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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Nature and Purpose of the Church

The Great Transition From One Humanity to Another

Now for a little while I will go on to the the nature and purpose of the Church, now and in the ages afterward; and here again, we need a revised version of what we mean when we speak of the Church. Through the years I have talked and written much about the Church, but on this very matter of the Church I find that I am being forced to a revision, not to abandon what has been said, taught, and believed, and acted upon, but as we go on, a great deal of what we did at the beginning, of what we called our Church teaching, a great deal has, shall I say, broken down?!

Now, brethren, what are you finding about the Church today? To begin with, you may be looking around everywhere and saying: "Where is it? Is this the Church? Well, this does not come up to Ephesians; far from it, it is very much like Corinthians." So, what is the Church? What is its function now and in the ages to come? The Apostle Paul always linked these two things together: "Unto Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all ages, forever and ever" - the function of the Church afterward, as well as now.

What is the Church? Of course, there are various symbols of the Church. The Church is called "the House of God," it is called a "Temple," it is called "the Body of Christ," it is called "the Bride," and so on. You may ask, "Are these different things?" No, they are only aspects of one thing. Each of those definitions or designations or titles is only a functionary aspect of the Church. The House of God - the place where God lives. The Temple of God - where He is worshiped.  The Body of Christ - the vessel of a Personality. The Body of Christ is a function, a many-sided function of the expression of the Personality. The Bride - is the expression of the affectional relationship between Christ and the Church: "Christ loved the Church, gave Himself for it ... so ought husbands to love their wives..." The Bride is the affectional relationship between Christ and His Church. These are all symbols of the one thing, but what is the one thing of which these are but aspects? And that is what we have got to come to, that is where our revision of mentality has to take place.

So, what is the inclusive designation of the Church? "One Man" - You have it in that great Church letter of Ephesians where "He has broken down the middle wall of partition" between Jew and Gentile (racially the old human divisions, compartments) He has removed the division and has made "of the twain one new man." The inclusive designation is a Man, "One new man," - a New Humanity. It is the aggregate of the New Creation people, men and women, Jews and Gentiles, (not remaining as they are naturally, Jews and Gentiles) but just one New Man, one New Humanity: that is the Church! And which Humanity is it? That touches on the function: there is the nature.

Oh, do take this to heart, dear friends, for I do not intend to offend anyone, but what is God doing? What is He after? Is He after making a new institution called the Church, a new ecclesiasticism, something that has a denominator among men, like the individual denominations or the non-denominations? Is God doing that? Is that what God is doing? (This is where we need a mental revision, a heart revision.) No! He is not in it. No, He is not doing that, He is only with the people, not with the thing. But God is doing in the spiritual way what He did at the beginning. He is saying and proceeding, proceeding with His concept: "Let Us make man, let Us make Man." The Church is the One New Man: - Let Us make a Man, not an institution, or any of these things that the Church is called. God said: "Let Us make a Man," and that is what He is doing with you and with me. God is not trying to make of us any of these many things that Christians are called and the names by which they go. He is just getting to work on you to constitute us "the Man."

You remember what we said in the beginning: "He called them (man and woman) - He called them man." Here in this (and, sisters, be careful how you take what I am now going to say, for "there is neither male nor female") it is a Man, that is, it is a Humanity. I cannot explain to you, because I do not know, what that Humanity is going to be afterward in glory, but Jesus answering a certain man's question about marriage and repeated marriages, (whose wife a certain woman would be afterward out of all she had married) said, "Ye do err ... in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels." It is a kind of Humanity that is different. Oh, the questions will arise, "Shall I know my husband in heaven, shall I know my wife in heaven?" Yes! But we shall know in a way in which it is far better to know, however precious may have been the human relationships, husband and wife, wife and husbands here - yes, precious, very precious; but is it not better when a husband and wife know each other in the Spirit than in he flesh? Is it not lovely when they flow together from one Spirit, one vision, one objective that their united lives manifest Jesus Christ in the home and in the neighborhood?! There is something very precious about that.

