Thoughts on the Temple.
Extracts from 'A Pattern in the Heavens Part One: Ecclesiology.
By Richard Bacon
Copyright © 2000 Richard E. Bacon

[From the introduction to v.9 #7-9: previous issues of The Blue Banner have contained excerpts from A Pattern in the Heavens, and this issue also contains an excerpt dealing with the ideal temple of Ezekiel chapters forty to forty-eight. The chapters speak importantly to our understanding of the constitution of Christ’s church. Just as the temple of the Old Testament was built according to the eternal plan of God, so also the temple of Ezekiel is to be built according to God’s commandment. The present day church, which is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s temple, is also today to build its constitution upon the Word of God and nothing else. Just as the temple was the dwelling place of God, so too is the church in our day the dwelling place of God.]

Reformed scholars, as opposed to Dispensationalists, understand Ezekiel chapters forty to forty-eight to constitute a prophesy of the restoration of the church of God under Messiah. This restoration is set forth by the prophet of the exile under the Old Testament symbol of the temple. Perhaps more to the point of this dissertation, the Westminster divines also so understood the prophecy of Ezekiel, for they included as the frontispiece of the Westminster Form of Church Government, the text of Ezekiel 43:11. The Westminster divines believed that there was a law governing the church. This dissertation [1] will attempt to set forth not only the fact that a law regarding the form of the Christian temple exists, but also it will attempt to demonstrate that the law of the temple is yet in force today as what may be termed Constitutional Presbyterianism or Presbyterian Minimalism. [2]

The temple of Ezekiel’s prophecy is clearly an ideal structure and is not “the second temple” that the Jews who returned from the Babylonian exile built. The measurements of the place indicate to the reader that Ezekiel’s temple cannot now and could never be built upon the physical Mount Moriah (the earthly Mount Zion). Ezekiel’s temple will be built, he claimed “upon a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2).

Ezekiel’s vision took place in the “five and twentieth year” (Ezekiel 40:1) of the exile, which would correspond roughly to 575 BC. Ezekiel adds that his prophecy or vision took place on the tenth day of the first month (literally the head of the months) of the year. If Ezekiel was following the civil calendar — which seems unlikely given everything we know of Ezekiel — then his vision took place on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27 cp. Leviticus 16:29).

More likely, given the fact that this vision concerns the temple and was given by inspiration to a prophet who was himself of a priestly family (Ezekiel 1:3), is the idea that the vision came to Ezekiel in accord with the cultic calendar which began in the spring rather than in the autumn. Thus Exodus 12:2, “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year unto you” comprises or establishes Abib (Nisan) as the opening month of the cultic year.

Further, it was on that tenth day of the first month that the preparations for the Passover actually began. “The tenth day of this month was the day on which the preparations for the Passover, the feast of the elevation of Israel into the people of God, were to commence, and therefore was well adapted for the revelation of the new constitution of the kingdom of God.” [3]

The very high mountain of Ezekiel 40:2 is not the physical Mount Zion, but the ideal heavenly Mount Zion. It is exalted above the tops of all the surrounding mountains, indicating the honor and glory that God has determined to give the heavenly Mount Zion in its day. “But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people (literally peoples) shall flow unto it,” (Micah 4:1).

Further confirmation of the idealized Mount Zion can be found in Isaiah’s prophecy: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations (kol-haggoyim) shall flow unto it,” (Isaiah 2:2). The lofty mountain or high mountain of Ezekiel’s vision contained what he called a “frame of a city” or literally a city-edifice to the south. Keil rightly identified the city-edifice not as Jerusalem per se, but as the idealized temple. He opined, “Consequently what Ezekiel saw as a city-edifice can only be the building of the new temple, with its surrounding wall and its manifold court buildings.” [4]

The lofty mountain of Ezekiel’s prophecy has reference, at least in part, to the fact that the physical Mount Zion was not of sufficient size to accommodate the structures of his vision. The area of the temple with its two courts was 500 cubits square while the surrounding (holy) space was 500 reeds square (or 3,000 cubits square considering six cubits to the reed or rod). Finally there was a circuit of fifty cubits in breadth about the whole sanctuary (Ezekiel 45:2). [5] As Keil noted, “This broad separation is peculiar to Ezekiel’s temple, and serves, like many other arrangements in the new sanctuary and worship, to symbolize the inviolable holiness of that sanctuary.” [6]

The ideal character of Ezekiel’s latter day temple is further brought out by the fact that Ezekiel specifically refers to this prophecy as “the visions of God” or bemare’oth. As Fairbairn pointed out, “This alone marks it to be of an ideal character, as contradistinguished from anything that ever had been, or ever was to be found in actual existence, after the precise form given to it in the description. Such we have uniformly seen to be the character of the earlier visions imparted to the prophet…. They presented a vivid picture of what either then actually existed or was soon to take place, but in a form quite different from the external reality. Not the very image or the formal appearance of things was given, but rather a compressed delineation of their inward being and substance.” [7]

The Westminster divine John Lightfoot concludes similarly from the size of the mountain, the city, and the temple that they must refer to something spiritual rather than physical. He maintained, “And now, if any one will take up the full circuit of the wall that encompassed the holy ground, according to our English measure, it will amount to half a mile and about 166 yards. And whosoever likewise will measure the square of Ezekiel xlii.20, he will find it six times as large as this, the whole amounting to three miles and a half and about 140 yards — a compass incomparably greater than Mount Moriah divers times over. And by this very thing is showed that it is spiritually and mystically to be understood…to signify the great enlarging of the spiritual Jerusalem and temple, the Church under the Gospel, the spiritual beauty and glory of it.” [8]

Finally, the New Testament confirms and indeed canonizes the interpretation set forth in these pages. Most clearly, Hebrews 12:22ff proclaims, “But ye are come to Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly of the firstborn [masculine plural], which are written in heaven….” Additionally, we shall note other Scripture passages below in which the New Testament either directly or implicitly states that the present day Church is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to dwell gloriously with his people.

The temple in the Old Testament was the visible sign of God’s presence with his people; the place where God was said to dwell and where his glory was particularly manifested in the earth. Even before the temple was built and dedicated by Solomon, God was especially present with his people in the tabernacle that was prescribed in the days of Moses.

Ezekiel previously saw the departure of God’s glory from the temple (Ezekiel 10:18ff.). In chapters forty to forty-eight the prophet described his vision of God’s glory returning to the idealized temple. Just as there was a “blueprint” (takhnith) for the original tabernacle, so is there a law for the house of God in Ezekiel. Further, we should understand this law to be applicable to the church of Messiah’s day (cf. Matthew 16:18). We can trace this theme of the temple/church of Christ through Scripture and see how it ripples from period to period in God’s revelation of his plan of redemption: the outworking of the covenant of grace.
An Architect’s Plan

First, God insists that he alone is the architect of his house. In Exodus 25:8-9 the Lord said to Moses, “Let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, so shall ye make it…. And look that thou make them after their pattern, which was shewed thee in the mount” (verse 40).

