The real purpose and function of the Church has not been understood. This article brings the eye-opening TRUTH.
When Jesus Christ returns to earth in supernatural splendor, power and glory, He is coming to His TEMPLE. But where is that temple — when will it be built? Many students of the Bible have wondered — speculated. Will the Israelis after all destroy the Dome of the Rock — the Moslem temple standing today on the site of both Solomon's temple and the temple to which Jesus came at His first appearing? Malachi's prophecy says: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek [Christ], shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant..." (Malachi 3:1). It was John the Baptist who prepared the way — but that was before Jesus' FIRST coming. When we read on through verses 2 to 6 it becomes altogether evident this prophecy in Malachi is talking about Christ's second coming, in power and glory, to RULE. WHO, then, as a human messenger (one bearing a message) was to prepare the way before His SECOND coming? And what of the temple to which He is to come?
Zerubbabel a type
Look briefly at the prophecy of Haggai. It concerns the contingent of Jews who returned to Jerusalem 70 years after the destruction of Solomon's temple to build the second temple on the same site. The prophecy concerns Zerubbabel, governor of the contingent and builder of this second temple. This was the same temple to which Jesus did come — except the Roman King Herod had somewhat enlarged, restored and embellished it. But Zerubbabel was merely a TYPE. The prophecy, as we see plainly beginning verse 6, chapter 2, is millenial. "For thus saith the Eternal of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; And I will shake all nations, and the desire [RSV has, 'so that the treasures of all nations shall come'] of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of hosts... The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former." It is speaking of the end-time — at the second coming of Christ. Now what does it mean, the glory of this latter house (or latter-day house) shall be greater than that of the former — that is, greater in splendor than Solomon's temple, which had the most glorious splendor of any building on earth? Certainly the second temple, built by Zerubbabel, even though larger, could not compare in splendor to Solomon's. But God was speaking of the temple to which Christ shall come, at His glorious second coming as King of kings and Lord of lords! Jesus Christ came the first time still in the days of old-covenant Israel — a carnal-minded and rebellious people. It was a material temple, even as He came to a physical, carnal people. But He is coming the second time in supreme power and glory. He will come this time to a GLORIOUS TEMPLE — a SPIRITUAL, not a material temple!
A glorified temple
Of God's Church He says in the second chapter of Ephesians, "Now therefore ye are... of the household [family] of God [the CHURCH]; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:" (emphasis mine, Ephesians 2:19-22). The glorified Christ is coming to the glorified temple — with a glory far greater than Solomon's temple! Note it. Christ is not coming to a material building, but to His Church, then to be GLORIFIED with Him. Notice further, in Ephesians, chapter 4: "From whom the whole body [body of Christ — the Church] fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth..." (verse 16). Now let's UNDERSTAND. Old Testament Israel, both church and state, lived in the days of the first Adam. They had the one human spirit — they were carnal minded, hostile against God, not subject to the law of God. But God gave them His laws (spiritual, as well as sacrificial, ceremonial and statutory). It proved that without the second Spirit — the Holy Spirit of God — people would not turn to the right way of life, even though God revealed to them the knowledge, not only of Himself, but of His GOVERNMENT! But the New Testament Church of God started out with God's Holy Spirit added to the human spirit, even from its inception. The Old Testament sacrificial laws and ceremonial rituals were a mere temporary substitute for Christ and the Holy Spirit. When the reality came the substitute was ended, but the basic SPIRITUAL LAW — the law of LOVE codified in the Ten Commandments — continued. But the CHURCH was required, having the Holy Spirit, to obey them not merely according to the strictness of the letter, but according to the spirit — or principal or obvious intent of the law (II Corinthians 3:6).
