II. Its Manifestation.
When we ask ourselves the question, how does this multiformity of the church manifest itself?, the answer is evident. True multiformity follows from the basic oneness and rich diversity of the members.
At this point we must pause to refute an error that has gained widespread acceptance in Reformed circles, and already shows its detrimental influence. I refer to the presentation of the multiformity of the church as given by the late Dr. A. Kuyper. Dr. Kuyper sought the multiformity in an outward difference, manifesting itself in various denominations and creeds. He argued that the holy, catholic church is found in every denomination, possibly even among the Roman Catholics and rankest modernists. In fact, each of these various denominations is a manifestation of the true church. They all have the truth in part, since none of us are perfect and none can have the truth in all its purity and perfection. Even the purest manifestation of the body of Christ may err in some degree, or may be one-sided in the presentation of the truth. Therefore we need all kinds of churches and creeds to present the full truth in all its riches. Each must stress some aspect of the truth; some must fill in where others fail; one must stress a vital point that another fails to stress. In that way even the superficial Arminian can serve to counteract the staunch Calvinist, may exert influence where the Reformed theologian would fail. Thus even the Baptist, with his denial of the covenant and infant baptism, may do much good for the church. He appealed to the example of a wheel with various spokes, all running toward the center and meeting in the hub. No matter how far apart the various denominational spokes may be when their differences are stressed to the limit, they nevertheless are basically one and meet at the hub, that is, in seeking the ultimate salvation of the church and the glory of God.
This language is so common in our day, that it may hardly be passed by in silence. First of all, it should be evident to all of us, that difference in doctrine is not a mere difference of opinion or viewpoint. Nor is it a matter of emphasis, that the one emphasizes the phase of the truth, while another stresses some other phase of it. It is a matter of truth or error. Every departure from the truth of Scripture is definitely the lie, which is born out of hell. Scripture is very emphatic in condemning those who teach false doctrine, and even warns us against them. As for example, in, “That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive”. And again in , “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways: by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.”
Moreover, it must always be borne in mind that the chief mark of the true church is the pure preaching of the Word. Where the Word is preached in all its purity, the sacraments are properly administered, and Christian discipline is duly exercised, there the Spirit dwells, and there the blessing of the Lord abounds. The truth of the Scriptures is the foundation of the church, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone.. Any departure from the truth is apostasy, a breaking away from the true church to form an alliance with the false church. The Holy Spirit will never approve of such an action, nor bless it, but certainly condemn it. The individual who departs from the purest manifestation of the body of Christ will at first experience prickings of conscience, but if he continues in that way will suffer spiritual blindness and dormancy according to the measure that he departs from the truth. And the parent who keeps his children away from the purest manifestation of God’s church will bear the responsibility of misleading the children which God has entrusted to him, even to the extent that the evil consequences will be borne in the generations that follow. God will not be mocked. Likewise the erring church will experience the disapproval of the Spirit. For a time the Spirit will linger there, warning the true believers to repent and to return from their evil way. In fact, if the church continues in that way, Christ will call His own out of her midst and the Spirit will completely withdraw Himself, as was the case with the church of Laodicea, as described to us in Rev. 3. History always proves that the church that once has departed from the truth and continues in her evil way becomes ever more corrupt, only to end up in rankest modernism, rationalism, and spiritual decadence.
The true multiformity of the church lies in the diversity of its many members. This is taught in many passages of Scripture. We can refer to, “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. This is also the idea of that well-known passage in , “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another diverse kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues; but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews, or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
This same idea we find in the parable of the talents, where each is entrusted with a certain amount of talents, either five, two or one, to labor with until the lord of the household returns. These talents represent so many means, opportunities, gifts and abilities entrusted to those who are obligated to serve in God’s house. The faithful servant is guided by the Holy Spirit to make proper use of these talents in his own personal life, in fulfilling his calling in the midst of his family, in ministering to the saints, and in witnessing in the world. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Moses and all the saints who have lived before us have held their own unique place in the midst of God’s covenant here on earth, a place which only they could occupy with the gifts entrusted to them, even as they now hold their own peculiar place in heaven.
Thus Christ works through all His saints. We are God’s possession, fellow workers together as members of the same Body, God’s temple. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Together the saints make up a mighty choir, which finally assembles before the throne to sing in perfect unison and harmony the song of Moses and the Lamb.