The word translated “pattern” both in verse nine and again in verse 40 is the Hebrew word tabhnit. The idea in both places is that of an exemplar or what we might in modern parlance call a blueprint. The author of Hebrews further confirms this idea to us when he states in Hebrews 8:5, “who serve unto the example [hupodeigma, i.e. model or pattern] and shadow [skia, i.e. foreshadowing] of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern [tupos, i.e. form, figure, pattern] shewed to thee in the mount.”

Significantly, God did not leave it to Moses’ imagination or sanctified good will to determine what the Lord’s house would be like. God had a blueprint in heaven and insisted that the blueprint be followed down to the hook and tack. This instruction to follow God’s own blueprint in building his house will become increasingly important to us as we examine the idea of jus divinum (divine right) church polity in the pages that follow.

It will be this author’s constant contention that God has not relinquished his right to be the sole architect of church polity and worship. Philosophically this doctrine might be called sola scriptura. This author shall maintain that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are sufficient for all of life and godliness; and that is specifically the case when it comes to the proper ordering of God’s house.

In Ezekiel’s vision of the future and glorious temple of Messiah the Prince, a similar blueprint was unfolded to him by “a man whose appearance was like the appearance of brass.” The man of brass measured the slightest of details and described all the measurements to Ezekiel in chapters 40 to 42. He described for Ezekiel the materials as well as the measurements for the temple. The furnishings of the temple, as well as their measurements and composition, were similarly dictated to Ezekiel. Finally, after all the measurements were taken and recorded, the man of brass commanded, “Thou son of man, shew the house to the house of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their iniquities: and let them measure the pattern [takhnit, i.e. blueprint]. And if they be ashamed of all that they have done, shew them the form [tsurah] of the house and the fashion [tekhunah, i.e. arrangement or structure] thereof, and the goings out thereof, and the comings in thereof, and all the forms [tsurah] thereof, and all the laws thereof: and write it in their sight, that they may keep the whole form [tsurah] thereof, and all the ordinances thereof, and do them” (Ezekiel 43:10-11).

There are some commentators — mostly those of a Dispensational or at least Premillennial viewpoint — who regard the “man of brass” to be simply an angelic visitor or some other spiritual intermediary. [9] However, given the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Architect and Builder of His church, this author finds it far more likely that the man of brass in Ezekiel’s vision was the pre-incarnate Christ. This also seems to be the view of such Reformed commentators as Matthew Henry, who comments on this passage regarding the man of brass: “The particular discoveries of this city (which he had at first a general view of) were made to him by a man whose appearance was like the appearance of brass (v. 3), not a created angel, but Jesus Christ, who should be found in fashion as a man, that he might both discover and build the gospel-temple. He brought him to this city, for it is through Christ that we have both acquaintance with and access to the benefits and privileges of God’s house. He it is that shall build the temple of the Lord, Zec. 6:13. His appearing like brass intimates both his brightness and his strength. John, in vision, saw his feet like unto fine brass, Rev. 1:15.” [10]

The Reverend Henry makes an excellent point, especially with regard to Revelation 1:15. Although it must be conceded that the vision Ezekiel received in chapter one pertaining to the angelic creatures also had feet that sparkled like “the colour of burnished brass” (Ezekiel 1:7), later in that same chapter the one who was above the throne also had the color of amber and was bright like a fire (verse 27). Ezekiel’s contemporary, the prophet Daniel, had a similar vision of Christ in Daniel 10:5-6. Finally, we must take into consideration the nature of apocalyptic literature. Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, Daniel’s vision of the man clothed in linen at the river Hiddekel, and John’s vision of Christ in Revelation 1:15 have such similarity it would be dangerous indeed to claim that one vision refers to the eternal Son of God while another nearly identical vision refers to some created being.

At the same time we cannot be absolute in our identification of this man of brass as the pre-incarnate Christ for the same reason given above. In Zechariah chapter two and in Revelation chapters eleven and twenty-one, beings that were specifically identified as angels performed actions and functions very similar to the man of brass of Ezekiel chapters forty and following. The angelic beings of those passages are described differently than Ezekiel describes the man of his vision, but we cannot discount completely the idea that it is sometimes an angelic task, and not always the task of the Anointed Architect, to measure the temple.

It was not simply and only in Mosaic times, then, that God’s pattern and form and structure were to be followed. The same must be said for the days of Ezekiel’s vision as well. But as Patrick Fairbairn well demonstrated in his Commentary on Ezekiel, it has been the prevailing view of the Christian church from the Fathers down to now that Ezekiel’s vision of the temple was “a grand, complicated symbol of the good God had in reserve for his church, especially under the coming dispensation of the gospel.” [11]

But the question remains whether there is anything in the church in this present age that corresponds to the tabhnit or the takhnit or “blueprint” of the Old Testament temple. There are many today, including even some influential persons in conservative Presbyterian denomina-tions who would argue that while there was significant form and structure in the Old Testament church, that has passed away in these present days of gospel “liberty.”

It is certainly true that the “form” or “blueprint” for the Christian temple is not identical with that of the Old Testament. However, when we have asserted that the blueprint today is not identical to the Old Testament blueprint, we have not asserted the absence of a New Testament blueprint. In fact, by claiming that the form is different we have actually presumed that a New Testament form exists. It will not be suggested in the pages that follow that the form of the Christian temple is as elaborate or ornate as was the temple of the Old Testament. The opposite is the case. The form of the New Covenant temple is, by God’s design, simpler and plainer (and according to Second Corinthians chapter three, more spiritual as well) than that of the Old Testament.

Key to our understanding of the modern-day blueprint for the Christian temple is Ephesians 2:20-22 and Ephesians 3:9-11. Clearly in the second chapter of Ephesians we see a sort of blueprint consisting of a cornerstone (that stone by which all else is placed so as to remain level, straight, and plumb). That cornerstone is none other that Christ himself. Christ is the rock upon which the church is built, about which more below in this dissertation. So, too, First Peter 2:6-8 refers to Christ as the rock that was rejected by the builders, but has become the chief cornerstone of the temple of God.

Not only is there a cornerstone, there is a foundation consisting of the apostles and prophets. If we consider that it is not so much the persons of the apostles and prophets in view, but their teachings, we realize that Scripture is the foundation and blueprint for Christ’s temple. Finally, we learn from this passage that the building is “fitly framed” to be built together for a habitation to God. The Greek word translated “fitly framed” seems to be limited primarily if not exclusively to the Christian literature. It consists of the prefix for “together” or “with” plus a form of the Greek word “harmoge” or “harmos,” the joint of a building where one stone touches another.

