The Church - What is it?
The title which we have chosen for these studies is found in I Timothy 3:15. There the apostle Paul gives the reason for writing this first Epistle to Timothy" 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."
What a wonderful expression this is - "the church of the living God," God's house, the pillar and ground of the truth. The living God has a church which is His house and dwelling place on earth. We desire to consider this Church and to find out what God's mind is concerning it.
In our world of today there is much confusion and little understanding of what the Church really is. We hear the names of many different kinds of churches and denominations and the earnest believer inquires as to which is the right one to belong to or to be affiliated with.
The Word of God is the only right place to which one may go to find the answer. Therein we read throughout of one Church in blessed unity in all lands. But we find no denominational names of men attached to it such as we hear of in our day. This Church is the Church of the living God and the only church which God owns and recognizes and to which every true believer in Christ is already joined by God's Spirit, as our subsequent studies will show. To the Scriptures, then, we shall go to find out what God has to say about His Church - "The Church of the Living God."
- What Is It?
- The Body of Christ
- The House of God
- The Bride of Christ
What Is It?
We might say at the very beginning that the word translated "church" in our Bible is "ecclesia" in the original Greek Scriptures and means "an assembly of called out ones." It is more properly translated "Assembly" as more correct versions render it. Neither this word nor its Hebrew equivalent are found in the Old Testament, which shows us at once that the Church or Assembly did not exist then.
No Church Before Pentecost
In the Old Testament God had a nation of people, Israel, in covenant relationship with Himself, but this is not the Church which has a far more intimate and blessed relationship to Christ than Israel had. The nation of Israel is only once spoken of as "the assembly in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38, New Trans.). There they were, in a sense, a called out assembly from Egypt, but in great contrast with the New Testament Assembly and true Church.
In the Old Testament there are types and shadows of the Church, such as the brides of Joseph and Moses and the tabernacle in which God dwelt, but the Assembly of God itself did not exist at that time.
However, in the counsels of God the Church was ever in God's mind and purposes from before the creation of the world. It was "the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God" (Eph. 3:9). It was "kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest" (Rom. 16:25, 26).
The word "Church" or "ecclesia" is first found in Matthew 16:18 and was spoken of by the Lord when He said to Peter, "thou art Peter (Petros-Greek, "a little rock"), and upon this rock (petra-Greek, meaning Himself) I will build My church."
Here the Church is still future and not yet built, for the Lord said, "I will build," not "have built," or "am building." The Greek text indicates future action as all scholars and translations agree, in spite of some who would teach otherwise.
The next reference to the Church is in Matthew 18:17 where instruction is given regarding personal trespasses and discipline. This also is evidently future; otherwise, surely whilst the Lord was with His disciples, the case of an offending brother would have been laid before Himself.
There are no other Scriptures whatever which speak of the Church until we come to the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. which is the Church's birthday. While the Lord was on earth He was not forming a Church, but presented Himself to Israel as their true King and Messiah and gathered a remnant of true believers and disciples around Himself, while the leaders of Israel rejected Him more and more.
These faithful believers of the Lord's time existed as individual followers of Christ and became the nucleus of the Church at its formation on the day of Pentecost. On that day they were baptized by the descended Spirit into the body of Christ and were thereby joined to their glorified Savior on high (I Cor. 12:13). Then they no longer existed as individual believers, but as a corporate body, the Body of Christ, and members one of another, linked together by the Spirit of God which now indwelt them. This was the beginning of the Church of the living God.
This is what the Church is-a body of true believers in Christ, baptized by the Spirit of God into the body of Christ and joined to the Lord and to one another by that same Spirit. This we shall consider in detail a little later.
From what has been before us, it should be clear that the teaching of some that the Church began with John the Baptist is quite erroneous and unscriptural.
It should likewise be apparent that the common practice of calling buildings used for religious services "churches" or "the church" is also unscriptural and misleading. The Church is not a material building, but a body of living believers, living stones forming a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22; I Peter 2:5). This truth we will consider more fully later. The believers meeting together in any certain place constitute a true Church, the building where they meet being but the meeting place, whether a home, hall, chapel, or formally designated church building.
We have so far been largely considering what the true Church is not. We may now proceed to look more directly at the positive side, at what Scripture presents the Church to be.
Called Out Ones
Returning to the meaning of the word "ecclesia," we may observe that the Church of the living God is, therefore, a company of called out ones called out of the world-those whom God has called unto Himself by the Gospel of His grace and who have accepted that Gospel and the Savior it presents. They are thus separated from the world and are spoken of as "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus" (I Cor. 1: 2), which means "set apart" in Christ.
