Unity in the Body of Christ – the prerequisite for Revival, National Transformation and the foundation for the Bride of Christ
In this message I want to draw attention to role of the Church in the eternal purpose of God. We will firstly concern ourselves with what the Church is and what the Kingdom is and then describe how, according to Scripture, God sees Church from a territorial or geographical perspective and not denominational which has great ramifications for the unity of the Body and for apostolic or territorial leadership.
God has always desired to reveal His Glory and to live Himself with man on planet earth.
The scripture declares that… “The earth is the Lord’s and fullness thereof” Ps 24 v 1, but God cannot abide sin and so is unable to actually ‘tabernacle’ or dwell with man on earth until man himself is renewed and the society in which he lives is transformed. God has a plan for the restoration and transformation of his entire creation and this He will do through the transformation of the nations. He has chosen the Church as His vehicle for that transformation.
Let’s start with some introductory verses.
Paul says in Eph 3:10 …. ”Understand the mystery of Christ which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. Although I am the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me…….to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery. This is the mystery which He for ages past kept hidden in God, …….that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.”
And Rom 8:19-22 reminds us that “ the whole of creation is groaning to see the ‘sons of God’ made manifest on the earth.” The promise is that one day…. “The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God as the waters cover the sea” Habakkuk 2 v 14
This is God’s purpose and He will fulfill it. God is a God of nations and has provided for the “healing of the nations”. Ultimately His purpose will be expressed firstly in the ‘healing (or transformation) of the nations’ (Rev 22:2) and then through the nations.
God is a God of Nations
The God of Scripture recognises nations and nationhood, but not Empires or World Orders. In Gen 17:4 we find God’s first covenant promise to Abraham that through him….“all the nations on earth would be blessed”. … “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, And you will be the father of a multitude of nations.
Gen 18 v18. Ps 22 v 28 and Ps 47 v 8 reminds us that …..“God rules (or reigns) over the nations”
In Ps 46:10 He promises to exalt Israel “above the nations”.
In Ps 66 :7 “His eyes watch over the nations”
And in Ps 96:3 “He will declare His Glory amongst the nations”
Yes God loves the nations and wants to demonstrate His authority and His glory through them. In order to do this He needs to transform them first.
We all want to see a transformation in our own nation don’t we? We pray regularly …..“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”…….
But the Church is the only plan God has for the transformation of the nations. There is a Plan A but there is no plan B. The Church is God’s plan A.
Let us return to the KEY VERSE …….”that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” Eph 3:10
This verse tells us that the Church is His only means of bringing about His will and establishing His Kingdom here on planet earth.
However the truth is that we will never achieve it while the Church is in a state of disunity. Jesus prayed that we would be one but still today 2000 years later the Church is so divided, so denominational on the one hand or individualistic and isolationist on the other.
I came from a Salvation Army evangelistic background. Both my parents were Salvation Army Officers and great preachers. I retired early from 37 years of Secondary School teaching in England and in 2003 went out to preach at Evangelistic rallies in many parts of Africa. What I saw when I first went abroad on mission horrified me and changed the course and focus of my ministry for ever.
I saw the multiplicity of churches, at least twenty or so in the same immediate area, all competing with each other, with either outside speakers of the PA system bellowing out their music to the neighbourhood, or a Pastor preaching with a loud and highly emotional delivery and which was often punctuated by speaking in tongues. This too was broadcast through the outside speakers and served only to confuse and alienate the local community. I saw so many time the untrained and untaught pastors demanding absolute obedience from their congregations and often prohibiting any contact with church members from the other churches in their area, on pain of ex-communication.
This is not the state of all churches of course, and there are some wonderful expression of Church today around the world but it is true that there is so much bad practise and so much corruption too. Certainly the church is not the united force that Jesus prayed for.
ILLUSTRATION FROM MY MISSION EXPERIENCE
I was entering by car a major town in Western Kenya for a mission when I saw a crusade being held in the market place. “Wonderful!” I said to myself. “The Church is alive here!”
Travelling further down the street I saw another crusade.
“Maybe the Church is not so healthy here after all”, I thought.