Not only is such a plan presupposed in Ephesians 2:20-22, it is mentioned more explicitly in Ephesians 3:9-11 as belonging to the eternal purpose [prothesis] of God. A prothesis is not only a plan; it is also the presentation or setting forth of the plan. We might say, then, that the temple of God in all its forms — including the present age of Jew and Gentile being one church — is built upon the eternal blueprint or prothesis of God.
Preparing the Materials of the Temple

For any building to arrive at completion, there must be in addition to a plan or blueprint, a preparing and fitting of the materials for the house as well. This fact is as true for the house of Jehovah as for any other house. The tabernacle of God contains the material and ordinances necessary for his worship. God did not set a blueprint before Moses and then tell Moses to consider himself free to take or leave any parts of the takhnit as he saw fit. As we saw previously regarding God’s blueprint for his tabernacle, his instruction to Moses was “so shall ye make it” (Exodus 25:9) and “look that thou make them after their pattern” (Exodus 25:40).

We should not presume that the Old Testament builders of the house of God were furnished “by nature” to perform their tasks. Rather we must note that God called by name Bezaleel and Aholiab to the work (cf. Exodus 35:30-35). God specifically equipped these men by fitting them with the Spirit of God in wisdom, skill, and understanding. Each man had skill and understanding to build the tabernacle and we have specifically been informed by Scripture that the skill and wisdom that they had came from the Spirit of God as a result of their being filled with the Spirit. These skills constituted an Old Testament type or exemplar of the spiritual gifts of the New Testament by which Christ builds his church today.

Willing and skilled workmen were not sufficient in themselves to complete the task, however. It was also necessary that materials commensurate with God’s blueprint be obtained. Thus the materials of the original tabernacle were furnished by the free will offerings of God’s people (Exodus 35:4-29). The foundational heart attitude of worship was a willingness to do freely what God had commanded in his word. The Old Testament people of God were called upon to serve God freely; but their freedom was not absolute. Their freedom was curtailed or bounded by the commandments of God.

Moses was able to say without self-contradiction that the Lord had commanded a particular form to his worship (Exodus 25:40) and at the same time that those who would participate properly in the ordinances of worship must do so from a willing and submissive mind. The reconciliation of these two ideas of a willing submission to commanded forms is found in Exodus 35:29, “The children of Israel brought a willing offering unto the Lord, every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all manner of work, which the Lord had commanded to be made by the hand of Moses.” [emphasis added]

We see something similar to this in Ezekiel chapters forty to forty-eight. In Ezekiel 44:9, God told Ezekiel, “No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.” Only those who entered with circumcised or willing hearts were called to provide service in the temple of the Lord spoken of by Ezekiel the prophet. It is also significant that in Ezekiel’s temple, just as in Moses’ tabernacle, the materials of both the building and the offerings were prescribed by God.

As Bezaleel and Aholiab were called by name and furnished by God’s Spirit to minister to him, so also was the seed of Zadok in the day of Ezekiel’s prophesy (Ezekiel 43:19; 44:15). The seed of Zadok were chosen by God because “they kept the charge of my sanctuary.” God desired willing worshippers, but he required those willing worshippers to submit their wills to “the charge of my sanctuary.” An attempt on the part of the seed of Zadok to worship God in any manner of their own choosing would not have constituted their “keeping the charge of the sanctuary,” but of worshipping according to their own wills. From this we may learn that to worship God willingly is not to worship him as we will, but to submit our wills to the teachings of Scripture — the “blueprint from God.” This also helps us understand why Paul in Colossians 2:23 speaks negatively of will worship (ethelothreskia) not as worshipping God voluntarily, but as a self-made or willful religion.

In the New Testament as Christ builds his church or temple we also see him using chosen materials, chosen craftsmen, etc. Once the prescribed foundation and cornerstone have been laid (Ephesians 2:20-22; First Peter 2:6ff; see above), Christ brings his house to completion by making it of living stones. Only Christ, the great master builder, is able to bring dead things to life, for he has life in himself (John 5:26) and gives that everlasting life to whom he will (John 5:21).

As dead stones and dead sacrifices were used to honor God in his appointment in the dispensation of stone (Second Corinthians 3:3) and ministration of death (Second Corinthians 3:7), so in the New Testament (Second Corinthians 3:6) Christ builds his house of living stones (lithoi) and spiritual sacrifices (First Peter 2:5). As the master craftsman as well as the heir to the house, Christ has the filling of God’s Spirit without measure (John 3:34). Further, Christ declared himself to be building according to God’s master plan or blueprint (John 4:34; 5:30; 17:4 cf. vv. 21, 25.).

Moses gathered the material for the tabernacle of God by the free-will offerings of God’s people. So, too, does Christ build his temple from free-will offerings. An oft-quoted verse, “thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power” (Psalm 110:3), has reference to the very willingness of heart to bring a free-will offering as discussed above in Exodus 35:5. This idea of Christ gathering the free-will offerings of his people finds New Testament fulfillment in such places as Second Corinthians 8:5 and Romans 12:1.

Speaking of the free-will monetary offerings of the Macedonian churches, Paul said “and this they did not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.” Paul commended those particular churches because of both the spirit in which they gave and the rule by which they gave. Just as in the days of Moses, Bezaleel, and Aholiab, God’s people in this day are called upon to give generously and biblically to the building of God’s spiritual house. The people were commended in Moses’ day for contributing generously and freely to the building of God’s tabernacle and we see the same sort of commendation of the churches of Macedonia when Paul wrote to the Corinthians of their generosity.

We see, too, that New Testament sacrifice is characterized as living rather than dead animal sacrifice. So Paul relates to the Roman church at Romans 12:1, “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” [emphasis added] The word that the Authorized Version translated as “service” is the Greek word from which we get the English word “liturgy” (leiturgia) and means not just any kind of service, but service to God in an official capacity.

Moving on, in the same way the tabernacle was wisely framed by Bezaleel and Aholiab, Christ too framed and continues building his church. Not only is this fact evident in a passage we have previously examined (Ephesians 2:20-22), we see it taught in other passages as well. Ephesians 4:16 demonstrates that Christ, as head of his church, supplies everything the church needs by framing it such that every joint and part contributes effectually to the whole. In a similar manner as Bezaleel and Aholiab were given special wisdom to know how to frame the house of God properly, we understand Christ to be the very wisdom of God in building not only the church, but all things (Proverbs 8:22-31). This same teaching, though more under the similitude of a body than a building, is found in Colossians 2:19ff. We have previously alluded to the conclusion that Paul drew from Christ supplying both the blueprint and frame: we must worship God according to his blueprint and not according to the dictates of our own wills (Colossians 2:23).