In harmony with this we have the words of James in Acts 15:14: "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name." This is what the Church is-a people taken out of the nations for His name by the sovereign operations of the Holy Spirit. Had the Church only remembered this it would not have settled down in the world and become worldly minded, but would have remained separated from the world and would have been heavenly in character, as those truly called out to the rejected Christ in glory.
If we look at Acts 2 we find the believers there a truly separated company. The 120 are gathered together in the upper room, away from the world that crucified their Savior, and. continuing with one accord in prayer.. Then the Spirit descended from heaven and filled them all and they began to tell out in other tongues the wonderful works of God. Peter now preached Christ to the multitude urging them to repent, be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and save themselves from this perverse generation by thus taking their stand for Christ and separating from the nation that rejected Him.
They that received his word were baptized and about three thousand souls were added to this separated company. Such was the beginning of the Church of God, the called out Assembly.
As there are those today who would tell us that the true Church did not begin at Pentecost in Acts 2, but at the end of Acts and Paul's imprisonment, we must say a few words about this teaching. The 47th verse of this second of Acts says, "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." These words certainly tell us that the Church had now begun and that it was being built as the Lord added saved souls to it day by day. But this was not "the church, Which is his body," which Ephesians 1:22, 23 afterward speaks of, say these Ultra-dispensationalists. To this we reply that the Lord has but one Church and that the Church of Acts 2 is as truly the body of Christ as that spoken of later in Ephesians. There is not a Jewish Church and then a Church of Gentiles, or of Jews and Gentiles.
The Church began at Pentecost with Jewish believers and later Gentiles were added to it (Acts 10), both being reconciled unto God in one body by the cross and the twain made one new man (Eph. 2:14-16). True, this was not all revealed at once and the distinctive truths of the Church were only brought out later by Paul, the special apostle to the Church, in his prison Epistles, but the Church of the living God began at Pentecost just the same. The book of Acts is a transition period from Judaism into the liberty and fulness of Christianity. These Jewish believers could not be taken all at once from Judaism into the full teaching of the Church, so these great and wonderful truths of the Church were gradually revealed and fully brought out at the proper time during Paul's imprisonment.
Joined by the Lord
Returning to Acts 2:47, it is well to notice that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved." Men did not join themselves to it, as people join churches today; the joining was done by the Lord Himself. Those whom He saved He joined to the Church by His Spirit and "of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them. And believers were the more added to the Lord" (Acts 5:13, 14).
Such was the power and holiness of the early Church that the unsaved would not dare to try to join themselves to it; they felt that they had not what these born-again believers had. But when any were saved, they were added to the Lord, not to men or organizations, and found themselves naturally one with the believers and already joined to the Church of God.
The same principles should be true today, for it is as true now as then, that the Lord adds to the Church daily such as are being saved. If one is not saved, he cannot join himself to God's true Church. He may join a church on earth, but no one belongs to the true Church unless he is born again. It ought to be as true today as then, that no one who is unsaved would dare to join himself to the local Church of believers, but alas, the Church has lost its power and it is no longer thus.
How comforting it should be to every believer in Christ in this day of confusion, disorder, and apostasy in the professing church on earth to know that since his conversion he is joined by the Lord to God's true Church to which only genuine, saved believers belong! He is part of the "church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven" (Heb. 12: 23), and should rejoice because his name is written in heaven in the book of life from which it will never be blotted out (Luke 10: 20; Rev. 3:5).
This is the only church that one can Scripturally belong to.
For we do not find believers in the Bible belonging to any church but the Church of Jesus Christ. Neither do we read of any church membership rolls, but simply of the believers being joined to the Lord and added to the Church by the Lord. The only membership known in Scripture is membership in Christ's Body.
We will make a few practical applications of these truths to our day. If one is joined by the Lord to His true Church, why should he join another church since he is already joined to the only Church which God recognizes?
Believers are to have fellowship one with another and to worship and serve the Lord together. They are to edify one another and to pray with each other as those already joined together in the Lord, as "members one of another" (Rom. 12: 5), but Scripture never tells us to form a church organization or to join one of man's devising. We are exhorted in Ephesians 4:3 to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, "a unity of believers already made by the Spirit, not a unity of views or doctrines which we are to make. This God-made unity of true believers we are to recognize and act upon and to recognize and act upon no other. These are a few of the practical principles which flow from being joined by the Lord to the Church of the living God.
The Church is presented in Scripture under the three figures of a body, a bride, and a building. We have already briefly referred to two of these figures, but shall now consider them a little more in detail. First, we shall consider the Church as a body.