Then again I saw another and another as I traveled further along the main road through the town.
“What is happening here?” I cried out to the Lord. Suddenly Jesus shouted back.
“My Church is like a supermarket here. ‘Come and have my Jesus. Ours is better than yours!’ ”. I was horrified.
Unity in the Body of Christ is the pre-requisite for the transformation of any nation.
God wants to bless His Church and pour out His anointing upon His people to do His work but He will not do so, to the extent that He longs to, when there is no real unity.
Ps 133 make it clear that there is a blessing to be received that God longs to give. However according to this scripture it is only where there is unity ‘that the Lord commands the blessing’.
His will is that we work together as One Body not just within our own congregation but across the congregations. Not just in our denomination but across the denominations. In fact ….. throughout the entire World Church.
Jesus is desperate to see that happen. He prayed for it to be so in Jn 17 v 21 and 23. …. “Father I pray that they may be one even as We are one. I in You and You in Me and We in them…..That they may be truly one….so that the world may believe”
We will come back to this central scripture later but first we need to understand what Church is as different from the Kingdom and who it is who builds the Church.
What is the Church?
- It is the ‘ecclesia’ or ‘called out’ ones who are commissioned to pronounce that…….…..” the Kingdom of God has come” Mark 1 v 15. In Matt 10 v 7 we read how Jesus commanded His disciples to go and…. “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’”
- It is the means by which He will express His glory and order. Eph 3 v 10
- It is the vehicle He will use to transform the world we live in. Even creation awaits its manifestation. Rom 8 v 19
- It is the Body of Christ on earth. It is the total body of born-again by the Holy Spirit believers taken from every race and cultures, past, present and future
- There is only ONE Body of Christ and only one HEAD. 1 Cor 12 v 12 and Eph 4 v 15 and Eph 1:23….”And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the Church which is His Body”
- It is NOT separate from Him. It is HIS BODY. He is the HEAD and we are HIS BODY. The head is in the body. It is never separate from the body. It is always a part of the body. In the same way Christ is never separate from His Body, the Church.
The Church, His BODY, in its thinking has separated itself from the Head, both physically (geographically) and spiritually.
This major problem in the Church today came about perhaps by the difficulty in understanding the mystery that we, his Church, are both here on earth now in the physical sense but are also ‘seated in Heavenly places’ with Him in spiritual reality. The mystery of the gospel is that we are both “seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus” (Eph 2 v 6) and that Jesus is also “in us, the hope of glory” whilst we remain as His Body on earth. (Col 1 v 20). This dichotomy has confused our perceptions and inadvertently caused us to think of Jesus as in Heaven on the right hand of the Father whilst we are here on planet earth. This has caused a sense of geographical separation in our thinking and faith perception.
It is true that we are both ‘in Christ’ and therefore “seated in heavenly place with Him” and ‘on earth’ with Christ living ‘in us’….. the hope of glory. As the corporate Body of Christ here on earth, Christ is our Head and the head is always IN the body, a part or organ of the Body and is never separate from the Body. A headless Body is dead and non-functional.
This truth was brought home to me so very vividly some years ago when on mission I was in an interior village on mission in Africa and was watching them prepare my evening meal.
ILLUSTRATION 1: A poor chicken had been selected as a participant for this honour but was to give more than just a feather. It had been chosen for slaughter. They caught it promptly and soon chopped off its head. To my surprise when they put it down on the ground it seemed to pick itself up and run around the yard in every decreasing circles and then … bang…. fell flat on its side ….motionless.
As I was lying on my bed later that evening, thinking about what I had seen that night, the Lord spoke to me powerfully.
“My Church behaves so often like a headless chicken. It runs around in ever decreasing circles, going absolutely no where until it drops…..lifeless. It will always do this as long as it remains detached from Me, its Head”
The Church has to remain intimately connected to Christ, its Head, otherwise we become like a headless chicken. The realisation that too often we have in our perception and consequent behaviour separated the Lord from His Body, was a disturbing revelation to me. Functionally, it appeared that too often we had become detached in two distinct ways….1) from the Lord and 2) from one another.
What was more shattering to me was the realisation that Jesus feels the pain of His divided Body and suffers because of it.
