Category Archives: The Church

What is a Christian?

bible“Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28)

A Christian is a person who intelligently believes that he is by nature a sinner, that by Divine grace Jesus Christ the Righteous died for his sins and that through faith in the atoning blood and obedience to the Redeemer’s -teachings he has become “a New Creature in Christ Jesus.”  For such, “Old things have passed away, and all things have become new.”  Such New Creatures are separate and distinct from all other members of the race.  Instead of earthly aims, ambitions and hopes, theirs are Heavenly.

Getting Into Christ’s Body

It is not sufficient that these should make the proper start of faith in Christ and full consecration to do God’s will and not their own wills.  It is incumbent upon them, after having made such a start and after having been begotten of the Holy Spirit, that they shall grow in grace, knowledge and love. (2 Peter 3:18)  This is styled “putting on Christ”; that is to say, adding the graces of character which God will accept and reward with association with the Lord Jesus Christ in His Kingdom.  For these God has made provision of spiritual food in the Bible–“meat in due season for the Household of Faith.” (Matthew 24:45)  These are represented as at first “babes in Christ,” requiring “the milk of the Word,” but if faithful gradually attaining full stature–“strong in the Lord and the power of His might.”

Such spirit-begotten Christians must needs “fight a good fight”–not with others, but with themselves–overcoming the weaknesses and besetments of their own fallen flesh, the allurements of their environment and the wiles of the Adversary.  Such as are faithful in these respects are Scripturally styled “overcomers,” “the very Elect.”  The promise to them is that they shall have part in the Chief, or best, Resurrection, and thereafter be no longer humans, but spirit beings of the highest order–“partakers of the Divine nature.”  These in death are “sown in weakness,” “in dishonor,” human beings, but are raised from the dead “in glory,” “in power,” spirit beings. I Corinthians 15:43.

Jesus’ promise to these overcomers reads, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My Throne, even as I overcame and am set down with My Father in His Throne” — “I will give him power over the nations, etc.  Again He says, “Blessed and holy are all those who have part in the Chief Resurrection: on such the Second Death hath no power, but they shall be priests unto God and unto Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Rev. 3:21; 2:26; 20:6

All Jesus’ teachings are applicable to this special class; namely, those who become His disciples, His followers, His pupils.  He did not assume to be a Teacher of the world, but merely of those who leave the world, sacrificing all to become His disciples.  To these He said, “Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”  Again, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you.”  The great Teacher did not include the nominal church as His disciples, but rather counted them in with the world.  In evidence of this, we note the fact that the world which persecuted Him was the Jewish nation, professedly God’s consecrated people; and that those who have persecuted the followers of Jesus have like-wise been nominally people of God, but really of the world.

Duties, Rights and Privileges of Christians

These are the Christians addressed by the Master, saying, “I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other, also.  And if any man shall sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.  And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” Matthew 5:39-42.

The thought of non-resistance is here, yet not to the extreme degree supposed by some.  The turning of the other cheek, as illustrated by Jesus’ own conduct, was a figurative expression, signifying the willingness to have both cheeks smitten rather than to do injury to another.  Christians are to be law-abiding, whether they consider the laws just or unjust.  If, therefore, the law deprive them of a coat, they are to yield it up.  If it go still further and deprive them of their cloak, they are still to be non-resistant to the law, but submit to it with good grace, knowing that hereunto they are called.

Be it noted that neither the coat nor the cloak was to be given up upon demand merely, but only after the law, justly or unjustly, had so decreed.  Similarly with respect to the compulsory walking of a mile; the Christian is not to submit himself to every whim of everybody; but, seeking to do the will of God, he is to go about his own business, unless the opposition to him amount to a compelling.  And this compelling, under ordinary circumstances, would mean a legal compelling; for the protection of the laws of the land in which he lives may be sought to protect his rights and liberties, as St. Paul appealed to governors and kings.

Christians Live for the Future

Christians are to love their enemies in the same sense that God loves the world–sympathetically.  They are not to love their enemies in the same affectionate love and tenderness, such as they bestow upon their families, friends and lovable persons.  Their love for their enemies, as defined by Jesus, should be such as would lead them to feed their bitterest enemy if he were hungry, to clothe him if he were naked.  They should not pray against their enemies but for their enemies in the sense of wishing, desiring for them enlightenment and true wisdom, which would turn them from being enemies and evil-doers, to make of them followers of Jesus or, at least, well-doers.

Christians are not to lay up for themselves treasures on earth; for they renounced the earth and all hopes of a future life upon earth.  Their walk in the footsteps of Jesus signifies that as He cast aside earthly ambitions, hopes and aims, so would they, taking instead the Heavenly ambitions, hopes and aims.  In other words, they live for the future.  This will not hinder them from the ordinary pursuits of life to the extent that may be necessary in “providing things honest in the sight of all men”–in providing for their families, etc.  But, with these Christians, any over-plus above life’s necessities represents so much opportunity for serving the Lord and His cause; and in so doing these are laying up treasure in Heaven–a future reward.

This does not signify that they must live “from hand to mouth” nor that, if they have possessions, they must riotously distribute these to others.  On the contrary, they are to seek in all things to have the mind of the Lord-to do God’s will.  God’s mind is a sound mind; and these Christians, in seeking to do God’s will, are said to have “the spirit of a sound mind.”  This dictates that they should live wisely and economically.

Christian Stewardship and Citizenship

To these Christians, everything that comes to them or that they possess by nature is considered a thing of God, because in becoming followers of Christ they make a full consecration of their wills–their all–to God.  Hence from that moment forward these Christians are stewards of God’s mercies-stewards of their time, their talents, their influence, their property, their all.  According to the way they use their stewardship, investing their talents to the Master’s praise, will be His commendation of them, as represented in the parable.  Whether many talents are possessed or few, the commendation is to those who have done well, have been good and faithful in the use of their talents, not for self-aggrandizement or show, or worldly accumulations of treasure, but faithful in the service of God, showing forth God’s praises in the assisting of others and themselves to the knowing and doing of the Divine will.

Christians are to “lend, hoping for nothing in return,” and not, as the world, merely to be willing to do good and to lend to those who would do as much or more in return.  Christians are thus to illustrate the fact that they are children of the Highest, that they have been begotten of God, that they have His Holy Spirit and disposition, and that it is shining out more and more in their words and conduct as they grow in the character-likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christians are not to go to war.  Their fight is not to be with carnal weapons, but with “the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”  They have the most powerful weapon known in the world for their warfare.  This does not signify that they may not put bolts and bars upon their doors to prevent robbery.  It does not signify that they may not call for police protection; for this is a thing they pay for in taxation and are entitled to according to the laws of the world.  They may not claim of their own nation anything than an alien might not claim; but they may claim all that an alien may claim.  Indeed, Christians are styled aliens, stranger, foreigners, so far as the present government of the world is concerned.  Their citizenship, according to the Bible, is the Heavenly one, which they will fully enter into when they shall have shared the Chief Resurrection.

No Christian Nations

The Bible knows nothing of Christian nations or of a Christian world.  The Bible puts the Christian as separate and distinct from the world and from all nations.  Christians are a nation, or people, by themselves, in the same sense that the Jews are a nation, or people, by themselves.  “Ye are a Royal Priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people”–a people for a purpose. (I Peter 2:9)  The term Christian nation comes from a serious doctrinal error which crept into the Church about 800 A.D.  At that time, Pope Leo III began to recognize as Christian nations all the nations which recognized his Pontificate.  The custom has prevailed and is still in vogue amongst Protestants and Catholics; but it is wholly unscriptural.

A Christian conscripted to the army or the navy would be “subject to the powers that be,” and obeying the Master’s words would go, as in Math. 5:41, “Whosoever shall compel thee to go.”  The Christian compelled to enter the army or the navy might properly request service as a noncombatant in the Quartermaster’s Department or in the Hospital Department; but, if required to kill, he is to obey God rather than man, and not kill.  He may comply with his orders to the extent of going into the trenches and being shot at, but no further.

Is it urged that such a view of Christianity would wreck our present civilization?  We reply that nothing in the Bible implies that our civilization is Christian or that the Lord ever expected it to be Christian.  God’s time for saving the world from its sin and weakness has not yet come.  The present is merely the time for calling, finding, testing and delivering the Elect.  The Elect, when glorified, will constitute Messiah’s Kingdom, and with Him will be empowered fully with spiritual control for the government of the entire world.

Then will come the time for the enlightenment and uplift and blessing of the whole world of mankind–the non-elects.  Theirs will not be a blessing of the same kind that the Elect will secure, but a blessing which they will appreciate equally.  The world’s blessing and salvation will not signify a change of nature from human to Spirit, but a Restitution to human perfection. (Acts 3:19-23)

What are today styled “Christian nations” are in the Bible styled “kingdoms of this world”; and their complete disintegration is Scripturally outlined as incidental to the establishment of God’s glorious Kingdom under Messiah, for which we pray, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, even as in Heaven.”

Some may wonder how it ever came to pass that all the people of civilized lands are enumerated as Christians–except Jews and professed infidels.  Statistics tell us that all the inhabitants of Italy are Christian; that more than ninety-nine per cent of the population of Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, etc., are Christians; and that the total number of Christians thus reckoned is nearly five hundred millions.  Surely it is time that intelligent people realize that some great mistake has been made and that more than ninety-nine per cent of these “Christians” make no pretense of being followers of Jesus.

The error arose in the now long ago, when Pope Leo III, recognized a king as a Christian king and his kingdom as a Christian kingdom, he recognized that king’s subjects as Christian.  There we have the matter in a nut-shell.  The whole thing was a mistake.  The king was not a Christian, did not know the meaning of Christianity and was not taught it.  His kingdom was not a Christian kingdom, and his people were not Christians.

Meantime, here and there, obscured to the world, there have been true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in every denomination.  They have been out of accord generally with the great leaders of the church systems as well as with the political leaders of the world.  It has been true of them as the Apostle wrote: “The world knoweth us not, even as it knew Him not.” (I John 3:I)  The world does not yet know, understand or appreciate that the Church of Christ is not to be found in any of the professed churches of various names–Roman, English, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. The Church of Christ is composed exclusively of those who have made covenant with the Lord through faith in the precious blood, who have been accepted of the Lord by the begetting of the Holy Spirit, and who are seeking to walk to the best of their ability in the footsteps of Jesus. I Peter 2:21.

Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

The theory that Christians only are saved from eternal torture has had much to do with the error of counting all civilized people Christians.  The creeds save Christians only–Jews, Mohammedans, heathen, all go to Hell, to roast eternally.  Roman Catholics provide a Second Chance for members of their church, in Purgatory; and many Protestants hold to a Second Chance for the heathen who have never heard of Christ.  All the while, however, the Bible declares for only one chance, but that a full one for every member of the human family.

The only chance offered during this Gospel Age is the opportunity of becoming a member of the Church–a true follower of Jesus.  Such are to get the Heavenly inheritance, but not until the Resurrection.  The remainder of the world will be offered an earthly future; and this offer will begin with the establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom of a thousand years.

The Bible nowhere teaches that either saints or sinners pass to a conscious condition at death.  The Bible declares that they all “sleep,” and that the awakening time will be at the Second Coming of the Redeemer to establish His Kingdom.  The Fist Resurrection will be the Church, and subsequently “every man in his own order.”  When once the fact is grasped that the Bible Hell is the grave–Sheol, Hades–then all is plain.

The great Divinely arranged Purgatory, to last a thousand years, will be glorious.  All the heathen and the ignorant, superstitious millions of Christendom, who were taught to call themselves Christians, but who knew that they were not, will have the opportunity of coming to a knowledge of the true God and of His gracious provision for them.

Do the Scriptures Say Not to Forsake the Assembling of Ourselves?

Being-the-Church“And let us not forsake the fellowship that we have among ourselves as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one another and that so much the more because ye see that the day draweth nigh.”  – Hebrews 10:25  (Tyndale)
First of all, it is essential that we understand the meaning of the word “church” as it is used in our English Bibles. Before tackling Hebrews 10:25, we are going to lay some groundwork in advance, these comments, while being historically and biblically derived, are not meant to suggest that Christians should not meet together, share fellowship, pray or preach the Word of God. If that is the conclusion someone makes from these comments, then they have misinterpreted what has been stated here.

My desire is to embrace God’s truth (not just for truth’s sake, but because I love Him and desire to grow evermore close to Him) and I, quite honestly, do not care if the traditions of men (even my own) are offended by His truth. If a person is honest, they will have to admit that when flesh is confronted by the Spirit of the Living God and the truth of Scripture it often resists submission and humility. But my response to that conviction of Christ and His Word must be to repent and yield, otherwise I only end up hardening my heart and increasing in stubbornness as well as blindness. I want to see clearly with spiritual eyes and walk full in the grace and liberty of Jesus Christ whose precious blood was shed for me.

We Christians tend to throw around a lot of terminologies as well as operate under a lot of religious mindsets that are, quite honestly, the primary product of human tradition and not biblical design. This is not to suggest that all organization is “evil” but sometimes it is counterproductive to true and essential spiritual growth. Sometimes our traditions can make God’s Word to seemingly have no affect and can even move us to actually reject His commands. Jesus Himself noted this reality. Just as we read in Mark 7:5, so are there “Pharisees” today who are asking the question of those who refuse to follow erroneous traditions at the expense of biblical truth: “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders?” You know well, I’m sure, Jesus’ bold reply:

Mark 7:6-9 – He told them, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites. As it is written, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is empty, because they teach human rules as doctrines.’ You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your own tradition!”

Before I can answer the question of what I believe Hebrews 10:25 specifically has in mind concerning “assembling”, I feel it is important to look closer at what “assembly” is all about in the body of Christ as Scripture presents it. Too many Christians have been raised with a traditionally-inspired definition of some of these terms and this has served to make them embrace many Biblically-inaccurate concepts. First I would like to look closer at the popular concept of the word “church”as it is understood today in comparison and contrast with the biblical meaning.

The Greek word for “church” is “ecclesia” and, according to its most basic context, it means “assembly”. It is a combination of two separate words (ek, “out of,” and klesis, “a calling” – from kaleo, “to call”) meaning “a calling from out of.” This coincides with the Lord’s directive, which Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of (notice how God describes His temple):

2 Corinthians 6:16-18 – And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For WE are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from them and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord. Don’t touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you. And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.”

Truly God has called us out of the world unto Himself – into His Assembly. This is the “Church” (according to its true biblical meaning)! We, indeed, are the “called out ones“. However, even the word “church” itself is really a poor term to use if we want to be technically accurate about things. The word church has no literal derivative in the original text of Scripture. It was added by translators hundreds of years after the New Testament was written.  Believe it or not, neither Jesus nor any of the apostles ever used it with respect to God’s people!  The English word “church” is presumed to come from a Greek word that, also itself, is never even used one time in all of Scripture! Here we have an example of translators modifying the text to make it seem to align better with the religious tradition of men rather than trying to convey the literal intended meaning. The word “church” naturally tends to draw the reader’s thoughts to religious structure and form rather than organic spiritual life.  When the King James Version of the Bible was created, James actually instructed the translators (through a bishop by the name of Robert Bancroft) not to change the word “church” to reflect its actual meaning (something William Tyndale had already done in his translation of the New Testament years before). This truly is not a conspiracy theory, this is documented history!  The Bishop, with the King’s approval, devised 15 rules which the translators were ordered to abide by in their development of what has come to be known as “the Authorized Version”, one of which was this rule not to tamper with the old ecclesiastical terms (i.e. church). Again, this is historical fact.

