It seems that it is in times of difficulty and of testing that God breaks into our consciousness with a new concept, or a new emphasis on an old familiar truth. The pressure of problems or of adverse circumstances cause us to lay bare our hearts before God , and in such times the Spirit of God has opportunity to impart to us a deeper understanding of the plan and purpose of God.
For many years I have held to the New Testament revelation of the church as a universal, living organism, organized into local churches, which are self-governing and self-propagating. However, it was not until a time of adversity in the work God has raised up in Adelaide, South Australia, that the Lord showed me the authority of Christ in the local church and how it may be used as a key to a real revival in our day.
My personal desire was to go out into evangelistic ministry in Australia and overseas, but the Lord compelled me to continue in this work and to establish this great principle of the New Testament church – every local church an autonomous center of full gospel revival, and yet not independent, but rather interdependent, using its freedom in a dedicated unity and coordination of activities.
It was at this time that there were impressed upon me the five rules for revival in the local church, and this five-point program has since become an inspiration to many other local churches, both in the Christian Revival Crusade and elsewhere.
Seven Golden Lampstands
In Revelation chapter one, the apostle John records his vision of seven golden lampstands, with the risen Christ standing in the midst. These seven lampstands, we are told, symbolized the seven local churches of Asia Minor. However, students of prophecy agree that they also symbolized seven successive stages of the history of the Christian church throughout this age. Moreover, seven being a perfect number, they also represent the entire church on earth.
Now back in Exodus 25 we read that Moses was told to make a seven branched lampstand, beaten out of one piece of gold. This symbolized the witness of Israel in the Old Testament, and Israel being a united, centrally-governed nation, a seven branched lampstand of one piece of metal was chosen.
In the New Testament however, the Christian church is symbolized by seven individual lampstands, for God never intended the church should be a universally organized and centrally governed institution, but an association of locally-governed congregations.
Christ Deals Directly With Local Churches
In chapters two and three of Revelation we read the messages of the Lord to the seven churches, and we discover that he deals directly with each church, commanding, exhorting, rebuking, warning and rewarding.
So it is today. The Lord does not deal with the church as organized denominations, nor as a universally-organized body, but sees his mystical body comprising all Spirit-born believers expressing itself in the form of local churches.
It is in the local church that he has established government, ministry, fellowship and discipline.
The church universal is likened in the New Testament to a building into which we, as “lively stones,” are built. It is described as a household in which we have the rightful privilege of sons. It is called the bod y of Christ of which we are members in particular.
But how can one enjoy his privileges and bear his responsibilities as a member of this universal church except as he takes his place in the local church?
The Church Universal and Local Churches
In Matthew 16: 18 Jesus said, “will build my church,” – referring obviously to the church universal, comprising all who , like Peter, receive and confess the revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
However, in chapter 18 verse 17 of Matthew, the person who has been offended by another, after seeking reconciliation, alone and then with witnesses, is invited to tell the matter to “the church.” But which church is this? Surely not the church universal , and certainly not any particular denomination, but obviously the local church, for it is there that we find fellowship and the disciplinary measures necessary to maintaining that fellowship.
Thus we see that in the first mention of the church in the New Testament it is a reference to the church universal which Christ is building. But in the second reference to the church it is the local assembly. And these are the only two ways in which the word “church” is used in the Bible: either the church universal of all born again believers, or the local church into which such believers are organized.
Turning back to Revelation chapter one, let us observe that John makes only a passing reference to the seven golden lampstands, and then takes four verses to eloquently describe the glories of “one like unto the Son of man” standing in the midst of the lampstands.
It was not the glittering gold of the lampstands that impressed John, but the indescribable glory of Christ, the risen High Priest, walking amongst them.
The Victorious Christ Amongst the Local Churches
And so it is today. Jesus, the glorified head of the church universal, walks amongst the local churches, ministering to them, commanding, rebuking, correcting and blessing.
And the Christ who moves amongst the local churches is the same one who said to John that day on the isle of Patmos, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen: and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:17-18).
Every local church stands as a witness to the risen, triumphant and glorified Christ. He has died and been raised and ascended and all authority is given unto him in heaven and in earth. He has defeated the devil on what was his own territory. Christ snatched from his hands the keys of hell and death and is now enthroned in victory. His authority is supreme.
