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THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
The Church ? Yes, the Church
Let us see some barbs, some arrows and some balm
in this focus of the divine grace, that governed by God,
that the Church which HE has founded
may show the wonders of His name:
not mistaken for something else,
not merging with the world, the flesh or the devil,
but active in faith, true to the faith,
so that a vehicle of blessing be found, a living letter
with the mercy of God inscribed on its watermark.
1. Its Beauty
It is, without doubt, a
beautiful thing, the Christian Church, when it moves as designed.
Thus Psalm 133 tells us :
"Behold how good and
how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!
is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of
the LORD commanded the blessing -
In fact, inquisition, lofty arrogance, ludicrous idolatry in claiming to be God Almighty on earth (cf. SMR pp., 915-916), pride and ambition, unfeeling heartlessness, dead professionalism, electric professionalism, lack-lustre performances in the line of duty: all this and much more has been wrought in the name of the Church.
How far removed from Him and His word is the grim caricature of the work of Christ, of which history has such a journey of grief, a litany of horror, as people have imagined that the kingdom of heaven can indeed be taken, not in irony, but in reality, by force! (cf. John ) ... and then had the effrontery to use HIS name for their debased procedures. Fraud and deformity exist: but these are not the body of Christ, rather being the corpse of another Jesus who did not die to save.
The BEAUTY is found where the resurrected Christ lives (Col.1:27, II Cor. 3:18).
Again, symbolism comes into the picture as the Psalmist writes:
for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is
In the next Psalm (49) we read of His redeeming even from that!
Here in Psalm 48, the
language is succinct. This God who inhabits and who has sanctioned, authorised and moves within
It is HERE. God has said, He has come. In the Church the story is unfolded yet more. Here is the fulness of Him who fills all in all (Ephesians ): here is the deposit of faith, the word of the Lord, the place where He will show His power. Here ? Where ? Wherever two or three meet in His name (Matthew 18:20), wherever they love one another in the word, in the truth and obey Him, wherever He is and is served in truth in His New Covenant, there is Zion, there is the Church.
Wherever with this, there is the humble and the contrite heart, there God draws near, to the humble who serve Him (Psalm 51, Isaiah 66:2).
It is not always so with those who use the NAME of the Christian church.
However, past the social
ambitions, the professional pit-stops and the devilish cunning which so often
uses the name of the Christian Church, but none of its implements, form or
reality, there is and has been a beautiful thing, the Christian Church itself.
As to those who for envy, in pride, in simplicity of folly who have abused this name, what of that ? Indeed, never have so many for so long abused such a thing - except it be the word of the living God, His Son or the depths of His mercy - but it is still there. The Church is that redeemed by His blood; it is His and He made it; it is from Him, and He formed it. So great is His impact, that even where faith is absent, in the interstices of heart and conscience, most frequently the sentiment remains. In one case in the U.S., a vast denomination after being long in the thrall of weakness, suddenly arises to declare that there is now an irresolvable contradiction in its midst: there are those who believe in some unfolding faith in whatever it is to be, with Christ a sort of springboard back there somewhere or other; and those who believe in one deposit of faith, one faith once for all delivered, and who keep to it!
That? It is like someone submerged for ten years, coming up to say that it is rather difficult down there, and really, some other form of swimming should be followed! This is NOT to condone the folly of being submerged like that, but to dwell on the mercy which is so active in man, the creation of God, that seemingly impossible responses arise like cork to the surface. Nor is it to suggest that there is no tragedy; merely that tragedies of often almost comic proportions in their wildness or wiliness, though they demean the agents, do not destroy the church.
Even where uncontrolled folly moves into the seminaries, as often happens, very often indeed, despite them or in the body beyond them, the moral rectitude of Christ burns undimmed, being self-attesting; where callow conventions come to compete with the rugged beauty of the Rock, His majesty is still in splendour built. Defile it in mockery, or strive in it for mastery in diseased ambition, whatever the downfall of some visible 'church', yet the testimony, the word and the power remain on other lights, in other structures, like some wonderful torch never failing, always passed on (cf. II Timothy 1:8-13, 2:2). Some fall, like disabled tanks in war; but the wave of armour, vulnerable in flesh, proceeds in and to victory, under its Commander-in-Chief (cf. Joshua 5:13-15, Ephesians 2:19-22).
Always there is the faith, whether in this or that location: and so it was in the Middle Ages seen in the Waldensians, whom the papacy persecuted as if they were a genuine plague, sending troops into the mountains like a primordial Hussein after the Kurds, fleeing with their children into the snowy hills.
