of which JESUS CHRIST is the Living HEAD
What is the nature of the true Church, of which Jesus Christ is the Head?
It is first and foremost a body. It is one body, and has all the limbs and organs necessary to the healthy and whole functioning of a body. Each member has its individual function, but it is not independent of the body; cut it off from the body, and it ceases to live. What is more, the body itself is incapacitated by the loss.
The body must have a head. Imagine a trunk and limbs without a head – it would lie motionless. Its head must not be simply a titular head, because that would be like sticking a turnip, or a sack filled with straw, on top of the body. It would still be motionless. Likewise an absentee head. The only way to get such a corpse to move would be by contriving a system of strings, and its movements would be nothing but a jerky simulation of real life.
No, the head must be there with the body, with every bone, sinew, vessel, and nerve attached. The head, centre of thought, must control the actions of the body, and the body must move according to the head’s commands – each movement complete and graceful.
The Church is called the body of Christ: “Now ye are called the body of Christ, and members in particular,” (1 Corinthians 12:27). “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth in all,” (Ephesians 1:22,23). “Christ is the head of the church, and he is the saviour of the body,” (Ephesians 5:23). “And he is the head of the body, the church,” (Colossians 1:18). ” - for his body’s sake, which is the church,” (Colossians 1:24).
The body has its various limbs and organs, with their various functions dictated to them by the head: see 1 Corinthians chapter 12 in whole. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11,12).
Christ is the head of the body, his Church: see Ephesians 4:15, 5:23.But some say he is not here. Therefore they would have Christ not fulfil his promises, and not fulfil the prophecies made of him: “And lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” (Matthew 28:20). “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,” (Matthew 18:20). To the luke-warm church at Laodicea, “Behold, I stand at the door (of the Church, as much as at the door of the human heart), and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me,” (Revelation 3:20). “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you,” (John 14:18). “I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever,” says David (Psalm 23:6),and “- I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever,” says the Lord (Ezekiel 43:7); “I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people,” (2 Corinthians 6:16).Those who say that the head is not present with the body, would put all sorts of other things in place of the head; for example, scripture. But God “hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life,” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Some put a man at the head of the church, supposedly deriving authority from Peter as vicar or placeman of Christ. But notice what Christ said and did: “He asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some Elias; and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 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 bar Jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I also say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” (Matthew 16:13-18). That is, he would build his church upon the inward rock of faith and revelation from God, not upon the flesh-and-blood Simon bar Jona, to whom he later said, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Can Christ build upon Satan? No, neither can the church have a substitute head, a turnip, or a sack filled with straw!
To sum up so far, the church is a complete body, with an appropriate and effective head. And the body knows itself to be complete, knows that the head is right and appropriate, knows that the head is its effective Governor. It has a sense of completeness, however small the assembly is (Matthew 18:20); it knows that all limbs and organs are present under the ordering of the head. When it is assembled, obedient to the power (“name”) of Christ, it feels the directions of the head, which are appropriate to it. This is elsewhere called, and known, as feeding and watering, daily bread, the blood of the new covenant, and life! This complete church has, as far as it needs, ministry, apostleship, evangelism, pastoring, and teaching, how ever small the assembly may be.
Further, the church is distinct. It is part of no other superior body. It has no other allegiance or membership than to its head. It is separate: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing,” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
It is not built upon the same ground as man-made religions. It is not built on the same ground as the sects and denominations; though the world will call it a sect and a denomination simply because it is separate! “Denominationalism” is no part of the witness of the church. The world cannot view such things spiritually, but has to wrest and crush things into something it can understand!
Even the most enthusiastic of professing Christians can be founded upon sand rather than rock. We read, in literature from some of the most active “churches”, which style themselves “evangelical”, how folk are encouraged to “accept Jesus Christ as (nothing more than!) their personal Saviour”, and then to “go back and evangelise their churches”! But the Lord says nothing about this, but – “Come out from among them and be ye separate“! The Good News is not that Christ is the Saviour of His persons, but of His people! How can the church be several different churches? “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:13). How can someone be content to stay in unsanctified worship, in a body which does not move at the command of the head? “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). By all means proclaim the kingdom, but come out of them if they will not hear, taking nothing of theirs, not even the smallest trace: “And whoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet,” (Matthew 10:14, see also Mark 6:11, Luke 9:5, Luke 10:10,11, Acts 13:51).
Here is how Peter addresses the church: “Ye are a chosen , a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people,” (1 Peter 2:9). Here is how Paul addresses the church: “the church of God“, of God no less (2 Corinthians 1:1 and elsewhere), and “saints” (same reference, and elsewhere).
“Saints” and “holy”, who have sought with hunger and thirst the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and have been blessed and filled! Those whom the Lord is sanctifying and justifying, and has sanctified and justified: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 3:24). “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1). “It is God that justifieth,” (Romans 8:33, see also Galatians 2:16, 3:24 and Titus 3:7). Paul speaks of himself as a minister “being sanctified by the Holy Ghost,” (Romans 15:16), which the Father and the Son sent to the church, and the Father, The Word, and the Holy Ghost are the three that bear record in heaven, and these three are one (see 1 John 5:7). “Unto the church of God at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints,” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God,” (1 Corinthians 6:11). “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all one; for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,” (Hebrews 2:11). “By the which will we are sanctified,” (Hebrews 10:10, see also verse 14.). Jude salutes all readers of a general epistle to the church thus: “To them that are sanctified by God the Father,” (Jude 1).
An institution which creates “saints” out of a few, because of the outstanding nature of their actions or character, disregards the two mites of the widow – the actions and nature of the least amongst them – which is against the witness of Jesus Christ himself. The church knows that the least of its members is as vital to its completeness as the greatest, and the body is incomplete without either.
