Ecclesiology (The Assembly/Local Church)

Chapter 12: Church Discipline: Obligation and Scope

Discipline should appeal strongly to the intellect; it is a call to sound judgment, a teaching of the mind to think soberly in order that Christian character be strengthened. Discipline is divine training that produces mental and moral health.

In the study of this subject it is necessary that we first interpret the terms we use, then examine the purpose of discipline, its different aspects, and finally its actual benefits.

The Meaning

The English word discipline primarily means to instruct, to teach, to tutor. In a secondary sense, it means that which is taught, the subject; for example, Greek is a good discipline. Any branch of knowledge may be called a discipline. In a tertiary way, it means also to impose punishment.

It is necessary for clarity of thought to constantly bear in mind the true biblical significance, a call to soundness of mind.

There are two important and relative words in He- brews 12:6, “chasteneth” and “scourgeth.” The first is akin to our English word “discipline,” and means to train and to tutor. The word “scourgeth” is much more intense and means to whip or flog. In the school of God, if we do not learn by tutoring, then we must learn the hard way, by flogging, and that is grievous both to us and to our heavenly Father.

The Purpose

The Lord has several purposes before Him in regard to this matter. Discipline must not always be considered as punishment; it may be that, but it may be otherwise. Let us consider four possible purposes of biblical discipline.

Chapter 11: The Woman: Comportment and Function in the Church

Herrick Johnston, a moderator of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., toward the close of the nineteenth century wrote: “Christianity has lifted woman to a new place in the world, and just in proportion as Christianity has sway, will she rise to a higher dignity in human life. What she has now, and all that she shall have of privilege and true honour, she owes to that gospel which took those qualities which have been counted weak and unworthy and gave them a divine glory in Christ.”

The study of the woman’s place in the church requires that we reach our conclusions only after an examination of the various phases of her history.

The Woman in Creation

There are two accounts of the creation of man, male and female, in the Book of Genesis.

The first (Gen. 1:26-28) pictures Adam and Eve as if they were created simultaneously and states their divine origin, character and purpose. Man and woman both alike were created by God; they bore a likeness to Him; they possessed reason, the powers of God-consciousness, world-consciousness, self-consciousness, and the faculty of self-manifestation. God blessed both and instructed them to replenish and subdue the earth, and to have dominion over it.

Man and woman in this account of creation are treated as equals; what the one received the other also received; and what the one was to do, the other was to do.

The second (Gen. 2:7-25) describes the earthly origin of man; he is of the earth, earthy. The emphasis in this passage is not upon the equality of man and woman, but upon the fact that woman is man’s complement. She was created as an help meet for man; that is a help suitable for him, his counterpart.

Chapter 10: Spiritual Gifts: Sphere and Control

The doctrine of the Bible is Trinitarian doctrine; it teaches that God is One (Deut. 6:4. Mai. 2:10. I Tim. 2:5) and that it has pleased Him to manifest Himself in the threefold distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In regard to this study, it should be realized that each person in the Godhead is active in the bestowal and operation of spiritual gifts.

The Trinity and Gifts

There are three major passages in the New Testament which deal with the matter of spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3-18. I Cor. 12 through 14. Eph. 4:1-16). The first passage is related to God the Father; the second, to God the Spirit; and the third, to God the Son. It should also be noted that the first is relevant to the individual Christian’s attitude toward others; the second, to the function of spiritual gifts in the local church; and the third, to the importance of spiritual gifts in the progress of the Universal Church.

The tenses of time may also be considered as significant in these three passages: The past, “Think soberly, according as God hath dealt (did deal) to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we” (Rom. 12:3-8). This may have been at conversion or some other past experience. The present: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (I Cor. 12:4). The future: “Gifts unto men … for the perfecting of the saints, … unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:7-13).

The Sphere of Function

While in the Epistles to the Ephesians and Romans we have the record of the bestowal of spiritual gifts, in I Corinthians we have the sphere in which they function.

