This is one question that could set your thoughts going for quite a long time. These are so many definitions that we can spend months just going through the Bible looking at the different views. We can argue about subjects like is it the bride, the elected, a nation, or what ever. But that is not the question.
The question is: What is the Church of Jesus Christ?
There are so many books on the subject that I think most people are not even interested in this subject anymore. So many persons have given their own interpretation that we have all lost interest in finding out what the Church of Jesus Christ is.
I want to approach this question from a different angle. I do not want to argue the case of the institutional church or the house church movement, or even look at the meaning of the word ecclesia. I also do not want to look if a Pentecostal or whatever type of church is the real church. No, I want to look at our approach to church and from these hopes to give you an idea of what Church is.
Let us look at what we think is church today. Suppose I am driving through the Karoo, a very sparsely populated area in South Africa, and I approach a small town. The first thing I will notice is the tower of a church building. I will now drive to this building, and let us suppose that it is a Sunday morning, I will find that the church service is in full swing. I will enter into the building and find people sitting in rows all facing in one direction. This is the place where I will find a podium or steeple. The seats on which the people are sitting will be made either of wood or plastic, or if the reverend or pastor has a long breath, it might even have padded seats. If it is a new building, the seats might even remind you of the seats at the movies, soft and individual.
Depending on the group affiliation, it will either have a church organ, or their might be musicians on a stage. It might even have separate seats for the church elders and deacons.
If we look at the church service, we will find that the people will sing a couple of songs, the preacher or someone else might say a prayer, and then certain confessions might be read. Once this is completed, the preacher would normally read from the Bible, explain to you what he just read, and maybe even explain to you the relevance of this scripture to your every day life. Somewhere during this service, you will be asked to produce your offer in order for the church to meet its expenses. Someone might even read a portion of scripture trying to convince you that you are actually not giving it to the local church, but that you are giving it to God Himself. The service would then come to an end. The exact sequence might differ from church to church.
After the service some of the people might even stay for a while and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea together. They will undoubtedly talk about what happened during the past week, or even about the rugby or cricket game on Saturday. Once everyone is done, they will all go home.
You as stranger might also stay for a cup of coffee. You will then ask the preacher what you have to do in order to become part of this group of people. He will undoubtedly go through a physical or mental checklist to find out where you come from, which groups you have affiliated yourself with in the past and if you have any proof of this. You might even be invited to attend a meeting where this subject will be addressed and any questions you have will be answered. Or he might even suggest someone visiting you to establish all these credentials before admitting you to this group.
You now go off to the next building where you also notice people congregating. This group might even clap their hands while singing, and they might break out in strange voices or tongues that you have not heard before. But, when this service is done, you find that to join this group the steps are basically the same as for the previous group. They might even tell you that they are totally different from the first group in that they have groups that meet at various houses during the week, and that you should attend one of these meetings.
When you get to this meeting during the week, you find that they will sing a couple of songs, and the leader will then pull out a piece of paper and discuss the message the preacher delivered on Sunday with the group. He might ask you some questions on how you have experienced the particular subject in your life, or maybe give you some pointers on how to apply this subject to your everyday life. There will normally be a time devoted to prayer, and people might have the openness to ask for prayer for themselves or for someone they know. At the end of the night you find that the only difference between this and Sunday’s service was that there was some interaction, and that instead of a general prayer time, prayer might have been more personal.
To help you in your search as to which group to join, you decide to look at what the Bible has to say about church. You suddenly remember that there was a very clever Pharisee that wrote quite a number of the Epistles in the New Testament. And seeing that you want to join a New Testament church, this is the place to look. You eventually stumble on to a section that covers this subject in 1 Corinthians 14 from verse 26: “¶ how is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. 27 If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret. 28 But if there be no interpreter, let him keep silence in the church; and let him speak to himself, and to God. 29 Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. 30 If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. 31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. 34¶ Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. 35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 36¶ What? came the word of God out from you? or came it unto you only? 37 If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. 38 But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant. 39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. 40 Let all things be done decently and in order.”
Your immediate reaction might be one of surprise as what you read here is not what you encountered at any of these meetings. But this is what the Bible declares. You might even argue that this type of service is impossible to have at our large gatherings on a Sunday, and that this should be what the cell meetings should be like. I would like to question that as at most cell meetings the cell leader is only allowed to do what he is given to share, nothing more. The cell leader is also not allowed to teach anything that is not allowed by the “church”. But this is not what the question was, as we still have to find an answer as to what is Church.