When Moses oversaw the building of God’s house, he made an atonement for the house and for all its furnishings. Even though the house was built according to God’s plan and framed in accordance with spiritual wisdom and skill, yet it could not be dedicated to God without an atonement being made for it. So the author of Hebrews explained, Moses “sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:21-22).

It is important that we understand this principle. Even when we follow God’s prescription, it is not our own obedience that brings us into right standing (justification) before the Lord. It is only by the blood that the Old Testament tabernacle was purged (or purified) and it is by his own blood that Christ makes the church acceptable to God. The author of Hebrews continued on, “but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many;…” (Hebrews 9:26-28). In our examination of the right way of building Christ’s church, we can never think for one moment that Christ builds his church without viewing it as justified by his own blood. The church, in order to be built according to the blueprint of the eternal architect, must be sprinkled by the precious blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; First Peter 1:18-19).

Finally, we recognize that Moses anointed with oil the tabernacle, its furnishings and its priesthood to the service of God (Exodus 40:9-16). The anointing with prescribed oil was to sanctify or set apart for God’s service. In the case of the tabernacle the only anointing was the unction. In the case of the Aaronic priesthood, there was first a washing followed by an anointing with oil. The anointing of oil was expressive in a typological way of the sanctification of God’s Holy Spirit.

As Moses anointed the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the Aaronic priests with holy or sanctifying oil, so does Christ also sanctify and wash his church by sending the Holy Spirit. Christ explained to his disciples on the eve of his death, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart I will send him unto you” (John 16:7). The Comforter of whom Christ spoke was the Spirit of truth (John 16:13). Similarly in Ephesians 5:26-27 Paul informed us that Christ washes his church as Aaron and his sons were washed in Exodus chapter forty and Numbers chapter eight. Christ gave himself for the church for the purpose “that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”

Moses anointed in order to sanctify typically and symbolically. Christ anoints his church to fulfill that which was foreshadowed by Moses’ anointing of the tabernacle. So the church has received an actual unction from Christ, to which John referred when he wrote “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him” (First John 2:27). At first glance this passage in First John may appear to teach that no person should teach another. As we shall see below, however, it is the church considered as the church that is the habitation of God’s Spirit (the anointing).
Entrance of the Glory

As noted above, the point of Ezekiel’s vision in the chapters under discussion is that of the returning of the glory of the Lord to the temple (Ezekiel 43:4; 44:4). The glory of the Lord coming to fill the tabernacle was also the culmination of Moses’ overseeing the building of the tabernacle. “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:34-35). The verb translated as “abode” in verse 35 (shakhan) carries in its connotation the idea of a permanent dwelling and seems to form the lexical basis for what is sometimes called the “Shekinah Glory” of the Lord.

There is a similar progression in the building of the original temple in Solomon’s day. King David, the prophet, covenantal king, and type of Christ, explained to his son Solomon that God had given him understanding of the pattern [tabhnit] of the permanent house of God in Jerusalem. This house would replace the tabernacle of Moses and would therefore also be subject to receiving its blueprint from heaven. Though David did not enjoy the privilege of actually gathering all the material and overseeing the building of the temple, he was nevertheless given the blueprint which was reduced to writing and then passed along to his son Prince Solomon who undertook the building after David’s death (First Chronicles 28:19-21). [12]

Additionally the progress of the building of Solomon’s temple included the free-will offerings of God’s people. “Then the people rejoiced, for that they offered willingly, because with perfect heart they offered willingly to the LORD: and David the king also rejoiced with great joy” (First Chronicles 29:9). The bulk of chapters two through five of Second Chronicles is taken up with the building of Solomon’s temple; chapter six with the prayer Solomon prayed at the occasion; and finally in Second Chronicles 7:1-2 Scripture relates: “Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD filled the LORD’s house.” The same event described in Second Chronicles is mentioned also in First Kings 8:10-11 where we learn “the cloud filled the house of the LORD” and “the glory of the LORD had filled the house of the LORD.”

Appropriate to the study of church polity and worship in this present day, however, is the significant fact that Scripture continues to speak of the church as the dwelling place of the true and living God. As early in his earthly ministry as Matthew 18:20, Christ promised in conjunction with the key of church discipline, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Christ there used a participle for “gathered together” that is reminiscent of the Jewish church’s synagogue. [13] The keys of the Kingdom of God, which keys include church discipline, form an integral part of Christ’s building of his church in this day (see Matthew 16:18-19).

The risen Christ, who from his incarnation made his tabernacle with men (John 1:14) such that we could behold his glory as the only-begotten of the Father, made a similar promise in the end of Matthew’s Gospel where he stated, “and lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20). Based upon the mediatorial authority of Christ (verse 18), the church is to go by means of its representatives to all the nations and make disciples of them (verse 19). This task of making disciples of the nations the church should accomplish by the two ordinances of baptizing (washing) and teaching the commandments of Christ (verses 19-20). [14] The church has no authority either to legislate (make new conscience-binding commandments) or to invent new ordinances of worship. The promise of Christ, then, is to inhabit (be with) his church until the end of time on the basis of the preaching of the true gospel and the right administration of his worship and sacraments.

A further confirmation of this doctrine can be found in the perhaps more explicit words of the Apostle to the Gentiles (nations). Paul told the Corinthian church, “ye [plural] are God’s husbandry, God’s building [singular]” (First Corinthians 3:9). Paul there referred to the fact that the Corinthian church, as a true church of Christ, was the temple of the living God. Paul asked in verse 16, “Know ye not that ye [plural] are the temple [singular] of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” The significance of the Spirit of God dwelling within the Corinthian church is an important one, for it demonstrates the chief similarity between the church and the Old Testament temple: the church of the New Testament is the place where God has chosen to place his name and where he has chosen to dwell by his Spirit.

Paul continues in verse 17 of the same chapter to inform the Corinthians and us via them, “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple [singular] ye [plural] are.” In this place the inspired apostle reminds us of the chief law of the temple from Ezekiel 43:12, “this is the law of the house; upon the top of the mountain the whole limit thereof round about shall be most holy. Behold this is the law of the house.” The temple of the Lord was most holy because it was the place where the holy God chose to make his covenantal presence known. Even in Isaiah’s vision in chapter six of his prophecy he saw the pre-incarnate Christ high and lifted up. And in that vision the seraphim encircled Christ, crying out “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” John later referred to Isaiah’s vision as “when he saw [Christ’s] glory, and spake of him” (cf. John 12:38-41).

