A summary of a paper by J.N. Darby entitled:
The Church – What is it? Her Power, Hopes, Calling, Present Position, and Occupation.
Published in Darby’s Collected Writings – Volume 12 (Evangelical 1) Page 372.
We need to understand what the church really is, and to distinguish between the kingdom and the church. In the kingdom we get the display of God’s power and government, whereas in the church it is union and fellowship
The church is Christ’s representative on earth. By one Spirit we have been baptised into one body, whose Head is at the right hand of God in heaven, united to the members, formed into a body down here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls this ‘the church.’
The hope of the church is founded on her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. She is united to her Head there, seated in heaven in Him, waiting to be there physically. The occupation of the church ought to be in constant, incessant reference to her Head. If not, she cannot act for Him. She looks, to her Head, the only source of power, and joins with the Holy Spirit in the cry ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17).
The Church and the Kingdom
We need to understand what the church really is, and to distinguish between the kingdom and the church. There are endless theories about the question, ‘What is the church?’ Some say it is ‘visible,’ others ‘invisible’; some, that there will be a church by-and-by, but there is none now; that there is no church on earth (there may be churches), but (when all are assembled in heaven) there will be a church.
The church is Christ’s representative on earth – the epistle of Christ (See 2 Cor 3:3). As the tables of stone represented what God demanded from man, so should the church be the revelation of what God is to man in grace and power.
The kingdom is different. In the kingdom we get the display of God’s power and government, whereas in the church it is union and fellowship. We should also distinguish ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ and ‘the kingdom,’ from ‘the gospel’ (in its full scope) and ‘the church.’ Paul preached the kingdom of God – that is very different from Christ’s reign of power on the earth, when Christ will have His bride united to Him in glory. When Paul speaks of his ministry, he distinguishes between the ministry of the gospel of salvation and the ministry of the church.
The Kingdom – Past, Present and Future
Up to the time of Samuel, the point of association between the people and God was through the priesthood. But the priests were unfaithful, and then the Lord wrote ‘Ichabod’ upon what had been Israel’s glory. The ark was taken by the Philistines; the priests were slain and the link between God and the people was broken. However God had a plan that Israel should have a king. But Israel set about it the wrong way: they got Saul who did not understand the signs. David did, and was the type of Christ the King.
After King David is introduced, the priesthood ceases to be the habitual link between the people and God. God says, ‘I will raise me up a faithful priest . . . and he shall walk, before mine anointed [not me] for ever’ (1 Sam. 2:35). A royal person is the link between God and the people. When Solomon dedicated the temple (as a Melchisedek priest), the priests could not stand to minister; the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God, the king praised God and blessed the people
Finally the King was presented in humiliation in the Person of Christ. John the Baptist says, ‘Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’. (Matt 3:2 – the King coming in judgment). After John was rejected and cast into prison, Christ, the mightier One, takes up the same testimony: ‘From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 4:17). Jesus went about Galilee, teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, healing the sick. The power of God was with Him, and it was seen. Then, the King having been rejected, the apostles went out preaching the kingdom. They knew ‘the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt 13:11), and God was with them. At present it is more testimony than power, but there will be a special testimony to the coming of the kingdom before the close of this dispensation.
The kingdom is still to be set up in the Person of Jesus Christ. He must go to a far country to receive a kingdom and return (See Luke 19:11). This is the ‘world to come’ (Heb 2:5, etc.), and the power of Satan will be set aside. Heaven will be in the seat of the kingdom. We will reign with Him there, joint-heirs with Christ, siting on thrones.’
Paul’s Ministry as to the Church
There is another aspect to Paul’s ministry which is beyond the reach of dispensations: man is at enmity with God, Jews and Gentiles alike being known only as children of wrath. Paul preached the gospel to every creature under heaven. He was not simply a minister of the gospel; he was a minister of the church to fulfil [complete] the word of God (See Col 1:25).
Paul deduces that there is a body of which Christ is the Head, associated and connected with Him in His headship over all things. How? – ‘By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body,’ (1 Cor. 12:13). God ‘gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all’(Eph 1:23). By one Spirit we have been baptised into one body, and we have the Head and the body united together. Ministries, gifts of healing, etc., are not in heaven, nor are the ‘joints and bands’. It will be in heaven eventually no doubt, but it is now on earth. The Head is at the right hand of God in heaven, united to the members, formed into a body down here on earth by the power of the Holy Spirit. Scripture calls this ‘the church.’