Purpose and function of Church
Now we come to the purpose and function of the Church of God. Immediately after the foundation of the Church, the apostles Peter and John performed a sensational healing of a well known cripple — after which Peter preached to the crowd attracted (Acts 3:1-26). But immediately the priests, captains of the temple and Sadducees threw the apostles into prison overnight (Acts 4:1-3). And the next morning the apostles were brought before the high priest and his family, besides other rulers and dignitaries. They were severely THREATENED and sternly commanded to cease preaching in the name of Christ. These apostles were human. This experience was unnerving! They went immediately to a company of CHURCH MEMBERS for encouragement, prayer and morale strengthening (Acts 4:23). These loyal Church brethren "lifted up their voice to God..." (Acts 4:24) in united prayer, petitioning God for inspiration and divine power that the apostles might continue boldly proclaiming the message. Notice here an important function of the Church. The Church lay members did not go forth with the message — they backed up, unitedly, the apostles who were charged with THE GREAT COMMISSION. Notice: "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together..." (Acts 4:31). But these Church brethren were able to stand solidly and loyally back of the apostle, because they "were of one heart and of one soul [mind]" (verse 32). Later, when the savage persecution had set in, the apostle James was martyred. King Herod also had Peter cast into prison, with the intent probably of killing him also (Acts 12:1-4). "But" (verse 5) "prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." The result? God sent an angel to loose the chains that bound Peter, and to lead him secretly out of the prison. Peter fled on to Caesarea.
The prevailing error
At this point it is well to clarify further the most common and universal erroneous belief. It is the assumption that 1) God is desperately waging a contest against Satan, attempting to get every living human "saved" NOW! This assumption must concede that Satan is winning that contest overwhelmingly! But there is NO SUCH CONTEST. Satan has power to do ONLY what God ALLOWS! 2) The corollary to this assumption is an even more tragic belief that has acquired universal acceptance. And that is the fallacy that everyone not now saved is lost — condemned to an eternal hell fire, which, incidentally, is also a myth. The vast majority are neither saved nor lost. Just not yet JUDGED! It was our first human progenitor that made the CHOICE. God accepted his decision and pronounced sentence on Adam's world for 6,000 years — except for those God called for some special performance. The 6,000-year sentence is about to expire, and a happy, joyful world of PEACE, with eternal life available to all, is now just around the corner. Jesus Christ emphatically verified this sentence God pronounced on the world. He said plainly, "NO MAN CAN come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him..." (John 6:44). And none can come to God, except through Him! So let us clarify once for all time that the purpose of the Church is definitely NOT to preach or persuade the whole world into a spiritual salvation, NOW — before Christ's second coming! Some have construed the GREAT COMMISSION as being to the Church as a whole — to evangelize and "save" the world — NOW. A large system of missionaries from traditional Christianity has resulted. Examine now, the three places where THE GREAT COMMISSION is explained. Examine the report of THE GREAT COMMISSION recorded in Matthew 28: "Now the eleven disciples [Judas already had left them] went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them..." To WHOM? Not the Church as a whole. Only to the disciples who were to become the original APOSTLES! "... All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. GO therefore and make disciples [learners — those taught] of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:16-20, RSV).
'One sent forth'
Notice carefully. This GREAT COMMISSION to be SENT FORTH with Christ's Gospel message was given only to those who were apostles, and the word apostle means "one sent forth" with the message. The King James translation of the above has been misinterpreted by some to imply that ALL the people in every nation were to be converted then. The RSV translation, above quoted, makes it clear. Make disciples, students, learners to HEAR the message — within all nations. The AV (King James version) has: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them ..." The sense is, teach within all nations, NOT teaching every individual. And "baptizing them" can refer ONLY to those God specially called, since Christ said plainly, "NO MAN CAN come to me, except the Father which sent me draw him." Now examine Mark's account of THE GREAT COMMISSION. Most translations from the original Greek text into English OMIT verses 9 to 20, saying these verses were NOT INSPIRED, and were added at a later date by uninspired editors. Even so, the RSV does quote these verses in finer type, as follows: "And he said to them [the 11 apostles], Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation." That is, announce the GOOD NEWS of the coming Kingdom of God. Continue: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved..." But Jesus plainly said NO MAN could come to Christ — believe — except those specially called by the Father! Notice now the King James translation: "Afterward he [Jesus] appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat... And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved... " (Mark 16:14-16). Of course NONE could believe and be baptized EXCEPT those God the Father specially called. So there is NOWHERE ANY CONTRADICTION. The GREAT COMMISSION was given to the APOSTLES — those "sent forth" with the message — NOT the lay members of the Church.