The power of God which has swept American in the nineteenth century, England in the same period and shown a marvel of transformation is merely an illustration of the wonder which is to be found in the Christian Church. But it is precisely here that the restraint sets in. The Christian Church is not glorious: it is God who is glorious. The Christian Church is not a marvel, it is Jesus Christ who is a marvel; but WHEN He rules in what is called His church, then marvels appear in love and power, in grace and humility, in purity and sacrifice, in peace and goodwill. THERE THEN IS SOMETHING OF THE BEAUTY OF THE CHURCH, IT IS THE BEAUTY OF HIM WHO INDWELLS HIS SAINTS. BUT NOW LOOK AT...
2. ITS FOUNDATION.
I Cor. 3:10-11 makes it clear, that this is Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2 shows the whole ambit of prophets and apostles (Acts 1) to be participants, with Christ the cornerstone. Christ is given to be "the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians ).
The word of the Lord, in other words, conjoined as is most fitting (I Peter 1:8-12), to the Lord of the word, is the immovable basis, and all is built on that Lord who has spoken, and sent and come and been crucified and is risen, and who will return.
3. ITS HEART -
is based on that God, who alone is Lord and Creator and Redeemer, who is God and there is no other (Isaiah 44;6-8, 43:10, 45:18ff.), and He is love (I John 4:7-10). Thus all sovereignty is a loving sovereignty, and all rejection is despite and not through any lack in divine love, which is inconceivable and a flat contradiction in terms (cf. Colossians 1:18-23, I Timothy 2:1-3).
4. Its LORD
is again, Jesus Christ, no mere historical figure, though it is His glory that He became such, but Lord of all who comforted His people by becoming one of them, yet without sin, and with the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in Him in bodily form (Col.2). That fulness includes His being uncreated (increate), unmanipulable, eternal, omniscient and without limit to His depth and counsel. WHY, He asks in Luke 6, do you call me Lord, Lord and not do the things that I say!
It IS ludicrous to live like that, but love covers a multitude of sins, and short of rebellion, there is always scope for growth in sensitivity, understanding, knowledge of His word, depth of acquaintance with His Person, and hence for longsuffering within His word and glory, the one member of His body toward the other.
5. ITS PARODIES
Here we must look at the clowning and the cloning which has been so unsuccessful as you would imagine, when it is a work of GOD which is being tampered with, through spiritual madness or the mists of deluded spirits.
Thus the Christian Church is:
A) NOT STAID TRADITIONALISM, worshipping the magnificence of its own formulations.
B) NOT ADVENTURISTIC NOVELTIES, clean cut from the changeless vine, ready to shrivel; but rather is it a matter of alert vitality IN the unchanging word, with the unchanging Lord in life and patience at the helm.
C) NOT SENSATIONALISTIC ABUSE OF POWER, but a contrite place where the power of God is present and ample for His will and work.
D) NOT DISBELIEF IN HIS POWER, A "FORM OF GODLINESS WITHOUT ITS POWER" as II Timothy 3 has it, in prescribing what will be near the end, predicting the distortion, abortion and folly to come.
E) NOT A MATTER OF MISUSING HIS POWER, THE POWER OF GOD, AS IF IT WERE A POWER TOOL TO BE DEPLOYED FOR YOUR PRIVATE OR SOCIAL PURPOSES, AT WILL.
6. ITS PRACTICES AND WAYS
a well-founded body, resting on Christ, in which there is
an abiding activity for the purposes of the Lord
following the word of the Lord
to the glory of the Lord
so that as John tells us, the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Let us ponder some of its ways.
IN LOVE, it moves with restraint and realism, rejoicing as Paul says in I Cor. 13, in the truth, alert with sympathy, watchful to exhortation... (Hebrews 3:13).
In healing of the body, there is a sure option, but not a presumptuous base for braggadocio: healing gifts are given selectively in time and place for the purposes of the Lord. One of the greatest healing ministries outside the New Testament was that of Elsie Salmon in the forties and fifties of this century, and one of her main emphases was this: it was FOR Christ, FROM Christ and did not replace His word, His gospel, or in any way channel from Him or His work, but was an episode of His mercy within His worship, wrought at His pleasure. (See SMR pp. 339 ff..)
IN GROWTH, it moves forward in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, the living saviour (II Peter ), concerned for that superabundant development which Peter shows so beautifully in II Peter 1.