“The Old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation, etc.” (A Brief History of English Bible Translations by Dr. Laurence M. Vance)

Many have reasonably presumed that the conveyed purpose for the King’s Bible was to establish a trustworthy translation of God’s Word in the people’s language so that they would no longer be subjected to the religious manipulation wrought by the Roman papacy.  While this purpose was indeed conveyed by a number of proponents of the work, I find it especially ironic that the very same authors of this work also sought to manipulate the masses by limiting the common man’s understanding of the text in specific places, thus compounding the notion of essential religious centrality; i.e. the mindset that presumes the establishment of organized religion (and its hierarchy of leaders) is intended to be embraced as the most dominant, essential feature of Christianity (when, in fact, it really has nothing to do with it at all).

In case someone might presume otherwise, it should be stated that the King Jame’s Version of the Bible was not the first English translation.  The Bible had already been translated into English in previous times.  In fact most of the KJV was copied exclusively from prior English translations.  It is a well known fact among many scholars that King James was not a fan of the Bible translation most popular in his day known as the Geneva Bible. There were two major reasons for this. One, because of the Geneva Bible’s Calvinistic leanings and, two, the Geneva Bible had marginal notes to help explain certain texts and some of these notes challenged his view of what he believed to be the divine right of kings to govern the church and stand as its head. James saw the Geneva Bible as a threat to his lordship over the church and this no doubt fueled much of his ambition to create a Bible version that was officially “authorized” by the king himself.

“‘I profess,’ he said, ‘I could never yet see a Bible well translated in English; but I think that, of all, that of Geneva is the worst.’” (The Geneva Bible: The Forgotten Translation by Gary DeMar)

As an interesting side note, even the first pilgrims who came to America did not come toting King James Bibles but read and preferred the Geneva Bible! (Gary DeMar’s book also talks about this) If you’re interested in more of the details surrounding the King James Version of the Bible, I heartily recommend the excellent book “The Great Ecclesiastical Conspiracy” by George Davis, Michael Clark and Kirk Pearson (also available free online: download it here).  James also used William Tyndale’s version heavily (which is where most of the poetic styling of the KJV comes from), but replaced virtually every reference to organic fellowship and horizontal leadership (as the original language of the Greek presents) and instead kept the old ecclesiastical terminology.

In all honesty, it could very well be argued that the word “church” should not even appear in the Bible. But rather than getting into an enormous discussion over the word we are accustomed to using and not likely to see change any time soon, I will instead emphasize the actual biblical meaning of ecclesia. I am convinced that there is not that much problem with use of the word “church” so long as we clearly comprehend its intended meaning and use in Scripture. So, for the rest of this letter, I will continue to use the word “Church” appealing to the reader’s understanding that it is the “ecclesia” of God that I have in mind and I will clarify my use of the term when I am referring to “church” as the human-devised structures and programs of organized religion and institutional Christianity.

THE SINGULARITY OF THE ECCLESIA
In every case where we see this word “church” used in reference to believers, it is speaking of the Lord’s Church (his ek-klesis or ecclesia). There are not many brides of Christ, there are not many bodies of Christ… There is only one. Paul spoke concerning the Church with such incredible singularity. Additionally, we never see this word “ecclesia” used in terms of an organization or a building or a denomination – it always, ALWAYS, is a direct reference to the people of God, born into His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. Paul wrote many letters to many people in different locations, but he spoke a singular message of there being only ONE BODY, which is the Lord’s Church. Therefore, in my humble opinion, it is not accurate to say that Paul necessarily wrote letters to “churches” but rather to the Church (Ecclesia) represented in a given city. Though our English translations of the Bible virtually every use the word “churches” (plural), the Greek remains “ecclesia” singular! The only exception to this rule is when the author is speaking to communities of believers within a massive region (e.g. the “churches” in Asia). This can be difficult to grasp for many because of the damage that has already been done with the common understanding of the meaning of the word church. There were seven cities in Asia, each one with a single, united community of believers in each city. Therefore the Scripture says, “to the churches in Asia”. This is a plural referencing a singular (for lack of a better way to describe it). Again, ONE body of Christ but identified as present in each city. It is vital to understand these are NOT denominations (for even the very word denomination indicates division). There is no division in the true Church of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10)! So what is meant by there being one representation of the Lord’s Church in every city? Again, I am not suggesting this even means one gathering place in each city. We are talking about a spiritual dynamic. It would be the same as saying that if you left Seattle and entered into Portland, you would then be among the Christians in that city. You haven’t left the body of Christ or the Ecclesia/Church by leaving Seattle, but you are simply now among the body of Christ within another town. It matters not whether you visit some designated structure or meeting place because the word “Church” (as it is used in Scripture) has nothing to do with a place, a building or an organization. It ONLY and ALWAYS has reference to PEOPLE.

This, I believe, is a most significant fact to regard. Observe the following passages concerning the “oneness” of the Body (the church). Notice how SINGULAR these terms are in every group Paul preached to.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. We are all ONE BODY, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.

Ephesians 5:29-30 – No one hates his own body but lovingly cares for it, just as Christ cares for his body, which is the Church. And we are his body.

Colossians 1:18 – Christ is the head of the Church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything.

Romans 12:4-5 – Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of His ONE BODY, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all ONE BODY in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others.

Ephesians 1:21-23 – Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else in this world or in the world to come. And God has put all things under the authority of Christ, and he gave him this authority for the benefit of the Church. And the Church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence.

Ephesians 4:15-16 – Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the Church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

The verses (like those mentioned above) are numerous and exceptionally clear! While as one body we have many parts, those individual parts are not defined by attendance of or joining some other separate church organization.  Those “parts” are not “other church organizations“.  When someone speaks of getting one’s self into a church, what exactly are they suggesting? Are they suggesting that there is more than one church a person needs to “get into”? The biblical fact is that once a person is joined to Christ he is a full participating member of the Church (the Ecclesia of God); which is the body of Christ. There is nothing else he need join. There is nothing else he can join. There are “parts” but only ONE Church – and organizations are not those “parts”, neither are religious buildings  those parts – PEOPLE ARE THOSE PARTS.

CHURCH (ECCLESIA) IS NOT A BUILDING MADE WITH HANDS

We have already mentioned this next detail briefly, but allow me to expand on it a bit further. Scholars agree that our English word, church, actually is derived from a Greek term that is never once used at all in the Bible! The Greek word which corresponds with the English word “church” is “kuriakon” (meaning “the lord or master of a property” also simply “the lord’s house”). Kuriakon is a derivative of “kuriakos” (meaning “of, or belonging to a lord, master, etc.”). The latter (kuriakos) is used twice in the Bible – but NEVER as a definition of the Lord’s Assembly (examples of use: 1 Corinthians 11:20; Revelations 1:10)! The word “church” (or rather “kuriakon”) was typically used in reference to things belonging to the Roman Emperor in early times. Eventually, Christians adopted the word and applied it to their temples, but in the first and second century, Christians did not engage in the practice of building temples because such was unanimously considered idolatry; the very practice of pagans. This is 100% documented fact! The following quotations are excerpts from early Christian writings:

“The Word, prohibiting all sacrifices and the building of temples, indicates that the Almighty is not contained in anything.” – Clement of Alexandria (195 A.D.)

“We refuse to build lifeless temples to the Giver of all life… Our bodies are the temple of God. If anyone defiles the temple of God by lust or sin, he will himself be destroyed for acting impiously towards the true temple. Of all the temples spoken of in this sense, the best and most excellent was the pure and holy body of our Savior Jesus Christ… He said to them, ‘destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it again. This He said of the temple of His body.’… When they reproach us for not deeming it necessary to worship the divine Being by raising lifeless temples, we set before them our temples.” (meaning, of course, the “temple” of their bodies) – Origen (248 A.D.)

“You mistakenly think we conceal what we worship since we have no temples or altars. Yet how can anyone make an image of God? Man himself is the image of God. How can anyone build a temple to Him, when the whole world can’t contain Him? Even I, a mere human, travel far and wide. So how can anyone shut up the majesty of so great a Person within one small building? Isn’t it better for Him to be dedicated in our minds and consecrated in our innermost hearts – rather than in a building?” – Mark Felix in “Octavius” (2nd Century A.D.)

“You say that we build no temples [to the gods] and do not worship their images… Well, what greater honor or dignity could we ascribe to them than that we put them in the same position as the Head and Lord of the universe! …Do we honor Him with shrines and by building temples?” – Arnobius (305 A.D.)

“It remains for me to tell you about the temple, how these wretched men who had been deceived put their trust in the building, as though it were God’s house, and not in God who made them. For almost like the gentiles they ‘made him holy’ in the temple. But know what the Lord said in nullifying the temple: ‘Who has measured the sky with a span, or the land with his hand? Haven’t I?,’ says Yahweh. ‘The sky is my throne and the land is the footstool for my feet. What kind of house will you build for me? Or what will be my resting place?’ Know that their hope is worthless… Now let’s ask whether there is any temple of God. There is, in the place where he himself declares to make and complete it. For it is written, ‘And it will happen, when the week is complete, that God’s temple will be built gloriously in the name of Yahweh.’ Therefore, I find that there is a temple. So how will it be built in the name of Yahweh? Know that before we trusted in God, the dwellings of our hearts were corrupt and weak, like ‘a temple truly built by hands.’ For it was full of idolatry and was a house of spirit beings, because we did whatever was opposed to God. But it will be built in the name of Yahweh. So pay attention that the temple of Yahweh will be built gloriously, and know by what means that will be. In receiving the forgiveness of our sins and trusting in the name of the Lord we became new, created again, as from the beginning. For this reason God lives truly in our houses within us. How? The message of his trust, the calling of his promise, the wisdom of the tenets, the precepts of the teaching, he himself prophesies in us, he himself lives in us, opening the door of the temple for us who had been in bondage to death. This is the mouth of wisdom, having given us repentance, leading us to the incorruptible temple… This is the spiritual temple of the Lord.” – The Letter of Barnabas; Chapter 16 (96-100 A.D.)

“(You) being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God. Ye, therefore, as well as all your fellow-travelers, are God-bearers, temple-bearers, Christ-bearers, bearers of holiness, adorned in all respects with the commandments of Jesus Christ, in whom also I exult that I have been thought worthy, by means of this Epistle, to converse and rejoice with you, because with respect to your Christian life ye love nothing but God only.” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; Chapter 9 (30-107 A.D.).

“Let us therefore do all things as those who have Him dwelling in us, that we may be His temples, and He may be in us as our God, which indeed He is, and will manifest Himself before our faces. Wherefore we justly love Him.” – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians; Chapter 15 (30-107 A.D.).

“Rusticus, the perfect, said, ‘Where do you assemble?’ Justin Martyr replied, ‘Where each one chooses and is able. Do you imagine that we all meet in the very same place?’” – Martyrdom of the Holy Martyrs (160 A.D.)

“We assemble together with the same quietness with which we live as individuals.” – Mark Minucius Felix (200 A.D.)

“For where there are three persons – even if they are laity – there is a church.” – Tertullian (212 A.D.)

[Pagan Antagonist:] “They [the Christians] despise the temples as dead houses… They laugh at sacred things.” – Mark Minucius Felix (200 A.D.) NOTE: Felix was a Roman lawyer that converted to Christianity and wrote one of the finest apologies of early Christianity in the form of a dialogue between a Christian and a pagan; hence, this quote is intended to be a pagan’s expressed agitation with the Christian’s perspective on things.

Thanks to the influence of the Greeks and the Romans (and eventually the Roman Catholic Church), we now have church buildings and they have become so adopted as a part of our religious culture that we actually have deceived ourselves to think they are necessary and biblical. We falsely presume that true spiritual growth and fellowship cannot transpire without one of these “churches.” We even end up presuming that our religiously dedicated “church” buildings and programs are equivalent to the Church Christ shed His blood for! In fact, we treat both as one and the same!

I cannot tell you the times I’ve heard preachers and pastors remark how that (they say) “many people today claim Christ and yet do not even attend church even though Jesus Christ purchased it with his own blood!” Do you see the confusion in that concept; the mixing of attendance to a religious building and/or meeting with the spiritual idea of the body of Christ? To the religious church-goer, both are essentially the same thing; if you don’t attend religious meetings at a physical “church building” then you are somehow rejecting (or at least minimalizing) the Church that Jesus gave His life for! Essentially, you have preachers and pastors who are telling people that Jesus shed His blood for a religious organization and a man made building! This is an amazing deception! We might ask ourselves, “if the early ecclesia thrived and spread like wild fire throughout the world without church buildings and programs, how is it we have come to believe that we can now do nothing without them?”

Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897) says, “There is no clear instance of its (ecclesia) being used for a place of meeting or of worship, although in post-apostolic times it early received this meaning.”

Ecclesia, by stark contrast, bears no connotation whatsoever of an earthy building, temple or shrine. In the 16th Century, men of God like William Tyndale (Greek scholar and translator of the first printed English Bible) knew it and did not translate “ekklesia” as “church”… They (the religious leaders of his day) called him a heretic and burned him at the stake all because he translated the Scriptures straight from Greek and Hebrew into terms that more closely identified with their original meanings.

The Christians in the earliest centuries understood what it meant to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:13-18) as we discussed earlier. There was a cost to count that few of us can even compare to; for they gave their very lives for the truth.

As Christians we have been called out by God into His royal Assembly; His family. I personally think it is no coincidence that ecclesia has this very thought in mind. It makes perfect sense! For not only has God, in His Word, shown that we have been called out from among the world, but also even the RELIGIOUS world! In Jesus’ (and the apostles’) day it was the religious world of Judaism. Judaism was the epitome of organized religion. It was filled with rules, rituals, ceremonies and observance of holy days and religious meetings. God called His people to come out from that camp and to be joined with Christ. In fact, there is a prophecy in Isaiah where God showed His utter disgust for man’s religious worship (which had become lip service and going through the motions but void of any sincere heart). Israel had become so self-deceived with their religious worship rituals that they actually believed they were righteous because of them. Sound familiar? I think the same problem abounds today! This passage is rather interesting in the Message Bible:

Isaiah 1:12-17 – When you come before me, who ever gave you the idea of acting like this, Running here and there, doing this and that– all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship? Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings– meetings, meetings, meetings–I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. GO HOME and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.

Isn’t it funny that God wasn’t interested in their “assembling” while they continued to simply perform religion and still sin. He sends them home! Go take care of business! Let your life speak louder than your mouth! Stand up for the homeless and the defenseless! People ought to be your concern! It reminds me of what James said.

