Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ruin (Part 1)

I'm sitting at home sick, so I thought I'd update this blog. Recently someone asked me about "the Church in Ruin", and I found had trouble giving a concise answer. So I'm going to use this blog as a scratchpad to see if I can articulate this idea a bit.

The Ruin of the Church is the teaching that the Church has failed in its dispensational (governmental) responsibilities on the earth. As a result, it is irreparably "ruined" as far as dispensational responsibility is concerned. There is no repairing the damage, we are left merely waiting for judgment.

So I got it down to three sentences, but they're not very good sentences. And while that's not a terrible description, there's no way I'd expect anyone to agree without some reference to the Word of God. So let's look at the Scriptures and see what they say.

First we're going to look at the Old Testament, because there is a subtle, but important, principle brought out there. Three incidents stick out in my mind with respect Israel in the wilderness. The first is in Numbers 23:

18 Then he took up his parable and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear! hearken unto me, son of Zippor! 19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither a son of man, that he should repent. Shall he say and not do? and shall he speak and not make it good? 20 Behold, I have received [mission] to bless; and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it. 21 He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen wrong in Israel; Jehovah his God is with him, and the shout of a king is in his midst. 22 God brought him out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of a buffalo. 23 For there is no enchantment against Jacob, neither is there any divination against Israel. At this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought! (Numbers 23:18–23)
The second is in Exodus 32:7–8:
7 Then Jehovah said to Moses, Away, go down! for thy people, which thou hast brought out of the land of Egypt, is acting corruptly. 8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them: they have made themselves a molten calf, and have bowed down to it, and have sacrificed thereunto, and said, This is thy god, Israel, who has brought thee up out of the land of Egypt!
The last is a single verse, Deuteronomy 23:14:
14 For Jehovah thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp, to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; and thy camp shall be holy, that he see nothing unseemly with thee, and turn away from thee.

There are two different perspectives between the first passage and the second and third passages. In the first, the Lord says He doesn't see any iniquity in Israel. Which is a remarkable statement, given the entirety of the history of Israel's travel from Egypt to Canaan. There certainly was a great deal of iniquity in Israel! But the Lord looks down and sees not a bit of it.

In the second and third verses, the Lord definitely sees iniquity in Israel. In the passage in Exodus, He looks down from Sinai and tells Moses to leave Him, because of Israel's sin. The third passage is actually part of the commands about sanitation: they weren't to foul their camp, but they were to "turn aside" and keep the camp clean. But the remarkable statement is that the Lord would walk in the camp, and if He sees anything unseemly in it, He might turn away from them.

So which is it? Did God see iniquity in Jacob? Was that what the second and third passages say? Or perhaps He was just making empty threats when He looked down from Sinai, or when Moses commanded the people not to foul the camp? Well, both are true. God saw Israel from two different perspectives. When He looked down from Heaven and spoke to Balaam, He saw a perfect people. But when He walked through the camp, He saw their sin.

Now, perhaps we see something akin to Galatians 4 when we introduce Sinai vs. the "high places of Baal". Perhaps there is something there for us to learn about the Accuser. Perhaps we should point out that God saw their sins at Sinai, but there was an intercessor there to plead for them. And really, Moses stands as a type of our Advocate in this story. But we're not going to consider all the implications here. We're merely going to point out that there are two different perspectives from which God saw Israel.

When viewed from the perspective of God's eternal purposes, He saw no sin in Israel. But when He was walking in the camp, He saw everything that defiles.

Similarly, the Lord sees the Church in two different perspectives. There is the perspective of God's eternal purpose, but there is the perspective of man's responsibility. From the one perspective, Christ sees no sin in the Church. But from the other, He judges everything, and there is no hiding from His sight.

Those two perspectives are contrasted in 1 Peter 2 and 1 Corinthians 4.

4 To whom coming, a living stone, cast away indeed as worthless by men, but with God chosen, precious, 5 yourselves also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4–5)
9 For we are God's fellow-workmen; ye are God's husbandry, God's building. 10 According to the grace of God which has been given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation, but another builds upon it. But let each see how he builds upon it. 11 For other foundation can no man lay besides that which [is] laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any one build upon [this] foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, 13 the work of each shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare [it], because it is revealed in fire; and the fire shall try the work of each what it is. 14 If the work of any one which he has built upon [the foundation] shall abide, he shall receive a reward. 15 If the work of any one shall be consumed, he shall suffer loss, but *he* shall be saved, but so as through [the] fire. (1 Corinthians 3:9–15)
In 1 Peter, God Himself does the building, and He works with only one building material: "living stones" (v. 5). But in 1 Corinthians 3, although it's still God's building, it is now men who are working on it. These men need to take care how they build, because they can make mistakes; God can't. And while God works exclusively with "living stones", men have more options: gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw. Men build with six materials, God with only one.

Need I point out that the Lord Jesus, as both God and Man, builds the assembly as well? (Matthew 16:16–18). Need I mention that His work doesn't fail? Of course it doesn't!

But the point is that there are both perspectives in the New Testament, just like there were both in the Old Testament.

Now, Revelation 2–3 brings us to the end of one of those two perspectives. God's eternal, heavenly perspective doesn't come to a close. How God sees us now is how He'll see us through eternity. But there is a dispensational responsibility, which is connected to this earth. Here on this earth, we have a responsibility as the House of God. And 1 Peter 4 reminds us that the House of God is where judgment will begin (1 Peter 4:17). So Revelation 2–3 gives us a prophetic look into that judgment. And notice how it starts, the Lord Jesus is described as the One who "who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamps" (Revelation 2:1) the previous verse tells us exactly what those lamps are: they are the seven assemblies in Asia (Revelation 1:20).

So we're right back to Deuteronomy 23 in a sense: when the Lord looks down from Heaven, He sees His eternal purpose, but when He walks in the camp, He sees every defiling thing.

When we look at what the Scripture says about the Church, we need to bear these two perspectives in mind. God's eternal purpose for us is nothing but blessing. But while we're here waiting for His Son to come and get us (Philippians 3:20–21, 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10), there is responsibility connected with this earth.

There's a lot more to say, but I think I'll save it for next time.

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