INTRUDUCTIONPrint This Page.
Brothers and sisters, although this meeting is in the nature of a Bible study, we cannot read all the scriptural references because of the limitation of time. We can only read the references as we come to them. During the Saturday evening brothers’ meeting, we considered what we should study. The decision that evening was that we should study the matter of the assembly life. Before we study this subject, I would first ask the brothers and sisters to consider the importance of this matter.
During the past conference, we saw that before times eternal, God had a will and a foreordained plan of His own. His goal is to have a group of people containing His life who are like His Son. The goal of God was to establish not just the individual Christ, but also the corporate Christ. This corporate Christ is the church. From this we can know that it is the church which God pays attention to today. Unfortunately, it is not only the carnal believers who fail to emphasize what God stresses, but even the spiritual believers fail to emphasize it. They always replace the church of God with many works.
Today what Satan causes man to do is substitute the church of God with various kinds of work. However, we know that the purpose of God from beginning to end is to have a corporate Christ, which is the church, so that Christ might be the Head and the believers might be the members. Satan is determined to destroy this plan. This is why he causes man to pursue various works in order to replace the church.
Today some lay much stress on preaching the gospel, and by so doing they replace the church with gospel preaching. There are many today who can surely preach the gospel and save sinners. And preaching the gospel is good, but if gospel preaching replaces the church and causes men never to think about the church, then we are definitely deceived by Satan. What I have said is not too strong. God’s intention in gospel preaching is merely to collect stones for the church. If gospel preaching substitutes for the church, that is wrong.
There are some who establish missions, encourage foreign evangelism, zealously donate money, form national councils, set up organizations for foreign evangelism, and send missionaries to foreign lands for evangelistic work. But why do many people today know only missions and not the church? The reason is because from eternity past God’s emphasis was the church, but man’s emphasis in this age is missions. Many have forgotten the church! Mr. Gordon has said, “God never sets up missions; He only establishes the church.” However, men today set up mission boards, evangelistic organizations, schools, hospitals, humanistic societies, orphanages, charitable associations (as the Methodist Episcopal Church does), and even Sunday schools to help others. Are these good or bad? They are good, but if man uses these to replace the church of God, God will never be satisfied. Do you see Satan’s craftiness? Satan’s subtle method is to utilize works used by God and substitute them for the church, which God in His eternal will intends to establish. If your eyes are open, you will see that all these things should be dropped and that you should turn your attention to the church, because the church life, the life of the Body of Christ, is the goal of God.
Many Christians may say, “We have not established mission boards, humanistic societies, Sunday schools, schools, and hospitals.” Please do not speak so fast. You may not have done these wrong things on the negative side, but what have you done on the positive side? Many would think, “As long as I am zealous, victorious, and a holy Christian, that is good enough.” Brothers and sisters, I say a strong word; these are not what God is after; they are not His unique goal. I am by no means saying that zeal, victory, and holiness are insignificant. These are significant, but they are not God’s ultimate goal. What God desires is the corporate church, the building, the spiritual house. He is not after fragmentary or individual pieces of brick, tile, wood, or stone. God desires a body, not a finger or any other member. What God wants is the church. His desire is for Christ to have the preeminence in the church and to be Head of the church as well. Although wood, stone, brick, and tile are necessary, they are by no means the goal of God. You have been a Christian for these many years, but how much time have you spent considering what God is after? Have you ever thought about this matter of the church? Or has your primary attention been paid to how to pray, how to overcome sin, how to help sinners be saved, and how to study the Bible well? Do you only think about these things, or have you really considered what the church is? What God wants is a church. Anything that falls short of this fails to meet the goal of God. I am by no means saying that these other things are not good, but I am saying that anything short of the church cannot be counted as the goal of God. If Sunday schools are merely for the sake of Sunday schools, orphanages merely for orphanages, humanistic societies merely for humanistic societies, and gospel preaching merely for gospel preaching, it is fine as long as they do not replace the church. For all these things fall short of the church of God. What God wants is the church. The death of the Lord Jesus was for the church, and the coming of the Holy Spirit was also for the church. From beginning to end, in the New Testament, one principle can be found: Everything is for the church. Take, for example, the fact that the Lord’s death was for the church. The book of Ephesians tells us, “Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” The Lord was raised from the dead to be far above all rule and authority, and He is above all to be Head over all things to the church. The Lord builds the church on this rock. The work of the Holy Spirit for the past two thousand years has been for the building up of the church. God saves sinners and enables men to overcome in order to establish the church. It is for the building up of the church that God has given us apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Ephesians tells us that the Lord cleanses the church by the washing of water in the word and sanctifies her in order that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that she should be holy and without blemish. Here again it is a matter of the church. God’s ultimate goal is to have the New Jerusalem, and what the New Jerusalem typifies is the church. God’s goal as recorded in the Old Testament, New Testament, the four Gospels, and Revelation is to have the New Jerusalem, which is for the church. I say strongly that unless our aim, work, and living today are for the church—that is, for the accomplishment of what God is after—we are a big failure. May the Lord have mercy on us and deliver us from our limited vision into His goal and into what He emphasizes in the Scriptures.
