20-03-16 IS THERE AN ABIDING
CHURCH ON EARTH?
By John Aldworth
Heb. 13:14: For here we have no continuing city but we seek one to come.
Matt. 16:16-18: And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto Him, Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
1 Cor. 10:4: And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ.
Phil. 3:20: For our conversation (political citizenship) is in heaven from whence also we look for the Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is hard to escape the mindset that church is a building in which people meet on Sundays. That there is this holy place, holy time where God is especially present. It’s even harder to grasp the biblical truths that:
- There is no abiding, continuing city on earth even for those of the earthly, Israelite calling (see Heb. 13:14 above); fact is Jerusalem will not be restored; it will be replaced by the New Jerusalem coming down from above), and…
- That likewise there is not now nor ever has been a continuing truly Christian church on earth that has lasted more than one generation. Wherever and whenever it was genuine it was taken out. What was left behind was an empty tradition, a hollow shell that became one of the myriad denominations that today all claim to be a continuation of the ‘one true church’.
Jesus described the Jewish leaders of his day as ’whited sepulchres full of dead men’s bones’; they had made the word of God of ‘none effect through their tradition’. Much the same could be said of most ‘churches’ today.
That said, let’s see what God and the Bible mean by ‘church’. Church is ecclesia, the ‘called out’. That means it’s a ‘coming out’, a being ‘taken out’, not a going into. It’s not a place to call home. In fact it’s not a place at all; it’s a movement. People speak of the church being a saving influence in the world. But God does not see it as that. He sees it as an exodus. Acts 15: 14: ‘God at the first did visit the Gentiles to take out of them a people for his name’. Many want to be ‘in’ something, ‘in’ a church, but God wants to take them out of whatever they’re in and out of this world and this life altogether.
Acts 7:38 speaks of the ‘church in the wilderness’ and of Moses who ‘received the lively oracles’. This church was on the move; it had no resting place. It was only a ‘church’ because it had received a direct living word from the living God and because it had ‘the angel’. God promised Moses He would send his angel before the children of Israel as they marched and, as 1 Cor. 10:4 teaches that ‘angel’, that ‘Rock’ was Christ. When they rejected God’s present truth they ceased to be a ‘church’ and with the exception of a remnant perished in the wilderness. I would submit that a similar destruction ended the Acts period churches. Only those ‘taken out’ by God were the ‘church’, the rest perished.
Now Christ was still the ‘Rock’ when Jesus in his earthly ministry told Peter ‘Upon this Rock I will build my church’ (Matt. 16:18). Contrary to Roman Catholic teaching Peter would have made a poor rock. For example, in verse 23 he tries to stop Jesus going to the cross.
Actually the church the Lord is building in Matt. 16:18 is founded on the revelation by the Father of who Jesus Christ is. Thus Peter is inspired to proclaim in vs. 16: ‘Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’. Church then, starts (and only continues) with an ongoing personal revelation of who Christ is made real in each individual believer’s heart. And, if God the Father doesn’t reveal his Son within your heart, no amount of ‘going to church’ will remedy the situation.
In Gal. 1:15:16 the Apostle Paul explains how ‘… God called me by his grace to reveal his Son in me …’. This experience is the ‘foundation’ he speaks of having laid In 1 Cor. 10-11. ‘For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ’.
Today, however, the foundation which ‘stablishes’ believers is the ‘preaching (proclamation) of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery’ (Rom. 16:25). It is not Jesus Messiah to Israel as He was in the Acts period that is preached today. No, it is Christ Jesus the Lord of glory, the ‘blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:14-15).
Nor are the two Acts period churches any longer in existence. The Church of God (Israel’s saved remnant) and the Body of Christ (on earth) Church both ceased when their called and saved believers were ‘taken out’ by God. What was left was an empty shell of tradition, ritual and wrong doctrine. There was no apostolic succession; there was no continuation of the true church down the centuries. Rather, in each generation there was handful of out-of-church believers in whom God revealed his Son.
However, the church over which Christ is head (Eph. 1:22-23, Col. Col. 1:18) is ongoing. Eph. 3:21 ‘Unto Him (i.e. the Father) be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen’. This called out body has no building, denomination or outwardly tangible presence on earth. It is a living organism, not an organisation, cohering only through the direct link between the Head and each believer.
This church is entirely spiritual and includes only those who ‘grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ’ (Eph. 4:15). This church is joined and held together, not by any denomination, earthly church, organisation or meetings but ‘but by that which every joint (between the individual believer and Christ) supplieth’ (Eph. 4:16). It is ‘a habitation of God through the Spirit’ (Eph. 3:22) not a bunch of people meeting in a building on Sunday morning. It has an apostle (Paul), teachers but no pastors, priests, prophets or popes. The believers themselves are its ministers.
This church is described in Col. 2:6-9 without even mentioning the word ‘church’. Why? Because each member is ‘rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith as ye have been taught (by the Apostle Paul), abounding therein with thanksgiving’.
Note the warning on Col. 2:8:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy (i.e. worldly wisdom) and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him’.
Yet while this Church of the Mystery is everlasting, in one respect it is like all the other churches (callings out, if you will) of God found in scripture. You can only belong to it by abiding in Christ.
True churches of God on earth are at best only very temporary arrangements. That is why less than three and a half years after ‘building his church’ Christ told his apostles in John 15: 1-6:
I am the true vine and my father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit….
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in Me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in Me, and I in Him, the same bringeth much more fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered and men gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
As Paul wrote in Col. 1:23 there is a condition to remaining in the true church: You have to hang in there.
‘If ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel … whereof I Paul am made a minister’.