The Book of Philippians is a good illustration of what the Church is; of what Christian unity and fellowship is. The Apostle Paul writes that it is right for him to feel great affection and love for the Philippian believers, since he has them all in his heart, for in his imprisonment and all his other circumstances, they are with him servants of Christ Jesus and partakers of the grace of God. He writes about being of one mind with the bond of love in the unity of the Spirit. He writes of living for their progress in joy in the Gospel, and of having joy in hearing of their conduct in Christ, whether he comes to see them or only hears of them in his absence. Again, he writes that, even if he is poured out like a drink offering on the service of their faith, he is rejoices with all of them, and they too should share his joy.
There is One Church: the Universal (that’s what the word ‘Catholic’ means) Church. The Church is all believers, all who are in Jesus Christ. As it says, over and over again, our unity is Jesus Christ. Our bond of love is the Spirit. We are all children of one Father, and therefore brothers and sisters. We are all members of the body of Christ, and therefore joined to one another. We are members of one another, because we all partake of the one loaf that is Christ.
There is no such thing as the “Local Church.” There is only the Body of Christ, the Bride, in which all Christians are included, whenever and wherever they live. You do not cease to be a Christian because there are no other Christians physically present with you. The Comforter, the Spirit of Jesus, indwells all believers, and the Risen Lord is present in and to all believers, and He is not any less present with you if you are thrown in a prison cell – or some equivalent – with no other Christians (or no access to a Bible, or both no other Christians and no Bible).
I care very much about this. It is common for some people in certain “churches” in the United States to say that you cannot be a Christian alone. It would be truer to say that if you are a Christian you can never be alone. Some people appear to think that if you do not teach Christians that they need Christian fellowship, then they will never gather with other Christians – and God has designed for us to know Him and love Him through learning from each other and being with each other, when He makes it possible for us to be together in those ways required. I believe that the real problem is that there are many who call themselves Christians and are not, and therefore do not have the desires of Christians, and that these people try to discourage real Christians from acting and feeling like Christians: indeed, it is impossible for these people to refrain from such discouragement, since being unbelievers, even though other think them to be, and they may think themselves to be, Christians, yet their desires are not those of Christians and they want others to be like them. I cannot help thinking that all Christians naturally want to be with other Christians: unbelievers cannot even begin to comprehend our life, that which is most important to us. In fact, they cannot help being hostile to Him who is both our King and our life. We want to be with those who can show us more of God, and help us to know, love, and serve Him. This is natural, and if Christians think that they do not want this, I think it may be either because they have been taught to think they don’t want to be with other Christians, or, much more probably, because they have a very hard time finding other Christians to be with. The so-called “churches” in America are full of people who cannot possibly love Jesus – people who are more interested in how earthly hobbies are going, than in conversions, than in friends or relatives coming to know and love the Risen Lord. It is little blame – perhaps none – to real Christians, if they have no desire to associate with such people, regardless of whether such people call themselves Christians or not (perhaps, especially if these people call themselves Christians. If we are forbidden from associating with any group of people, it is those who call themselves Christians but live in open denial of Jesus.)
I do not want any of you – I do not want any Christian in the world – to think that you are alone, that God is withholding any good thing from you, if and when you are thrown into a prison, either into solitary confinement or with only people who are not Christians. I do not want you to think that Jesus is with you there less than He would be in a Bible study group or a Sunday service. I do not wish that suffering, that torture, on anyone. I want you to know that, always, no matter what happens, you can lack no good thing, because Jesus is with you, and He will withhold nothing of His grace, nothing of Himself, for those for whom He shed His blood. “How shall He, who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up freely for us all, not also, with Him, graciously give us all things?” Nor will you be isolated from the rest of us. The unity of the Church is not a unity of place and time, but of encouragement in Christ, fellowship in the Spirit, of being of the same mind, in the same love, intent on the same purpose. That is our unity. When Jesus said that, where two or three are gathered together in His Name, there He is in their midst, I do not believe that He was referring exclusively to place, or even time. It is the two or three being together in His Name that matters! (Without that, the place and time do not matter at all.)
I do not want you to be distressed, if and when your Bible is taken from you, because you did not memorize enough of the Bible, or could not memorize enough of the Bible, or cannot remember what you thought you had memorized. Jesus has promised, “Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.” This is always: not just when you have a Bible. When He said that He would ask the Father, who would give you another Helper or Comforter, one to be with you forever, whom the world cannot receive, for it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but whom you will know, for He lives with you and will be in you, that He will not leave you orphans, but will come to you, He did not mean the written Bible: He meant the Spirit of Truth, who indwells all believers and is the seal and deposit of our salvation. He really is present with us! When the Apostle John wrote, in 1st John, of the anointing that is on you, and is true, and is not a lie, the anointing that teaches you all things, he was speaking of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. God is not limited to or by a book. He will speak to you, comfort you, and be with you then and there. In fact, if you did not know the voice of the Good Shepherd, how would you even recognize His voice in the written words of the Bible? But He has promised, saying that the sheep know the voice of their Shepherd, and they follow Him, but a stranger’s voice they simply will not follow, but will flee from such a one, because they do not know His voice. He has said that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him, as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father, and so His sheep know His voice and follow Him. All who are His, know His voice. You are safe in His love – even if your Bible is taken from you, even if you cannot remember what you tried to memorize, even if you are seemingly alone!
Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He has promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” For this reason, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?” In this, we can – and should – be content in all circumstances.
Copyright 2018 Raina Nightingale