Myth or Mission?
“Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.” Ephesians 5:25
Everywhere and in all ages men have looked for a visible body of believers with a vicar of some sort on earth, some recognizable unity that could be pointed out, of which it could be said, “This is the true church.” Some men have always believed that a right formula exists which could produce such a structure, in spite of repeated failures. Endless, useless rivers of blood have been poured out in its defense.
The Mission of the Church
One Phoenix dream that has lured men to death says that if the world could only be converted in our generation then the church would become a reality, Christ would return, and we would be triumphant. Therefore, the mission of the church is to convert the world.
But as this concept is unscriptural, so is the mission of such a church unscriptural, because the mission of the Church is not the conversion of the world. If that has been its mission, it has failed. No evidence of its victory is visible today after twenty centuries. From the beginning of church history the apostle had to write of the complete failure of the seven churches in the very geographical area where there had been such hopeful stirrings. “All those which are in Asia,” said Paul, “are turned away from me.”
In the vast continent of Africa, after hundreds of years of intensive heart-concern by some of the godliest men the missionary forces have ever mustered, the Church failed to establish itself there. Convulsive forces of evil from within that dark, mysterious land have time and again erupted and spread over the earth causing terror and blood baths that were unknown, even unimagined, a hundred years before. We see that noble giant of the faith, David Livingston, after years of heartbreaking labours of love, die defeated. He had opened up the black heart of Africa, not to the establishment of the Church, but to the diabolic practice of the slave trade which was to condemn thousands to death, or to such pain and torture that death would have been a merciful release. Livingston realized what had happened and wept over it long before he died.
The sacrifices of a Morrison, a Taylor, a David Davies, and many others, failed to establish the Church in China. The labours of Goforth in Korea and Japan, Carmichael and Carey in India, Bingham in the Sudan, Judson in Burma—to mention only a few—have not left a single visible evidence of the foundation of the Church in those countries. Neither in Luther’s Germany, Calvin’s Geneva, Wesley’s England, Knox’s Scotland, do we see anything but the spiritual hulk of a shipwrecked organization. Even Rome’s vaunted claim of a world church lies in the burning ruins of social upheavals, having changed her doctrine a dozen times trying to outrun the hot lava flow of disaster.
“Strictly speaking,” said Dr. Chafer, “the church has no mission, for God has never commissioned her as a corporate body to undertake any task whatever.”
Has God failed? Obviously He cannot fail. But men have failed to understand what His real purpose is, was, and shall be, regarding the Church He establishes. A church on earth is not God’s purpose. It never was. If it had been, He could and would have established it. But since there is a curse on the earth, the only thing that can remove that curse is complete purging. The earth we live on must be destroyed. It is corrupt. It contains the leaven of its own destruction. Let the cults scrabble over the garbage of this world. Let them build temporal temples to fit their fevered imaginations. The grass of their labor will be burnt in the ovens of God one day and the place thereof will know them no more.
The Members of the Church
The Church which Christ loved, and for which He gave Himself, is in the hearts of men. It is a heavenly creation: The Kingdom of God is within you. (Even when translated “among,” the meaning is not changed materially.) Therefore, seek that Kingdom first, He said, for God dwelleth not in temples made with men’s hands, as though He needed anything.
The efforts of Baptist Christians, Presbyterian Christians, Roman Catholic Christians, Pentecostal Christians, even non-denominational Christians and Evangelical Associations of nondenominational Christians, has failed. All of them. And justly so. For the Church which God is building is being gathered together, one living stone at a time. It is being purified and prepared to meet and worship Him, both now and in the aeons to come. This Church is called the Bride of Christ. It was for the Church that Christ gave Himself.
There is no competition in the establishment of this Church, no separatism, no ecclesiology no hierarchy, no fund raising, openly and honestly, or surreptitiously and dishonestly. There is no amalgamated conglomeration of ecumenicals seeking earthly power, but rather the salt of humanity and common sense, “spirits of just men made perfect”.
A member of this Church takes the Lord at His Word and with staff in hand goes everywhere preaching the gospel, led by the Spirit, free of the Law (any law), welcomed in every home where Christ is welcome, shaking the dust from his feet and departing from that home where Baal is worshipped. He does this lovingly, boldly, without charge, as he is moved by the Spirit. He does not coerce others to follow him, but implores them in the name of God to follow Christ. He does not draw attention to himself but to Christ, knowing that as Christ is increased, he himself must decrease. His avowed purpose is to worship God. It is his principal, soul-satisfying occupation. His day is marked by total attention to the will of God. Does he work? He works to the glory of God. Does he marry? He marries to the glory of God. Does he preach? He preaches to the glory of God. Does he pray, or teach, or counsel? He does all to the glory of God. Does he evangelize? He does this to the glory of God. He is no respecter of persons. He fears none. He speaks with the power of God, the authority of the Word, and the assurance of his anointing to do so. No man is his debtor. He owes none. He serves none. But he serves a risen Saviour, the Lord of every lord, the King of all kings.
How could such a person be subservient to a system, a program of world-wide conquest in the name of Christ? How can he be compressed into the mold of another man’s earthly dream of the Church? Make no mistake. We love this world. It is the flaw in every man born of Adam, the imperfection which marks his corrupt nature. God is not enough for him. He must sally forth into the world as king to conquer, not as he should, a pauper to be humiliated and abused.
