Lesson 4 – The Formation of the Church
CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION TO REDEEM PEOPLE FOR THE CHURCH
In forming the church, we first need the material, the people of God. Where were the people and what was the condition of the people before Christ’s crucifixion? Before Christ’s crucifixion, no one was qualified to be members of the church. The church is glorious. The church is holy. The church is of life, of the Triune God. All the people were under the condemnation of God because of offenses (Rom. 5:18a). They were constituted sinners because of disobedience (Rom. 5:19a). They were alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18) and therefore could not express God. They were born in sin, they struggled in sin their entire life, and they will die in sin. They were neither glorious nor holy. Neither were they one with the Triune God, rather, they were enemies of God. They became the old man of the old creation. Ultimately, they were dead in their offenses and sins. How can anyone form the church with people in such a condition? It is impossible!
Who then could redeem these people back to God? Could you or I? No! No one in heaven or on earth throughout the history of mankind could save God’s people out of this dilemma except Jesus Christ our Lord. He is the perfect and unique Savior, because He is the complete God and the perfect and genuine man. As the genuine man, He has blood to shed. As the perfect man, His death is not for His own sins, but for ours. As the complete God, He can release the life of God into us. There has been only one such person throughout the history of humanity qualified to be the Savior. Hallelujah! Since He alone is the Savior, He alone is qualified to form the church.
By His vicarious death (1 Pet. 3:18), we were saved from the judgment of God (Rom. 5:18b). He is more than our substitution. As a result of His crucifixion, not only were all the negative things terminated on the cross, but the divine life was released. The divine life was released from the one grain of wheat to produce many grains (John 12:24), the many sons of God. Now we are no longer sinners and no longer the old man. We no longer belong to the old creation, but we are now sons of God and members of Christ. Ultimately, we are the church, the Body of Christ.
CHRIST’S RESURRECTION TO REGENERATE PEOPLE TO BE LIVING MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH
In order for Christ to form the church, it was necessary for Him to pass through death and enter into resurrection that He might impart the divine life into our being. He brought the Triune God into our being to cause us to be born of God (1 Pet. 1:3). In resurrection He was transfigured from the flesh to the Spirit. First Corinthians 15:45b tells us that in His resurrection and through His resurrection Christ as the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.
On the day of His resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared to His disciples in a wonderful way. “When therefore it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst and said to them, Peace be to you” (John 20:19). The disciples were “startled and became frightened and thought they beheld a spirit” (Luke 24:37), that is, a phantom, a ghost, a specter. The Lord said to them, “See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you behold Me having” (Luke 24:39). The Lord had a physical body that could be seen and touched. After showing the disciples “both His hands and His side” (John 20:20), the Lord “breathed into them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit” (v. 22). This is the Spirit expected in John 7:39 and promised in 16:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-8, 13. Hence, the Lord’s breathing of the Holy Spirit into the disciples was the fulfillment of His promise of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter. Here the Spirit as the breath was breathed as life into the disciples for their life. By breathing the Spirit into the disciples, the Lord imparted Himself as life and everything into them.
CHRIST’S ASCENSION TO POUR OUT THE SPIRIT ON HIS PEOPLE TO FORM THE CHURCH
After appearing to His disciples for a period of forty days, the Lord Jesus ascended to the heavens. Ten days later, on the day of Pentecost, He, having again received the consummated Spirit, poured out this Spirit upon all His disciples.
We need to see clearly the difference between the breathing in John 20 and the blowing in Acts 2. The breathing in John 20 is for the imparting of the life-giving Spirit into the believers essentially for their spiritual being and for their spiritual living. But the blowing in Acts 2 is for the pouring out of the economical Spirit of power upon the believers, who have already received the essential Spirit into them. The pouring out of the Spirit of power is not for the believers’ spiritual being or living; rather, the outpouring of the Spirit of power is for the believers’ ministry and move. Therefore, the essential aspect of the Spirit is for living, and the economical aspect is for ministry.
Now we can see that the church was formed by two steps. The first step was the Lord’s breathing the Spirit into the believers for their spiritual existence and being. The second step was the Lord’s pouring out Himself as the consummated Spirit upon the believers, baptizing them into one Body. By these two steps the believers were filled inwardly with the Spirit and were clothed outwardly with the Spirit. Inwardly they had the Spirit of essence, the essential Spirit, and outwardly they had the Spirit of economy, the economical Spirit. As a result, they were altogether wrapped up with the Spirit, and by being wrapped up with the Spirit they were formed into the Body of Christ. This was the formation of the church.
On the day of Pentecost Christ baptized the Jewish believers in the economical Spirit. Not too long afterward, in the house of Cornelius He baptized the Gentile believers in the economical Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, the economical Spirit descended upon the Jewish believers, and in the house of Cornelius in Caesarea, the same economical Spirit descended upon the Gentile believers. By these two instances of the believers being baptized in the economical Spirit, Christ, as the Head in the heavens, baptized His entire Body “both the Jewish side and the Gentile side” in one Spirit into one Body, as fully revealed in 1 Corinthians 12:13. Therefore, the church was formed through Christ’s baptizing all the believers, both Jews and Gentiles, in one Spirit into one Body.
Through the once-for-all baptism in the all-inclusive Spirit, the church, in the eyes of God, was once for all, universally formed to be the fullness of Christ for His universal expression. It is after this universal formation of the Body of Christ that, through the centuries, all God’s chosen people were, are, and will be brought into not only the reality but also the practicality of the Body of Christ until the completion is reached.
The formation of the church took place in two steps at two different times: on the day of Pentecost and when Peter was in the house of Cornelius (Acts 2:1; 10:24). What happened on the day of Pentecost with the Jewish believers and in the house of Cornelius with the Gentile believers was for the formation of the church, the Body of Christ
The church has been formed directly by Christ the Head (Matt. 16:18). Ephesians 1:22 and 23 tell us that God gave Christ to be Head over all things to the church, which is His Body. The important phrase “to the church” implies that whatever Christ the Head has attained and obtained is transmitted to the church. This transmission from the Head is the source of the Body.
The formation of the church by Christ the Head took place through the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2:17-18, 33). The outpouring of the Spirit differs from the breathing of the Spirit into the disciples out of the mouth of Christ at His resurrection. The pouring out of God’s Spirit was from the heavens at Christ’s ascension. The former is the essential aspect of the Spirit breathed into the disciples as life for their living; the latter is the economical aspect of the Spirit poured upon them as power for their work. The same Spirit is both within them essentially and upon them economically.
The pouring out of the Spirit at Christ’s ascension was the descension of the resurrected and ascended Christ as the all-inclusive Spirit to carry out His heavenly ministry on earth to build up the church as His Body for God’s New Testament economy.
The Lord Jesus referred to the baptism in the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:5. “John indeed baptized in water, but you shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” This has been accomplished in two sections involving the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul says, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks.” Since the Spirit is the sphere and element of our spiritual baptism and in the Spirit we were all baptized into one organic entity, the Body of Christ, so we should all, regardless of our races, nationalities, and social ranks, be this one Body. It is in the one Spirit that we were all baptized into the one living Body to express Christ.