The Mystery of the Church | Reflection by Dr. W. A. Criswell
For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.
This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
To us, a mystery is an enigma, a riddle, something that is beyond our understanding or finding out.
But in the language of the days of our Lord and His apostles, the word “mystery,” mystērion, was an altogether different thing. If you were inducted into the mystery religions, it was something unknown to the people on the outside.
It refers to a secret that is unknown until it is revealed to the initiated. In the Bible, it is used to refer to a secret that God has kept in His heart until He reveals it to His holy apostles.
Paul writes that the church is a great mystērion. There are many facets of this; for example, it refers to this whole dispensation of grace, this whole age of the Holy Spirit.
The apostles alone knew it. None of the Old Testament prophets ever saw it. The church is not in the Old Testament. This is that great interlude between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of the Book of Daniel.
It is a secret, a mystērion that God kept in His heart until He revealed it to His apostles.
The mystērion of the church is twofold. First, it is twofold in its origin. Where did the church come from? Paul says first the church was born in the suffering and death of Christ.
It was taken out of the scar in His side. In this passage Paul quotes Genesis 2:21-24, and uses that as the imagery of the creation of the church.
As God took Eve out of the side of Adam from near his heart, so the Lord took the church out of the side of our crucified Lord.
Therefore, Paul says, “We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” [v30]. When we become Christians, we are added to, we are baptized into the body of Christ.
Second, Paul says we are born “with the washing of water by the word” [v26]. The Greek word is loutron. If we were to translate it actually, it would be “laver.”
The apostle says that the church is born out of the laver of the word of God. We are born in the word of Christ. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing the word of God” [Romans 10:17].
The Lord Jesus says to Saul of Tarsus, “Go into the city, and there it will be told thee what thou must do.” [Acts 9:5-6] Why didn’t Jesus tell him what to do? He’s standing before Him face to face.
An angel tells Cornelius says, “Your prayers are heard. Your alms are seen.
Send down to Joppa for one Simon who will come and tell thee words whereby thou and thy house may be saved” [Acts 10:4-5] Why didn’t the angel tell him? The angel was standing there before him.
Because no man comes into the will of God apart from the delivery of the message of another man.
Without us, they cannot be saved. “And how shall they hear without a preacher?” [Romans 10:14]. A man is born again by listening to the Word of the Lord.
This is the mystery of the origin of the church. It is born out of the suffering side of our Lord, and it is born out of the preached word of the living God—the twofold mystērion of the origin of the church.
The ordinances of the church are twofold: baptism, and the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup.
The ordained officers of the church are two: the pastor, the shepherd of the flock, and those who stand by his side as fellow helpers, deacons.
The destiny of the church is twofold: to preach and teach the good news of God in Christ Jesus, and to be ready and prepared for the Lord Jesus when He comes.
We are to have a people watching and waiting for the Lord when He descends in glory and in power from the sky. God promised Jesus a people who will trust in His name and who will be waiting for Him when He comes.
That is the great destiny and assignment of the church—itself a mystērion—that when He comes we shall be raptured away. We shall be caught away. We shall be lifted up to meet our Lord in the air.