CHURCH MEMBERS OR CHRIST'S MEMBERS?

CHURCH MEMBERS OR CHRIST'S MEMBERS

CHURCH MEMBERS OR CHRIST’S MEMBERS? Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

To the Apostle Paul was given the remarkable revelation that Christ, the Anointed One, is destined to have a body. God’s elect are members of the Body of Christ. Because we have inherited a clergy-laity form of church government it is difficult for us to appreciate that all Christians are members of the one Body of Christ and there are none of us who are superior to our fellow members. There does not exist, except in our traditions, such divisive roles as "clergy and laity."

It is true also that denominational structures, while they may have no intention of doing so, tend to work against the concept of the one Body of Christ.

CHURCH MEMBERS OR CHRIST’S MEMBERS?

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. (I Corinthians 12:12)

To the Apostle Paul was given the remarkable revelation that Christ, the Anointed One, is destined to have a body. God’s elect are members of the Body of Christ. Because we have inherited a clergy-laity form of church government it is difficult for us to appreciate that all Christians are members of the one Body of Christ and there are none of us who are superior to our fellow members. There does not exist, except in our traditions, such divisive roles as "clergy and laity."

It is true also that denominational structures, while they may have no intention of doing so, tend to work against the concept of the one Body of Christ.

Paul tells us that Christ is composed of many members. As far as I can see, none of the other writers of the New Testament had been given this extraordinary revelation.

We of today appear to have little understanding that the believers in Christ are members of Christ and that it is through them He must act, just as the human head acts through the body.

I suppose, in America at least, we must maintain some sort of organizational structure that is understandable to the state and federal governments. But it is the responsibility of the pastor, elders, and other leaders of each assembling to impress on the people that as far as the Kingdom of God is concerned, they no longer are members of a congregation but are members of Christ.

A little contemplation of this awesome concept will reveal quickly how many of our roles and activities are alien to the idea that the believers actually are members of the one Body of Christ, of the Christ who is to come.

I have written in previous articles how the Scriptures point toward a sudden coming to maturity, in the last days, of Christ in His saints. Perhaps this is why some of us are looking again at the concept of the gifts and ministries given to His members by the ascended Christ. The transition in our thinking, and eventually our procedures, is so radical in nature that one scarcely knows how to begin.

At the present time I will mention some of the ideas related to the fact that Christians (little christs) actually are members of the Christ, the Anointed Deliverer who is to come. It is a big picture in my mind at this time. Perhaps I will be able in the future to describe more clearly what it is I am envisioning.

The first idea to stand out is that the gifts and ministries given by the Holy Spirit are enablements. It is as though the believers are given eyes, noses, ears, feet, hands, and so forth. By the way, gifts and ministries are not given to local assemblies. They are given to the Body of Christ. They are the instruments through which the Head is able to accomplish His will.

The Spirit gives the apostleship, the prophetic spirit, the ability to evangelize, the wisdom to shepherd and teach, the ability to speak in languages and to interpret languages, to work miracles, to heal the sick, and so forth, to the members of Christ’s Body. What are these enablements to be used for? They are to be used to build the members of the Body to maturity as measured by the stature of the fullness of Christ.

After the Body has come to the fullness of maturity, then the entire Body will serve as the new Jerusalem, the light of the world.

What do you think of this? Isn’t it a fabulous thought?

The Protestant churches are daughters of the Catholic Church, though we may not realize it. As such we have inherited the priest-people form of church government and operation.

Think about the current Christian churches. The people have little concept that they are members of Christ’s Body and that the Spirit of God has given them supernatural abilities to build up their fellow members.

How much time during the past month have you spent asking God to give you a gift by which you can build up your fellow members of the Body? You probably have not made such a request during the past month. Why not? Because you think of yourself as a member of your church, not as a member of Christ.

As I have stated in the past, it appears there are two different messages in the New Testament. One message is to the world—that every person is to believe in Christ and be baptized in water, thus preparing himself or herself for the coming of the Lord.

The other message is addressed to God’s elect, to those whom God chose from the foundation of the world to be part of God’s Israel, that is, part of the Body of the Christ. The demands on these elect far exceed the simple "believe and be baptized." Rather, such are required to fight the good fight of faith until they attain the image of Christ.

If we are correct, if there are two messages, the implications for the local assembly are significant. Instead of perceiving that the principal task of every believer is to go out and attempt to gain additional converts to the Christian religion, the principal task becomes that of learning to receive and operate the various gifts and ministries coming from the ascended Christ.

The reason the Christian churches in America are in such a pitiful spiritual-moral state is that they do not understand the purpose of the assembling of the believers. The purpose of the assembling of the believers is to build up the members of the one Body of Christ until all come to the unity of the faith.

