Now Is The Time
Judgment of the Church
Any discussion of such a matter must first be hinged upon a clear and unmistakable understanding of just what is meant by "The Church". As previously explained, we must consider and define two distinct apprehensions of the church, and they are as follows.
First, "The Church" as shown in scripture, is the Body of Christ, comprised of all true believers since its inception. It is this church that Christ referred to when He said "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it". Membership in this church is comprised only of those who, in their hearts believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and his atonement, and by their subsequent actions throughout life show this belief. Membership cannot be gained simply by saying "Lord, Lord", or just by being baptized or becoming a church "member", as sufficient scripture indicates.
Secondly, there is "the church", which can simply mean a number of people professing Christ, a group gathered together for any reason relating to worship, a denomination, or a building where some gather for purposes of fellowship. Membership in this "church" requires little or nothing in the way of scriptural adherency, but is usually obtained by rehearsal of whatever dogma, tradition, or rudiments are established by the hierarchy or membership of that church.
As indicated in numerous scriptures, many of which have already been quoted, these two churches coexist in both time and place. In other words, a local assembly which is a church, may contain within it both "possessors" (the True Church) and "professors" (the church), both of them constituting a "church" such as the "First Local Assembly of Saints under the Protection and Guidance of God by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit". We must also make perfectly clear here that no where in scripture is there any indication that a building, or a group of people, having claimed the name of Christ is automatically extended the eternal right to be called a church. The life that is in Jesus is not adopted by a building, a charter, a business meeting, or any other such thing. Just the same thing may be said of a preacher who is dead in sin. He preaches, but he does not preach the Word of God. He is a reverend, but he is not revered in Heaven. He is a minister, but he does not minister for God. He is a "man of God", but he is not a man FROM God.
Of common belief among members of the church is the understanding, fostered through the ages, that there is but one general judgment, and this judgment has already occurred for them, this judgment being the one that was exercised upon Jesus at His crucifixion. While scripture makes it clear that there are eight distinct judgments, we will concern ourselves here with only the ones that refer to The Church, considering that all others (the church) are already under judgment, and in danger of hellfire. We must also keep in mind that "all scripture is profitable...", which of necessity includes the Old Testament, and that the nation Israel is generally regarded by all responsible theologians to be a "type" or "shadow" of The Church which was to come into being after the death and resurrection of Jesus. As such, the dealings of God with that nation are to be considered also as a type or shadow of His dealings with His Church at a later time. To completely divorce ourselves from this consideration by saying "wešre a new covenant people" is to be very simplistic in our attitude, and is highly offensive to the moral, Holy, and unchanging character and nature of God.
For those of you who insist on ignoring the Old Testament, let us just examine the New Testament scriptures to see about judgment. First, Peter at the direction of the Holy Spirit, wrote "For the time is come, that JUDGMENT MUST BEGIN AT THE HOUSE OF GOD...". Peter was not referring to Israel, for The Church had by now been established, the mantle of the Holy Spirit had been moved to this Church from the nation Israel, and the veil of the Temple had been rent, signifying Ichabod to Israel itself. Further, the judgment that Peter was referring to was not some kind of external judgment, but that which must be effected by the Church itself upon itself in the light of Jesus, His life and action, and the written Word (1Pet.4:17). Secondly, Paul says: "if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged, but when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord that we might not be condemned with this world" (1Cor.11:31-32).
If this is not clear enough yet, consider the "sin unto death" that may befall a believer. This occurs when a believer, through deliberate and repeated sin, brings by his actions reproach upon the name of Jesus and His Church, diminishing the capability of The Church to be an effective witness to the world. This person stands to forfeit his life upon this earth, so "that his spirit might be saved in the Day of the Lord Jesus" (1Cor.5:5). It is necessary here to point out that the sin unto death and the unpardonable sin referred to by Jesus are NOT one and the same. While we may prefer to use the words chastisement, trial, or correction, scripture abundantly demonstrates that we are in the process of being judged for our actions.
OK, you might say, but that refers to individuals. How about the letters to the Churches as seen in Revelation? Jesus directed John to write seven letters to seven churches, all of who existed at the time of the writing. Jesus refers to the seven candlesticks which He holds in His right hand as being the seven churches, and the seven stars as being the "angels" of the churches. In Rev.2:45, Jesus emphatically states "remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come quickly, and will remove your candlestick unless you repent". How much plainer could this be? Jesus is telling the individuals within the church to repent, go back to the first works, or else He will remove the church! A little later on, just to make sure that everyone understands that He and He alone is in charge, and can and will judge both church and individual, He tells what He is going to do to "that prophetess Jezebel", and ALL WHO ARE INVOLVED WITH HER (Rev.2:20-23). In each of the letters with the exception of the letters to Philadelphia and Smyrna, Jesus states that He has something against that church because they are not right, or because they tolerate heresy in their midst. In the letter to Thyatira He also makes clear that He will give warning, and time to repent and change things before acting. Take heed, Christian. Repent, make things right in the sight of God, get back to your first love (Jesus), and do the first works, OR ELSE. Above all, do not any longer tolerate false teachers, false prophets or prophetesses, hireling preachers, or leadership that laughs in the face of God by their words and actions.