James 1:27 – Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In similar fashion, while many people today have been taught that “giving” is actuated by donating percentages of their money to church organizations (which is resource primarily wasted on buildings rather than meeting the financial needs of actual people as was common in the early Church), the Scripture presents no such design. In fact, Jesus Himself clearly told His followers how to give to Him… Surprisingly enough, He never told them to get “plugged-in” to a good “church” and start tithing. Rather he said the following:

Matthew 25:34-40 – Then the king will say to those on his right, “My father has blessed you! Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?” The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”

God’s Word sounds a loud call to all of those who are His that we are not to be about the business of building and concerning ourselves with earthly cities (religious centers and temples) here on earth (as the Jews did), but to keep our eyes peeled for the city yet to come. That’s where it’s at! That’s where we are to store up our treasures.

Hebrews 13:8-16 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be turned away by different strange teachings, because it is good for your hearts to be made strong by grace, and not by meats, which were of no profit to those who took so much trouble over them. We have an altar from which those priests who are servants in the Tent may not take food. For the bodies of the beasts whose blood is taken into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin are burned outside the circle of the tents. For this reason Jesus was put to death outside the walls, so that he might make the people holy by his blood. Let us then go out to him outside the circle of the tents (i.e. outside the walls), taking his shame on ourselves. For here we have no fixed resting-place, but our search is for the one which is to come. Let us then make offerings of praise to God at all times through him, that is to say, the fruit of lips giving witness to his name. But go on doing good and giving to others, because God is well-pleased with such offerings.

I find it interesting again that God does not call us to have large worship services but to live a life of worship – that worship being trademarked with ACTION. The offering He desires is praise at ALL TIMES (not just a Sunday sing song) and that primarily to be actuated through our doing good and being generous to others who are in need. The time for sitting in pews and thinking this is somehow “fellowship” or that it constitutes “being assembled” is long over. God is merciful in our stages of ignorance and is patient as we grow. He is so good and so faithful to continue to lovingly guide us and pour out His blessings on us, even when while we sometimes ignorantly remained engrossed in traditions that do more to slow that process of growth that aide it.

Many church believers remain in a seemingly perpetual state of babyhood, always dependent on “leaders” to teach them, hear from God for them, do the work of evangelizing the lost for them, entertain them, counsel and encourage them, help them in crisis, and direct practically their every move. So many Christians divide themselves according to favored leaders they admire and who give them that sense of security they lack. This dependence on men is a natural byproduct the church system produces. Ironically, it’s not just a byproduct… it’s also the fuel that keeps it running. It is designed to foster spiritually immature children and keep them that way (just enough truth and freedom to keep them happy and pacified). If it fails in this task, the system will crumble for lack of support. It needs these immature foster children as much as they think they need it. But Christ never intended His people to be treated this way. He wants them to move beyond immaturity and grow up into mature men and women of God who rest confident in the leadership of the Holy Spirit more than men and programs. He wants them to find their security in Him alone, not in men and religious programs.

When Christians follow the path of denominationalism and churchianity, they become blinded to their own condition and they fall prey to the danger of actually embracing a worldly mindset that cleverly creeps in through the guise of spirituality. This is not all that different from what the apostle Paul warned the believers in Corinth about:

1 Corinthians 3:1-4 – Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to mature Christians. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk and not with solid food, because you couldn’t handle anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready, for you are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians?

Remember how Jesus also told the woman at the well that the day was coming when men would not need to go to the temple in Jerusalem to worship God and that would have no concern for places of worship but that the true worshipers would lead a life of worship, in spirit and in truth. Once again, the Message version of the Bible communicates this passage quite well:

John 4:23-24 – (Jesus said) “But the time is coming–it has, in fact, come–when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself–Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.”

But what has the church organization done today? It has made “worship” a song service that must be actuated routinely in an officially designated building, once a week, and led by professional musicians. The organization has carried over the types and shadows of Old Covenant Levitical priesthood and placed before believers “worship leaders” who mediate and perform and supposedly lead people into the throne room of God. But where is such concept ever found in the New Testament? Do we really need a modern system of Levites, an elite class, to lead people into God’s throne room? I thought we were afforded the right to come boldly before his throne freely because of Christ’s work.

Hebrews 4:14-16 – Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

No man on earth can “lead us” in worship. Being led is something that transpires only through direct communication with the Father. And as we’ve already seen in the Word, “worship” is not a song style – it is how we live our lives before Him. I have no problems with song services in and of themselves. It’s a total blast to be in a room with a collective of believers in Christ, singing our hearts out to Jesus. That is wonderful, but there is no mandate for such organization on worship in the Scripture. In fact, the New Testament never describes worship at all in the context of a song service in some weekly meeting. Again, worship is a lifestyle and this importance is far too often overlooked. All of these elements of “the program” deceive people to think that they are fulfilling the Lord’s desires by cramming all of these things into a 2 hour church service each week. People instinctively get themselves into a mode that “if I just do this faithfully every week, it covers all the bases, God is pleased, I’m doing my duty, I am “assembling” as the Bible says, and I’m growing spiritually.” It is so easy to fall into the trap of thinking our righteousness is based on and maintained by works and things like church attendance. That is why I believe organized religion is so dangerously deceptive. The same was true in the first century. Paul was stunned that these believers who had experienced such great freedom and joy in Christ, were now turning back to religious practice. They still believed in Jesus. They still wanted to follow God, but they had allowed themselves to move away from the simplicity of their devotion to Christ and were replacing it, little by little, with religious observation.

Galatians 3:1-5 – You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough. Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up! Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?

So many good, church attending folks look at passages like the previous one and they shake their heads and say, “those foolish Jews.” Or they look at other groups, like the Roman Catholics, and say, “now they’re really religious, but not us, we understand…. We speak in tongues and dance and have powerful worship services and our pastor preaches lively sermons that are culturally relevant…” I think there are going to be many like the church of Laodicea (Revelations 3:14-22) who thought they had their mud together, but really were leaving Jesus on the outside. So many Christians today have their lives centered around the elements of organized religion and Christ is secondary. The worst part is, they actually are convinced that simply meeting each week with other Christians equals what the Word means when it talks about “being assembled together.” But the program is so compelling that so many of these sincere Christian folk honestly don’t have a clue what’s happening to them. I think that’s what was happening to the Galatians and when Paul saw this he could only respond by saying, “who has bewitched you?” A similar concern was raised by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians Christians, who were being persuaded away from simple devotion to Christ by the compelling words of certain church leaders (whom Paul sarcastically calls “super apostles”) – and again we see the singular terms he uses concerning them all (a single virgin espoused to ONE husband):

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 – For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

It is foolishness to think that most Christians aren’t likely to get distracted by such things but the Scripture tells us that even the great apostle Peter, who walked with Christ in the flesh, compromised the truth and yielded to organized religion and was rebuked by Paul before the assembly!

Galatians 2:11 – Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line.

Galatians 2:13-21 – Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade. But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: “If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?” We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it–and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.

The book of Hebrews talks about a separation from the old religion of Judaism and a drawing unto Christ alone. This was a hard message for the Jews to hear because Judaism was their whole life and their whole perceived connection with God. In their minds submitting to the practice of organized religion was godliness (and new Christians were also being swept right into this religious influence). But the author places his message in no uncertain terms, “you must leave that camp and join yourself to Jesus Christ, even if it means you bear His reproach.” Reproach by whom? Whom do you suppose, given the context of that passage? Who was it that rejected Christ and called Him a blasphemer? Was it not the religious Jews? The sinners even invited Him into their homes, but the religious cast Him out.

We do not have a city or a building on this earth that represents the Lord’s Temple. Anyone who teaches such does not teach the truth. Our “temple” is holy; it is comprised of God’s people. Our city is not of this world and is not represented by a physical building of wood and stone, so why bother with trying to build one here? It may be time that we take another look at the early Christian believers, to see what they embraced. It is time we seek to refresh our understanding of the Ecclesia of God; that it is not defined by a building or a religious program. We must leave all that old religion behind and passionately follow Him. It may mean that we won’t be so popular among the religious community. We may be misunderstood or even rejected completely. But we can take comfort, knowing that so was Christ and we can share in His blessing because we have left all to follow Him.

Hebrews 13:12-14 (GW) – That is why Jesus suffered outside the gates of Jerusalem. He suffered to make the people holy with His own blood. So we must go to Him outside the camp and endure the insults He endured. We don’t have a permanent city here on earth, but we are looking for the city that we will have in the future.

I do want to look closer at the reference of Hebrews 10:25, but I wanted to lay a strong foundation for this word “church” (ecclesia) as it is rendered and understood in the original languages and how the apostles and Christ Himself detested organized religion, considering it an obstacle to faith. It is a fact that the early Christians knew nothing of church the way we know it today. They were a community of believers and they interacted with each other as a family not as members of some religious organization. They didn’t build institutions of worship and Christian education. They didn’t congregate to hear one guy preach at them for an hour. There were no liturgies in their gatherings. Their meetings were informal and everyone participated (in fact there was so much participation that sometimes their meetings together led to some disorder, which Paul lovingly helped them restore focus without squashing their zealousness to minister to one another). Their lives centered around Christ not around their meetings. They were a body who built up one another, person to person, on the faith of Jesus Christ. This is so important to understand because their concept of meeting together and their concept of the Church was virtually 180 degrees apart from what we consider the church and fellowship today. When we first realize this, it brings passages like Hebrews 10:25 that have been so abused and removed from context into proper light. I thank God that He did not say any of the things that most folks suggest in that verse. He did NOT say to make sure you attend a good church organization every Sunday. He did say, however, to not forsake the assembling of ourselves – or as one scholar translated this “the episynagogue of one another” (epi-synagogue refers, in concept, to a “Christian” version of the Jewish synagogue or meeting), so this scholar meant to convey the idea that this “gathering” is satisfied, not according to a literal meeting place as was the case with the Jewish synagogue, but rather that this is spiritually qualified by the nature of our mutual fellowship in Christ (thus the “episynagogue of one another”). There are at least two important aspects here that must be regarded. The first I will emphasize by quoting the passage in its complete context. Note that the author here is not talking to some little church organization but to the entire body of Christ; which includes all of the called out ones!

Hebrews 10:14-25 – For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy. And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. First he says, “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts so they will understand them, and I will write them on their minds so they will obey them.” Then he adds, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” Now when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.

Didn’t Jesus say that when as few as two or three come together He would be there with them? (Matthew 18:20) Many Christians have even twisted this verse and changed the word “three” to “more” to justify their massive meetings. They say, “whenever two or more are gathered.” The text, however, speaks in very intimate terms. Think about this in the natural… How easy is it to gather with just a few friends and be united together in purpose and conversation. It gets very difficult, however, the larger the number grows. What most people would feel comfortable sharing amidst a couple of close brothers or sisters in Christ, the same would not likely be willing to tell a crowd of people. Perhaps when Jesus said “two or three” He simply meant “at least that many”. I don’t want to presume too much. I’m just making an observation here. Another brother (Neil Girrard) actually shared this thought with me and I found it interesting. Anyway, it makes simple sense; especially when we consider what is clearly known about the early believers – they frequently met together in their homes and shared meals together. It’s pretty hard to cram 5,000 people in a small room, especially around a dinner table. 😉

Even the early Church father Tertulian (late second century A.D.) acknowledged that even if just two or three come together, there is the church present (i.e. a representation of the body of Christ). So “a church” is not described by a building and a program BUT BY PEOPLE! This is critical to understand because you can’t have it any other way.  The Church is not both a people and a building (for Scripture provides no such definition).  You can’t tell people they need to get into a church so that they will be “assembled” because it’s misleading. People typically understand that this means they must find some organization to join (or at least attend regularly). Whether you have said it or not, this implies also that attendance and membership in this organization somehow validates their faith (because real Christians go to church). If we say such things, we impose a legalism that God’s Word never imposes and we begin to center our lives around something that God’s Word never tells us to center them on.  By all means encourage fellowship with other believers (pray together, sing together, share the life of Christ together), but we should not tell people to get signed up in religious organizations (for the sake of fellowship). When we encourage that we do so without any authority of Scripture.

The author of Hebrews is not prescribing formula or ritual in the passage we are discussing. He is not commanding “church” attendance (the way many today presume) or even weekly meetings (though he is not forbidding weekly meeting either – and the purpose of this article is NOT to suggest that there is anything inherently wrong with that activity). The book of Hebrews involves reference to the prophecy about the coming destruction of the Temple. Persecution was at the “doorstep” of the body of Christ. The author warns and encourages them, “brothers and sisters, you are about to go through some rough times. Don’t forget HIM who has called you and HE who leads you. Stick together! Stay strong and encourage one another.”

Notice something else here… The passage in Hebrews 10:25 says to exhort one another (i.e as it refers to this assembling) “even more” as you see the day approaching (the definition of the Greek text confirms this as the words “even more” or “much more” means with greater frequency”).  Why would the author say “even more” unless it was such that they did not meet all that frequently? Simple logic tells us that he was encouraging them to pull closer together and encourage each other more and more as the days got more difficult. What you end up with here is actually more evidence that Christians did not meet for “church services” or even so-called “fellowship” on a regular basis any more than you can extract any notion that this is somehow what this passage prescribes! “Exhort one another even more” does not mean “schedule more church services and make sure everyone religiously attends them.” Exhort (according to its definition in the original Greek) means – “to call to one’s side, to speak to, to encourage and comfort”. Clearly this is possible on any number of levels without necessitating the exorbitant waste of financial resource in a building and a weekly program (let alone scores of rituals, liturgies, and other traditional religious practices – virtually all of which are not identified anywhere in the New Testament Scriptures). This “exhorting even more” could transpire very simply through letters, phone conversations, or in person. It is simply IMPOSSIBLE to conclude from these passages of Scripture that “not forsaking the assembling” has anything to do with scheduling and imposing a requisite of weekly “church” attendance on believers in Christ (let alone putting pressure on folks to “give” and finance such things).

At the very least, as we just observed, this was a special call to encourage the believers to get together because rough times were on the horizon, but the call is as simple as it was stated. One just cannot infer weekly organized “church” meetings with this passage. To do so is dishonest and a misuse of Scripture. When we do things like this (no matter how good our intentions might be), we remove the simplicity and profoundness of the family characteristic of the body of Christ and we force organization and cold, dead institutional religion into it.  We also imply and impose an unbiblical mandate on (and division from) those who genuinely love the Lord and might even want to fellowship with us, but who are essentially pushed away by this “thing” that has taken the place of Christ Jesus residing at the center of any relationships that might occur.

By pressing into a passage 1,700 years of pagan-inspired religious tradition (which, sadly, has influenced the Christian Church but has no ground in the Gospel) a division is made among Believers that God has not sanctioned and it is, in this author’s opinion, a component of the spirit of anti-Christ!  Sorry to have to put it so bluntly, but there you have it.  Thank God that most of the early Christian Church, and even many of the reformers and great theologians of times past, rightly defined the word “church” as it appears in Scripture – leaving out all the traditional nonsense that has been added to it. What has become of Christians today that they are more willing to accept the false definitions of tradition (and hold those as essential doctrine over others) rather than the simplistic and absolutely clear design of Scripture? And who are these men in the pulpits that see fit to excuse themselves from biblical realities and invest their own religious bias on zero authority of Scripture?