By "unity of the faith" is not meant they all believe the same doctrine. It means they all are living in faith in Jesus so every decision they make during the day is held before the Lord. When two people are living in Christ, looking to Him for every aspect of life, then these two people will be in perfect harmony regardless of their doctrinal positions.

God is impressing on us the need to begin to covet earnestly the gifts and ministries of the Body so we may build up one another. If we ask the Lord for such "bread" He will not deny us. But we must keep on asking; keep on seeking; keep on knocking.

When our assembly becomes strong in the Lord and the power of His might, then He will begin to send out people to evangelize, to teach, to help the poor, and to perform other necessary tasks. This is taking place in our own assembly. We have spent years focusing on building the members to maturity. Now we are beginning to see the fruit as the Lord Jesus is opening the doors for ministry.

The sheep gate must always come before the fish gate.

Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them. The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. (Nehemiah 3:1-3)

As the sheep grow to maturity they will "go fishing."

When we have an assembly of baby Christians, and then exhort them to bring in more babies, and those babies to bring in additional babies, guess what? We have an assembly of spiritual babies who are no threat to Satan’s kingdom. Of course, this is exactly what Satan desires.

Clearly, the need today is for a far greater emphasis on bringing the members of Christ’s Body, those whom God has called into the Church, to maturity as measured by the fullness of Christ.

We notice in the Book of Hebrews that the believers to whom the epistle is addressed, even though they had experienced all the elements of Diving grace that we have, and much more, were chastised by the writer because they were babies, still in need of milk.

He does not exhort them to go out and "win more babies to Christ." He exhorts them to accept the chastening of God, and thus to press into the rest of perfect obedience to God.

Because they were babies they were not able to distinguish between good and evil, just as is true of the Christians in America.

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, Instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Hebrews 5:12-6:3)

Can you see that the New Testament emphasis is not on going out and bringing in more babies but on growing to spiritual maturity?

The writer of Hebrews regards the teaching concerning the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment to be "elementary." Yet there is not one believer in ten thousand in our Christian churches who could explain the resurrection of the dead or eternal judgment. Yet, these are "kindergarten" doctrines.

The doctrine of the resurrection has been shoved out of sight by the unscriptural emphasis on the "rapture" of the babies to Paradise.

The doctrine of eternal judgment is viewed as unnecessary because no Christian will be judged (we think). We do not realize judgment begins with those closest to the Lord.

There is little or no understanding in the Christian churches that our conduct today is determining the kind of resurrection we will experience. A bloated, inflamed justification has pushed to one side the critical need for sanctification.

The need for teaching in the Christian churches is so great as to stagger the imagination. Yet, the primary emphasis is on going out and bringing in more babies.

The sign of a healthy church today (we think) is a continual influx of babies. The truth is, the sign of a healthy church is the growth of the believers from carnal behavior to godly behavior. Yet it is possible there are assemblies where the people have not grown in godly behavior over the past twenty-five years. Neither are babies being brought forth in numerous instances.

A healthy family includes the addition of babies but is of necessity focused more on the growth to maturity of the young people and on peaceful, constructive relationships of all members of the family. Is this true?

It is time for God’s ministers to cease preaching their traditions and begin to explain the New Testament, chapter by chapter, not overlaying the plain sense of the text with traditions about "carrying the waiting bride to Heaven" (one of the many popular expression not found in the Scriptures).

The emphasis of the New Testament is not on the grace of imputed righteousness. It is on godly behavior, the godly behavior that results from Christ being formed in us. Warning after warning against ungodly behavior is found in the epistles of Paul and the other writers.

We preach "let Christ into your heart," and "be born again by accepting Christ." The Apostles of the Lamb preached neither of these current messages. They preached that through the Lord Jesus we receive forgiveness of sins, and our response must be to turn away from sin and be baptized; for Christ is coming to judge the world.

After their initial presentation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, the Apostles wrote to those called to be saints, telling them they are to forget everything that is past and press forward until they are living in the power of Christ’s resurrection and are sharing His sufferings.

The Lord Jesus commanded us to deny ourselves, to take up our cross, and to follow Him. How many are doing this today?

Why must we be exhorted today? Because we do not perceive the Body of Christ. We are treating people as members of an organization rather than as the faculties through which Christ must express Himself.

We perceive church members, not Christ’s members.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (I Corinthians 12:4-6)

The above means the same Holy Spirit provides a diversity of gifts to Christ’s members. The Spirit gives the gifts. The Father provides the power. Christ administers the use of the gifts.

One great problem today is that Charismatic people are being told they have received gifts for the purpose of ministering to "a lost and dying world." This is not why we receive gifts of the Spirit. It is so we can build up the members of Christ’s Body until each one comes to the fullness of maturity.

