(c) 2020 Maxine David
Over the centuries, the Church of Jesus Christ has come to be understood as the groups of believers who meet every Sunday in certain buildings where they share the Judeo-Christian faith. Magnificent buildings have been raised up for that purpose. Cathedrals with booming pipe organs, intricately designed stained glass windows, soaring architecture and more have come to be understood as homes for something that will last for eternity – the life of Christ at work in the hearts of the saints. So too, have many other types of church buildings from small wooden structures to modern brick buildings.
The truth is all this can be removed and the true Church will still stand undefeated, stronger than ever, when we realize that its foundation is nothing to be found in this world. If we take away the buildings and material assets the true Church does not cease to exist. Rather, it’s actually freed up to become all that God created it to be. That’s when Spirit-led believers learn by experience that nothing can stop them from advancing the Kingdom of God on earth as He is in heaven.It happens by receiving the divine revelation from Him on which the true Church is established.
In Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus had a conversation with one of His disciples – Simon Peter. He asked “who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replied “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Some take this scripture passage to mean that Jesus appointed Peter to become the head of the Church. Three hundred years later it was used as justify giving the Pope absolute authority over the Roman Catholic Church with the Vatican as home-base. There, we can visit the world’s largest Christian cathedral – St. Peter’s – with all its astounding architecture and lavish displays of art. We witness crowds of people gathering around to hear the Pope’s latest words to the faithful. The idea is put forth that he is God’s representative on earth to carry forward the work of Jesus Christ.
Others understand the scripture to mean that the unshakeable foundation of the true Church is direct revelation from God the Father about His Son, who is Jesus Christ in English (Yahshuah HaMashiach in Hebrew, Immanuel as described in Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23). This revelation is not confined to a select few so they can use it to rule over everyone else, but it’s free for all whose hearts are fully committed to serving God in this world. And they don’t need to attend religious services in specific buildings for this to happen, although it can also happen in those places as well. Jesus said “Where two or three come together in My Name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:20).
This means the true Church can be found anywhere that even a few believers get together in His Name: coffee shops, parks, beaches, private homes or any place they choose to be. As much as we may prefer to congregate in our church buildings it’s a great help to know that if we can’t for any reason, we can still have church by meeting in other places in His Name. And we may find that once we’re freed up from the pressures of having to maintain the buildings we are even more edified in the things of God outside the religious organizations.
To the woman at the well, Jesus said “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the truth worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).
To worship in spirit and in truth does not require believers to be in specific buildings first. It involves gathering together in His Name and receiving His Holy Spirit by becoming born again as part of finding eternal salvation in Jesus Christ. Then it’s about understanding that His standard of truth is found in the Holy Bible. To grow to spiritual maturity as an overcoming Church requires regular Bible study and a willingness to be changed by what we learn. What we are unable to do in our own power gets done anyway by the power of God’s Spirit who dwells within our hearts and minds.
Jesus said “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” We become born in the Spirit simply by asking; by praying for Jesus Christ to become Lord and Saviour of our lives and for Him to baptize us with His Holy Spirit.
About this, John the Baptist said “I baptize you with water for repentance but after me will come One whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11). This was the purpose of the day of Pentecost described in Acts 2. After Jesus went to the cross to serve as atonement for the sin of humanity, He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven from where He poured out His Holy Spirit on all who will receive Him. He had instructed His disciples to wait together for this day.
When the Holy Spirit manifested it appeared as tongues of fire that came to rest on each one of them. They were enabled to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them, and to carry out miracles in the form of healing or deliverance from evil spirits. As the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit imparts various spiritual gifts to the true Church for the purpose of building it up as an invincible dwelling place for God on earth as He is in heaven (1 Corinthians 12-14). All of this is done by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts regardless of where believers choose to gather.
The true Church is a continuation of the Old Testament Temple in a manner of speaking. The Temple was a continuation of the Tabernacle of Moses which had been constructed under very precise instructions from God (Exodus 26; 1 Kings 6-8). Each had three main sections: an outer court, a holy place and the Most Holy Place.
In the New Testament, as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, our bodies are temples of His Holy Spirit. We no longer need to go to a specific building to meet with Him as it was done in the Old Testament, but by the power of His Holy Spirit He dwells in us on an individual basis. And we also have three ‘sections’ of meeting with Him in a sense, in our hearts, minds and bodies. He calls us to love Him with all our hearts, souls and minds as a precursor to loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40).
Where two or more Spirit-filled believers gather in His Name, there is the real Church. And there’s the potential authority of Christ to stand in the gap for the nations. The Old Testament Temple was described as a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13). In the New Testament, after He rose from the dead and just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth have been given to Me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19). This is the calling of the true Church – to intercede for the nations by spreading the gospel so they may be redeemed in the love of Christ.
