Lesson 1 – The Two Aspects of the Church
THE VISION CONCERNING THE CHURCH
God’s eternal purpose is to have the church. His purpose is not just to create man, to rescue him from his fallen condition, and to bring him to heaven. Furthermore, God’s purpose is not simply to have us be holy, spiritual, and victorious. Creation, salvation, sanctification, spirituality, and victory are all part of God’s procedure to reach His goal, but they are not the goal itself. Ephesians 3:10-11 unveils the fact that the existence of the church is according to the eternal purpose of God which He purposed in Christ. The church is something of God’s eternal purpose. It did not come into existence by accident, but was planned in eternity. Before time began, in eternity, God purposed to have the church. The church, therefore, is the center of God’s eternal plan. Why is the church so dear, so lovable, and so precious to God? It is because the church is the desire of God’s heart, which He purposed before time began. God in eternity planned to have the church.
Many in Christianity have made the church something outward. When some speak of the church, they mean a physical building. If they speak of going to church, they mean going to a chapel or cathedral or some kind of sanctuary. These are material things constructed of bricks, stones, steel, or wood. What a mistake this is. The church is a building, but the church is not a physical building. The church is a building of all God’s chosen people. He first created His people. His people, as a result of the fall, fell into sin. He then had to redeem them back to Himself. After being cleansed from sin, they needed to be regenerated with the life of God in their spirit. After being regenerated in their spirit they are suitable for the building, but their soul still needs sanctification and transformation. The sanctifying and transforming work is done by the Triune God to produce material for the building of His church. These building materials are living. They are the chosen, redeemed, regenerated, and transformed people of God.
The divine life, God’s life, the eternal life, the uncreated life, the indestructible life, is the very essence of the church, and this divine life generates the church (1 John 1:2; 5:1). Since the source of the church is the Triune God, the nature of the church is of heaven and not of earth. We began by being seated in the heavenlies with Christ (Eph. 2:6). The New Jerusalem, the ultimate consummation of the church, will descend out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:9-10). This tells us that the church is not of earth but of heaven. Therefore, the apostle Paul told us in Colossians 3:1-3, “If therefore you were raised together with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things which are above, not on the things which are on the earth; for you died, and your life has been hidden with Christ in God.” We should live our life on this earth as a heavenly people, not bound or distracted by earthly things like the unsaved, but to be occupied with the Triune God, His life, and the things above. As we live this way, we will be good material for the building up of the church.
The church’s foundation is Christ, revealed and ministered through the apostles and prophets. Ephesians 2:20 speaks of the foundation of the apostles and prophets. This foundation is the very Christ whom they ministered to others. Paul said that Christ was the unique foundation which he had laid. No one can lay another foundation (1 Cor. 3:10-11). The Christ who is the foundation of the church is the unique Christ revealed and ministered by the early apostles, as recorded in the New Testament.
THE UNIVERSAL ASPECT
There is only one church in the universe; thus, the church is universal, comprising all the believers in Christ throughout time and in every place (Eph. 1:22). The universal church comprises all of God’s redeemed saints in the New Testament age. The Old Testament saints, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, David, and Isaiah, were not members of the New Testament church. The New Testament church began at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts. John the Baptist was not in the New Testament church. The Lord Jesus said, I tell you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John; yet he who is littler in the kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:28). This shows that John was not a member of the New Testament church.
At His coming back, the Lord Jesus will close the church age, and many Jews will repent. Zechariah 12 gives us the details of their salvation. The Jews will be saved, but they will not be in the New Testament church. We are the most blessed people because we are in the most blessed age, the age of the church. The church has a universal aspect, it includes Peter, John, Paul, and all the believers through the centuries. It also includes us, and it includes those who will follow us in the future.
In Matthew 16:18 we have the Lord’s first mentioning of the church. In this verse He says, “On this rock I will build My church.” What is revealed here is the universal church for the unique testimony of the Lord in the universe. The universal church is to be built by Christ, the Son of the living God revealed by the Father. When Peter declared that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Lord said to Him, “You are blessed, Simon Bar-jona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens” (Matt. 16:17).
Only the Father knows the Son (Matt. 11:27) and can reveal the Son to us. The Son revealed by the Father is now building the universal church, not the church in a nation or the church in a city. The universal church is to be built on the rock of the revelation concerning Christ, the Son of the living God. This revelation is the crucial factor, the central point of the building up of the universal church. The church is not to be built up according to any doctrine, creed, or so-called belief. The gates of Hades, Satan’s power of darkness, shall not prevail against the church. Rather, the church has the keys of the kingdom of heaven. That means the church has the authority to bind the devil and to loose all God’s people for His church. Hallelujah! How glorious and powerful is the church.
THE LOCAL ASPECT
The other aspect of the church is the local aspect. It is important to see the universal aspect. It is equally important to see the local aspect. Many Christians see very little concerning the universal church. Others may see something concerning the universal aspect of the church, yet they do not regard the local aspect of the church to be important.
In order to live in the universal church practically, we have to live in the local churches. Actually, we cannot live directly in the universal church. It is impossible for us to live in the universal church without living in a local church.
The Lord is building up the universal church, and each of us is living practically in a local church. In Matthew 18:17 the Lord said that if, as a believer, you have a problem with another believer, you should tell it to the church. Surely the church mentioned in this verse is not the universal church; it must be the church in the place where you are. If you are in Seoul and you have any problem, you should tell the problem to the church in Seoul. If you are in Pusan, you should go to the church in Pusan; if you are in Hong Kong, you should go to the church in Hong Kong; and if you are in New York, you should go to the church in New York. The church to which you should tell your problem is the local church.
The local churches are the local expressions of the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 2:22). There is only one Body, but there are many expressions. Universally, all the churches are one Body, and locally, every local church is a local expression of that universal Body. A local church is not the Body; it is only a part of the Body. It is a local expression of the Body. The church in Seoul is not the entire Body; it is a part of the entire Body as the Body’s local expression.
All the local churches constitute the one Body of Christ (Eph. 4:4). In Matthew 16:18 the Lord said, “I will build My church.” Here the church is in the singular number, indicating that it must be the universal church. But in the Acts and the Epistles, a number of times the Bible says “the churches” “the churches in Syria, the churches in Asia, the churches in Macedonia, and the churches in Galatia”. How could the Bible refer first to one church and then to many churches? It is because the one church, the universal church, is the totality of all the churches, and all the churches are local constituents of the one universal church.