ILLUSTRATION 2: Jesus feels the pain of His broken and sick __Body.
Sometime later I was in another village and after the evening meal we retired to bed. The wonderful hosts had provided me with a small single room round house with grass roof, small shuttered window and a small single door. How they had got hold of the partially sprung metal bed base, I do not know, but there it was in the centre of the room with a small low table beside it at the head. They had covered the springs with wooden planks and a blanket. It was a very thoughtful gesture!
Now as is my need (which comes with maturity) I awoke in middle of the night with a desperate desire to …’water God’s garden’ (go to the toilet) so I sat up, steadied myself to my feet and tried to get my bearings. It was pitch black. No street lights here!
Oh praise God…. they had left me a candle and matches I remembered and so I reached over towards where I thought that they were on my bedside table and knocked them both across the room.
Ah…. I thought, I have a torch and so, having successfully fumbled for it in my case, I proceeded to flip the switch on the torch with great expectation. “Oh no” I exclaimed to myself. “The battery is dead”
There was no alternative but to grope my way to the sides of the room in the pitch dark and then to feel my way around the walls till I could find the door. Being unsuccessful the first time, I decided that I had become disorientated and must be facing the wrong way so turned around and began to walk across the room to the other side.
I walked straight into the metal bed frame and split my little toe.
OOOOWWWW! OOOUUUCH! I muffled my screams and sat on the edge of the bed nursing my wound……..SILENCE!
”Does it hurt?” whispered the Lord…….SILENCE.
“Where else feel pain?” I thought for a while, in between my cries.
“In my stomach” was my response. “I feel sick in my body”.
“Yes….That’s like my BODY, said the Lord. “When one part suffers all the rest suffers. When the Pentecostal Church is suffering, the Presbyterian or Catholic Church is suffering”.
I sat still, trying to take that in.Then the silence in my mind was broken by another question. ”Where did you register that pain or become conscious of that pain?”.
“In my head” I replied.
“Yes……. I AM the HEAD of My Church and I feel its pain!”
What is the Kingdom as different to the Church?
Having now seen what Church is and how it should function in intimacy with Jesus, its Head, and unity with other parts of His Body, let us now look at what the Kingdom is.
Definition of Kingdom
- The word Kingdom here describes God’s authority, dominion. It is where He reigns as King.
- The Kingdom of God is the eternal rule of the sovereign God over all creation. His Kingdom is eternal since God Himself is eternal.
Psalm 103:19… “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.
Daniel 4:3….. “How great are His signs, how mighty His wonders!
His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; His dominion endures from generation to generation.
- The Kingdom of God embraces all created intelligence, both in heaven and earth that are willingly subject to the Lord and are in fellowship with Him. The kingdom of God is, therefore, universal in that it includes created angels and men and all creatures.
- The Kingdom of God is spiritual—found within all born-again believers. The Kingdom of God is therefore the designation for the sphere of salvation entered into at the new birth and is synonymous with the Kingdom of heaven. We enter the kingdom of God when we are born again. It is a relationship “born of the Spirit of God” and we have confident assurance that it is so because the Spirit bears witness with our spirits “that we are born of God” (Romans 8:16)……“ born not of the will of man but of God”
John 3:5-7….” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”
In Jesus temptation recorded in Lk 4 v 6 Satan tells Jesus that the Kingdoms of this world have been “handed over’ or ‘betrayed over” to him…….by man. Satan can only steal and destroy. You steal only that which is NOT yours by right, so Satan looks to steal our authority and he can do that when through our own sin, fear, lack of faith or understanding, we betray or hand over our authority, over to him.
The Church is called to pronounce the restoration of the Kingdom of God. It is to declare that the Kingdom of God has come here on earth and to demonstrate its presence. Our aim is to see the “Kingdoms of this world become the Kingdoms of our God and His Christ”…..Amen! We are to pursue that now and we have the anointing and the authority to do so even though our victory will be partial now and only complete in the millennium age to come.
