Here are a few of Dr. Ferguson’s lecture notes from the class I am currently taking with him at Reformed Theological Seminary (Orlando):
This topic is so key today because of the demise of the church in the West (Europe especially), and the growth of the church in the East (3rd world). The problem with the Evangelicals today is that the Church is simply an additional appendage to Salvation but that it is not important in the ongoing life of the Christian. For Jesus (as we will see), salvation to people was the instrumental means for the building of the church. It is not an incidental doctrine to Christ. But it is central to the entire Bible. My salvation is the means to an end-glory of God and of his Church.
The term “ecclesia” (church) only occurs twice in the gospels. Here in Matt 16:18, and 18:17. An argument is made by liberals that these two sayings are reworking by later writers who wanted to put these words in Jesus’ mouth. The infrequency of the words must then mean that the Church was not important to Jesus! They argue that the radical eschatology of Christ did not leave room for a continuing Church. He thought he was coming back. Thus, the Church evolves as a result of the failure of Jesus’ vision. Loisy said: “Jesus foretold the kingdom; and it was the church that came!” This is a prominent view of NT scholarship. CK Barrett said that Jesus didn’t envisage a period of history where a Church would have a place, but only an apocalyptic act of vindication. Thus, the authenticity of these two verses has been doubted.
(i)The uniqueness of these statements suggest their authenticity in the teaching of Jesus. If the idea of the Church were an invention, it is more likely that their use of the idea in the editing would have been far more pervasive than it actually is.
(ii)Loisy’s formula doesn’t work. When we look at the rest of the NT, we see that the Church is not a replacement for the kingdom. Rom 14:17, Gal 5:21. The Church and the Kingdom exist in some kind of relationship with one another. Not viewed as synonymous with each other, but intimately related.
(iii)That which is denoted by “ecclesia” is completely consistent with the rest of Jesus’ teaching. So the infrequency of its use is inadequate grounds for ignoring it.