We should not profane the temple of the thrice-holy God by denying in our behavior the truth of the objective and covenantal presence of the holy God with his people.

Christ dwelt (literally, pitched his tabernacle) among us and we beheld his glory, claimed the Apostle John. Paul adds to that fact the incumbent duty all church members have to strive for holiness. When Isaiah beheld the glory and holiness of Christ his response was to cry out, “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). As we behold the glory and the holiness of the Lord dwelling amongst his people our response should certainly be no less than that of the prophet Isaiah.

The responsibility of God’s people as the holy temple of God is further accentuated by Paul in Second Corinthians 6:16-17, where he quoted from the precept found in Exodus 29:45 and Leviticus 26:11-12. The very essence of God’s covenant, we might say, is found in the fact that God has chosen a people and has chosen to dwell amongst them. Thus the very name by which Isaiah called the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace was “Immanuel,” which being interpreted is “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14 cf. Matthew 1:23).

In Second Corinthians 6:16 Paul asked the rhetorical question, “what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Lest the Corinthian saints mistakenly assume that Paul wrote of the temple in Jerusalem, he added “for ye [plural] are the temple [singular] of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Because the church is the holy temple of the living God, it has a duty to reflect that holiness as the “law of the house” (Ezekiel 43:12). Corollary to this duty to be holy even as God is holy is the further responsibility to acknowledge Christ as the sole Lawgiver and King in his church (James 4:12; Matthew 28:18-20). This dissertation hopes to draw out some of the implications of the glory of Christ and the holiness of Christ inhabiting the holy temple of his church.

From the preceding considerations, we come to the following conclusions:

(1). Ezekiel 40:2 uses the symbolism of a high mountain to signify the church’s future glory (Hebrews 12:22ff; cp. Ezekiel 17:22-23; Psalm 48:3, 43; 68:17; Revelation 21:10).

(2). Ezekiel 43 contains the entrance of the glory of the Lord into his new temple.

(3). Ezekiel 47:22-23 indicates that foreigners (strangers) will be placed on the same ecclesiastical footing with the Jews. For the fulfillment of this prophecy see Galatians 3:28 and Ephesians 2:14.

(4). Both the tabernacle and the temple were significant symbols in both the Old Testament and the New Testament for the glorious church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:22ff.; Psalm 22:6; 27:4; 84:4; Ephesians 2:19; First Timothy 3:15; Second Corinthians 6:16; First Corinthians 3:17).
The Prince of Ezekiel

Ezekiel’s vision of the temple of the latter days includes not only the entrance or return of the glory of the Lord; he also saw Christ coming to his church as the King, or Prince, of the church. Christ shall come indeed to the throne of his kingdom and central to this idea is Ezekiel’s vision of the coming Prince. A portion of the land of inheritance (the idealized nation of God) shall be for the Prince in such a way that it surrounds and protects the holy mountain of God. “And a portion shall be for the Prince on the one side and on the other side of the oblation of the holy portion…and the length shall be over against one of the portions from the west border unto the east border” (Ezekiel 45:7).
Identifying Ezekiel’s Prince/Priest

Moreover, this Prince will be one who not only occupies the throne of his kingdom, but unlike other kings or princes of Israel, he will prepare the various offerings “to make reconciliation for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 45:17). We should understand this Prince of whom Ezekiel wrote as different from an “ordinary prince of the realm.” He will be a Prince who is also a Priest. King Uzziah attempted to burn incense upon the altar of incense in God’s house and was resisted both by the priests and by God (Second Chronicles 26:16ff.). The coming King will not only burn incense, as King Uzziah was prohibited from doing, Ezekiel reported that he will go so far as to make reconciliation (piel binyan of the Hebrew verb “kaphar”). The sanctuary will be so located, according to Ezekiel’s prophetic geography that it will stand in the very midst of the Prince’s house (Ezekiel 48:21).

We conclude, therefore, that the Prince of whom Ezekiel wrote prophetically is none other than the Prince of Peace himself. When the city and the temple and the land are restored in accordance with the meaning of Ezekiel’s vision, the glory of the Lord will dwell there and the place will then be known as Jehovah-Shammah (the lord is thither). This Prince can be none other than the one who is a Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4). Melchizedek, we recall, was not only Priest of the Most High God; he was also King of Salem (i.e. “King of Peace” or “King of Jerusalem” or both). See Genesis 14:18 and much of the book of Hebrews, to be discussed in greater detail below.

Earlier in his prophecies Ezekiel referred to Christ also under the symbolism of King David, another Old Testament “type” of Christ. Ezekiel in chapter thirty-four reported the words of Jehovah thus: “And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 34:23-24).

Of course the reference in Ezekiel chapter thirty-four is not to the original King David, but to David’s greater son. We say “David’s greater son” in referring to the coming Prince because in the same Psalm in which Messiah was called “a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek,” David referred to him as “m’lord” (Hebrew ‘adonai), a term not only of respect, but of actual and official superiority.

Christ, during his earthly ministry, referred Psalm 110 to Messiah the Prince and posed this very puzzle. He asked the Pharisees, who had previously confessed that Messiah was the son of David after the flesh (Matthew 22:42 cp. Romans 1:3), how David could by the Spirit of God call Messiah “m’lord.” Christ put the question this way, “If David then call him Lord, how is he his son” (Matthew 22:45). Christ set forth the importance of what has come to be known as the doctrine of Christ’s hypostatic union. Messiah is not merely a descendent of David; he is also the Son of God. As such, he is David’s greater Son and the Shepherd and Prince spoken of by Ezekiel.

Not only did Ezekiel characterize the greater David as a Shepherd (see John 10:11ff.), but also as the Prince Servant of Jehovah who will be the eternal Prince of his people. “And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them” (Ezekiel 37:24).

Both of the genealogies of Christ contained in the New Testament go to some pains to demonstrate that Jesus Christ, according to his humanity, was descended from King David (Matthew 1:1, 6; Luke 3:31-32). What is the significance of Christ’s genealogy at this point? It was given by the Holy Spirit in order to demonstrate that our Lord is that Prince promised in the Davidic covenant; viz., the Prince of Ezekiel; he is that greater David; he is that one of whom the Psalmist claimed, “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations. Selah” (Psalm 89:3-4).

Peter also understood Jesus Christ to be Messiah the Prince spoken of prophetically throughout the Old Testament. Peter, in fact, claimed that Christ was the “David” of the Psalms, understood prospectively, for the Old Testament saint. In his inspired sermon on the day of Pentecost Peter proclaimed boldly, “Therefore [David] being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; he seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (Acts 2:30-31). The same Prince that Ezekiel and David foresaw sitting on the throne of his kingdom (Ezekiel 45:7), Peter declared by inspiration of the Holy Ghost to be Jesus Christ in his resurrection and ascension through the heavens to the holy of holies and his own throne (see also Hebrews 4:14-16).

