Contemporary Problems in Biblical Interpretation Part IV: The Nature of the Church -- By: John F. Walvoord

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 116:464 (Oct 1959)
Article: Contemporary Problems in Biblical Interpretation Part IV: The Nature of the Church
Author: John F. Walvoord

Contemporary Problems in Biblical Interpretation
Part IV:
The Nature of the Church

John F. Walvoord

[Editor’s Note: This article is the final in a series on the general subject “Contemporary Problems in Biblical Interpretation.”]

Any intelligent observer of modern Christianity soon becomes aware of the widespread confusion that exists concerning the nature of the church. If it is true that the church is the present divine undertaking, a lack of understanding on this important subject will blur not only the theological perspective, but will make impossible a practical approach to the present task of the church.

The student of church history early discovers the major trends of development from the early apostolic church, where local congregations seemed to have been linked chiefly by the presence of apostolic authority. The unfolding scene portrays the church, first as persecuted and hated by the world, then under Constantine combined with the world and its pagan religions, and emerging into its two major divisions of the Roman and the Greek churches. Out of the decadent church of the Middle Ages the Protestant Reformation was born and with it a new division of the organized church as well as a new theological approach. Out of Protestantism in succeeding centuries arose many diverse movements which crystallized into modern denominations. The diversity of the modern church both in its government and its theological convictions is apparent. In such a context has been born, particularly in our generation, the desire to unify these diverse elements and ecumenicalism has become a substantial movement in the twentieth century.

Out of the study of the history of the church and the problems causing its diversity have come many questions concerning the nature of the church. Is there any underlying unity which binds together its diverse elements? Is division within its organization contrary to the unity which should characterize it as an undertaking of God? Is schism within the organized church a heresy, or is it an act of obedience on the part

of the individual to the Word of God? Many answers have been given to these questions and few of them have been categorical. The problem is very difficult, but it all stems from the major question, What is the nature of the church?

In attempting to answer such a question, much more is needed than an analysis of contemporary Christianity and a series of propositions as to what the church ought to do. The early church does not seem to have occupied itself with the study of the nature of the church. As Dillistone points out, “No systematic treatment of the doctrine of the Church can be found in t...

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