In Issue 57 reference was made to those who spoke much of ‘the ruin of the Church’, and yet who later had to learn the truth of ‘the ruin’ amongst themselves. Can you please explain this, as some have expressed concerns?
In every way God has seen fit to test man, he has failed, and the consequences of his failure blighted the scene around him. This is seen most strikingly with man in paradise (Gen. 3: 6), but also with man in every other dispensation. Thus we see it with Noah (Gen. 9: 21), Israel (Ex. 32: 4), Solomon, (1 Kings 11: 4), the Jews (Luke 23: 18), and the rebels at the end of Christ’s thousand year reign (Rev. 20: 7–10) to name but a few. Are we really to expect things to be any different in the present dispensation?
Of course the Church (or Assembly) as Christ builds it cannot be ruined in any sense of the word––God’s purposes regarding it will not be thwarted: “on this rock I will build my assembly, and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16: 18). It will be presented to Christ “having no spot, or wrinkle” (Eph. 5: 27). However, as well as what Christ builds, there is also what man builds––the Church committed to man’s responsibility. This is what is presented in 1 Cor. 3: “as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation, but another builds upon it. But let each see how he builds upon it. For other foundation can no man lay besides that which [is] laid, which is Jesus Christ” (vs 10, 11). Here man is the builder and is responsible for how he builds. As with anything that he puts his hands to, there will be failure, and so “if any one build upon [this] foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, 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” (vs 12, 13). Some of man’s work will abide, and some will be consumed. Thus the Church today (as seen in the hands of man) is not what it ought to be, indeed it is not even what it once was: it is ruined. Contrast this with God’s perfect work as regards the Church: “in whom all the building fitted together increases to a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2: 21).
Some say that the Scriptures only ever speak of local churches as entrusted to man’s responsibility (Rev. 2 and 3, for example)––never the Church in a universal sense. Hence in their eyes there can be no ruin of the Church. However, in 1 Tim. 3: 15 Paul speaks of the conduct expected in “God’s house, which is [the] assembly of [the] living God”––clearly the Church entrusted to man’s responsibility. Now is this simply a local church? No. God has one house (Heb. 3: 6), not many houses corresponding to each local church––and so Peter can describe the saints in several places (1 Pet. 1: 1) as all one house (2: 5; 4: 17). 1 Tim. 3: 15 is therefore the Church in its universal setting entrusted to man’s responsibility, and as such, it will be affected by failure. This is why by the second epistle, “God’s house” has degenerated into a “great house” with its honourable and dishonourable vessels (see 2 Tim. 2: 20).
There is no space to detail all that the ‘ruin’ refers to. However, it was the divisions amongst the individuals referred to in our question that was said to be the cause of them learning “the truth of the ruin amongst themselves”. Let us look then at the connection between division and ruin. Now the Church in the purposes of God is “one” (Eph. 4: 4)––there is no division at all in it. Indeed, “God has tempered the body together...that there might be no division in the body” (1 Cor. 12: 24, 25). Was not this the prayer of the Son to the Father: “And I do not demand for these only,” (that is the disciples) “but also for those who believe on me through their word; that they may be all one, as thou Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17: 20, 21). Yet when the Church is viewed as entrusted to man’s responsibility we get terrible failure. There were divisions at Corinth (1 Cor. 11: 18), Paul and Barnabas separate after disagreement (Acts 15: 39), and all in Asia had turned away from Paul (2 Tim. 1: 15). Is this oneness? No. What of today? There is no difference of doctrine too trivial and no name too insignificant to form the label of a distinct sect. Is this not ruin? The spiritual movement referred to earlier is today rent in pieces. Why? Because they lost spiritual power and unity. With unity lost, they learned the truth of the ruin amongst themselves.
Whatever man gets his hands on will be marred. This should not be surprise us. Like Daniel (Dan. 9: 3–20), we ought to sorrow over the failure that has come in, and hang our heads in shame over our collective sin. Yet let us never lose sight of the fact that from God’s side there will be no failure. The Church will be presented as “a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11: 2).