Thus as Edward Mack rightly stated in his definitive work The Christ of the Old Testament, “So Ezekiel keeps in line with all the prophets in proclaiming ‘the sure mercies of David’; the inviolability of the Messianic Covenant, which Jehovah made with David,” [15] and which was, of course, fulfilled in the life, death, and ongoing session of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel According To Ezekiel

Several considerations present themselves, then, from our brief consideration of Ezekiel chapters forty to forty-eight. A right understanding of the church and a right understanding of the gospel are nearly always tied together. On the other hand, false views of church government and the gospel have also gone together historically. As Professor Stuart Robinson insightfully stated in his nineteenth century work on the subject:

“Making all due allowance for exceptions arising out of the inconsistencies of individual minds, as a general rule, it is found true that bodies of men (always more consistent, and more apt to be governed by the necessities of an inexorable logic, than individual minds) if holding any special views in theology, have corresponding views, right or wrong, of the idea and nature of the Church; and, vice versa, if peculiar views of the Church, then also corresponding views of theology. Thus, a Rationalistic theology is most commonly found in connection with an Erastian or an Independent theory of the Church. On the other hand, a Prelatical theory of the Church almost uniformly stands in connection with a theology of mere sacramentalism. A Calvinistic theology seldom remains long incorrupt except as held in connection with a Presbyterian theory of the church.” [16]

Similar to Professor Robinson’s observation, there is also a close correlation between the church and the gospel in the visions of God contained in Ezekiel’s prophecies. It is only as the church proclaims the gospel of Messiah the Prince that she is or becomes the high mountain filled with the glory of the lord. Because the Lord refuses to share his glory with any other (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11 cp. Isaiah 6:3), the glory of the Lord fills his temple only as his people cast off the idols of human imaginations and proclaim the gospel of the true and living God faithfully and fervently. Thus we assert first of all that the glory of the LORD is present in the temple only when the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached faithfully. Otherwise a so-called church is no temple of Christ, but a Baal house.

Second, the full display of the glory of the LORD’s temple is from the holiness of the mount on which it sits. Thus the gospel that is preached in the temple of Ezekiel’s prophecy must be a gospel of repentance. As God grants repentance to his people and takes the supreme place in their lives, his glory is seen in their works of repentance (Matthew 5:16, 20).

This, in turn, leads to the important observation that the distinguishing character of the temple of God as it is restored in Christ is an all-pervading holiness and sanctity. The Scottish divine Patrick Fairbairn taught us as much in his Commentary on this place in Ezekiel. The law of the house “consisted in the whole region of the temple mount being most holy. Not, as hitherto, was this characteristic to be confined to a single apartment of the temple; it was to embrace the entire circumference occupied by the symbolical institutions of the kingdom…. All were to have one character of sacredness, because all connected with them were to occupy a like position of felt nearness to God, and equally to enjoy the privilege of access to him.” [17]

Carl F. Keil also expressed the same idea in his introduction to the section of Ezekiel’s prophecies that run from 43:13 through 46:24. In the section which Keil characterized under the title “The New Ordinances of Divine Worship,” he commented pointedly, “But if the abode of Jehovah in the midst of His people was to have an eternal duration, Israel must turn in uprightness of heart to its God, and suffer itself to be renewed and sanctified in heart, mind, and spirit from within the sanctuary, through the mercy of the Lord and His Spirit. It must entirely renounce the idols to which it was formerly attached, and cherish with willingness of heart fellowship with its God in the temple, through the faithful fulfillment of all that He required of His people.” [18]

Finally, this New Testament temple of Christ is a thoroughgoing theocracy — or perhaps more accurately said, it is a thoroughgoing “Christocracy.” It has a single lawgiver (legislator) and that legislator is the eternal Christ himself (James 4:12). The preaching of the gospel in this age is therefore represented in Scripture as the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom, which has as its foundational command “repent ye.” This was the gospel that began to be preached by the herald of the king (Matthew 3:1-2), “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” So too was it the gospel preached by the King himself after John was thrown in prison, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matthew 4:17).

The Westminster Confession of Faith scripturally recognizes that the church is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ (or as Matthew reports it, the kingdom of heaven) at Confession 25:2. [19] Fairbairn, too recognized this to be the case in Ezekiel when he commented, “So that the pattern delineated is that of a true theocracy, having God himself for king, with the community in all its members for true denizens (citizens) of the kingdom, and acceptable ministers of righteousness before the Lord.” [20]
Implications for Church Polity

When God’s people repent and know the shamefulness of their sins, then God shows them the form of his house, as Ezekiel 43:11 states. It is the duty of His people, then, to become acquainted with the rules and duties of His house. God shows His people the ordinances of His house so that they may observe and do them (Deuteronomy 29:29 cf. Matthew 28:19). Matthew Henry has well expressed the privilege and duty of believers who live in the day of Ezekiel’s temple and the relationship the privileges and duties bear to one another:

“1. The whole church shall have the privilege of the holy of holies, that of a near access to God. All believers have now, under the gospel, boldness to enter into the holiest (Hebrews x.19), with this advantage, that whereas the high priest entered in virtue of the blood of bulls and goats, we enter in the virtue of the blood of Jesus, and, wherever we are, we have through him access to the Father. 2. The whole church shall be under a mighty obligation to press toward the perfection of holiness, as he who has called us is holy. All must now be most holy. Holiness becomes God’s house for ever, and in gospel-times more than ever. Behold this is the law of the house; let none expect the protection of it that will not submit to this law.” [21]

The holiness of God’s house, then, consists primarily in a willing submissiveness and obedience to God’s commandments for the house and the people of the house. The holiness of God’s house is directly related to the law of the house because it is obedience to the law of the house that manifests its holy character and the sanctified character of its people. Surely it was this passage that gave Thomas Witherow the idea for the title of his large book on the subject of Presbyterian church government. He titled his volume The Form of the Christian Temple [22] because the government of the Presbyterian Church, as it is jus divinum, is nothing less or more than an application of Ezekiel 43:11 to the Christian Temple.

