The Church God Had In Mind, #1
by Constant Coulibaly
This article will attempt to show that God planned the church (Ephesians 3:9-11). The reason for this effort is that many religious people believe that the church was an afterthought in the mind of God when men rejected Christ and put Him to death. In their view, His earthly kingdom then failed to become a reality.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote, “… according as He [God] hath chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Ephesians 1:4). What is being stated here by the apostle is that God had an eternal purpose from “before the foundation of the world”, and that purpose was the salvation of those who would be in Christ as they would have obeyed His gospel. Paul is not suggesting that there was an unconditional predestination to salvation, as some religionists, including John Calvin, would have us believe.
Calvin once stated that “some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and other foreordained to everlasting death.” In other words, God sealed the destiny of men and women, with some destined to paradise and others to hell, regardless of how good or bad they would have lived in this life. But, in Ephesians 2:17, Paul said of Christ that He “came and preached to you which were afar off, [gentiles] and to them that were nigh [Jews].” If God settled our salvation before the beginning of time, to what purpose then was Christ’s preaching? Some of us who are in the business of preaching today had better find some other occupation and use our time more profitably. I’m obviously being purposely facetious to point out the absurdity of Calvin’s doctrine in light of biblical teaching.
Paul also stated that those in Christ “should be holy and without blemish before Him [God].” We therefore see that God’s purpose had to do with the saving of souls within the church. The terms “holy” and “without blemish” indicate that the saved souls would then have been purified of the stain of sin. There are at least three things about God’s plans to establish the church that should be emphasized. First, God thought of the church as a location. Second, He decided that the church would have a purpose. Third, God made these plans before time. It is worth noting that Paul spoke of himself, together with the recipients of his letter, as being in Christ (vv. 3, 4, 6). Let us further elaborate on this idea of being in Christ.
The book of Acts records a certain occasion when Paul undertook a journey to Damascus with the purpose of arresting and torturing the Christians living in that city. This event took place prior to his conversion to Christianity from Judaism, the Jewish religion that he zealously championed. After making havoc of the church in Jerusalem, Paul the persecutor was now on his way to the Syrian city, some 150 miles northwards, armed with authority from the high priest, in search of more disciples whom to lay his hands on and torment. His active opposition to the Christian faith marked him as the leader of the persecution that arose against the church following the death of Stephen (Acts 7, 8). Now, Paul was approaching Damascus when he had an unexpected encounter with the risen Christ, who spoke to him from heaven saying, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).
Christ made Paul understand that the evil that he wrought against the church, in his effort to try and annihilate it, was actually an attack on Him. He thus identified Himself with the church (“I am Jesus whom thou persecutest”). The church and Christ are in a sense one entity. So, to be in Christ is to be in the church, because the process that gets a person into Christ is the same process that gets him into the church (Acts 2:47). And people can be in Christ only after they have got into Christ (the preposition “into” implies movement from a position of being outside the church to that of being inside the church). This change in position occurs at the point of baptism into Christ (Roman 6:3-4, cf. John 3:3; 5).