John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible (re: Church) says, “by the church, is meant, not an edifice of wood, stones, &c. but an assembly, and congregation of men; …the elect of God, the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in heaven; and especially such of them as were to be gathered in, and built on Christ, from among the Jews and Gentiles. The materials of this building are such, as are by nature no better, or more fit for it, than others: these stones originally lie in the same quarry with others; they are singled out, and separated from the rest, according to the sovereign will of God, by powerful and efficacious grace; and are broken and hewn by the Spirit of God, generally speaking, under the ministry of the word, and are, by him, made living stones; and being holy and spiritual persons, are built up a spiritual house: and these are the only persons which make up the true and invisible church of Christ…”

People’s New Testament Commentary says, “…the church, the spiritual temple, formed of living stones, and built upon the rock. So is every confessor of Christ.”

Milt Rodriguez (The Rebuilder Gazette; Volume 37, June 24, 2003) – “The New Testament is very clear in pointing out the fact that the Temple or House of the Lord in the Old Testament was a shadow or forerunner of something much greater. ‘You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ – 1 Peter 2:5. The word ‘House’ literally means ‘household.’ This implies the ‘dwellers’ who actually live inside the building; in other words, the family of God. The house of God is the Ecclesia, the Body of Christ, the City of God, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Bride of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ. I am not speaking about a building, organization, denomination, association, or any other dead thing. I am speaking of the living, breathing Body of Christ. The organic expression of Jesus Christ on this earth is what we are sorely lacking. This is what God wants to rebuild. Do you have a heart for this?”

1 Peter 2:2-5 – “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

Consider also “the assembly” which the author of Hebrews is directly referring to:

Hebrews 12:23 – “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect…”

Acts 7:48-49 – “Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool: what house will ye build Me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of My rest?”

Acts 17:24 – “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands.

Hebrews 9:11 – “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building…”

1 Corinthians 3:9 – “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

1 Corinthians 3:16 – “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?”

2 Corinthians 6:16b – “…for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

Revelation 21:3 – “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, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.’”

Ephesians 2:18-22 – “It is through Christ that all of us, Jews and Gentiles, are able to come in the one Spirit into the presence of the Father. So then, you Gentiles are not foreigners or strangers any longer; you are now citizens together with God’s people and members of the family of God. You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit.”

Note that in the preceding passage (and the one in 1 Corinthians 3:9) the term “building” is used metaphorically to describe the united body of Christ, who Himself is the foundation, the very cornerstone, of the Church. Note also that it is Christ Himself who is responsible to hold all of us together and cause us to grow and mature into that which He has desired. What is the responsibility of apostles and prophets in this “building”? Their role is to set people’s attention upon Christ! The foundation they lay is not a moral system of religion (or some kind of religious establishment), but it is Christ the Lord. This is immensely significant!

In my personal studies reading through the writings of the Early Church Fathers, I noticed how consistently the “Church” is identified SPECIFICALLY as “the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ which is IN His Saints.” For nearly 200 years after Calvary, God’s people were not confused about what the Lord’s Church (Ecclesia) really is – and they never defined it in terms of a building or religious program! (and, as we noted early on in this letter – they never even defined it as “church” at all)

Though it may be uncomfortable, I feel I must reiterate that the religious organization that people today refer to as “the church” is merely an establishment of man, built by human hands, maintained by human effort and employed by human agendas and schedules and, difficult as it might be to swallow, human authority structures.  This “system” is not once defined anywhere in the Word of God as being something that makes you any more or less a part of the body of Christ Jesus! It is wrong to judge a brother or sister in Christ who is not a “member” of a “church.” That does not in the least invalidate their standing with God and their validity as a member of the Lord’s true Church! Nor is it any indication of their level of spiritual maturity! Does someone want to join an organization or religious club? Fine, but NEVER elevate that organization over the body of Christ and then make it an idol by calling it His Church. Does someone want to belong to some denominational church? Ok, but they should not turn their nose up at those who don’t “worship” the system (or that don’t worship at the system) or regard it as being God’s prized invention and special interest. We had all better start regarding God’s people as the precious jewels they are regardless of what organization they may or may not belong to.  And, no, I am not talking about some kind of new age Christian unity where all faiths are represented as one (just in case someone might take this way out of context).  But I am certainly saying that we had better learn to properly discern the Body of Christ and STOP calling institutional religion “Christianity”.

Christians in many institutional churches often tend to look at each other and pass judgment because they esteem this organizational thing as being so vital to their Christian experience. Friends, we need to approach our Christianity from a relational aspect; relationship with Christ, a life centered around Him, and a love sparked by His grace and His presence in our lives and the experiential knowledge of who He really is and all that He has done for us. Second to this being enthralled with Christ, we must become relationally-minded towards one another, NOT INSTITUTIONALLY MINDED! A meeting, in and of itself, is not evil, and I am not suggesting that.  Organization also has its place.  It is good for saints to meet together (especially as the Spirit of God draws Believers together in assembly) and the Scripture confirms that we should not neglect to do so (Hebrews 10:25), but are we engaging in the right kind of meeting; the meeting that we see exampled in Scripture? Do we realize that it only takes 2 or 3 simply gathered in agreement (Matthew 18:20) to constitute a meeting where the Lord’s presence is manifested? Do we realize that this may occur with spontaneity as the Spirit moves and does not even need to be scheduled as some kind of weekly regiment?  Do we understand that “church” is not a building, not an organization, not an institution, not a program, not a “ministry,” not a scheduled meeting with list of required rituals and a liturgy that need be performed routinely, but CHURCH IS WHO WE ARE TOGETHER!!! THE BODY OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST!!!  You know, a lot of times, Christians say they believe this… yet they continue to emphasize things that are not the least bit essential.  They say, “we’re all about Jesus,” but they still feel this need to advertise their “brand”.  They say, “we don’t mind if you’re a person who doesn’t like church or that doesn’t attend one, we love you and welcome you because our lives our connected to Christ,” but then they continue to go on about “our church” this and “our church” that (employing all kinds of methods to advertise their brand of church and why it’s different, better, or whatever and why you need to get involved with them), making it very apparent that “church” remains at the center (or at least very near the center) of their conversation and experience.

To a person who really is not interested in the whole program of religion (i.e. “church world”), the tactic of a church organization to suggest they are “the church for folks who don’t like church”, is laughable and completely unappealing…  In fact, the mere fact that an organization would advertise itself that way, is like placing a flashing neon sign on it saying, “we are exactly what you’re not looking for, because everything is about church for us!”  This is not something that probably a lot of folks will understand who enjoy their institutional brand of churchianity.  To the person who loves the idea of being a part of a “non-churchy church that doesn’t care if you don’t go to church or like church but really ought to come to their church because their church is not like any other church“, they will not likely understand why a follower of Jesus that doesn’t center their life around church could not be at least a little bit interested in what they have to offer.  The reason is, we are not looking for fellowship with a religious program (for most of us have done that and, quite frankly, are done with that)…  but we DO want to enjoy the fellowship that exists in Christ among our family in God… if they will allow it.  Sadly, many who claim to be part of the Body of Christ are not often willing to engage in extended fellowship with members of the Body of Christ who may reside outside the confines of their religious environment.  If this does ever occur, it is generally an awkward environment; as one person is silently “concerned” about the other person who is not in church, while the other person (who doesn’t attend church) is feeling the weight of that unspoken “concern” and trying to maneuver around the Christianese they no longer speak and no longer relate to.  So, even when both people try to enjoy fellowship without worrying about “church”, very often church still inserts itself because it has become so much a part of the churched-person’s thinking and activity and they have not learned how to function without it.

By the same token, quite often the person who no longer participates in institutional church activity, finds it incredibly difficult to know how to navigate around the church person’s thinking and conversation, since they no longer identify with that.  This can be especially difficult if a person’s exodus from “church world” was due to spiritual abuse, wounds from other Christians or by leadership, doctrinal error or some other action (as they may tend to presume these negative things are a normal part of everything bearing the label of “church”).  Whether “in church” or “out of church”, so often the devil uses this very thing (i.e. “church”) to drive division among members of Christ’s body.  I do think it’s very important to remember that the influential mindset of “churchianity” has infected and damaged so many people (many without their even realizing it yet) and that applies to both those within and without religious institutions (since many, if not most, who are “out of church” once were “in church” and still deal with the effects of that long-term programming that occurred).  Though the “out of church” person may have made it their emphasis to detach from churchianity, they may be failing by making “out of church” an emphasis at all.  Christ alone must be the emphasis!  We must allow the grace of God to rule our hearts and we must continue to tune our hearts to the voice of the Spirit of God.  As we learn to listen to the Spirit of God and as we allow the Love of God to transform us, He will lead us through each encounter and He can help us overcome the obstacle of “church” (even the very concern about “church”) so that we see with new eyes.  What I am saying is that even those of us who believe we have been freed from churchianity, can fall into the trap of thinking we have “arrived” and can become as much of an obstacle to the work of the Spirit as those we believe are bound within the mindset of churchianity.  All of us, whether “in church” or “out of church” must come to the realization of what the Lord’s Church really and truly is and we MUST regard one another accordingly!  If we can do that and if we each can submit to the Spirit of God and respond in the Love of God, then I believe the right kind of Christian unity can begin to emerge and devil will be dealt some heavy blows!

I’m taking some time on this because I believe it is so important that we get our eyes back on the pure Christianity we see modeled by the early Believers in Scripture.  As we begin to be moved by their example, which was to live IN the fellowship of Christ DAILY, we will stop spending so much focus on all distractions from that truth!  All of us need to come to a better understanding of what the fellowship of Christ is.  All of us need to come to a greater revelation of what the Assembly is!  As the Holy Spirit guides us into the desire of the Father and as we submit to that desire, we will continue to shed any and every old mindset that is not from Him.  As we begin to really see that the biblical concept of assembly has, really, NOTHING to do with organized religion or institutional churchianity – then we will stop dividing up the body of Christ with that unholy blade.  Would to God that we would allow the Spirit of God to purge the errors from our thinking and truly unite us together in Him.  Would to God that would stop trying so hard to figure out how to “have church” and just realize that we, who follow Christ, ARE THE CHURCH!  Instead of trying to schedule God into a static weekly routine, maybe we should just flush the routine and give Him our whole lives to move us as He so desires.  Maybe instead of wasting time with things like “worship practice” to prepare for a weekly performance, we should actual make worship a practice of our daily lives; one that comes wholly from a place of sincerity and truth before God.  Maybe instead of centering our attentions on the “weekly sermon monologue”, where we suppose this is how we are to be “spiritually fed”, maybe we ought rather to begin speaking to one another, as the Bible indicates, by teaching and helping one another with songs of praise and holy words, making melody to God with grace in our hearts (Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16).  Instead of some kind of routine drop-in-the-bucket style of “giving” where pastors announce that it’s “time to give tithes and offerings” (something never uttered by anyone in the New Testament Church), we out to finally come to the understanding that Christ is to be our motivation wholly in all things… especially giving!  It cannot be regimented by some church routine.  It cannot be mandated by some legalistic practice.  True giving must be actuated of complete freewill and by direction of the Holy Spirit and the motivation of God’s love working in our hearts.  This kind of giving marked the behavior of the first century Christians.  If flowed genuinely and freely out of their hearts because of God’s work in them, not because there was some rule to perform it on Sunday.

2 Corinthians 8:5 – This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives.

Christians must stop thinking of “giving” only in terms of something they put in an offering plate at a religious service (as a component of “church practice”).  Giving, as taught by Christ and His apostles, never involved the maintenance of religious organization and the financing of professional leadership paradigms.  Rather gifts were given (both financial and of material possessions) to care for the real physical needs of other people (and, yes, sometimes that included apostolic workers).  In fact, the apostles and pastors were generally only involved with collecting these things when the need arose to carry them to the people of other cities that were struggling and for whom the gifts were collected.  There is simply no example of the kind of so-called “giving” we observe in today’s so-called “churches”.  It is abundantly clear from Scripture that the apostles taught plainly that giving was a matter that each person decided on their own and according to their relationship with the Lord and love for one another.  It really is to be that simple!

2 Corinthians 9:7-10Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel that you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give.   God can bless you with everything you need, and you will always have more than enough to do all kinds of good things for others.  The Scriptures say, “God freely gives his gifts to the poor, and always does right.”   God gives seed to farmers and provides everyone with food. He will increase what you have, so that you can give even more to those in need.

2 Corinthians 8:12-15Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don’t have.  Of course, I don’t mean your giving should make life easy for others and hard for yourselves. I only mean that there should be some equality.  Right now you have plenty and can help those who are in need. Later, they will have plenty and can share with you when you need it. In this way, things will be equal.  As the Scriptures say, “Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough.”

My point is that so much of what passes for “the assembly” today (i.e. church as we know it), is not really the kind of assembling the Scripture refers to at all.  All the things that religious man has added and used as part of his definition of “church” is a definition entirely foreign to that given by Scripture; of the Lord and His apostles.

I hope I’ve been clear enough in stating that I do not hold that there is necessarily anything wrong with attending or belonging to a club or some organization, just don’t call it “the House of the Lord” and PLEASE don’t call it “the Church”. If you like where you are and think all of this stuff is just too radical, that’s fine, stay put and pursue the Lord with all your heart, just please don’t judge and reject other Christians who choose to “meet” in other ways or that don’t choose to “join” a “church” at all. I know that God is merciful and He is able to deal in each of our lives with grace, patience and love. I spent better than 30 years of my life in the institutional church and believed a lot of stupid things, but God still penetrated through all of that and touched my heart. He led me along by His grace and He fed me, nurtured me and changed my life. He poured out his renewing power in my life and filled my home with His manifest presence. Whether in “church” or out of “church” the standard set by Jesus of Spirit and Truth still applies to us all. God is looking into our innermost being for sincerity – not religion. Because my heart of hearts has been set on Him, the institutional church wasn’t a complete obstacle and God still connected me with true and sincere saints within that system to provide an element of communion together for a season. I believe the same is true for every one of His dear children. As much as I am weary of the routine called “church” and as much I believe it hinders spiritual growth in so many ways, I all the more believe that God is faithful and He is so amazing and good and He can touch people’s live inside. I would be lost if this wasn’t true about God! If God waited until we got everything perfect, we’d all be dead with no hope of touching him. But just because God is merciful to our shortcomings and longsuffering, kind and forgiving, doesn’t mean we should use that mercy as a license to remain in sin, ignorance and stagnation when we come to a knowledge of the truth and experience the revelation of the Lord; that He is more than religion and He has more than our human attempts to orchestrate religious activity can possibly offer. With all my heart I believe there is higher road! I am seeking to ride on it! I want to learn how to fit into God’s more excellent way. At the very least I know that I will never place something so insignificant as an institution of religion in between my relationship with God and with other believers.

