THE VISION OF THE CHURCH

THE VISION OF THE CHURCH If we would be a proper Christian, we all need one day to see the vision of the church. The vision of the church ...

THE VISION OF THE CHURCH

If we would be a proper Christian, we all need one day to see the
vision of the church.

The vision of the church is more neglected by Christians than that of
Christ. In doctrine people talk much about Christ, but even in
doctrine they do not talk much about the church. But the New Testament
reveals to us that without the church, Christ is isolated and even
paralyzed. Without the church, He can do nothing. Read the New
Testament again from this standpoint, and you will see the absolute
necessity and tremendous significance of the church to Christ.
We may divide the vision of the church into four parts:

1. THE HEART DESIRE OF GOD

We must see that the church is the heart desire of God—the New
Testament reveals it as such. God's desire in this age and in the
whole universe is to have the church. His purpose in creation was to
produce a church. His purpose in redemption was for the church. In
fact, all that God does is for the church. All the work of gospel
preaching, all the work of the edification of saints, all the work of
teaching the Word—all these various ministries—are for the church. The
gospel preaching must not be for gospel preaching but for the church.
The Bible teaching must not be just for Bible teaching but for the
church. The edification of saints must not be merely for edification
but for the church. All works and ministries in God's intention must
serve the church. We are not saved for our own salvation. We are saved
for the building up of the church. The church is God's heart desire.
If we are deeply impressed with this, we can no longer be indifferent.
The church will be supreme and primary to us. We will be delivered
from wrong and distorted concepts, and our entire Christian service
will be revolutionized. We will no longer seek just to bring people to
the Lord and help them to grow and love the Lord, but we will do
everything for the building up of the church. Wherever we are and
whatever we do will be for the church.
Consider the apostle Paul. After he saw the heavenly vision and his
life was revolutionized, for what did he work? It is more than clear
that he worked for nothing but the church. Did he build up his own
ministry? He did not. Everything he did was for the church. If you
took away the church, there would be nothing left for Paul to do.
Are you such a person? I am afraid that you have many things besides
the church. You may be doing a work for the Lord, but it is not
church-centered. The church is our test. The church proves where we
are. We must see that it is the church upon which God's heart is set
and be governed accordingly.

2. THE PRACTICALITY
OF THE CHURCH

Secondly, we must see that the church is very practical. It is not
just a vision. It is not just a teaching or something in the heavens,
but an intensely practical matter. We must have a practical church. We
should not have a church in our thoughts, in teaching, or even in
vision, but in practice. We all need to pray that we will see the
practicality of the church. The New Testament does not give much
doctrine concerning the church, but it does give us a full picture of
the practice of the church. People today may have the doctrine of the
church, but the Bible has the practice of the church.
Most Christian teachers in the past century and a half have taught
that it is impossible to have the real church today. The real church,
they say, is invisible and in the future; what we have today is just
the visible church, and that is not real. But, I would ask, in the
Bible do we have the visible church and the invisible church? And do
we have the church in the future?
The age in which we are living is the dispensation of the church. If
we do not have the church now, when will we have it? The dispensations
of the future are dispensations of something else. The next
dispensation is the dispensation of the kingdom. After that comes the
new heaven and new earth with the New Jerusalem, and in the New
Jerusalem there will not only be the twelve apostles but also the
twelve tribes of Israel. The present dispensation is the dispensation
for the church. To say that the church is a matter of the future is
entirely unscriptural and absolutely wrong. The church must be today.
The church in Jerusalem in the early days was visible, real, and
practical. The church in Antioch was visible, real, and practical. The
church in every city today must also be visible, real, and practical.
We cannot say that the church is invisible and for the future.

3. THE LOCALITY OF THE CHURCH

Thirdly, we must see that the practical expression of the church must
be local. Since it is practical, it must be local; it must be in the
place where we are. If we would put the church into practice, if we
would make it practical, we must have a local expression. There is no
other way. Do not expect to have the church in a better place. The
place where you live is the right place. Wherever you go, wherever you
are, is the right place to practice the church life. The church life
must be local. Any place, however pleasant from an earthly standpoint,
is hell without a church. And on the contrary, any place with a church
is heaven. Do not think that these are my words or my opinion. You
remember, when Jacob dreamed and saw the ladder set up from earth to
heaven and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, he
called the name of the place Bethel. Bethel, we know, means the house
of God, and the house of God is the church today (1 Tim. 3:15). Jacob
said about that, "This is none other but the house of God, and this is
the gate of heaven" (Gen. 28:17). Wherever the house of God is, that
place is a gate of heaven. The only place that is good for us is the
place where there is a church. And, praise the Lord, wherever we are
and wherever we go there can be a church.
Can you find a verse in the New Testament telling us that the church
is in the heavens? You cannot. But we do have the church in Jerusalem
(Acts 8:1), the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1), the church at Cenchrea
(Rom. 16:1), the church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2), and the church in so
many other cities. They are the local churches. Eventually at the end
of the New Testament, in the book of Revelation, we have a picture of
seven churches in seven cities. It is so clear. The practical
expression of the church must be local. We need to see this.
In Christianity today, there are some people who have a so-called
"university church." There are others who have what they call "the
church in the home." Some, on the other hand, have a national church
or even a world church. And still others insist that there should not
be any kind of church on this earth. In Japan there is a movement
which is called the non-church movement. The situation everywhere is
indeed complicated and confused.
What shall we do? We need to forget the confusion and the
complications. If you get involved in them, you will certainly miss
the way. Do not ask: How about this? How about that? The more you do
that, the more you will be in the woods. Learn to stay away from
complications and make yourself very simple. Read the simple words of
the New Testament: "the church in Jerusalem," "the church in Antioch,"
"the church at Cenchrea," "the church in Corinth," etc. It is so
clear—the church must be local.

4. THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH

Finally, we must see the unity, the unique oneness of the church.
Today in so many denominational churches there may be a unity, but it
is not the unique unity. These unities are unities of divisions. For
example, the Presbyterians have a unity among themselves, the
Methodists have a unity among themselves, and the Lutherans have a
unity among themselves; but these are not the unique unity. The unique
unity must be the one on the proper ground. There is only one proper
ground for the church—the ground of the unique unity. All the
denominations have their own ground; therefore, the unity is broken by
them. We cannot stand upon the ground of certain denominations or the
ground of certain groups. The only ground upon which we can stand is
the ground of the unique unity of the church. It must be the general
ground which makes it possible for all the believers in one locality
to gather as the one church in that place.
In the Bible, we find the principle of one church for each city—no
more, no less. In the entire New Testament this principle is never
violated. Whenever a church in a certain city is mentioned, it is
always in the singular number. Whenever reference is made to the
churches, in the plural number, it is always in relation to an area or
district which is larger than a city, such as a province. There is
nothing in the Bible about street churches, school churches, churches
in a home, or, on the other hand, national churches or world churches.
There are only churches in cities. You may say that there are some
instances of a church in a home recorded in the Bible. But if you read
carefully, you will see that in every case these simply refer to the
home in which the entire church in that city met. The boundary of the
church is not limited to a home; neither is it expanded to a district
or nation. In the Bible, it is always according to the size of the
city. A church that encompasses the whole city meets the qualification
of the unique unity.

This is God's sovereignty and wisdom. Suppose that today, for example,
we are all living in Los Angeles. We could not have the home churches
or the street churches; we could only have the city church. As long as
we have the city church, all the saints in Los Angeles will be one. If
we could have the street churches, we would be immediately divided.
There could be a church on First Street, another on Second Street, and
another on Third. If we could have home churches, it would be worse
yet. The city keeps the unity that the saints may be one. If you move
from Los Angeles to San Francisco, you need not be concerned as to
which "church" you will go. It is so clear. You will go to the city
church, the local church. You will not go to a church called by the
name of some street, but to the local church in the city; not the
church of some home or of some campus, but of the city. If you get
into anything other than the local church of the city, you get into a
division; if you get into the church of that city, you get into unity.
If we are not clear regarding the unique ground of the church, we have
no way to go on for a practical, local expression. We will either
persist in a division or we must give up the matter of the church
altogether. This latter course is just what many have been forced to
follow. They have talked much about the church, but they did not take
the unique ground of the church, the ground of unity. Eventually
therefore, they have been disbanded and dissolved. There was no way
for them to go on. Do not despise the matter of the church ground; it
has momentous implications and consequences. You may protest that if
you take the definite standing of the ground of the church, you will
be involved in trouble and problems. But, I tell you, if you do not
take the ground of the church, you will be involved in considerably
more trouble and problems. We must take a definite stand upon the
original ground of the church, the local ground of unity in the city
in which we live.
We need to pray regarding these four points: (1) the church is God's
heart desire, (2) the church must be practical, (3) the church must be
local, and (4) the church must have the definite local ground of
unity. We need to see this vision; otherwise, we will go astray.
Regardless of how much we talk about the Body life or the church life,
without this vision, we will not know where we are.
These words are not merely a teaching, but a strong testimony to what
I have been practicing and experiencing for more than thirty-five
years. I have been captured by this vision. By the mercy of the Lord I
have never changed my way or my tone. And I have seen truly local
churches raised up in many cities as an incontrovertible testimony
that this is the way of the Lord.
We must see this vision, and we must be ready to pay the price, even
the price of our life, for it. I can say with full assurance that
until the day you are clear in this vision and settled with the saints
upon the unique ground of unity, your Christian life will never be
settled. You will be continually wandering and changing your position.
In the morning you will have one position, and in the evening you will
have another. You must come to the place where you can say: "I do see
the heart desire of God; I see that the church is so practical and so
local; and I do see in the midst of so many divisions and so much
confusion the proper standing, the local ground of the unique unity. I
don't care if others despise and refuse this ground. I will take it,
and I will stand upon it." Ask the Lord to give you a clear vision
regarding the church.

Bible verses are taken from the Recovery Version of the Bible and Words of Ministry from Witness Lee, Both are published by Living Stream Ministry, Anaheim, CA.

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