Friday, January 10, 2014

Scriptural Ground of Gathering (Part 5)

The Church of God is one body on the whole earth with members one of another, joined together in the unity of the one Spirit and linked with Christ its Head in glory. It is also in its entirety the Bride of Christ and the House of God, His dwelling place on earth through the Spirit. Then, we have seen that the gifts for ministry, which the ascended Christ has given, are for the whole Church, "for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12).

Having had the general features common to the Body of Christ or the Church of God as a whole before us, we come now to its local aspect, or the Church in a particular locality. For the unity of the Church was not to be invisible, but organic and manifest, "that the world may believe" (John 17:21). To be manifest in any particular place, it is evident that the Church must take some definite, visible form, . and this is what we shall now consider.

In the Scriptures we find the word "Church" used in three different ways. First, "the Church" unlimited, meaning the whole Body, as we have been considering it. Second, "the Church" limited to some special locality, as "the church which was at Jerusalem" (Acts 8:1; 11: 22), or at Antioch (Acts 13:1), at Ephesus (Acts 20:17) , etc. Third, we have the plural, "Churches," giving us the Assemblies collectively in any given country: as Judea (I Thess. 2:14; Acts 9:31), of Galatia (I Cor. 16:1; Gal. l: 2), of Asia (I Cor. 16:19) , etc., or more generally, including sometimes all assemblies of God as "the care all the churches" (II Cor. 11: 28) ; "the churches of God,, (II Thess. 1: 4).

In these last two references and usages of the word, we have the thought of local Assemblies or gatherings of believers, as distinct from the one Body of Christ viewed in its entirety. We shall now consider what constitutes a local assembly of the Church of God and the relation between these local gatherings and the entire Church.

The Church of God in a Place
A consideration of the opening of the First Epistle to the Corinthians will give us much instruction on this point. "Unto the Church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (ch. 1: 2). Here the apostle uses the name "Church of God" which is the title of the whole Body of Christ, and applies it locally-"the Church of God which is at Corinth." Then he describes those whom this title embraces-"them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called saints" ("to be" is not in the original). This means, then, that all the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ there formed the Church of God which was at Corinth.

Let us be clear about this point and notice from this Scripture that the Church of God in a given locality includes every born-again believer, every member of the Body of Christ. In the apostle's day all the believers in a locality were found going on together in one visible testimony and Assembly as the manifest expression and representation in that place of the whole Body of Christ. So Paul could write to the Corinthian Assembly, "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (I Cor. 12:27).

But in our day of ruin of the visible testimony and multiplied divisions, it is no longer true that all the real Christians in any locality are found together in a visible testimony or united assembly as at the beginning. They are found scattered in many varying groups. Therefore, no one gathering of believers can claim today to be "the Church of God" in a certain place, for that title embraces every true believer in Christ in that community.

Ground of Gathering
However, while it may be impossible today, because of the Church's divided condition, to assemble together all the true believers of a locality, the only Scriptural ground of assembling (upon which all believers were gathered together in the beginning, and the only ground upon which they ever could be gathered together) still remains for us at this present moment. That ground is the practical owning of the truth of the one Body of Christ.

Whatever the ruin about us and no matter how many denominational bodies there may be around us, it is still true that "There is one body" (Eph. 4:4), and God still sees His scattered people as one body. Therefore, to faith, the truth of the one Body of Christ on earth still remains as the only Scriptural ground of gathering together. So while no group of believers today could claim to be "the Church of God" in a locality, those who recognize and act only upon the truth of the one Body of Christ, can truly say that they meet on the ground of the Church of God in their locality. The ground upon which they gather together being simply that of being members of the Body of Christ at large, and not as those adhering to certain doctrines, forms of church governments, or denominational parties and sects. Recognizing only all true members of the Body of Christ and receiving them as such is the only Scriptural ground of gathering together as the Church of the living God. This is the first vital principle of the Church in its local and visible aspect.

Represents the Whole Church
Each local Church or assembly of believers is but a part of the whole Body of Christ and is to be an exact representation of the greater Church. It should express the Church as a whole, even as a tiny dewdrop reflects, in miniature, the same sky as does the mighty ocean. The characteristics of the whole Church are to be seen in each local part. There must be nothing in the local Assembly inconsistent with the truths we have previously been considering as true of the whole Church. Each Assembly is a part of the Assembly at large and represents and acts for it in each local place. Therefore, the only basic platform upon which believers can ever Scripturally gather together anywhere is as members of the Body of Christ and as a local representation of the whole Church.

Thus believers gathered together in the first days of the Church and so they must gather today if they would act as members of the Church of the living God and obey and please their Lord and Head. Any other ground of gathering together, such as coming together as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostals, Fundamentalists, etc., is a denial in practice of the truth of the one Body of Christ and recognizing other bodies instead.

Unity of the Spirit
If there is one Body of believers in Christ, which God recognizes why not refuse all other man-made bodies and gather together simply as members of His Body? This would not be making another body or unity, but recognizing the unity which the Spirit of God has made among all true believers who have been baptized by one Spirit into the Body of Christ. So Ephesians 4:3 exhorts us to endeavor to keep that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The error of Christendom has been in making a unity or union of their own, one larger or smaller than the unity of the Spirit, admitting unsaved persons who are not members of Christ's Body and not baptized by the Spirit into this unity, or of shutting out true, godly members of Christ's Body by their sectarian principles and platforms. Neither is to be the principle or the practice of God's Church.

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