January 25, 2012

God's Church on Earth

Perspective is an amazing thing. As Neil Armstrong gazed in wonder at the earth from space, he is reported to have reflected that “it suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.”1 Perhaps the perspective that we often have about God’s church is too small, because we are limited in our natural perception of space and time. Perhaps God wants us to see the bigger picture.
How It Started
It is true that God’s church started very small. In the Garden of Eden it consisted of two people. In the time of the Flood it consisted of eight people who were saved on the ark. In the time of Abraham it consisted of Abraham’s household. In the time of the Exodus, God described His love for His people and how He rescued them on “eagles’ wings” in love and pity (Ex. 19:4, KJV).2
From these small beginnings God has guided His church, and it has grown. God even sent His own Son to His church, to regather a people to Himself. His church has had its stumbles, but throughout the centuries, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we have come to where we are today, to the end of the ages, awaiting the promise of the coming of Christ in glory.
How God Sees It
We can know with certainty today, just as God’s church has known in the ages of the past, that “the church, enfeebled and defective, needing to be reproved, warned, and counseled, is the only object upon earth upon which Christ bestows His supreme regard.”3 Ellen White comments on the faithful witness of God’s church through the ages, and from one generation to another. God, she notes, “has sent forth His angels to minister to His church, and the gates of hell have not been able to prevail against His people.”4 “God loves His children with infinite love. To Him the dearest object on earth is His church.”5
However, God’s church on earth is still small. It is still a “remnant.” As much as we can rejoice in the reports of the wonderful things that the Spirit of the Lord is doing in so many places of the world, God’s church, relative to the population of this earth, is ultimately not large in number. On the one hand, this is a reminder to us to always maintain a spirit of humility (Rev. 3:14-20). On the other hand, if we are zealous for the love of God, then our hearts will burn with a desire to see the kingdom of God increased here on this earth. We will rightly want to see—and more than that, to work for—a vision of a larger church.
2012 1503 page22Perhaps at times some might feel discouraged. When those outside of God’s church look at the church, how do they see it? Perhaps as something small. Perhaps, and sadly so, as something to be despised. Thankfully, though, God does not see as humans see ?(1 Sam. 16:7). Paul’s words to Titus underline the heavenly perspective on earthly things and events. God chooses the things humans call weak “to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor. 1:27, KJV). He chooses “base things of the world, and things which are despised, . . . and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (verse 28, KJV). Thus Paul would have Titus understand his divine credentials, and speak from the confidence of God’s perspective, with authority that permitted no one to despise him (Titus 2:15). For God wants His followers to see His church, not as the world sees it, but as He sees it.
The Boundaries of God’s Church
Though God’s church is established on earth, it is not limited to this earth. The body of Christ is much larger than we often think. Paul points to the church’s dimensions when he writes that Christ has “made peace” and reconciled all things to Himself “through the blood of His cross . . . whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20, NASB; see also verse 25; Eph. 2: 15-21).6 The New Testament picture of God’s church is of a community that extends throughout the universe. It is a church that stretches far beyond the boundaries of this planet, and whose extent in space, or even time, is beyond our comprehension. It is the community to which the faithful on earth and the faithful in heaven belong. Developing this idea in the book of Hebrews, Paul compares Mount Sinai, where God communed with His people during the wilderness sojourn, with the reality of the church. He writes that we have not come to that earthly mountain, but rather, “to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:22, 23, NASB).
Ellen White is no less clear on this idea of the earthly and heavenly dimensions of God’s church. As she explains: “In the past, faithful souls have constituted the church on earth, and God has taken them into covenant relation with Himself, uniting the church on earth with the church in heaven.”7 Strikingly, she also writes that in His estimation, the church in heaven and the church on earth are identical. He has promised to come personally into the midst of His church.”8
The boundaries of God’s church encompass even more than Planet Earth and God’s dwelling in heaven. Ellen White also refers to the reach of God’s church as extending throughout the countless unfallen worlds of the universe. She writes that “the science of redemption is the science of all sciences; the science that is the study of the angels and of all the intelligences of the unfallen worlds.”9 For that reason, “the inhabitants of the unfallen worlds and of the heavenly courts are watching with intense interest the conflict between good and evil.”10