However, constitutional Presbyterianism does not stop with the statement that the church must submit to and obey the law of the house. It goes on to insist that the church may do only what is contained in the law of the house. Because there is but one legislator in the church, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, the officers of the church may not bind the consciences of God’s people with their own commandments, doctrines, or traditions. The southern Presbyterian theologian James Henley Thornwell has explained this principle of church government as clearly and succinctly as anyone:

“As under the old dispensation nothing connected with the worship or discipline (or government) of the church of God was left to the wisdom or discretion of man, but everything was accurately prescribed by the authority of God, so, under the new, no voice is to be heard in the household of faith but the voice of the Son of God. The power of the church is purely ministerial and declarative. She is only to hold forth the doctrine, enforce the laws, and execute the government which Christ has given her. She is to add nothing of her own to, and to subtract nothing from, what her Lord has established. Discretionary power she does not possess.” [23]

By the law of the house Christ the king and legislator, whose glory fills his house, governs everything in his house — its structure, the entrances and exits and where they shall be, all the house’s designs, its statutes and all its laws. The law of God’s house is written in the Bible as the infallible and all-sufficient revelation of the will and character of God. The entire church throughout all ages, therefore, may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them. It is the law of the house.
The Point of This Exposition

The point of this dissertation is that a church that is faithful to God and to his Word is a church that is Reformed in her theology and Presbyterian in her government and organization. To the extent that Presbyterianism is found in the pages of Scripture, it must be obeyed. Everything in Scripture — every doctrine and precept — is a matter of faith and must therefore be believed and obeyed. The government of the church is no exception to the rule. We must not think that God has taken the trouble to inspire the record of such small details as the very gestures of the men who preached the gospel in Bible times, but has left out something so critical as the law of his own house. That would not only be an unwarranted presumption, it will be the purpose of this dissertation to demonstrate that it is a false one as well. [24]

We do not claim that the form of church government must be believed unto salvation (though we do claim that saving faith does not reject any clear teaching of Scripture and that it is a sinful avoiding of Scripture teaching that leads to false views of church government). [25] We do understand that there is a difference between those essentials of the faith that are necessary to be believed to the saving of the soul and those less fundamental and less foundational building blocks of doctrine that are not directly related to our salvation. We agree with Thomas Witherow’s statement in his booklet The Apostolic Church: Which Is It?: “There is such a thing as being a Presbyterian without being a Christian, as it is possible to be a Christian without being a Presbyterian. Depend upon it, it is best to be both.” [26]

More shall be said below on the subject of the importance of our study. But surely it is clear that anything that God has revealed in his Word has an importance attached to it by virtue of being divine revelation. As Witherow pointed out nearly a century and a half ago, “Let a man once persuade himself that importance attaches only to what he is pleased to call essentials, whatever their number, and he will, no doubt, shorten his creed and cut away the foundation of many controversies; but he will practically set aside all except a very small part of the Scriptures. If such a principle does not mutilate the Bible, it stigmatizes much of it as trivial. Revelation is all gold for preciousness and purity, but the very touch of such a principle would transmute the most of it into dross.” [27]
Constitutional Presbyterianism

This series of articles on church polity previously used the term “jus divinum.” We should not understand by that term that every last nuance of the exercise of church government is by divine right; nor should we understand that literally everything that all Presbyterian bodies have done has the stamp of approval of God’s authority. The constitutional Presbyterian maintains, as does his constitution, “that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed,” (Westminster Confession of Faith, I.6). [28] Nevertheless, while some circumstances such as the number of elders in a local congregation or the bounds of a presbytery may be ordered such, the church has no authority in herself to invent new offices not contained in Scripture nor to secure for herself any authority over the consciences of God’s people apart from the Word of God.

Further, this dissertation will be proposing in a subsequent installment a view of church government that might be characterized as either Constitutional Presbyterianism or Presbyterian Minimalism. Basically, Presbyterian Minimalism is the view that the church may only claim a jus divinum for acts that are specifically (whether by explicit or implicit warrant) designated as proper church acts by Scripture alone. One simple example would be the existence of a standing moderator of a church assembly (court). There is no basis scripturally to think that the moderator of a presbytery or a synod should continue to be the moderator of something that is not meeting and hence requires no moderating or presiding. It is precisely in failing to follow this simple rule of minimalism that much of the mischief in American Presbyterianism has arisen. This dissertation does not claim that nothing may be regarded in a circumstantial way without Scripture warrant. It claims, rather, that such circumstances may not be imposed with the authority of a jus divinum, but can only claim for themselves the same place as any historical or circumstantial edict that is subject to change as the case or need changes. [29]

This author recognizes that there are conservative denominations in this country that maintain not only standing moderators but even permanent committees. Such committees have become generally indistinguishable from independent or quasi-independent boards, however. It is the position of this dissertation that such practices as standing moderators and committees detract from a truly biblical Presbyterianism. They are at best merely circumstances of government and at worst undermine biblical polity. They have historically been precursors to one level and degree or another of apostasy. Rather, all the authority that Christ has given his church — which will be discussed in some detail in the pages to follow — resides in the jus divinum and not in the circumstances of church government. The circumstances of government may be useful for a season, but where a particular circumstance has outlived its usefulness it should be discarded: discarded with some considerable honor and respect no doubt, but discarded nonetheless.
Three Fundamental Ideas

Three ideas surface repeatedly through discussions of church polity because they belong to the very fundamentals (the sine qua non) of biblical or constitutional Presbyterian church government. The first idea is that of the parity or equality of all the ministers of the Word and sacraments. Biblical Presbyterianism rejects as destructive of church polity the unbiblical idea of one minister having a greater authority of office than any other. Whether we find it in Romanism, Prelacy, or Methodism, the principle of one minister being “a pastor of pastors” is foreign and even anathema to constitutional Presbyterianism. There are no “bishops” in the prelatic sense of that word in the Presbyterian churches. A man who ministers in a small country church has the same standing in his presbytery as does the minister of a large city congregation. Thus diocesan bishops have no place at all in a Presbyterian system.

A second important and fundamental jus divinum feature of constitutional Presbyterianism is the fact that the government of the church is vested in ruling elders. This biblical form of church government helps to insure the church against the encroachments of ministerial ambitions. In a perfect world with perfect people ministers would constantly remember their role as servants of Christ and his church. But, alas, we live in a world much affected by the fall of man. God has therefore, in his wisdom, not deposited church authority in the hands of a single man or the hands of men who might think there is some advantage to themselves in abusing the authority. Ecclesiastical authority is from Christ via representatives of his people. While other forms of church government may have men in office whom they designate as ruling elders or “lay” elders, it is a part of the genius of Presbyterian church government that has these biblical officers as active participants in church government at every “level” of its government. Ideally, biblical Presbyterianism would be governed in such a way that ruling elders would normally outnumber ministers in any given governing assembly.

