30. Life (1)

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

30. Life (1)

Mk 2:21,22  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

Life?  According to my concordance the word ‘life’ occurs 565 times in the NIV. It is possibly one of the most often read words (229 of them in the New Testament) and yet, I suspect, one of the most least unthought about words. We speak so easily of ‘eternal life’ and we see Jesus speaking of it so often, for example,

Quote 1: “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Mt 6:25) and,

Quote 2: “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Mt 6:27) and

Quote 3: “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Mt 7:14)

Even that little selection should get us thinking. Life, says Jesus, is more than about eating. Well yes, we might respond, it’s about meaningful things like relationships, family, work, fulfilment and so on. And indeed, that is the life in both the first and second quotes, but then then comes the challenge of Mt 7:14 about another dimension, life that is more than mere physical existence; it has to be spiritual life he is referring to.

John’s perspective: Look up life in John’s Gospel and it is mostly this spiritual dimension. John, who had had decades to ponder on the things he had personally heard Jesus say, comes into the Gospel accounts at a much more profound level: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind,” (Jn 1:24) and, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it,” (Jn 5:21) not to mention the numerous references to eternal life (e.g. 3:15,16,36, 4:14,36 etc. etc.)

And So? What is the outworking of this? It must be to ask the questions, “Do we know and experience this ‘life’ individually and in a corporate sense in the church, is this what we seek to impart to one another, and is this the dimension we seek to introduce others to?” To this we might add, “Where in our church experience is this ‘life’ evident?” The discerning Christian recognises another Christian by the sense of ‘life’ about them. I have shared previously how, when I came to the Lord, I woke up next morning a completely different person. There was ‘life’ there in way that had not been previously. I was once in East Malaysia in a jungle village waiting for a translator to turn up and our Christian hosts were having to communicate by sign language, and I have testified many times that I had this bursting sense to want to be able to speak language to them because there was this sense of ‘life’ in these Malaysian Christians, a life that wanted to be communicated.

It’s Absence: But then, I have attended services that were pure performance and the dear man out the front was ‘doing his job’ and life was not flowing. You know it when you see it, but you also know it when it’s not there, whether it be Nuns in a Convent who may be overflowing with life or monks in a Monastery who may be there for a quiet life but there is no ‘life’; it may be in an Anglican church where the Spirit has been let loose and life abounds, or it may be a little evangelical church where law, conformity and lifelessness abound. The ‘streams’ tend to have let the Lord loose but many denominational churches hold fast to a rigid past, fearing a God on the loose. Its absence is seen in an environment where, “We don’t do it like that,” prevails, very similar to “We’ve always done it like this.” Its absence is also seen where there are power groups in the church who exercise control, whether it be ‘the choir’, or ‘the worship band’ or even a family that has been here since the church began a hundred years ago, who want to hold fast to tradition at the cost of the Presence of God!

Recapping? But why do I seem to be recapping where we’ve been before, I hear you say, I thought we are moving on to look in detail at the church of the New Testament? And so we are but whatever we talk about as aspects of the life of the Church, we must keep reminding ourselves of the foundation upon which we are built. So, yes, we’ve previously considered the language of ‘being born again’ which, although disliked by some, nevertheless is language used by Jesus and language which points us at this very subject, and we perhaps need to remind ourselves what is at the heart of it.

Life involves Movement:  When you look at Jesus’ words in Jn 3 through the lens of the Message version, it sheds light: “You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it’s headed next. That’s the way it is with everyone ‘born from above’ by the wind of God, the Spirit of God.” (Jn 3:8 paraphrase) Jesus spoke of the moving of the Spirit upon us using the picture of wind, and then it indwelling us. Now that is very helpful because it is something with which we are all conversant. Who hasn’t felt the wind on our face, watched the trees sway and bend, and all this speaks of movement?

When a child is born, if there is no movement, we know something is wrong. When a person is born again, we expect to see movement, change, and if there is none, we question the reality of it. When a person says they have been filled with the Spirit, we expect to see change, movement. When it happens, signs of it happening (or happening again) may be a release of tongues or prophecy (see instances in Acts) and will certainly be accompanied by a fresh outpouring of joy with a sense of being loved. There is always a release of ‘life’ and sense of ‘freedom’. I have entitled this Part as “Starting from Scratch” and this is exactly what we are doing. At the heart of the life of the individual AND the Church has to be ‘life’ and life involves change and movement.

Church involves Change: Because of all this, the life of a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, Spirit-directed church will mean that ‘change is here to stay’ as is sometimes said.  In a healthy church, those changes will be seen in several different ways. First, in the addition of new members,  new people coming to Christ and being added to the Church. Second, as people grow up and develop spiritually, they will change. Are we different from what we were say five years ago? We should be? We should be learning new things that change our outlook, the way we think, and that in turn will change our behaviour, the things we say and do. But, third, as we grow and mature, that will also include in areas of gifting and ministry, as we learn to recognise the gifting God has put within us and we become more confident in using it, and thus become more fruitful. We recently quoted Jesus’ teaching of the vine which is applicable here: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) That speaks about life flow, Jesus life flowing in us and as we maintain this relationship, so it brings forth fruit in and through us.

