Summary: This article was written and published Jan. ’16. The purpose of this article will be to understand the differences between these two corporate bodies – Christendom and the true church, the body of Christ. Of course to do this we will rely on the testimony of scripture, endeavoring always, as we should, to separate God’s thoughts from those of man. We may expect to easily find the doctrine of the church in the New Testament, although many Christians still remain confused on it. And it may be surprising to the reader just how much scripture there is to be found that describes Christendom as a corporate entity under God’s watchful eye, and then all the things that characterize this external body. There isn’t a more important understanding needed if one is to comprehend the times of the Christian dispensation and the reason why God will soon bring this age to an end. (This article cannot give an exhaustive explanation of all the differences between the two entities. For a more thorough explanation please visit the “books” page on this site and read the first few chapters of The Corruption and Death of Christendom).
Scripture often distinguishes between two objects, subjects, actions, or groups, while man will come in with his doctrine and destroy these distinctions. This is easily seen in many biblical examples: Israel vs. the church; Judaism vs. Christianity; the earthly calling vs. the heavenly; grace vs. works (human responsibility); the choice of God vs. the choice of man; the workmanship of God vs. man building on the earth; earthly things vs. heavenly things (John 3:12); earthly blessings vs. heavenly ones (Eph. 1:3); the law vs. the gospel; the ministration of life, righteousness, and the Spirit vs. the ministration of death and condemnation (I Cor. 3); the titles of Messiah vs. the Son of Man; the first Adam vs. the Second Adam; the first creation vs. the new creation of God; etc. In the scriptures these distinctions are presented in the form of contrasts. We must keep clear all the differences that God testifies to in His word. However, as I’ve said, man so often comes in to deny the testimony and teaching of God. And he does this so nonchalantly, barely considering his possible error or all the consequences and outcomes of his teachings.
Jesus first mentions the church in Matthew sixteen (16): Peter confesses what was revealed to him by the Father concerning Jesus – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This confession that Jesus is, in His person, Son of the living God, elicits this response from Jesus (Matt. 16:16-18) – “…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” We see that Jesus alone builds the church without any human help. He builds it as the house of God on the earth. It is fitting that Peter speaks of the building of this house later in his first epistle (I Pet. 2:4-5): “Coming to Him as to a living stone…chosen of God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house…” Again there are no human hands involved in this building; the work is rightly assumed to be done by God only.
Notice Peter’s inspired use of the word “living” – God is the living God who has eternal life; this life was manifested in His Son; he who has the Son has life, because He was declared to be Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). Jesus is the heavenly Man, the last Adam who became a life-giving spirit. “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” Again, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will.” But again, “most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:21, 25, and 26) Jesus is the living stone and His Father is the living God. All true believers come to Him as having been made by Him living stones, and now being built up a spiritual house.
This is God’s sovereign work and grace to build His own house, the church, on the earth. There is no human effort in these two passages. They depict the eternal purpose of God as to the church, as well as depicting God’s own working to accomplish His purpose, against which the power of Satan cannot, in any way, prevail. The purpose of God is settled; the workmanship of God to accomplish this purpose continues on to this day. The Father continues His work of giving life to the dead in Adam. The Son does the same as He pleases. The building, the true church, is not complete as of yet. People are still being saved by God and added to the house of God He is building for Himself. This is one viewpoint from scripture of what the church really is in the mind of God (Matt. 16 and I Pet. 2) – it is God’s house being built by God alone, and only living stones are used. All this description of the work of God to do so implies sovereign choice and grace, accomplishing something that will not and cannot fail.
Christ builds His church on the earth, but it is destined for the heavens. She has a heavenly calling and a heavenly citizenship. The pre-tribulation rapture will fulfill her calling and end her time on the earth. She will be taken to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and to be blessed there with all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3, 2:6). The church becomes the heavenly tabernacle of God (Rev. 13:6, 21:2-3) – that is why now she is being built up as a house for God. As the assembly (the meaning of the word translated “church”) she is a heavenly people (I Cor. 15:48).
