THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH LIFE
The Church is the Kingdom of God here on earth which Christ had established two thousand years ago by shedding of His own blood on the cross and by sending of the Holy Spirit. The Church life on earth is a heavenly experience of living with God as our Father and we as His sons through faith in Christ Jesus. Thus the Church is a divine family of God which is the dwelling place of God Himself IICor. 6:-18). Every born again believer is a member of that family. The Church is a special entity a spiritual entity which has been separated from this world in a spiritual sense. Thus the Church is spiritual and heavenly in character. But the vital truth is that this Church of God is in this very world surrounded by uncertainty, a morally decayed society affected by a deadly virus called “SIN”- crime and violence, drugs and sex, political and social unrest- an environment which is not conducive to a godly living. We are living in a fast changing world which we call “Civilization”--- a civilization with an advancement of learning science and technology. Man has become superman and the technology he uses is a super technology. But despite this fact, the man of this world seems to be grappling with widespread political and social tension. “What is life ?” “Will the men of this world continue to destroy one another ?” “ But how long ?” “What is the future of our humanity ?” “ Will we see the end of our humanity ?” “Will we see the end of what we call civilization ?”
These and many other questions make us crazy and we are weighed down with “weiltchmerz”, literally means world sorrow, sadness from a gloomy world philosophy. In such a trauma, the life in the Church could be an awful experience if our relationship with God is not proper. It is therefore, important that the children of God know what the Bible says and know who we really are and who we really belong to. God has a purpose and a plan and that is what we must know.
The Etymology of the word “Church”
1.The word is derived from the Greek adjective “KYRIAKOS” as used in some such phrases as “Kyriakon Doma” or “Kyriake Oikia” meaning the Lord’s House. Ref. Eph 2:22; IPet. 2:5; ICor. 3:9
2. The other Greek word is, “Ekklessia”. Ek means out of and Kaleo- means to call out. So EKKESSIA means a called out company or an assembly of people of a particular place. While we refer it to Christ’s Church, it would mean , “ A called out body in Christ.” Ref. Mt.18:17; Acts 2:47; 7:38; Eph. 1:13,22-23; 2:17,18,4-6.
The Universal and the Local Church.
The term “Church” is understood in two senses.
(a) The Universal Church- or the Spiritual Church and
(b) The Local Church.
(a) The Universal Church-
In the N.T. , the word “Church”, which has been translated from the Greek word “Ekklessia”, includes all the believers in Christ from all corners of the earth into one body.
“ For by one Spirit are we baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been made to drink into one Spirit”. ICor. 12:13
This is the mystery of the Church that we belong to one unseen spiritual universal Church through one faith and one baptism of the Spirit. The “Ekklessia” in the N.T. is very distinct from the “Church in the Wilderness” mentioned in Acts 7:38. It refers to the people of Israel which was constituted on the Mount of Sainai. They were called out and brought out people peculiar unto God. Ex.6:6-8; 12:3;5:3
The Distinction between the “Church in the Wilderness” and the “Church in the New testament is as follows.
1. The LXX used the word “Ekklessia” to describe the Israelite who responded to the call of God. They were called out, brought out and separated people from Egypt by command and obedience.
In the N.T. , the “Ekklessia” no longer describes the Israelite nation, but the new Israel, the Israel of God in a spiritual sense. They are the called out separated people from the world by grace of God, by the word of God followed by faith. IPet.1:15; Eph.4:4; IIPet. 1:3.
2. God made a covenant with the people of Israel at Mount Sainai by the sacrifice of the Lamb.
God made a new covenant with the new Israel by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the Christ at the cross.
3.They were sanctified temporarily by the yearly sacrifice of the animals. Heb. 9:20-22; 10:1
Whereas, the new Israel are sanctified by the blood of Christ once for all. Heb. 10:10
4. The Mosaic Covenant was written on the table of stone. Deut. 9:11; Ex.24:3-8
But the New Covenant is written on the heart of man. Jer. 31:31-34.
The Ekklessia of the N.T. is therefore, a special entity and spiritual in character. It is the body of Christ. Christ paid for it by the offering of His own blood.( ICor. 6:20 ) and indeed this is a mystery.
(b) The Local Church:
The “Ekklessia”, i.e., the Church of Jesus Christ must also be understood in local sense. This is the one physically existing Church of the particular place formed out of a group of believers in Christ often termed as the assembly of God or the Congregation, the saints, the brethren etc. The particular congregation represents the Universal Church and through participation in the redemption of Christ mystically comprehends the whole of which it is the local manifestation.