A. The Body of Christ
This is spoken of in several Epistles, but we shall turn first to its mention in Ephesians 1: 22, 23. After speaking of the resurrection of Christ from the dead and His glorification and exaltation in heaven "Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named," the apostle says that God "hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all."
The death, resurrection, and glorification of Christ in heaven is the foundation of the Church. There could not be such a thing as the Body of Christ till Christ was in heaven as man and as the head of the body with the work of redemption for sinful man accomplished. Before there can be a body there must be a head, so we have Christ Jesus exalted in heaven as head over all things first, then His Body was formed on earth by the Holy Spirit sent down from that glorified Head.
The Church, then, is His Body on earth, His complement, which fills up or completes the mystic, glorified Man, just as Eve was necessary to the completeness of God's thoughts as to the first Adam. As members of the Body of Christ, believers are united to Him, their blessed Head, at the right hand of God and should be heavenly as the head of the Church is heavenly. This is a very important truth, but only practical realization of union with the ascended Christ will produce this heavenly character.
Writing to the Corinthians the apostle told them by inspiration: "as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also (is) the Christ. For also in (the power of) one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit" (I Cor. 12:12,13 New Trans.).
In this portion and the verses that follow the figure of the human body with its many members is used as an illustration of the Church, which, with its many individual members is one body, the Body of Christ. Though there are very many diverse parts in the human body, there is a marvelous unity throughout and the numerous members are all one body. "So also is the Christ," says the apostle. Notice the words, "the Christ" which means Christ and His body, the Church. The human body, then, with its unity and yet diversity of members is a picture of Christ and His Church, the spiritual body.
Only One Body
The Church of Christ is but one body, though its members are multitude, each one differing from the other, and scattered over the whole earth. "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another," wrote Paul to the Romans (Rom. 12: 5). So also he wrote to the Corinthians, "We being many are one bread, and one body" (I Cor. 10:17), and to the Ephesians he said, "There is one body" (Eph. 4:4).
This is the truth of God regarding His people who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ. By the one spirit they have all been baptized into one body at conversion, no matter what their nationality or race, and now they are "one body in Christ." This was a fact in the apostle's day and it is still the divine truth today. God's Word does not say, "There was one body," or "There shall be one body," but "There is one body."
In spite of the many differing religious bodies in Christendom, God still sees His true children on earth as "one body in Christ," no matter what various bodies of earthly church organizations they may belong to or how scattered and divided they may be. This latter is to their shame, for the numerous opposing religious systems and bodies are not according to His mind or will and have no recognition before Him. What God recognizes and owns on earth is the Body of Christ and that alone is dear to Him.
The many religious systems of men, with their multitudes of unregenerate, spiritually dead members, have not originated from God, but are of man's devising and are not owned of Him. But God does own and recognize with pleasure every child of God with spiritual life within these various systems and sees them as belonging to the Body of Christ which His Spirit has formed.
In the days of the apostles the believers in Christ were literally one visible body on earth. God and man both could see them as one body. There were no divisions among them. All the Christians in one locality met together in one place and were in happy unity and fellowship with all the Christians and Christian gatherings elsewhere in that province and in all other countries, as the Acts and Epistles bear witness. It was thus manifest to all that these Christians everywhere were "one body in Christ," a living, working organism functioning under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. This was what God willed and directed and so it should have continued.
But alas, this happy visible unity was soon marred and disrupted. Unsaved professors and perverse men crept in unawares (Jude 4) and the Church on earth became a great house with vessels to honor and dishonor (II Tim. 2:19-21) . Later, divisions came in with corruptions and departures from God's Word so that the unity of the Body of Christ was no longer seen, though still existing.
The ruin, divisions, and confusion which characterize Christendom today tell how far we have departed from God's mind and will as to there being but one body of believers.
Though this unity of the Body of Christ is not seen in our day, it is there, nevertheless, and will be seen again when the Lord gathers all His people home. And when Christ comes forth to reign on earth, the Church, which is His body, will be displayed with Him in all its wondrous unity.
Another has well said that the unity of the Body of Christ is like a chain stretched across a river. You see it on each side, but it dips in the middle giving the impression that it has given way at the center. So with the Church of Christ. It was seen to be one in the beginning and will be seen to be one by and by. It is one in God's sight now, though the unity is not visible to mortal eyes. (C. H. M.).