There are two other distinct viewpoints in scripture by which the church is considered in the eternal purpose of God – as the body of Christ and as the bride of Christ or bride of the Lamb. First we will look at the biblical teaching of the body of Christ. There are many great and important truths concerning the church. One is that she could not be formed until Jesus was exalted to the right hand of God. Until then the Holy Spirit could not be sent (John 7:39, 16:7). It is the Holy Spirit, as God’s direct acting agent, that gathers the church, forming the body (I Cor. 12:12-14). To keep from getting the cart before the horse, we should understand that we are saved individually first – being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24), and having believed in Jesus Christ we are then sealed with the Holy Spirit of adoption and promise (Eph. 1:13, Rom. 8:15-16, Gal. 4:5-6) – this all preceding our being baptized by this same Spirit into the one body of Christ. This last part is, in fact, the one baptism of the Spirit, and being such, it forms the body.
The figure of the body of Christ depicting the church, I believe more so than any other figure used to represent the church, brings out the special place and privileges she has been given by God. It is the church seen as the body where we get our union with Christ. The church is the body of this Man who was raised from the dead and glorified. She is the body of the Son of Man who is sitting at the right hand of God. It is the body that is in union with its Head, and Jesus is her head in the heavens (Eph. 1:22-23, 5:23, Col. 1:18, 24, and 2:19). “For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones…this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:30-32) [The only union of God with man is in the essential Person of Jesus Christ Himself. He is the only God-man, and is the only one that will ever be. Our union is not with God. Scripture never speaks of men coming into union with God – this actually is heresy, although many unintentionally teach this mistake. Our union with Christ is as the body of this glorified Man; it is never with Christ as God, otherwise you would acquire the attributes of God as He has them in His person. You would become God and equal with Him, and this can never be.] The body, and all the members of the body, are in union with the glorified Man in heaven.
I speak in this way not only to follow in line with what the scriptures tell us about the body, but more importantly so you may see and realize with me broader principles and truths – what is the relationship the church has, and therefore what are the privileges she has been granted which flow out of this relationship, and from this, recognizing the general character she has as created His body. The figure of a body and its head expresses the idea of union. As the body we are in union with Christ. We have the same relationships with God that He does as a Man. We share in everything that has been given to Him as the glorified Son of Man. The glory He has received after His resurrection we will eventually be seen in. The inheritance of all things in creation reconciled, we are co-heirs with Him of everything. In every possible way we are associated with the Man Christ Jesus. He has prepared places for us in the Father’s house, and will come Himself to fetch us there, taking us into the heavens where He is now. We will be made into His image – that which is the delight and pleasure of His Father. All this shows that everything that concerns the body, the church, in its relationship with Him is dependent on where He is now and what state He is in now. Where He is now – in the heavens. What state is He in now – not in the flesh any longer, but raised and glorified and seated at the right hand of God.
The church as the bride of Christ is spoken of in Ephesians five (Eph. 5:22-32). This passage also mixes in the figure of the body of Christ, and His sacrificial love for the church. This love is seen as for His bride where the two become as one flesh. We can see how these two figures – the bride and the body – are intertwined and related through the institution of marriage. The church is also seen as the bride of the Lamb toward the end of the book of Revelation (Rev. 19:7, 22:17). Adam and Eve serve as types or figures of Christ and His bride, the church (Rom. 5:14, Eph. 5:31). In this present dispensation I believe the most important character of the church that is brought out by viewing her as the bride is what her constant looking, preparation, and expectation should be for the bridegroom. The rapture of the church (taking all believers to heaven), and later, the marriage of the Lamb (which takes place in heaven) is the fulfilment of her expectation of the coming of her Bridegroom. Then in the next dispensation her character associated with this figure moves on to that of a help-meet for Christ, as Eve was for Adam before the fall. When Adam and Eve are used as a type of Christ and the church, it is always as they were before sin entered the world.
Whether the true church is viewed as the house of God being built by Christ, or as the body of Christ formed by the Holy Spirit sent down, or as the bride of Christ, all three are accomplished as the sovereign purpose of God – meaning it is only God’s work, there is no human hands involved, there are no dead stones or body parts used, and it cannot fail as to the final result. And it is only with these three viewpoints where we may say, “…and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”
However in contrast to this view, we know that man’s work is not of this nature. Man’s work can fail and does fail, and in Scripture the history of man’s work from the beginning and all through is shown to always fail. So then, the above three views of the church are seen as completely apart from man’s work. We have the privilege of looking at those things which are known to be the sovereign work of God, and of having the complete confidence we are looking at that which is perfect and will remain forever. Therefore I repeat this point: God’s work will never fail. This is the biblical principle I wish to press here, concerning God’s work in comparison with man’s work. So in speaking of many members, yet still only one body, and this the exclusive work of God, the Spirit says, “…so also is Christ.” So we have then three distinct biblical viewpoints of the true church in the eternal purpose and counsels of God from these three figures used in the New Testament.
