Chapter 5


The Roll of the Church



So what is the place of the Church in all of this? TO SEE the place of the church in the plan of the ages you need to remember a bit of history which will be readily admitted as historic by any Bible believer. When did sin first enter God's creation? No, it wasn't with Adam but sin first entered the universe among the angels. Since angels are an order of beings, not a race, each one obviously a separate creation, sin affected only a part of the angelic order. When, through Adam's disobedience, sin came into the human race, according to the Bible, it brought mortality and death--"dying thou shalt die" (Gen. 2:17). Paul shows that the weakness and depletion accompanying mortality and death are the source of our proneness to sin. A literal translation of what Paul said in Romans 5:12 is,


"On this account, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and thus death passed through to all men, upon which all sinned."


Adam was a corporate man in that he represented all future men. So, when he sinned all men descending from him sinned. As a result of his sin death passed through him to all men by the process of heredity. And then because we are all mortal and dying we sin. We are all born with a tragic bent or tendency to sin. No child has to be taught to give vent to his temper and as a result he has to be taught to control it. No child has to be taught to lie so he has to be taught to tell the truth. The pull of our nature is down and not up. No unaided mortal has ever yet been able to resist every evil tendency in his hereditary weakness.


Here, then, we have the setting or background against which God puts forth His plan of the ages. Part of the angelic host was affected and the entire human race was affected by this virus of sin and the wages of this sin, for man, is death. What does God do about it? The Bible says that fallen angels were cast out of heaven (see 2 Pet.2:4; Jude 6). Then later man is cast out of Eden and the whole earth is also affected by man's sin. "For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now" (Rom.8.22).


Until the time of the flood there was just one kind of man. All were simply one common lot of sinners. Yet in the age after the flood, beginning with Abraham, men were divided into two groups. Men in general and a Chosen Family of God. Later we recognize these two groups as Jews and Gentiles. The Chosen Family, or Israelites, was selected to bear witness to a wicked and idolatrous world of the truth of the one true God. They remembered that they were chosen but quickly forgot what they were chosen for. Instead of bearing witness to the Gentiles they only hated them.


In the New Testament, however, another group has appeared, a group called the Church. It is a "called-out" group composed of both Jews and Gentiles chosen especially to proclaim, not only the power and wisdom and righteousness of God, but particularly, His grace. They are to proclaim to the world God's solution of the problem of sin and evil which was accomplished in Christ. This is proclaimed widely in Christian churches. But what is not generally taught is what God is planning to do with the Church in the ages to come. This is made clear especially in Paul's epistle to the Ephesians. Let us look at it briefly.


First of all, the members of the church were chosen in Christ before the foundation (disruption) of the world and predestinated unto the adoption of sons by Jesus Christ to God and accepted in the Beloved (Eph.1:4-6). To the selection of that chosen group, the activities of God in the world are now devoted. It may sound like a startling statement but it is Biblically true to say that God is not now trying to convert the whole world! Instead, He is calling out the Church! As recorded in Acts 15:13-14, James (The brother of Christ) said, "Men and brethren, hearken unto me; Simeon has declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name." The whole speech of James, however, is one which is generally overlooked in forming a Christian viewpoint. He continued to say, (NIV)


"After this I will return and rebuild Davids fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things that have been known for ages."


How Christians can read these stirring words and have no idea of what God plans to do in the coming ages seems to be past belief. I read this scripture for years before their meaning dawned me. I simply ask that you not only read about all the nations seeking after the Lord but that you put with it the clear statement in Romans 11:26, "And so all Israel shall be saved." God is not done with humanity in this age! He has much still to do "in the ages to come." And, in the doing of it, He will make use of His Church, the called-out assembly.


God not only chose the Church, He not only predestined it to the adoption of sons, He not only accepted it in the Beloved, but He also does for its members exactly what He did with Christ. He has "quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus" (Eph.2:5,6). God has given to the Church the highest standing that it is possible for Him to give it. The Church is not only "beside" Christ in its standing but it is to live and reign with Him as well and best of all, it is to be like Him (1 John 3 :2). But that is not just to honor the Church. It is part of God's program for the Church, "in the ages to come."


What is that program? Here it is: "That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus" (Eph.2:7, RV). Show it to whom? Not to those who already know it because that would be useless nonsense. But to those who do not know it! That is, in this age to living men and in the ages to come to resurrected men. More than that! To the angels, also! That is Paul's daring faith to say in Eph. 3:8-11,


"Unto me who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the ages hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ to the intent that now unto the principalities and authorities in the heavenlies might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the purpose of the ages which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord"


To all on the earth the grace of God must be made known and to all in the heavenlies, also. This is the calling of the Church. The plan of God for the ages has the Church in its center. He has revealed in the Bible a progressive unfolding of those plans, principally covering human history, but giving also glimpses of His purpose in the "ages to come." In the center of that purpose stands the Church. Christ, the Head of the church, has been given the place of highest authority in the entire universe. Paul said in Eph. 1:21,


"Far above all principality, and authority, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in that which is to come"


To rule with Him, to reign with Him and to demonstrate His grace "in the ages to come" is the task of "the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" (Eph.1:22,23).


