The Vision of the Church
Several booklets were used prolifically in the sixties and seventies to present to new ones our understanding of the church and our practices that helped bring in the blessing in the churches of "dwelling together in unity". One booklet was on the vision of the church.
The Vision of the Church W. L.ee
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 the 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 the 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. All works and ministries in God’s intention must serve the church. We are not saved for our 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 don’t 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 dispensation of 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. (I Tim. 3:15). Jacob said about that place, “This is none other than 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 at Jerusalem, (Acts 8:1), the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1), the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1), the church at Corinth (I 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 cites. 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 a 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. Don't 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 your complications and make yourself very simple. Read the simple words of the New Testament: "the church at Jerusalem, " "the church at Antioch," "the church at Cenchrea," the church at 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 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 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 qualifications 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 of 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. Don't 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's 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 35 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.