Now here is an important clarification concerning the doctrine of the assembly. In Jesus saying “I will build My Church,” we see it is future tense. He has no thought of forming the church during His lifetime. It would be formed on His title of Son of the living God, as Peter confessed (Matt. 16:16-18). But where and when was this title demonstrated to the world? Jesus was “…declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4) He would start His building of the church after this, after He was raised, glorified, and the Holy Spirit sent. The book-ends of “the time of the true church on earth” are the day of Pentecost and her rapture. These two events, both as viewed as the sovereign work of God, define the church’s existence on earth. Jesus using the future tense shows us that the church wasn’t wandering in the wilderness for forty years. The church doesn’t exist until Pentecost.
Further, there is a relative principle associated with the workmanship of God. If it is truly God’s work alone that we are looking at, then that work itself cannot be judged. God cannot be judged by anyone; even the devil dare not. If it is God’s work, it cannot be judged. God is not a workman who needs to have His own work evaluated. When God created the heavens and the earth He said this is very good. There was no redesign needed; God never works like that. Sure, when man was given dominion over all the works of God’s hand, his sin defiled it all. Then, because of man’s sin, God placed a curse on creation, subjecting it to futility, yet in hope (Rom. 8:19-22). The amazing beauty we see every day when we look around at God’s work is still only a work that remains under the bondage of corruption. Can you imagine what it will be when its curse is removed? And yet the church, in a real sense, has been predestined in God’s purposes for higher things than these (Rom. 8:23, 29-30, Eph. 2:6-7).
Then if Jesus alone will build His church, it is the sovereign work of God, it will not fail, it is a future work for the time of His speaking, and it cannot be judged. So then, every individual believer is God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). Through faith in Christ we are all made sons of God (Gal. 3:26). Then the many sons are baptized by the Holy Spirit into Christ, that is, His body (Gal. 3:27-28, I Cor. 12:13). Having “put on Christ,” we individually or the church corporately cannot be judged, not even by God. We are created in Christ as His own work. God cannot and will not judge His own work. And nobody else can judge it as well (Rom. 8:31-34, John 5:24). “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1, any additional words added to this verse is an error and improper translation)
This brings up another important point of understanding concerning the entire revelation and doctrine of the true church – the body of Christ as formed in the sovereign grace of God, with all its title, calling, position, privileges, and blessings, is the mystery of God hidden from the foundations of the world (Eph. 3:9-11, Rom. 16:25). This means that the church, the revelation of the church, and all its doctrine and teachings is not to be found in the Old Testament. It was hidden from the prophets, and so it is not found in the prophetic writings of Scripture. The church is the heavenly calling of God and as a heavenly body is timeless. That is why prophecy cannot assign a time frame to the church on earth; yet prophecy has always been able to do this for God’s purposes in Israel, which is God’s earthly calling (Dan. 9:24, Rev. 12:6, 14).
And we see the importance of understanding biblical principles, for the principles show us the distinctions and contrasts between these things. Here we are brought to these simple thoughts and questions: What are the things which have connection and association with the earth? What are the things that have relationships with the first creation? What things are connected with the heavens? What is the new creation of God? In view of the principles, such as the church being the mystery of God, it becomes easy for us to make two distinct lists, and to separate everything in Scripture. By biblical principles we rightly divide the word of truth.
The mystery was kept hidden until Jesus was glorified and the Holy Spirit was sent down (Eph. 3:5). God had kept it hidden for ages, but now with the coming of the Comforter, He has made known to us the mystery of His will (Eph. 1:9, 3:1-11). This mystery was specifically given to Paul, a distinct stewardship, to reveal by the Spirit (Eph. 3:2-4). By this stewardship Paul is made the minister of the church to complete the word of God (Col. 1:24-26). That is, the revelation of God – His word – could not be complete until the revealing of the mystery. And Paul was responsible for his stewardship, although God reveals it and gives it to him in grace, even enabling him in it (Eph. 3:7-8).