IN VISION, it has that magnificent facility to look upon the land which is very far off, and to behold by faith the king in his beauty (cf. Isaiah ch. 33, verses 5ff.,15ff.), sitting upon a rock, with all its weaponry secure, and its bread sure as the prophet shows. This is a blessing to sincerity under the governance of God.
Then there is the beauty of holiness, the peace beyond understanding, the depth of brotherly love ... and in all this there is some form.
IN SUPERVISION, it has a challenge to be chaste and lowly, but vigorous and faithful, both. There are easy tests at once.
Thus there are NO FEMALE
ELDERS for the very simple reason that God has differentiated between male and
female in His functional specifications, and has seen fit to relate this to
historical performance. Actually, there is much weight that can become
burdensome, in authority.
It is not something to covet; it is not a summum bonum, for there is much wonderful service in counsel, apt for all. Nevertheless, where the Lord of love sanctions it, this authority specification is not onerous.
Where it is commissioned in SACRIFICIAL LOVE, it can be, as all else, a delight. It is also a test. In fact, what if woman, by virtue of her specialised role in supplementing man, though fully his equal, is too readily subjected to governance by indirection, or too stridently seeking to avoid this aspect, and hence too unnatural in the role. What if man is no more fit to bear children than woman THIS leadership in the church, for reasons of divine discretion, not disparity and striving!
Obviously, it can be done;
but there is risk in the church from it, in that Paul cites the
It is rather beautiful to commit to the church such a charge concerning elders, such delicacy being required, such tenderness; and such grossness being possible. Indeed, men have acted like untrained lions to their own fellows, and abuses innumerable have disported themselves in that false body which is ever aping the church, like some simpleton chimpanzee. It is, like the case of
itself, so simple a test. It is so easy to "throw it out" with the garbage, as some thing thrust into the church by - who was it again? God, I think. Yes, well you can't have it. (That is the frequent response.) Eden
How wise is the counsel of the superficial and how glaring the hypocrisy so often found, and so soon overturned by Isaiah () -"To the law and the prophets: If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." It is a fearful thing to fight with God, and fearfully easy when complacency has been neo-evangelically injected like some soporific till al spiritual conscience can be calmed to oblivion. 'Yes' becomes 'no', and 'no' is metamorphosed into 'yes'.
Thus you could not believe, or very nearly not, that
could be so splendidly stricken with folly as to have a CALF for their god, after the things the Lord did in Israel , but they did. To revert to female elders in office, it is at least amusing that to do it one must first destroy gender absolutely by having woman the husband of one wife (Titus 1:5) who rules well his own house (I Tim.3:4); for, as Paul says, "if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" (cf. I Tim. 5:17, 2:5, Acts ). It is express, explicit, developed in fundamental principle and not at all dependent on some term or phrase, as if there were any doubt. But the detail of this theme is dealt with in A Spiritual Potpourri as above. Egypt
But eldership? When you actually study it in the Bible, how beautiful it should be, and often is. These functionaries are NOT lords over the inheritance of the LORD (anyone who is THE LORD can be lordly in the church, to others it is forbidden - Matthew 23:8-10, I Peter 5; but as for Him, His own humility which both exposes evil and performs good, it is like the refreshing cool breezes in Summer).
Now the Lord, He is so lordly that He died in the midst of cynically or corruptly comic ecclesiastics rather than let down the salvation He purchased for many. THAT is the sort of lordliness that counts. It is a priority in SERVICE, as Christ says in Matthew ; for HE did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. WE cannot so ransom; but the spirit of this service will be in every elder ordained by the Lord. It is beautiful to behold.
Eldership ? that is as near as Pope can come.
But we are not to have grotesque bullies of any type, formal or functional,
let alone feeble functionaries ready to be propelled by mere popular favour, on the other side, people-pushed feathers ready to Aaronise some gold calf or other;
v but rather does the Bible here prescribe under-shepherds
v of eager joy
v holy chasteners
v and a fearless willingness
v to light the battles of the Lord
v with faithful testimony,
v clear courage and
v ample knowledge, for an elder is not to be a novice,
v a supervisor is no bait for Satan, to bring him down with pride (I Tim.3:6).
What then must an elder be ?
Lowly in manner, yet capable of meeting the fiercest wolf, casting down imaginations (II Cor. 10:5, 11:1), ready to be slandered, but spiritually adept to continue without distraction, to be killed without falling, to be imprisoned without turning, to be confronted by authorities and to rely on the Lord who said:
"I will give you a mouth and a wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to confute or to resist" - Luke .
