Discovering the Body of Christ
Jesus is not dead. He was dead for a brief three days, but that was two millennia ago. Near the end of the First Century, Jesus, very much alive, appeared to the aged Apostle John on the Island of Patmos, off the cost of Turkey,
I, John, both your brother and companion in the tribulation and kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was on the island that is called Patmos for the word of God and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the LordŐs Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, as of a trumpet, saying, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last," and, "What you see, write in a book and send it to the seven churches which are in Asia: to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamos, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea." Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, "Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this..." (Revelation 1:9-19)
It was Jesus who announced that He would call out a people for Himself from all the nations--Jews and Gentiles alike. (Matthew 16:13-27) This "body of believers" would be empowered by the full-presence of God the Holy Spirit. The members of Christ's "Body" would be much more closely connected to one another than were the believers of Israel in the Old Testament. Amazingly, this new branch of Abraham's family, also called "the Church," would benefit from the lavish grace and empowerment afforded by the New Covenant, not the Old. However, the Jews as a nation would not benefit from what is really their New Covenant until the return of Jesus (Jer. 31:31ff). Today, anyone who grants Jesus Christ permission to rule in their lives as Lord and Master today can immediately begin to live in the same mighty Power that raised Jesus from the dead. These days many Christians have evidently forgotten who they are and who it is that lives within them.
Jesus gave to the Apostles, primarily to Paul, the task of describing the nature of the New Testament community of believers. Jesus began to build His church at Pentecost (seven Sabbaths plus one day after His resurrection). This work will continue until His return. The true church of Jesus is richly described by a number of metaphors in the New Testament. In Ephesians, Paul made it known that every follower of Jesus was to be very closely connected to Jesus and to all other Christians. The figure of a human body, with Jesus as the head and Christians as "members" of that body--like the bones, ligaments, organs, and interdependent parts of a living body--describes us well. One by one as people come to known to Jesus Christ, they are added to "the Body of Christ." Since every Christian has eternal life from the moment he or she trusts Jesus as Lord, most of the church is already complete, already outside of our time frame waiting for us to join them. Christ's church is said to be "catholic," (which means "universal" since membership is open to all people--from every branch of the family of man.)
The reality of the church as the Body of Christ seems to elude us these days. We are now near the end of the age. The most common form of Christian gathering today is typified by the lukewarm church of Laodicea described in Revelation 3. (See "The Poor-Rich Church," by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/revelation/4195.html).
Also, a counterfeit, fake form of apostate Christianity is already beginning to take shape, (See "The Dragon Lady," by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/revelation/4208.html). The devil has kept building a false church right along side of the real church. After hearing Jesus talk about the wheat and the tares growing side by side, our Lord went on to say that there was no easy way true Christians could easily be distinguished from one another in this life. "Another parable Jesus put forth to them, saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, "Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?" He said to them, "An enemy has done this." The servants said to him, "Do you want us then to go and gather them up?" But he said, "No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, "First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn."Ő" (Matthew 13:24-30)
In actuality, the fake church is visibly much larger and more impressive than the true church. This has often intimidated the real followers of Jesus, keeping us from stepping out and using the power we already have. (See "The Power you Already Have" by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/misc/4308.html. Another classic message by Ray is "The Two Churches: God's and Man's," http://raystedman.orgshouldc/0271.html).
The New Testament speaks frequently about Christians gathering together at least weekly,
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:23-25)
But for many "going to church" is about visiting the headquarters of an impersonal organization where many members do not really know one another -- who can tell who are believers and who are not? Even the pastor is suspect in many cases. It is often difficult to "connect" with the person next to us in the pew. The sermons may not be at all relevant to our overwhelming needs, and the music may not do much to draw us closer to Jesus the Head of the Body and the Chief Liturgist. (The parable of the Mustard Seed by Jesus is very helpful in showing how the church as a whole would move towards uselessness as we approach the end of the age, see "The Case of the Ambitious Seed," http://raystedman.org/behind/0455.html). Jesus asked the question long ago, "When the Son of Man returns, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8)
Reacting negatively to past unhappy experiences with their own their "church" upbringing more and more born-again believers have dropped out of the traditional Sunday church get together in favor of a home Bible class or a diet of audio messages by favorite national Bible teachers. The problem with all these "solutions" is all too easy to ignore that we need each other in the same way our liver needs a blood supply and the digestive system needs a pancreas. Paul argues for our interdependence in 1 Corinthians 12-14, continuing the discussion of the church as the Body of Christ introduced in Ephesians. Jesus wants to meet often with His people to refresh and renew us, to teach us new truth, to cleanse us from the defilement of the world. We need each other and we cannot function well isolated from one another.
