Commitment to the Body of Messiah
Sabbath School: Saturday 28 June 2003
Brethren and sisters, we move on today to one of the most important of our Bible studies. This is the connection between salvation and the Messianic Community, what in our language we unfortunately call the "church". One of the major obstacles that we have faced in our work of restoring the end-time Kingdom of Yahweh is straightening out the language we use to describe spiritual things.
Today's lesson is about the 'church' and its importance in the Christian life. Most people have this idea, especially in the Protestant world, that the Gospel consists of making a personal decision for Christ by trusting what He says He - and what the New Testament says He is - and that thereafter they are 'saved'. What follows is usually some vague idea of 'attending church', usually once a week on Sundays, and perhaps - if one is extra diligent - attending bible and prayer groups. Linked to this is the idea of being 'good', of 'loving your neighbour', and a cluster of other concepts. And so we are pleasant to our neighbours, try to set some sort of standard in the way we behave and the things we do, and be helpful when time permits, and witness of Christ. All of which is good. But it falls far short of what actually being a Christian is.
As Westerners we tend, because of our scientific upbringing, to be very 'process-orientated'. We like to dissect and analyse things. And as a Westerner, and as one brought up as a Scientist, I freely admit that I do this myself. Understanding bodily processes had enabled medicine to make rapid advances so that people can be helped. Understanding the legal basis of demonic oppression helps ministers like myself help people who have demonic problems. But when it comes to actually living your life, you are not really aware of 'processes'. You simply are.
Some weeks ago my family watched a very funny film about some convicts. One of the prison guards was an ex-military man and thought in military terms. One of the convicts was making fun of him by creating a comical image of parade-ground romance in which a series of steps were executed that lead to romantic happenings. If you have ever read psychology textbooks you will know how human behaviour is analysed and described as a series of steps. Such a clinical approach, whilst helpful in understanding the way we are and perhaps in helping those who have been spiritually damaged by abuse, for example, really has little meaning for those who want to actually live their romance.
I give you two contrasts. In another film we watched, a very nervous and insecure man was in love with a woman but had no idea to approach her. He went to his friend for advice and he gave him the benefit of his experience. He wrote everything down and then went, paper in hand, to woo his beloved. It was, of course, a disaster. He was so occupied with getting the 'steps' right that he had a mental blank, panicked, and started saying ridiculous things. Contrast this with another film we saw recently, of a young Italian man in love with his 'princess', who was simply himself and never analysed what he was doing for a second. It was his genuineness and openness that won the woman's heart, and it helped that he was a good man without any falseness about him.
People often describe their relationship with Christ after the New Birth as being like a romance. The sense of new found freedom, pardon from sin, and an overwhelming love makes them dizzy with joy. And indeed, our first encounter with the Messiah can often be just like this, which is why, perhaps, our relationship is often allegorised as an intimate marriage. It is intense, beautiful, and invigorating to be connected to Yahweh-Elohim, our Creator and Heavenly Father. But where Western man often goes wrong is that he interprets his experience with Christ through the lens of his egocentric cultural upbringing. He views Christ as a private possession to add to his 'achievements' and 'belongings'.
This image is dangerously false, however. Our relationship to Christ is actually never one-to-one even if we may be deluded in believing that it is. If this one-to-one concept were true, then to teach and emphasise it, Yah'shua (Jesus) would have compared Himself to a tree like a cedar. He would have depicted Himself as the trunk and us as the different branches connected individually on a one-to-one basis to the trunk. Instead, He compares Himself to a vine. A vine has no trunk but is composed of many branches connected together. Instead, we find Yah'shua (Jesus) repeatedly calling Himself the Root. He says: "I am the Root and Offspring of David" (Rev.22:16; cp. 5:5; Rom.15:12), and in his discourse to the Romans, Paul says that the believers do not support the "root" but that "the root supports you" (Rom.11:18, NKJV). All the branches connect into the root of the vine tree as one - there is no single axis or trunk from which we connect with our own private, personal telephone line or postal address to Yah'shua (Jesus). Our connection to Christ is all together! If once we can grasp this central concept in relationships, we will avoid so many of the egotistical 'I' theological errors that today plague the Body.
Today I want to challenge you to completely adjust your thinking to the biblical way. Today I want you to wean yourselves off the idea that you have a special one-to-one relationship with the Messiah and see it for what it really is: a One-to-many relationship.