Chapter 9: Spiritual Gifts: Endowment and Character

A spiritual gift may be defined as the divine bestowal of a special faculty upon a member of the Body of Christ. In each thus endowed, the gift embodies qualification, fitness and strength. In the Scriptures and in the Church, the special ability is sometimes called a gift apart from the individual to whom it has been entrusted: as for example, in I Corinthians 12. At other times the endowed individual is called the gift as in Ephesians 4. m other words, this subject of gifts in the New Testament is treated in more or less an abstract and concrete manner. Spiritual endowment should be considered altogether apart from natural ability and talent.

We must study this important subject in a progressive way as it is set forth in the Holy Scriptures. In this lesson we shall examine the source of gifts, their ultimate objective, their intermediate purpose, their character and their classification. Let us therefore read very carefully Ephesians 4:7-13.

Their Source

The context in which Paul’s statement relative to spiritual gifts is found in Ephesians 4:7-13, is most interesting and instructive. In the earlier part of the chapter he lists the seven unities of the Christian faith and Church. Unity does not necessarily imply sameness, nor does diversity suggest disagreement. While unity does not require uniformity, the exercise in the Church of the diversified gifts should be in complete accord with the divine, absolute unities revealed in the Word of God. Let us now notice:

The general statement: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (V. 7). Paul acknowledged that by himself and all his Ephesian readers some gift had been received. He does not give a list here, this he does in I Corinthians 12, but here he makes the statement of fact. Each Christian has received in measure a heavenly endowment.

Chapter 8: The Priesthood of All Believers: The Spiritual Sanctuary and Its Ministry

The concept expressed by the noun priest is a dual one for it answers to the urge of the human heart, and to the divine provision made to meet that urge. Men who by sin broke relationship with God, being conscious of God, out of this inherent consciousness, seek after God, “if haply they might feel after Him” (Acts 17:27). God in His grace provides such a means of approach.

The Hebrew word for priest, “kohen,” suggests a mediator between God and man, one who represents each to the other. Hebrews 5:1-2 may be considered in this light as a definition of a priest. He is taken from among men in things pertaining to God … He is one who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way. A priest, therefore, has a ministry both Godward and manward. This is as true of the Christian priest as of the Jewish priest.

There are three important sections to this lesson on priesthood: biblical priesthood in general, the New Testament spiritual sanctuary, and the Christian priesthood.

Priesthood in General

God has placed in man an exclusive aspect of life that raises him far above the animal; He has given him a spirit, an eternal existence, and it is this that urges him to approach God, even although this may be in fear. Because of this inward urge there have been priests seeking after God among all peoples; pagan, Jewish, Christian, for the human heart is ever the same. Let us consider briefly the different aspects of priesthood that appear in the Word of God.

The antediluvian priest: From the fall to the deluge, it would seem that every man was a priest and had access to God. Cain acted as a priest, so also did Abel; both functioned in a priestly manner and offered before the Lord (Gen. 4:3-16), and by means of their sacrifices sought to approach God.

Chapter 7: Specific Ordinances: Baptism and the Lord's Supper

Even a cursory study of the symbolic ceremonies observed by the Church in the execution of her stewardship, demands considerable time and thought, and keen spiritual insight. For our present purpose we shall consider: the ordinances and Christendom, the ordinances compared, and the ordinances viewed separately.

The Ordinances and Christendom

It is many centuries since the word sacrament was first used of the two Christian rites, baptism and the Lord’s supper. It seemed proper then that it be so used because it originally meant that which is set apart or made sacred. Furthermore, it was used of an oath of obedience to a military leader. To be baptized, to partake of the Lord’s supper, was like taking an oath of allegiance to Christ, the performance of a sacred act.

Little by little throughout the years the word sacrament gathered another significance, that of imparting divine grace. Eventually it was accepted that through the sacraments divine life was imparted, and that through the Lord’s supper one received special favour and grace, and even physical strength. This perversion is seen in its full development in the error of all the national churches, baptismal regeneration, and the error of some minority denominations, baptism essential to salvation.