Because this is true, we are not to rush forth blindly with our gifts; for, although our own gifts are subject to us and we can use them as we will, they are to be administered by Jesus Christ. We are to take our gifts and ministries and lay them at the feet of Jesus. To not do this, to attempt to use our gifts according to our own notions, is to become part of the False Prophet of the last days.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, To another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (I Corinthians 12;7-10)

These spiritual enablements are latent in Christians. They do not appear because we do not expect them to appear. We are too busy to seek the Lord to the point that the gifts are operating through us according to the will of Christ.

All of these gifts are entirely approachable and certain ones will be revealed in the individual who cares enough to pursue them.

Any gift may be revealed through any Christian when the need arises. But each Christian has one or more gifts that will be more fully developed in him or her over a period of time, as Christ leads.

All may prophesy but not all are prophets.

There are no priestly or clerical ministries. There are no qualitative differences. All are parts of the one Body and all are essential. The same is true of the human body. There are some parts that are more visible or employed more often, but if the smallest part, visible or invisible, ceases to function properly, the entire body may be disabled. So it is with Christ.

I think a first step would be to inform each body of believers that they are infinitely more than members of the Christian religion, or converts to a religion, or members of a local church or a larger organization. They are members of Christ’s own Body, and their ministries are the faculties through which Christ acts.

Are these faculties eternal? Probably not in their limited form. But since Paul stated the ministries will operate until all have come to full maturity, then it is obvious gifts and ministries must continue in the next life; for it is certain there are not many Christians who come to the stature of the fullness of Christ in the present hour.

But the faculties may be more highly developed during the next age. Instead of a gift of teaching we may have the Spirit of teaching, as the Lord Jesus does. After all, our spiritual abilities are extensions of the one Christ. Therefore it is likely they still will operate during the age to come.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, To prepare God’s people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

It was Christ who gave to Paul the ability to be an apostle. This ability prepared Paul to serve the Body of Christ so it may be built up. All the ministries and gifts of the Spirit serve to bring each saint to the full knowledge of the Son of God.

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (I Corinthians 12:11)

The Spirit decides who receives a specific gift, but the gift is to be administered by the Lord Jesus. Also, it is desirable that we covet gifts and ask for them. God will not give us a serpent!

For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (I Corinthians 12:13)

We are baptized in water into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ. It is a holy anointing and makes us an integral part of the royal priesthood. Since we all drink of the same Spirit it is illogical to boast about being a Catholic, or Protestant, or Baptist, or Charismatic. All such boasting and party loyalty proceeds from the fleshly nature.

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. (I Corinthians 12;14)

The human body, although a unit, is composed of many parts. So also is Christ. The Messiah, the Anointed One who is to come, includes the great Head and also a functioning Body.

This does not mean the Lord Jesus is only one member of a many-membered body. But it does signify, however, that we are infinitely more than members of some human organization. We are an inseparable part of the One who claimed: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me."

God wants us to receive into our hearts and minds the fact that we are the members of Christ and that He expresses Himself through us. Also, that we are to seek to be used to build up others as well as ourselves into the moral image of Christ. Expressing the will of Christ must become the focus of our life. If it does not, in the Day of Christ our talents will be taken from us, given to another, and we ourselves will be driven into the outer darkness.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)

When we see a brother or sister coming short of the glory of God we are not to criticize him or her. We have only ourselves to blame because we have not done more to help him or her grow into the image of Christ. The time we spend gossiping, criticizing, and slandering should be devoted to seeking the Lord for more ability to build the members of Christ’s Body.

If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (I Corinthians 12:15-18)

The above is speaking of the human body, but also of Christ’s Body.

As in the parable of the talents, the person who has received only one talent is apt to bury it. How many of the members of your assembly regard themselves as laity, as church members, and therefore do not zealously seek to be used by the Lord to build the members of Christ’s Body?

"I am not the Pastor, or a deacon, or an elder. I am only a member. My role is to attend regularly, to give of my means, and to help when I am called on."

With this attitude the believer will never receive a gift from the Holy Spirit. He is not poised to receive or expect it. Perhaps he would not be diligent in the use of it. This scenario must change if the Body of Christ is to come to maturity in the last days and give the great latter-rain testimony!—if the Ruler of the world to come is to be formed in the saints!

How are we going to awaken the Lord’s people to the fact that they are the faculties through which the Lord Jesus is to perform the work of the Father?

If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (I Corinthians 12:19,20)

There is one Body! Local assemblies and large denominations do not always regard the whole Body of Christ. They seek their own glory and often compete against their fellow members of the Body of Christ. This attitude must change before the Lord returns!

