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The Church Of God

As the world totters and reels like a drunken man, the nations of the earth, through their leaders, try to steady it. They are fully alive to the awful catastrophe which looms ahead, unless some unity of a kind can be devised making it possible for them to work together. The different ideologies which the nations believe in, and refuse to let go, make it difficult for them to co-operate and work in harmony with each other. The many conferences held, and the patience and forbearance shown towards each other, reveal how strong the desire is to solve the problems with which they are faced. To this end they labour on in the hope that their efforts will finally dispel fear and suspicion of each other, and bring about a settled peace among them.

As we look at the great task theY have put their hands to, and the ideal aimed at, we are made to think of the great ideal for the born again of this dispensation shown to us in the 17th chapter of John's Gospel, namely, that they all may be one. This oneness that our Lord prayed for was to be seen in a visible unity among the children of God on earth. The hour is late, and no doubt the coming of the Lord to the air for the dead and the living in Christ draws very near. But not until this glorious event takes place can we cease from aiming to give Him an answer to the longing prayer and loving wish of His heart toward us. It has been truly said, that if unity among God's children is to be realized, it can only come through obedience to the Word of God. There must be a return to the footsteps of the Flock which are marked out for us in Holy Writ. The churches of God, forming the one House of God, can alone give us a true manifestation of this oneness f~ which our Lord prayed.

The need for the believer in Christ to know what is meant by the term, the church or assembly of God, is therefore very important. The first called-out and together company of believers, seen to function as the church of God, was in the city of Jerusalem. The words "of God" tell us to whom it belonged, and reveal its origin and constitution-it was of God. The name, the church of God, given to them by the Lord, is seen to be one that was acquired. That is to say, it was not given to them solely on the ground of their faith in the Person preached to them by Peter, but by their subjection to His claims upon them as believing ones. The generation to which Peter was speaking was not only crooked and perverse, but was very, very religious. Before the Lord added the saved ones to those already together of God, they had to be baptized in water. This on their part was the public witness before God and men that they had "saved themselves" from the generation in which they were in and of. The divine record reads, that then they that gladly received His word were baptized: and they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching, in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers (Acts 2.41, 42).

This together-company was the assembly of God in Jerusalem which Saul wasted (Acts 8.1, Galatians 1.13). Not content with what he had done in Jerusalem, he was determined to carry his threatening and slaughter further afield, had the Lord not met and saved him on the road to Damascus:

We are sometimes helped to see what a thing is, by being shown what it is not. A good example of this is given in Romans 14.17. Careless reading of the Word of God can lead to careless thinking and speaking. Failure to note the vital difference which the Scriptures teach between the Church, the Body of Christ, and the church of God has led many to look upon them as if they were one and the same. This is not so, for they are vastly different, the one from the other. The membership and unity of the Church the Body are invisible to the eye of man. We read that our life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3). The believer in Christ, wherever found, is not seen either by himself or others as a member in the Body, the Church. The very opposite to this is true of the church of God. In this church each one is seen and known, for here the saints are known; there are no secret disciples and no members as such. Membership in the Church the Body is unconditional and eternal. The sinner on the ground of his repentance, and faith in the crucified and risen Son of God, is given a place in this Church which neither time nor eternity will alter. At death he is still a member of the Body, but is no longer seen in the church of God. In the Church the Body you never find behaviour or discipline referred to, nor are overseers asked to care for it. This holy, spotless Church, of which Christ alone is the Builder, Nourisher and Preserver, is ever without spot or blemish, and beyond the reach of man to mar or destroy. The church of God is seen to be quite different from this. Here behaviour and discipline are so much in evidence. And here man can not only mar it by his misbehaviour while in it, but this church can be destroyed by persecution from without.

The church of God can speak with authority and can be spoken to. Divine authority is given to this church to receive in or put away from its number. Needless to say, this authority is never given to any company of believers who do not answer to the term, the church of God. So widely separate does God keep these two great church truths from each other, that though a believer can never lose his place in the Church the Body, he can do so in the church of God. The simple reader of the Word of God can see this when he reads that the church of God in Corinth was commanded to put away the wicked man from~among themselves (1 Corinthians 5.18). To teach or suggest that the local assembly in Corinth, from which the man was put away, differs from the church of God, is a flagrant distortion of the truth. A more glaring example of deceitful handling of the Word of God would be hard to find. The local assembly, or "yourselves," in Corinth was the church of God in Corinth from which the man was put away, and into which he could again be received,

once he showed godly repentance for his sin. The term, the church of God, is ever used to describe the local assembly. Its range is never seen to be wider than this. The fact that we read of the churches of God in the plural, is in striking contrast to the one Church, the mystical Body of Christ of which every one in Christ is a member. When we are told that "the church of. God is in ruins," it is a pertinent question to ask which church among the many churches of God is meant. The population in Corinth consisted of Jews, Greeks, and the church of God (1 Corinthians iD. 82). To take this verse as proof that the world is here seen in three classes of people is unwarranted and misleading. The few millions of Jews and Greeks at the time this was written were, and still are, a mere handful of the world's population. And we repeat that the term, the church of God, is ever used to describe the local assembly, and never once is it seen to be given a wider meaning than this. We ask the reader to examine the Scriptures in the spirit of the Berceans to see whether these things be so. The writer sincerely believes that they are.

<Author:J. BROWN, Christchurch>