But though there are so many divisions and different religious bodies in Christendom today we are not thereby excused from our responsibility to give practical testimony to the glorious truth of the one Body of Christ and to visibly confess in action the unity of the Church of Christ. We are not only to hold the theory and truth of there being one body, but we are called upon to give a practical expression to that blessed truth in our Christian fellowship and a practical testimony against everything that denies it.
To use the words of another: "The first step in confessing the unity of the Church of God is to step out of the divisions of Christendom.
Let us not stop to ask what is to be our second step. God never gives light for two steps at a time. Is it true that there is but one body? Unquestionably, God says so. Well, then, the divisions, the sects, and the systems of Christendom are plainly opposed to the mind and will and Word of God. Truly so. What are we to do? Step out of them. This, we may rest assured, is the first step in a right direction. It is impossible to yield any practical confession to the unity of the Church of God while we stand connected with that which practically denies it. We may hold the theory in the region of our understanding, while we deny the reality in our practical career. But if we desire to confess the truth of the one body, our very first business -our primary duty-is to stand in thorough separation from all the sects and schisms of Christendom.
"And what then? Looking to Jesus; and this is to continue right on to the end. Is this ... to form a new sect, or join some new body? By no means; it is but fleeing from the ruins around us to find our resource in the all-sufficiency of the name of Jesus, to keep the eye fixed on Him amid the wild watery waste, until we reach in safety the haven of everlasting rest and glory." (C. H. M.)
Its Various Members
We shall now consider the various members of the Body of Christ and their functions as outlined in I Corinthians 12. There we read of various parts of the body, such as the foot, the hand, the ear and the eye, and of their various functions and need of each other. Then in verse 28 the apostle says, "God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." These are some of the various gifts or specific members of the body which were found in the early Church.
In Ephesians 4:11 we read of Christ ascending up on high and giving gifts unto men, "some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." These, undoubtedly, are the permanent gifts found in the Church at a later date those which abide until Christ comes as verse 13 indicates.
These special gifts and members of the body, enumerated in the above passages, are the more public and prominent members, so to speak, given "for the edifying of the body of Christ." The nature of these gifts and their functions we will consider later, when we take up the ministry of the Church.
But the apostle in I Corinthians 12 is careful to stress the importance and need of the less honorable members of the body which are not so prominent and manifest as the above mentioned ones. No member can say to another, "I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary," says the inspired writer. "God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it" (v. 24-26).
These are very practical considerations which are connected with our being members of the Body of Christ. They concern our daily life and relationships one with another in material things as well as spiritual, and we need to consider daily the practical application of the truth set forth in the above verses.
There is another important Scripture bearing upon the body and its lesser members to which we must also refer. It is Ephesians 4:15, 16: "the head, even Christ: 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." This verse reminds us that even such a small member as a joint must supply its measure from Christ the head and also that every part must work effectually if the whole body is to function properly and increase. This, we know, is definitely true in the human body and is likewise so in the spiritual Body of Christ.
Place Assigned of God
God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him" (I Cor. 12:18). Here we have the sovereignty of God in placing believers in the Body of Christ and giving each member a special place and function as it pleases Him. No one can choose his place or say what he wishes to do in the Body of Christ. Each one is given his place by God and fitted of Him for the performance of his special work as a particular member of the body.
We should remember that if we are given a place in the Body of Christ it means also that we are placed there for a definite purpose and for a specific work. This is the practical side of the truth and the realization of it in our souls will lead to practical manifestation of our being specific members of the Body of Christ. "To every man his work," are the words of the Lord in Mark 13:34
Head Directs Members
It follows, then, that human appointments and human aspirations for certain work and places in the Church of God are entirely wrong. No one has a right to choose to preach or teach, etc., or to appoint someone else to do so. He must be called of the Lord to this and be sure that such is his appointed place in the Body of Christ. If such is his place, he will be gifted and fitted of God for this work, and his gift will be manifest to the Church. He is responsible to the Lord to perform it in dependence upon Christ, the Head, who has called him.
It is for each one to learn from the Lord by personal communion and experience what is his or her place in the Body of Christ and what work is to be performed as such.
It is the head that directs the movements and functions of the human body and likewise it is Christ, the head of His spiritual body, the Church, who must direct the movements and work of its various members.
In our bodies the control of the members by the head is through the nervous system which goes from the head to every member and part of the body. In the spiritual body this control and directing of the members by Christ, the head, is through the Holy Spirit who dwells in each member and joins all the members together and to the head in heaven. We might liken the Holy Spirit in this respect, then, to the nervous system of the human body, which is the connecting link between the head and the body. If the Spirit is ungrieved within us, He will exercise the heart as to certain service for the Lord and lead on in it under the direction of the Head of the Church. But this means that we must yield to the Spirit and not quench it.