Compare all of this to what happens in some of our religious organizations. There are so many pet doctrines and denominational divisions that it sometimes prevents the Holy Spirit from working at all. A certain few are paid to be the leaders while the majority sit in silence, except for the praise and worship singing, as if they’re an audience rather than a group of believers gathered together for mutual edification.
Some use this time to promote other social interests, talk business, or maybe just go for the food after the service. Everyone has a unique motive for attending regular church services and sometimes those motives conflict. A Spirit-led believer may speak up about something he or she is certain that is from God for this group of believers, only to be over-ruled by another who has no understanding of the things of God but seeks to promote a personal agenda. In this way, one of the worst opponents of the true Church is a fake version which can have all the outward appearances of a thriving church but bears no fruit for the Kingdom of God. Instead it is used to convince potential believers to stick with the ways of this world rather than the ways of God.
In the true Church we should expect to see committed believers going through all kinds of hard times and fiery trials. It’s because a spiritual battle rages over them as the powers of darkness in this world rise up to protest. Ephesians 6:12 explains that we wrestle not with flesh and blood (other people) but with spiritual forces of evil that seek to take the people involved into ever-darkening places of deception and destruction.
To promote the true gospel is to shine the Light of Christ in the world which exposes the things of darkness. The enemy of God will use anyone to come against truly committed believers to try to stop them. Their experience will be much like that of Jesus Christ. As 1 John 2:6 says “Those who claim to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” And Romans 8:17 says we are heirs with Christ “if indeed we share in His suffering in order that we may share in His glory.”
While some who consider themselves to be the finest Christians take great care to maintain proper appearances, others who are led by the Holy Spirit look like they’re completely falling apart as a direct result of the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They are willling to embrace times of suffering with Christ to eventually share in His glory, as they insist on promoting the truth of the gospel at His leading. This has a way of exposing the hypocrisy of many who profess to follow the Christian faith but are careful to avoid getting involved with the ‘messed up’ believers.
A good way to discern what standard church services are really all about is by judging what happens when they’re brought to a sudden stop. As in recent times with the virus scare, do we think we’re no longer able to have church because the religious buildings are off-limits? Or do we see this challenge as an opportunity to become stronger than ever as the true Church who worship in Spirit and in truth?
At such times it’s critically important to remember what it means to worship in Spirit and in truth. The Holy Bible tells us that His goal for the body of Christ is to stand in the gap for the nations as a house of prayer, and to be sanctified by the truth of His Word (John 17:17). Jesus taught us that the real Kingdom of God comes from within (Luke 17:20-21).
Further, Romans 1:20 says that God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. We learn much about God by communing with Him out in His natural creation. In light of all this it’s quite possible that events like a nation-wide quarantine don’t mean the end of church-going at all; rather, it means the end of all that holds the true Church back from its full destiny in the Kingdom of God.
The ones who’ve embraced times of suffering and hardship with Him are now positioned to share overcoming testimony about what comes next. They are ready to take the lead by serving as good shepherds who lay down their lives for the sheep. Then the love and Light of Christ will be greatly magnified in a hurting, dying world cast into the depths of despair. The hired hands who profited financially from preaching half of the gospel, while avoiding parts about sharing in the suffering of Christ lest they have to suffer themselves, will be exposed for who they really are. And the true Church will stand undefeated against teh gates of hades largely because the fake versions are prevented from having even more influence.
The overcoming Church knows how to put first thing first. Jesus said “Seek FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). He did NOT says ‘Seek first His Kingdom and social justice’, for good reason. From a carnal human perspective, justice for one is often injustice for another.
He quoted Moses when He cited the FIRST and GREATEST commandment which is NOT ‘Love your neighbour as yourself (the second most important commandment). He said “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is ONE God. You shall lovethe Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and with all your soul” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Mark 12:29-30; Matthew 22:34-40). In the first century AD when many would insist the nation of Israel no longer existed, the Lord Himself spoke specifically to Israel when He taught the new covenant Church how to put first things first.
In the fullness of God’s Kingdom the overcomingChurch is one that stands in the gap on behalf of God’s sovereign purposes for Israel and the Jewish people. He said in His Word that His chosen people would possess the land and dwell in it forever (Isaiah 60). In these end times when the religious buildings and groups may be greatly compromised the true Church will triumph on earth as He is in heaven as a direct result of God enemy coming against it, in vain. Instead, the Church is transformed into the Glory of Zion as described in Isaiah 54. This is only accomplished by learning how to take up the cross and walking as Jesus did.
ISAIAH 54 (KJV): THE GLORY OF ZION
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes; For thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.
For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; The God of the whole earth shall he be called. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou wast refused, saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles, and all thy borders of pleasant stones. And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. In righteousness shalt thou be established: thou shalt be far from oppression; for thou shalt not fear: and from terror; for it shall not come near thee.
Behold, they shall surely gather together, but not by me: whosoever shall gather together against thee shall fall for thy sake. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.