It would be negligent if I didn’t mention that Jesus, the Son of God, also knew what the mystery of God was; it wasn’t hidden from Him. Actually, in Ephesians three, Paul refers to it as the mystery of Christ hidden in God before time began (Eph. 3:4, 9). So, we find in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus mentioning the church twice, but not really giving any description or doctrine concerning it – He leaves this stewardship and ministry for Paul (Eph. 3:2-4, Col. 1:25-27). Jesus’ words are exclusive to Matthew’s gospel; of the four, Matthew’s gospel has the character of dispensational transition – the change from the Jewish dispensation to the Christian dispensation.
Evangelical Protestantism has lost sight of the proper application of the revealed mystery in its teachings. That is why its doctrines and theology are confusing, lowly, and earthly in character. They do not embrace God’s revelation and doctrine concerning the church as a heavenly body with a heavenly calling. They bring the church low to the earth and teach it with the teachings of Israel, God’s earthly people. Doing this they blur many distinctions and give the believer/church a decidedly earthly nature, impression, and character. Our hopes then can only be on this earth and in this world (again, like Israel in character). How will we fix our gaze on heavenly things? We will not have the knowledge of what those things are, let alone be enabled to seek them (Col. 3:1-3). It is the first Adam we teach, trying to show that there was good to be nurtured and improved in him after all. But the first Adam cannot walk by faith (II Cor. 5:7); he has no ability to see the unseen (II Cor. 4:17-18, Heb. 11:1); he is in the flesh and cannot please God (Rom. 8:8-9). It is a serious mistake, and it has many theological and doctrinal consequences.
It is not simply understanding “the mystery of God” is the body of Christ, but to be able to apply the effects and consequences of this doctrine to other bible topics. Example: if the true church is a hidden mystery, hidden from the prophets and Old Testament writers, then everything associated with the church was also purposely hidden by God. Logically, this has to be true. Then this means that Christendom, the external professing body which contains the smaller body of Christ, was also hidden from the prophets. And if Christendom was hidden, so was the Christian dispensation in which Christendom held the responsibility before God for its public testimony. Also, as a religion, Christianity was hidden and part of the mystery. If we check Old Testament writings, we find these general statements to be true. Further, the spoiled crop of wheat and tares growing up in the world as a new planting, a mixture of the work of God and the work of Satan, is the external professing body of Christendom (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43) – the most important parable to understand, relating to dispensational teaching. The parable is about Christendom, and is a prophetic picture spanning the entire Christian dispensation. The parable is a simile of the kingdom of heaven. Logically, this has implications; it means that the “kingdom of heaven” reference used thirty-three times in Matthew, all directly refer to the Christian dispensation and the practical teachings of Christianity. It is not referring to a Messianic kingdom in Israel during the millennium, nor is it citing the common teachings of Judaism and the law – yet so many teachers and theologians assume that “the kingdom of heaven” has to refer to the millennial kingdom and dispensation. Yet their assumptions are very wrong, and easily proven so. Here, we are simply following out to logical conclusions and effects the importance of correctly applying to related bible topics the doctrine of “the mystery of God.” And I have gotten ahead of myself.
Let us consider other truths concerning the true church. How is she depicted in the epistles?
I Pet. 2:4-5
“Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
This passage from Peter shows us that the church is being built on earth as a spiritual building or house (this is the allusion the Spirit uses). There is no workman mentioned, but we know the passage implies the work is done by God. There are no human workers here. We should understand that the forming of the body is a progressive work by God. The gathering in by the Spirit continues on, the body of Christ is not yet complete. And notice that only living stones are used in forming this house. There are no dead stones used.
“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, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.”
In this passage God is again viewed as the builder of the true church, the body of Christ. Here the building is a holy temple. Again it is an on-going work, progressing on the earth, and without any human assistance. It is being fitted together and growing into a future temple. These last two passages agree with Jesus saying, “I will build My church.” God is doing the work alone. The body of Christ is formed on earth, but its final perfection is in glory (Eph. 5:27).
When we get to the next verse in Ephesians two (v. 22) we see something different from a future temple. We see a present thing – a habitation of God in the Spirit being built. We all know the Holy Spirit was sent down from heaven from the Father to seal us individually as His sons (Eph. 1:13). Every believer’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). Then we know that the same Spirit baptizes each believer into the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13). By the Spirit the entire body is united to the Head in heaven. But the habitation of God in the Spirit is a present corporate habitation on earth – when He was sent, the Holy Spirit would dwell among us. This is what we find in I Cor. 3:16 –“Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” The body of Christ is the corporate habitation of the Holy Spirit on earth.