If the reader will turn to Acts 13:1-5, he will there find an example of the directing of the Head by the Holy Spirit. As certain prophets and teachers in the Church at Antioch ministered to the Lord, "the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them." The Church then expressed their fellowship with them by fasting, praying, and laying their hands upon them and sent them away. It Is then expressly added, "So they, being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia;" etc. Such was the order then and such is God's way for us at all times.
The Body - an organism
From what has been before us, it should be apparent that the Church of God is not an organization set up by man, but a living organism, composed of living members, indwelt by the living Spirit, linked to the living Head in heaven and directed and controlled by Him. Is there any difference between the two-an organization and an organism? Certainly there is. The one is a society formed by man, the latter is a living being formed by God.
The book of Acts shows us the functioning of this living organism, the Church, in the days of its beginning. Energized and directed through the Holy Spirit by their Head in heaven, the various members of the body went forth and carried on the work of God without any human head or organization on earth. And all was in harmony and unity, too, unity such as is never obtained by man's organizing and collaborations, for there is a "unity of the Spirit" which we are exhorted to keep. They proved, too, that they had a living Head in glory and that Christ is not a mere figurehead there, but a living reality and all-sufficient. He has always proved sufficient for His Church in every emergency and vicissitude throughout the centuries and will be so to the end, if only depended upon. May we prove Him thus-our all-sufficient, glorified Head in heaven.
The Contrast About Us
As one looks around in Christendom today, however, practically everything is seen to be in striking contrast to what we see the Church to have been in the Acts and in the Epistles where it was according to the mind of God. Instead of the functioning of a living organism, one sees church organizations everywhere, each having its head, subordinate heads, etc., with authority over others and little or nothing is known or seen of Christ as the head of the Church, directing the members through the Holy Spirit. Christ is but a mere figurehead in heaven to most, it would seem, when it comes to the practical aspect of His being the head of the Church, and the Holy Spirit as a living Person and Power on the earth is little known or counted upon. Christ and the Holy Spirit are practically supplanted by the human machinery of man's systematized denominational organizations. And this is not only among unsaved religious professors, but amongst true believers as well, although perhaps not in the same degree.
Beloved, these things ought not to be. "What saith the Scriptures?" should be our inquiry, and we should have a "Thus saith the Lord" for all that we practice and hold. Everything that does not conform to His Word is contrary to His will and should be given up. May the Lord, the head of the Church, give reader and writer to be exercised about these precious truths connected with the Body of Christ and to practically walk in them in separation from all else which denies them.
B. The House of God
In the Old Testament God dwelt in the blood-sprinkled holy of holies of the tabernacle among the children of Israel and later on in the temple. But now since the death and resurrection of Christ, God "dwelleth not in temples made with hands," as Paul declared to the Athenians (Acts 17:24). His house and dwelling place on earth now is the Church (I Tim. 3:15) and this brings us to the consideration of the second figure of the Church -the house of God.
In Ephesians 2:19-22 we read: "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit."
From these verses we learn that the believers in Christ are builded together by the Spirit upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the chief corner stone, for an habitation or dwelling place of God. Whenever anyone is saved, he is added as a stone to this spiritual building, and fitly framed together it groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. In this sense the Church is an unfinished building which will be completed when the last soul is saved in this present church or grace period and then the Lord will come for His people.
Peter also tells us in his first Epistle a little about God's house. He says, "Ye also, as lively (living) stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" (ch. 2: 5). The believers are here spoken of as living stones built upon Christ, the living Stone, and forming a spiritual house for the purpose of offering up spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God.
We have previously noticed that the Lord said in Matthew 16:18, "upon this rock (Himself) I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Accordingly, we see how Christ has been building His house, the Church, from the day of Pentecost on to this present day and that it still stands in spite of all the onslaughts of hell itself against it throughout the centuries of Satan's persecutions and cunning attempts to destroy it.
In this living, spiritual building of true believers, God has been dwelling through the Spirit. It has been His house and temple, His habitation since its formation upon the descent of the Spirit from heaven in Acts 2. Writing to the Corinthian believers, Paul says, "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" (I Cor. 3:16) . Collectively, the believers at Corinth were God's temple and house in that local place, as, is also true of believers today in every place. This is what the house of God is. It is not a church building of material stones, etc., as is often thought and spoken of, but a spiritual building of living stones believers in Christ.