III. The Implications.
We have time to mention only a few of the many implications of the multiformity of God’s Church.
This certainly implies, first of all, that we must labor together for the manifestation of the one body of Christ. Its true spiritual unity is hardly discernable as far as its outward manifestation is concerned. It is even sorely disrupted. There are natural barriers, as was mentioned before, but there are also other barriers created by sin, causing schisms and disharmony within the body of Christ. Not those who remain steadfast in the truth are the cause for schism in the church, but those who depart from that one and sure foundation. No one will deny that schism is always wrong, and that every effort must be put forth continuously to strive for church unity.
But then let us be forewarned against the many pretended attempts at unity as are put forth in our day. Interdenominational youth movements are very popular. National religious associations without denominational color make their appearance. World-wide church congresses are quite common. In fact, denominational barriers are crumbling everywhere as the various churches unite in seeking a common cause. The various denominations are actually beginning to discover how much they have in common after all, and that by uniting their efforts they can be much more successful in reaching their goal. By uniting they can become a power to be reckoned with in the world. But this unity is attained at the expense of the truth. A true, internal, spiritual unity on the basis of truth is not sought, but an artificial, outward unity is sought on the basis of some colorless, manmade confession. An attempt is made to find a superficial expression of agreement, that is acceptable to all, to which even the world of darkness will not take offence. And I would dare to predict that these efforts will also meet with success. Yet thereby the “church” will lose her distinctiveness as God’s peculiar heritage in the world, will be swallowed up by the world. She will prove herself to be the apostate church, without God and without Christ and without hope. She will do her part to bring forth the antichrist, even the man of sin which must still be revealed. The calling of the believers is to have nothing to do with this unrighteous cause, but to come out from among her, “and be ye separate.”
Yet we do strive for the unity of the church of Jesus Christ in the world. If those who pride themselves in defending the truth of God’s Word cannot do it, who can? For we take as our only foundation the Word of God, which has Jesus Christ as its chief cornerstone. We seek unity on that basis, and on that basis only! We strive for unity by maintaining the truth and opposing all that is repugnant thereto. That Word of God is the power unto salvation. And therefore that Word survives all the assaults of the powers of darkness. False teachers may come and go, but the Word of God abides forever. Those who are knit together in the truth are firmly founded on the one and only sure foundation.
We seek our unity then, only with those who can agree on the basis of Scripture. That unity of faith in the Spirit surmounts all natural barriers. In that respect, the Philistine, the Moabite, and the Ammonite can meet together to worship in God’s temple. Distinctions between races, between Jew and Gentile, between bond and free disappear. We are one in the Lord. Not in the natural sense, as if we could all live under one roof, or even encourage intermarriage between the various races, but certainly in the spiritual sense that we are knit together through one Spirit in one faith and in one Lord. The spiritual unity and fellowship of Pentecost must manifest itself in that true Church of Jesus Christ. They are my father and mother, my brother and sister, who do the will of my heavenly Father. They, and they only!
But the multiformity of the church also implies that each member of the body of Christ must make proper use of the talents which God has entrusted to him. They are not ours to do with as we see fit, but they belong to the Lord. We are only stewards in God’s house, called to labor while it is day in the charge entrusted to us. Possibly we complain that we have but a single talent, while others possess so many more. We might even try to flatter ourselves with all the things we might have done if we had been entrusted with five talents. Yet who are we to criticize Christ, Who bestows upon everyone the needed talents according to his place in the body? Moreover, we never mean anything as individuals, no more than a finger has significance if it would isolate itself from the body. We only have significance in our divinely appointed place within the body of Christ. In that place we have all we can do to labor faithfully in the responsibility entrusted solely to us.
There are many outlets for our talents. There are obligations, or rather opportunities right in our own families. There is a calling within the church; even in the various societies in the church. There is a duty resting upon us wherever we walk, even among sinful men. For our calling is to always “let our light shine among men, that they may see our good works,” and thus God may be glorified.
Thus we have a foretaste of the heavenly life already here on earth. When the church is finally assembled before the throne it will become fully evident that every one occupies his own unique place in the body of Christ. Each one occupies a place that he alone can fill and has a name that he alone can read. Together, freed from all imperfections, we shall perfectly and eternally show forth the praise of the glory of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.