He it is who turns to each lampstand, that is, to each local church, ready to pour in new supplies of oil, to clean and trim the wick that a bright and constant witness may be given to the glorious victory and supreme authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Every local church can have victory. Every local church can have revival. Christ knows each local church and speaks to each one and ministers to each one.
Let us visualize this world dotted with golden lampstands, with the risen High Priest, Jesus Christ, walking amongst them. That is heaven’s view of the church on earth.
There are four ways in which the local church can give faithful witness to the victory of Christ.
Firstly, the Victory of Christ Is Seen in the Unity of the Local Church
Great emphasis is laid upon unity in the New Testament. Even before he ever mentioned the church , Jesus said , “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5 :23-24).
Then in his first reference to the local church in Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus speaks of the need for reconciliation amongst brethren and of discipline for those who refuse to be reconciled.
The apostle Paul exhorts the local church at Rome “to be like-minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: that ye may with one mind, and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
To the Philippians he wrote, “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil.1:27).
And so, throughout the New Testament, we find repeated exhortations to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the local church. Without it the Holy Spirit is grieved and the glorious victory of Christ cannot be experienced or demonstrated.
Secondly, the Victory of Christ Is Seen in the Charity of the Local Church
While the King James Version uses the word “charity,” the word is in the Greek one that expresses a divine love, a supernaturally imparted love.
And so we find the apostle Peter writing: “Finally, be ye all of one mind , having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing; but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.”
It is in the local church that we find abundant opportunity to give expression to the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. We do not find the same challenge and incentive to demonstrate this divine love as members of the church universal for we are far removed from the vast majority of fellow members; but it is a different situation in the community of a local church.
Furthermore, the test of our love for the brethren is the demand that we should love our brother. In I John 3:14 we read, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Many of us can read those words and say “amen.” We love the brethren. The bigger the crowd the happier we are! We enjoy the fellowship! But then we complete that verse and read these words, “He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” You see, it is impossible to love the brethren if we fail to love that particular brother. And we shall most likely meet that particular brother in the local church! We may be able to forget about him if he is on the other side of the earth, or even on the other side of town, but we shall have to learn to love him with the divine love of God in our hearts if we meet with him every week in the local church!
It is as the love of God is shed abroad in the hearts of believers, and as it permeates the atmosphere of the local church, that the power of Christ is revealed, and the glorious victory of Christ is demonstrated in the midst.
Thirdly, the Victory of Christ Is Seen in the Authority of the Local Church
I shall never forget the time when the profound truth of Matthew 18: 19-20 was strongly impressed upon me by the Lord. There Jesus said, “Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. ”
Christ was not referring to a casual, superficial agreement between brethren that a certain thing should be done or a particular need should be met. People have come to me at times and said, “Would you agree with me that this or that should be done.” I have usually replied that I cannot agree with them unless I share their deep conviction and am uniting with them in faith.
The word “agree” is from the Greek “sumphoneo” which means symphony, or a perfect blending of thoughts and hearts and purposes. A friend of mine recently told me that he once played in the symphony orchestra of a certain city in New Zealand, and that the conductor was known to have stopped the music and mention that a certain violin was out on a particular note. The violinist protested that he was playing according to the music. Again the conductor stopped the orchestra and told the same violinist that he was out of tune on a certain note. Finally the conductor checked the music and found that the copy this violinist used had a misprint, and although the right note was being played according to the music, it was out of harmony with the rest of the orchestra! Such was the sensitive ear of this brilliant conductor.
How much more sensitive is the ear of our Father in heaven, who not only hears our words, but knows the motives of our hearts.
Jesus said that if two or more can find a perfect harmony of spirit and mind and desire and motive and purpose, the Father will spontaneously respond.
But how can this be done? Verse 20 tells us. There we read, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
This is what someone has called the master-mind of Christ. When the minds of two or three or more believers are in a perfect blending with each other and in accord with the mind of Christ in the midst, the answer to their request is inevitable.
Here is the secret of authority and of successful prayer and of spiritual achievement, which should be discovered and exercised in every local church. Here is a key that is placed in the hands of officers and members of every local assembly.