I had a son, and the Lord took him about three or four years ago; and as my son, we have a good relationship, there was not strife between us as father and son, no difficulty at all; and he and I had such spiritual fellowship that I could open my heart to him as fully as I could to anybody, and more than to most people - for he was not only my son, but he was my spiritual friend. Brethren, you know what I am talking about. That is how we are going to know, and it will be a better kind of knowing. Do not worry, then, whether you know your husband or your wife. Oh, you will: "Then shall I know, even as I have been known by the Lord."

The Vocation:The Emanation of Christ

Now, we must move on. The vocation of the Church now and in eternity is going to be just the emanation of Christ. It is now intended to be that, and God help us to be that. It is not this and that and one or more of a hundred things that are the idea about the Church today, but it is just this one thing, the presence of a different kind of Man, in the individual and collectively. Let us take it universally.

Are you not impressed with how Peter, having passed through the great transition from the old Jewish humanity, got right through: - after his battles with the Gentiles at Caesarea, and Cornelius' house, after his battle down at Antioch when James and the elders came down from Jerusalem, when Peter withdrew himself from eating with the Gentiles ("dissimulation" Paul called it). When he got through it all, and thank God Peter got through it all, what did he say in the opening of his letter? "To the saints, scattered throughout Pontius, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia." Peter says: "Ye, Galatians, Cappadocians, Asians, Bithynians, you are all scattered. The dispersion has taken place, and you are all scattered, you saints, and yet you are a spiritual house, One House. Not so many houses, but One House, Everywhere," What is this? It is where the Lord is dwelling, in men and women.

The Church universal according to the Divine concept is just One Man in the earth. How we discover that when we meet somebody we have never met before and they are the Lord's. It is wonderful! - until you begin to ask or they begin to ask why you belong to. If you just talk about things of the Lord, One Man, One Blessed man, it is like that. Well, that is very elementary; it is very simple, but that is what the Church is universally: that is what the Church is locally.

When people come into the local company, they do not come in and say, "Well, this is how they behave, this is what they do; they have baptisms, they have the Lord's table, and they have this form of worship." No, these things may be all right, they may have their place, they may be a part of a Divine order, but what is it they are to meet? - not our technique, but "God is in this place!" - they meet the Lord. They may not be able to put it like that, they may not be able to define it or explain it, but the impress is: "There is something there, these people have got life, these people are in the good of something that you will not find anywhere else. It is the Lord." Oh, that all our local companies were just like that, in whatever way we go on, the thing that impresses is: "The Lord is here, the Lord is here."

I have moved out from the universal to the local company, and now I am going to move down to the individual. To the Corinthians the Apostle Paul said: "Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit? He dwells in you." I am a microcosm of the Church (or intended to be), and each one of you is intended to be a microcosm of the Church. Now what is it? What is true of the universal Church collectively is to be true in our case, it is to be Christ that people meet when they meet us individually, What broke upon this man Paul's heart was not something that he studied up, read up, or worked out in his mind, but he saw Jesus as Lord (and He is a lifetime of seeing). Paul began to see, and to go on to see, what the Church really is. And I will say this, brethren, you do not know anything about the Church if you have not seen Jesus Christ - however much you have read and talked about it, if you have not seen Him, you do not know what the Church is. It is not a thing, an it. But if you have seen Him, it is a Him, it is a Person WHO is dwelling in persons - that is the Church! I think that is enough this morning. Very much more could be said, but time has gone. Let us pray ...

Make the truth live in us, O Lord. May that divine fiat take place, light shine into our hearts, and the eyes of our understanding be enlightened that we may see light in Thy light. For Thy Name and glory and satisfaction's sake, Amen.

~T. Austin-Sparks~

(continued with - "The Immense Significance of Jesus Christ: Crucified, Risen, and Exalted")

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