KNOWING THE CHURCH
As saved ones and members of the church, we must know the church. Unfortunately, today’s Christianity preaches the gospel and teaches the truth, yet it neglects the church. As a result, people today generally consider that the church is a chapel. When I was a small boy, I thought that the church is a building with a steeple and a big bell that is tolled on every Lord’s Day to summon people to worship. At that time, people used to say, “We are going to the church to worship.” What they meant by “the church” is the building with a steeple. Even until now, many still say this. I am concerned that many saints in the Lord’s recovery may also consider the meeting hall as the church. Actually, the church is not a physical building; it is an assembling together of all the saints.
For more than a thousand years Christianity neglected and abandoned the church, making the church a material thing. In the previous century, when the Brethren in England were raised up, they saw the light and told people that it is a heresy to say that the church is a material building. They pointed out in a clear and definite way that the Greek word for church is ekklesia, composed of ek, meaning “out,” and a derivative of kaleo, meaning “call.” Hence, the church is the called-out ones, the congregation, the assembly. During the time of the city-states in ancient Greece, when the ruler of a city assembled the citizens, calling them out of their homes to the city square, this big meeting was called the ekklesia. Therefore, it is best to translate this word into the called-out congregation or the called-out assembly. The Brethren properly understood this meaning and therefore did not approve of using the word church, but used assembly instead. In his New Translation of the Bible, Darby renders ekklesia as assembly. The second Christian group that used assembly to denote the church is the Assembly of God. When they came to China, they translated the Greek word directly as assembly instead of church.
Concerning the church, the Brethren dealt only with its position. They also said something, but not much, about the church being the Body of Christ. Furthermore, they said, but also not much, that the church is the counterpart, the wife, of Christ. After the Brethren assemblies, it was not until the Lord came to us that He clearly revealed that the church is the Body of Christ, the dwelling place of God, the new man, the fullness of God, the counterpart, the warrior, and the lampstand, which is the complete mingling of the Triune God with His redeemed people. Nearly all the publications among us are on the Triune God, Christ, the Spirit, life, and the church. We tell people that the church is the Body of Christ, the dwelling place of God in our spirit, and the new man who has been fully regenerated and transformed to be filled with God unto all the fullness of God. We also say that the church came out of Christ to be His counterpart, just as Eve came out of Adam and was given back to Adam to be his counterpart, and that the church is a golden lampstand. Especially in the recent few years, we have released many messages concerning the golden lampstand, saying that the church as the golden lampstand is the embodiment of the Triune God and the mingling of the believers with the Triune God, which will eventually consummate in the New Jerusalem, the unique golden lampstand in the universe. Thus, we may say that we have thoroughly covered the matter of the church.
THE GROUND AND COURSE OF THE CHURCH
We have already seen what the church is in its proper and normal sense. Now we must see that the believers should be in the church after they are saved. Today’s Protestantism and Catholicism have altogether become deformed. After two thousand years, the church has become degraded and deformed; it has lost its proper and normal condition and is in a state of great confusion. The condition of the church today is different from that at the time when it first appeared. In today’s Christianity, there is not one locality with one church but one locality with one hundred “churches” like a “church market.” This situation is typified by the history of the children of Israel in the Old Testament. In the beginning the Israelites were one nation, but they were divided because of degradation. Eventually, they were carried away to Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. Likewise, the church today has also been divided because of degradation. Who is the proper church? The proper church in God’s eyes is a group of people who stand on the proper ground and are according to God’s heart.
After the captivity of Israel, there were only the children of Israel but not the nation of Israel. When the seventy years had been fulfilled, God commanded the children of Israel to return from the land of captivity to form a nation again. However, not all of them obeyed God’s command to return. The books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther tell us that only a small number of the children of Israel returned to rebuild the holy temple and the holy city. At that time there were still many Israelites in Assyria, Egypt, and Babylon. Therefore, at that time there were several groups of the children of Israel. Then, in God’s eyes, which group was the nation of Israel? It was the group that returned to Israel. Because the returned people had the holy temple and the holy city and were in the holy land, they were the nation of Israel. Those who did not return were not. Those who did not return may have been angry, questioning how they could not be the nation of Israel, since they also were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the same manner, those in the Christian denominations today may also question why they are not the church, since they are Christians.
(Four Crucial Elements of the Bible, The—Christ, the Spirit, Life, and the Church, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)