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WHAT IS THE CHURCH, AND WHAT ARE CHURCHES?
This article is dedicated to my dear wife Anne who has laboured with
me in the ministry for over fifty years in many different parts of
the world. During all that time her only desire has been to stand with
me as we have sought to do the Master’s will. We have six children,
five sons and a daughter.
Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.
The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, she will do him
good and not evil all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12) (KJV)
Do we have in the New Testament a clearly defined set-out plan of
the Church, its order, constitution, methods and work?
The answer is no we do not!
Is there a concise, worked-out system in the nature of a ‘blue-print’,
which is ready for copying and reproducing everywhere, and can be recognized
as true to type in every place?
The answer is emphatically no!
But if we mean, is there in the New Testament a revelation of God’s
mind as to His body on earth, in its nature, constitution, and vocation?
It is no contradiction of the above when we say: decidedly Yes!
Is it possible to take parts of the New Testament, as to doctrines,
practices, work, methods, and order; then piece them together, and
frame them into a system to be adopted and successfully applied?
The answer again is undeniably no!
This mechanical or ‘ecclesiastical’ method has produced
an endless variety of presentations, which has resulted in a very large
assortment of organized bodies, all of which claim the New Testament
for their authority.
The outcome of this method has resulted in rivalries, competitiveness,
controversy, and presented the world with a form of Christianity divided
into a vast number of independent and unrelated parts, far removed
from speaking the same thing. This external and objective approach
to the New Testament, to study it as if it were a manual of Christian
life, teaching and work, is a false and dangerous; the spiritual outcome
of this approach has inevitably been - a dead one.
If God had meant successive generations of Christians to imitate the
first and go into mass-production, surely He would have seen to it
that an unmistakable prototype existed, with adequate safeguards against
confusion and delusion to avoid what has actually eventuated.
When men contemplate a project which is intended to last for a considerable
term, they precisely set out their ‘Principles and Practices’,
which consist of their doctrines, their purposes and their methods.
God did not charge or allow His first Apostles to act in this way,
so that we might have a Jerusalem or Antioch Manual for Christian churches.
In the Divine mind it is all definite, fixed, precise, and permanent,
but when we come to the New Testament, and especially the formative
period as covered by the Book of the Acts, everything seems so fluid,
so open, and so subject to proving. This is always the Divine intention.
It is the kind of approach that drives kingdom builders to distraction.
There is the most wonderful and inspiring reason for this; but before
we do let’s point out that the above approach to which we have
referred is the cause of more restraint, stagnation, deadly legality,
than can be imagined. In doctrine it means that no new light is allowed
as to God’s Word. The old wineskin is unable to accommodate it;
this is the peril of orthodoxy.
The intense desire to safeguard the Scriptures makes for a static
spiritual position. Spiritual pride, bigotry, exclusiveness and suspicion,
is some of the unholy brood of this legalism. If Satan cannot enforce
bondage to the letter without the spirit, he will introduce bondage
to the spirit without the letter. Christianity has almost entirely
come to this now.
It is practically impossible for the vast majority of Christians -
their leaders especially to understand or even believe that God can
do His work without committees, boards, machinery, advertisement, organizations,
appeals, reports, names, deputations, patronage, propaganda, publicity,
the press, etc. Unless these things are present with a ‘recognized’ backing,
the thing is not trusted, even if it is believed to exist.
We are aware that the foregoing is mainly negative, but it was necessary
before we could proceed to the positive. The New Testament has within
it a revelation, precise, and definite as to God’s mind for this
dispensation; and in that revelation there is an answer to every question
of how in all matters the body is constituted, and what its vocation
is. What is that revelation? The answer is that it is not a system
as such, but a Person.
That which in the New Testament is secondary and a consequence is
now been made primary. That is, the results govern our every approach;
whilst that which came before (the cause) is overlooked. If we will
look again, we shall see that anything that came into being under the
Holy Spirit’s first activity was the result of a seeing of Christ.
With the Apostles, that seeing followed the days of their physical
association with Him. What took place during the forty days after His
resurrection was like the dawning of a new day dispelling the shadows
of uncertainty. On that day they saw Him as by an opened heaven. The
mystery of the past was gone. They saw Him. The scriptures lay open
like a new book. They saw Him in the light of eternity. They began
to see that, while He was the glorified, personal, Son of God, He was
Himself the embodiment of a great, a vast heavenly and spiritual order
and system. This seeing was absolutely revolutionary. It was a crisis
out of which a new world and a new creation were born. True to this
fundamental principle, all that vast revelation, which has come down
the centuries from and through the Apostle Paul arose from that crisis
described by him as “It pleased God... to reveal his Son in me
Gal. 1: 1 6. I received it by revelation of Jesus Christ (vs. 12).
For us also the implications of seeing Him becomes a progressive and
While there was some initial testimony the Apostles did not formulate
in a conference an enterprise, a mission, or organization. The new
life forced off the old leaves and dressed the new organism with new
life from within. The might, energy and urge of the Holy Spirit within
produced a Way and order, unthought-of, and unintended by them, and
always to their surprise.
What was really happening was Christ was taking form within them,
individually and corporately, by new birth and growth. The believers
and the companies were becoming an expression of Christ. Here, we come
upon the essential nature of the Christian life and His corporate body.
What in God’s mind do Christians exist for?
There is only one answer. It is to be an expression of Christ. It is
nothing less, and nothing more than that. Christ is the Alpha and
the Omega, the beginning and the end, and all between! He is the
starting-point. He is the governing rule and reality in all matters
of life and work; only then will you see what the nature and vocation
of His body down here is. This vast heavenly system, of which Christ
is the personal embodiment, touches every detail of life, personally
and collectively. But remember only the Holy Spirit sees and knows
how it is so; hence, there has to be an utter submission to the Lordship
of the Holy Spirit. What the bloodstream is to the human body, the
Divine Life is to ‘the Church which is His body’. What
the nervous system is in the physical realm, the Holy Spirit is in
the spiritual. Just as an individual believer is the result of conception,
followed by formation and a birth and a likeness, so too in the New
Testament is a true corporate expression. It is a reproduction of
Christ by the Holy Spirit. Man cannot make, form, produce or establish
this. Neither can anyone ‘enrol’ in it or join it, to
make themselves a member of this organism.
So, all this talk about forming New Testament churches this way is
absolute nonsense. It begins with seeing Christ, and when two or three
in one place have seen Him by the Holy Spirit, and have been “begotten
again by the word of God”, there is the origin of true koinonia.
Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and dies it will abide
alone; but if it dies it will bring forth much fruit. Fruit is what
He is looking for, and so He will relentlessly pursue His goal to have
it at all costs.
I admit unashamedly that everything I have of any virtue never originated
with me. I have received it all.
I wish to acknowledge that Austin Spark’s insights assisted me
greatly in this study.
The arrogance of men who think that they can build, propagate, plant,
preserve, and transition their creations has no limit.
Hillsong has and is doing it; Phil Pringle has done likewise overseas;
while Kevin Conner has transitioned his church WCF to his son.
Hebrews 12:27-29 But this Yet once, signifies the removing of what
is shaken, as being made, that what is not shaken may remain. Wherefore
let us, receiving a kingdom not to be shaken, have grace, by which
let us serve God acceptably with reverence and fear. For also our God
is a consuming fire. (DBY)