To make your task even more difficult, you remember that Paul also wrote to the Ephesians on this subject. Ephesians 4: “1 ¶ I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 ¶ With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 what we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. 17¶ This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, 18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: 19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. 20 But ye have not so learned Christ; 21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; 23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; 24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. 25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. 26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil. 28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. 29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. 30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
This portion of scripture tells us who the Church is, who are members of this Church, and what the purpose of the Church is. Let us start at the beginning.
Acts 2:46 “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”
What does this scripture teach us? Firstly that the early Christians met daily. That there was a very close bond between them, and they all knew each other intimately. I know we have a problem with living this way today, but we should pursue this daily. They also had communion on a daily basis. Not once a month or once a quarter as we know it today, but it was part of their everyday procedure. They also did not sit there with long faces everyday. No, they were full of joy for what Jesus did for them. We also learn from this passage that the LORD added to the church daily such as should be saved. Not you or I can add anybody to the church, only God can. Why? As only He has the power to offer a rebirth. People may decide on being a Christian but the LORD does the work, the actual rebirthing of a person. Being a Christian will also then confirm that we are all members of His church.
What determines membership of His church? Let us look at seven points that determines this. I have taken the liberty of including a section found in “The Normal Christian Church Life” written by Watchman Nee to elucidate on this subject.
Seven Factors in Spiritual Unity
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). A person is constituted a member of the Church on the ground that he possesses the unity of the Spirit, and that will result in his being one with all believers on the seven above points. They are the seven elements in the unity of the Spirit, which is the common heritage of all the children of God. In drawing a line of demarcation between those who belong to the Church and those who do not, we must require nothing beyond these seven lest we exclude any who belong to the family of God, and we dare not require anything less, lest we include any who do not belong to the Divine family.
1) One Body.
The question of unity begins with the question of membership of the Body of Christ. The sphere of our fellowship is the sphere of the Body. Those who are outside that sphere have no spiritual relationship with us, but those who are inside that sphere are all in fellowship with us. We cannot make any choice of fellowship in the Body, accepting some members and rejecting others. We are all part of the one Body, and nothing can possibly separate us from it, or from one another. Anyone who has received Christ belongs to the Body, and he and we are one.
2) One Spirit.
If anyone seeks fellowship with us, however he may differ from us in experience or outlook, provided he has the same Spirit as we have, he is entitled to be received as a brother. If he has received the Spirit of Christ, and we have received the Spirit of Christ, then we are one in the Lord, and nothing must divide us.
3) One Hope.
This hope, which is common to all the children of God, is not a general hope, but the hope of our calling, which is to be with the Lord for ever in glory. There is not a single soul who is truly the Lord’s in whose heart there is not this hope, for to have Christ in us is to have “the hope of glory” in us (Col. 1:27). All who share this one hope are one, and since we have this hope of being together in glory for all eternity, how can we be divided in time?
4) One Lord.
There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus, and all who recognize that God has made Jesus of Nazareth to be both Lord and Christ are one in Him. If anyone confesses Jesus to be Lord, then his Lord is our Lord, and since we serve the same Lord, nothing whatever can separate us.
5) One Faith.
The faith here spoken of is the faith – not our beliefs in regard to the interpretation of Scripture, but the faith through which we have been saved, which is the common possession of all believers, that is, the faith that Jesus is the Son of God (who died for the salvation of sinners and lives again to give life to the dead). The children of God may follow many different lines of Scriptural interpretation, but in regard to this fundamental faith they are one.
6) One Baptism.
Is it by immersion or by sprinkling? Is it single or triune? There are various modes of baptism accepted by the children of God, so if we make the form of baptism the dividing line between those who belong to the church and those who do not, we shall exclude many true believers from our fellowship. There are children of God who even believe that a material baptism is not necessary, but since they are the children of God, we dare not on that account exclude them from our fellowship. What then is the significance of the “one baptism” mentioned in this passage? Paul throws light on the subject in his first letter to the Corinthians. “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? or were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:3). The emphasis is not on the mode of baptism, but on the name into which we are baptized. If anyone is baptized into the Name of the Lord, I welcome him as my brother, whatever be the mode of his baptism. By this we do not imply that it is of no consequence whether we are sprinkled or immersed, or whether our baptism is spiritual or literal. The Word of God teaches that baptism is literal, and is by immersion, but the point here is that the mode of baptism is not the ground of our fellowship, but the Name into which we are baptized. All who are baptized into the Name of the Lord are one in Him.
