Lesson 2 – The Status of the Church (1)
THE ASSEMBLY OF THE CALLED OUT ONES—EKKLESIA
We need to be impressed with the fact that, as used in the New Testament with respect to the church, the Greek word ekklesia indicates that the church is a congregation called out of the world so that God may carry out His purpose. According to Genesis 1:26, man was created by God to bear His image and to carry His authority. However, man fell again and again. Eventually, in the last stage of his fall, man fell into the world, the system of Satan. In the eyes of God, as a result of the fall the entire human race has actually become the world. In John 3:16, human beings as a totality are called “the world.’’ Since fallen man is in the world and has even become the world, how can God fulfill His purpose with man and through man? The only way is for God to call out a part of the human race. God has done this very thing. In applying His salvation to us, the first thing God does is to call us. Therefore, the first status of the church is that of the assembly of those who have been called out of the world by God to Himself for the fulfillment of His purpose.
Because the church as the assembly is separated from the world, we may say that the church is composed of the real Hebrews. The root of the word Hebrew (Gen. 14:13) means “to pass over’’; it especially means to pass over a river from one region to another and from one side to another. Hence, the word Hebrew denotes a river crosser, one who crosses a river. The church is composed of the believers who, as real Hebrews, have been called by God out of the world and have “crossed the river’’ from one realm to another. Now as believers in Christ we are the called out ones, the assembly, the congregation called out by God, the ekklesia in opposition to the world, which is on the other side of the river we have crossed. Just as our forefather Abraham was called out of the land of Chaldea, so we have been called out of the world by God to be His assembly.
Whenever we speak of the church as the assembly, the ekklesia, we need to realize that this means that the church has been separated from the world. The first status of the church indicates a thorough separation of God’s called out ones from the world. There must be a great and thorough separation between the church as the ekklesia and the world as the system, the cosmos, of Satan. As the assembly, the church is separated entirely for God so that He may have a means to carry out His eternal purpose.
THE BODY OF CHRIST
Christ is the Head of the Body. In Ephesians 5:23 Paul says, “Christ is Head of the church, being Himself the Savior of the Body.’’ The Savior is a matter of love, whereas the Head is a matter of authority. We love Christ as our Savior, but we must also be subject to Him as our Head. As the Head of the church, the Body, Christ is joined to the Body. Just as in one’s physical body the head and the body are one, so Christ, the Head, and the church, His Body, are joined and therefore are one. The Body is one with the Head in the divine life and in the divine Spirit.
A body must have members. Who are the members of the Body of Christ? We are! We, the God-chosen, Christ-redeemed, and Spirit-regenerated people are the members of the Body. We do not join the Body by signing up. We become members by being saved and baptized into the Body. First Corinthians 12:13 says, “For also in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.’’ Therefore, the Body is organic, of life; it is not formed organizationally. Like the human body, not one member is hired and not one member can be fired. Every member is of life. The Body of Christ is the same. We were not hired nor can we be fired. None of us were admitted into the Body, so we can not remove anyone from the Body. This is wonderful. We can be assured that we will remain in the Body of Christ forever.
THE HOUSE OF GOD
The first mention of the house of God in the Bible is in Genesis 28. One night, when Jacob was escaping from his brother, he had a dream. In his dream he saw “a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it’’ (v. 12). When he awoke from sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’’ (vv. 16-17), which means the house of God.
This first mention of the house of God in the Bible is a seed that grows and develops elsewhere in the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus refers to Jacob’s dream in His word to Nathanael in John 1:51. “He said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’’ This is the fulfillment of Jacob’s dream, for Christ as the Son of Man with His humanity is the ladder set up on the earth and leading to heaven, keeping heaven open to earth and joining earth to heaven for the house of God—Bethel.
Three verses which reveal that the church is the house of God are 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:6; and 1 Peter 4:17. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul says, “If I delay, that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and base of the truth.’’ As God’s dwelling place, the church is both God’s house and His household, His family. In the Old Testament the temple and God’s people were two separate things, but in the fulfillment in the New Testament the dwelling place and the family are one. According to God’s New Testament economy, God’s house is His family.
THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD
As the house of God, the church is the dwelling place of God. Ephesians 2:22 says, “In whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in spirit.’’ The word “you’’ here refers to the local saints. Paul is saying that the local saints, the saints in Ephesus, were being built together in Christ into a dwelling place of God.
The church, the dwelling place of God on earth, is the place in which God can have His rest and put His trust. In this dwelling place God lives and moves to accomplish His will and satisfy the desire of His heart. Because the church is God’s dwelling place, the church is where God expresses Himself. A house is always the best place for a person to express himself. The kind of person you are is expressed by your house. Hence, if you look at a person’s house, you will be able to tell what kind of person he is, because a person’s house is his expression. The principle is the same with the church as the dwelling place of God. In His house, His dwelling place, God expresses Himself on earth. This is the reason 1 Timothy 3:16 reveals that the church is God’s manifestation in the flesh. God not only desires to make home in the church and to have a resting place there; He also wants to express Himself in the church. He wants to practice His New Testament economy, speak forth His desire, and manifest His glory in the church. All that He is, all that He is doing, and all that He wants to obtain are to be manifested, expressed, in the church as His dwelling place.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Ephesians 2:19 says, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God.’’ The term “fellow citizens’’ indicates the kingdom of God. All the believers, both Jewish and Gentile, are citizens of God’s kingdom, which is a sphere wherein God exercises His authority. As long as anyone is a believer, he is a citizen of the kingdom of God. This citizenship involves rights and responsibilities, two things that always go together. We enjoy the rights of the kingdom, and we bear the responsibilities of the kingdom.
The kingdom of God, like the house of God, is a corporate person. The church as the house of God is a corporate person because this house is the family of God, the household of God. The kingdom is likewise a corporate person because it is also a corporate entity. Whether we are living in the church as the house of God or as the kingdom of God depends on whether we are living as members or as citizens. To live as members of the house of God is a matter of enjoyment, but to live in the kingdom of God is a matter of bearing responsibility and of being regulated. We are members of our Father’s household, and we are citizens of our God’s kingdom.