We come together every Lord’s Day morning and afternoon to listen to messages, and we come together every Lord’s Day evening to break the bread. Can we be considered good believers just by doing this? Or should we pursue being good brothers or good sisters by trying to render help to the meeting and the church? Now I will narrow myself down from this broad realm to smaller matters. The broad principles have been covered in the conference. Now we will cover only small matters. We will pay attention to the matter of practice and not spiritual principles. We will only mention the outward matters of the church. We cannot cover the spiritual implications of these things at this time. As to the life of Christ and the Body of Christ, we may speak more about them in the future when the opportunity arises.
The church is God’s goal. Today He places this goal before man. God’s ultimate desire is to have the New Jerusalem. God intends to put the church, which is represented by the New Jerusalem, into every city as a unit. Before the New Jerusalem descends from heaven, God’s goal is to have a miniature of the New Jerusalem in every city. This means that God desires to have a church in every city to express His eternal will. From beginning to end, the most important work God desires to do is to build up the Body of Christ. For this reason God establishes a local church in every city. The local church is the miniature of the magnificent church of God, a small-scale model expressing the New Jerusalem. The will of God is to establish the church, the Body of Christ, the New Jerusalem. But this scope is too vast; how can we touch the New Jerusalem, which is in the new heaven and new earth? What shall we do? We can never grasp this firmly. However, you can come to Shanghai to achieve this purpose. For in every city there is a miniature where God puts the saved ones and unites and assembles them together to become a local church and thereby express His will.
If you want to go on a big steamer to travel to a foreign country, you must first ask the officers of the ship for the directions to your cabin. Once you board the ship, it is as if you are in a big city, and you will not know where to find your cabin. Therefore, you have to ask the officers to show you the way in detail. They may show you a miniature model of the ship which has the same structure as the actual steamer. They may remove the decks layer by layer and show you how to go to your cabin step by step. After seeing this, you will have a clear sense of direction. When you board the ship again, you will be able to easily find your cabin. The New Jerusalem in God’s eternal purpose is big, while the churches He establishes in every city are small. They are miniature manifestations of God’s purpose. We will study the things concerning these miniature manifestations. In other words, we will study the things related to the assembly. If we do not do this, we will miss the big things and also fail in the small things.
I am not here accusing you! I myself am guilty! In these many years of evangelistic work in China, very few have paid attention to God’s emphasis. Roman Catholicism has been in China for more than three hundred years, and if we count from Nestorianism, Christianity has been in China for over a thousand years. Yet no one has ever paid attention to the expression of the eternal will of God on a small scale. But we also are the same. We only pay attention to personal victory over sins, overcoming experiences, work, and saving souls, but we have not yet seen how to express in a particular locality God’s will concerning the church. May God be gracious to us and cause us to see that personal victory over sins, overcoming experiences, and the work of saving souls are merely things related to the local assemblies—they should not replace the church. God’s center is fixed on the church in every locality, and everything else should be joined to this center. Therefore, our aim today is not merely to pay attention to overcoming experiences, victory over sin, preaching the gospel to sinners, and having prayers answered. Rather, we should go a step further and ask what we should do in order to be fitly framed together with other brothers and sisters.
Fukien is famous for its stonework. The workmanship of the Fukien stone workers lies in their ability to cut uneven and odd stones into smooth and orderly pieces and put them together. The cut stones are not like the stones on Kuling Mountain, which are roughly mixed together to form walls. Each stone in the workers’ hands is finely cut and pieced together. Although they are different sizes and shapes, they are joined together and match one another. The question today is not whether this piece of stone is good or bad, big or small, beautiful or ugly, but whether this piece of stone is properly fitted with other pieces of stone and whether these pieces of stone can be built into a house. Many Christians today are very good, and others are extremely shining and beautiful, but they cannot be framed together. They are either too big or too tall; they just cannot be fitly framed with other Christians. Every person who is saved is a living stone. Therefore, the question is not whether you are victorious, defeated, powerful, weak, good, or bad. The question is whether you can be joined with all the other living stones, properly fitted into the building. If you are a stone which leaves cracks between you and the other stones, you are not of much use in the house of God.
During these few days, our study will concentrate on the things related to the assembly life. Everything outside of the assembly life, such as the brothers’ relationship with one another, mutual forgiveness, etc., has been covered during the past few Lord’s Day mornings and afternoons. All other points concerning our corporate life together will be covered in future messages on the Lord’s Day morning and afternoon. Presently, we will pay attention to how brothers ought to behave in the meetings as good brothers and how sisters ought to behave as good sisters. Therefore, we have decided to study the following subjects: the authority of the church, the fellowship of the church, the way to meet, the way to divide up our local assembly into one meeting on Wen-teh Lane and another meeting on Gordon Lane, and how the two are one.
I hope that the brothers realize that in this meeting we do not want just one person giving the message. At any time questions can be raised. Every brother can ask questions. But when you ask questions, your voice should be loud. If you want to be a good brother, you must love the brothers’ ears and not your own throat.