Order and Responsibility
These are the principal thoughts connected with the Church as the house of God. For God is a God of order and if He dwells in a house, it must be according to His mind and in order. There is responsibility to keep that dwelling place pure and holy, for "holiness becometh thine house, O Lord" (Psa. 93:5). Hence there must be discipline and order in the Church, since it is the dwelling place of the holy God.
The reason for Paul's writing his first Epistle to Timothy was that he and we might "know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God" (I Tim. 3:15). Thus we see that there must be a becoming behavior in the house of God, and that order, holiness, and discipline are connected with our being God's house and household. These subjects we purpose to consider in detail when we take up the local aspect of the Church, the visible Church, as it is sometimes called.
We would just say in passing that it is thus apparent that discipline is connected with the Church as the house of God and not as the body of Christ. The principal thought in connection with the Body of Christ is grace, position, and vital union with Christ, the glorified Head. From this body no human power can cut off a member. neither can a member be added by human power, while in the house of God, one may be cut off from fellowship by an act of discipline, or exclusion. The holiness of God's house necessitates such action being taken if serious evil is allowed in the life of one in fellowship. See I Corinthians 5:13.
Two Aspects of the House
In the Scriptures which we have been considering (Eph. 2 and I Peter 2) we have one aspect of the house of God as the building which Christ is building and into which only true believers enter as living stones. Christ is the builder and it is perfect. In this aspect the house of God and the body of Christ are co-extensive, both comprising only genuine believers in Christ.
But in I Corinthians 3 we have another aspect of the house of God, where man is the builder and responsibility and resulting failure is connected therewith. Here we read: "we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every men take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (verses 9, 10). Then the apostle goes on to speak of building upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble and says that the fire will try every man's work of what sort it is in the judgment day when rewards will be given for work which abides the fire (verses 12-15).
Wood, hay, and stubble, it is apparent, will not stand the test of the fire, therefore they are spurious materials and not true believers which have been brought into God's building by man's work. Thus in this aspect of the house of God on earth, where man is entrusted with the work of building, there is failure and unsaved professors are often mixed with true believers.
At first, in the apostle's day, the house built by man was co-extensive with the Body of Christ and the house built by Christ. The Lord added to the Church those who were saved and all who were brought into the house of God on earth were genuine believers. But soon one, Simon Magus, professed to be saved and was baptized and received into the privileges of the house of God, the Christian company. This man later proved to be unconverted and not right with God (Acts 8).
Here was perhaps the first failure and the first spurious material of wood, hay and stubble which was built into God's building by man. He was not a living stone, and therefore not a member of the Body of Christ. There was now that in the house which was not in the body and they ceased to be co-extensive and one and the same thing; the house became larger than the body.
This building of mixed materials into God's house has continued ever since, so that it is now very important to distinguish between these two aspects of God's house that being built by Christ in perfection and that being built by man in imperfection and failure with mixed materials.
Already, at the close of the apostle Paul's life, the house of God had become a "great house" of vessels to honor and vessels to dishonor, vessels of gold and silver and vessels of wood and earth, so that in order to be "a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use," it was necessary to separate oneself from the vessels to dishonor in the great house (II Tim. 2:20, 21). Such is the house as built by man.
It might be stated in closing our remarks on this subject, that it is the baptism of water, the outward mark of Christian profession, which places one in the house of God which man has a part in building, while the baptism of the Holy Spirit, alone, can bring one into the Body of Christ, as we have previously seen.
C. The Bride of Christ
We come now to the third figure of the Church of God in Scripture. This is found in Ephesians 5:21-32 where Paul shows that the Church is the bride of Christ and that the nature of this blessed and intimate relationship between Christ and His Church is the pattern for the relationship and conduct of husbands and wives. Reading from verse 25 we have:
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 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. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: 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."
Affection, Intimacy and Association
Under this figure of the bride we have the Church presented as the object of the closest and tenderest affections of Christ and of His loving care, as a true husband loves and cares for his wife, only here the heavenly is rather the example for the earthly. This figure also sets forth the most intimate relationship which exists between Christ and the Churchthe closest that is possible, the tender intimacy of a loving husband and wife. And it also presents the thought of closest future association with Christ in His coming dominion and glory, as Eve was associated with Adam in his place of headship over all creation. This we shall later see more fully from other Scriptures.
The Church of the living God, then, is the bride of Christ, which He loved with an infinite love and purchased for Himself by His own precious blood, which He gave to redeem her from sin and destruction. This is what He did for her in the past, that He might have her forever with Himself as the object of His deep affections and to share all His glory and dominion in the coming day.
