The Testimony of Jesus (continued)
What Is the Church? (continued)
I referred earlier to what the Church encountered, which was developing just at the time that Paul wrote these very letters. It caused his own imprisonment and his own execution, and it was the cause of much that Paul wrote to Timothy about being strong. For Timothy himself had been arrested with Paul and imprisoned, and later released. Paul (or the author of the letter to the Hebrews) wrote: "Know ye that our brother Timothy hath been set at liberty" (Hebrews 13:23). But Timothy knew something of what was pending. He needed to be encouraged to be strong. I am referring to what the Church had to encounter in those unspeakable persecutions, horrors diabolical, indescribable, going on for many, many years, with the whole Roman world, the greatest Empire that had been, determined to blot out the name of Jesus of Nazareth by liquidating the last Christian on this earth; and it stood at nothing, human or inhuman, to do it. And when it had done its worst, the Roman Empire went to ashes and the Church rose out of them, triumphant, growing. Yes, anything that is of the Holy Spirit is a tremendous thing; nothing can stand before it. Spirituality, true Divine spirituality - that which is born of the Spirit and filled with the Spirit and governed by the Spirit - is not something abstract: it is a potent force in this universe.
The Church A Spiritual People
So the Church, according to the Divine conception, consists essentially of - indeed "is" - a spiritual people, and we must somehow get to the place where we see it as God and as Heaven sees it. And that means a tremendous adjustment for us to make. Our practical difficulty is this. In apostolic times, it was quite easy to see the Church as a single entity. Although it was represented in numerous local companies all over the Roman world, yet it was still a single entity: it was not then divided up into the "ists" and the "ans" and the "ians" and the "ics" and the "isms" and all the other terminations that we know today. When you speak to Christian people today, they very soon ask you if you are in "ist", or an "ic", or an "an", or an ian", and they say I am an ..."ist." Ah, but there was nothing of that in the Church in the days of the Apostles. Whatever little differences there were among the Lord's people locally, the Church as a whole was one entity, everywhere, held together by spiritual ties and by spiritual ministries, but with no central government or sectional government of affiliated bodies. It was just one, everywhere. If you had gone from one providence to another, from one country to another, visiting the Christians in every place, they would never have asked you whether you were an "ist", or an "ian", or an "ic" - whether you belonged to some particular group, distinguished by a special name. No, you were a Christian - that was enough. You belonged to the Lord - that was enough.
But, with the closing of the apostolic age, things were changing - changing into what we have today. An altogether wrong and false mentality has grown up around the word "church." Most people today, when that word is used, think of one of these things with a special termination, or of some place or building - a "church" - and that is the mentality that is common. Let us be quite clear: recovery of the original demands an escape from that mentality. Do not misunderstand me: I am not saying you have got to come out of this and that and the other thing - I am saying that you have got to get out of a "mentality". We need absolute emancipation from this earth mentality about the Church, into the heavenly standpoint; to see what the Church really is, as God sees it and as Heaven sees it. We must get free of the confusion which has been brought about by the historical institution called "The Church."
What is the Church, from Heaven's standpoint? Heaven does not look upon the matter in the light of these titles, and these sections, and these departments, and these bodies, and these divisions; it does not look at i like that at all. Heaven ignores all that, and looks for members of Christ, born-again children of God, spiritual people, in their constitution by new birth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And wherever Heaven sees those - whether it be in an "ism", or an "ic", or an "an" or anything else - that is the Church, and you and I have got to adjust to that. A congregation is not the Church, but within a congregation the Church may be represented by only two people. Out of 100 people gathered in what is called a church, 98 may be unsaved people, though adherents and communicants and all the rest, and two may be born-again ones. Those two are the Church, and the others are not! That is what the Church is. It is constituted by the Holy Spirit bringing through to new birth spiritually made people.
I said Heaven ignores the other. In a sense that is true, but maybe in another sense it is not true, because Heaven will judge the other as a false thing. In a sense, however, Heaven ignores, and I say this because it is a thing that you and I have got to do: meet people - no matter in what they are; you may not agree with it, you may think it is false; you have got to ignore that - meet people on the ground of Christ, have to do with them, as far as you can, solely on the ground that they belong to the Lord. Our only inquiry has got to be: 'Do you belong to the Lord? are you born-again?' That is all. And then, if they say, 'I am a so-in-so-ist: what are you?', we must reply, 'That does not matter; leave that out. We belong to the Lord: let us be content with this.' Until you and I can do that, we are held in the lifeless grip of a thing that has lost its spiritual power - because it has lost its true identity, its true nature, which was spiritual. Yes, we must adjust to Heaven's point of view. I am really only giving you the Letter to the Ephesians! That is how it is seen in Heaven.
(continued with # 67 - (For What Does the Church Exist?)