Thus, everything in the inward life of Christ, when it begins to live, dwell, and work in our inward man, is the inward church, or the kingdom of God set up within us. And everything we say and do among men in a Christlike manner makes us the members of the outward church that Christ set up in this world.
Inwardly, the only things that lived in Christ were the sole will of God, a perpetual regard for God's glory, and one continuous desire for the salvation of all mankind. When this same spirit is in us, then we are inwardly one with Christ and united to God through Him. Outwardly, Christ exercised every kind of love, kindness, and compassion toward the souls and bodies of men. In the outward aspect of His life, every form of humility and lowliness of state was visible. He had a total disregard for all worldly riches, power, ease, or pleasure. He had a continuous meekness, gentleness, patience, and submission not only to the will of God, but also to the haughty powers of the world, to the perverseness and contradiction of all the evil and malice of men, and to all the hardships and troubles of human life.
This outward behavior of Christ is separate from and contrary to the spirit, wisdom, and way of this world. It is the outward church, of which He willed all mankind to become visible and living members. Whoever by the Spirit of Christ lives in the outward exercise of these virtues, also lives in the highest perfection of church unity and is the true inward and outward Christian. He is all that he can be, he has all that he can have, he does all that he can do, and he enjoys all that he can enjoy, as a member of Christ's body, the church, in this world.
Christ was God and man, come down from heaven for the sole purpose of fully restoring the union that had been lost between God and man. The unity of the church is simply the unity of men with God through the power and nature of Christ. Therefore, it must be the truth, and the whole truth, that a man has only to conform to the inward nature and the outward form of Christ's life in order to become a true member of the one church of Christ, outside of which there is no salvation and in which there is no condemnation. This church is the one fold under one Shepherd, though the sheep are scattered or feeding in valleys or on mountains ever so distant and separate from one another.
Let me put the matter this way: true church unity comes when we walk as Christ walked. Our Lord Himself said, "I am not of this world" (John 8:23), and, "You are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world" (John 15:19). Therefore, when we are contrary to the world, as Christ was, we fully prove that we are His, that we belong to Him, and that we are one with Him. The following verses from John 15 clarify my point: "Abide in me, and I in you" (v. 4). 'If you abide in me.. .you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you" (v. 7). "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered" (v. 6). "For without me you can do nothing" (v. 5).
Therefore, the one true proof that we are living members of Christ's church on earth, is nothing else but our having the inward nature and the outward behavior that Christ manifested to the world. Conversely, if we are only dead branches fit for the fire, the proof will be that we do not have the Spirit and behavior of Christ. "This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples" (John 13:35). The true and sufficient mark of our outward church membership is found only where the outward form of Christ's loving behavior toward all men is seen.
Not only must our outward behavior be governed by the Holy Spirit, but our worship of God in His church must also be initiated, carried out, and finished by the Holy Spirit. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 12:3). If it is certain that no one can acknowledge Christ as his Lord except by the Holy Spirit, then it must be equally certain that no one can serve or worship God through Christ unless he serves and worships by the power of that same Holy Spirit.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh" (John 3:6). That is, whatever proceeds from or is done by the natural powers of man, from his nature of flesh and blood, is merely human, earthly, and corrupt. Man's natural powers cannot do anything that is heavenly, or perform a service or worship that is divine, any more than our present flesh and blood can enter into the kingdom of heaven. The apostle said, "You are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Rom. 8:9). If we are not His, we can perform no divine service to Him.
Worship cannot cease to be carnal, nor can it become divine, unless it is offered by the power and presence of Christ dwelling in our souls and helping us by His Holy Spirit to cry in truth and reality, "Abba, Father" (Gal. 4:6).
The New Testament never calls us to offer any thing to God as a divine service or worship except what is done in the truth and reality of faith, hope, love, and obedience to God. Throughout the New Testament, the only faith, hope, or love that are allowed to be true and godly are the faith, hope, and love that proceed from us solely as a result of the Holy Spirit living, dwelling, and working in us.
This spirituality of the Christian religion is the reason why it was first preached to the world under the name of "the Kingdom of God." Under this new dispensation, we are freed from veils, shadows, and images of good things absent or to come. God Himself is manifested, ruling in us and over us as the essential Light of our lives, as the indwelling Word of power, and as the life-giving Spirit within us. He forms us by a new birth, so that we may know that we are a chosen generation and a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9), and so that we may offer spiritual sacrifices to God (v. 5) through the new and living way that Christ has consecrated for us (Heb. 10:1920).
Therefore, if Christ had not set up this truth of spiritual worship, He would have been just another Moses. And though He was a better teacher, He would have been only a schoolmaster to some higher state of religion that was still to be revealed, if indeed man was to be restored to his true state of life, union, and happiness in and with the divine nature. God is a spirit, and our lives are spiritual. Therefore, no religious worship can be in its true perfection, or can bring us into the possession of our highest good, until it raises all that is spirit and life in us into union and communion with the Spirit and life in God.
Becoming a Spiritual Worshipper
So, how we are to become worshippers of the Father in spirit and truth? We may do so by turning inward and focusing on what is daily and hourly stirring, living, and working in our hearts.
There is no passage of Scripture that gives us this direction in exactly these words. However, the Scriptures do say that God "dwells not in temples made with hands" (Acts 7:48), but in the temple of our hearts. The kingdom of God is also said to be within us, and not to come with outward signs. It is to be like a secret, living seed of the incorruptible Word in us. The Scriptures also tell us that our hearts are the whole of our lives, and that we live, move, and have our being in God (Acts 17:28). So, they directly tell us that we are to turn inward if we desire to turn to and find God.
