The Universal Building and its Local Expression
The universal church is being built. Christ is building His church. This invisible work has spanned the last 2000 years and includes every member who’s been regenerated. We’re all being built up, but Paul was speaking to the church at Ephesus, the local expression. There is an expression of the building in the fellowship, meaning I actually am able to enjoy the reality of this building in fellowship with others who are knit together through teaching. The teaching produces the fellowship and the fellowship is the expression of the reality (that is already there).
I had to leave a group that happened to be one of the few talking about this (God’s economy and God’s building). It was heartbreaking because I thought my departure meant I was leaving the reality of God’s building. But that wasn’t true. We’re all being built up to become God’s habitation, but the building is sometimes expressed in time and space in a way that becomes tangible in fellowship. These expressions of that building are lampstands in a location.
Whenever the universal church is expressed, it’s local in fellowship. In the time of the early Church, that local expression was the Church at Ephesus, the Church at Philippi, the Church at Corinth. The Church is located in time and space among those who have the fellowship produced from the New Testament ministry. That fellowship is defined by the New Testament ministry and anybody who deviates from it is out of the fellowship. This is the way it’s supposed to work. The fellowship is limited to the apostles’ teaching. What we have in the Bible is critical because that teaching produces the fellowship and is the wall around the fellowship.
I remember reading John Bunyan’s testimony. He said before he was saved, there were three women sitting on a porch step talking about Christ and they had a joy, a peace, and a love. He was so attracted to the purity expressed in their fellowship, but he couldn’t figure out how to enter in. He recognized they were in a different realm than he was. He felt defiled compared to the purity in their fellowship, in their speech. He likened it to the Word being a wall around them…a protective wall. Eventually he saw that the only way to enter in is through Christ, by believing the gospel.
There’s only one way to genuinely enter into the sheepfold, which is the Door (John 10:7) – Christ Himself. These women had entered by the door by believing in Christ. As they spoke of Him they were filled by the Spirit, and were enjoying the Word. That Word was a fortress around them that Bunyan could not penetrate until he came to believe. Believing in Jesus Christ comes from the Word of the testimony, which is the teaching of the apostles — their witness concerning Him.
“Joh 17:8 For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” John 17:8-11 KJV. Jesus prayed not for the world but those that had been given to Him by the Father (the believers). We are kept in the Father’s name and we are one in Him. This unity spreads out only by the Word, the testimony of the New Testament ministry, which is God’s economy. In the same prayer, Jesus said He was praying for those who would believe the word of those who had believed Him: 17:20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
Again, the unity that Jesus prayed for spreads through the Word, which is the New Testament Ministry that declares who He is and what He has accomplished for us (the gospel). When this record reaches people and they believe, they’re brought into the fellowship. Sometimes that fellowship is expressed locally in a group, but that doesn’t help people like John the apostle, who is alone on the isle of Patmos. Did his isolation hinder him? He was in the fellowship, absolutely! He was not missing something. If you’re alone and you don’t have access to fellowship, that does not mean you’re not part of God’s building. This was the thing that eluded me. I thought I was missing out and because of that, the concept of the perfect church life became a “bait” to trap me and bring me into bondage for a time.