Church Metaphors

      This addendum addresses the metaphors used in conjunction with the church, so it is prudent to begin with a review of the metaphor as a figure of speech and its usage.

Topics under consideration:

  • Metaphors Defined
  • Usage of Metaphors
  • Purpose of Metaphors
  • What we hope to gain from the Church Metaphors
  • Church Metaphors Used
  •       The Church as The House of God
  •            Foundation of The House
  •            The House as a Building
  •            The Building Material of The House
  •            Essentials of The House of God
  •       The Flock
  •       The Body of Christ
  •       The Bride of Christ

Metaphors Defined

      Metaphors are a figure of speech, which involve making comparisons. Technically the metaphor is a comparison in which one thing is, acts like, or represents another in which the two are basically unalike. The key is the verb “is.” A metaphor asserts that one thing is like another thing. The metaphor is a “Comparison by Representation.” It is one noun representing another noun. But we are cautioned in the use of these nouns. It is wrong to say that a metaphor may be applied allegorically. Bernard Ramm wrote,

“Whenever a figure is used its literal meaning is precisely that meaning determined by grammatical studies of figures. Hence figurative interpretation does not pertain to the spiritual or mystical sense of Scripture, but to the literal sense.”

To illustrate this when the church is called a flock, a house, or a temple these are all literal; a literal flock, house, or temple. But that does not mean that the church is a literal flock, house, or temple, but rather that in some way these literal things compare in some point or points with the church.

      As an example let us consider the church as the temple of God. Is the church a literal temple, a stone building adorned with wood and precious metals? No, it is not. But in some way the temple compares with the church. The Old Testament temple was the designated place of worship. The temple stood as the accepted place of sacrifice and service to God. It was holy. It was built after God's design. God designated certain servants of the temple; called priests and a high priest. It was a physical, visible building of divine origin. All these points compare with the church.

Usage of Metaphors

      As a rule, there is a phenomena of consistency of metaphors in scripture. When a metaphor is repeatedly compared with the same object its point(s) of representation is consistent. So whatever meaning is ascribed to a metaphor it will hold constant in every occurrence of its use for that same object. If it does not, then we need to re-evaluate our interpretation of it. For example leaven is considered by many to represent evil, corruption, sinfulness, etc. But there is nothing about leaven itself which is wicked or immoral; in and of itself it is benign. It was used in the Wave Offering on the day of Pentecost (Lev. 23:17), which denies the interpretation that leaven always represents evil. What then can we say about leaven and its representation? Leaven is an influencing agent. Given time leaven will spread throughout any dough in which it is present. The better interpretation of the metaphor leaven is to beware of the influence of sin and false doctrine. This holds consistent. Also it needs to be made clear that when a noun is used as a metaphor it is not always called upon to be a metaphor, such as in the case of leaven in the Wave Offering.

Purpose of Metaphors

      The metaphor stirs the mind to understand in what way(s) the representation or comparison is made. As with all figures of speech metaphors can add vividness and make abstract ideas more concrete. They attract attention and encourage reflection; many times they abbreviate the idea and put complex notions into simple terms. Thus they say much with few words. Some regard metaphors as a language of convenience to help in our understanding.

What we hope to gain from the Church Metaphors

      The object of our study is definitive answers. What we seek are not possibilities of interpretations, but a definite model, which represents the nature of the church. But, let the conclusions be clearly demonstrated, without any prejudicial, preconceived ideas, grounded on the merit of The Word of God alone. One of the most frustrating statements is that of, “Yes, but . . . ” And the arguments drift off to texts, which are open to various interpretations. If the point is proven and verified by two or more scriptures it needs not to be proven in all correlated scriptures, nor does it need to be defended by endless rhetoric. If an answer is given, it will be consistent, accept it, believe it, and move on.

Church Metaphors Used

      When the church is called the body of Christ there is something about the noun “body,” which stands for the church. It is not the literal physical actual body of Jesus. That body was resurrected and has ascended to heaven and there remains until this day.

      In the case when the church is called a flock, it is not a literal flock. While the members of the church, the disciples, are called sheep (another metaphor), they are not literal sheep but literal people. Thus the term flock is a metaphor requiring interpretation.

