Previously, I have called attention to some Scriptures that refer to the church in prospect. That is, it does not exist as yet, but it will exist. This use of the word church does not violate the local, visible significance of the word, for it relates to what is now only a concept. That is, we can conceive of this assembly which will be both local and visible when it convenes. When Paul wrote of the time when God shall present the church to Himself "without spot or wrinkle or any such thing," he was looking forward to this very time. Hebrews 12:23 tells us about the time when this "general assembly" will convene. I will deal with this passage more in detail presently. This assembly now in prospect will be the Bride. Of this Bride we read in Revelation 19:7 - "Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage supper of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready."
Before I go further let me call attention to a later passage that relates to the Bride. It is found in Revelation 21 :9-10 - "Come hither and I will shew thee the Bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God." Some have been alarmed at this passage and have said, "I thought the Bride would be the church, but here she is spoken of as a city." This Scripture is not hard to understand, if we consider it in the light of the way we often speak of things. A friend speaks to me and says, "I passed your church on my way here." Did he? No, he didn't pass a single member of my church - HE PASSED A BUILDING. He passed the church house - the place of meeting. The church building personified the congregation wont to assemble there. I am persuaded that in the Scripture just referred to, the City - the New Jerusalem - is personified as the Bride, when the City will only be the home of the Bride. This illustration should make the point clear, although illustrations of similar import could be multiplied.
BUT WHO EXACTLY WILL THE BRIDE BE? When it says in Revelation 19:7- "His wife hath made herself ready," JUST WHO IS THIS WIFE? If she is the Universal Invisible Church she is not the church that Jesus started and made mention of back there in Matthew 16:18. If she is the Universal Invisible Church, she is not the one Paul spoke of when he said, "I have betrothed you as a chaste virgin to Christ," for he spoke to the church at Corinth when he said that. He said that a local visible church was the one engaged to Christ, and there is no denying it, so if this Wife - this Bride - is the Universal invisible Church, then the one to whom He was engaged has been thrown aside, and He finally marries somebody else entirely.
I have been very much dissatisfied with the conclusions of some learned men, who have been clear in their thinking until they came down to this question, "who is the Bride?" In their answer they made the Bride to be all of the redeemed of the ages. For instance, Dr. B. H. Carroll in the booklet "Ecclesia - the church" page 12 says, "The general assembly, by all accounts, includes all the saved." On page 13 he says, "But for the church in glory the conditions of membership are justification, regeneration, and sanctification of soul and glorification of body."
Louis Entzminger wrote a splendid book on the New Testament Church in which he took exactly the position that I have tried to set forth in the preceding pages. This book was the basis of his teaching concerning the church, in the seminary with which he was connected. But when he came to the end, and dealt with the Bride - the church in glory - he flopped! He said that a few Baptist preachers seemed to hold that the Bride will be composed of all of the saved who have held the essential doctrines of Baptists through the centuries. But, said he, he had concluded that the Bride will be composed of all of the saved. Such a conclusion is totally at variance with all that he had written concerning the validity of genuine New Testament churches. When men argue against the hoax of the Universal Invisible Church, and when they show that the promise of Christ has been fulfilled in His preservation of groups holding the doctrines of Baptists - then when they conclude by saying that the final assembly - the Bride, will consist of all the saved of this age, they simply run up the white flag and surrender!
One thing that is wrong and one thing that keeps many men from taking the position that the church in glory will be composed of those from the New Testament churches of this age, is the fact that such a belief seems so narrow. Yes, it IS narrow, but so is all truth narrow. To say that twice two makes four, and to insist that anything else is error is to make a narrow statement. But is it true or false? The question is not does a thing sound narrow, but is it the truth?
To hold that the church is local and visible, and is a continuation of the institution that Christ started and promised to perpetuate, then to shift from this, the true church, and to teach that the church that finally assembles over yonder will be composed of all of these redeemed regardless of whether they ever belonged to any church or not, is an inexcusable contradiction. If that were true, then several other things would have to be true:
1 - As already argued, the Bride would turn out to be different from the one betrothed to Christ.