However, the objection will be made that "in the ages to come" men will not deserve an opportunity to accept Christ. There will be countless millions there who have never had an opportunity for salvation, who never heard the name of Christ in Whom alone men find life. How much will the apathy of the Church today be responsible for that fact? But here will be other countless millions who have heard the message and have rejected it. So men say, "Let them go to hell! They will be getting just what is coming to them. They do not deserve the grace of God." I don't deserve the grace of God and without any thought of being insulting, but just to state the fact according to Bible estimate you do not deserve the grace of God either! All men are undeserving sinners. That is why it takes grace (unmerited favor) to save. Paul said in Eph. 1:8-9,


"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast"


Why do these verses follow immediately the statement, "that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus"? And why do these verses begin with the word "for"? The word "for" shows a relationship between what precedes and what follows. In the ages to come, He will demonstrate His grace, for He has already shown it to us, His church, whom He will use as the demonstration.


No member of the church deserves to be saved by grace. Not one thing can we claim that has any merit in it. Some will say that at least our faith is our own. "For by grace are ye saved through faith"--and surely the faith is ours. But Paul will not have it so, for he adds, "and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God." Yes, God gives to us our faith, "according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith" (Rom.12:3). And He gives it to us through "Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb.12:2). Not only does He give us grace but He gives us the faith to receive it. Otherwise we would still be in stubbornness or unbelief. "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all" (Rom.11:32).


So God chooses a few undeserving sinners in this age through whom He will demonstrate His grace to other undeserving sinners, "in the ages to come." And the demonstration will be convincing, too. It will accomplish what God intends that it shall accomplish: "That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him" (Eph.1:10).


THERE ARE many objections raised against the teachings of Reconciliation but the principal ones can be covered under five heads. One is that if all are to be saved ultimately there is no need for preaching and teaching the gospel; another is that we shall have salvation by compulsion or by force; a third is that Reconciliation teaches a "second chance" gospel; the fourth is that Reconciliation would give to many men a "hell redemption"; and the fifth is the problem of the The Rich Man and Lazarus. Let us consider these briefly in the above order.


(1) Why preach and teach the gospel if all are to be saved ultimately? This is one of the first objections made. I used to wrestle this most vehemently in my carnal mind. But it just shows a lack of clear thinking; that's all. First, the Christian life is so rich and worthwhile that it would be the only life to live, even if there were no hereafter. Ask those who have really tried Christ over a long period of years. Was it not Dr. A.J. Gordon who met an old crippled man on the street, and asked him why, with all his handicap, his face was nevertheless so bright and shining? And the old man answered, "The Devil has no happy old men!"


Those who keep the closest to Christ will reveal His love as they grow old. Wouldn't you be glad to tell someone of that possibility? And then we have the additional reason of keeping people from going into judgment. To be separated from God for a whole age, not merely three score years and ten, is a terrible fate. If you could prevent folks from having typhoid fever, or infantile paralysis, wouldn't you do it even if the question of dying from such diseases was not considered? Do you care?


Again, the ministry of reconciliation has been committed unto men, not unto angels. If men are taught the gospel at all, other men must do it. And those other men must be those who know our Christ. The angels of God would be happy to proclaim the message we have to give but they can't do it. We must do it (see 2 Cor.5:18-20). Moreover, we are commanded to evangelize the world. That was the last word the Master left with his disciples. If we do not herald the gospel we are disobeying our Lord.


Then, to, we should witness for Christ because of the great honor of being "workers together with God." Some day we shall realize, as we may not now, just how great that honor really is and how much we have missed if we fail to share in this task to which the Almighty has set His hand.


Not least of the reasons, possibly, from the standpoint of personal experience, is the joy of seeing people accept Christ as their own Saviour. Just ask anyone who has led some person to the Lord what is the greatest joy he knows. He will not be slow in telling you. Or try it yourself.


Lastly, there is the urge of reward. Salvation is a free gift to be received by faith and by faith alone. No one can buy it or earn it. There is no way to get salvation except to take it as one takes any other gift and then say, "Thank you!" But in addition to our salvation, the Lord offers us rewards for the service we render after we have accepted His salvation. We may have salvation here and now and know it, too but the greatest rewards for our service are to be given to us in the future. Only God knows how glorious they will be. Don't miss out. Share the gospel you know!