7) One God.
Do we believe in the same personal, supernatural God as our Father? If so, then we belong to one family, and there is no adequate reason for our being divided.
The above seven points are the seven factors in that divine unity which is the possession of all the members of the divine family, and they constitute the only test of Christian profession. If we impose any conditions of fellowship beyond these seven – which are but the outcome of the one spiritual life – then we are guilty of sectarianism, for we are making a division between those who are manifestly children of God. If we apply any test but these seven, we are imposing conditions other than those stipulated in the Word of God. All who have these seven points in common with us are our brothers, whatever their spiritual experience, or doctrinal views, or “church” relationships. Our unity is based upon the actual fact of our oneness, which is made real in our experience by the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
Just as there are seven reasons for binding people together, seven reasons are mentioned for not excluding people from a church. Again I am quoting from Watchman Nee.
Seven Forbidden Grounds of Division
On the positive side we have just seen the ground on which God has ordained that His Church be divided. Now, on the negative side, we shall see on what ground the Church ought not to be divided.
1 ) Spiritual Leaders.
“Now this I mean, that each one of you says, ‘I am of Paul’; and ‘I of Apollos’; and ‘I of Cephas’; and ‘I of Christ'” (1 Cor. 1:2). Here Paul points out the carnality of the Corinthian believers in attempting to divide the church of God in Corinth which by the divine ordering was indivisible, being already the smallest Scriptural unit upon which any church could be established. They sought to divide the church on the ground of a few leaders who had been specially used of God in their midst. Cephas was a zealous minister of the Gospel, Paul was a man who had suffered much for his Lord’s sake, and Apollos was one whom God certainly used in His service, but though all three had been indisputably owned of God in Corinth, God could never permit the church there to make them a around of division.
Hero-worship is a tendency of human nature, which delights to show preference for those who appeal to its tastes. Because so many of God’s children know little or nothing of the power of the Cross to deal with the flesh, this tendency of man-worship has expressed itself frequently in the Church of God and much havoc has been wrought in consequence It is in keeping with God’s will that we should learn from spiritual men and profit by their leadership, but it is altogether contrary to His will that we should divide the Church according to the men we admire. The only scriptural basis for the forming of a church is difference of locality, not difference of leaders.
2) Instruments of Salvation.
Spiritual leaders are no adequate reason for dividing the Church, neither are the instruments used of God in our salvation. Some of the Corinthian believers proclaimed themselves to be “of Cephas,” others “of Paul,” others “of Apollos.” They traced the beginning of their spiritual history to these men, and so thought they belonged to them. It is both natural and common for persons saved through the instrumentality of a worker, or a society, to reckon themselves as belonging to such a worker or society. It is likewise both natural and common for an individual or a mission through whose means people have been saved, to reckon the saved ones as belonging to them. It is natural, but not spiritual. It is common but nevertheless contrary to God’s will. Churches are divided on the ground of geography, not on the ground of the instruments of our salvation.
Some Christians think they know better than to say, “I am of Cephas,” or, “I am of Paul,” or, “I am of Apollos.” They say, “I am of Christ.” Such Christians despise the others as sectarian, and on that ground start another community. Their attitude is: You are sectarian. I am non-sectarian. You are hero-worshipers, we worship the Lord alone.
But God’s Word does not only condemn those who say, “I am of Cephas,” “I am of Paul,” or, “I am of Apollos.” It just as definitely and just as clearly denounces those who say, “I am of Christ.” It is not wrong to reckon oneself as belonging only to Christ. It is right and even essential. Nor is it wrong to repudiate all schism amongst the children of God; it is highly commendable. God does not condemn this class of Christians for either of these two things; He condemns them for the very sin they condemn in others – their sectarianism. As a protest against division among the children of God; many believers seek to divide those who do not divide as from those who do, and never dream that they themselves are divisive. Their ground of division may be more plausible than that of others who divide on the ground of doctrinal differences or personal preference for certain leaders, but the fact remains that they are dividing the children of God. Even while they repudiate schism elsewhere, they are schismatic themselves.
