The Church is “A Clean Place”
Section #1: Introducing The Church as “A Clean Place”
Section #2: The Assembly
Section #3: The Congregation
What is a Church & Who are its Attendees?
Does God command the holiness of Church ministries only, or does He command the holiness of the Church in its entirety: its ministries, congregations, and assemblies? Are the persons of those ministerial branches required to remain clean, or are all the persons of the Church (the ministerial branches, congregation, and assembly) required to remain clean? The answers to these questions are guided by a more specific ideology which can be introduced by these questions: Are the ministerial branches of a Church a God-gifted and God-empowered service to sinners or saints? In other words, are the local Church congregations and assemblies for saints or sinners? What is the goal and overarching purpose for which a Church exists? To what end do we come together for a local gathering? Is the Church’s existence significant in that it is inviting to the presence of once-born men, or does it exist to be inviting to the Presence of God? Is there a certain criteria, code, or Law whereby New Testament assemblies become inviting or repelling to the presence of God? If so, what are the consequences if we are ignorant of this criteria, code, or Law, and so, unknowingly, repel the presence of God from the midst of the people who are gathered together in the Church?
Introducing The Church as “A Clean Place”
Biblical cleanness-- is it a doctrine worthy of our study? My reader, consider the commanding phrase: “touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17). What does it mean to “touch”? What are those “things” which are “unclean”? If there is an entire people, “God’s people”, who are commanded to “touch not the unclean thing” (2 Cor. 6:17), then the gathering in which they come together into must be a clean place. My reader…what is a clean place?
A clean place, biblically speaking, has and always will be: The Temple, Tabernacle, House, or Sanctuary of God, The Kingdom of God, Mount Zion, The City of God (Jerusalem), and those persons gathered therein, the assembly or congregation of God. These places and persons, biblical speaking, have always been under the holy obligation to remain clean according to the specifications of their Covenant agreement, whether the Old or New Covenant. To be unclean in one of these places - in a touch-able radius to others – was an urgent situation of grave potential. My reader, it was a frightening emergency which could turn deadly! Uncleanness threatened the very existence of these nine places and persons! Uncleanness unlawfully permitted to abide among them was a flirtation with the fires of annihilation!
Thus, the Israelites became a community of people with one all-pervasive conviction. God taught the Israelites a way of living and thinking by code of law, and this, giving them a continual awareness of all things clean and unclean, made them be constant to put a difference between the two. They were taught great and terrible things in proportion to how well they were conscious to this rule, and as a consequence, the love or hatred of God would be poured out upon them. The Lord of Heaven, Israel’s true KING, dwelt among these nine places under strict rules. These rules, given with exhaustive instruction (Lev. 10:10), were enforced with warnings of the utmost magnitude. By forewarning punishments reaching capital severity, it is revealed that cleanness, purity, and holiness are of capital concern to God. God was emotionally affectionate to holiness, purity, and cleanness, and emotionally repulsed by anything besides. Defilement of a Person’s most valuable and precious object betrays and insults His most devoted affections, and this, in turn, results in infuriated consequences which are second to none. At any negligence or disobedience of the body of commandments which pertain to cleanness (Lev. 20:25), God’s potential responses included: priestly disqualification (Ezek. 22:26), physical death (Lev. 7:21, Num. 19:20), and spiritual damnation (Ps. 51:10, 119:1, Matt. 15:18-20)!
“And that ye may put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean” – Lev. 10:10
“Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean.” – Lev. 20:25
“Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.” – Ezek. 22:26
“Moreover the soul that shall touch any unclean thing, as the uncleanness of man, or any unclean beast, or any abominable unclean thing, and eat of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace offerings, which pertain unto the LORD, even that soul shall be cut off from his people.” – Lev. 7:21
“But the man that shall be unclean, and shall not purify himself, that soul shall be cut off from among the congregation, because he hath defiled the Sanctuary of the LORD: the water of separation hath not been sprinkled upon him; he is unclean.” – Num. 19:20
Israel learned to heed God’s commands which were bound with the threat, “that soul shall be cut off”. They learned that unclean things were AMBOMINABLE to God, which means: hateful, unbearable, disgusting, and infuriating! They learned that when they “TOUCH” these things, alas! Their very own “souls” can become “abominable” to God! You see, God abhors that which is unclean about a “thing”, but if the “thing” is touched, the God-forsaken qualities of the “thing” can become our identity before God! – Thus we become “unclean” like the “unclean thing”! Unforgettable experiences and sudden calamities would fall upon Israel when, God said, “I am profaned”. This is as if God is saying, “I am personally offended”… and sometimes the offence was of deadly-infuriation.
My reader, do you know the difference between that which is clean and unclean? Before reading this book you may have excused yourself, thinking, “This Old Testament dilemma is passed away.” You may admit that it was relevant for the inhabitants and persons of those nine places as they existed in the Old Testament, but will you be brought to the sober acknowledgment that, furthermore, “touch not the unclean thing” is a New Testament command! This commandment is delivered to us as a citation and reference to God’s relationship which He had in the nine places and persons of the Old Testament, formerly listed, that they were shadowing relationships which are identifiable in NT realities, and, thus, they are our EXAMPLES. All of them are directly identified by the inspired writers as a defining lens, without which we cannot understand what a New Testament Church is - namely, that it is “a clean place”. This means that, by Divine interpretation, they understood “the New Testament Church” to be like these Old Testament shadows, specifically speaking, in how they were CLEAN. Through understanding these biblical and historical arenas, The Land of Israel & Judah, The Kingdom of God, Mount Zion, The City of Jerusalem, The Temple, Tabernacle, House, or Sanctuary of God, and those persons gathered therein, the assembly or congregation of God, they understood what a New Testament Church is. In other words, they understand the New Testament Church through understanding the Old Testament Church. My reader, necessity is laid upon us! In these terms WE must understand what a Church is! Finally, we must understand the terms by which the inspired writers identified New Testament uncleanness in all its forms: namely, the “filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1). Afterwards, God willing, we will understand how we MUST respond to the holy calling of God whereby we might, in a New Testament sense, be savingly separated!