When Jesus told His disciples that he intended to build HIS church, he continued, "and the gates of hell will not prevail against my church." (Matthew 16:19) Clearly, our Lord was thinking of a mighty army, small in numbers but triumphant and invincible in offensive warfare against the entrenched evil of the world system. (The example of Gideon's mighty army of 300 men routing 135,000 Midianites comes to mind, Judges 6-8). When God undertakes to do something in the world guess who will win?
"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:14-16)
Every Christian has one or more spiritual gifts--because God has called each and every member of the Body of Christ to be engaged for a lifetime in "the work of the ministry." (See "Body Life," by Ray Stedman, http://raystedman.org/bodylife/). Belonging to the Body of Christ puts a person in the Army of the Lord where there is more than couch potato, passive entertainment going on. Physically limited followers of Jesus, the old, the bed-ridden, can always make a huge difference by learning the art of the pulling down of enemy-held strongholds through prayer and the simple spreading of true-truth.
Gradually, down through the course of twenty centuries, most local churches now bear little resemblance to the early church. It would seem that Jesus Himself has been gradually marginalized by the leaders of today's Church of Laodicea. Jesus is seen as outside of His church, hoping to be invited in! Needless to say, the main admonition our Lord gives to this church is that we repent from head to toe.
God is incredibly sovereign and when we fail to do His work in His way, thinking we can improve on His marching orders for the church, our Lord usually leaves us alone and uses someone else to get his work done.
God the Holy Spirit indwells every follower of Jesus Christ. He is the One who makes Christ known in us. In order to work effectively the Spirit needs us each to be available and cleansed, free from the numbing, tranquilizing spirit of the world. The Holy Spirit accomplishes His work best when the Members of Christ know one another and understand unity. Using the metaphor of the human body, Paul makes vividly clear how the human body would immediately fail if the organs and systems were not in close cooperation with each other and with the Head.
The real reason for this newsletter is to suggest that we Christians find ways to "connect" more closely with our fellow believers whether they live next door or in Australia, or are members of a different church. We all need the healing and the vitality of sharing closely together, sharing the resurrection life of Christ within His Body.
I was struck this past week by an email from a Jewish-Christian friend of mine. He marveled at the incredible invisible restraint of evil we have been seeing around the world in the past couple of years. Aric called my attention to some of the many dire predictions to be found in the daily news, on talk shows and blogs. Then he pointed out how God has been caring for His own in amazing ways. Many of us will suffer as Christians; the Apostles considered it a great privileged. But God does watch over His own--each one of us who know Him.
We may not see any major awakening of the church in our day, but it stands to reason that establishing closer relationships with other true Christians will increase the silent retraining work of the Holy Spirit in the world. God will solve the big problems of sorting the wheat from the chaff and finally bringing the true church home soon to be His Bride.
Horrendous judgments against human evil are stored up in God's storehouse against thousands of years of evil in our world. The Book of the Revelation describes the sudden unleashing of God's "holy anger" abruptly when the Body of Christ has been completed and removed from the world at the Rapture.
"Revelation 6 says that the Tribulation will begin with a series of judgments that will result in the death of one-fourth of Mankind. The world's population is approaching six billion. That means one and a half billion people will die in the initial judgments, reducing the world's population to 4 1/2 billion. The next series of judgments, recorded in Revelation 8 and 9 will kill another third of Mankind. One-third of 4 1/2 billion is another one and a half billion. Thus, in the first 3 1/2 years of the Tribulation, a total of 3 billion people will die. That's half the population of the world!" (Dr. David R. Reagan, http://www.lamblion.com/, an excellent resource).
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit residing in the true church here on earth now holds back the forces of destruction waiting to be unleashed upon the world. The final events of this age, the "Seventieth Week of Daniel," the seven-year Tribulation period, the coming world rule by two especially evil men, and the destruction of the entire world system will not begin until the removal of the true church by Jesus at the rapture. The Apostle Paul describes this removal,
"Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He [the Holy Spirit in the true church] is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one (the "man of sin) is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work." (2 Thessalonians 2:7-17)
God our Father has adopted us who follow Jesus Christ as Lord into His family. Like any loving Father He is diligent in caring for all the members of His household, whether we are young or old, as yet untaught in His ways, or those who are well grounded.