If you find this an incredible assertion, all you have to do is look at the passages of scripture that talk of the relationship between Yah'shua (Jesus) and the believer and you will find them either in the plural or pointing to the plural:
"Come to Me, all [you] who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt.11:28-29, NKJV).
You will also notice that when our relationship to Yah'shua (Jesus) is depicted as an allegorical marriage, we are always depicted as one wife and not many even though we are many individuals. This Bride or Wife is a Holy City:
"Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, "Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb's wife." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel ..." (Rev.21:9-12, NKJV).
We see from this that all believers constitute one Bride or Wife which is a City. Those who are saved at the last day inhabit that city. Notice that the city has 12 gates, one for each of the Tribes of Israel, meaning that we each belong to one of the Twelve Tribes either by descent or by adoption or in-grafting. Indeed, the Apostle Paul tells us that the saved are Israel. This City is therefore also a Nation: New Covenant Israel consisting of twelve divisions, or twelve family or tribal units. Since each of the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt.19:29) it follows that each of these twelve tribes will be headed up by one of those apostles. Heaven is an intensely family affair.
Because we aren't in heaven yet, Yahweh has set up a replica down on earth called the Local Assembly, Congregation, Fellowship or Church. It is here that we begin our lessons in becoming a single Bride of Christ. Here we learn the meaning of being a plural Bride of Christ, of multi-faceted relationship-building.
A born-again believer who is not intimately apart of a fellowship of believers is not part of the vine. There are no private vine trees with single branches. There are no private heavens. We attend the wedding feast of the Lamb together or not at all. A person who refuses to have anything to do with a local assembly is therefore rejecting Christ, because Christ is the Vine - He is all of us.
Let's pause to think about this. Yah'shua (Jesus) tells us that He is both the root of the Vine Tree and the whole tree. "I am the vine, you are the branches", he said (Jn.15:5). Once we are in Christ, we become Christ by virtue of being His Body. Our identity becomes His. Yes, we remain as individual, identifiable branches, but we are not longer independent beings. We become Him. Thus Paul as able to say:
"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal.2:20-21, NKJV).
We saw in our Bible study that we each uniquely have special gifts which Paul compares to the organ of a body like an eye. Eyes are pretty ugly things when seen by themselves, but they become beautiful when in their proper place. A human eye on a living face is a glorious thing to behold. Yes, we can dissect an eye and be amazed by its intricacy, but it's real glory is in its allotted sphere. We, too, are wondrous creations of Yahweh, but our glory is only to be found in the Body of Christ. A solo-Christian so-called is like a human eye sitting lifeless on a table - a saved Christian is one who is functioning in the Local Assembly in his allotted place. It is in the Body that we fulfil our real calling and find our real joy and rest.
We have seen how the heavenly Jerusalem is organised along family lines with twelve subdivisions. The Local Assembly or Church is no different since it is a reflection on earth - however imperfect - of that which is above. It consists of family units - husbands and wives with their children. Each husband is his own 'vine tree', as it were, and his wife a branch. The wife is ordained by Yahweh to be the husband's helpmeet. Her glory is found in her correct positioning relative to him, just as our glory as believers is found in our right positioning relative to Christ.
The head of every local assembly is the Pastor and the families who form that local assembly are united to him as allegorical wives, with him as the husband, since he is the husbandman of the flock, placed their by Yahweh to guide the flock. He is not a literal husband, of course, but a symbolic one. Each husband is a head and should, if he is walking properly in Christ, therefore be a bearer of the Royal Melchizedek Priesthood as either an Elder or a Deacon.
What I am presenting to you is the true theocratic order of the Local Assembly. It is a Family. It is Yahweh's Family. And depending on the giftedness of the individual husband-heads who make it up, so is their positioning.
When Yah'shua (Jesus) organised His Community or Church here on the earth, He placed twelve apostles or patriarchs (fathers) at its head. Three of these - Peter, James, and John - were designated as the presiding apostles, with initially Peter, and then James, followed by the younger John, as the overall presiding apostle or patriarch. Each of these, you will remember, are tribal heads and will one day judge the twelve tribes of Israel.