The significant feature of each local Church is that it represents the whole body of Christ, the “Totus Christus” representing “One body and one mind”, “one baptism and one Spirit” , ICor. 12:12,13. Christ is the Head of the Church, “which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all”. Eph. 1:22,23 Also see Col. 1:18,19
The word “Church” in the N.T occurs in many places to denote one single, distinct and separate congregation of Christ’s people, e.g.,
The Church of God which is at Corinth, ICor. 1:2
The Churches of Macedonia, IICor 3:1
The Churches of Galatia, Gal. 1:2
The Church of Ephesus, Rev. 2:1
The Church in Smyrna, Rev. 2:8
The Church in Pergamam, Rev. 2:12
The Church in Thyatira, Rev. 2:18
The Church in Sardis Rev. 3:1
The Church in Philadelphia Rev. 3:7
The Church in Laodiceans Rev. 3:14
Nee Watchman said,
“ The Church is partly heavenly and partly on earth. The heavenly part concerns the authority of the Holy Spirit; the earthly part concerns the boundary of locality……” #
The truth is that we are in this world, but not of this world as the Lord Jesus Himself has said,
“….you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” Jn 15:19
“They are not of this world.” Jn 17:14,16
We definitely belong to God as IJn. 4:4 says,
“ Ye are of God”
Though the Church is on earth, it is heavenly in character, because,
Our Father is in heaven----Mt. 6:9
Our Home is in heaven----Jn 14:2,3
Our Treasures are in heaven---- Mt.6:2; Col. 1:3
Our Hope is in heaven.-----------Col. 1:5
The Mystery Nature of the Church Life.
The Church itself is a mystery . Many theologians use the phrase “The mystery nature of the Church” because of the mystery character of the Church as the body of Christ. In the N.T. the word “mystery” means a divine truth, formerly hidden but now supernaturally revealed to the men of God which can only be known through divine revelation . In the Bible, there are many metaphors which describe the mystery nature of the Church . We will discuss here four kinds of mysteries of the Church. These mysteries manifest the mystical relationship of the Church with Christ.
1. The Mystery of One Body.
This is one of the most mystical nature of the Church.
“Christ is the Head of the Church.” Eph.5:23
“---head over all things to the Church.” Eph.1:22
“—he is the head of the body, the Church. Col.1:18
“Which is His body-----“ Eph. Eph 1:23; 4:12
“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ ?” ICor. 6:15
“For as the body is one and hath many members and all the members of that one body,
Being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” ICor. 12:12
________________________________________________________________________ # Nee Watchman, “Father talks on the Church Life”
Los Angeles. The Stream Publishers, 1974; p-19
As such the Church must give expression of the thoughts, words and actions of ONE who is the Head.
The Whole Christ.
We are members of one body (Eph4:25). Paul is here emphasizing what the theologians call as “Totus Christus”, which means, “The Whole Christ”, embracing Jesus as the Head and His redeemed people as the members of His own body. This seems to be quite a mystical idea. What was it that led Paul to formulate this theme ? Certainly, it was his encounter with the Lord on the Damascus Road. True, he had been playing havoc with the Christians. Jesus asked him, “Why do you persecute me ?” Paul (Saul) did not persecute Jesus physically since Jesus was already risen from the dead and taken up to heaven . But why did Jesus question him like that? This was a new revelation for Paul. He came to realize something of the mystical union that bound the Christians and their Lord which is inseparable. This wonderful truth (Acts 22:7; 9:4,5) under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit produced his marvelous theme of oneness in the Body of Christ, i.e.,the Church.
It is therefore, the Church represents one body, one mind, one soul, one baptism, one Spirit, one blood circulation , one nervous system and one heart. It means that when I am hurt Jesus is hurt, when I am suffered Jesus is suffered. When I commit a sin Jesus has to pay for it. And He has already paid for it on the cross. He suffered the pangs of separation from God only because of our sin. But still today He suffers the pain whenever you and I commit a sin or displeases God.
Paul’s analysis of the function of the Church under the illustration of a living human body is remarkable one. There is only one body but many members with different functions such as the foot, the hand, the ear, the eye etc. Every member of the body, however small it may be, is very unique and vital . Missing of one part or damage of one part means the body is incomplete.
Their functions are never equal but they work for the edification of the whole body. This wonderful analogy of the living human body describes the reality of the Church life as the body of Christ. Each member of the Church is a living organ without which the Church cannot function as a living Church.
All the members of the Church have some of the gifts. Paul’s analysis of the gifts of the Spirit in ICor.12 is remarkable. We can see here the distribution and diversity of the gifts of the Spirit. But God has not granted any gift to anybody solely for his own personal gain and edification. It is important to understand that the gift of each person has uniquely significant place in the Body and complete dependence upon one another.
In Paul’s illustration, we see, when one of the limbs, for example, the leg, is imputed, it cannot function well as it could before. Thus we say that the body is handicapped. We need to understand that the Church will be handicapped when a person’s gifts are not properly utilized for the well being of the whole Body. It is also important that every believer in the Church should be able to discover the gifts that he has and utilize them for the edification of the whole body, i.e., the Church.