Similarly, one cannot dismember the Body of Christ. It is an invisible reality being built by God. Each of us has our place and our part in this great organism. We are few in number, but it is the Holy Spirit working through Christ's true church Who restrains the final collapse and destruction of the old world system! In the past few years we've all seen horrific violence, terrorism and disaster leaking in on us around the edges of the dam. The dam is about to break.
Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it. "For you shall go out with joy, And be led out with peace; The mountains and the hills Shall break forth into singing before you, And all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 55:6-13)
1. Barry Setterfield and his wife Helen are dear friends of mine. His scientific work is, in my judgment, right on the leading edge. (Please visit their web site often: http://setterfield.org/). A friend of mine excitedly told me last week that he uses Barry's new booklet, "The Bible and Geology" along with the secular "Roadside Geology" books available on secular science shelves. Tim says it's very exciting to see how the vast ages of conventional science and the long-lasting effects of the Flood of Noah can now be reconciled beautifully with the Bible (and a recent creation) now that we have a good understanding of Zero-Point Energy, which is the energy reservoir of the vacuum. Lately Barry has been studying the role of plasmas during creation week. Big Bang physics is gravity driven, but this ignores the evidence that stars and galaxies and interstellar gases are all ionized and therefore subject to electric and magnetic forces that are many orders of magnitude stronger and faster than gravity.
2. Sexuality and the Bible. Last month a small group from a sister church invited me to join them for a discussion of same sex marriage and gay rights. I realized that the big moral issues of our day are much more easily answered when Christians take the time to first build an overall Christian worldview. Where did we come from? What is wrong with the world? What is God Doing? What Does the Future Hold? My notes are here: http://ldolphin.org/sexworldview.html.
Everyone should read George Gilder's book, "Men and Marriage," available from Amazon. "A chilling indictment on the state of the American family, and the recent drive to deny the fundamental differences between the sexes, Men and Marriage is "an outstandingly important and well-argued book, strangely moving in its combination of scholarly diligence, common sense, courage, and devotion to the res publica of human civilization."--National Review.
3. Global Climate Change: See "On the Central Question of Climate Sensitivity, by Lord Monckton of Brenchley," http://ldolphin.org/sensitivity.pdf
4. Don't miss "Dangerous Times," A classic message by Ray Stedman on 2 Timothy 3, http://ldolphin.org/dangerous.html. Very relevant to circumstances around us right now.
5. The Third Temple. During October a number of Arab-instigated disturbances broke out in Jerusalem at the Temple Mount. An amazing flurry of voices has been responding, suggesting that it is now time for the Jews to build their Third Temple on Mt. Moriah in Jerusalem. I can't follow all the news, but I do periodically update a running set of news articles on the historic Temple Mount. See http://ldolphin.org/recent.html. Don't miss our separate site on the Temples, http://templemount.org. There are three separate references in the New Testament to a functioning Jewish temple being in existence when Christ returns. For many years many of us Christians have wondered how God would make the building of such a temple possible on the hottest most politically sensitive piece of real estate in the world.
6. Finances: Most people are feeling the effects of the current disastrous national and international economic realities. The forecast is for more to come. My own retirement check has been reduced by over a third – well below current monthly expenses. Through it all, your faithful gifts have been sent of the Lord to sustain me, and they are needed now more than ever! I continue to thank my God for my every remembrance of you all. Your ongoing contributions may be sent to me through PayPal, or for a deductible receipt, mailed to Ray Stedman Ministries, P.O. Box 615, Mount Hermon, CA 95041 (checks should no longer be sent through Peninsula Bible Church). Be sure and mark your check, "Lambert Dolphin ministries." Thank you again for your friendship and support. Our God is a sustaining God!
Contact Me. My disorganized collection of articles is found on this page: http://ldolphin.org/asstbib.shtml. Previous newsletters are here: http://ldolphin.org/news/. To ask a question to our email team at the Paraclete Forum, write mailto:email@example.com. As much as I'm able I answer all my email, mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 9, 2009