2 - Christ's promise that nothing would prevail against His church, would be proven false, for the institution started by Him would completely flop, for the church in Glory would prove to be a different thing entirely.
3 - In such case, there would be no reward for the church that endured endless persecution for Christ, and that furnished fifty million martyrs for the defense of His truth.
4 - Why should so much be made of the church that Jesus started? Why should its truth be defended so arduously? Why should members of this church have been willing to die for their beliefs, if in the final windup, the ultimate triumph is to be given to those who - some of them - persecuted those of the true church, or else ignored or disdained the true church? If all believers are to constitute the church in Glory - the Bride - then in the climax the church turns out to be something different than Christ's church here on this earth. I don't believe such stuff, and I use the word "stuff' deliberately.
The most remarkable Scripture that deals with the church in Glory, is found in Hebrews 12:22-23.
"But ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn which are written in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant ..."Let us examine this great passage carefully, taking the words at face value as meaning just what they say. In reading the comment of scholars, I have found that they confuse things in the passage. For instance, Jameson, Fausett and Brown, express the opinion that the term "general assembly" must be referred to the angels. This is a mere opinion and in my judgment a poor opinion. The King James and some other translators do not so understand it. And before I pass from this let me say that the picture here has as a background the Olympic games. I say this because the term translated "general assembly" is the Creek term "panegyros." This signifies "festal gathering." The illustration Paul implies is an interesting and meaningful one. The Greeks back in the past had self-governing city states. In these different cities there were athletic contests held, with a view to selecting the very best adults for the Olympian games. These representatives from the many local communities gathered for the general assembly - the festal gathering. And it was indeed a festal gathering - a time for singing and having a general good time. There were many people present, but the real people - the ones who meant most were the participants - the ones who had qualified in the local communities, and constituted the real "panegyros." They were the ones who were crowned and made over. The rest were mere visitors - spectators.
My suggestion concerning the Olympian games is not an original one. Carroll, Jameson, Fausett and Brown, and others are in full agreement. I believe that the Holy Spirit directed the author of Hebrews to introduce this illustrative suggestion. The history and climax of the true church of Christ is plainly illustrated. It completely rules out the Universal Invisible Church. Universal Invisible contestants were not involved in connection with those who qualified for the General Assembly - the festal gathering of those who had won out in the local communities. No, they were real, live, visible athletes.
The athletes who won in the local communities, are illustrative of believers in Christ who became members of the church Christ started. In the final climax, they shall go from all of these local churches to the great festal gathering (panegyros), or "general assembly." They will be the ones honored. There will be many others there, but they will only be spectators.
But laying aside this illustrative suggestion that centers about the term "panegyros" let us take a more general look at the passage as a whole.
The writer of Hebrews has previously spoken of Mt. Sinai and the Law, and the earthly Jerusalem. Then he halts and unveils the future for us and gives us a glimpse of the New Jerusalem. Who will be there, when this Scripture has literal fulfillment? Take note:
1 - The ANGELS will be there, myriads of them - a company that cannot be numbered.
2 - A GENERAL ASSEMBLY composed of members of the true, local assemblies which Jesus preserved through the centuries in spite of "dungeon, fire and sword." These local assemblies did not start in the sixteenth century or any time thereafter. Jesus started them during His earthly ministry, and although they received many nicknames, the term Anabaptist or later Baptist generally characterized them. These local assemblies gathered in one place, now constitute the GENERAL ASSEMBLY. "But," says someone, "do you think that all the members of all of the local assemblies were truly saved persons?" No, I do not, because there were in these imperfect local assemblies, some who were unregenerate. The Holy Spirit makes a pointed specification. He says "General Assembly" then adds, "WHICH ARE WRITTEN IN HEAVEN." Many have their names written on the church rolls of Baptist churches, who are strangers to God's grace. They are on the roll here all right, but they are not on God's roll in heaven!But continuing, who else will be there?
3 - GOD THE JUDGE OF ALL, will be there. Who else?