In the present His unfailing love is ever caring for her, nourishing and cherishing her, sanctifying and cleansing her with the washing of water by the Word-the application of the cleansing power of the Word of God by the Spirit, that she might be morally fitted for this intimate place of association with Him in all His glory and dominion. In the future, His love for the Church will be manifested in His presenting her, the bride, to Himself a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, and she shall be forever with Him, her beloved Bridegroom. As another has said: "He is the One who can present it to Himself as being the author of its existence, of its beauty, and of the perfection in which it must appear in heaven to be worthy of such a Bridegroom and of the glory that is there."
Such is the blessed portion of the Church as the bride of Christ, and the love which every member of that bride should be enjoying now, for the same love that we shall enjoy in that unsullied and eternal brightness is the love wherewith He loves us now in this world's night of darkness .Oh, let our hearts rest in His precious love!
Our Affections and Being Faithful
As we, His bride, enjoy His love, our heart's affections should, and will, go out to Him in longing desire for Himself, our Bridegroom, and in devoted faithfulness to Him in the scene of His rejection during His absence. We are to remember the words of Paul to the Corinthians and realize that they apply to every believer. "I have espoused (betrothed, engaged) you unto one man, to present (you) a chaste virgin to Christ" (II Cor. 11:2, New Trans.).
As Christians we are engaged to Jesus Christ and are to be faithful and true to Him, keeping ourselves as a chaste virgin for Himself, unspotted from the world that crucified Him, and not giving our love and affections to the world system of the enemy of our Beloved One, but bestowing all our love and friendship upon Him, rendering faithful service to Him, and living for Himself in joyful expectation of His coming for us and that day of nuptial union. This is a responsibility which flows from this most intimate relationship with Christ.
Furthermore, our text in Ephesians 5 reminds us that this blessed relationship carries with it the thoughts of headship and subjection, as seen in the marriage union. "Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing" (v. 23, 24). We have already spoken of Christ being the head of the Church so shall only touch on the subjection of the Church as the bride of the Lord, her head.
This subjection to Christ is another most important responsibility resulting from this blessed privilege of being the bride of Christ. It means that we are to obey His word down here and not do our own will or follow our own wishes, but are to follow the instructions He has given us in the Bible. We are not to do as we think expedient or best, with regard to ourselves personally or to the Church collectively, but are to search the Scriptures for the mind of Christ and to act upon them in subjection to Him as our head. Hence it follows that the Church is never to teach or set up rules, doctrines, etc. Its place is to be subject to all the rules, principles, teachings, and doctrines which Christ has set forth in His Word. The Lord teaches and preaches by the gifts He has given to the Church, under the Spirit's direction and power presenting His Word. The Church's place is to be subject unto Christ's Word and not to take the place of teaching and ruling, as the Church of Rome and others are doing.
Had the Church not forgotten this and lost sight of her high calling as the bride of Christ, how different things would be today. There would not be all the conflicting denominations and groups with their different forms of procedure, varying doctrines, etc. For if all would be in subjection to Christ, oneness of mind (His mind) and His path for His Church would be found in His Word. The Spirit would teach all of us the same thing and each believer thus subject would be found walking obediently in that one path of His will. Then all would be together in the blessed unity of the Spirit as the subject bride of Christ.
How blessed this would be and what a testimony the Church would then be in the world for Christ. So it was in the beginning of the Church's history and so it would be now if all would be subject to Christ as head and really know Him as their Bridegroom. The reason, then, for all the divisions and confusion among God's people today is that the Church has not been and is not completely subject to Christ. Man's will has been at work, hence the ruin about us.
But though the Church has collectively failed in subjection, it still becomes each individual believer to be in subjection to Christ's will and Word. In the Lord's messages to the seven churches of Asia which speak prophetically of the Church's history and departure from His Word, the word at the close to each one is: "He (the individual) that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17,29). May each reader hear and obey and walk in separation from all that is not according to His Word and in subjection to Him.
Her Hope and Destiny
Having considered the place of affection, intimacy, association, and responsibility to be faithful and subject to Christ, which the true Church of bornagain believers has as His bride, we may now dwell a little on her hope and destiny. From the very nature of the relationship of bride and bridegroom, it should be readily seen that the Church's hope and culmination of desire is her marriage union with Him and being forever with Himself at His side. Being united to Christ and sharing all His glory is the Church's only proper hope and destiny.
This is intimated in Ephesians 5 in the verses we considered previously, where it is said that Christ will present the Church to Himself, a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. This will be fulfilled at the marriage day and this nuptial union day should be the Church's expectation and longing desire as the bride of Jesus. Then she shall see Him as He is and be like Him, spotless and pure (I John 3:2, 3). Nothing else can satisfy true bridal affections which should be found in the Church.