Called to a special service
What then? Did not the lay members have any part in proclaiming the Gospel? Definitely they did, as we have seen. Their part was to back up the apostles — stand behind them with their prayers, encouragement, tithes and offerings. They are PART OF A WELL-ORGANIZED TEAM, as we shall show in more detail. And there is NO EVIDENCE in either Matthew's account or Mark's, that any were to be baptized except those God the Father had called to a special service. NOTHING contradicts the fact that God had withdrawn His Holy Spirit from ALL, except those specially called. Now notice the account in Matthew 24. This is in the form of a prophecy, for our present living generation: The AV has, "And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end [of this age] come" (Matthew 24:14). The RSV is the same in meaning: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
Church an organized body
Is the Church of God merely a scattered, isolated number of professing Christians, each going his own way to get out the Gospel or, as many believe, to GET his personal salvation and eternal life? Jesus Christ specially called His disciples, trained them to become His apostles. To THEM — the apostles, the ones "sent forth" with His Gospel message — He gave THE GREAT COMMISSION — not to the laity of the Church as a whole. But WHAT OF GOD'S CHURCH? HOW ORGANIZED? It is a spiritual organism — but also it is WELL ORGANIZED, as we shall now see. The Church is the begotten family or household of God (Ephesians 2:19). "And are built upon the FOUNDATION of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2:20). It is, continues verse 21, like a "building fitly framed together [which] groweth unto an holy TEMPLE in the Lord." It is the TEMPLE to which Christ shall come at His second coming in GLORY! It is that body of Christ that is the affianced BRIDE of Christ, to be married to Him (as the old covenant was a marriage) when He returns. In Ephesians, "... Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it... That he might present it to himself a GLORIOUS CHURCH..." (Ephesians 5:25-27) in the resurrection! Of that same marriage, "... Alleluia! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the MARRIAGE of the Lamb [Christ] is come, and his wife [the resurrected glorified Church] hath made herself ready" (Revelation 19:6-7). It is not only a SPIRITUAL ORGANISM — it is a well-organized ORGANIZATION. Notice I Corinthians 12: "... Brethren, I would not have you ignorant" (I Corinthians 12:1. "But now are they many members, YET BUT ONE BODY" (verse 20). But it is a well-ORGANIZED body. "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all... But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. For as the body is ONE... " (united, organized into cooperative teamwork — not scattered individuals, each claiming to serve God in his own way). Repeating, "For as the body is ONE, and hath many members, and all the members of that ONE BODY, being many, are ONE BODY: SO also is Christ. For by ONE SPIRIT are we all baptized into one body..." (verses 4 to 13). Continuing in verse 25, "That there should be no schism [division] in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another" (that is, outgoing concern and love). Continuing in verse 28, "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues." Now back to Ephesians. What about the member who GOES OUT OF THE CHURCH to have his own relationship with Christ, to GET his own salvation? He is OUTSIDE the body of Christ! Notice, again, the "household of God" — the CHURCH — is built upon a FOUNDATION. Would one build a BUILDING on a foundation of shifting sand? God's Church is "built upon the FOUNDATION of the apostles [New Testament], and prophets [Old Testament, whose prophecies are for US TODAY — I Corinthians 10:11], Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Ephesians 2:19-20). HOW WELL ORGANIZED? "In whom all the building [the Church] fitly framed together groweth unto an holy TEMPLE in the Lord" (verse 21). Again, "From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16). Yes, Christ ORGANIZED His Church. "And his gifts were, that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11, RSV). "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:12-13). What about a single member — a "joint" or "part" — going off by himself or following a MAN instead of the CHURCH OF GOD that is in direct continuous succession from the apostolic Church founded by Christ A.D. 31? He is like a joint or