Finally, I wish to convey that there appears to be a broader reference concerning “assembling” in the Hebrews 10 passage. It seems, judging by the context, that the “assembling” in discussion is not merely some endeavor to get together, but is a more serious and eternal matter. The whole lead up to verse 25 speaks about our coming to Christ and verse 26, immediately after the “assembling” passage, starts warning us not to apostatize from the Faith. It would seem to me that the more pertinent reference in this passage is to not forsake the assembling together in terms of apostatizing from the truth! Every reference in the passage speaks in terms that indicative of the entire body of Christ – not some small group here and there. In this letter I have emphasized assembly in the broadest spiritual sense but also referred to the small gathering. I am compelled, however, to presume that this passage in Hebrews has little to do with “meetings” together at all (though, understand, I am not suggesting that it condemns them either).  The one might compliment the other, but “meetings” in an of themselves is NOT what this passage has in mind and I believe that should be clear by this point.

The more we realize what the biblical definition of Church is (i.e. the “Assembly” of Christ), the harder it becomes to fit the modern concept of it into the text.  I know from one conversation I had with an institutional pastor several years ago, that there is a natural fear among many religious leaders in churches (including the man I spoke to) of these kinds of concepts, because they may tend to unravel the mummy that has been in existence for so long.  When you start embracing the liberty of the Spirit and return to the notion of Christ as Leader and Lord, then these other established pillars of religion begin to crack and give way.  While this sounds like a good thing to a free person, it can be a terrifying thought to the one who clings to the established religious order and depends upon its controls and perceived benefits.  But just as I used the analogy of unraveling a mummy, so do I believe that the more that people open their eyes to see the rotting carcass of religion that is wrapped inside, the less they will desire it and the more they will desire to see a true manifestation of the Lord’s Church the way He desires it!  Pastors, instead of trying to hold on to that which God has not desired, should instead be preaching and teaching that which He does desire!  Sadly, that’s not likely to occur so long as they believe this threatens their livelihood and positions of control and perceived authority.  Still, I am hopeful that there are some godly men and women out there who are willing to allow the Lord to open their eyes, soften their hearts, and change their course.  I hope and pray that many will begin to recognize what the Church is and to flee what it is not…  Not for the sake of merely leaving that old system behind, but for the sake of embracing everything God desires and to see His will and His kingdom established for the glory of God!!!

May God bless each of you as you continue to walk in the freedom He has given and the wonderful truth He has established!

Feeding on the Words of God

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” – Matt. 4:4.

WE READ that these words were a part of our Lord’s answer to Satan when the Adversary exhorted Him to command the stones to be turned into bread, in order to satisfy His hunger, after fasting forty days in the wilderness. The Lord knew, however, that it would be unlawful for Him thus to use the superhuman power which came to Him as a result of His consecration to the Father’s service. That power was not to be used for His flesh. Hence our Lord refused to use His superhuman powers for the gratification of the flesh, even though He hungered. Then Satan suggested, How do you expect to live if you do not exercise your power to live? Our Lord’s answer, as we see, was that man shall not live by bread, merely, but by every word, every promise that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

Our hope of eternal life, therefore, rests upon that obedience to God which would entitle us to eternal life, according to His arrangement. If our Lord had gratified the flesh He might have satisfied His hunger, but He would have violated His covenant of obedience to God. Whoever would have eternal life must seek to be obedient to God, to all that God has commanded, all to which He has directed the individual. Of course, He might have one command for the angels, another for man, and a third for the Church. But since we find that we are not able to obey perfectly every command of God, we cannot hope for eternal life by perfect obedience to the letter of the Word of God. Even though God has accepted us as His children, we can hope for life only by having the spirit of obedience to His Word.

One of the lessons to be learned in the School of Christ is that a “man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” – food and raiment, etc. – but that his life, in the fullest, highest, grandest sense, is dependent upon his complete submission to the Divine will. Careful attention to every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God, to every admonition, every encouragement, every promise, is necessary to the development of those whom God is now calling to eternal life as joint-heirs with His Son in the Kingdom. Let us, then, more and more, as the disciples of the Lord Jesus, keep in memory the words of the text, and act upon them.

LIVE BY EVERY WORD FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD

But how is it possible for us to live by the words that proceed out of the mouth of God? What did Jesus mean? How can God’s words give life?

He meant that all hope of attaining eternal life depends upon God – upon the Divine Plan and its promises. Looking into these promises we can see distinctly that the Divine Plan, dating from before the foundation of the world, is that all of God’s creatures, created in His likeness and abiding in faith, love and obedience in harmony with Him, shall have life everlasting. This is God’s Word upon the subject, namely, that obedience is the condition of life everlasting. This is, undoubtedly, what our Lord had in mind in the words of our text. He may also have had the thought that He had come into the world upon a special mission, to do the Father’s will, and that His understanding from the beginning was that His perfect obedience to the Divine will would insure Him glory, honor and immortality with the Father, eventually; but that any disobedience would mean the forfeiture of Divine favor and would involve the sentence of disobedience – death.

Our Lord’s prompt decision, therefore, was that to disobey the Father’s will and thus to secure bread for the sustenance of His body, would be a great mistake; that food thus secured could sustain life for but a little while; that His better plan would be to trust in the Word of God, the Divine promise, that those who love and serve and obey Him shall ultimately come off conquerors and more, and have eternal life with God. And this, our Master’s conclusion, is full of instruction for us who are His disciples, seeking to walk in His footsteps.

DISCIPLINE AN EVIDENCE OF SONSHIP

One “word of God” which is very comforting to His children is His assurance of Parental care and discipline. “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7.) In this statement the word “chastening” should not be understood as meaning disapproval on the part of our Father, and sin on the part of the individual, but rather instruction. We are guided in the matter by remembering that although our Lord was a Son in whom there was no sin, yet He received, in the Father’s providence, as a part of the “cup” poured for Him, various trials, disciplines. All of these experiences were very profitable, showing that the Father loved Him; that the Father had something which He was desirous that our Lord should do that He would not have been qualified to perform without some of these educational instructions and experiences.

Some disciplines, some chastisements, come as a result of our own mistakes and the natural consequences flowing from those mistakes and the apologies and heartaches which may necessarily follow them. God could save us from these experiences and so seclude and shelter our lives that we would not have anything to tempt us. But such is not His proposition. He wishes us to have these experiences that we may be guided in the right way and learn of our own weaknesses.

If we did not come into contact with various testing experiences we should not know where we are weak. Thus we learn where we can strengthen our characters and how we can be thoroughly developed as New Creatures. The Scriptures speak of our Lord Jesus as “enduring such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” (Heb. 12:3.) Our trials, or disciplines, in meeting every opposition that can come to us, should bring more or less of correction in righteousness. Even if this would not mean outward stripes, we, in any event, would have our mental regrets as New Creatures, and thus we would get a form of correction, or discipline. Additionally, the Lord causes His children to come into peculiar trials as an example either to the brethren or to the world. In many of these, whatever the cause, we may understand them to be also corrections or instructions in righteousness.

TRIAL – DISCIPLINE – NECESSARY TO
THE PERFECTING OF OUR CHARACTERS

Character cannot be developed wholly without trial. It is like a plant. At first it is very tender; it needs an abundance of the sunshine of God’s love, frequent watering with the showers of His grace, much cultivating with the applied knowledge of His character as a good foundation for faith and inspiration to obedience. Then, when thus far developed under these favorable conditions, it is ready for the pruning hand of discipline, and is also able to endure some hardness. Little by little, as strength of character is developed, the tests applied to it serve only to develop more strength, beauty and grace, until it is finally developed, perfected, fixed, established, through suffering.

This great work of developing and training character is necessarily a slow and tedious one, and not infrequently it is a painful process. But the Apostle plainly tells us that such things are necessary for the development of steadfast and enduring character. Consider how your own experience has verified this, you who have been for some time under the Lord’s special care and leading. How much richer you are for all the lessons of experience, and for the patience and other spirit-fruits that experiences have developed in you!

Although, like the Apostle, you can say that “No chastening for the present seemeth joyous, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward, it yieldeth the peaceable fruits of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.” (Heb. 12:11.) The lessons of experience and discipline have made you stronger. They have increased your faith and drawn you into closer communion and fellowship with the Lord. They have made you feel better acquainted with Him and enabled you to realize more and more His personal interest in you and His love and care for you. And this in turn has awakened a deeper sense of gratitude and an increasing zeal to manifest that gratitude to Him. This also deepens the sense of fellowship with God, and gives confidence to the hope of final and full acceptance with Him as a son and heir, made worthy through Christ.

OBEDIENCE THE TEST

Another helpful “word of God” is found in I John 2:5: “Whoso keepeth His Word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” Here we have a test by which to determine our development as a New Creature. Only those who have received the Word of God can keep it, can retain it and comply with its requirements. The text suggests that it is a difficult matter to keep the Word of God. On all sides we hear various reasons why we should retain, hold fast the world, the flesh, rather than that which the Lord’s Word holds out to us. There are many allurements to entice us from the “narrow way.” Hence these who hold fast to the Word of God are “overcomers.”

The Scriptures intimate that to live righteously and godly in this present time will cost us our very lives. “Whosoever will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (2 Tim. 3:12.) Under present conditions faithfulness means faithfulness even unto death. The intimation is that unless we have the love of God we will not undertake to be obedient to His Word; that otherwise we can neither retain the Word of God nor be in accord with it, serving it even unto death.

Our Lord Jesus illustrated the perfection of obedience to the Word of God when He said, “I come to do Thy will, O God!” Everything written in the Book; everything that was God’s will, He was glad to do at any cost. Our Lord Jesus could not have reached this degree of submission to the Divine will unless He had had love for the Father. And so with us. Unless we have love for God and the principles of righteousness we cannot continue in this way.

Consequently, only those who so love God that they would surrender life to do His will, are properly keeping His Word. We may say that this condition is reached when we first make consecration, for the heart has given up its will and surrendered itself fully to the Lord – “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” All those who are complying with the conditions of self-sacrifice have reached the mark of perfect love. Of course, there is another sense of perfecting which we shall attain in the resurrection. But only those who will keep God’s Word by faithfulness even unto death will secure the prize and become partakers of the divine nature.

The test is OBEDIENCE. In proportion as we keep the Lord’s Word, in like proportion the love of God is perfected in us; for if we have received the mind of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the effect will be to cause us both to will and to do His good pleasure to the extent of our ability. And this ability should be continually on the increase year by year. Although we may not hope to be perfected until we shall be “changed” and be granted our new resurrection bodies, nevertheless, we may keep so closely in touch with the Lord in the spirit of our minds that we may have continual fellowship with Him; and by confessing our faults daily and seeking his forgiveness we may continue to the end of our journey clean from sin, even though we must still acknowledge the infirmities of the flesh, that in our flesh dwelleth no perfection.

THE WORK OF RESURRECTION

A further word from the mouth of God assures us that He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust – weak, imperfect, dying; and that it is not His purpose that we shall continue always to be in conflict with ourselves – perfect will against imperfect body; but that He has provided that, in the resurrection, we shall have new, perfect bodies, in full accord with our new minds.

He assures us that He is able and willing to do all this and that He purposes to give to His elect, bodies of a much higher order than the human – that He will give us spirit bodies – and that of the highest rank. We shall have part in the First Resurrection, and will thenceforth be able to do the Father’s will perfectly in every respect, as we now show ourselves desirous of doing His will so far as we are able. O gracious provisions! O wonderful words of compassion, inspiring us to wondrous hopes of eternal life and glory! It will be to such as thus overcome in spirit, in faith (I John 5:4), that the Lord will give the final Word of His mouth – “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord!”

 

The Oneness of the Divine Family

“I pray for them…which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.” – Jno. 17:9,10.
THERE is a touching pathos in this prayer of our Lord for his disciples as he was about to leave them, which draws us very near to his loving heart; especially when he adds, “Neither pray I for these alone [then present with him], but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one, even as we are one – I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them as thou hast loved me.” – Verses 20-23.

As we come to consider this beautiful expression of the Lord’s sentiments with reference to the Church, we catch a glimpse of the glory of the blessed oneness of the divine family. It is a oneness of purpose, a oneness of confidence, a oneness of sympathy, a oneness of love a oneness of honor, and a oneness of mutual possession. This oneness our Lord described as already existing between himself and the Father, but so far as his disciples are concerned it was and still is only prospective; and its full accomplishment is the ideal goal toward which we are taught to aspire.

But let us study this exemplified oneness more closely that we may be enabled the more fully to enter into it. In the first place we notice that the one purpose which is common to both the Father and the Son is the Father’s purpose, which was gradually revealed to the Son in due time and order, whose it also became by adoption. Since Jesus himself said, “Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father” only (Mark 13:32), it is manifest that the revelation of that plan to him was a gradual one; and that he was led into the knowledge of its various features as they became due to be worked out through his instrumentality. Thus he was allowed to grow in knowledge; and thus, too, he was spared the sad spectacle of subsequent trouble which also lay along the pathway of the divine plan. Thus, while he joyfully worked out the grand plan of creation (John 1:3; Prov. 8:22-31), he probably knew nothing of God’s purpose for the subsequent permission of evil and the necessity for the great work of redemption. Before he came to that test of faith in God his confidence in his almighty power, wisdom and love had been firmly established by the experiences of the past. For centuries he had seen his mighty works, marked his wondrous wisdom and experienced his tender love. Could he doubt him, then, when another feature of his plan made manifest the great work of redemption and restitution, and gave to him the privilege of undertaking this work also, for the joy that the Father set before him? No; doubtless he did not at first realize the depths of humiliation and sorrow through which he must pass; but, step by step, along the painful way of humiliation and suffering, his faith in the Father, founded upon his previous experimental knowledge, sustained him, as it is written – “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” – Isa. 53:11.

We next notice between the Father and the Son a beautiful oneness of confidence. The Son trusted the Father fully – at first, because it was easy and natural. Created in the likeness of God, trust in the Being who brought him into existence was spontaneous, and experience served but to develop and establish it. And the Father trusted the Son fully – first, because he recognized in him the inherent principles of righteousness and truth and filial loyalty which he himself had given him; and, as the course of time and experience developed and the more firmly established his Son in righteousness, his confidence in him became firmly established. And so strong was the Father’s confidence in the subsequent fidelity of his beloved Son, that he did not hesitate to declare the results of his faithfulness thousands of years before he even began the work of redemption. He even declared all the special features of the work, by the mouth of his holy prophets at various intervals for four thousand years before he began the work. And still he declares that the work shall in due time be gloriously accomplished. How wonderful and how beautiful is this mutual confidence!

We further notice a oneness of sympathy between the Father and the Son. The Son glories in the Father’s plan, saying, “I delight to do thy will, O my God.” He delighted in it because he discovered therein the worthy features of his Father’s glorious character; and though his faith may have been temporarily tested by the permission of evil, his knowledge of God’s character and resources, and of the depth of his wisdom did not permit him to doubt, but held him still in loving trust in his infinite goodness and grace, and, therefore, in readiness to acquiesce fully in the measures proposed for the final triumph of righteousness and truth.

