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Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Church Local

It is of considerable importance to note that, although the Letter to the Ephesians" is a majestic presentation of the Church in its entirety, ranging every dimension of the eternities and realms and ages and setting forth the profound councils of God, the Letter was sent to local churches. This fact has some very challenging and searching implications. We must remind our readers that there is such a thing as a positive and definite revelation of what the Church is and therefore of the basis of its unity. It may be something to take note of that there is such a worldwide concern for and activity in relation to the unity of Christians, and such concern should should find us in full heart sympathy with it. The big difference is between a massive effort on the one hand to solve the problem from the outside by trying to stick all the broken pieces together and in some way make them fit, and on the other hand a concern to recover the spiritual power which will make for a spontaneous coming and fitting together. The one is the organized, composite collection and assemblage, as of a machine; the other is the organic, spontaneous relationship of a corporate life. The former will come unstuck repeatedly. The latter will eventually emerge "a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing."

But what about the Church as locally represented? We must remember that when Paul wrote this Letter and sent it to the churches in localities, he was very well aware of the trends, or even the actual movements toward "departure" and breakdown in the churches. He had foretold it as to Ephesus when he left the elders of that church near the ship on his way to Jerusalem: "I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you ... and from among your own selves shall men arise ... to draw away ... after them" (Acts 20:29-30). That was incipient division. But here from his prison in Rome he will write, "all that are in Asia turned away from me."

Two Letters will soon be written to Timothy which will deal with the beginnings of the change from primal Christianity to all that it has become now. They were intended to warn against the ecclesiasticism, clericalism, ritualism, sacramentalism, etc., which have invaded the Church and changed its primitive character. No, Paul's head was not in the clouds and his feet off the earth when he deliberately wrote this Letter as to what the Church is. No doubt his reference to the spiritual warfare was because he knew so well that the battle was on in particular relationship with this very matter, showing of how great a consequence it is to the satanic forces. It is impressive how any stand for a true expression of the Body of Christ is fraught with more conflict than anything else. If it is a congregation, that is, a number of individual Christians resorting to a given place for "Public Worship," without any corporate Church life and order; or if it is a Mission Hall mainly for preaching the Gospel to the unsaved; or, again, if it is a preaching center where people go to hear a well-known preacher - all these will go on in the quiet way with little opposition from within or without. But, let there be a movement in the direction of a real corporate expression of a Holy Spirit constituted testimony to Christ corporate, then the battle is on and nothing will be untried to break that up,discredit it, or in some way nullify that testimony.

The Book of Nehemiah is a very good illustration of this many-sided hostility. Again we point to "Ephesians" as relating vicious spiritual antagonism to the essential purpose of the Letter. In this first particular, the universal is transferred to the local, and the local takes character from the universal. A true representation of the  of the elect Body of Christ is a standing menace and ominous sign to the satanic kingdom because it is the Church which - at last - is going to dispossess and supplant the "world-rulers of this darkness" and govern with Christ. Would to God that God's people would view all their divisions and internal troubles in this light, instead of always attributing them to "second causes!" This is the first implication in Paul's passing to local churches the whole immense revelation of the mystery. There are several other features and factors in this Letter which carry such tremendous significances. There is that factor which the Apostle mentions with one of his superlatives. "The exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead ..." (1:19). "And you did He quicken, when ye were dead" (2:1). The church locally represented should be and should embody the testimony to "the power of His resurrection." It should, in its history and constant experience - as more than doctrine - declare that Christ is risen.

The impression primarily given should be one of livingness. The testimony should be that, although you may be jaded, weary, too tired even to make the journey; disheartened and despondent; physically, mentally and spiritually drained - you come away renewed, refreshed, reinvigorated and lifted up. The activity of Divine life has just resulted in a spiritual uplift. Note the way in which that has been said: "the activity of Divine Life." We have not said: "the life of human activity." There is an illusion or delusion in much Christianity and in many churches that activity is essentially spiritual life. Hence, stunts, programs, attractions, "special efforts," and an endless circle of "specials". All this is too often with a view to giving the impression of life, or even creating or stimulating "life." It may be the life of works, and not the works of life. Life will work, but works are not always life. That was the indictment of the church at Ephesus: "I know thy works ... but ..." (Revelation 2:2). Divine life is spontaneous and NOT forced. The dead (spiritually) are raised, and NOT by artificial means. The Lord of the Church is the risen Lord, and His attestation is  resurrection life. So "the power of His resurrection" should be the hallmark of a truly New Testament church. So often we quote our Lord's own words, almost as a formula: "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I." At the same time the atmosphere may be heavy, uninspiring and devoid of a ministration of Divine Life. Is this really consistent with the presence of the risen Lord?

We proceed with the implications of this Letter. If the church local is a true microcosm of the Church universal, then this Letter will show us that in the local representation there should - and can - be abundance of wholesome and upbuilding food. Our Letter has fed and stimulated believers through many centuries, and still the food-values are unexhausted. The ministry in a true local expression of the Body of Christ should be an anointed ministry, and because it is such, no hungry soul should ever go away unfed. Not just studied and "got up" addresses or discourses, but a message from heaven making it possible for people to say, "we have been truly fed today." This means that the Lord's people, being nourished, are growing in spiritual stature, capacity,and responsibility. Not just increasing in mental knowledge or doctrine, but really knowing the Lord. The criterion of a church's value is the measure of Christ Himself in His members. This is not mere idealism, it is the normal state of a truly Holy Spirit constituted church in any place. Paul's use of the word "riches" in this Letter indicates how spiritually wealthy any company of the Lord's people should be.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with # 2)

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