piece of wood or stone, entirely outside of, and therefore NO PART OF the BODY OF CHRIST that shall MARRY Christ! We have seen that Christ gave the lay body of the Church the SPECIAL MISSION to back up his apostles in their GOING FORTH with the Gospel to the world — with their prayers, encouragement, tithes and offerings. But this GIVING of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was GOD'S ASSIGNMENT — as the very means of developing in them God's holy, righteous character — that they, with the apostles and evangelists, may qualify to RULE with and under Christ in God's Kingdom. This very means of character development within the laity is THE WAY OF GIVING — not Satan's way of GETTING. God's WAY — the WAY of His law — is GIVING of out-flowing Love. It is the LIVING way. The person who tries to be an individual separate Christian, to GET his own salvation, is going at it the GETTING way — Satan's way. And I would not want to try to GET myself into God's Kingdom by Satan's way. Notice again WHY God set apostles, evangelists, pastors and other elders in His Church NOT ONLY for the Work of the ministry, being SENT FORTH into all the world announcing Christ's message of HOPE. Read it again: It was "For the perfecting of the saints... for the edifying [enlightening, instructing] of the body of Christ: TILL we all come in the UNITY of the faith, and of the KNOWLEDGE of the Son of God, unto a perfect man... " But cannot a single separate individual EDIFY HIMSELF, outside of the Church? Not likely — and THAT IS NOT GOD'S WAY. HOW does God infuse HIS TRUTH into the Church? NOT through each individual separately — but through the apostles and other ministers under them. In the time of the first apostles — first century — the Bible was not yet completely written. God used a very few prophets, through whom He communicated. The prophets gave the message to an apostle. Today the Bible is complete. God has used no prophets in the Church in our time. However, the laity of the Church received their teaching and instruction from the apostles. The original 12 had been taught by Christ in person — and so also had Paul. Jesus Christ was the personal Word of God. The Bible is the written Word of God. It's all the precise same TRUTH and TEACHING, whether from Jesus in person, when on earth or from the written Word of God. God's apostle for our day was taught by the written Word of God — the SAME IDENTICAL TEACHING! But what of the separated individual believer, who tries to GET his salvation all by himself or by following some MAN or any of hundreds of professing Christian denominations of our day? He is CUT OFF from that TRUE teaching, which Christ reveals to and through His apostle! What if one in the Church disagrees on some point of doctrine? Then he is out of harmony with God's Church. And GOD HAS ONLY THE ONE CHURCH. And all in the Church are commanded to speak the same thing — and it must be what CHRIST, either in person or by written Word, has taught His apostle. To the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote: "Now I beseech you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing". (I Corinthians 1:10) Some of them wanted to follow Peter, some wanted to follow Apollos, some Paul. But PAUL was their apostle and Christ taught them by PAUL. The separated individual believer will follow his own idea of God's truth. THAT IS NOT GOD'S WAY. God in His almighty wisdom, has raised up the CHURCH, as HIS MEANS of teaching all the SAME TRUTH — all speaking the SAME THING! Not each individual his own thing! God raised up the CHURCH, not only that its apostles and evangelists go into all the world announcing the GOOD NEWS of the coming Kingdom of God, but also as the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God's own holy righteous CHARACTER — by means of GIVING — giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings. WHAT then, of the person who follows after a man outside the Church or tries to GET his salvation simply by GETTING and not GIVING that which members are to give to the Church's Work? Consider Jesus' parable of the pounds in Luke 19. The pound is the British unit of money. Jesus illustrated Himself giving each member, on conversion, one pound — representing the Holy Spirit given at conversion. But the Christian MUST GROW in grace and Christ's knowledge. As he does, by GIVING in the Church, he receives an increasing amount of God's Spirit. The isolated, separated member will probably LOSE OUT (see Luke 19:20-24).
Why the Church?