God did not dwell with Adam. He did not live with Abraham. Yet Jehovah did live with Israel. The principle that is the basis for God dwelling with man is redemption. This was typified by God redeeming Israel out of Egypt. Although the nation’s redemption was in the flesh and completely external, Jehovah did come down to live in the midst of Israel (Ex. 25:8, I Kings 6:13). This distinguished the nation as the people of God:
“I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”
The body of Christ has become the present habitation of God in the Spirit. But the basis of this is not types and shadows and a work of the flesh, not God living in the darkness behind a veil (II Chron. 6:1-2), but true redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24-25). And it would be difficult to suppose that there was less real presence of God in the midst of His people now than under the Old Testament. The presence of the Holy Spirit on the earth in the midst of the true church is the distinguishing feature of this dispensation – Jesus did insist it was an advantage if He went away (John 16:7). It is the unique and identifying feature of Christianity. The Spirit’s presence distinguishes the church as the people of God. The understanding of this truth and its practical experience has been sorely missed and effectively lost in Evangelical Protestantism. Scripture speaks of the church in the purpose of God:
“…the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
In God’s purposes we see the final place of the church – it is with Christ in glory, exalted above all power and dominion, all things under her feet, the church as His body, the fullness of Christ, who Himself fills everything. This is in glory and in heavenly places with and in Christ. But the Scriptures speak of the church and body of Christ on the earth, and it being the habitation of God in the Spirit.
The biblical doctrine of the church is that it was to be a “visible” body on the earth. At the beginning it was this, and its testimony was, “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were to be saved.” (Acts 2:47) This was the original state of things. But the church soon became “invisible,” and Scripture contemplated this condition without sanctioning it. “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those that are His.” (II Tim. 2:19) This is particularly true for the last days. The true church became a treasure of great value hidden in the world (Matt. 13:44). And now we have a hidden church, or “invisible” church. God sees it quite clearly. I believe all of the spirit realm sees it quite clearly, they seeing the seal of the Spirit in all true believers – “those that are His.” But the believer can no longer see it with his eyes, it is hidden from him. He can only know it is there by the eye of faith, as seeing the unseen. Not that an invisible church was God’s intension. But God permitted it, and Scripture even speaks of it as we have seen.
But how and why did it become invisible? The simple truth is that it becomes so because of the failure of man. Everything on the earth eventually comes under the care of man. Men are sleeping, virgins are sleeping, and men are building with wood, hay, and stubble – just a few examples of man’s failures. Man’s responsibility is always looked at and judged by God. God’s work, we remember, cannot be judged – not by man or the devil, not even by God. But man’s responsibility is not God’s work. Therefore it will always be the subject of judgment from God on the earth.
But now we will view a different corporate structure formed on the earth, different from what we’ve already discussed in the three figures above – not the house built by Christ, not His body, and not the bride. Notice: Although the sovereign work of God is present in both examples below, the corporate structure is not the sovereign work of God alone. Both involve human responsibility and failure.
“ Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
You may read the interpretation of the parable in Matt. 13:36-43. We easily can see the Son of Man plants the wheat – that is the sovereign work of God, and the wheat together is the true church. But men were sleeping allowing the devil to come in and do his work, planting the weeds. The sleeping of the servants is failure in human responsibility. The result is a spoiled crop in the field. What is this crop? What is the field? It is Christendom in the world. It is a corporate structure seen in the world that is a mixture of God’s new work and planting, the devil’s work, and man’s failures. And the crop is in ruin, and it continues unchanged until the end of the age. Now look at I Cor. 3
I Cor. 3:6-18
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”
Again we have a structure being built on the earth called God’s building. God works in grace to lay the foundation through Paul. He laid a foundation that no other man could lay. But immediately it speaks of building by human responsibility – every man is told to take heed how he builds on it. And his work will be judged by God. What is looked at here is mainly the ministry – Apollos, Paul, and Cephas (I Cor. 3:22). Also there are ministers who defile the building of God. These God will destroy. Why? Because they are tares in the ministry and leadership doing the devils work and defiling the building of God. From the beginning certain men crept in unnoticed (Jude 4). You didn’t think all ministers were wheat, did you?
