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The Spiritual Nature of the ChurchMalcolm Webber
When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him… (Luke 24:30-31)
To understand the nature of the church we must first understand the nature of the Christian life on a personal level. The Christian life is the personal restoration of the individual believer to realized fellowship and communion with his God – it is nothing more nor less.
We have been restored to God. He saved us that we may experience union and communion with Him. To know Him – to experience intimate fellowship with Him – is our goal, our ultimate purpose. And when we have Him, we have all He is. We have everything. Salvation, healing, deliverance, eternal security, peace, joy, spiritual strength and power, holiness, faith, the fruits and gifts of the Spirit – all are in Him. And all will be imparted to us through union with Him.
Out of inward union and fellowship with Jesus issues everything: the whole of the Christian life. That is all the Christian life is – union and communion with Jesus. When we have Him we have it all, and without Him we have nothing of any value.
It is so with the church. Just as the Christian life is union and fellowship, even so the church is union and fellowship. Its nature is union. Its nature is fellowship. Union and fellowship with Christ, and union and fellowship with each other – in Christ. That is all the church is: union and fellowship with each other, in Him. And every other aspect of church life will come out of that – inevitably and spontaneously. And it will be real. When it comes it will be genuine, and alive. Whatever comes of the church will not spring from organization, programs or any human effort or agency, but it will be the mere reflex action of the life of the Holy Spirit within His people.
Just as the individual Christian life grows inevitably and spontaneously out of personal fellowship with Christ, so church life, and all it consists of, springs inevitably and spontaneously out of personal fellowship with each other – in fellowship with Him.
The bread of communion is a beautiful type of this fellowship. In fact it so profoundly depicts the nature and life of the church that Jesus ordained it to be enacted and understood every time His people have a meal together.
Consider the loaf of bread. It, of course, represents Jesus. He is our life. His past death makes possible the way for our deliverance from destruction – both eternal and temporal; and His present indwelling life is the source of all our victory and life. He is our life. We live to the extent that we have partaken (“eaten”) of Him. As we eat Him, so we absorb Him and He Himself becomes the very fabric and substance of our lives. He becomes not just our example and teacher, but in union with Him He actually lives His life in and through us. As we eat Him, we partake of His holiness, His love, His goodness, His faith, His power and all His attributes – His life.
Now notice: the loaf of bread is eaten by all the saints – together! In this there is wonderful significance.
Firstly, we see that all the saints partake of the fullness of the loaf. It is divided among them. No single believer eats all of Christ. We are each only given a piece of Him (1 Cor. 12:4-11; Rom. 12:3-8). Of course God is infinite Spirit and thus indivisible, and each “piece” of Him necessarily contains the whole of Him. But in His revelation of Himself to and through His body of believers – just like the loaf that Jesus broke and divided among His disciples – He gives Himself piece by piece.
Thus no one can be independent of the others (1 Cor. 12:12-26). It is only together that we have Him in His fullness. It is to the church as a whole that He gives Himself. Individually He reveals Himself to us in part and we partake of Him in part. We each stand in vital need of the pieces of the loaf that the other members of His church have digested into their souls and lives. Together we possess the whole loaf. It takes all of us together to reveal the fullness of the “absorbed” and indwelling life of Christ.
Thus the church as a whole grows up into the unity of the faith and “into perfect union with Him;” (Eph. 4:15, Williams trans.) and from Christ “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and build itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph. 4:16)
Secondly, notice that the saints eat of Him at the same time. In the corporate life of the church comes the greatest experience of the life of Christ that will ever be revealed to us and that we will ever partake of.
It is in union with “all the saints” that we will apprehend the fullness of the Presence and the love of Christ. It is “you” (plural – i.e. the church) who will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:17-19)
It is together that we experience Him. There are no “lone rangers” here. There are no individualistic ministries here. There are no individual spectators here. There are no individuals at all here. There is only the body – the one absorbed loaf – the one expression of the one indwelling Life – the one collection of believers who together inextricably form the whole – His church.
Our churches today are filled with individuals living their own separate lives. We are together, in a sense, once or twice a week under the same steepled roof. At least outwardly we are “together.” Inwardly and spiritually we are islands; going our own separate ways; living our own separate lives. Our lives are not one – one with Him and one with each other, in Him.
The true church will be composed of individuals. But they are men and women who have heard the call to denial of self, and to union with Christ and His church. In Christ and in His church they have willingly and joyfully given up all right to the expression of their own self-centered lives and ministries. Interwoven with each other within the fabric of Christ’s life they have become one. Each is indistinguishable from the whole. Their only life is as part of the whole. They only have meaning as part of the whole. Their own life is not their highest purpose. In seeking Him they have found His church. Christ’s life expressed in His church is their highest purpose. They are “faceless” men and women.
But they are not without identity. Their identity is in Christ expressed in His church. Corporately their single face reflects His. Together they have partaken of His life. And His life has become theirs. Their life is one. It is His life. It is Him. He is their life – together. His life is their life – together.
This is what Jesus is restoring – the church – His church. All things He has ordained to this end. All things He has planned from before eternity to work to this end – His church.
In Jesus’ eyes His church is the most beautiful thing in all His glorious, magnificent universe. He desires His church. He yearns for His church.
Jesus is even now preparing His church. And one day to His church He will come – as a Bridegroom to His bride. To His church He will come – to bestow His Presence in the fullest measure. To His church He will come – to show forth His eternal wisdom and glory to all the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. To His church He will come – to consummate the marriage of Himself and His bride. To His church He will come, and He will bring her into final, complete and everlasting union with Himself – that God may be all in all.
Beloved, let us seek His face. In seeking Him we will find His church – in all her splendor, and in all her beauty. And in finding His church we will find Him – in all His fullness and in all His glory.
This is an excerpt from To Enjoy Him Forever.