      The same holds true when the church is called the House of God. It is not a literal house of God, but metaphorically it is His house. God has said that He lives in no house (Acts 7:17-50). But, His church is His dwelling in the sense of His domicile. The church is not a literal building but conveniently expressed in that term to illustrate the essence of the church being built up and comprised of building material, living stones (also a metaphor).

      The figures rock, stones and foundation are architectural terms used in the design and construction of the building. Together these make up the temple and, as we shall see, the literal New Testament royal priesthood.

      The term “Bride of Christ” is not a metaphor of the church; it is a title of the church. Thus it requires a different approach of study and application. This is important for it distinguishes the church as the wife (actual), and not that she is merely compared to a wife.

      The Church as The House of God

      There is a natural progression of thought and revelation with the metaphors used of the church as the “House of God.” First, is the foundation; next the progressive building process and what is being built on this foundation. The building of God thus developes into the house of God. This House is also called a habitation and a holy temple. The composition of the house is the material, living stones, used in its construction. Within the temple is the New Testament priesthood. There is a thread or a cord, which logically leads one to another, binding them together.

      Each of these metaphors contains features which present evidence of the nature of the church. So we research the evidence, examine the conclusions, and see if they give a definitive answer to the nature of the church.

                The Foundation

      There are two Greek words, which translate into English “foundation.” They are katabole and themelios. Katabole is the act of founding, or laying a foundation*, themelios is the foundation itself. I Cor. 3:11 states that Christ is the foundation, and Eph. 2:20 has the apostles and prophets as the foundation. Both passages use themelios. Christ was the original foundation, but the apostles were added, since it was through them that the church received its instructions until “The Word” was completed. Everything the church did was based upon the teachings of Christ and the apostles as they were taught by Christ. One passage considers the founding stone, or cornerstone, while others view the entire foundation. Christ, as the chief cornerstone, is presented as a keystone, which builders first lay. From this stone all other measurements and "truing" is referenced; it set the standard for the building. In these verses it is on this foundation the church is being built not the Kingdom of God.

* Katabole in the New Testament is always found in reference to the foundation (the casting down) of the world or earth.

      It becomes apparent that the foundation is the teachings of Christ and the doctrines of the New Testament. All, which God builds on this foundation, are built on these principles. All men are admonished to build carefully on this foundation, for every work will be tried. The worthless shall be consumed as by fire, and only those works which conform to the truth shall remain. This is not a picture of a foundation upon which a universal “believe all and accept all” church shall be built.

                The Building

      Paul used the analogy of a building in Eph. 2:21,22.

      The American Standard version reads: “In whom each several building (margin reads: ‘Gk. every building’) fitly framed together groweth into a holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye (Ephesians) also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”

      This reading shows that Paul envisioned the separate churches to be complete buildings in themselves, “fitly framed together,” not a solitary immense mystical building. Not to be overlooked is the fact that this building is a (one of many) habitation, dwelling place, of God though the Spirit. The building is also a (one of many) Holy Temple.

      The perspective of the building of God may be best seen in I Cor. 3:9, 16-17. Expositors agree that these verses picture the church as local. There are some who dispute this conclusion, especially with verses 16, 17 (the Temple references), however, any argument for a universal temple cannot be contextually sustained.

      Paul directly names the Corinthian Church as God’s husbandry and building, showing ownership and origin (3:9). Moreover in verses 16-17 Paul names them as the temple of God, which parallels Ephesians 2:21. Both the Corinthian and the Ephsian churches are identified as separate buildings of God.

                The Building Material

      The church is spoken of in two unique ways. First, it is a housing both of God and of the saints, who are also named as priests of God. Second, is the element of the construction of the building itself, made of living stones. This is addressed in I Peter 2:5-7.

I Peter 2:5 "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."

      Here we have the direct connection of the building to a house with a strong correlation to a temple.

      This word “stone” is from the Greek lithos. It is commonly used for a rock which has been worked or that some workmanship has been made on it. The idea is that a stone has been fashioned into something unique or useful for some purpose. Hence it has a value attached to it by the merit of the work and effort put into it. Rare stones become precious jewels by the craftsmen hands.

