We have earlier shown that the man behind the Letter is, in his spiritual history, identical with its message. We shall now seek to show that, in several respects, the history of the Church, universal and local, should follow that spiritual history of the Apostle.
1. The church in any locality should be born out of heaven. It is the aggregate or corporate fellowship of born-from-above believers. What, then, is to be true of every individual believer must be true of the corporate company. That goes right to the very root of the Church conception, and it will be as well if we settle it here and now that, in the Scriptures, no other such thing is known or recognized as having a right to that name - Christian Church. That will sift our consideration down from an immense amount that takes the name but is NOT the true thing. Christendom or Christianity has become a colossus of a thing which is the home of every kind of bird in creation. To try to make a unity of such is a trick of him whose "fowls of the air" they are; naturally, some better, some worse, but far from all born again or from above (John 3:5-13). This just means that every local company of believers, right at its beginning as such, should be something done by the sovereign Holy Spirit. Inasmuch as the Church takes its character from its "Head," its "Firstborn," its "Chief Cornerstone," the "Foundation," it must in every representation have its origin in heaven and embody the life of heaven. That means that formation by man's action is ruled out. It is not an "institution," it springs out of life. It should be possible to say of any local church - or the Church in any locality - "That was an act of God." Mark you, we are seeking to get right to the root of this matter of what the Church is, and what it is not. The former is our real concern. Study what - in the Gospels - Jesus said about Himself and about men, and you have the key to what the Church really is.
2. That leads to the next thing as to the "local church." If the Church was born of the Holy Spirit, it was born out of the travail of God's Son; then the law of travail must lie right at the origin of any true representation of both. In the New Testament the Church universal and the churches local came out of real travail. The travail, agony, and pain of Christ gave birth to the Church at Pentecost. Those who were its nucleus were baptized into His passion. They suffered the breaking of their souls when Jesus died. [YES! - The shepherd's disciple] Hence their ecstatic joy when He rose again. John 16:21, 22 was literally fulfilled in their case. That needs no enlarging upon. But what of the churches? Can we put our finger upon a New Testament church which was NOT born out of and into suffering? Immediately such a church was in view the battle for its very life, its very existence, began. Stonings, imprisonments, lashes,chasings, intrigues, slanders, persecutions of every lay at the emergence of every such potential representation of Christ corporately. Someone had to pay a price and the churches were the price of blood and tears. When power is lost, perhaps through neglect, foolishness, strife, division, formalism, or the loss of the sense of the value of the truth, or for any other reason, the only way of recovery will be that of a fresh baptism into sorrow, remorse, tears and travail. This is surely the right interpretation of the Second Letter to the Corinthians after the First. This also surely is the key to the situation in most of the churches in Revelation two and three. It is definitely implied in the case of Laodicea. A church which does not suffer for its life is, by all the laws of nature and grace, a weak and ineffective church.
3. Still pursuing the line of Paul's history and the Church, we have to say that a local expression of the Church - and all its members - must be the result of an encounter with God in Christ. Any corporate or personal ministry which is to be as fruitful as was Paul's, even in a more limited degree, must have such an encounter at its beginning. The Cross and the Resurrection of Christ were such for the nucleus, the representative company. The Cross was devastating and desolating to all the self-sufficiency, self-assurance, self-confidence, pride, ambition, and presumption of man. The Resurrection was the invasion and taking over of the life of Another - Christ Jesus. This is so clearly seen in the case of the man who, more than any other, represented that nucleus, namely Simon Peter. He was a man broken and shattered by the Cross, but reconstituted on another basis by the Resurrection. As to the great unveiling of the "Mystery" of Christ and His Body - the Church - Paul's devastation and very survival was by this encounter on the road to Damascus. Such an encounter, sooner or later, personal and collective, must lie at the foundation of a true corporate life. It may be at the beginning or it may be later. It may be a recovery necessary after failure. Many a church, and many a servant of God, has had history cut in two by such an encounter. Before it, an ordinary limited and comparatively powerless ministry. After it, a release and enlargement, with much spiritual fruitfulness. A little book published by the Moody Press, Chicago, called "Crises Experiences in the Lives of Noted Christians" is an example of this in a number of instances.
4. If the Church universal is above all earthly differences, then the local church ought to be super-national, super-denominational, super-interdenominational, in spirit, fellowship, and outreach. We have often said that Christ cannot be confined or fitted exclusively to any category that is of this world. His temperament overlaps all the categories. His nationality, time, teaching and person suit and meet the need of all, but He cannot be the sole property of any. We have seen works of man's artistic imagination purporting to depict the great scene in Revelation five: "And the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands." In the artist's portrayal, with all the good meaning in the world, the artist painted in people of every nation, color, physique, dress, complexion, age and stature. Well, as we have said, the motive and intention was good, but who can describe resurrection bodies? "Fashioned like unto His glorious body" (Phil. 3:21); "It is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:44). We can be quite sure that everything that has come in as the result of man's failure, causing estrangement and what is "foreign," will be gone for ever.
(continued with # 3)