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What is the Church?

When we come to the matter of the church, we touch a marvelous subject in the Bible, one that is in the very depths of the heart of God. Many today speak of the church in a common way, referring to a physical building, an organization, or simply a gathering of the Lord’s children. However, the church is higher, deeper, and more wonderful than this.

In Ephesians 3:9-10 the apostle Paul speaks of the mystery which was hidden in God throughout the ages and of the multifarious wisdom of God being made known “through the church.” Verse 11 goes on to say, “According to the eternal purpose which He made in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The church did not come into existence merely as an afterthought. In eternity past, before the foundation of the world, before the heavens, the earth, and all things were created, God purposed to have the church. The church is so dear, so lovable, and so precious to God because it is the desire of God’s heart and the center of His eternal plan, which He purposed before time began.

There are many wonderful types or pictures of the church throughout the Bible. One of the most remarkable types is that of Eve in Genesis 2. To produce a counterpart for Adam, God took a rib from his side and built from it a woman, whom He presented to Adam. Ephesians 5:25-32 tells us that this picture is fulfilled in Christ and the church. Just as Eve was formed from a part of Adam, the church as the bride of Christ is built with something of Christ Himself, that is, with His very life and nature. As such, it is not only His counterpart but His enlargement and increase.

Ephesians 1:22-23 reveals that the church is also the Body of Christ, the fullness of the One who fills all in all. The Body is not an organization but an organism constituted of all the regenerated believers for the expression and activities of the Head, Christ.

The church is also the house of God, typified most vividly by the tabernacle and the temple in the Old Testament. All the detailed items of the tabernacle and temple signify the many aspects of Christ for our experience. God is embodied in Christ, Christ is known in the Spirit, and the Spirit is joined to our human spirit to produce the church as the dwelling place of God in spirit (1 Cor. 6:17; Eph. 2:21-22).

In the book of Ephesians, the church is also revealed as the corporate and universal new man germinated by Christ on the cross (2:15), the kingdom of God today as the citizenry of the saints (v. 19a), the household of God (v. 19b), and the corporate warrior fighting the spiritual warfare for God (6:11-18). In Revelation we see the universal church realized and practiced in the local churches as the golden lampstands. These golden lampstands are the testimony of Jesus today, which will consummate in the New Jerusalem as the goal of God’s eternal economy in eternity future (1:11-12, 20; 21:2).

It is no wonder that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). May we all have a spirit of wisdom and revelation to see what the church is, and may we love the church as Christ does.

For further reading on this subject, please see Life-study of Ephesians, msg. 1 and Basic Principles for the Practice of the Church Life, published by Living Stream Ministry.

From Issue No. 17, September 1999

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