(2) The second objection given is, "Reconciliation would mean salvation by force," men say and they are thinking about the freedom of man's will. They claim that when God made man in the first place He endowed him with freedom of will, the ability to accept God's love or to reject it and that the decision he makes here and now is a final choice. But our Lord Jesus says, "No one is able to come unto Me unless the Father Who sent Me draw him" (John 6:44). Some men interpret 1 Timothy 2:4, "who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," as meaning that God desires or wishes all men to be saved but that it does not mean that they will or must be saved. A little careful thinking will show that such an interpretation makes the will of man more mighty than the will of God. God wills (or wishes) all men to be saved but He is not able to get His will (or wish) fulfilled. Man wills not to be saved and he is perfectly able to have his will fulfilled. That deifies man and dethrones God. Man is able to get his will done, but God is not.


Let us think a moment of just how free man is and how far his freedom can go. A little observation and study will show that man's freedom has very narrow limits. One is able to wish or desire or purpose as he pleases but when he comes to carry out his wish or desire or purpose he finds that he faces a problem. You are not free in the physical realm. Just try to jump off the earth and land on Mars, for example. One is not free in the social realm. Not every man can marry the woman he wishes. One is not free in the moral and spiritual realm. He may desire with all his being to free the world of drunkenness and vice, of greed and hate and war, but who has yet accomplished that?


If you will turn to the Bible, you will find some clear teaching about the limits of man's freedom. "Oh, Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer.10:23). "Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?" (Prov.20:24). These seem to teach that man is not free at all. How much freedom does he really have? "A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps" (Prov.16:9). That is, it is clearly within a man's province to believe what he wants to believe, to desire and plan a certain way of action, but, unless God permits him to carry it out, his plan will never be accomplished. "The Lord directeth his steps."


It is a strange theory that obsesses men that the human being is greater in power than God and that no matter what the plan of God for the world may be man is able finally to wreck it. But it is not given to man finally to overthrow the will of God. Since God is God, His will must ultimately triumph. In Ephesians 1:11 we read that God is One "Who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will." God is still God. "I know that Thou canst do all things and that no purpose of Thine can be restrained" (Job 42:2).


We often forget that God not only allows sin and evil but that He also uses them. Again and again, when trouble stalks his path, a man turns back to the God Whom he has despised. When his wife dies, or his children go wrong; when loss and disaster fall upon him, again and again he will seek the God he has neglected. Many men in military service find that danger and privation turn their minds back to God. Foxholes cure atheism they say. Probably this occurs not so generally as such statements lead us to believe but often. Weeks on a rubber raft in the ocean do something to a man and he is a very different person when he lands on shore again. That is not because God coerces the man but because God brings upon him such experiences that change his attitude. And God brings such experiences upon men, not in anger, but in love. He is too wise to err, too loving to be unkind.


God knows that some men will need judgments to bring them to their senses. He will see to it that ultimately all men will want God's will to be done because they will see that His will is wisest and best. That will not be salvation by compulsion for love is the only ultimate power that is not coercive. Consider Saul of Tarshish. It took an appearance of Jesus to convert him and what a bout the tax collector, Mathew? All Jesus had to do was look him in the eye and say, "Come follow me!" (Matt. 9:9)


(3) The third objection is that people say, "Reconciliation makes a "second chance" gospel." No, no, no! We do not have a "first chance" gospel, nor a "second chance" gospel. Salvation is not by "chance," it is by grace! Infinite grace!


There have been some people who accepted Christ as their Saviour at the "first chance" they ever had. Three thousand did that on the day of Pentecost. But I have asked many men if they accepted the Saviour the "first chance" they had and have yet to find that man! I had many "chances" before I let Christ come into my heart and so have most of you. One denomination, in an official publication concerning its belief, makes the following statement:


"Some people inconsiderately accuse us of rejecting the atonement of Christ entirely because we dissent from the view that the atonement was made upon the cross as is generally held. But we do nothing of the kind. We object to the view that the atonement was made upon the cross because it inevitably leads to a great error that Christ on the cross bore the sins of all the world. John said, `Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away (margin, `beareth') the sin of the world' (John 1:29). Peter tells us how Christ thus bore the sins of the world. `Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree' (1 Peter 2:24). Paul says that `He died for all' (2 Cor.5:14,15). That which Christ did on the cross, therefore, was done indiscriminately and unconditionally for all the world and if this was the atonement, then all the sins of the world have been atoned for and all will be saved--but all men will not be saved; hence the sins of all were not atoned for upon the cross."


