Bella Vista Church of Christ



Everett Ferguson


Jesus or the Church


  A Person... God gave first a person, Jesus Christ. He gave a person and not a creed as the object of faith and basis of salvation. God the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is always a God of personal presence and a God who expects a personal response.


  A Proclamation... The proclamation centers in the person. He is the content of the message preached. The early church proclaimed “this Jesus” and declared what God had done through him. That preached word was soon written and collected into what we call the “New Testament” and added to the “Old Testament” to form the Christian Bible. The Bible is the written form of the proclamation of what God had done. God gave a Bible and not a catechism. The proclamation calls for a response.


  A People... The proclaimed word calls and gathers a people. The people respond to the proclamation of the person. The church is derived from the word of the gospel and from the Christ, who is the Word. God gave a word before he gave a church. This book studies the people, the church. As such it is concerned with what is derivative and in third position. The reader should keep this perspective in mind, as the author has tried to do in the writing. I seek to relate every aspect of the doctrine about the church to Christ. While stressing the church for the purposes of this study, we must remember that it is not itself part of the proclamation, but is the result of the proclamation.


  The oral message about Jesus Christ gathered a people and so created a church. That message was put in written form for the use of the people and to aid them in their proclamation. Eventually the church had to distinguish its authoritative documents from other writings and so recognized a “canon” of scripture. In a historical sense, one may say that “the church gave us the Bible.” There was no individual or group otherwise to be the means of the formation of the scriptures. The church brought together and preserved the Bible. It did so in acknowledgment that these writings were its authority and the source of its life. Although the church was historically prior to the Bible as a given collection of books, the word contained in the Bible was theologically prior to the church. . . .


  It was popular a few years ago to say, “Jesus, yes; the church, no!” Or, in other words, “Give me Christianity, not churchianity.” The author felt a certain sympathy for that expression, and in many ways still does. The person of Jesus is more attractive than those who claim to follow him are. But, from another perspective, one cannot have Jesus without the church. We hope to show that Christ or the church is a false alternative. On the very practical level, without the Bible preserved and promoted by the church, and without a believing group of people teaching about Jesus, he would not be known. On a more theological level, one cannot have Jesus without the church. Jesus died for the church; his whole mission was directed toward gathering a saved community. Christ is not complete without his people. To take Jesus means taking also his teachings and taking the people who are joined to him. To emphasize Christ is to make his church important.


  Sometimes people, finding the heart of the gospel, want to treat the rest of Biblical teaching as irrelevant. It may be secondary, but it is not irrelevant. The proper procedure is to work out from the center of the gospel to other things and apply the gospel to other aspects of doctrine. On our topic, that means working from Christ to the nature of the church and to its activities. That will be what we try to do in this book. Matters of worship and polity are not as central as the saving work of Christ, but in their own sphere the Biblical materials on these topics are normative.


  Perhaps the problem for many has been in taking the church too much in an institutional sense and not sufficiently in terms of a people, a redeemed community. In other quarters, there has been more emphasis on a set of specific church characteristics than on a crucified Christ. The demands are thereby considerably reduced. For whatever reason, too often the church in its attitudes and in the perceptions of others has been divorced from the Christ. The church may often have been presented in such away as to obscure Christ... The church is a result of and response to God’s action in Christ.


Everett Ferguson

  Excerpt from "The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology For Today"