You say, “I am of Christ.” Do you mean to say others are not? It is perfectly legitimate for you to say, ‘I am of Christ” if your remark merely implies to whom you belong; but if it implies, “I am not sectarian; I stand quite differently from you sectarians,” then it is making a difference between them and other Christians. The very thought of distinguishing between the children of God has its springs in the carnal nature of man and is sectarian.
What then is right? All exclusiveness is wrong. All inclusiveness (of true children of God) is right. Denominations are not Scriptural and we ought to have no part in them, but if we adopt an attitude of criticism and think, They are denominational: I am undenominational; they belong to sects, I belong to Christ alone – such differentiating is definitely sectarian.
Yes, praise God, I am of Christ, but my fellowship is not merely with those who say, “I am of Christ,” but with all who are of Christ. I do not so much mind what they say, but I very much mind what they are. I do not enquire whether they are denominational or undenominational, sectarian or unsectarian. I only enquire, Are they of Christ? If they are of Christ, then they are my brethren.
Our personal standing should be undenominational, but the basis of our fellowship is not undenominationalism. We ourselves should be non-sectarian, but we dare not insist on non-sectarianism as a condition of fellowship. Our only ground of fellowship is Christ. Our fellowship must be with all the believers in a locality, not merely with all the unsectarian believers in that locality. They may make denominational differences, but we must not make undenominational requirements. Their denominationalism or sectarianism will mean that severe limitations are imposed upon the Lord as to His purpose and mind for them, and this will mean that they will never go beyond a certain measure of spiritual growth and fullness. Blessing there may be, but fullness of divine purpose never.
When we come to a place where Christ is not named, we must preach the Gospel, win men to the Lord, and found a local church. If we come to a place where there are already Christians but on various grounds these believers separate themselves into denominational “churches,” our task is just the same as in the other place – we must preach the Gospel, lead men to the Lord, and form them into a church on the scriptural ground of locality. All the while we must maintain an attitude of inclusiveness, not exclusiveness, towards those believers who are in different sects, for they, as we are children of God, and they live in the same locality, therefore they belong to the same church as we do. For ourselves, we cannot join any sect or remain in one, for our church connection can only be on local ground. Let us be clear on this point, that an undenominational church is not a local church. There is a vast difference between the two. A local church is undenominational and it is positive and inclusive, but an undenominational church is not a local church, and it is negative and exclusive.
Let us be clear as to our position. We are not out to establish undenominational churches but local churches. We are seeking to do a positive work. If believers can be led to see what a local church is – the expression of the Body of Christ in a locality – they will certainly not remain in any sect. On the other hand it is possible for them to see all the evils of sectarianism, and leave them, without knowing what a local church is.
I do not condone sectarianism and I do not believe we should belong to any sect, but it is not our business to get people to leave them. If we make it our chief concern to lead people to a real knowledge of the Lord and the power of His Cross, then they will gladly abandon themselves to Him and will learn to walk in the Spirit, repudiating the things of the flesh. We shall find there will be no need to stress the question of denominations, for the Spirit Himself will enlighten them. If a believer has not learned the way of the Cross and the walk in the Spirit, what is gained by his coming out of a sect?
4) Doctrinal Differences.
In the Greek the word rendered “heresies” in Gal. 5:20 does not necessarily convey the thought of error, but rather of division on the ground of doctrine. The Interlinear New Testament translates it as “sects,” while Darby in his new translation renders it “schools of opinion.” The whole thought here is not of the difference between truth and error, but of division based upon doctrine. My teaching may be right or it may be wrong, but if I make it a cause of division, then I am guilty of the “heresy” spoken of here.
God forbids any division on doctrinal grounds. Some believe that the rapture will be pre-tribulation, others that it will be post-tribulation. Some believe that all the saints will enter the Kingdom; others believe that only a section will enter. Some believe that baptism is by immersion, others that it is by sprinkling. Some believe that supernatural manifestations are a necessary accompaniment to the baptism in the Holy Spirit, while others do not. None of these doctrinal views constitute a Scriptural basis for separating the children of God.
Though some may be right and others wrong, God does not sanction any division on account of difference as to beliefs or minor matters other than foundational truths of the Faith. If a group of believers split off from a local church in their zeal for certain teaching according to the Word of God, the new “church” they establish may have more Scriptural teaching but it could never be a scriptural church.
