The Nature of a True Church
The Church atwas one noted for their impeccable doctrine and they manifested every good work, yet, they were charged for their motivation; they were rebuked for having left their first love, Jesus Christ (Rev 2:4). The chief and primary nature of a true Church is to love Christ Jesus chiefly and primarily (Matt 10:37-38; Lk 14:26-27). This love does not originate in us, but in God: “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19).
When questioned about the great commandment of the law, the Lord Jesus summarized the whole of the Bible in this way: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-41). Given this, we might define the love that is the chief and primary nature of a true Church, yes, and also of true Christianity, as the holy submission of the heart, soul, mind and strength given to the utter devotion of God in, through, and by Christ Jesus.
The second commandment cited in the Lord’s answer provides evidence that this love is taking place. Loving one’s neighbor cannot certainly stand alone as the only evidence, for just as there are false professors of true Christian religion (Matt 7:21-23; 1 Jn 2:19), there are humanitarians and philanthropists given over to the benefit of mankind with nothing of Christ in their way or in their work. On the night He was betrayed, the Lord gave a new commandment to His disciples that was really a more defining mark of the New Testament reality: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (Jn 13:34). Further, Christ said that this love would be evident to the world: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (Jn 13:35).
Every good work manifested in a local congregation’s mission, even done in the name of Christ, and carried out dutifully as found in Ephesians chapters four through six, if it is not immersed in the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Eph 3:19), then none of the great doctrinal truths from of Ephesians chapters one through three will matter a whit or whistle. Paul expresses this more clearly to the Church at Corinth: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3).
The nature of the Church, filled, enabled, empowered, and sent forth in the love of Christ, must be the reason, strength and justification for every mark exhibited by a true and living Church.
Wrestling with Realities
We must recognize that Lord Jesus Christ is building His Church, to put it in the reference to our time confinement. The perfection of Christ’s Church is in HIM until He return in the restitution of all things. Until then, we persevere by God’s grace, and extend grace and mercy as grace and mercy have been lavished upon us from above. When we love, we love with patience for “charity suffereth long and is kind” (1 Cor 13:4). That scripture implies the reality of a sanctifying work in progress because of love’s manifest patience and kindness.
The most distinguishing mark of a true Church is the blessed presence of the Lord Jesus Christ walking in the midst of His candlesticks; and that is most predominantly manifested in the harmony of all three areas: marks, means, and motivation.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 Jn 4:7).
This is part three of a three-part article. The complete article originally appeared in The Sovereign Grace Messenger from the Summer 2011 issue. The Sovereign Grace Messenger is the periodical published approximately three times per year by the Sovereign Grace Baptist Fellowship.
. . Part Four, which was not a part of the original article, will be posted following that.