And the Father was likewise in loving sympathy with the Son, not permitting him to be tried above what he was able to bear; and not leaving him to bear any trial alone, but always granting him the light of his countenance and a joyful sense of admiring approval (John 11:42; Matt. 3:17), except when, for our sakes, he permitted him for a moment to feel that he was forsaken; when, in the anguish of his soul, he cried out at this unusual experience, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

Now, mark the oneness of love manifested. In every act we have already noted we have seen it expressed. It was mutual love that delighted to manifest and express mutual confidence, that gloried in the same loving and benevolent purposes, that sympathized fully with each other’s thoughts and feelings, and that delighted in the close and blessed relationship of Father and Son. The Father did not treat the Son as a servant and hide his purposes from him; but delighted to take him into his confidence in so far as his wisdom and prudence dictated – i.e., as the truth became meat in due season to him. And, in turn, the Son did not serve the Father as a hireling, but as a son with a common interest. The Father declared, “This is my beloved Son;” and the Son said, “I delight to do thy will.”

How blessed the fellowship! It was a fellowship of joy and a fellowship of suffering – of joy in a common anticipation of the future glory; and of suffering in mutual participation of the preliminary trials to secure that end. The Son suffered in his humiliation and his dying agony; and the Father suffered in giving his only begotten Son – an intensity of suffering which the loving, yearning hearts of devoted parents can best imagine and appreciate.

There was further a recognized oneness of possessions clearly expressed by our Lord, who declared, “All things that the Father hath are mine.” (John 16:15.) And the Apostle says, God hath appointed the Son the “heir of all things,” and hath “set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” – Heb. 1:1,2; Eph. 1:20,21.

And, lastly, we notice a oneness of honor. In honor each seems to prefer the other. The Father says: Let all men honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. (John 5:23.) God has made him the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and exalted him to his own right hand, to the chief seat of power in his kingdom, giving him all power in heaven and in earth. – Heb. 1:2,3; Matt. 28:18.

In the work of creation he has set him forth in great prominence and glory, saying, “Without him was not anything made that was made.” In the work of redemption and restitution God has set him forth so prominently that his name is the theme on every tongue, almost to the eclipse of the Father’s own glory, who of necessity is himself greater than the Son (1 Cor. 15:27), and to whom the glory pre-eminently belongs, as the Son also declares, saying, “My Father is greater than I;” and again, “I can of mine own self do nothing;” “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” – John 5:30; 14:10,28.

The Son’s corresponding anxiety to glorify the Father is most marked in the instance when, realizing that he was approaching the dreadful hour of his dying agony he exclaimed, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name” – even at this cost to me. (John 12:27,28.) Again we hear him say, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee.” (John 17:1.) And when the great work of redemption and restitution is accomplished, we see him delivering up the Kingdom to God, the Father, and subjecting himself to his further direction, that Jehovah himself may be universally recognized as all in all. (1 Cor. 15:24,28.) And we, like him, may surely trust that his purposes for the ages to follow will but the further express and emphasize the same lines of his glorious character – his justice, his wisdom, his love and his power.

Glorious oneness! who could suggest an improvement to its wondrous beauty and completeness? But the wonder and joy increase when we learn that it is also our privilege to come into this same blessed oneness with God. What! we inquire – the very same oneness as above described? Yes; undoubtedly it is our privilege to enter into the very same relationship and privileges and blessings. To this end consider the exceeding great and precious promises and see that it is ours to have the same oneness with God – of purpose, of confidence, of sympathy, of love, of honor and of possession.

The same plan of God is presented to and adopted by us, and we also are invited to become coworkers with God in carrying it out (2 Cor. 6:1); and in so doing we are counted in with Christ Jesus as filling up the measure of the sufferings of the anointed body necessary to the accomplishment of that plan. Our heavenly Father also similarly manifests his confidence in us – in the loyalty of our hearts toward him and in the sincerity of our consecration to him – even though he recognizes our inherent weaknesses and our inability to carry out fully our own determinations. But, notwithstanding this, so great is his confidence in our sincerity and integrity of heart, that, on our profession of faith and consecration, he fully accepts us as his sons and heirs, supplementing our weaknesses and shortcomings with the all-sufficient merit of our Redeemer, in whom we humbly trust. And not only so, but as sons, honored and beloved, he makes known to us, also, his secret counsels, which others cannot know (Matt. 13:11), and invites us to confide in him as children, and to speak to him freely of all that concerns us, in full assurance of his loving interest, even in our smallest affairs. (Psa. 103:13,14.) And then he commits a portion of his great work to us. He gives us certain talents, certain portions of his goods, and tells us to invest them for him according to our best judgment as to the profitableness of the results, not dictating all the minutiae of the management as to hireling servants, but merely submitting to us the general principles which should govern us. Thus, for instance, he gives us his plan as to the work in hand, with such general directions as, not to cast our pearls before swine; to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves; to give meat in due season; to do good to all men as we have opportunity, but especially to the household of faith; and to observe the times and seasons, and the character of the work in each – seed-sowing in the spring, and reaping in the harvest time; etc., etc. Thus with general directions he sends us forth – not like machines, to do a monotonous treadmill service, but as intelligent beings, to use our brains as well as our hands and feet. So he counsels us to “study” to show ourselves workmen approved, and to consider and think, and not to be “as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” (Psa. 32:9.) Then, according to our zeal and faithfulness, not only in the use of our hands, but also of our brains, in the Lord’s service, his confidence in us increases and we are entrusted with more and more of his goods and given a corresponding sense of our heavenly Father’s approval. And the mutual confidence and fellowship of purpose and work, draw our hearts closer and closer to the heart of the Eternal, and the joyful realization of sonship and mutual interest and confidence and sympathy fills our hearts.

We are also assured of the same love from our heavenly Father which he exercises toward our Lord Jesus. The statement seems almost startling; but yet, hearken to our Lord’s prayer – “I pray for them …that they may be one…that they may be made perfect in one…that the world may know that thou hast…loved them as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:20-23.) In amazement we inquire, How can this be? Our Lord Jesus was always in perfect harmony with the Father; a son who gloriously reflected his likeness; but it has not been so with us: we were sinners and had nothing in us worthy of love. Yes, but we have been washed and cleansed, and, however imperfect our earthen vessels may still be, our hearts are perfect in his sight who is able to read the heart. And, as he sees us with a perfect heart – a perfect purpose and intention – striving to overcome the weaknesses and disabilities of our imperfect flesh, and with painful, yet determined, effort to do his will, and humbly trusting in the provisions which he has made for our redemption from the fall, God recognizes in us that which is worthy of his love. And so our Lord Jesus gives us clearly to understand that the Father loves us, even as he loved the Son.

And not only is this equality of the Father’s love for us as for Christ Jesus thus declared, but it is also manifested; for we are called to be joint-heirs with his Son, and partakers of his glory; and even as all things are his, they are also said to be ours. – Rom. 8:17; 1 Cor. 3:21-23.

While such is the oneness between the heavenly Father and all his anointed sons, it is blessed also to mark the same oneness between Christ Jesus and his anointed brethren. The Lord Jesus does not selfishly grasp all the glory and seek to retain it for himself, but the rather with admiration he contemplates their acquired worthiness and says, They “are mine and I am glorified in them” (John 17:10); and he would have them all bound up together with himself in the Father’s love. He would also have them with him, beholding and sharing the glory which the Father had given him from the foundation of the world – the glory of his mighty creative works, with all the other evidences of his Father’s love. – John 17:22-24.

Thus all the divine family are bound together in one bond of love and fellowship and confidence and sympathy and harmony and common interest; and the honor and glory of one are the honor and glory of all. The Lord’s prayer abounds with petitions for this oneness. Mark the expression (verse 21) – “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee” [thy spirit or disposition and purposes and aim being common to us all]. Hence, he would have us adopt the same Father’s spirit, aim and purpose, and devote all our powers with zeal and faithfulness to the accomplishment of the Father’s will. Amen, so let it be.

 

“The Glory to Follow”

The Future Inheritance of the New Creation
“If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ, if so be that we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together.” – Romans 8:17.

THE DIVINE PROMISE is that the Kingdom of God will be amongst men – “under the whole heavens.” The Scriptures state that both our Lord and the New Jerusalem, or glorious Kingdom of Messiah, are to come down from heaven to earth; and they call our Lord, therefore, Immanuel (God with us). During that thousand years God will in this sense dwell with men, walk with men. We already have this to some extent in our experience as Christians. God is with men, and Christ and the Church are with men, more or less contradicting and putting to shame the things of darkness of the present time.

But with all these suggestions it is not necessary for us to suppose that the Kingdom will be earthly. On the contrary, the assurance of the Scriptures is that the Church must become spirit beings before they can inherit the Kingdom: “We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” while those of this class who have been previously dead will have an instantaneous resurrection; and thus we shall be “forever with the Lord” – not forever with the Lord on the earth, but always in the spirit condition. The angels are always in the heavenly condition, whether they are in heaven with the Father or on earth, and we shall always be in the heavenly condition – the spirit condition.

Nothing in the Scriptures indicates that there will be a restriction upon the Church, that she should remain in one place more than another. The intimation seems to be that, after she shall have experienced her change, the Church will be for a short time absent from the earth and in the presence of the Heavenly Father. We read in the forty-fifth Psalm that the Bride is to be brought into the presence of the Great King, arrayed in glorious clothing of wrought gold – “in raiment of needlework.” The members of the Body of Christ will all be on the spirit plane, whether they are afar off or near the earth. This is what our Lord meant when He said, “I go to prepare a place for you” – in the Divine family. This particular place is one that has never been filled by any others.

The various orders of spirit beings created by the Father occupy each its own sphere. But there is no Church of Christ amongst these. The Church of Christ is invited to occupy a place next to the Lord, next to the Father, higher than all the other planes of spirit beings. At the first advent this place had not been prepared for the Church, although the Lord had it in mind. Our Lord ascended up on high to prepare this place. He did so by making an application of His merit to the Church class, by imputing His merit to them and permitting them to become participators with Him in His sufferings in the present time, that they might also become sharers with Him in the divine nature. Thus He prepared the way to enter into that highest of all spirit planes, the divine.

We are not sufficiently informed respecting the spirit condition to know just how it would be possible for the Lord and the Church to remain in the Father’s presence and maintain the government of the earth. Perhaps this course is possible. Yet again, such would perhaps not be a wise arrangement. Perhaps it would be necessary for them to be absent from the immediate presence of the heavenly Father and to approximate the earth, just as with Satan and his angels, who are in tartarus – cast down, separate because of sin. But Satan is to be bound for a thousand years; and the position which he has occupied is to be vacated. The entire Church is to be “caught up in the air” to be with the Lord forever – not necessarily in tartarus, but “forever with the Lord,” that where He may be there they may be also, in harmony with the Divine will, to execute the Divine purposes.

Our thought, then, is that The Christ will be very closely associated with our earth, just as Satan’s kingdom has been; and that they will be equally invisible to men, who will not see them during the thousand years, just as men have not seen Satan and his fallen angels. But as Satan and his angels have been doing an evil work, so Christ and His Church will be doing a powerful work, a good work, a work on the spirit plane; and associated with them will be various agencies, one of which undoubtedly will be the “great company.” The members of Christ are the ones that are mentioned as “kings and priests unto God,” who shall reign on the earth.

THE EARTHLY PHASE – INTELLIGENT, WILLING MEN

Then there will be earthly agents of this Kingdom, just as Satan has his agents, who are sometimes under his control through ignorance and superstition, sometimes from mesmeric power, all of which will be removed at that time. But the agents of Christ will be intelligent and willing. At that time the Ancient Worthies will be “Princes in all the earth.” All mankind will gradually come into fellowship with the Kingdom and, proportionately, indirectly, become associated with the Kingdom itself. Just as any good man helps a government, so all mankind will be blessed in proportion as they approve and uphold the Divine arrangements.

Thus the Kingdom will be spreading for the thousand years, not only from one individual to another, but gradually bringing them back to full perfection. We read that “of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end.” It will conquer everything before it. Nothing shall stop it. Every evil thing having been destroyed, every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth will be heard praising God. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess; and His Kingdom will be without an opponent “from the river unto the ends of the earth” – having accomplished its purpose.

The Kingdom will then cease, in the sense that Christ will deliver the authority over to the Father. (I Cor. 15:24-28.) This does not mean that the Law of God will be disregarded, as it has been during the reign of sin and death. To meet the exigencies of the fallen condition of mankind, and to bring back as many as possible into harmony with the Divine arrangements, a special Kingdom will be established – the Messianic Kingdom – which will come in between the Divine government and mankind, because mankind in its weak condition will be unable to meet the requirements of the Divine Law. But when this Kingdom has restored mankind to perfection, it is the Divine purpose for Messiah to relinquish this subordinate Kingdom, which will merge into and become a part of the great Kingdom of Jehovah. Justice will then operate. There will be no place for mercy, and the Heavenly Father is not then represented as being a merciful King to His creatures. The Heavenly Father will then have made them perfect, so as to need no mercy, and they will be glad to meet all the requirements of the Divine Government, and will be blessed in so doing.

THE CHRIST TO BE ASSOCIATE RULER OF THE UNIVERSE

Having terminated this work our Lord will not be without an occupation; but, according to the Scriptures, He will continue to be at the right hand of the Majesty on High – next to the Father. He will relinquish the oversight of the affairs of earth, and will assume again the general position as Associate-Administrator of the affairs of the Universe in connection with the Heavenly Father. We are not to suppose, however, that the Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus will be kept busy hearing and deciding cases and administering Justice, for the equilibrium will be such that there will be no necessity for such a course. The whole Universe will go on practically without any head; and yet there will be the Head. The Son will be next to the Father in authority; and next to the Son will be the Bride. The work that will thenceforth progress is not revealed to us except in a very indefinite manner.

We understand by the power of telescopes that the suns have each a planetary system. If God made this earth a planet to be inhabited, it is only reasonable for us to infer that all the planets of the Universe will be inhabited, and that The Christ will behold the Heavenly Father and His wonderful Universe. The Power of the Heavenly Father is boundless, so far as we can understand. If after we have considered the hundred millions and more of suns and planetary systems beyond the power of human mind to contemplate – if then we realize that the Heavenly Father has made the position of Christ illimitable, and He has exalted the Bride of Christ with her Lord, then it is reasonable to assume that the work of Christ and the Church will be limitless, and that some blessed work for creatures not yet born is the work of all eternity. We simply wonder in amazement! We wonder at the greatness of His goodness to us, which is to lift us – the faithful few who make their calling and election sure – from our low condition to future glories interminable!