If we wish to maintain a Scriptural position, then we must see to it that the churches we found in various places only represent localities, not doctrines. If our “church” is not separated from other children of God on the ground of locality alone, but stands for the propagation of some particular doctrine, then we are decidedly a sect, however true to the Word of God our teaching may be. The purpose of God is that a church should represent the children of God in a locality, not represent some specific truth there. A church of God in any place comprises all the children of God in that place, not merely those who hold the same doctrinal views.
If our hearts are set to preserve the local character of the churches of God, we cannot fail to come up against problems in our work. Unless the Cross operates mightily, what endless possibilities of friction there will be if we include in one church all the believers in the locality with all their varying views. How the flesh would like just to include those holding the same views and to exclude all those views differ from ours. To have constant and close association with people, whose interpretation of Scripture does not tally with ours, is hard for the flesh, but good for the spirit. God does not use division to solve the problem; He uses the Cross. He would have us submit to the Cross, so that through the very difficulties of the situation, the meekness and patience and love of Christ may be deeply wrought into our lives. Under the circumstances, if we do not know the Cross, we shall probably argue, lose our temper, and finally go our own way. We may have right views, but God is giving us an opportunity to display a right attitude. We may believe right, but God is testing us to see if we love aright.
Rom. 14 shows us how to deal with those whose views differ from ours. What would we do if in our church there were vegetarians and Sabbatarians? Why, we should consider it almost intolerable if in the same church some of the believers kept the Lord’s Day and others the Sabbath, and some ate meat freely, while others were strict vegetarians. That was exactly the situation Paul was facing. Let us note his conclusions. “But receive him that is weak in faith, yet not to disputes over doubtful things” (Rom. 14:1). “Who are you that judges the servant of another? To his own lord he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be made to stand; for the Lord has power to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4). “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling” (Rom. 14:13). Oh, for Christian tolerance! Oh, for largeness of heart! Alas! that many of God’s children are so zealous for their pet doctrines that they immediately label as heretics, and treat accordingly, all whose interpretation of Scripture differs from theirs. God would have us walk in love toward all who hold views contrary to those that are dear to us (Rom. 14:15).
This does not mean that all the members of a church can hold whatever views they please, but it does mean that the solution to the problem of doctrinal differences does not lie in forming separate parties according to the different views held, but in walking in love toward those whose outlook differs from ours. By patient teaching we may yet be able to help all to “the unity of the faith.” (Eph. 4:13). As we wait patiently on the Lord, He may grant grace to the others to change their views, or He may grant us grace to see that we are not such good teachers as we thought we were. Nothing so tests the spirituality of a teacher as opposition to his teaching.
The teachers must learn humility, but so must all the other believers. When they recognize their position in the Body, they will know that it is not given to everyone to determine matters of doctrine. They must learn to submit to those who have been equipped of God for the specific ministry of teaching His people. Spiritual gifts and spiritual experience are necessary for spiritual teaching; consequently not everyone can teach.
5) Racial Differences.
“For in one spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). Jews have always had the strongest racial prejudice of all peoples. They regarded other nations as unclean, and were forbidden even to eat with them. But Paul made it very clear, in writing to the Corinthians, that in the Church both Jew and Gentile are one. All distinctions “in Adam” have been done away with “in Christ.” A racial “church” has no recognition in the Word of God. Church membership is determined by domicile, not by race.
Today in the large cosmopolitan cities of the world there are churches for the whites and churches for the blacks, churches for the Europeans and churches for the Asiatics. These have originated through failure to understand that the boundary of a church is a city. God does not permit any division of His children on the ground of difference of colour, custom, or mode of living. No matter to what race they belong, if they belong to the same locality they belong to the same church. God has placed believers of different races in one locality so that by transcending all external differences they might in one church show forth the one life and the one Spirit of His Son. All that comes to us by nature is overcome by grace. All that was ours “in Adam” has been ruled out “in Christ.” Let us remember that the church in any locality includes all the believers living there and excludes all who live elsewhere.
6) National Differences.