Finally, WHY the Church? WHY did not Christ just "save" separated individuals? What is the REAL PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH? Like most everything in the Bible, the purpose and function of the Church has been grossly misunderstood. The entire world has been deceived by Satan (Revelation 12:9). Jesus had not come on a soul-saving crusade. The most wide-spread false assumption of all is that Christ is contesting against Satan to "get everybody saved NOW!" And with it, the supposition that all not saved are "LOST" — condemned! They are neither. They are not yet JUDGED! But in Adam, by his decision, all humanity has been sentenced to 6,000 years of being completely cut off from God! That is, all except the comparative very few specifically called for a special mission. Jesus Christ, I repeat, emphatically verified this 6,000-year sentence (John 6:44). No scripture can or does contradict that plain statement of Jesus. Jesus called, chose, and for 3 1/2 years trained His apostles to become, with Him and the prophets, the FOUNDATION on which the Church was built. Also He set the example, those 3 1/2 years, for His apostles, in proclaiming (announcing) the coming KINGDOM OF GOD. Then Christ died for the sins of humanity and was resurrected and ascended to God's throne in heaven. On the day of Pentecost A.D. 31 He sent the Holy Spirit in a great manifestation, both visible and audible, to found His Church. On that day of Pentecost, it was Peter, chief apostle, who proclaimed the Gospel message — and God ADDED 3,000 baptized that same day. A day or so later — very possibly the very next day — Peter and John healed the cripple and Peter preached the Gospel. God ADDED another 2,000 to the Church. It is significant, and generally unrealized, that neither Jesus nor the apostles embarked on any soul-saving crusade, which is a modern Protestant practice. The apostles, as Jesus had done, proclaimed the Gospel — the GOOD NEWS of a coming BETTER WORLD. It was not an emotional pleading, "Won't you give your heart to the Lord?" True, because unbelieving Jews did not accept Jesus as their promised Messiah, the apostles, at first, put special emphasis on the fact they were eyewitnesses to Jesus' Messiahship and resurrection. They had been with Him 3 1/2 years before He was crucified; and 40 days after He rose from the dead. But they did proclaim the same message Jesus had taught them — the coming Kingdom of God. It was not a begging for souls. "... The Lord added to the Church such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). When the apostles met with fierce persecution, imprisonment and threat, the laity of the Church ENCOURAGED them, prayed heartrendingly for them, supported then financially. So, let the truth be clarified once and for all, the PURPOSE of the Church was NOT to "get the world saved Now!" God's PURPOSE in raising up His Church, in a world otherwise cut OFF from God, was dual: 1) To provide a united body of Spirit-led believers to 'back up' the apostles (and evangelists) who had been specially trained to GO FORTH into all the world with Christ's Gospel message. ALL this, was their part in THE GREAT COMMISSION. Theirs was a WORK OF GIVING, giving of their prayers, their encouragement and financial support of the ORGANIZED Gospel WORK. And this is GOD'S means of, and the training ground for: 2) The overcoming of Satan, and the constant development of that holy, righteous CHARACTER — thus qualifying them to sit with Christ on the throne of earth wide GOVERNMENT. GOD'S WAY of developing His holy character was THE GIVING WAY. GOD'S way of life is the GIVING way of outgoing LOVE. Satan's way is INcoming self-advantage — hostility to God's way and to His Church. Those who allow an attitude of hostility and rebellion against God's Church — and God's GOVERNMENT within His Church — to cause them to leave, and go it alone or follow a MAN, are seeking merely TO GET salvation FOR THE SELF! That is NOT God's WAY!
The GLORY on beyond
Happily, the 6,000-year sentence on Adam's world — being cut off from God, is due to END in our present living generation. This world now — still Satan's world except for God's CHURCH — is fast plunging into the supreme CRISIS of world tribulation. But it is said to be "darkest just before dawn!" Then, SUDDENLY, when least expected by the cut-off world, Jesus Christ will come in supreme supernatural POWER AND GLORY! Yes, "at such an hour as ye think not," said Jesus. His CHURCH will have been made ready! "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent [precede] them that are asleep [dead]. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (I Thessalonians 4:15-17). He is coming to RULE ALL THE EARTH! Then shall be fulfilled Revelation 19:6-7, the mighty voice of the arch-angel shouting, "ALLELUIA! for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice." The Church, resurrected IN GLORY, shall reign with Christ a thousand years! Satan will be banished. God will call ALL LIVING to His salvation. After the millennium shall come the GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT (Revelation 20:11-12) when all who had been cut off from God for 6,000 years shall be resurrected MORTAL — and all called to God's salvation and eternal life! Then, the glorious eternity beyond — all saints then immortal, inheriting the transcendent human potential — RENEWING THE FACE OF ALL DECAYED PLANETS, FINISHING THE GLORIOUS BEAUTIFUL CREATION THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE ENDLESS UNIVERSE — in happiness, joy and GLORY!