The Testimony of Jesus
We have seen that, at the end of the apostolic age, and with the close of the first Christian century, Christianity had completely changed. It had lost its primal, original character and nature. And it was in the consciousness of the onset of this change that the Apostle wrote these letters to Timothy, and sought to indicate the way - the only way, God's way - of keeping the things of God pure, maintaining them according to their original nature. In God's thought for 'Christianity' - I use that wide term for the moment - everything had been, and was intended to be, wholly spiritual; whereas that which was developing was a system - formal, ecclesiastical, outward and so on, ordered, governed, arranged and carried on by man. These letters are a strong appeal for the recovery and maintenance of that wholly spiritual character in every department and every aspect of the life of the Christian community.
Now I have used the large word 'Christianity' and the term 'the Christian community', and I am coming immediately to what they really mean - the proper term for them - for neither of those expressions is used in the New Testament. There is a term for what they are intended to mean, and that term is "the Church". I ask you to look at one or two fragments from these letters which intimate the matter.
"If a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" (1 Timothy 3:5). We leave the context and immediate application, and just note that this that is called the Church of God is introduced, is referred to, as something that must have been known and recognized, as something taken for granted. There is such a thing as the Church of God. Again: "These things write I unto thee, thou thou mayest know how men ought to behave themselves in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Finally: "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory" (2 Timothy 2:10).
Here then we have, in both letters, attention drawn to the "Church". What we have been saying about this turning-point in Christian history, this change which was coming about, this departure from the original character and nature, was a "Church" matter. It was not just 'Christianity', in that very general term; it was not only that certain Christians were losing out, that a state of spiritual decline had set in with some believers. It was a Church matter. The departure was the departure of the Church. And so these two letters are essentially Church letters: that will become even more clear to you if you just read them through.
(continued with # 65)