God's Word also directly tells us that God abides within us in whatever manner we worship Him. He is our God, our life, our rest and happiness, to the degree that our hearts are willing and choosing, hungering and thirsting, to find, feel, and enjoy the life-giving power of His holy presence in our souls.
Worshipping God with the whole heart and soul, in spirit and in truth, consists of many things. We must be inwardly attentive to God, showing the good and the evil, distinguishing the light from the darkness in our own souls. We must listen to the voice of His ever speaking Word, and watch the movement of His ever sanctifying Spirit within us. We must wait in the spirit of prayer, of faith and hope, of love and yieldedness --- Wait to be inwardly awakened and revived in the image and likeness of the Son.
Real worship is living to God, in and through the power of Christ, as He lived. It is praying with Him, and by His Spirit, the continual prayer that He always had, whether He was speaking to the multitudes, healing their diseases, or was alone in the still of the night. This inward prayer, in which the whole heart loves, worships, and petitions God not an absent or distant God, but a Trinity of goodness and mercy, of light and love, of glory and majesty, dwelling and working within us, willing and desiring to do everything in the temple of our hearts that is done in God's own temple in heaven is a prayer that needs outward words only for the sake of others. Of this prayer we may say to God, as Christ said, "I knew that You hear me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it" (John 11:42).
Perhaps you will think I have gone too far with this and yet have not come close enough to the matter at hand --- I hope that is not the case. I have tried to show that church unity or communion is not a matter that depends on any particular outward thing, but is complete or defective to the extent that we live in unity with or contrariety to the inward nature and outward example of Christ. For the only union that signifies anything to us or to our salvation, is our union with God through Christ. The only thing that unites us to Christ or makes us His, is His Holy Spirit dwelling and working in us and through us, as He did in Christ.
This is the only church unity that concerns the conscience, and when we are in this unity, we are in union with Christ and with everyone who is united to Him. This is true no matter how separated we may be from each other by human barriers.
The Purpose of Church Services
I myself participate in church services, not because of the purity or perfection of what is done or what is to be found there, but because of what is meant and intended by them. They promote the holy, public worship of God; they are designed to edify Christians; they are of great use to many people; they keep the world from a total forgetfulness of God; they help uneducated people to find a knowledge of God and the Scriptures that they would not find without such services.
Therefore, although these church assemblies have fallen far from their first spiritual state, I still see them as the venerable remains of all that once was, and hopefully will be again, the glory of the church. This is because the church is still the place for the ministration of the Spirit, and not of the dead letter.
I have witnessed two signs that the day is very near when the church will once again worship in the truth of gospel Christianity. These two signs are found in two very different kinds of people. In the one group of people, there has been an extraordinary increase of new opinions, methods, and religious distinctions. Almost every day, we see them running with eagerness from one method to another; they are searching for something, through the help of a new form, that they were not able to find in an old one.
The vanity and emptiness of a thing is only fully discovered and felt when it has run its entire course and has worked itself up to its highest pitch, so that nothing remains untried even though the deceit remains. Likewise, when religious division, strife over opinions, invented forms, and all outward distinctions have gone as far as they can go and have nothing left to try, then their inevitable fall is at hand.
Even if our zeal were simple and upright, still everything must end in the full conviction that vanity and emptiness, heaviness and deceit, will follow us in every course we take until we no longer try to run our own course. We can only find fulfillment in expecting all and receiving all from the invisible God who dwells in our hearts and blesses us with all heavenly gifts (Eph. 1:3). And we can only expect all and receive all from God when His eternal, all-creating Word and life-giving Spirit are brought forth in our souls.
The other sign I mentioned is to be found in a second group of people. These people are very much awakened, and in the midst of the noise and multiplicity of all church strife, they have heard the still and secret voice of the True Shepherd. They are turned inward, wholly attentive to the inward truth, spirit, and life of genuine religion. They seek the spiritual instruction that leads them to Christ; they are no longer looking here and there for Him, but His redeeming Spirit is within them as the only safe guide from inward darkness to inward light. Having turned from outward shadows to the substantial, ever enduring truth, they have found that the ever-lasting union of their spirits with God is their only good. Indeed, the life and nature of Christ are truly formed and fully revealed in their souls.
As of now, I find that this is the best way to think about the fallen state of the church. For it is fallen as certainly as it is divided.
In order to secure its place in the heavenly Jerusalem, all that needs to be removed from every church is what may be called its own human will, carnal wisdom, and self-seeking spirit. All of this may be given up as each church turns the eyes and hearts of all its members to an inward adoration of and total dependence upon the supernatural, invisible, omnipresent God of all spirits. Christians everywhere need to turn to the inward teachings of Christ as the power, the wisdom, and the light of God, working within them every blessing and purity that they can ever receive either on earth or in heaven.
Under this light, I am neither Protestant nor Catholic. I cannot say that I belong only to one society of Christians, separate and distinct from all others; to do so would be hurtful to me. The defects, corruptions, and imperfections in all churches do not hinder my communion with the church in which I am now a member, nor do they hinder my being in full union and hearty fellowship with everything that is Christian, holy, and good in every other church. I am part of both the inward church and the outward church.
I know that God and Christ and the angels take this position in regard to all that is good in men and in churches. The variety among men and their churches reminds me of tares growing with the wheat (Matt. 13:2430), so I am not afraid to have this attitude toward them. Indeed, I am happy to live and die knowing that God's separate people will one day be united.