Even now we have absolute authority over Satan because of the victory won for us on Calvary. Satan has no authority in our lives and over the territory where we exercise Kingdom authority. When we establish the authority of God in a place or over a person’s life, then Satan has no authority there. It has become a piece of Kingdom territory belonging only to God. When Satan dares to enter that ground, he is trespassing. Satan wins by default only when we give him the authority or legal right in our lives or land.
We can understand more about our authority if we think about a national Embassy building in a foreign country.
The Embassy building belongs to another country yet it exists in foreign land. Only the laws of that Embassy’s foreign nation apply within its walls. In my country our Queen Elizabeth has no jurisdiction, nor our Police Force any authority within that foreign Embassy building. It is a piece of that foreign nation in England. It does not belong to nor come under the authority of the UK. It is sovereign territory.
So when we apply that to the Kingdom of God we can see that wherever we establish the Kingdom of God over a person , a home, a territory, we are declaring the sovereignty of God over that place or person. That is why Jesus commanded the disciples to declare that “The Kingdom of God has come” whenever they entered a village. That is why both John the Baptist and Jesus Himself began their ministries with the words. “The Kingdom of God has come!”
WE ARE AMBASSADORS WITH AMBASSADORAL AUTHORITY WHEREVER WE GO BECAUSE THE “Kingdom of God is within us”, SO……..WE ARE THE KINGDOM OF GOD WHEREVER WE ARE. GOD HAS ALL AUTHORITY WHEREVER WE ARE AND SATAN HAS NO AUTHORITY.
The difference between Authority and Power
Satan does have power but He has no authority unless it has been legally given him by default.
Let me illustrate the difference between authority and power.
Imagine a young, very slender and quite small police woman driving her police car along the main road. She sees a huge powerful truck entering at fast speed, a one way street the wrong way against the flow of traffic. Fortunately there are no other vehicles using that road at that precise moment. What does she do? The lorry is more powerful than her. It is huge and she is small. It could crush her without noticing if it ran her over.
However she does not waver. Without hesitation she drives her car around the block to the other end of the one way road, parks it, gets out and proceeds to walk down the one-way street towards the fast approaching vehicle. She can hear the roar of the powerful engine.
She steps out, raises her hand and cries…… “Stop in the Name of the Law!”.
There is a screech of breaks, a smell of burning rubber and the heavy vehicle shudders to a stop.
You see, she knew her delegated authority and whom she represented….the Law of the land and the government of your nation.
That truck just HAD TO STOP! ….. and so does Satan. He has to obey the Laws of the Kingdom of God and of the King of Kings ……Amen?
So let us now return to the theme of the Church
Who then builds the Church and to whom does it belong?
Jesus said in Matt 16:18 ”I will build My Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”
Acts 2:47… says “The Lord added daily to the Church those He was saving”
John 16:8…it says that…“The Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgement”
We don’t. He alone does.
Yes we do have a responsibility but our responsibility is to….’response to God’s ability. ‘
Let us consider Matt 16 v 18 more carefully:
a)‘I’ will build it. It belongs to Jesus. It is NOT ours! It is His responsibility. It is blood bought and blood washed.
1 Cor 6:20 “You were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.
b) I ‘Will’ build it denotes resolve and intention. There are no mistakes, no ultimate failures. Jesus will do it!
c) I will ‘Build’ it. It will take time for building takes time. It is a process and will be done according to a plan, Gods plan. The Father is the architect and Jesus is the builder. We assist Him as both the material and the co-workmen based upon the foundations of the Apostles and Prophets. SO ….. Jesus is the master builder and owner of the Church. It belongs to Him and because he is ‘cornerstone’ of the building, He is part of the building as well Himself.
We have looked at our relationship as the Body with Him as our Head. Lastly, we must look at our relationship to one another within the Body.
What would you say was the greatest prayer of Jesus?
- The Lord’s Prayer
- The prayer of submission in the garden of ….”Take this cup (of suffering) from me. Nevertheless ‘Not My will but Yours be done’
- The prayer of forgiveness on the cross?…”Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”.
These are great choices but all these have been fulfilled. The Lord’s Prayer is recited all around the world. The prayer in the garden was fulfilled and Jesus took the cup all the way to the grave. The prayer on the cross for forgiveness was fulfilled and we are proof of that since we know that we are forgiven and saved.