Jews and Gentiles represent national as well as racial distinctions, but in the Church of God there is neither Jew nor Greek. There is no racial distinction there, and there is no national distinction either. All believers living in one place, no matter what their nationality, belong to the one church. In the natural realm there is a difference between Chinese, French, British and Americans, but in the spiritual realm there is none. If a Chinese believer lives in Nanking, he belongs to the church in Nanking. If a French believer lives in Nanking, he also belongs to the church in Nanking. The same holds good for Britishers, Americans, and all other nationals, provided they are born again. The Word of God recognizes “the church in Rome,” “the church in Ephesus” and “the church in Thessalonica,” but it does not recognize the Jewish church, or the Chinese church, or the Anglican church. The reason why the names of cities appear in Scripture in connection with the churches of God is because the difference of dwelling-place is the only difference recognized by God among His children.
Since the churches are all local, if a believer – whatever his nationality – removes from one place to another, he immediately becomes a member of the church in the latter place and has no church connection in the place of his former residence. You cannot live in one place and be the member of a church in another. If a Chinese brother moves from Nanking to Hankow, he becomes a member of the church in Hankow. In like manner, a British brother coming from London to Hankow immediately becomes a member of the church in Hankow. A change of residence necessarily involves a change of church, whereas national origin has no bearing on church membership.
Our fellow-workers who have gone from China to South Sea Islands must be careful not to form an “Overseas Chinese church” there. It is possible to have an “Overseas Chinese Chamber of Commerce” or an “Overseas Chinese College” or an “Overseas Chinese Club.” Anything you like can be “Overseas Chinese,” but not a church. A church is always local!
The usual conception of an indigenous church, while quite right in some respects, is fundamentally wrong at the most vital point. Since the divine method of dividing the Church is according to locality, not nationality, then the Church of God knows neither native nor foreigner, neither heathen country nor Christian country. If we would be in full accord with the mind of God, we must make no difference whatever between the Chinese and foreign church, between Chinese and foreign workers, or between Chinese and foreign funds.
The thought of the indigenous church is that the natives of a country should be self- governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, while the thought of God is that the believers in a city – whether native or foreign – should be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating. Take, for instance, Peking. The theory of the indigenous church distinguishes between Chinese and foreigners in Peking, whereas the Word of God distinguishes between the believers in Peking whether Chinese or foreign – and the believers in other cities. That is why in Scripture we read of the churches of the Gentiles, but never of the church of the Gentiles. There is no such thing in the thought of God as the church of the Chinese, but there is such a thing as the church of the Pekinese. Scripture knows nothing of the church of the French, but it does recognize the church of the Parisians. A clear apprehension of the divine basis of church formation – according to the difference of cities and not of countries – will save us from the misconception of the indigenous church.
7) Social Distinctions.
In Paul’s day, from a social point of view, there was a great gulf fixed between a freeman and a slave, yet they worshiped side by side in the same church. In our day, if a rickshaw coolie and the President of our Republic both belong to Christ and live in the same place, then they belong to the same church. There may be a mission for rickshaw coolies, hut there can never be a church for rickshaw coolies. Social distinctions are no adequate basis for forming a separate church. In the Church of God there is “neither bond nor free.”
In Scripture we have these seven definite points referred to which are forbidden by God as reasons for dividing His Church. As a matter of fact these seven points are only typical of all other reasons the human mind may devise for dividing the Church of God. The two millenniums of Church history are a sad record of human inventions to destroy the Church’s unity.
As we now know that there is only one church, and that this church comprises of everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ, we can ask the question of how everything fits together and where do I fit in?
How does everything fit together?
Let us examine Ephesians 4 from verse 11 again: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
On examining this scripture we come to the conclusion that the task of the Church is to educate the believers in the knowledge of Christ, to unity in faith, until we all reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. So this means that when I look at someone I should not see the person itself, but the person in his role within the body of Christ. When we come to Christ, His Spirit is put into us and we are washed by His Blood. This means that I should act like and be like Christ. My question to you is: Do people see Christ or do they see you? As I should be like Christ, I should also move in His anointing and his gifts. So it is not a question of having received the gift of healing, but have I allowed that gifting to manifest in my life.
We also have to remember that we became sons and daughters of the LORD, with Jesus. We are therefore all brothers and sisters of each other, one family. From this we can see that it is impossible to chase a brother or sister away and declare that they no longer belong to the church, as I cannot disinherit a fellow brother or sister. I do not have the authority to do this. We are also of the same Blood, the Blood of Jesus Christ. If you know more about this family life than your brother, then it is up to you to teach the younger one in what is acceptable to our Father. The same way an older brother or sister has more duties to perform in a house, applies to our Spiritual home. Those who have been around for a long time ought to be able to teach the younger Christians in what is acceptable to the Father.