Now the various churches of the world have forms and words, but the true church has the Gospel, which is more than words, or forms, or books, but is the power of God: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ; for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth,” (Romans 1:16). So some from the professing churches will object and say, “We believe, so why do you consider we do not have the gospel?” To which the church says that if they can be seen not to be as the church is, but following some other path, what does it matter what they profess to believe! They must be seen to come out of the man-made things, if we are to accept that they believe in something more than a bare theory, how ever sincerely! The Gospel remains a mystery to them (Ephesians 6:19, see also Matthew 11:25).
But some may object, and say that all the various churches of the world are the limbs and organs of the same body, and know the completeness of the body by the mechanics of ecumenism; and further, that they prophesy to one another by the various differences between them, each having something to contribute to the whole. To which is answered: Is Christ divided, who is the same yesterday, today, and for ever? Has he been divided down the centuries, whilst you have been strangers to each other? No, ecumenism is an attempt to knit together a body out of limbs and organs from many bodies. And rather than encouraging prophecy, it limits it, by supposing that all within ecumenism have an equal voice – thus all are hands, or all are eyes! (But see above: the Lord in no way despises the widow’s two mites.)
In the church, as there are different gifts, and likewise different stages of spiritual growth, there are different voices; these cannot always be perceived to be “equal” according to worldly wisdom. Thus there is, where appropriate, a hierarchy of things and authority in certain matters given over to a few. But this can only exist at the will of the Head, and in such measure as is appropriate for the health of the body. When such things are rested in, or stored past their day, then the body is tainted by what it rests in and feeds on, and sickens
Christ, the head of the body, is its Governor, and he is known as such within that body. There is no need felt to knit more extraneous limbs and organs to the body. Christ, the Governor, by the Gospel – the power of God – brings order to the church – Gospel Order, which is the proper working together of all the members of the church. It is from this order that every action, witness, and testimony of the church flows. It is within this order that apostles and evangelists are sent out to proclaim the kingdom, that prophets speak as the oracle of God, that ministers minister; yes, and it is by the same power and in the same order that others sit by to be edified and to grow, or work in other ways less visible; it is by the same power and in the same order that the members care for and oversee each other, and from which eldership grows, under the care of the Carer, the oversight of the one great Bishop of souls and Minister of ministers, the Head Himself.
The body of Christ, being complete, is itself a body of prophecy. By what it does as a body, by the testimonies it bears corporately, by its behaviour, by the behaviour of the least member acting as part of the body, as a whole the body proclaims the kingdom of God to the world.
Again some may object, and say that there are sincere and kind and gifted believers in all the churches of the world, and that the church that we have described must be small whereas Christ is Lord of all and his church is a city built upon a hill. To which is answered: that we do not doubt sincerity, nor that some are as sincere and kind as people can be in their own strength; nor do we doubt that some have gifts and may even speak as prophets among you, as far as your culture and traditions, and institutions will allow, and even going beyond their bounds. For we know that Christ is Lord of all, and speaks to all and strives with all for the good of their souls, and shines as a light in the darkness of all that the darkness cannot comprehend. Surely there are those among you, whom He has sent to prophesy to you – will you hear them? But their merely being among you does not sanctify you; the very fact that you can see them to be outstanding is a word from God to you that His call is, “be ye separate“! And as for the smallness of the church: the Lord says, “I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal,” and the apostle continues, “Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace,” (Romans 11:4,5). The church is the woman fled into the wilderness, as you may read in Revelation 12, who is fed in the wilderness. And she knows herself, though fled into the wilderness, to be the bride of Christ, in whom the seed of Christ is planted, and in whom the Man Child is born that will rule with a rod of iron! And this is what is coming now out of the wilderness! And her very separateness from the world, and from the god of the world – the prince of the powers of the air – and from the dragon, is her being set upon a hill.
The church’s hill is mount Zion, the mountain of the Lord, which is separate from Sinai and from all the mountains of the world, and can be seen to be separate. Small? There is nothing greater! The gates of hell cannot prevail against it! Though the world despises and rejects and slights the church, the Lamb rules in it, and the Lamb says, “I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33, see also Revelation 17:14).
It is in all this that we see the nature of the true church, how it has “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” (Ephesians 4:5). One Lord: Jesus Christ, ever-present, eternal, living, effective Head of the church, below whom there is no authority – no, not vested in any writing, man, or institution! It is He that calls together the church – it is not assembled by or to some opinion or notion drawn from scripture, or by some man or group of men, or to or by some other outward thing, but by the drawing to Christ, by the Father, by means of the Holy Spirit, into fellowship with the Son and with the Father and with one another.
One faith: faith is much more than belief – Pharisees had belief in the scriptures, but would not come to Christ (John 5:39), but the woman with the issue of blood had faith in what the scriptures testified to, touched Jesus’ garment, and was healed (Matthew 9:20). The one faith of the church is in Christ’s fulfilling his promises, and being active in all his many offices amongst them, as Governor, Physician, Shepherd, Prophet like Moses (of whom Moses prophesied), Priest, King and Ruler, Captain of their salvation, and so many others. Without such faith, only bare belief can exist, as an intellectual assent. But Christ himself is the Author and Finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2), and we are saved by the grace of God through that faith (Ephesians 2:8).
One baptism: not the many baptisms of sprinkling, or pouring, or dipping, all in water which can only wash away outward dirt – these at best are the baptism of John, which was to decrease (John 3:30) – but the one baptism with the Holy Ghost and spiritual, purifying fire, which cleanses the human soul of sin.
So we see that the church is His people, assembled by Him, with faith in His effectiveness, baptized, cleansed, healed, and sanctified by Him. And this is its true nature. Amen.