|The Church in the
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness,
leaning upon her beloved? – Song of Solomon 8:5
19 of the Book of Revelation describes the future return of the Son of God
to the creation. He is
pictured riding a white horse, and there are armies following Him out of
Heaven to the earth.
Return, return, O Shulamite; return,
return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite?
As it were the company of two armies. – Song of Solomon
the Church is going to return with the Lord at His second coming, it
stands to reason that she somehow has to get to where He is prior to His
departure from Heaven. Again
in Revelation 19 the Bride is seen in Heaven getting prepared (clothed)
for the marriage supper.
is much talk today of the “perfection” of the Bride. The Lord cannot come until the
Church is without spot or wrinkle.
The timing of the Lord’s return is dependent on how long it takes
the Church to mature. Of
course, those who teach thusly would probably not be able to agree with
each other about what that kind of perfection or maturity would look like
in practical terms. In this
connection, there is popular teaching regarding the “man-child” of
Revelation 12. This
man-child, who will rule the nations with a rod of iron, is said to be the
church, or Bride, as she(?) comes into a place of authority in the
geo-political realm of the planet earth.
(This teaching, along with other components
of “Kingdom Now” and “Dominion” theology, results in a maddening
eschatological mish-mash that does not necessarily deny the literal,
physical return of the Lord Jesus to the planet, but certainly renders it
anti-climactic. In our
article on the Church of Laodicea in the Seven Letters to Seven Churches,
we have pointed out that the charismatic movement has generally been so
focused on signs and wonders and “greater works than these,” that it has
become lukewarm in its anticipation for the Second Coming.)
getting bogged down in the quagmire that is the Rapture issue (we will get
bogged down in that in another article), let us look at what we should
expect to see in the end-time church, not according to the popular
teaching of the day, but according to the Holy Scripture where it deals
with the subject.
Apostle Paul was very clear that there would be a great falling away prior
to the Day of the Lord. He
also talked of a great deception, one accompanied by signs, wonders, and
miracles, that would serve to draw off all those who were not firmly
grounded in a “love of the truth.”
Strangely enough, much of the professing Church of Jesus Christ
today is actually looking forward to this event, calling it “Joel’s Army,”
“revival,” and the “end-time harvest.” The set-up is pretty much
complete. All we need now is
for actual miracles to begin, and much of the church will be drawn away in
The current Christian “pop culture” is
basically divided into two camps—the Left Behind school and the Not Goin’
Anywhere culture. The first
group is waiting for the Rapture, and the second group is waiting for
signs, wonders, and miracles that will somehow result in a great harvest
of souls even as Christians undergo unprecedented persecution, even as
they take over the world (is that confusing to anyone else?).
The strangest thing about both of these
teachings is that for the most part, its proponents are totally oblivious
to the work that the Holy Spirit has been doing in the Church for the last
40 years. The true “movement
of God” in our day has been the recovery of a scriptural understanding of
the Church as the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ as the Bride, and
a recognition that no denomination can lay claim to this title. This movement has come about not
as a result of “greatly anointed” teachers and prophets delivering
messages from grandiose platforms.
It has not been fueled by the Christian publishing industry or
anything appearing on cable-channel Christian programming. It has taken place totally
independently of the great “men of God” in both camps of Christian
culture—be they of the Tim LeHaye/Hal Lindsay/Jack Van Impe ilk, or the
Stan Johnson/Rick Joyner/Kenneth Copeland variety.
What has happened in this move of God is that
born-again believers in the Lord have sensed a relentless stirring in
their spirits for a relationship with their Lord and fellowship with
others of their own kind.
Innately, without a theological discussion or instructions from the
great seminaries or Bible schools, these believers have come to realize
that a denomination is nothing, that theology is a vanity, and that there
is a wonderful, true, presence of the Lord being manifested among
believers who meet simply in His Name.
This has resulted in the “house church” or
“simple church” movement outside of the denominations, and the “home
group” or “cell group” movement within the denominations—an effort to keep
the people from leaving the denominations to find what the Lord has been
putting in the hearts and souls of His saints—the need for an intimate
relationship with the Lord and fellowship within the Body. There is barely a denomination or
fellowship or association that has not had to make some sort of change to
accommodate this relentless movement within the Body of believers. This in itself should be seen as
evidence that this movement is of God, and not of men.