This brings us back to the first part of our scripture in the Epistle to Ephesus. Here we read that some were given as Apostles, some as Prophets, some as Evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. So within our household, we have different duties for the different people. But the one thing we can learn from this scripture is that none of these people were appointed because of who they were. No, everyone was appointed after asking the LORD whom to ordain for the job at hand. Nobody was given any job just because they had attended the bible school of Gamaliel. No they were appointed after fasting and praying. This to me means that the LORD himself appointed them, as we read that they all moved in signs and wonders. To say today that you have an academic qualification, which took eight years to achieve, and that this qualifies you for the post of Apostle or pastor, is simply not Biblical. Only the LORD can appoint you.
Why do we as brothers and sisters get together on a regular basis? The only reason is to proclaim the name of the LORD Jesus Christ. During this time we will minister to each other in the gifts we received from the Holy Spirit, and build each other in faith. How does Paul describe this type of meeting? Ephesians 4: 16 “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
This portion of scripture confirms that there is only one Church, and that we should build one another in order for us to get to the full stature of Christ.
When I now look at myself, I do not see myself anymore, but I see how Christ is taking shape in me. When I look at the people around me, I see every person in his or her role within the body of Christ. When I understand this, I will never be the same anymore. Life is not about me, but what matters is my function within the body of Christ. Then I can declare with Isaiah 61 verse 1: “¶ The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; 3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”
This is being Church.
What about “my” church? Whatever form of church you belong to is not the issue, be it a home church, cell church, Pentecostal church, Methodist church, Anglican Church, or any other grouping. It is about being Church. These different churches are not any different from the groupings we find in the time of Jesus, with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But Jesus did not try to convince them that He was the Christ. No, He went to people like Matthew, a tax collector, or Peter a fisher. Today’s church is not any different. The best analogy I could find is to compare our churches of today with a club. You will find that a club has certain rules that specify who can be members and they have rules that you have to abide by; there is a club captain or chairman that decides on how the club will function (Pastor); there is a clubhouse where everybody meets (Church building); there are membership fees that one has to pay (tithes), and all the members normally have a common interest. But that is not what the Bible tells us what Church is.
You might feel that you would like to differ from me in that Israel had a Tabernacle and later a Temple in which they gathered, and that is why you feel this way. This is what you see as people getting together, a place where the Spirit of the Lord will manifest. Now we also know that Jesus came to destroy the temple in three days. During this time Jesus fulfilled every commandment and prescription Israel had to adhere to as far as offers and the first covenant was concerned. That is why there is no temple anymore, as Jesus came to restore the relationship Israel had before being disobedient. This relationship is explained in Exodus 20 verses 18 to 20: “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” The Lord wants to have a relationship with each one of us, but we have to realize the impact of this situation. We cannot like Israel tell Moses to stand between the LORD and us, as He promised in Ezekiel that He will come and live inside of us. Once we realise the immenseness of the situation, we will do as He commands. This is the relationship he wants with each one of us.
How is a local congregation managed? By being unanimous. No one person can be left in charge of everyone else. This leads to one assuming a higher position than the other in the church, and thus leads to someone being in charge. Even the apostles did not assume that the one was more gifted than the other. They all worked to establish a unity in the local church. This is what Jesus did before he was crucified. He washed the feet of His disciples, declaring Him to be subordinate to them. To put this into practice in the local church means that every person would rather have someone else’s proposal accepted than his own.
How do I know that this is true? Know the Word of God; know the message of the Bible. Search the whole Word of God before jumping to conclusions. Let me give you a quick example of how we can misinterpret the Bible. Malachi 3 verse 8 informs us to bring the whole tithe to the temple, while Deuteronomy 14 verses 24 to 26 informs me to enjoy the tithe and spend it on whatever I feel like, even strong drink. Which one is correct? Examine the whole Word of God to find out what the true meaning of the passage is before jumping to conclusions.
One point that we have to remember is that all the apostles warned against false teachers that would come from within the church to try and convince the believers of a different gospel.
So, what is church? You and me doing the will of the Father: That is Church.