Denominational loyalty can be expected from carnal, immature believers. But such sectarian loyalties are of the fleshly nature of man and are not fitting in God’s leaders and elders. "I am of Paul," "I of Apollos," and so forth. This is baby talk.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don’t need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don’t need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, (I Corinthians 12:21,22)

If we are to please God, we who are pastors must realize there is only one Shepherd of the flock His name is Jesus. The various assemblings are parts of one fold. There is but one fold and one Shepherd.

Therefore it is unseemly for various local assemblies to compete or to attempt to gain more members than another. All of this rivalry and boasting is clear evidence that we are immature, and ignorant of the nature of the one Body of Christ.

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. (Matthew 16:18)

The Lord Jesus Christ is building the one Church. He knows exactly what He is doing with each Christian. Our job as pastors and elders is to find out from the Lord what His intention is for our particular group.

If the leaders of the Christian religion throughout the centuries had waited on the Lord until they knew what He wanted in their particular situation, there would have been no denomination that tortured and murdered those with different viewpoints. But the Christian leadership finds it impossible to keep its hands off the Ark, so to speak. And the result always is babylon.

Each assembly of Christians has a unique contribution to make to the Body of Christ. Some may be more evangelistic than others. Some may be intent on bringing the members of Christ’s Body to maturity. Still other may be devoted to prayer, or to feeding the poor. The Lord will direct us if we will seek Him.

The modern marketing techniques that I have observed, the institutions that profess to stimulate church growth, appear to be ignorant of the role and character of God’s lampstands—the churches. The attempt is made to add numbers of people without regard to Christ’s Presence, or His will for the particular assembly. The idea seems to be that the more people attend the services the more successful the church is. A little reflection should teach us other than this.

The first and most important task of any system, whether it be ecclesiastical, commercial, military, or educational, is to clearly define the goal of the system’s efforts.

Until the goal of the system has been established, no other part of the organization can operate efficiently or effectively. There is no way to measure progress until we know what the goal is.

The New Testament gives us the goal. It is the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Therefore, the success of any part of the system can be measured only in terms of progress on the part of the members toward the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Today the goal has been set forth as numbers of people who attend. This is not a scriptural goal. An ambitious, talented leadership might fill a building with ten thousand people. And the Lord Jesus might see that there is not one cross-carrying disciple in the multitude. Therefore He will say this assembling has a name that it lives but it actually is dead.

To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1)

The pastors are running themselves ragged because of the endless problems arising from ten thousand carnal members, and the Lord Jesus has nothing to do with the operation.

That has happened, is yet happening, and shall continue to happen until we come to understand clearly that the goal of the system is not numbers of people who attend but the growth of those who do attend into the moral image of Jesus Christ. It is to this image that we have been predestined.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (I Corinthians 12:27,28)

Notice that, unlike the listing in the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are not set apart as special offices but are mingled with workers of miracles, gifts of healing, helps, adminstrations, and others. There has been a tendency over the last fifty years to speak of five super-ministries. This is just the old priest-people spirit, the spirit of preeminence, asserting itself.

The members are all parts of one Body. None is superior to the others, although in any local assembly there must be elders who govern by virtue of their experience and their seasoned knowledge of the Lord.

The fact that the local assembly is a cell in the one Body of Christ does not mean we cannot continue in the traditional pastor-congregation model. The state governments expect this. People expect this and can learn and grow within this context. Civil law responds in these terms. But we must begin to inform the people of the true nature of the Body of Christ. When it is time to change our model of organization the Lord Jesus will direct us. To attempt to accomplish this before His time is only to create another babylon.

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way. (I Corinthians 12:29-31)

No, we are not all gifted in the same manner. But we are to eagerly desire the greater gifts.

What are the "greater gifts"? It is possible Paul was referring to gifts that are more powerful than others, such as spectacular miracles—the "greater" works of which the Lord spoke.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (I Corinthians 13:1)

Is Paul now reversing himself and saying if we have love we have no need of the faculties by which Christ performs His will?

Not at all!

Rather, Paul is stating full maturity in Christ is full maturity in love. God is love. To be in God’s image is to be filled with Divine love.

All of us have fleshly, soulish, emotional love. Divine love is supernatural. It is Christ in us. To be filled with Christ is to be filled with love.

The adamic nature knows nothing of such love. The eternal, indestructible love of God in Christ develops in us as we grow toward maturity.

We Christians are characterized more by gossiping, criticizing, and slandering than we are by Divine love. This is because the gifts of the Spirit are not operating in the assemblies.

Why are they not operating?

Because we have been taught we are members of a social organization.

When we perceive we are the faculties of the ascended Christ, then we will seek the Lord until we are able to function in one or more of these supernatural dimensions. As we do we will build ourselves and others of God’s elect into the fullness of Divine love.

Only then will we be prepared and invited to be raised from the dead when the Lord returns, to be caught up to meet Him in the air, and then to descend with Him to assist in establishing the Kingdom of God on the earth.