Little comment needs to be made about this quotation except to point out that the writer sees clearly that if the usual understanding of the cross of Christ is accepted then all men will be saved. Therefore, in order to maintain that not all will be saved, as he thinks, he claims that the atonement was not made upon the cross. But the Bible teaches clearly that the atonement was made upon the cross. "All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isa.53:6). "Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). And in the Hebrew letter we read of the Christ Who "by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb.2:9). Which He did that on the cross.


Through the centuries the Christian understanding has been that when Jesus hung on the cross and cried, "It is finished," the problem of atonement was settled for all time. We do not have, therefore, a gospel of chance, either first chance or many chances. We have a gospel of grace.


Jesus gave a wonderful teaching in Matthew 11 which is often overlooked. He said that if Tyre and Sidon had only witnessed the mighty works which were done in Chorazin and Bethsaida they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. That is, more knowledge and information would have brought them to repentance. Do you think, therefore, that God will torment the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon forever because of their lack of knowledge? Again, He said that if Sodom could have witnessed the mighty works that were done in Capernaum "it would have remained until this day." Do you think that the inhabitants of Sodom will be tormented forever just because they lacked the opportunities of Capernaum? Indeed not! God will not inflict ultimate punishment on men who have not had ultimate knowledge. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim.2:3,4). It is not just a matter of one "chance."


Just as God dealt with me as a child of 10 years old until I wanted to accept His grace, so will God do with all men, though it may take ages to accomplish His purpose. Infinite love is not exhausted in three score years and ten! Of course our creeds insist that mercy is ended when men die but the Bible doesn't say so. It says "the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting," or correctly, "from eon to eon" (Psa.103:17). Why do we not believe it?


(4) The fourth objection is that the doctrine of Reconciliation teaches a "hell redemption." Chas. G. Finney opposed the teaching of the ultimate salvation of all by ridicule. He said that those who were saved after this "age of grace" would unceasingly sing, "Thanks be to the hell that saved us by our own suffering!" Just how much weight is there to that criticism? Those who accept the usual interpretation of Calvary believe that on the cross Christ dealt with the guilt of the whole world's sin. But there is one thing that the cross of Christ has not yet accomplished and that is the removal of man's rebellion.


Earlier when I was talking about judgments I pointed out that the flesh is to be destroyed. The word "flesh" (Greek, 'sarx') is the word used for "carnal." "The carnal [sarx] mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom.8.7). This carnal mind is enmity against God because it is blind. Now when this carnal mind, which is enmity against God and which is blind is destroyed the enmity and the blindness will both disappear. The person will then be free to choose according to the truth.


Judgment destroys the flesh, the carnal mind which blinds and is enmity against God; but judgment does not grant redemption. It only destroys rebellion! Redemption was purchased on the cross. For instance, when the Prodigal was feeding hogs in the "far country" he "came to himself," according to Jesus. Did he have a "hogpen redemption?" Well, hardly. He got some sense in the pigsty and it was there his willfulness and rebellion left him but he was not saved till he got back to his father.


If soldiers become Christians on the battlefront, do they therefore have a "war redemption"? Well, hardly. Men in the danger and horror of war no doubt begin to think as they never thought before but war does not save. At best, it can only awaken, and turn men to the Christ they have ignored. And if they are saved at all it is because they accept in all sincerity the Saviour Who bore their sins on Calvary's cross.


The Prodigal didn't have to go home. He was not compelled to do so; he wanted to. But he didn't want to until he got to feeding the hogs. The men in the foxholes of battle are not compelled to become Christians, they want to. But they do not want to until the horrors of war grip their minds and hearts. The point is that both the Prodigal and the soldier come to the place where they choose to "arise and go to the Father."


And yet even this is not ultimately the man's own doing, any more than the good desires and actions of an earnest Christian are his own doings. "For it is God Who worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil.2:13). And this gracious will of God is to be completely wrought out in Christ. "It is in Him and through the shedding of His blood that we have our deliverance, the forgiveness of our offenses, so abundant was God's grace, the grace which He, the possessor of all wisdom and understanding, lavished upon us when He made known the secret of His will. And this is in harmony with God's merciful purpose for the government of the world when the times are ripe for it, the purpose which He cherished in His own mind of restoring the whole creation to find its one Head in Christ, yes, things in heaven and things on earth, to find their one Head in Him" (Eph.1:7-10, Weymouth). No, we do not have "hell redemption." We have a redemption of infinite grace and love made known and made effective for us by the sacrifice of our blessed Lord on Calvary's cross. It is a God-planned, Christ-accomplished, blood-bought redemption sufficient for all creation.


(5) One of the most common objections to the doctrine of Total Reconciliation is the insistence that the story of the The Rich Man and pictures the fate of the wicked and the righteous, and that this makes Reconciliation not only impossible but a rank denial of the plain teaching of Scripture. What shall we say about this?