Yet there is one prayer of Jesus that has never yet been fulfilled. It is the other prayer prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane or on His way there from the upper room. John 17 verses 21 and 23. says “Father I pray that they may be one even as We are one. I in You and You in Me and We in them…..That they may be truly one….so that the world may believe”
This scripture cannot be read without passion. It is:
A prayer of intense agony of Spirit. A prayer of pivotal importance and significance. For Jesus everything depends on the fulfillment of this prayer. If this is so then we too should be deeply concerned to see it happen. It still hasn’t yet been fulfilled….some 2000 years later.
Jesus is passionate about the unity of His Body and because He is, then we need to be too.
Why is this do you think? It is because He has a purpose for the Body of Christ, the Church, far beyond the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. It is because the Church is chosen to be His precious Bride. It is because the creation of the Bride is the purpose of creation and the central theme of Scripture. But the Bride of Christ, though corporate, cannot be plural. There is only one. Jesus does not have a harem. He only has one Bride and if this Bride is the corporate body of believers then the essential characteristic of that Body is its unity, cohesion and interdependence.
It is clear from scripture that God sees Church as one Body and from a geographical or Regional Church paradigm and not a denominational one.
Firstly when He returns He will be .looking predominantly for faith in the Lord Jesus Christ on the earth according to Luke 18 v 8.“However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” The Lord Jesus will not be looking for Methodists, a Presbyterians or Pentecostals. He will be looking for those who have a living faith in Him as the Saviour, and He looks across the whole earth. He sees it as one body of His Son.
Secondly, it appears that scripture defines Church geographically or regionally and not denominationally.
Scriptural Rationale for this statement
1. The first mandate, the great commission, was geographical in nature. In Matt 28:19 and 20 Jesus said…” Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
2. The letters of Paul were written to geographical or locational churches. The book of Ephesians, Romans, Galatians and the letters of Jesus in Rev 2 and 3 were also written to churches in geographical locations.
3. Angels have been appointed to guard the churches which were geographically identified and named.
Daniel shows us that the angels (or Archangels) have territorial responsibility.
Dan 10 v13…. “But the prince of the Persian kingdom (a ruling demonic spirit) resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia”
The Archangel Michael was the protector God’s people Israel and of the Church.
4. Satan has organised his troops geographically also. In Matt 5 v 9 Legion, the demoniac, cries out… “do not send me out of this territory” suggesting territorial ownership. In the previous reference (Daniel v 13 10) the angel Gabriel was hindered by this ruling demonic spirit, referred to as the Prince of Persia, who exercised control over that region.
It is clear that Satan seeks to control personalities and exercise authority over territories. God exercises territorial authority but has delegated that to His highest creation, man. Satan wishes to usurp that authority and he does so by wrestling that authority from man by deception or by causing him to sin.
Satan has stolen and taken control of the kingdoms of this world by manipulating man. God has plans or strategies for taking those territories back and wants to do so through the Church and He desires to reveal his strategies for taking them back to His Church.
God has restored the governance of His church back to His Church.
He has now restored back to His Church the fivefold ministry of Apostle, Prophets, Evangelists Pastor and Teacher. We are now in a new season.
There are new wine skins being grown and we are in transition. New leadership structures are appearing. New apostolic leaders are being raised up. Regional authority across the denominational structure is being created. These are exciting days but it will demand change and we will either hasten the move of God in these days or hinder it.
The heart cry of Jesus in John 17, his unfulfilled prayer and His dream was that we should be ‘One’. It goes beyond unity to a ‘Oneness’ that only God can create. It is a reflective of the ‘Oneness’ that is experienced in the Godhead between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. It is a union described as a ‘cleaving’ together as in Gen 2 v 23 and as in marriage. It is a synergy known in marriage where God has literally joined them together. We should pray, plan and work together as the one Church in any given locality. To create this Jesus gave His very life. Our overriding desire should be that the Lord Jesus might receive the full reward for His great sacrifice and as Isaiah 53 v11 says that He might see …’the travail of His soul and be satisfied!’