Paul said that the mystery of lawlessness was already at work in the church world in his time. It is only the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the true church that hinders the full development of the evil (II Thess. 2:6-12). John says these are the last days and many antichrists have already gone out from us (I John 2:18-19). Peter tells us there will be false teachers among us, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, and many in the professing church will follow their destructive ways being exploited by their deceptive words (II Pet. 2:1-22). Paul tells Timothy the time will come when the professing church will not endure sound doctrine, but will instead gather and promote teachers according to their own fleshly desires, turning away from the truth of God (II Tim. 4:3-4). Are all these passages just mere warnings? Has the professing church taken care of these things, solved these issues?
Here is another biblical principle of importance: God permitted the evil to enter into the professing church at the beginning. Why? So that there would be a testimony of it in His word for the last days. We do not yet see the full ripening of the fruit, but by this testimony we may see the tree and source, and know the true character and ways of the evil.
What is this building being built under the responsibility of man? It is the same thing as the spoiled crop of wheat and tares mixed together. It is Christendom in the world, all that profess Christ. It is what man has built up on the earth as the house of God. In second Timothy it is the great house containing vessels of honor and dishonor – all that name the name of Christ (II Tim. 2:19-20). This is not the body of Christ as the sovereign work of God, using only living stones to build. In Matthew, Christendom is portrayed as wise and foolish virgins in one group, the same in outward appearance, and all sleeping together (Matt. 25:1-12). It is the net thrown into the sea until it is full, collecting both good and bad. (Matt. 13:47-50). Christendom is the corporate structure for which all who profess Christ have part in a corporate responsibility, and which, as an external corporate structure on earth is under God’s scrutiny, and therefore subject to the judgment of God. Have you ever read the phrase in first Peter? – Judgment begins at the house of God. (I Pet. 4:17) It is the corporate structure in the world that contains and hides the true body of Christ.
The differences between the true church and Christendom are important understandings. This is discussed in greater detail in the third book, The Corruption and Death of Christendom. It is usually denied in Evangelical Protestantism. Or it is so poorly understood it is practically denied. The true church is not the same as the spoiled crop of wheat and tares in the world. But in the history of the church, even in that part that includes Protestantism, men have continued to point at the external corporate structure as the Church, even though it was obvious throughout its entire history they saw that the structure incorporated corruption and evil.
Here are the two great mistakes being made and taught in Christianity today concerning this failure to distinguish the difference between Christendom and the true church. The first is the viewpoint of Romanism – they teach that the world wide Roman Catholic church is the true church, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ. This external organization and structure is claimed to be the mother church, and the authority of Christ is usurped by it and its papal leaders. Different from this, and somewhat a reaction to this Roman Catholic corruption, is the ecclesiology found in Protestantism. Here in general the external structure and organization of the local church is emphasized as being the representation and miniaturization of the body of Christ. However, neither of the two viewpoints is correct. Both of these are external structures built by men, not by God. Neither of the two represents the true church. Both can only represent Christendom – what professes Christ and is seen in the world built by men.
Does the body of Christ include corruption and evil? Can God’s work ever be of such character? The main issue is confounding the work of God and the work of man, especially when it is mixed together in Christendom. It is confusing God’s grace with human responsibility. What has been the unholy result of this great error? Throughout the history men have assigned the blessings, rights, and privileges of the body of Christ, the true church, to this corrupt and spoiled external body of Christendom. How unrighteous is this? Another result of this error is the practical denial of the failure of the Christian dispensation.
Of course, in a general way, this confusion and error has always been the church’s thorn (Gal. 3:1-4). It is the common result of the evil leaven of human attainment – practical humanism – penetrating and saturating all by the end (Matt. 13:33).
At the end of the age Laodicea represents the corporate body of Protestantism (Rev. 3:14-17). She says she is rich, wealthy, and has need of nothing. Before the Lord spews her out of His mouth He reveals her real condition – she is wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Now you may say this is just a warning. You may feel that the Protestant world is nothing like this, or never was. But wouldn’t this just prove your blindness to the condition?
Jezebel is Romanism; she is completely corrupt; but she will go on to the great tribulation and find her just judgment there. Laodicea is the end of Protestantism; as being lukewarm, she is spewed out as noxious to the Lord. God will keep a remnant – Philadelphia. These are not just warnings. It is the actual history of Christendom on the earth.