This blessed hope of the Church was given her by Jesus Himself in those well-known and well-loved words of John 14:2, 3. Here He tells the believers that He would go to prepare a place for them in His Father's house and that He would come again and receive them unto Himself, that where He was they might be also. This the Bridegroom has promised His bride and has declared that His heart's desire is that where He is, she may also be.
Christ's longing desire for His bride is also touchingly expressed in His high-priestly prayer to the Father as recorded in John 17:24.There He prays: "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory." This is the Lord's purpose and goal, shall we say, for His Church-that she be with Him in the glory. And such should ever be the longing desire and hope of His bride.
The Church is heavenly in origin-born from above and united to Christ, her head, in glory. She should be heavenly in character down here, for her "life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3), and her destiny is that of being married to Christ in heaven and forever sharing His glory. All the promises to the Church are heavenly, whilst all the promises to Israel are earthly, so these two peoples should never be confused.
Having thus seen from Scripture that the only proper hope and destiny of the Church as Christ's bride is that of union and association with Him in heavenly glory and of being like Him, conformed to His image, it should be apparent that the thought often expressed, that the Church's goal and ultimate hope is to improve and convert the world to Christ, is quite a mistaken expectation and unscriptural hope.
The Church's mission is certainly to represent and manifest Christ in this world and to proclaim the Gospel to the lost, but the hope of improving and converting the whole world to Christ is never given to her in Scripture. On the contrary, His Word definitely shows that "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse" (II Tim3:13), and that God will need to intervene in judgment to end all man's wickedness. The Church's hope and destiny, then is her being raptured to heaven with Him, as I Thessalonians 4:13-18 outlines, and not the improvement or conversion of the world.
Let us now turn to a few Scriptures in the book of Revelation, which give us more of the future destiny of the Church in her union and association with Christ.
Undoubtedly her being caught up to heaven takes place in Revelation 4:1, as to point of time, and she is part of the worshipping, redeemed company in chapters four and five, as represented by the twenty-four elders. During all the time that the judgments of God will be poured out on apostate Christendom and this wicked world, as prophesied in chapters six to nineteen, the Church of true believers is safe in the glory with her beloved Savior.
Then in the nineteenth chapter we hear of the marriage of the Lamb. "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousnesses (marginal reading) of saints" (vs. 7, 8). The false bride of the apostate Church having been judged in chapter seventeen, and the true bride having made herself ready, this glorious event of the marriage of Christ and His blood-bought Church can take place. Then He comes to earth with His bride in judgment upon the living nations and reigns with her over the whole earth (ch. 19: 11-20:6).
In Revelation 21:9-27 the bride, the Lamb's wife, is described minutely in all her glory as "a great and high mountain," "that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God," etc. (The reader will please read all the verses). Then she will be the heavenly metropolis of the earthly kingdom of Jesus Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
Revelation 21:1-8 describes the eternal scene and state after the 1000 years of the kingdom reign of Christ are expired and the first heaven and the first earth have passed away. Then there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Here we read: "And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people," etc.
This is the eternal destiny of the Church, Christ's bride. She is the same holy city. of the millennium, a bride adorned for her husband and now the tabernacle or eternal dwelling place of God. What a glorious destiny is that of the "Church of the living God!" May it enrapture our hearts more and lead us out in increasingly devoted affection for our precious Bridegroom, who has secured all this blessedness for us by laying down His life for us on Calvary.
In concluding our first chapter on What Is the Church of the Living God, let us restate some of the leading thoughts which have been before us in answer to our chapter's question. We have seen from God's Word that the Church did not begin until Pentecost and that it is composed of born-again believers who have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ and joined by Him to His Church, of which He is the head in heaven. They are a company of called out ones, separated from the world, and ever seen by God as one body throughout the world in spite of all the divisions that exist among them.
She is pictured to us in a three-fold way, as the Body of Christ, the house of God, and the bride of Christ. As the body, there are the various members with the responsibility to function for Him in their assigned and fitted places under the direction of Christ the head. As the house of God, the Church is His dwelling place on earth and responsible to maintain God's order and holiness therein. As the bride of Christ, affection, intimacy, faithfulness, subjection, and eternal companionship and association with Jesus in all His glory is the portion, hope, and destiny of the Church.
With this survey of the general scope of the Church at large before us, we will more readily understand the Scriptural order and nature of the local Church, which we shall consider in Chapter Three.
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