And this, it is not limited
to elders, but it is in such things they do well to excel, as Paul tells Titus,
and the people of
Elders ? What is there place
? Stability, knowledge and loving service, with
sincerity and zeal. Not inconstant, moved with every wind of doctrine
are they (Ephesians -16); and indeed, this prescription
is not for elders only, but especially for them, since they are supervisors of
the flock (Hebrews 13:9,17, Acts ).
7. ITS FUNCTION IN FAITH
The Christian Church IS A FUNCTION OF FAITH, A WORK OF GOD.
BY NO MEANS LIMITED TO ELDERSHIP IS MUCH OF THE ABOVE, BUT the Christian church has need of LEADERS WHO WILL NOT SUBMIT, WHO WILL BE MADE CAREFULLY AWARE, CALLED OF GOD. Nor do the people make them their trust, but their function is such that they need to be trustworthy.
Ministers are a type of elder, specially gifted in doctrine and preaching of the word (I Timothy ).
There is no sign of hierarchy, for all you are brethren (Matthew 23:8-10, Titus 1). ALL must walk by faith (Hebrews 11:6).
THERE IS THE PREACHING OF THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL, AND OF THE WORD OF GOD MORE GENERALLY, AND THE REACHING OF SOULS THROUGH IT, whether against headwinds, or with gently assisting breezes (I Tim. 4:12-15, II Tim. 1:13, 4:1-3).
THERE IS THE TEACHING LIKEWISE OF THE WORD OF GOD (II Tim. ,,15, 4:2), and it is done thoroughly
Error, which denies,
attenuates, limits or 'licenses' it from philosophy, is readily removed (Titus
3:10, 1:9, II Corinthians 10:5, Isaiah 8:20, Jeremiah 8:8-9, Isaiah 34:16,
59:21, I Cor. 2:9-13, Matthew 5:17-19, Revelation
2:1-7ff, 3:18ff.); for if it abides unchecked, the place of authority is removed,
and at last, only the form and the name remain. (See Separation, Ch.7 of The
THERE IS CARE FOR THOSE spiritually or MENTALLY AFFLICTED (I TIMOTHY 1:5-6, and see SMR Ch.4, part 1, pp. 333-396). There is concern for those afflicted in heart, in conscience, in spirit, in life, for those persecuted, those neglected, as slaves, as prisoners of conscience but especially of faith, in China or whatever place persecutes its people or its church; but especially for the household of faith (cf. Isaiah 58:5-12). As Paul says, Do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Galatians ).
HENCE TOO THERE IS FELLOWSHIP, FOR ALL ARE FELLOWS, AND MEMBERS ONE OF ANOTHER (Romans 12:5), but this ONLY IN CHRIST (Romans 12:5) whose lordship operates as does the head over the body (Ephesians 4:15).
And what body is it which has two heads? Of a truth, it is a monster, and that is precisely what the pathological dominion of the flesh, of man over man in any parody of the church, produces, and such are its deeds: monstrous. Fellowship, it is predominantly with the Lord Himself (John -23, I John 1), in whom is there found that richness of texture and beauty of tone which He breeds in His own. Flowing from Him, it then abounds laterally, in the security of His presence and the grace of His abiding.
THE CHURCH IS NOT A PRISON TO KEEP IN SOME
TRADITIONALISTIC SYSTEM OF MAN, NOR IS IT
A BAND OF ADVENTURERS, NURTURERS OF NEO-NOVELTIES.
It abides in that steadfast and stable Lord who does not change, means what He says and says what He means, knowing the end from the beginning, and how He shall cause all things to end which are temporal, and all things which inherit eternity to be (Revelation 21-22).
Stable, in a scriptural atmosphere, a spiritually honest, honourable, pure and clean domain is that of the Christian church, of which Christ is living, resident Head, whose will is sought and whose word is honoured in all its depth and detail, not with intrusive pseudo-knowledgeability, but with integrity, His people open to its imprint, not malleable to mallets from without, however mighty they may appear in their bravado. It is a body willing
to act at the will of the Head, knowing He is the truth,
to function by faith,
to confront wolves and drive them away (without mistaking pomeranians for wolves, or sincere explorers of the word for Alsatians);
to wait (without letting the roof rot)
and wait on the Lord (without making it a formality, but a function more real than waiting for water to arrive from a distant spring, through long pipes, for the Lord does not approve haste)
to pray by faith for the moving of mountains blocking its mission,
to walk by faith, in the faith once for all delivered to the saints,
to walk in the Spirit, according to the words.
Ready to listen,
unafraid to speak,
it is a corps in communion with Christ,
with an ear for the needs and
a heart for the young.