What does this mean for us today? It means that the object of our study, the center of our spiritual passion and thrill, God’s saving grace, is also the theme and focus of concentration of unfallen beings in multiple locations through boundless space. True it is that God has a church upon the earth. But that church, as insignificant as it may sometimes seem, is not alone. In our service to others and to God we are joining our efforts with those of the heavenly angels. We are also declaring that we belong to the community of love that unites the unfallen worlds throughout the universe together in loyalty to their Creator. Our promise is that “to the faithful ones, who learn of God, precious gifts are being imparted, that they may become laborers together with God, connecting the church here below with the church in heaven. All the angelic messengers are at the service of the humble, believing ones on earth.”11 The great reality is that we, like Paul, are “a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9, NASB). When we testify to God’s goodness through our words and our lives, we do this, not just as a witness to this planet, but also “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10, ESV).12
Rethinking Our Praise
The prayers and praise of saints on earth are part of a cosmic symphony. When we pray (even in our solitude), our Father mobilizes the forces of His church, angels in heaven and on earth, to work on our behalf. Our prayers, through the power of our Lord, have a much greater context than just this world alone. When Ellen White thought about this, it was for her, as it must be for us, an encouragement to live in a manner worthy of the amazing calling to which we have been called by our heavenly Father. She wrote that the name of God “is hallowed by the angels of heaven, by the inhabitants of unfallen worlds. When you pray, ‘Hallowed be thy name,’ you ask that it may be hallowed in this world, hallowed in you. God has acknowledged you before men and angels as His child; pray that you may do no dishonor to the ‘worthy name by which ye are called.’ ”13
Similarly, when we praise God in song with our admittedly imperfect voices and flawed music, the choirs of the heavenly church perfect and magnify our praises of God. His praises resound throughout the universe and the inhabitants of innumerable unfallen worlds join in to exalt the goodness of the Father of all. In this sense, praising God, however it might be done, is rarely an activity that is done alone, for “as the redeemed army here below sing their songs of praise, the choir above join with them in their thanksgiving, ascribing praise to God and to Jesus the Son of God.”14
God’s church is big, very big. The enemy of our souls profits from our thinking small to lead us into discouragement and negativity. But God wants us to embrace an understanding of the reality of His church that will completely enthuse us and thrill us with the passion that comes with being part of His incredible, invincible, cosmic community. Indeed, God’s church stretches throughout the furthest expanses of the universe, where unfallen worlds ring with God’s praise. God’s church is the vast community of those throughout all of God’s creation who acknowledge the sovereignty of God and who worship, serve, and obey Him (Col. 1:20; Eph. 2:1; Heb. 11; Rev. 12:17).
Our Privilege
You and I have been called to belong to this amazing community. From this planet, which is in rebellion against God, we have been plucked by God’s grace, to belong to His remnant church. We have been called to testify to the love and truth of the character of God in the last days of this world’s history, before the Son of God comes again to this world to redeem His church and to restore a universe that is unblemished by sin.
That you and I have been called to belong to such a community, through the blood of Jesus Christ, is indeed an eternal gift beyond measure! It compelled Paul, and it should indeed compel us, to “bow [our] knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph. 3:14, 15, NASB). Let us then indeed bow our knees, remembering that when we pray, we are never alone. And then let us rise up, and walk worthy of His calling.

1Quoted in Carolyn Collins Petersen and John C. Brandt, Visions of the Cosmos (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 50.
2Texts credited to KJV are from the King James Version.
3 Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church, p. 240.
4Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 11.
5Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p. 166.
6Scripture quotations marked NASB are from the New American Standard Bible, copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
7Ellen G. White, in Review and Herald, Dec. 4, 1900.
8Ellen G. White, Paulson Collection of Ellen G. White Letters, p. 400.
9 Ellen G. White, Education, p. 126.
10 Ellen G. White, in Signs of the Times, June 20, 1900.
11 Ellen G. White, 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1716.
12 Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
13 Ellen G. White, God’s Amazing Grace, p. 94.
14 Ellen White, 1888 Materials, vol. 4, p. 1716.

Eliezer Gonzalez lives on the Gold Coast, Australia, and is completing a Ph.D. in early Christian history. He is married to Ana, and they have two children, Rebecca and Benjamin. This article was published January 26, 2012.