 

Our Lord’s Glory Shared With Church

Our Lord declares, “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.” This seems to carry with it the thought, elsewhere suggested in this prayer, that our Lord had by this time come to a full realization of the Father’s plan, namely, that his disciples were to be developed for the purpose of becoming his joint-heirs in the Kingdom, sharers in his glory. At first thought such a sharing of the great glory of the Kingdom might appear to be a lessening of the great glory of Jesus, just as the appointment of the seventy elders of Israel to be associates with Moses in judging Israel seemed at first to be a contraction or diminution of the dignity or authority of Moses.

But as Moses in the type was very meek, and gladly welcomed all the elders to joint-service, saying, [R3553 : page 138] “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29), so the Lord Jesus, so far from feeling that the gathering out of the Church to be his joint-heirs in the Kingdom would diminish his glory, joined heartily in the divine plan, and declares here that he set himself apart, he separated himself from that feature of the glory and dignity of the Father’s reward that his followers might have a share in it, that they might become his joint-heirs, being set apart and brought to this honor through the Truth, through the great and precious promises bestowed upon them. This same thought seems to be presented in the words (vs. 22,23) – “The glory which thou gavest me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one: I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

The love of God pervades our hearts so that selfishness has no room there, and thus it was that our dear Redeemer, instead of feeling jealous that any others [R3553 : page 139] should be exalted to the divine nature, participators in the Kingdom, in this prayer to the Father declares his full acquiescence in the plan, his hearty cooperation, his joy to have it so. What a thought this gives to us as the prospective Bride, already espoused to the heavenly Bridegroom. He is pleased to exalt us from our lowly estate to be one with himself in his Kingdom, in his throne, in his Father’s love.

Wonder of wonders! Where will the divine compassion cease! While we were yet sinners, under divine condemnation of death, we were loved and redeemed at a great price; and now, having been redeemed, we hear the voice celestial saying, “Come up higher,” yea, even to the throne, to joint-heirship with the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. Could we keep ever before our minds this grand display of love and unselfishness how thoroughly it would scatter from the minds of all who are seeking to be copies of God’s dear Son every thought of rivalry one with another. How it would cause us to rejoice in the growing usefulness and advancement in the Lord’s service of every member of the body. How we should more and more feel what the Scriptures describe as “in honor preferring one another,” and which rejoices in the prosperity of a brother, in his growing usefulness in the Church, in the growing evidences of his favor with God and man. Those who can thus rejoice in the prosperity of the fellow-members of the body have another evidence of their growth in the likeness of our great and glorious Head. Those who are without this sentiment should strive for it and be very discontented until it is attained.

Our Lord’s prayer, “That they all may be one,” has been fulfilled throughout the age. All who have been truly his have had a oneness of heart, a oneness of purpose, a oneness of spirit, with the Father and with the Son – a fellowship divine which cannot be produced by earthly creeds and fetters. So it is to-day, and so it is always between those who are truly the Lord’s. They know each other not by outward passwords or grips or signs, but by the touch of faith and love which it gives and which each recognizes. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, in that ye have love one for another.” “We know we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren.” True, we love all men and seek to serve all as we have opportunity, but, as the Apostle explains, “especially the household of faith,” especially those who love the Lord and are trusting in the precious blood, and are fully consecrated to him and, so far as they are able, doing his will and seeking to further know that will day by day.

WITH CHRIST, SHARING HIS GLORY

Our Lord’s words (v. 24), “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me go with me where I am, that they may behold my glory which thou hast given me.” This is not a petition, but a declaration of the Lord’s will, as though he were saying, Father, I understand that this is thy will in respect to these my followers, and I will it also, acquiescing in this great and liberal arrangement which thou hast made. I will be glad to have my followers ultimately on the same plane of glory with me, and that they may there be blessed by seeing and sharing the glories thou hast conferred upon me whom thou hast loved always even before the foundations of the world – even before the arrangements were made for these my disciples.

The closing words of the prayer are beautiful and give us an insight into the Lord’s confidence in the Father and fellowship with him. He knew the Father, and so he has declared respecting us that this is the highest evidence that could be granted us of our acceptance with the Father and of our participation in the life eternal which he has provided, namely, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” Our Lord declares, “O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.” And I have made known unto them thy name, thy character, thy greatness, thy goodness, thy love, thy benefactions, and will make known still further as they are able to bear it, as they grow in knowledge of the Truth, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them and I in them.

How wonderful is this love of God and love of Christ! How impossible it seems for us to measure its lengths and breadths and heights and depths! Those who have accepted the Lord as their Redeemer and have entered into covenant relationship with him, giving him their little all and accepting from him a participation in all these blessings of his provision, if ever cast down because of weakness or opposition or what not, should call to mind this great love which the Father has for us and which the Son shares, the love which not only redeemed us while we were yet sinners, but which since then has called us to such wonderful blessings and privileges, making us joint-heirs with Christ our Lord, if so be we suffer with him; – this love will not be lightly turned away, this love would chasten us rather than permit us to fall away into the second death; this love will [R3553 : page 140] finally deliver, either in the little flock or in the great company, all who continue to trust in Jesus and continue to hold the faithful Word. But in proportion as this love of God dwells in us richly, in proportion as Christ is enthroned in our hearts, in that same proportion we will have a responsive love which will delight to do those things which are pleasing in our Father’s sight and acceptable to our Lord, and in the same proportion we will be loth to do anything which would bring a cloud between the Lord and our souls. Let us, then, have fresh courage because of what we discern of the lengths and breadths and heights and depths of love divine, and let this love of God constrain us to greater zeal and devotion to him and to his cause.

 

Is Meeting in Homes Biblical?

Mega-Churches-in-the-U.SThere are numerous examples in the Bible where we see Christian meeting in homes, but yet there is not one single example in the Bible where we see Christians meeting in any kind of building that was specially built for any church related reason, let alone for their comfort and convenience. There is also not a single example anywhere in the Bible of Christians renting or building even modest buildings for church meetings, let alone huge palatial facilities, ornate cathedrals or sprawling multi-building “campuses”.

Regardless of all the clever justifications and excuses for church buildings that we constantly hear from pulpits across the land, these structures are not only unnecessary; they are unbiblical, wasteful and highly problematic. Yet astonishingly, it seems the average pastor’s number one priority is to pressure church members into raising funds for building related initiatives.

Not only is it Biblical (yes Biblical!) to meet in homes, it is actually unbiblical to burden any congregation with the initial and on-going expenses of a purpose-built church building, be it a rental, lease, mortgage or out-right purchase. Such is not only exploitation and abuse, but is also not according to the clear church traditions found in the Bible. This extremely popular and widespread practice is a direct violation of the simple no cost traditions that we have been given, wonderfully uncomplicated traditions that are not open to tampering and revision.

Yet astonishingly, all this considered, today’s widespread practice of renting or building buildings for church meetings is not only assumed to be a true Bible-based tradition of the church, it is taught as if it is pure biblical truth. This practice is packaged as if it were a biblical doctrine that is to be upheld as virtually the most important tradition of Christianity, even more important than genuine Christ-ordained traditions of worship, prayer, Bible study and simple fellowship. Not only is the false tradition of building church buildings totally incorrect, it is an outright lie. No such doctrine exists in the Bible.

Additionally, we do not see church buildings coming on the scene until around 300 AD when Constantine started this whole building mess. This was centuries after the Christian Church began. But I do not want to make history the subject here. Many authors have written excellent materials on this informative topic. My focus is the biblical view.

What The Bible Says…

House-to-House Not Facility-to-Facility

That being said, let’s begin by taking a look at the many Scriptures that refer to churches meeting in homes:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2 KJV  [Notice they happened to be sitting in a house, not in pews in a theater-like lecture hall.]

And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple [a preexisting Jewish structure not a purpose built church building], and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart… Acts 2:46

And daily in the temple [a preexisting Jewish structure not a purpose built church building], and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:42

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Acts 8:3 [This is likely referring to both an assault upon actual house churches and an assault upon other church members in other houses where church meetings may not have been held.]

20. And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly [meaning openly to the public socially – this does not mean in a public building], and from house to house, 21. Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:20-21

3. Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: 4. Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. Rom 16:3-5

The churches of Asia salute you. Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 1 Cor 16:9

Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymphas, and the church which is in his house. Col 4:15

And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in your house: Philemon 1:2

These last four passages are greetings to house churches; twice to one church in particular and yet we do not see one single greeting anywhere in the Bible that was sent to churches that met in specially built church buildings. Why? There were no such buildings.

More of What The Bible Says…

The Church is a People Not a Building 

The Bible irrefutably establishes that the church is a people not an architectural structure or series of brick and mortar buildings. In the Greek we see that the word “church” (ecclesia / ekklesia) means a called out people. When we read this word in context, we see that it more specifically means a called out people of God, and even more specifically a people of Christ. Accordingly, the church is not to be thought of or referred to as a facility or even as a meeting place.

The early church as recorded in the Bible didn’t care about erecting buildings. That was not their mission. Making disciples was their mission. And so the church was once accurately known exactly as the Bible describes, as a people of Christ.  However, centuries of manmade traditions have obviously altered how most people view the church.

Sadly today it seems that the average person, believer and unbeliever alike, thinks of a church as a meeting place rather than a people of Christ. This degradation in thinking marks a massive departure from the traditions that were handed down to us from the Apostles.

We Must Not Alter the Traditions Given

Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught whether by word, or our epistle. 2Thess 2:15

The Bible commands that we are to hold fast to the traditions that were handed down to us. This means that we are not to alter or add to those traditions. We know that an original Apostle is speaking here and referring to himself and other original Apostles when he says “whether by word, or our epistle.”

Altering biblical church traditions also alters underlying doctrine and therefore actually changes what the Bible teaches. So messing with these traditions is very dangerous stuff.

We Are God’s Temples

You would think with so much emphasis among Christians across the world on the building of church buildings, that certainly the Bible must teach this course of action somewhere. But not only does the Bible not teach this, the Bible teaches the exact opposite:

18 For through Him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together grows unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom you also are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit. Eph2:18-22

Could it be any clearer that we (Christians) are God’s building, that we are His habitation and His temple? If this were not enough proof, we see this same teaching in a number of different forms in several different places in the Bible. Here are some examples:

We find that the Spirit of the Lord no longer dwells in temples made by the hands of man (see Acts 7:48, Acts 17:24), and that we (Christians) are the temples of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:19). We see that the Spirit of God Dwells in us (Rom 8:11). The Bible further states that we are God’s building and also that Christ is the foundation of that building. (See 1Cor 3:9-11). [Note: the word “building” here in the Greek means an architectural structure! So Christians themselves are God’s architectural structure, not bricks and stone. This means no purpose-built church buildings are necessary. No sanctuary needs to be created. We are God’s sanctuary!]

9 For we are laborers [co-workers or fellow workers] together with God: you are God’s husbandry [land that is cultivatable], you are God’s building [architectural structure]. 10 According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds thereon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. 11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Cor 3: 9-11

So not only are we God’s building we are also his LAND for building upon! This verse alone puts to death the popular practice today of acquiring land and building church buildings.

In verse 10b we read, “…But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon.” So we are to take heed how we build upon the real buildings, which are God’s people. This shows we need to be very careful that we live, act, and serve others properly, which of course is a direct result of being careful that what we believe and teach is biblically accurate. But sadly most Christians act just like the world in so many ways (and astonishingly even more so than the world in some respects), and so exactly like earthly businessmen and entrepreneurs, Christians are incredibly preoccupied with building, maintaining and expanding commercial buildings, things that have nothing whatsoever to do with Biblical Christianity, with being a Christian and living a normal Christian life.

Earlier in this same verse we see that the Apostle Paul said that he laid (taught / revealed) the foundation, which is Christ and another built upon that. Nowhere do hear anything of Paul raising money to lay the foundation of a new church facility or others building upon that.

Let’s look at the rest of this chapter (1Cor 3:12-23):

12 Now if any man build upon this foundation [with] gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble [straw]; 13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abides which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 16 Know you not that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man defiles the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. 18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He takes the wise in their own craftiness. 20 And again, The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. 21 Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours; 22 Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; 23And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. 1Cor 3:12-23

There are countless Christians that are not only building on the wrong foundation; they are doing so with wood, hay and stubble, which will one day be burned up and exposed as worthless. Although these Christians are saved (all Christians are saved otherwise they would not be Christians), they will suffer loss of rewards in heaven for spending their lives building and supporting the kingdom of man rather than the kingdom of God. We see it is the wisdom of the world, which is foolishness that they are following and propagating. Not only do they do this, they glory in the men who are behind this error.

What we see from this and other passages is that the bottom-line overall is God is clearly not interested in bricks and mortar. He is interested in living stones.

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1Pet 2:5 (NASB)

Man however has an inordinate preoccupation with concrete and glass.

But Isn’t a House Still a Building?  

A common and somewhat clever argument against churches meeting in homes goes something like this: “But isn’t a house still a building built by the hands of man?” Yes it is, but we are not claiming that it is a special sanctuary or that God’s Spirit dwells within those walls. Not to mention, houses already exist. Everyone lives somewhere and there are no added costs to also meet at that same place as the church. And by common sense we know that someone’s “house” is wherever that they happen to live and consider to be their home. Obviously this could also be an apartment, condominium, town home, mobile home, etc. All these are acceptable meeting places.

What About Meeting in an Office or Warehouse?  

Once Christians start meeting as the church in a place where someone doesn’t also live, it seems that this is the exact point where problems quickly begin and rapidly compound. Anything less than a home (such as meeting at an office building, warehouse, business, etc.) is moving in a colder, more institutional and less intimate direction even if those spaces are believer-controlled and obtainable for free. This is partly because meeting in these kinds of “professional” spaces lacks the hospitality and intimacy of a home and this disconnection from close fellowship somehow almost always leads to a strange overall desire to rent or build a special facility and travel even farther down the wrong road to an even colder more institutional setting.

Of course it must be said that Christians who meet in a home yet lack understanding and self control still often have an inordinate desire to incorrectly use that home as a stepping stone to one day rent or build a building. This happens all the time. Regardless, the Bible commands us to make straight paths for our feet and to give no place to the devil. This means that we should not tempt ourselves. More on why professional spaces are not a good idea in an upcoming article.

But Didn’t the Early Church Also Meet in a Temple Building?

Yes they did and the larger size of the temple could accommodate multiple house churches meeting together to hear the original Apostles speak (more publicly) in a building that already existed. Multiple churches were able to make use of a Jewish facility that was apparently available to them without any charge or cost. However, as we saw from the list of Scriptures earlier in this article, individual churches were identified and associated with houses of specific people, not with the temple.

Some argue that since temples are not freely available today that we need to build Christian versions of them. This is not true. Time and again, the pattern that we see in the Bible is home assembly. Never once do we see any meetings conducted in specially built church buildings. So the lack of “temples” today is not a license to build them.

We should also keep in mind that the Apostles were special messengers who God was writing the New Testament through and who lived in a different time in history. The Bible is now complete and there are no such “capital A” Apostles today. The Apostles were also Jewish men who had access to the existing temple building.