A third and final principle of biblical Presbyterianism is that of the confederacy of like-minded churches. As much as possible Presbyterian churches attempt to demonstrate the unity of the church by connection with other churches. However, in order to be true to the first principle — that the church is finally to be governed by the Word of God alone — connectionalism must arise from unity and not the other way around. Many well-meaning Presbyterians in our history have regarded connectionalism to be an end in itself rather than a spiritual by-product of doctrinal and practical unity. The result has been tyranny even in a church system that is designed by the Lord to exclude all tyranny. As Thomas M’Crie, the Constitutional Presbyterian, maintained in his foundational work on church unity,

“A vague and erratic charity, which soars above fixed principles of belief, looks down with neglect on external ordinances, and spurns the restraint of ordinary rules, whether it seeks to include all Christians within its catholic embrace, or confines itself to those of a favorite class, is a very feeble and precarious bond of union. True Christian charity is the daughter of truth, and fixes her objects ‘for the truth’s sake which dwells in them.’” [30]

While this idea of church government may sound foreign to the ears of those used to hearing of permanent committees, boards, or stated moderators, it is actually the historical understanding of Presbyterianism. As Samuel Miller has well stated in his monumental Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive and Apostolical Constitution of the Church, “The Presbyterian Church claims to derive her form of government from the Holy Scriptures.” [31] It is only as the Presbyterian Church forgets that she is to derive all her government from Scripture that she gets into trouble. And at that very point, this author would claim, she also ceases to be Presbyterian. Miller further agrees on the three fundamental distinctive ideas of Presbyterianism as well and that all three are derived from Scripture: “She is persuaded that the New Testament most distinctly presents, as existing in the Apostolic Church, all the three features which constitute the peculiarities (distinctives) of her ecclesiastical polity, (church government), viz. the parity (equality) of her ministers; the government of the church by ruling elders (representative); and the attainment of the unity and cooperation by courts of review and control (connectionalism and confederacy). She aims to avoid the unauthorized pretensions of prelacy (Episcopal church government) on the one hand, and the lax, inadequate scheme of independency (congregational church government) on the other; and to adopt that system of ministerial equality, and efficient representation in the government of the church, which at once guards, as far as possible, against the encroachments of clerical (ministerial) ambition; secures the rights of the people, and provides for the exercise of pure and wholesome discipline in the most edifying manner.” [32]

This constitutional idea of jus divinum or Presbyterian Minimalism is not much practiced today, it is true. One important purpose in writing this dissertation is to demonstrate that modern Presbyterianism has to a great extent lost sight of its roots and then to recall it to the principle of Scripture alone being the law of the house. We desire to see the glory of the Lord once again fill his temple, but it also is our conviction that this will not happen until such time as Presbyterian office holders become “ashamed of their iniquities,” in adding to the Word of God and learn once again to “measure the pattern” of the house of Jehovah in accordance with the law of the house — Sola Scriptura (Ezekiel 43:10).

[1] This article, as well as several others in this series, is adapted from Dr. Bacon’s dissertation, The Pattern in the Heavens, which is a study of the underlying philosophy and theology of church polity.

[2] “Constitutional Presbyterianism” simply means that the church was founded upon the apostles and the prophets. Men are not free to add to the essence of church polity, no matter how admirable their motives may be. Regarding the circumstances of church polity that are necessary to each age or denomination, constitutional Presbyterianism simply maintains that people should do what they have promised to do. Thus a majority or even a super-majority of men in a particular assembly are not free to “suspend” the constitution of that body upon their own authority, because such authority does not reside in the majority.

[3] Carl Freidrich Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, in C.F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, XXV volumes in X (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., repr. 1988), IX.2.184.

[4] Ibid., 185.

[5] Ibid., 272.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Patrick Fairbairn, Commentary on Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989 repr. Of Zondervan 1960), 444.

[8] John Lightfoot, Description of the Temple, 1605. Cited in Fairbairn, op.cit., 445.

[9] Thus the Evangelical Commentary on the Bible refers to the man of brass as “some kind of celestial being.” The Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown states simply “The Old Testament manifestations of heavenly beings as men prepared men’s minds for the coming incarnation.” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, which insists that Ezekiel is describing the “millennial temple,” claims only “This tour was given by a man, probably an angel, whose appearance was like bronze.”

[10] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997) in loco, underline in original.

[11] Fairbairn, op. cit., 443.

[12] See also Second Chronicles 3:3ff. for more details from the blueprint that was reduced to writing.

[13] Concerning which, see the April-June 2000 issue of The Blue Banner in the article “Selected Thoughts on the Synagogue.”

[14] Clearly men cannot make true disciples by baptizing, teaching or any other physical and human activity. Only the Holy Spirit can make true disciples. Thus we must be baptized by the Holy Spirit and taught of him to be true disciples. But the church makes external disciples by baptizing and teaching. We wish to distance ourselves from the false teaching of Rome that disciples can be made by an ex opere operato use of the sacraments. See our discussion of the visible/invisible distinction in future issues of The Blue Banner for more details on this idea.

[15] Edward Mack, The Christ of the Old Testament (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1926), 115.

[16] Stuart Robinson, The Church of God as an Essential Element of the Gospel, (Greenville, SC: GPTS Press, 1995 reprint of Philadelphia: Joseph M. Wilson, 1858), 33.

[17] Fairbairn, op. cit., 481-82.

[18] Keil, op.cit., 283. emphasis added

[19] WCF XXV.2, Confession, 108.

[20] Fairbairn, op. cit., 482.

[21] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Whole Bible (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., n.d.), Volume 4 Isaiah to Malachi, 993. underline in original

[22] Thomas Witherow, The Form of the Christian Temple: Being A Treatise on the Constitution of the New Testament Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889), 468 pp. Hereafter Temple.

[23] James H. Thornwell, The Collected Writings of James Henley Thornwell, John B. Adger and John L. Girardeau, eds. (Richmond: Presbyterian Committee of Publications, 1873), IV.163. Hereafter Thornwell.

[24] This dissertation covers the basic philosophy and theology of ecclesiology. It is the author's hope to follow this work with a second volume covering the details of “ecclesiometry” or the polity of Scripture in its particulars.

[25] See WCF XIV:2, Confession, 63-64.

[26] Thomas Witherow, The Apostolic Church: Which Is It? (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1990), 61. (Hereafter The Apostolic Church)

[27] Ibid., 8.

[28] WCF I.6, Confession, 22-23.

[29] See the present author's work against the Steelite error, entitled A Defense Departed: Being a Refutation of ‘A Brief Defence of Dissociation in the Present Circumstances,’ available at The Blue Banner website,

[30] Thomas M’Crie, The Unity of the Church (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1989 edition of Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1821), 25.

[31] Samuel Miller, Presbyterianism: The Truly Primitive And Apostolical Constitution Of The Church Of Christ, (Dallas: Presbyterian Treasury, 1998 reprint of Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1835), 45.

[32] Ibid.