      Jesus is called the chief corner stone, the head of the corner (6, 7). Jehovah, Himself, has laid this corner stone, called precious and tried and sure foundation (Isa. 28:16). As mentioned in the foundation topic, when constructing a building a corner stone is carefully and precisely set in place. All measurements are made from this point of reference. Everything constructed is "trued" to this corner stone. The walls are made straight and level to it. Without this stone the construction would be flawed, weak, and even dangerous. All the stones used in the building process are shaped to fitly form together in their place of the building. This calls for exactness and presents uniqueness with unity. These living stones are God's people who have or are undergoing God's crucible of discipline. Unfortunately not all of the saved have submitted themselves to this purging and cannot fit into this building.

                The House of God

      There are three passages which clarify the house of God: I Peter 4:17, Hebrews 3:3, 6, and I Timothy 3:15.

Hebrews 3:3 "For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house."
Hebrews 3:6 "But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end."

      These verses declares several important features of the metaphor “house.” First, is that the owner of the house is Christ, and in verse 3 it is seen that Jesus is the builder of His house (Re. Matt. 16:18). Second, is the declaration; we are His house. Our interest is, who are the we. Does this include all the saved, and thus all the redeemed (the aggregate or as individuals) are the house of Christ? Or is it more restrictive in its constitution? The answer is given by the conditional “if.” The we are those who “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” It is a great leap of supposition and contrary to reality to say that this is the condition of all saved. Only those who satisfy the conditions given are in His house.

1 Peter 4:17 "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?"

      The implication of this verse is that those who obey the gospel of God comprise the house of God. Many conveniently misuse the term “gospel.” Those who have only a limited vision of the gospel see it as the salvation message and nothing more. But the gospel extends far beyond that of simply salvation; it is the whole council of God. Those disobedient to the gospel are disobedient to God Himself. To be saved is only the initial act of obedience to the gospel; it is merely the inaugural act of submission to the will of God. But the true disciple, with total commitment, is to render a lifetime of submissive obedience to God. The judgment begins with the disciples of Christ in His church.

1 Timothy 3:15 "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

      These words from Paul to Timothy gives the house of God two critical identifications: first, it is The Church of The Living God and second, that it is the ground and pillar of the truth. As the ground and pillar of the truth, the church of God, the house of God must contain the truth. It is the repository of the truth.

I. Timothy was to know how to behave himself within the assembly of God. This is where Christian conduct is learned. We don’t first learn how to conduct ourselves in the world or in the economy of all the saved and then carry over those principles into the church. It is within the local church we are taught how to behave in the church and the world.

II. Paul here speaks of the church as already existing as the caretaker of the oracles of God. This is even before the New Testament record had been completed. Can it seriously be believed that some universal, imperceptible body is the ground of the truth? This truth, this gospel, this “Word of God,” was first given to local assemblies through men associated with them.

III. By the virtue of the church being the ground and pillar of the truth, the church defines itself. If the church has presented itself as universal and invisible, then it cannot be a local, visible assembly. This would be a contradiction of terms. But nowhere does the church present itself with this nature or distinction of universality. It is through the efforts of men attempting to prove what they believe, what they are convinced must be true, that this universal definition is asserted to be the teaching of the church. They have it that the unreal local church defines itself in scripture as really being a universal church. The apostolic church in the New Testament is consistent in representing itself as local visible, and it gives no evidence of any dichotomy of the nature of the church.

Summary of The House of God

      To properly understand the whole truth of God in this covenanted era, one must have a proper understanding of the church. The church is the basis (ground) of the truth. Neither of the two ordinances of the church can be correctly understood or practiced apart from the church context. To not understand the church is to fail to understand the principle of the practice and doctrine of church discipline. Failure of knowing the church is a failure of knowing the Bride of Christ. Only by understanding the church can its membership be determined, and thus it can be known who are the royal priesthood of I Peter. Point is, if the foundation of the truth is wrong all else built upon it is faulty, imperfect, and perilous.