The Message of the Church
It was, indeed, the Church—the assembly of the first born—that went forth in those days to preach of one risen from the dead, who was Christ, the Son of God, the heir to David’s throne. It was the Church that suffered and bled and died—individually, personally—in order to tell the good news to all men everywhere. It was the blood of these martyrs that was the seed of the Church of God. It was this Church that moved with irresistible force and logic upon a rotten, fetid world of unbelievable cruelty, corruption, and hardened conscience. But it was a Church that had no message for this world, but rather of one to come.
The terror they struck in the hearts of the men of their time proved the strength of their message. They said, “Flee this world!” They made uncomfortable the comfortable. They raised the hope of the despondent and desperate. They spared not the compromisers of this world. They preached a judgment coming. “This same Jesus,” they said, “shall come again.” This one whom you crucified and tormented and despised, and whose body you tore and mangled, He is coming again. You shall look upon Him whom you have pierced. Then you will see why He died, not to establish the Ecumenical Church of Unbelieving Multitudes, but to gather a Bride for Himself, a Church, not of this world—for that world was not worthy—but to build a New Jerusalem which in diamond perfect beauty will reflect a Son, whose glory will outshine the stars. This will be when the Church triumphant becomes the Church ascendant.
No, the mission of this Church on earth is to worship Him, not to build three tabernacles to confine that which cannot be confined, not to limit that which is illimitable, not to visualize that which is invisible, eternal and incorruptible. Rather it is “to show the excellence of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.”
Let every member of that Church take heed how he builds on that one foundation. Let him know that he walks on holy ground when he speaks of such a Church. Let him know that the founder of that Church is a jealous God. He will have no other gods before Him. Not of ambition, not of schemes, not of rituals, or progress, or “congresses of world evangelism,” or crusades, or communes. Not of prominent men—or women—not of towering buildings of Babel, or armies or mercenaries, or gold and silver chalices, or seductive sounds, and incense, and ornate robes; not the communion of devils, nor the worship of the rudiments of this world.
The Main Task of the Church
Where do the Scriptures portray the feverish activity of men to convert the world? Where do we see men holding giant crusades or deluging whole cities with an avalanche of paper? Do we not rather see men of God’s choosing pleading God’s mercy and declaring the forgiveness of sin? Do we not see the church which is in their house living and breathing lives of pure devotion and care for the saints, reaching out to the “household of Caesar,” everywhere and in every place testifying to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? Was there ever portrayed a desire to organize a thrust upon the household of Caesar, or to plan a revival in Antioch, or the making of vows to saturate Rome with printed matter, or to place in the hands of every Roman soldier Paul’s letter to the saints at Rome?
As Dr. Tozer wrote, “The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it. Our Lord said, ‘Go ye,’ but He also said, ‘Tarry ye,’ and the tarrying had to come before the going.”
Christ won a hearing in the world by the testimony of those who were transformed. They had no head but Christ. They honoured neither Caesar nor Diana, neither the power of the state nor the lure of religion. They drew together with those of like mind and conscience to offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The Scriptures assumed this would happen and so the Spirit gave direction how to conduct themselves in that Church, “decently and in order.”
William MacDonald wrote in his commentary on the book of the Acts: “The goal before the disciples was world evangelism… the assemblies were primarily spiritual havens for believers rather than centers for reaching the unsaved.” It was these people, this Church, whose destiny was fixed. Her sojourn here was temporal and immaterial. Her tents were to be easily folded and put away for that tabernacle not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. She was to keep her eyes fixed on heaven, not on the things on earth. She was to be in rags now, but clothed in riches then. She was to suffer here, but be glorified with Him in that day. She was to be unknown, persecuted, despised, tortured and neglected on earth, but to be raised incorruptible, pure, undefiled, rich and glorified in heaven one day. The world would then bow the knee. Low, low would drop every head. Every tongue would then confess the Lord of that Church as supreme. And those who see that vision here, and declare His name on earth, shall be honoured with Him in that day. “He that honoureth not the Son, honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him.”
The Church on earth prepares for the apocalypse. She yearns for that day of unveiling. Her heart is caught up with the worship of Him that shall come, riding on a white horse, ruddy and fair, with the flaming sword of truth by His side. Where, when, and by whom has this teaching of Scripture been abrogated?
“The ultimate sphere of the church’s service is not in this world at all; it lies out beyond. I commend you to think of the Ephesian epistle in which Paul shows what is the final vocation of the church of God. It is not on earth. I am not saying the church has no vocation on earth. She has. But her earthly vocation will only be fulfilled as it should be when she realizes that the ultimate meaning of the church of God lies out in the ages to come.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
What, then, does this Church do until that day of unveiling? The best answer is from the Scriptures themselves.
Paul interrupts the magnificent description of the resurrection in his letter to Corinth to exclaim: “Awake to righteousness and sin not, for some have not the knowledge of God! I speak this to your shame!” There is no thought here of folded hands and complacent lives, remote from battle; no thought of neglect, or lack of compassion for the multitudes in dark lands of unbelief. “Go!” The Word plainly declares. “Go!” Everywhere in every place proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. But go in simplicity and truth. Go everyone of you in the name of Christ. You don’t need a glorified earthly leader. Your Captain is Christ. Take your staff in hand, shod with the gospel of peace, and go, “taking nothing from the Gentiles.” Let yourselves be taught of God and let yourselves be guided by His Spirit. Having been made free, why return to the beggarly elements of this world? Christ is your judge. In that day be assured, the reward shall be sufficient for all the desires of your heart, pressed down, shaken together, running over. All the pain, neglect, sorrow, misunderstanding and ignominy will be forgotten when we behold His face with our glorified bodies, delivered from the wrath to come.