Every Local Assembly should be organised with a Pastor and two counsellors who are Elders, the Pastor being the Elder. They represent the Presiding Patriarchy or Fathers of that Local Congregation. In addition there should be up to nine other Elders. Since all Elders must be married, they will have their own wives and possibly children. These twelve represent the Council of Elders of the Local Assembly. Each of these Elders is responsible for the Deacons who become their stewardships and spiritual apprentices until the congregation grows to a certain size and divides, and new Elders and Pastorates can be appointed by the apostles. Each Elders and those he is responsible for are a single group called a 'Cell' which meet during the week for Bible study and prayer amongst other things.
The wives are called to be priests like their husbands but theirs is a different area of responsibility. They are basically responsible for the women and the children. Because a wife is the helpmeet of her husband she can never occupy an office higher than him. If he is a Deacon then she, when she has met the requirements, can also serve as a Deaconess. If he is an Elder, then she can serve as an Eldress. Her calling is not 'automatic' by virtue of her marriage and she must be tutored and tested like the Elders and Deacons themselves. Likewise, just because a man is a family head does not make him 'automatically' a Deacon or an Elder. Her priesthood calling, though coming personally to her from Yah'shua (Jesus) and through her Pastress, nevertheless comes through her head, her husband. Thus male and female priesthood are a little different from each other.
It follows that if the Pastor's wife is to become the Pastress with responsibility for all the women and children that men should select as wives those whom Yahweh has ordained for them. As we saw last week, Yahweh is the matchmaker. He is the One who makes the perfect choices.
Those husbands or single men who have no Priesthood calling come under the spiritual headship of a Deacon. Thus everybody belongs. There are no 'singles' or priestless families in the Local Assembly. Everyone is taken care of. Everyone is part of a family unit. As Paul said:
"Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Eph.2:19-22, NKJV).
Here we see the same principle of the Body described as a temple, an integral structure, each room having different functions. Thus Paul could say:
"Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" (1 Cor.6:19, NKJV).
Here, then, is a remarkable repeating structure. The same divisions of authority in heavenly Jerusalem exist in the Local Assembly, in the Home, and in the body of flesh and bones. Each is a temple. Just as the temple in Jerusalem was divided into the Holy of Holies, the Holy Room, and the Outer Court, so are families divided into Husband/Father, Wife/Mother, and children in terms of authority. And the Local Assembly has a Pastorate, an Eldership, and a Deaconate as the three tiers of spiritual family authority.
Just as the human body is highly organised, so too is the Local Assembly. Yahweh has placed all sorts of officers and ministries within it that are supposed to work cooperately together. Like a well organised football team that effortlessly and precisely passes the ball from player to play until a goal has been scored, so all the members of the Local Assembly - each in their proper place - pursues its twin goal of (1) every member being brought to perfection in Christ, and (2) bringing others from the outside to Christ and within its sanctifying presence. When souls are brought to Christ they are simultaneously brought into the Local Assembly where they are looked after by the Deacons and Elders and helped to find their calling and priesthood.
This is a very simple sketch of what congregational life is supposed to be like. And it isn't just about meeting on the Sabbath or for midweek Bible studies and prayer. It's about working co-operatively together to build Zion every day! It's an extended family effort. Indeed, in a way, it becomes our primary family, since every one of its members belongs to Christ as part of His Body.
The end-time Body of Christ is integrated as a single Bride but this can never happen until we are finally rid of the 'personal friends with Jesus' syndrome which perpetuates the myth of solo-Christianity. Yes, we meet Him on a one-to-one basis, but the moment we are born again we are instantly grafted in to the wider Family, which is the Local Assembly. That is the crucible where we are moulded into new creatures, where the work of sanctification takes place as we sandpaper down each other's rough surfaces and daily learn to realise perfection.
Just as families have their birthdays and anniversaries, so the Local Assembly has theirs. These are called the Festivals of Yahweh, and our adherence to them, in addition to the weekly Sabbath, marks us out as being of, and form us into, His Family. This we shall be discussing in another study.
Although I have spoken much of hierarchies and structures we must never forget that we are a single Bride designed to function as one team. Christ is allegorically marrying the Team, not all the individual players separately. He may find us one at a time but our heavenly wedding is one, not many. The consummation of our relationship is as one Body. So long as we do not lose sight of that goal, we will not go astray, and will establish Body unity in truth as being the first of the echad (oneness) principles of our life in Christ. Not until we have the Christ-Life established in Christ-Truth can we have Christ-Life as an echad Bride. Amen.
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