      There is no universal, invisible church. What many theologians call universal invisible is, in fact, the Kingdom of God. Within the Kingdom of God is the church of God. Today His church, within His kingdom, is the body of authority. Only “She” may baptize, administer the Lord’s Supper, and offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Only to her was given the Great Commission, and by the virtue of her being the pillar of the truth is she able make disciples and to teach the redeemed to observe all things which Christ has commanded. Only to her are offered the conditional promises, beyond salvation (see Rev. 2, 3) by Christ. Within her are the disciples and overcomers. If this offends, it is the offense of the Word of God. Jesus said His doctrine would divide even those of the same household. Salvation alone does not divide. Salvation is a secret and private state, and unless it is publicly declared no others know of it. Only the public commitment and walk of obedience to Christ causes division. The universal invisible doctrine will keep no one out of Heaven, but it does rob every child of God of an inheritance, which God has prepared for those who love Him to the extent that they keep His words.

      It is absurd to say that the church was just a happenstance gathering of redeemed people who came together on their own. The building and house of God is orderly, sophisticated, purposely, and divinely designed. This is not representative of a universal or invisible church, which is a varied array of individuals without discipline in doctrine, obedience, function or faith.

      The Flock

      In Luke it is Christ calling His disciples “little flock.” This is the precedent of the flock metaphor and is applied to that small body of men following Him. The next occurrence is Matt. 26:31, “Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” Here Jesus quotes Zechariah 13:7. The context of this verse is the setting of the inauguration of the “Lord’s Supper” within the church (vs. 26-30). Clearly the church is mind by both context and the fact that it was only His disciples, sheep, who were scattered.

      In Acts 20:28-30, Paul admonishes the elders of Ephesus to be on guard and mindful both of themselves and the flock over which they had been made bishops. The warning was that grievous wolves (also a metaphor for greedy, cruel and destructive men) would attack the flock, and even out of their own membership men would arise and pervert the Word of God and draw, from the disciples of Christ, disciples unto themselves. The prevention of such ruin was for them to feed the church. Plainly the intention is for pastors to be watching over the welfare of their congregations and tending to their spiritual needs.

      The same theme is in I Peter 5:1-3. The command Peter gave to the elders is the same which he received many years prior by Jesus. Jesus had challenged Peter three times as to the sincerity of his love and told him to “feed My sheep/lambs” (John 21:15-17). Verse 2: “Feed the flock of God which is among you ...” these Elders are to nourish their congregations teaching them the Word of God. Verse 3 “being ensamples to the flock.” They are to live godly lives setting the example of Christian morals and conduct. While this does not definitively define the nature of flock/church, it does however picture a local body of Christ.

      All four of the “flock” passages are explicit references to a particular gathering of people. Moreover, they indicate the church as the object of the metaphor. There is nothing in these verses to suggest any dualistic nature of the church. The church is exemplified to be local and visible in each context. Has anyone seen an invisible flock? The point of comparison of the flock to the church or similitude between the two is their restricted “visibleness.” Restricted because a flock does not contain all the sheep in the world. Visible, because it just simply is visible. Some would change the meaning of “flock” and have the church define flock. They see the church all-inclusive and unseen and thus attempt to make a flock all-inclusive and unseen. The church is not used as a metaphor for a flock. Recall the rule of metaphors: “Whenever a figure is used its literal meaning is precisely that meaning determined by grammatical studies of figures. Hence, figurative interpretation does not pertain to the spiritual or mystical sense of Scripture, but to the literal sense.”

      The Body of Christ

      There are five passages relevant to the body of Christ: Rom. 12:5; I Cor.12:12, 27; Eph. 4:12, 16.

NKJ Romans 12:5 "so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another."

      In this verse if all the redeemed are in one body we would expect to see the definite article (the) before one, making it to read, “so we, being many, are the one body of Christ.” But, it is not there! This does not prove, but merely suggests, local bodies as opposed to a singular universal body. However, the conclusion of the verse demonstrates a personal attachment of the bodily members. This cannot be the circumstance of a disjointed un-assembled body.