In an effort to understand the holiness and separateness into which saints are called, one must understand the grounds by which a man can become UNCLEAN. When we have a biblical understanding of those actual places which were commanded to be kept clean in the Old Testament – the places where God’s immediate presence walked – then we can understand the significance of this biblical phraseology and terminology, how it is quoted and applied in the New Testament. My reader, this rich heritage is a guide to understand the Church right now, but not in this age only. Through these same terms we will be enabled to appreciate the Church on her final boulevard: “The Consummation of All Things”. The following is an effort to understand what a Church is in three stages: we must look at her how she was, how she is, and how she will be. Since the word “Church” is first used in reference to the Exodus Generation (Acts 7:38), and because the Mosaic Law was the foundational grounds from which all nine places or persons were formed, and seeing that these nine places and persons are interpreted to be biblical parallels of what a New Testament Church is, let us discover the essence of “the Church” in these nine categories as seen in three different ages of Covenant agreement: (1) The Old Testament, how “the Church” was, (2) the New Testament, how “the Church” is, (3) and The Resurrection, how “the Church” will be. How the Church was, in gospel shadow, is the phraseology and terminology by which the inspired writers understood what a New Testament Church is, in gospel reality, and by the same phraseology and terminology, furthermore, the inspired writers prophesied how the Church will be, in gospel consummation. Through these three categories we will see, not just forms of cleanness and uncleanness in relationship to these specific places or gatherings, but the scriptures reference – exact persons – themselves: named and titled that they might be expelled and excluded from the immediate presence of God. God be praised for His holiness!
1) The Clean Places and Persons in Three Stages
2) The Exact Persons Named & Expelled
Even though the New Testament is a “Better Covenant” with “Better Promises”, and even though the NT is inexplicably, the long awaited dawn of “reformation” (Heb. 8:6), the dawn of salvation is still described in the ceremonial term - “cleansing” (Acts 10:15, Titus 2:5-7, 1 Pet. 1:18-19, Heb. 7:26-27)! Yes, because the Old Testament existed so that we might understand the New Testament. God invested in centuries of work to explain and exemplify what He thinks, feels, and does in relationship to unclean things, especially in one of these nine places or persons. These relationships, being long established, explain and exemplify how we are to understand their New Testament parallel – how God, likewise, as the OT example, thinks, feels, and acts in the New Testament situations! The Old Testament passed away because it lacked eternality and sufficiency, specifically because its ceremonies were earthly instead of heavenly (for the earthliness and carnality of the OT see Heb. 9:9, 10:1-4, 22, Gal. 4:3, 9, Col. 2:20), but these shadows do declare and explain the attributes of NT realities (which are heavenly and eternal), realities which are unfathomable without their shadows (see Col. 2:9-17, Heb. 8:1-6, 9:23-24). Firstly, beginning with the assembly and the congregation of God, let us look at the persons of these places in their three stages.
By way of introduction it must be noted: even though the scriptures use “the assembly” and “the congregation” as interchangeable synonyms (Ps. 111:1), a separate study of each of their uses will reveal a meaningful consistency in the light of our subject of study. Before this categorical address, please remember: the assembly and congregation of God were ideally, according to God’s command in the Mosaic Law, made up of twice-born, regenerated individuals who were, because of their true conversion, empowered to meet the criteria of their holy calling so as to escape the shame of public execution (addressed at length in former chapters). This empowerment of grace enabled them to fulfill “the righteousness of the law” (Rom. 2:26-27) by nature and deed, and because of this… they remained alive. Those who were guiltless from the great transgression – presumptuous and wilful sin (Numbers 15:22-31, Heb. 10:26-29) – escaped the threats of public execution. All others found blamable, as we have studied, were “cut off” from among God’s people (Num. 15:31). GOD, among whom they dwelt, disdained that such a man would live! This was the Law. Nevertheless, my reader, during times of apostasy this biblical ideal was left unfulfilled. In contradiction to it, the wicked prospered, the righteous were oppressed, and the prophets lifted up a lamenting cry, “the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth” (Hab. 1:4)! As a consequence the ever-increasing mixture between sinners and saints incapacitated the very ability to discern salvific knowledge! God, the Father of mercies, consistently rose up prophets throughout the centuries to decry unholy mixtures – disdaining them – arguing that they were sin-advancing and truth-destroying unions, and because these prophets were decrying the ungodly union of their generation, their ministries appeared to be a divisive curse, and their person: “a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth” (Jer. 15:10). They were calling for the re-establishment of salvific separation! They were magnifying, glorifying, and unveiling how the nature of God demands separation! How Divine-WOE pursues those who neglect it! And when or if God revives Israel, they will regain a definitive understanding of salvific holiness like as Malachi prophesied, “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth Him not” (Mal. 3:18). Now let us look closely and discover, furthermore, who the persons of these seven places are, and, what are the gatherings of Israel known as “the assembly” and “the congregation”?