Also, the church was brand new and was being formed at a rapid pace and so they conducted daily meetings in both the temples and homes. Not that daily home meetings wouldn’t be a good idea today, but daily meetings generally do not presently occur except maybe in some 3rd world countries and possibly some home assemblies. Nevertheless, we must ask: do even today’s modern Evangelical churches meet daily in their popular special church buildings that they commonly build? Almost never. These buildings typically remain vacant most of the week.

The following are where the temple building and houses are mentioned together:

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… Acts 2:46

Further trying to justify their desire for a building, some may claim that this verse proves that church meetings were conducted in the temples and only eating, communion or the breaking bread in general was done house to house. This is not true as the following verse shows:

And daily in the temple, and in every house, they [the Apostles] ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ. Acts 5:42

Obviously there was much more going on in these houses than just eating.

Some Brief Closing Thoughts  

Regardless of all the empty rhetoric and constant urgent appeals for money that we endlessly hear “ad nauseam ad infinitum” from ambitious churchmen everywhere, church buildings are simply not necessary. In fact, they are actually huge unbiblical distractions and major time wasting and money wasting endeavors that open up a Pandora’s box of other problems.

Jehovah’s Organization

conventionThe organization of the church is clearly set forth in the Bible. Jesus is its Head, and it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the “chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20) In Ephesians 4:11 Paul informs us that the Lord has also supplied evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These have been valuable helpers, but none of them has been inspired in the sense of never making a mistake in expounding the Word of God.

These lesser servants in the church, given the general title of “elders,” are appointed by the local congregations of the Lord’s people. According to the Bible, these appointments are made by a vote of the congregation and not by a centralized authority, as in Papacy. In Acts 14:23, the word “ordained” is used in this connection, and it is translated from a Greek word which, according to Professor Young, means “to appoint by vote.”

In this end of the age, as in times past, a departure from this method of appointing local servants has led to unscriptural dictatorship among the people of God.

In the messages to the “seven churches,” recorded in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Revelation (Revelation 2- 3), an “angel,” or special messenger, is mentioned in connection with each of the congregations named. In Luke 12:42- 44 a special servant is mentioned by Jesus, one whom the Lord would raise up when he returned for the purpose of dispensing “meat In due season” to the “household” of faith. —Mt 24:45-47 These various servants of the church have, in the Lord’s providence, been a rich blessing to the household of faith, and the proof that they have been the Lord’s choice has been the joy which the truths they taught have brought into the hearts and lives of the Lord’s people. None of them has in any sense been the successor of another like servant, but each has been raised up at the proper time to serve the church according to its needs at the time.

The special servant mentioned by Jesus who would be raised up to serve the household of faith at the end of the age is obviously one individual who would be used by the Lord to serve the entire “household.” This servant is riot a class, or group, neither a society, or organization, for the very simple reason that he is mentioned in conjunction with fellow servants. If “that servant” is an organization, then it would be serving other organizations. If it were a class, then the other servants would also be classes, or groups.

The Greek word translated “ruler” in Jesus’ promise that a faithful steward would be made ruler to serve the “household” with “meat in due season” means to “set down” or to place. It does not imply that the faithful steward would rule his fellow servants or exercise lordship over them in any way. His only assignment was to serve his brethren with the “meat in due season,” which the Lord himself would provide through the written Word at the time of his return.

And what is this spiritual food which was served in “due season”? Throughout the Gospel Age the Lord’s people maintained their hopes of a heavenly reward. Truths pertaining to Christ’s return, the “harvest” which is the “end of the age,” the establishment and work of the kingdom were not vital to their needs. But when our Lord did return, these dispensational truths became essential “meat in due season.” During the age it was not the “due time” to proclaim the glorious kingdom hope of “restitution.” But when Christ returned, it was; and in order that this might be included in the witness work of the household of faith, this fundamental truth was restored, and the Lord’s faithful servants have been proclaiming it for almost a hundred years.

The determining of just whom the Lord has used as one or another of his special servants has not been a matter of interpretation or of saying arbitrarily that this or that one has been the Lord’s choice. Rather, it is a matter of discovering from the Bible the nature of the message that was due at any given time, and then noting whom the Lord used to deliver that message. Thus it is in connection with “that servant.” Pastor Russell was the one used to announce the presence of Christ, the work of harvest, the imminence of the kingdom, and the glorious hope of restitution for the world. For this he was hated by nominal churchianity. He was persecuted because he taught that the love and grace of Jehovah extended to the unrighteous dead and that they would be given an opportunity to obtain life when awakened from the sleep of death during the Millennium.

It was this loving message of the grace of Jehovah, this voice of God spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began, that helped to identify Pastor Russell as the one specially used at this end of the age as “that servant.” Obviously his fellow servants delight to proclaim the same glorious Gospel of love. To the extent that they have cooperated in the work of proclaiming this same message the Lord has blessed them—not by large numbers of followers, nor by establishing an imposing institution—but by giving them rejoicing hearts as they sacrifice their all in proclaiming the good news of the “restitution of all things.”

In view of the fact that Pastor Russell died So many years ago, some might ask if we should not now look for another special servant, either an individual or a society. No, this is not necessary, nor is it indicated in the Word of God. Jesus, the Head of the church, is its chief instructor, and we still depend upon the record of what he said more than nineteen centuries ago. New apostles were not needed for the church when the original twelve died. The writings of Paul and Peter and the others are just as vital to us today as they were to the Early Church.

And we still have the glorious message of present truth which that “faithful and wise servant” had found in the Word of God. This message, which continues to live in the hearts of God’s people, is the important consideration; and Brother Russell is still “that servant” to those who continue to rejoice in the doctrines which he had found in his study of the Bible.

Spiritual Israel, Then Natural Israel

David's Star on Torah ca. 2001

The Oath-Bound Promise to Abraham the Hope of Jews, Christians and all Mankind. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Gal. 3:29

The issues of life, death and a hereafter are all in the power of the Lord. He took counsel of none of us, and holds Himself fully responsible, declaring that all of His purposes shall be accomplished, and that His Word that has gone forth shall not return to Him void, but shall accomplish that which He pleases.

Isa. 40:10, 11. He owed us nothing in the beginning, and will be under no obligations to us in the end. God gave our race life in Adam, but, as he had foreseen, they lost it by disobedience and came under the penalty death.

A ray of hope came with the giving of the Oath-Bound Promise to Abraham, which declared “In thy Seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Gen. 22:18.

ASSURANCE OF ALMIGHTY’S OATH

Doubtless Abraham and all of his family, Israel after the flesh, drew a certain amount of blessing and encouragement from this Covenant or promise and the oath of the Almighty,which doubly sealed it, and which gave double assurance of its certainty of accomplishment; but the Apostle Paul intimates that God’s special design in giving that Covenant and in binding it solemnly with an oath, was to encourage Spiritual Israel to give us a firm foundation for faith. He says (Heb. 6:13-18), “That by two immutable things (two unalterable things), in which it was impossible for God to lie, we (the Gospel Church) might have a strong consolation, (we) who have fled for refuge (to Christ), to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” The context show distinctly that the Apostles and the early Christian Church drew comfort from the Oath-Bound Covenant, and clearly implies that this same comfort belongs to every true Christian down to the end of this age.

God well knew that, although 3,000 years from His own standpoint would be but a brief space, “as a watch in the night,” nevertheless to us the time would appear long, and the strain upon faith would be sever; hence the positive statement and the still more deliberate oath that bound it. We cannot but wonder at such condescension upon the part of the great Creator that He would stoop to His fallen creatures and, above all, that He should condescend to give His oath on the subject.

Our Lord Jesus was the great heir of the Abrahamic promise, and the faithful of His consecrated people of this Gospel Age are declared to be His joint-heirs in that promise, which is not yet fulfilled. For its fulfillment, not only the Church is waiting, as the Bride or fellow-members of the Body of Christ, to be participants with the Lord in the glories implied in the Promise, but additionally, the whole creation (the entire human family) is groaning and travailing in pain together waiting for the great fulfillment of that Oath-Bound Promise or Covenant. Romans 8:19-23.

Those who follow the Apostle’s argument and realize that all true Christians are still waiting for the fulfillment of this Promise, will be anxious to know what are the terms of this Covenant which is the hope of the world, the hope of the Church, and the object of so much solicitude and care on the part of God, in that He would promise and then back His Word with an Oath.

We Answer–that every Christian should know what this promise is, since it lies at the very foundation of every Christian’s hope.

How can this hope be an anchor to our soul in all the storms and trials and difficulties of life, in all the opposition of the world, the flesh and the Adversary, if we do not know what the hope is, if we have not even recognized the promise upon which this hope is based?

THE SEED WHICH WILL BLESS ALL

The Apostle Paul referred to this very promise, declaring that the Seed of Abraham mentioned therein is Christ. All Christians agree to this, although they have not distinctively and properly associated it with the declarations of the Promise. But the Apostle makes clear to us that in saying that Christ is the Seed of Abraham, he had in mind not only the Lord Jesus as the Head of the Body, the Head of The Christ, but also the overcoming saints of this Gospel Age as the Body of Christ. This he distinctly states in many places, for instance Gal. 3:16-29.

Here he declares the matter expressly, saying: “if ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s Seed, and heirs according to the Promise.” “The Seed of Abraham” is the Gospel Church, with her Head, the Lord Jesus; as the Apostle states again saying: “We brethren, as Isaac was (typified by Isaac), are the children of promise.” (Gal. 4:28.) It follows that the Seed of Abraham mentioned in the promise is not complete and will not be until the full close of this Gospel Age in the Harvest time of which we now are.

But what a wonderful thought is involved in this plain interpretation of the Divine Word! It is big with hope for Spiritual Israel, the Spiritual Seed, and no less, it means a blessing for the natural seed, fleshly Israel, and ultimately the Millennial blessings to all the families of the earth. Let us examine these three hopes, which Center in the Oath-Bound Covenant the Anchor to the Soul.

THE CHRISTIAN HOPE

Now what hope and interest has the Church of Christ in this promise made to Abraham? To us belongs the very cream of the promise, “the riches of God’s grace.” The promise implies the greatness of the Seed of Abraham, which Seed is Christ and the overcoming Church. This greatness is so wonderful as to be almost beyond human comprehension. The overcomers of this Gospel Age who “make their calling and election sure” in Christ, are to be joint-heirs with Him in the glorious Millennial Kingdom which is to be God’s agency or channel for bringing about the promised blessings the blessing of all the families of the earth. Be it distinctly noted that the Promise to Abraham divided his “Seed” into two parts, (first) “as the stars of Heaven,” (second) “as the sands of the seashore.” From this it is apparent that there was to be a Heavenly, spiritual seed as well as the Natural, earthly seed. Through the Spiritual Seed, during the Messianic Reign, the whole world is to be blessed.

The great blessing of forgiveness of past sins, and even the blessing of being awakened from the sleep of death, would profit mankind but little, if the arrangements of that future time the Millennial Age were not on such a scale as to permit a thorough recovery from present mental, moral and physical weaknesses.

Hence we are rejoiced to learn that in that time Satan will be bound, every evil influence and every unfavorable condition will be brought under restraint, and the favor of God through the knowledge of God will be turned upon the people—“The knowledge of the Lord shall fill the whole earth as the waters cover the great deep.” Blessing, aye, favor upon favor, blessing upon blessing, is the Lord’s arrangement and provision! All shall know Him from the least unto the greatest, and none shall need to say to his neighbor or his brother, “Know thou the Lord?” Isa. 11:9; Jer. 31:34.

The prophets spoke repeatedly of these blessings due to the world in the future. Mark how Joel tells that, as during this Gospel Age, the Lord pours out His Spirit upon His servants and hand-maidens, so after these days, in the Millennial Age, He will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh. There will be world-wide blessing through the knowledge of the Truth. Mark how Moses, the Prophet, spoke of these coming blessings, and told how God would raise up a greater Lawgiver than Himself, a greater Teacher, a better Mediator, and under the better Covenant of the Lord, would bring blessings worldwide! Mark again how he represents the Atonement for the Sins of the whole world in the Atonement Day sacrificial arrangements! Mark how again he typifically foretold the blessings of the Millennial Age, representing them in Israel’s “Year of Jubilee,” in which every man went free and every possession was returned to its original ownership, thus representing the blessings of the future, man’s release from the servitude of sin and Satan, and the return to him of all that was lost through Adam. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Micah, have spoken of these coming times, so that the Apostle Peter, pointing to the future, could truthfully declare that the coming Times of Restitution of all things have be spoken by the mouth of all the holy prophets since the world began. Acts 3:19- 21.

HOPE FOR JEWS AND OTHERS

The second class to be blessed under this Abrahamic Covenant is Natural Israel. We are not forgetting that the Jews were a stiffnecked and rebellious people; that they slew the prophets and stoned the Lord’s ministers and caused the crucifixion of our Redeemer. Nevertheless, the Scriptures clearly hold for the that after they have had a period of chastisement, which they have been undergoing as a nation since our Lord’s crucifixion, and after Spiritual Israel shall have been glorified in the Kingdom, then a blessing from the Lord will come upon Natural Israel; they shall be saved or recovered from their blindness, and, as the Prophet declares, they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced and shall mourn for Him because the eyes of their understanding shall be opened. We rejoice, too, that the promise is clear and distinct that the Lord will pour upon them the “spirit of prayer and the supplication.” (Zech. 12:10.) See also Romans 11:25-32.

But if God is to have mercy upon the natural Israelite, whom He declares to have been stiff-necked and hard-hearted and rebellious, would it surprise us that the Divine, benevolent intention should be to also bless others than the Jews others who had not  in the past the favors and privileges of this favored nation, and whose course, therefore, was less in opposition to the Light? It should not surprise us. And so we find in this great Oath-Bound Covenant a blessing for all nations all peoples.

POOR, IMPERFECT CREATURES

“We make God’s Love too narrow By false standards of our own.”

Do not misapprehend us. We are not teaching that heathen and imbeciles and unregenerate in general shall be taken to Heaven, where they would be utterly out of harmony with their surroundings and require to be converted and to be taught. Such an inconsistent view we leave to those who are now claiming the heathen will be saved in their ignorance. We stand by the Word of God that there is no present salvation without faith in Christ Jesus, and that the heathen and the imbecile have neither part nor lot in the salvation of the present time. We stand by the Scriptures which say that salvation at the present time is only for the Little Flock, who, through much tribulation, shall enter the Kingdom. We stand by the Scriptures which say that this Kingdom class now being developed is the Spiritual Seed of Abraham under the Lord, their Head, their Elder Brother, the Bridegroom.

The period in which opportunity will be granted to man is in the Scriptures termed the Day of Judgment a thousand-year day, the Millennial Day. It will be a day of trial, a day of testing, a day of proving the world to see whether, with a full knowledge of God and of righteousness, which He requires, they will choose righteousness in preference to sin, choose life in preference to the Second Death everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His Power.

Thank God for that wonderful judgment, the trial day for the world, secured for all through the precious blood of Christ. “When the judgments of the Lord are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” Isa. 26:9.