2. The Mystery of the Christ Indwelling.
The indwelling of Christ in the believers is a mystery.
“Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generation now is made manifest to his saints;-----which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col.1:26-27
In His letter to the angel of the Church of the Laodiceans, Jesus said,
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock, if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him, and he with me.” Rev.3:20
The Church is a dwelling place of God Himself where He resides in the person of Jesus Christ in Spirit.
“He (Christ) is the head of the body, the Church…….in Him should all fullness dwell.” Col. 1:18-19
“For in Him dwelleth all fullness dwell” Col 18-19
“For in Him dwelleth all fullness of the Godhead bodily, and we are complete in Him.” Col 2:9-10
The Church is the Temple of God and the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
This is indeed a mystery.
“A Holy temple in the Lord…..a habitation of God in the Spirit.” Eph.2:21
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you ?” ICor. 6:19
“….the temple of the Holy Ghost…”ICor. 6:19
“…..the temple of the living God as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” ICor 6:16
The Greek word is NAOS (sanctuary) consisting of the Holy place and the Holy of Holies. The Lord Jesus uses the same word NAOS of His body, His life; and what a perfect of life that manifested the glory of God. The Church is the NAOS which is His body. Eph 1:23
3.The Mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ.
The Church is the bride of Christ. In Rev. 19:7-8, there is the description of the marriage of the Lamb (Christ) and how His wife (the Church) has made herself ready arrayed in fine linen, clean and white. In Eph 5:22-23, the exhortation given to husbands and wives
to have a proper relationship has been illustrated by the relationship of Christ to the Church.
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it.” V25
”For we are members of his (Christ’s) body, of his flesh and of his bones.”V30
This is a marvelous truth. The relationship of the Church with Christ as husband and wife is indeed a great mystery. Paul says in V32,”This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the Church.”
Christ has loved the Church, so should the Church submit herself to him.
4. The Mystery of the Rapture of the Church.
Rapture means resurrection of the believers and the translation of the living (Church) and meeting with the Lord in the air at His second advent.
The Lord Jesus Himself bodily
(i)”shall come down from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God.
(ii) the dead in Christ shall rise first
(iii) then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air;
(iv) and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” IThess 4:16-17
The Church at Thessalonica at the time of Paul believed in the imminence of the Lord’s “Parousia”(Appearance). Some of the believers had even quit their jobs to prepare for the Lord’s coming. The believers were caught in a frenzied speculation on the exact time of the second coming of Christ.
Many baffling questions had troubled their hearts such as ,
..What will happen to those beloved who have died before Jesus returns ?
..Will they miss out the life after death ?
Will they forfeit a share in the glory of the Lord Jesus at His second advent ?
Paul shrugs off such speculations and presents the right way to prepare for the Lord’s return. Every believer whether dead or alive will have a share in the wonderful glory of the Lord. With the sound of the trumpet of God , the dead in Christ will rise first at His advent. Believers do not actually die, they merely “fall asleep”(4:13). The loving will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord Jesus and be with Him forever. The Gr .word is “Harpagesometha”, Latin “Rapiemur” which has been translated as “rapture” in English. This is the greatest hope that a believer can hope for in the near future which is well founded in Jesus. It is a matter of real joy and comfort for all the believers in Christ. Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to get prepared for their most blessed and spectacular an event to take place in the real history of mankind- “the climax of blessedness” as has been called by many.
The rapture is therefore, the greatest and the most blessed hope we can hope for. This is precisely a mystery, a great mystery because never before in O.T. believers were promised translation.
The mystery nature of the Church is found only in the N.T. According to the dispensationalists, the Church was hidden in the O.T. but it began on the day of Penticost only. The O.T. believers were totally ignorant of these mysteries nor were they promised these mysteries. There is a great distinction between Israel and the Church. The Israelites
were only a type to the Church. The Church is a new entity because of the mystery nature of the Church.
All the born again believers belong to this wonderful Church. The Church belongs to God. And God lives within.
“The Church is God’s because He has established it by the supernatural acts of coming to earth in the person of the Son via the virgin birth, purchasing a people by the substitutionary sacrifice of His Son, raising Him from the dead to provide eternal life, and sending forth the Holy Spirit to fill and equip His saints.” # Rea John
God has a wonderful plan and purposes for His Church. We are His people “the laos of God”, a royal priesthood and a special people to declare His glories.
“that ye should shew forth the praises of Him.” IPet. 2:9
God has called us to be a blessing to the whole earth and
“the Light of the world.” Math 5:14
# Rea John, “Nature of the Church”
In “Wycliff Bible Encyclopedia” page-35, Moody Press ,Chicago.
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