Where's the Glorious Church?
Recent media reports coming out reveal a mass exodus of Christians from the organized church. People are using their feet to express their frustration with a church system that they no longer see as vital to their spiritual well being. Much of the church today has gotten into a ritualistic rut that no longer ministers to the deep inner needs of their congregants. Whether traditional or charismatic, people are complaining that they are tired of coming to the same old thing week after week: three fast songs, three slow songs, offerings and sermons and a few prayers thrown in to the mix. There is a fast growing spiritual hunger for an experiential reality of God and the church as we know it is not meeting the need. The reason is the same it has been from the beginning of time.
God's purpose from the beginning has been to dwell in the midst of His people in a real and tangible way. Unfortunately, from the beginning, His people have frustrated the plans and purposes of God because of their idolatry resulting in disobedience. Most of the Old Testament focuses on God's attempts to rest or abide in the midst of Israel and then repeatedly having to leave because of Israel forsaking her devotion to God. The Psalmist pretty much sums it up: "For they provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with their carved images. When God heard this, He was furious, and greatly abhorred Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent He had placed among men" (Psalm 78:58-60). God simply will not remain in the midst of sin and idolatry.
The same holds true today. Although we live in a different time and culture, the church is no different than Israel. We have forsaken God to follow after the idols of our hearts. We may not make physical carved images of other deities, but we worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. Our idols today are pleasure, entertainment, money, power, cars, houses, material prosperity, self- exaltation, etc. These result in envy, greed, power-mongering, self-seeking, and on and on. If we would be honest with ourselves, we would recognize that most of our church services are designed around the worship of man rather than God whether it be the songs we sing, the length of the service, the word that is preached, the way offerings are taken, etc. The point is, God will no more dwell in the midst of our idolatry than He did in Israel's. And this is the reason why people are exiting the church by the droves — they are not experiencing the reality of God's life changing presence.
Ezekiel was given a vision of the glorious church of God's abiding presence. "The Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the temple. Then I heard Him speaking to me from the temple, while a man stood beside me. And He said to me, 'Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places'" (Ezekiel 43:5-7). It is the place of His throne and the soles of His feet. God dwells where He is given all exaltation and all authority. He makes the point that it is a place free from the traditions and idolatry of men. He will not dwell where His holy name is defiled by the pride of men. This is the glorious church that Jesus Christ bought and paid for with His precious blood — a church that has been sanctified holy without spot or blemish. This is the church where God is pleased to set up His throne.
The Psalmist declares, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; mercy and truth go before Your face" (Psalm 89:14). God establishes His throne on a foundation of righteousness and justice. Righteousness speaks of our relationship with God that in turn results in a relationship of justice with man. Righteousness is being conformed to the will and nature of God in thought, word, and deed. Very basically, it means being in agreement or being one with God because God will only abide in the place of righteousness. All sin is unrighteousness. The root of all sin is pride. Pride is idolatry. God will not dwell in the midst of idolatry. Israel was commanded to destroy anything to do with idolatry because it was an abomination to God. The Ten Commandments were based on God being the Lord God of Israel. They were to have no other gods besides Him. It is no different today. God does not change. God is God. He will have no other gods besides Him in our hearts or in our churches. And as long as any remain, He will not dwell in our midst. Jesus Christ died on the cross for this very purpose, to deliver us from the god of sinful flesh so that He could establish His throne in our midst. The abundant life of Jesus Christ is based on our abiding relationship with Him.
"And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:11,12; 5:20;21).
When we possess the Lord, we possess the very life of God. John makes it clear throughout this letter that to possess the Son is to be free from the sin of idolatry as the Son will only be joined to us in righteousness. If we follow the scriptural chain resulting in true eternal life we will see this very clearly.
Paul tells us, "so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:21). Sin produces death but grace produces righteousness, which in turn results in eternal life through Jesus Christ. He then tells us in Hebrews, "For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:10,11). Jesus makes us partakers of His holiness that yields the fruit of righteousness. We are made partakers of His holiness through the work of sanctification. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27). Jesus gave Himself on the cross of Calvary in order to sanctify us that we might be holy and without blemish. He makes us holy in order to take us unto Himself to become one with Him. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (Ephesians 5:31,32). This is the mystery of the church. We partake of His eternal life by becoming one flesh with Christ through the work of sanctification. As a man leaves his father and mother to joined to his wife, so we must give up our life to be joined to Christ in holiness.
Paul shows us that this marriage to Christ requires death to flesh. "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another; to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter" (Romans 7:4-6). In order to be married to Christ, we must first be made dead to the law. The power of the law is sinful flesh that produces fruits of death. So to be dead to the law is to be dead to the flesh so that we can be joined to Christ.
Paul sums it up for us in Romans: "knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:6,7). "Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:11). "And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:18)."But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:22,23). Our old man of sin was crucified with Christ on the cross of Calvary. To be dead to flesh is to be free from sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Being free from sin is to be a slave of righteousness. The result is holiness that results in eternal life. Why? Because the sin of flesh produces death but the gift of God's grace produces righteousness that issues forth in eternal life.
The spiritual hunger in the hearts of people is really a hunger for the life of God. People have been leaving the church because it is no longer a vessel of God's life. It is no longer a vessel of God's life because it no longer enjoys the abiding presence of God's glory. It no longer enjoys the abiding presence of God's glory because it has fallen into sin and idolatry and forsaken the righteousness of God. It has fallen into sin and idolatry because it has not become a partaker of His holiness. It has not become a partaker of His holiness because it has not appropriated the sanctifying work of Jesus Christ.
If the church is to become the glorious church of God's presence it must have a restoration of the righteousness of God in its midst. The foundation of righteousness and justice must be restored for the place of God's throne. The idolatry and traditions of men must be removed from its midst. It must get back to the basics of Christianity through the living word of God under the unction of the Spirit of God and seek the sanctifying work of God through the blood of Jesus Christ. The generation that diligently seeks the Lord in humility and brokenness is the generation that shall see the glory of the Lord. "This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face. Selah Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in" (Psalm 24:6,7).