues his lesson, saying, “The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy [those who die with human hopes and desires], such are they also that are earthy [in the resurrection]: and as is the heavenly [those who now set their affections on heavenly things], such are they also that are heavenly [in the resurrection].”—vss 47-49

Paul concludes this lesson on the resurrection, saying, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption. and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 0 death, where is thy sting? 0 grave, where is thy victory?”—vss. 53-55

Thus in a few words Paul presents both the hope of the church and the hope of the world. The resurrection hope of the church is “glory, honor, and immortality.” (Rom. 2:7) No human being possesses immortality by nature. It is a reward given to those who faithfully follow in the footsteps of Christ unto death. In Revelation 2:10 we read, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”

The call and preparation of these for the fruition of this glorious hope in “the first resurrection” has been the work of God through the Holy Spirit during the present age. But Paul explains that “when” this is accomplished, and the last member of the body of Christ has entered into glory, “then’ will be the time for the fulfillment of those glorious promises of the Old Testament concerning the destruction of death—0 death, where is thy sting! 0 grave, where is thy victory!

This is a quotation from Isaiah 25:8, and Hoses 13:14. Both texts assure us of the divine purpose to destroy man’s great enemy, Death, and the grave—or sheol, as it is in the Old Testament, and hades, in the New—the Hebrew and Greek words for ‘hell’, respectively. It was this same glorious consummation of the divine purpose toward the human race that Jesus referred to when he said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church.

What a wonderful assurance! Throughout the reign of sin and death, hell, which is the grave or tomb, has continued to claim its victims. But in Revelation 1:18 Jesus tells us that he has the “keys” of hell. He purchased these keys—that is, the right to unlock hell’s gates—by his own death as man’s Redeemer. When his church is completely built, she will be associated with him in bestowing the promised blessings of life upon all mankind.

Thefact that meanwhile so many millions continue to go into death, into the Bible hell, will not deprive them of these blessings. The gates of hell did not prevail against Christ and they will not prevail against his church; for by divine power they will be swung wide open and all Death’s prisoners released!

This,then, is to be the future work of the church. And what a glorious work it will be! What an incentive it should be now to prove faithful to the Lord. Perhaps you are just learning of this glorious purpose of God through Christ and the church. If this knowledge has reached you prior to becoming a Christian, we suggest that you consider well the steps of repentance, belief, and consecration as we have scripturally outlined them; and trusting in the strength of the Lord, and in appreciation of his abundant grace, devote yourself to him and his cause.

There is no greater peace or joy that anyone can experience than that which results from being at-one with the Lord, and in living a life of full devotion to him. There are trials, yes, but as Paul reminds us, these are in reality “light afflictions,” lasting but for a “moment” when compared with the eternal “weight” of glory which the Lord has promised. 2 Cor. 4: 17,18

It is surely a blessed privilege to be among the ‘called out’ ones—the church—at the present time, for surely the Lord is blessing his people, especially in revealing to them the beauties of his plan of salvation. And how thankful we are that through Christ and his church the whole world is yet to have an opportunity to rejoice in the blessings the Lord has designed for them—blessings of “restitution,” as Peter described them, “which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”—Acts 3:19-21

In view of God’s harmonious and loving plan of salvation for both the church and the world, some of the beauties of which have already been revealed to us through his Word, we can well understand the great Apostle Paul’s feelings when he wrote:

“0 the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out [completely]! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again! For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen!”—Rom. 11:33-36