Come Ye Out from Among
But what has been the experience of countless
thousands and tens of thousands of saints who have “gone without the camp”
in search of the “true Church” as it was in the beginning?
The answer would be different for different
people, depending on what they had expected to find “out there,” of
course, but there are some factors that are relatively
A dismal lack of trained nursery workers to watch
the little ones while the adults attend the performances in the main
A shortage of paved and lined parking spaces.
No access to highly specialized youth pastors,
marriage-counselors, and out-reach coordinators.
No tax exemption receipts for their tithes, gifts,
No printed church bulletins to doodle on during the
And what would many of those who have endured
the house church challenge for any length of time say they have gained in
A closer fellowship with other believers in the
Freedom to pursue one’s own giftings and calling
within the Body of Christ.
A better appreciation for what the term “church” as
used in the Book of Acts was referring to.
A heightened sense of the presence of the Lord among
“two or three” that are gathered in His Name.
The worship is unprofessional. The teaching lacks the
entertainment value that many “great preachers” are able provide in the
traditional church. There is
generally very little thought given to being entertaining. Most such
fellowships are rather small, numbering in the dozens at the most. And for many, there is the sense
that we are truly “in the wilderness,” waiting for the Lord to provide
further instructions. There
is a sense in which many of the small house churches that have
proliferated over the last several decades are aware to some degree of
being in a holding pattern.
The wilderness is the great staging ground
for the preparation of the Church to greet the soon returning
Bridegroom. Freed from the
distractions of building programs, deacons meetings, etc., the believers
are able to focus on the Lord as the object of their worship and the
source of their life and fellowship.
The rewards can be amazing.
One prerequisite for gaining any benefit from
the church in the wilderness is to finally and forever relinquish any
thoughts of maintaining a denominational identity or loyalty. For those to whom the Christian
faith is based on a set creed, a venerated, historical statement of faith,
a liturgy, rites or rituals, the church in the wilderness will prove a
barren experience indeed.
Theological squabbles and doctrinal debates generally do not go
very far among these believers.
After all, doctrine and theology are for the most part intellectual
and theoretical. They add
little to a true experience of the Lord’s presence. As long as the Lord continues to
bless these little gatherings with His presence, this will probably
continue to be the case.
There are a few house church movements that
stand in danger of being swept away by an overemphasis on such issues as
the role of elders, the “proper” way to experience the Lord’s Supper,
women in the ministry, huddling close together while singing songs about
Jesus, etc. As long as local
gatherings are left alone to deal with these and other issues between
themselves and the Lord, body life will continue. When local gatherings are formed
expressly for the purpose of seeing that these issues are handled
according to the teaching of a few prominent “house church” leaders, that
gathering is on its way to becoming just another denomination—albeit a
denomination without parking lots or building programs. Not at first, anyway.
The church in the wilderness is free. Wild and free. And while freedom
will always be challenged by those who seek to have the preeminence and
the final word on who is right and who is wrong, the Holy Spirit winds of
freedom continue to fill the sails of humble, unknown, nameless believers
in the Lord Jesus who are willing to seek the “simplicity that is in
If you have already found your way out of
Churchianity into Christ, congratulations. You may feel from time to time
that your little group is not accomplishing much. Relax. You are adorning the
wilderness. A flower does not
need to do much besides just be a flower. Your little fellowship, if it is
truly meeting in the name of, and under the authority of, and in the will
of Jesus Christ is a beautiful thing. Just take in the rain and blossom
where the Lord has planted you.
For those who feel the house church movement
is an unnecessary overreaction to overbearing ministers and legalism in
the denominations, know this:
The perfection of the Bride will be displayed NOT in signs and
wonders and raising the dead.
It will be manifest in the unity that these little groups exhibit,
even though many times they are totally unaware of each other’s
existence. The mature church
is a church that has “grown up together” in unity: …the
whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint
supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part,
making increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in
As long as you endeavor to promote unity
while preserving divisions, you will be irrelevant to the work of the Holy
Spirit in our day to “perfect” the Bride in love and in unity, in answer
to the Lord’s prayer for the church in John 17.
And as they departed, Jesus began to say
unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the
wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for
to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft
clothing are in kings' houses. Matthew
So the, there is a movement of the Holy
Spirit that has taken believers without the camp and into the
wilderness. What did you expect you would find there?
Nothing. Nothing but the Lord.
Nothing but the Lord. Nothing but the Body of Christ--nothing but the
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