The Church As a Multidimensional Institution
By J. Davila Ashcraft
I must admit to being a bit concerned about the state of the Church today. What passes for worship, theology, and general epistemology are reflective of our secular society and its Cultural Marxist values more than any historical or biblical approach to the nature and character of the Christian Church as founded by Christ. The Church founded by Jesus Christ is often looked upon by those given to the ideologies attendant to Modernity as nothing more than just another organization, not unlike other organizations.
Thus it is often viewed with the same disdain as the adherent of Modernism might view any government or powerful corporation. This sort of myopic, as well as uninformed, view of the church must be combated at every opportunity, since it is one of the causes for such rapid decline in Church attendance, and thus, morality in culture. Sadly, evangelicals must be willing to admit guilt in the process that brought us here, since the emphasis has far too often been on individual and personal relationships with God, to the near exclusion of the biblical need for a community relationship with God expressed only through the Church.
The Church is in reality a multidimensional institution, founded by the transcendent God, and is far more powerful than any mere human organization. It operates on two levels; the spiritual and the temporal. This can be seen in principle, if not in fact, in Christ’s granting of authority to His Church, through His Apostles.
“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”- Matthew 18:18 (ESV)
This multidimensional view of the Church has historically been pictured as two distinct, yet interconnected, organic parts; the Ecclesia Miltans (Church Militant), and the Ecclesia Triumphans (Church Triumphant).
The Church Militant is comprised of Christians living on earth, engaged in the ongoing and ever present battle against Satan and sin.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, and the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”- Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
This verse paints a clear picture of the Church as a militant force engaged in combat, while at the same time noting the fact that, though the Church is comprised of people living an earthly existence, they nonetheless interact with, and have an affect on, the spiritual realm.
The Church Triumphant is comprised of the faithful who have gone on to be with our Lord, and await His Second Coming with the Church Militant. These are deemed triumphant because they have persevered in faith, lived holy lives, have been obedient to God and their names have been found in the Lamb’s Book of Life. They worship God together with the hosts of heaven.
These two states of the Church are what is meant by the “communion of saints” in the Apostles Creed.
Though we are separated by death from the faithful who have gone on to their eternal reward, we remain united as one Church through Jesus Christ. Together these two states of the Church are known as the mystical Body of Christ.
It is important to note that the Church is universal. That is, it is comprised of faithful believers from every tribe and nation, and in its reach surpasses any denominational structure. This in no way compromises the unity of the Church, since these faithful, though separated by distance or denomination, are not in any sense divided as the mystical Body of Christ. They are the One, True Church of Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
“All the nations that dwell under heaven were called by hearing and believing upon the name of the Son of God. Having, therefore, received the seal, they had one understanding and one mind. And their faith became one, and their love one.”- Hermas
“The pre-eminence of the church is its oneness. It is the basis of union. In this it surpasses all other things and has nothing like or equal to itself.” – Clement of Alexandria
“There is one God. Furthermore, Christ is one, and there is one Church.”- Cyprian
There are other symbolic titles for the Church, such as Bride of Christ (Romans 12:4), bringing to mind our union with Christ through His death, burial and resurrection, pictured as a marriage.
Additionally, early Christians gave the title of Mother to the Church, picturing the church as a loving mother who nourishes her children.
“Our one Father, God, lives. And so does our mother, the Church.”- Tertullian
The Church as a Symbol of the Kingdom
The Church also fulfills the important role of representing Christ to the world as His mystical Body. It is, philosophically speaking, a symbol of the Kingdom of God. It reflects the kingdom in its adherence to the Law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), its promotion of the Gospel of the Kingdom (Luke 17:20-21; Romans 14:17 Mark 1:14-15; 2 Peter 1:10-11; Acts 8:12), and in its hierarchical structure. This should not be surprising since the Nation of Israel was a type of the Church. (Acts 7:38)
The structure of the Church is a reflection of the future kingdom wherein Christ will rule as Sovereign. As Clement of Alexandria put it, “The earthly church is the image of the heavenly.”
Any government has leaders who serve under the authority of the State sovereign, and who have the duty to represent their government with honor and loyalty. This is no less true of the Church and future Kingdom of God. Our Lord has established a hierarchy of leadership who represent His Kingdom. Biblically speaking, these are presbyters (elders), bishops (overseers), deacons and deaconesses. Above all of these in order were the Apostles themselves. It is to these men and their successors that Christ granted a derived authority to lead His Church. (Matthew 18:18; John 13:20) This threefold ministry is also found in the witness of the early church.
“There is one bishop, along with the presbyters and deacons, my fellow servants.” – IgnatiusofAntioch
“According to my opinion, the grades here in the church, of bishops, presbyters and deacons, are imitations of the angelic glory, and of that arrangement which the scriptures say awaits those who, following in the footsteps of the apostles, have lived in perfection of righteousness according to the Gospel.”- Clement of Alexandria
The Hebrew word for ‘apostle‘ is shali’ ah, which can be translated as ’emissary’. It is worth noting that in ancient times an emissary was a court official who carried messages from the Sovereign to both the people and other rulers. It was the custom that an emissary was treated with the same respect which would be given to the Sovereign he represented as a matter of courtesy. Jesus seems to have had this concept in mind when
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”- John 13:20 (ESV)
Interestingly, medieval law recognized in the Church this special charism and viewed churches as a sort of embassy, wherein one could seek asylum under specific conditions. This “Right of Asylum”, commonly known as sanctuary, sees its first regulations in 600 A.D. Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britanniae, writes that by Norman times all churches had a lower level right of sanctuary for petty crime, while the king licensed certain churches with much broader and greater sanctuary authority. It is also worth noting that the Church’s recognition as an embassy of sorts was removed in 1623 by James I, a Protestant king.
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