The general tenor of these letters says, not only to the individual, but to all who are within, that if things are not right in the local assembly, God will remove His spirit from that assembly. While there may be some in the assembly who are right with God, He will not tolerate a continuing blasphemy of Him, His Holy Name, or Jesus and His redemptive work without reprisal of some sort.
Now, if we go ahead and include the Old Testament, we can see what His intentions and will are concerning such things. Did not God stand in the way to kill Moses for his disobedience? Did not God judge the sons of Eli for their sin? Has not God judged Israel for its continual distortion and misapplication of His Word? If these examples are not sufficient, look at what Paul did concerning Alexander and Hymenaeus (1Tim.1:20), two men who were most certainly apostate and heretical judging by the preceding verses. Paul delivered them into the control of satan for chastisement, that they might learn not to be blasphemous. This particular verse also corresponds to 1Cor.5:5, the delivery of one (sinning believer) to satan for the destruction of the flesh.
How many examples do we need to look at to see that God HAS, CAN, DOES, AND WILL judge the people who are called by His name?
What will God judge His church for? Again, the letters to the churches speak well of the things that we, as local assemblies, are not to tolerate lest judgment come upon us also. Leaving our first love, which is Jesus Christ, or growing cold in our devotion and dedication to Him and His will (Ephesus). Toleration and acceptance of false doctrine and false teaching which is not in absolute accord with the Word of God (Pergamos and Thyatira). Being "alive in the Spirit" but dead in proper works, which is to say not properly living the life of Christ and being a witness to the world (Sardis). Being self sufficient, believing that we have all things necessary (good building, lots of members, and a healthy bank account) so that we really don't have to do anything (Laodicea).
These things, and many others that fall into the general classifications given above all constitute behavior that God will not tolerate among his people without sure and swift judgment. Our admonishment throughout the New Testament is to "beware of the leaven...", and that "a LITTLE leaven flattens the whole lump". It is far beyond time for The Church to look to its affairs, keeping in mind first and foremost the Word of God, and to judge not only our individual selves, but also that which is happening in the church, for what happens in the church has a direct bearing and influence upon the world outside. This judgment is not to take place resulting in further division over minor things like how to baptize, or whether or not to speak in tongues, or raising hands during worship, but instead to apply to the types of behavior repeatedly enumerated by Paul and the other Apostles. "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the Kingdom of God" (1Cor.6:9-10). "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like:...they which do such things shall NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD" (Gal.5:19--21).
Friends, today we have ministries and pulpits full of adulterers, fornicators, thieves, revilers, witchcraft, heresies, and the like. Is it little wonder that the pews are also full of such? Is it any wonder that The Church is the church, and the world laughs at it? What kind of example are we to the world? Is it any wonder that the world lies in darkness when the people of God lie in GROSS darkness? Many will here contend that with such goings on being common in the local assemblies, that is sufficient evidence for the "Spirit having departed", and they believe that since the church won't change, let's go out and start another one, or even leave the denomination. Remember, "come ye out from among them, touch not the unclean thing". That, my friends, is a cop out. Who owns the church, anyway? Jesus Christ does, not the devil. Who are you to allow satan to work unhindered? Who gave you the right to run away from the fight? Is it not your responsibility to earnestly contend for the faith? Where sin is, grace does much more abound. Where is your grace? Leonard Ravenhill, in several of his books, cries out "Oh Lord, where are the prophets so desperately needed in this hour to POINT OUT OUR WRONGS, where are the believers that hunger for you so much that they will fall to their knees with anguish, and repent, and pray so that Heaven and hell are moved and shaken to their foundations? "
Indeed, where are they, Christian? WHERE ARE YOU?
Addendum, August, 2000:
Many people have left their local assemblies and flocked to the ministries currently being presented under the various names of the Toronto Blessing, the Brownsville Revival, and various televangelists that are closely aligned with them, citing the many "moves of God" and the undeniable "manifestations" that accompany as being "evidence" that this is a move of God, and not a "dead church". The preachers, teachers, and leaders of most of these ministries are just what the verses from Galatians are referring to. Their doctrines and teachings will not stand up under the light of The Word. What about the manifestations? The manifestations that I have seen look more like the biblical description of a demon tearing at a person (Gaddarene demoniac). Aside from that, scripture points out that in the end times, He will send a strong delusion so that even the very elect may be deceived. He also says in His Word that in the end times, there will come a great falling away (not a great revival). Judge for yourself. Judge against the Word of God.
"Now is the time for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us, what shall the end be like for those that do not obey the gospel of God? If the righteous are barely saved, WHERE SHALL THE UNGODLY AND THE SINNER APPEAR? They...shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone; This is the second death." 1 Pet.4:17-18 & Rev. 21:8