4 - Now take a good look - ! "THE SPIRITS OF JUST (justified)MEN MADE PERFECT." So many Bible students and teachers throw these in with the others of the General Assembly. They don't belong there. They are a class separate from the General Assembly, the church in its final and complete form. They are justified persons, and they are now in glory, "made perfect," but they don't belong to the church in Glory. I have noted that all sorts of efforts are made to avoid facing up to the fact that there is a class of saved people who are not identified with the church in Glory. Some would say, "That's just awful, to think that some will not be in the church!" The time to think of that is now, while you can take membership with a true church. Quit deluding yourself with that Universal Invisible pabulum. Quit that talk about one church being "just as good as another." Study and find out the truth about the church that has borne the brunt of religious persecution through the centuries - the church that Jesus has preserved as He promised, and take membership with it, if you are a saved person. No, it is not accidental - it is not mere tautology that after mention of the General Assembly there is this second class of saved persons mentioned - "the spirits of just(justified) men made perfect." Hadn't you rather be a member of the General Assembly - the church of Glory, than to be a mere spectator? Or to change the figure, would you not rather be a member of the BRIDE OF CHRIST than to merely be a "guest at the wedding supper?" If so, then get the church question straightened out in your head, and likewise in your life, while yet there is time.
There are two important groups of people dealt with in the Bible. One of these is ISRAEL. God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 12: He promised territory to Israel that has never been occupied by them. But it will be, for God is a covenant keeping God. Israel went deeply into sin and idolatry, and God warned the nation through the prophets, that He would utterly wreck the nation and throw them out of the holy land if they did not change their way. They kept on in sin, and God kept His word, and sent them into Babylonian captivity. But always, following God's awful condemnation of their sins, and His promise to terribly punish, He foretold that He would bring them back into favor, and that they would finally rest under His favor forever. The Babylonian captivity came to an end, the people returned to Palestine, the Messiah of promise came according to promise, but He was rejected and killed. Before this happened Jesus foretold what would happen in the future. He foretold His rejection and death, and He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world. The holy city would be trodden under the feet of the Gentiles, said He, "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." That dispersion has long been history, and the Gentiles domination of the world has been in progress for nearly twenty centuries. Many who ought to know better, have taken the promises made to Israel and have given them over to the "Church." They have fallen into that most abominable type of interpretation - SPIRITUALIZING! "God is through with the Jews," say these spiritualizers, and they say it in spite of the fact that according to promise He has brought Israel back into Palestine. They say it in spite of the fact that they have taken over all of Jerusalem. The "times of 'the Gentiles" must be almost run out, and the coming of the Lord must be very near.
I have said these things by way of pointing out that the theory that God is through with Israel, and that the promises made to the prophets now belong to what some call "spiritual Israel" - the 'Church, is largely the product of the Universal Invisible Church theory. The spiritual Israel they speak of is nothing that Jesus started - it is THE CHOORCH! The same spiritualizers talk glibly of "THE CHURCH AGE." Do you realize that the Bible nowhere uses such a term? The better term would be "the age of outcalling" during which time God is calling out from among the Gentiles a people for His name. Acts 15:14-18 makes this clear. Nearly every time we turn around we bump into that Universal theory. Out here in the religious world, that huge figment of perverted imagination - the Universal Invisible church, completely overshadows in importance the church that Jesus Christ started and which He committed His Commission. A blessed truth is the fact that before long a showdown is coming. Evidences are that Jesus will soon come -; not to bring the "Rapture of the Church" - that Universal conglomeration that exists only in unscriptural minds. He will bring about the resurrection and translation of the saved. The time for the "Marriage Supper of the Lamb" is not far beyond this. It will then be revealed that the Bride will be composed of all the saved ones of those local, visible assemblies who have witnessed for Christ and carried on His work, gathered together in one happy group. He started this assembly, and in Matthew 16:18, promised to be with it and perpetuate it. We hear about them, read about them, and find evidence of their existence all through the centuries. That word Anabaptist was mockingly applied to them during much of the time. The "ana" was finally dropped, but the people - the assemblies are the same.
There will be no mockery, no reproach, when at that festive gathering designated "the marriage Supper of the Lamb," our wonderful Lord presents His Bride and says, "I wish to present my beloved WIFE!"