There is something in Matt 16:18 that is often overlooked. The Lord says to Peter, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.’ He gives the keys to Peter – the keys of the kingdom, not of the church. The church is that body which the Holy Spirit forms into unity, with the Lord Jesus Christ as Head, He sitting at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
The Church – its Power and Responsibility
As to power, In Scripture it is not the power of the church, but the power that works in us – the power of God working in the church. The Head supplies what is needed. ‘Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us’ (Eph 3:20). He nourishes His church according to its need. His powerful operations are however limited by the moral condition of the church. But God is true and cannot act in the power of grace contrary to the moral condition of the church or any individual. He may bear with its state in patience, but God will never sanction publicly what He disapproves of.
When we think of the saving of souls, it is rather the sovereign operation of the Spirit of God through the gospel. But the church is a vessel of power, and miracles testify to the power of Christ as the risen Son of man.
We must understand where we are, before we can get the blessing suited to our being part of the body of Christ. Christ never alters His mind. His grace remains the same, as does what He seeks from the church in responsibility, otherwise faith could not progress. But the ways in which He acts vary. In the days of the apostles the church was adorned with all sorts of miracles. It is different now. Christ will never give up His thoughts about the church; but if we are doing what we feel to be right, He will make sad work of what we have done. ‘He that gathereth not with me scattereth.’ (Matt 12:30).
If Christ gathers, He scatters that which is not gathered in the power of unity with Himself – just like a pack of cards. This may surprise and humble us, but it does not discourage us since we look for God to act. The church’s power is in her weakness and her spirit constant, simple, unmingled dependence.
The Hope of the Church
When Christ leaves the Father’s throne to take the church unto Himself, it will form a glorious body in heaven. Now, while He is sitting at the right hand of God, the only thing He owns as the church is the body down here.
The hope of the church is founded on her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven. She is united to her Head there, seated in heaven in Him, waiting to be there physically. As the bride of Christ on earth, she is a pilgrim here, and desires to have no more to do with the world than Christ has. She will see things set right in the kingdom, but this is not her hope: her hope is her marriage with the well-known heavenly Bridegroom. That is how Paul knew that the church’s place was to be with Christ there. In 1 Thess 4:17, Paul says, ‘Then shall we ever be with the Lord’, our bodies changed. What follows? Nothing! A great many things may be happening now, but the church’s hope is to be with Him and like Him, for she will see Him as He is.
We have a heavenly calling, but that does not in itself convey the thought of the church. We must not confuse what we are as members of the church with the church itself. Many things are true of the members that do not apply to the church as a distinct body. As individuals, we are called, and look to be caught up into heaven; we have a heavenly portion as the brethren of Christ, even if we do not know that we are the body and bride of Christ. We are builded together for the habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph 2:22): that is the calling of the church down here.
As to our present position and occupation, one thing is very different from the early church. When the Spirit of God was working in the beginning of the gospel, the testimony had great power, producing a substantial result – a visible, identifiable gathering. There is nothing like this. The sheep have been scattered; the camp has gone wrong. As a result there are all sorts of opinions. Even unity involves separation from evil (See Darby’s Separation from Evil, God’s Principle of Unity). I must look to Christ as the Centre of truth. If my soul is not prepared to look to Him, and gather with Him, I shall be cast into the uncertain condition of the differing opinions of every saint I meet. If Christ is our common object, there will be a coalescing power. I find the church of God in a unity which attaches itself to Christ alone, as the sole centre.
The occupation of the church ought to be in constant, incessant reference to her Head. If not, she cannot act for Him. She must get beyond the crowd of Satan’s power, to the Head, the only source of power. Then she can join in the cry ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come’ (Rev 22:17). So should the church has its own light, the light of the outside being shut .out
We should get near enough to Christ to enjoy Him, and to know Him truly, and to gather up all that is like Him. If not separated by affection from the world, we shall be separated by discipline in the world. He will vex our souls to get us separate, ‘Because thou servedst not Jehovah thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart . . . therefore thou shalt serve thine enemies which Jehovah thy God shall send against thee’ (Deut 28:47 – Darby).