1 Corinthians 12:12 "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ."

      The context addresses the unity of the body, having many members but of one body. Careful observance of this verse shows that it is a simile. As the body (church) is one, so also is (the body of) Christ is one. The subject is not about the body of Christ, or of the church as His body, but the unity of the Corinthian Church.

      Paul completes the theme in verse 27, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular."

      Few translations have this verse correct. The definite article, “the” is not in the Greek text. Literally it is, “ye are a body of Christ.” Most translators have supplied “the” without italicizing it to indicate what they have done. If this is intentional it is un-principled. The Corinthian Church was a body, one of many, and as individuals they were component parts of that particular local body. Context also presents them as abiding in intimate contact with one another, indicating a local body.

Ephesians 4:12 "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:"
Ephesians 4:16 "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

      Rotherham translates verse 16 as: “Out of whom all the body – Fitly framing itself together, and connecting itself, through means of every joint of supply, by way of energizing in the measure of each single part – Secureth the growing of the body, unto an upbuilding of itself in love."

      These two verses are correlated. Verse 12 does contain the definite article before body and is translated correctly. However, context again addresses a local body. Here is why. The term “joint” has the meaning “every bond, connection or ligament.” The thought is that each joint (member) is bonded or connected together and that they mutually supply or answer to the need of each part, enabling the whole to increase in its growth by edification in love. The fact that each joint is connected pictures the “fitly joined together” and the compactness of the body. This is not indicative of a loose, disjointed, and separated body, which is the character of a universal unassembled body.

      The Bride of Christ

      The terms “Bride” and “Wife” are used interchangeably in the Bible and in Jewish culture. Both terms are used of the church and her relation to Christ. But are these terms used as metaphors, a figure of speech, or in the literal sense? Paul uses “wife” seemingly in the metaphoric sense (Eph. 5:23-32. ref. II Cor. 11:2), while John in Revelation speaks of a literal wife and bride of the Lamb, Christ (Rev. 19:7, 8; 21:9). If we apply the rule of consistency then the terms are literal and not metaphoric. This is important for it distinguishes the church as the wife (actual), as opposed to merely being compared to a wife.

      Revelation 21:9, "And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife." It conclusive that the bride and wife are synonymous.

      Paul in his Ephesian letter is the first to present a clear reference of the church as the wife of Christ (5:22-32). However, this reference alone does not offer conclusive evidence signifying the nature of the church or the bride. Nevertheless, she is portrayed as embodying a very unique group of people. There exists between her and Christ a special, tender loving relationship. Her distinguishing attribute is her submissiveness and loyalty to her Bridegroom. This does not reflect the “situation of life” for all the saved, and excludes those redeemed who are yet carnal in their nature. To learn more of the nature of this bride we move on to Rev 19:7, 8.

      Rev. 19:7 announces the wedding of the Lamb and His Bride. For this occasion His wife has made herself ready. She has completed the requirements needed for her wedding to take place. The bride herself has prepared herself and not another on her behalf.

      Verse 8 continues describing the wedding scene. The wife of Christ is given a wedding garment made of fine linen, bright and pure. The bride adorns herself in this garment for her marriage. The presenting of the fine garment is conferred, almost mandated, by the righteous acts of the saints.* This is a fulfillment of the promise to the overcomers given in the message to the Church of Sardis (Rev. 3:5). The saints are determined by their actions, which they have done. These are not saints by the virtue of bestowed sanctification from another, but by self-determination they have sanctified themselves. The righteous acts are their own deeds. The bride is composed of these saints. The fine linen is given in recognition and reward of their acts of righteousness. It is by their merit of works they have earned this. This was not given solely by grace but in response to their deserving it. This is not a salvation garment granted to all who have called upon Christ for salvation. This bride is made up of the faithful ones who comprise the church of God.

*The King James Version says this, "for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints." But the translation should read from the Greek as, "for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints." It is their acts of righteousness and not imputed righteousness from another.

      There is absolutely no sense at all that this bride is of any universal nature. The qualifying virtue is not salvation but faithfulness exhibited after salvation. Indeed the church is the Bride of Christ. What the bride is the church is. Neither consists of all the redeemed.


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