THE NATURE, SOURCE, AND ESSENCE OF THE CHURCH
The first thing we have seen is that the church is something of God’s eternal purpose, and the second point is that this purpose was hidden in God as a mystery. Now we must see what the church is. Some may quickly say that the church is the Body of Christ and the house of God. Since the Brethren were raised up by God in 1828, they wrote many books on these two aspects of the church. Whenever you meet the Brethren and talk with them, they may tell you that the church is the Body of Christ and the house of God. From the time of the Brethren until today, nearly all the seeking Christians have come to know this. This is one hundred percent correct, but I wish to speak in a more subjective way. The Body of Christ is subjective, but there is still something more subjective than this. The Body of Christ and the house of God are the function of the church, but these aspects do not show us the nature and the source of the church.
The term that can help us to see the source and the nature of the church is increase. The church is the increase of Christ. Therefore, Christ is the source of the church and the nature of the church. The church is something out of Christ; it is Christ Himself increased and enlarged. This term to describe the church is more subjective.
Christ is the very source of the church, and Christ is the very nature, even the very essence, of the church. If a person were to grow one hundred times larger than he is now, he would still be the same person, but in an increased and enlarged way. In the same way, the church is Christ Himself increased and enlarged.
The scriptural support for this is John 3:30. In this verse, John the Baptist speaks of the Son of God, Christ, by saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” More than thirty years ago I was taught from this verse that in our daily lives Christ must be increased, enlarged to be everything, and we must be decreased, reduced to nothing. I was much helped by such a teaching. In all my daily life by the grace of God I tried to be reduced. “No longer I…but…Christ” (Gal. 2:20) simply means I am reduced and Christ is increased. However, the correct meaning of John 3:30 is not what I was taught.
In these last few years we have received the correct meaning of this verse according to its context. Verse 26 says, “And they came unto John and said to him, Rabbi, He who was with you across the Jordan, of whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” The disciples of John saw that all men came to the Lord Jesus. They were not happy, so they came to John, their rabbi, and told him about it. Verses 27-29 say, “John answered and said, A man cannot receive anything unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves testify of me that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice. This joy of mine therefore is made full.” By the context of these verses we may know that all who come to the Lord to be redeemed by Him are the Lord’s bride, and the Lord is the Bridegroom. John the Baptist is not this Bridegroom; he is the friend of the Bridegroom. It is the Lord who is the Bridegroom who will have the bride.
Following this, the next verse says, “He must increase.” What does this mean? This simply means that Christ will have a bride, and the bride is His increase. In the previous verse there is the bride, and in this verse there is the increase. We should underline these two words, bride in verse 29 and increase in verse 30. The increase in verse 30 is the bride in verse 29.
We can rightly understand how the bride is the increase by means of the types in the Old Testament. The first type of this kind is Eve as a bride to Adam to be Adam’s increase. Eve was the first bride, and this bride was the increase of Adam. Adam was a bachelor, a single person. One day, the Lord God caused this bachelor, this single Adam, to sleep. While he was sleeping, God opened Adam’s side, took a rib out of him, and made this rib into a woman as a bride to match this bachelor. This rib became a counterpart to match the single Adam. Now this bachelor was no more single. There was a couple, yet this bride, this wife, was the increase of Adam. Previously Adam was single, but now he had a wife, a counterpart, to match him. Genesis 2 tells us that these two became one flesh. These two were not two persons but one person as two counterparts; the wife was a counterpart of the husband, and the husband was the counterpart to the wife. They two were a complete person, a couple. By this we can see that a wife is the increase of her husband. If we look at a husband and wife today, we may not realize that the wife is something out of the husband. But if we could see Adam and Eve standing together, we would immediately be able to see that Eve was something out of Adam as the increase of Adam.
(Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)