Further perversions followed with time, until in Christendom instead of two sacraments there were seven: baptism, the Lord’s supper (degraded to the Mass), confirmation, penance, extreme unction, marriage, and the taking of Holy Orders. With the reformation, the five added sacraments were rejected, and only the two which had the direct authority of the Lord were accepted. These two should be practised in accord with the Holy Scriptures.

Chapter 6: Christian Tradition: General Ordinances and Observations

There are some biblical studies which are particularly for the Christian mind, others for the defense of Christian testimony, and still others for the confirmation of Christian conviction. For example, the studies on the Church and on church administration might be considered for the instruction of the mind; the study on Christianity versus Christendom, for defense; and now, this study on Traditions and Ordinances, for confirmation.

Two questions very relevant to our times present a challenge to every sincere Bible student. First, is Christian tradition of value today? Second, are there any scriptural ordinances imposed upon the Church of God today?


The inexperienced student who would list all the references in the New Testament to the word tradition in the hope of thereby gaining a knowledge of the subject, might readily be confused. He would discover that the 13 references indicate that it was used approvingly by the Pharisees but disapprovingly by the Lord Jesus; that it was used deprecatingly by Paul, but then again, with deep regard by Paul. The references in Mark 7:3-13 and II Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6, appear to be in direct conflict.

A word study of tradition offers an excellent example of the Law of Context; a word must be interpreted according to the context in which it is found; its usage must be determined before its meaning is fully understood.

Since, generally speaking, Christ disapproved of tradition and Paul commanded to keep it, we conclude that although they were using the same word, they were speaking about two different concepts. This is true; Christ spoke against Jewish tradition and Paul spoke in favour of Christian tradition.

Chapter 5: Church Government: Representative and Operative

It should be easier, with an understanding of Christian leadership in general, to concentrate upon specific spiritual leadership in the local church. There are few subjects in the lives of God’s people more important than the proper administration of church affairs.

Forms of Church Administration

Among the congregations of God’s people, a little knowledge of history, and careful observation will demonstrate three types of church government: centralized rule, congregational rule, and representative rule.

Centralized rule: This appears in two forms, the individual and the group. Earlier we learned from the case of Diotrephes that one man may arrogate to himself the right to rule the saints of God, to centralize in himself all authority (III John). This we saw was contrary to the tenor of New Testament principles of church administration.

About 1889 certain bodies in England and Scotland were torn by the divergence named the Needed Truth Movement. This movement resulted in a confederacy of assemblies which claimed to be exclusively the House of God and the Church of God, teaching that all other Christians belonged only to the Church of Christ, the Church that is His Body. In the matter of assembly administration, the assemblies in the confederacy subscribed to a united oversight, sometimes called a district oversight. In actual practice there was among them oversight in four expanding spheres: assembly, municipal, county, and national. All matters of discipline and importance had to be decided or approved by this centralized rule, at one level or the other.

Chapter 4: Christian Leadership: Qualities, Types and Methods

God intended that the Church be administrative, but He never proposed that she become legislative. All the principles necessary for Church government have been given by divine revelation in the New Testament; they are there ready to direct in all Church administration.

The professing Church departed long ago from this scriptural concept of rule, and for centuries has formulated decrees, issued edicts and published bulls, and sold indulgences.

When a church, or a circle of churches, demands as a ground for fellowship a specified conformity to a fixed code of church practices, that church, or circle of churches, in a degree has become legislative.

The subject of Church administration introduces us to the matter of leadership in the assembly.


There is no single passage in the New Testament that deals exclusively with this subject; notwithstanding, mention is made of many exemplary leaders. We therefore may learn by example what we cannot learn from precept.

At the council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) there were gathered most of the leaders in the early Church. Peter, James, and John represented the church at Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, the churches of the Gentiles. There were also present Matthias and Silas, chief men among the brethren. A reference to these brethren would give much instruction in Christian leadership. The leadership given by these men apparently had the approval of the Lord and the confidence of the whole Church.

There are four aspects of this subject we must consider: the qualities of leadership, the types of leadership, the methods of leadership, and the purpose of leadership.

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