SCOFIELD’S PROOF TEXTS – Part 4
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Just a simple look at the pronouns used should show us that Paul is talking about a local church here. He is writing to a local church and he repeatedly says “ye” not “we.” Ye is a plural pronoun which indicates a group of people and excludes others. As such Paul includes the church at Ephesus and excludes himself and those who are members of other churches.
The things Paul talks about in these verses refer to the church at Ephesus. They are also true of all other scriptural churches, but only because the other churches are also a group for which these things are also true. These things do not apply because there is a universal church, but because they are true of any church in the same way certain things are true of any bicycle. All bicycles have two wheels and a frame to hold them together. All scriptural churches have a saved membership who are fellow citizens with all the saints in the Kingdom of God. All saved members of scriptural churches are part of the household of God (the family of God). All scriptural churches are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and Christ is the chief cornerstone. Each church is fitly framed together and grows as “an holy temple in the Lord.”
Look closely at the last sentence of this passage which says that, like all other churches, they are “also” built together into a habitation of God. Each local church is an habitation where God meets with that part of His people who meet there.
It is difficult to see how this passage can be used to support the universal church doctrine. Since Paul is speaking to a local church, the phrase “all the building” must refer to that building. To interpret this passage to mean anything other than a local church is not required by the text. In my opinion, to make it mean a universal church does great violence to the passage.
As I read the commentaries on this passage, it amazes me how educated men can arrive at the conclusions they do. For example, John Gill, a Baptist pastor who lived from 1697 to 1771 wrote the following concerning this passage:
“This building is to be understood of all the saints, and people of God; of the whole universal church, which is God’s building; and is a building of a spiritual nature and will abide for ever: and this is fitly framed together; it consists of various parts, as a building does; some saints are comparable to beams, some to rafters, others to pillars, etc. and these are joined and united to one another and are set in an exact symmetry and proportion, and in a proper subserviency to each other; and so as to make for the good, the strength, and beauty of the whole. And it all centers in Christ; he has a great concern in this building; he is the master builder, and the foundation and cornerstone; and it being knit together in him,”
Note that he said that the building is to be understood of all the saints. He makes the statement without offering any proof, at least in this part of his commentary. A little research shows where he got this idea. He received his education from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. This university was formed in 1495 by William Elphingstone, the Bishop of Aberdeen under the authority of King James IV and Pope Alexander VI. You will note that this was before the Protestant Reformation and that it was originally a Catholic university. When the Reformation came to Scotland, it became a Presbyterian university which kept the doctrine of a universal church. Of course, the Protestant universal church became invisible instead of visible as the Catholic Church had taught.
There are some things I find interesting in John Gill’s commentary, as well as in the commentaries of many others. He describes a building as the sum of its parts but he forgets that it is not a building until those parts are brought together in one place and assembled. A building is not made while the components are still in the lumber yard or on the truck on the way to the building site. It is not a building until the parts are assembled.
The text says that the building is “fitly framed together” and that they, the church at Ephesus, are “builded together” to form an habitation for God. These metaphors only work if the building is local.
Since universities of that day required government approval, and since the government only approved those universities that were approved by the state church, to receive a university education it was necessary to sit at the feet of the Protestants. As a result, many of the pastors of those days were “protestantized” by their Protestant professors.
This is just one reason that it is necessary to study the Scriptures for yourself. This is also why this work is not filled with quotes from “experts and theologians.” I do not expect you, as readers of this work, to assume that I am correct, I expect you to study these things for yourselves. Your conclusions should come from a study of the Scriptures, not from a study of what other men think. What others have written can be helpful, but it must always be compared with the Scriptures.
Let me conclude this section by saying that Paul is writing to the church at Ephesus about the fact that they were a building fitly framed together. This is true for all local churches, but not for a universal church. Remember, those who invented the idea of a universal church did not work together with others who were part of the supposed universal body of Christ. They persecuted and killed those who disagreed with them. Does that sound like a “building fitly framed together?”
For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
There are two phrases that cause some to apply this passage to the universal church. The first is “of the same body,” and the second is “known by the church.” If you keep in mind what we have learned so far, you will understand that these phrases apply just as easily to the idea of a local church as they do to a universal church.
Most, if not all, of the first-century churches had both Jews and Gentiles in their membership. If you remember how Paul started churches by first going to the synagogue of the Jews, you will understand why this was almost always the case.
The mystery Paul is talking about here is that Jews and Gentiles would be joined together in one body. The very thought of this in the first century would shock either Jew or Gentile. The mystery that is spoken of in this passage is that in Christ all are one. It is not the mystery of some new kind of “ecclesia” that is never explained in Scripture.
In the Old Testament God worked through the nation of Israel which formed an assembly which moved as a unit and often met together as a unit. It is called “the church in the wilderness” in Acts 7:38. Although it had God as its ultimate head, as a church has Christ, it had an earthly leader, Moses, just as a church has an earthly leader, the pastor. It had requirements for membership. It was exclusionary: you had to be a Jew or a convert to Judaism. The only members were those who were alive at any given time. It did not include dead or yet unborn Jews.
It was through this local group that God worked in the Old Testament. In the New Testament God works through the local church. The supposed universal church cannot carry out the work of God on earth because it has no substance. The purpose (intent) of the church is to make known “the manifold wisdom of God.” How does it do this if it cannot be seen because it is invisible? How does it do this if it has many branches that disagree with one another? Would not this confusion show a lack of wisdom on the part of God?
For the true church to make known the wisdom of God it must, first of all, be in agreement concerning God’s precepts. In the supposed universal church we have Catholics that teach that we are saved by grace, through faith, plus sacraments, plus works. We also have the various reformed churches teach man has no choice in his salvation, but that God has predetermined who will be saved. Then there are the denominations which teach you are saved by grace, through faith, but that you are kept by works, making your ultimate salvation based on your works. There are also churches which teach that one is saved by grace, through faith, without any kind of works for salvation or for keeping their salvation. This leads to confusion, not unity. How could this be the “true church?”
You will only learn of God’s manifold wisdom in local churches where there is agreement in doctrine and practice. To have the unity needed to make known God’s manifold wisdom there must be a faithfulness to the teaching of Scripture.
God’s work has always been done through something local. During the patriarchal period, it was the family. During the time of Israel, it was a nation. During the church age, it is the local New Testament church.
I realize that I have digressed a bit in this section, but the bottom line is that Paul can only be talking about a local church in this passage. He is specifically speaking of the church at Ephesus, but the truths spoken of here apply to any local church of any age. They cannot apply to a supposed universal church.