And So? We should conclude by asking those questions we asked before and hold them before us, to ponder the reality of our answers: “Do we know and experience this ‘life’ individually and in a corporate sense in the church, is this what we seek to impart to one another, and is this the dimension we seek to introduce others to?” To this we might add, “Where in our church life is this evident?”  Stuff to think about.

29. A New Creation

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

29. A New Creation

Mk 2:21,22  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

The Problem to be faced: Did you notice in the previous study, I had at the top of it the above verses but never got around to citing them. But I don’t want to spend much time expounding them now either, but they just hang there in the background acting as a reminder: this church thing, this Christianity thing, was something utterly new for the Jews of Jesus’ day. What Jesus had on his heart was completely different from the structured institutional Judaism that they knew, described by the apostle Paul, “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah.” (Rom 9:4,5)

An Uncomfortable Past: Yes, they had their past, made a special people of God at Sinai, they had the Law, the Temple, the covenants, their origins in the patriarchs. They had history that Stephen spelled out in some detail before he was stoned (see Acts 7), but that was where it got embarrassing because as he said, speaking of Moses, “But our ancestors refused to obey him. Instead, they rejected him and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.” (Acts 7:39) and went on, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.” (Acts 7:52,53) And that got him stoned! The truth hurts, and the truth of history for Israel is in many ways embarrassing. This is not to put them down for they simply demonstrate what the rest of the world is like left to themselves. But it showed the inadequacy of simply trying to have a relationship with God based on rules, on the Law. It had to happen – it wasn’t a failure on God’s part, a thought that Paul shied away from in the early verses of Rom 3. It revealed the sinfulness of mankind and the need for something better to save us.

Jesus’ Warnings: The trouble with the two illustrations that Jesus gave in our starter verses, is that they are slightly quaint and therefore we smile at them but so often fail to try to apply them to life today. He points out to us an old garment lying around and there on the shelves some old wineskins. Both familiar, both comfortable. But then he puts forward the idea of someone trying to mend the old garment by piecing in a brand-new piece of material, and then of putting new wine into the old wineskins. Yes, right. Not a smart thing to do if you are a homemaker and know about these sorts of things. The first time you wash the patched garment, the new material will shrink (the old has done all the shrinking its going to do) and pull away from the garment or pull it out of shape. Not a good idea. But then comes winemaking time of the year and running out of new wineskins, you pick up and fill the old wineskin with the new – probably still fermenting wine. Not what smart winemakers do because they know the wine is likely to effervesce and seek to expand the wine skin, but being old it is rigid and will simply split. Two instances where mixing old and new just don’t go.

Context?  So what is the context of this little bit of homespun wisdom? Well it is sandwiched in between people complaining that Jesus’ disciples weren’t fasting like John’s were (Mk 2:18) and the Pharisees complaining that Jesus’ disciples were picking grain of wheat to eat – on the Sabbath! Working on the holy day!!!! In both cases Jesus brought corrective teaching (v.19,20 about a bridegroom, and v.25-28 on David’s use of the holy bread). In between there is this telling and very pointed double-illustration answering their complaints that might have been summed up as, “Your religion isn’t up to what we’ve had for centuries! What are you doing?” But of course we noted earlier that that religion wasn’t worth trying to keep up with – it constantly failed!

Comparisons: Now I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said many times before and so I’m not trying to be insulting or hostile, but just simply point out something about so much modern religion. Let’s compare three different things. First, consider Judaism. Based on a building, the temple, expressed by rites and ritual laid down for centuries, teaching the same old material laid down for centuries, an altar and a priesthood who wore unusual clothing to distinguish them. Fixed, static, unchanging.   Second, consider Jesus. One man, anointed of God (he was and is God), constantly on the move, bringing new teaching, expressing the power of God so changing people’s lives dramatically, delivering from demons, raising some from the dead, performing signs and wonders, teaching others to do exactly the same as he was doing, so creating an army of active ministers bringing in the kingdom of God. Third, now consider so much of the modern church, especially the denominations: buildings (often big, Rome is the classic overstatement), clergy wearing strange clothing to distinguish them, services that often is made up of ritual, pre-stated words and services where movement of God is prohibited, and an altar, remarkably similar in character to Old Testament Judaism but with ‘Jesus-words’ added. Fixed, static and rarely changing.

Do we need to paint an even bigger picture of the life of the church that is characterized  by new ‘garments’ and new ‘wine’? But those of us in freer evangelical or charismatic or even Pentecostal circles should not feel comfortable because so often our ‘services’ are just as predictable. Even in the new ‘streams’ so often we slide into the same pattern – chairs in rows, predictable service, even though we may tack on a ‘Holy Spirit ministry time’ at the end.  Look again at the second one above – Jesus – and ask whether those four or fives lines of description are true of our church experience?

But why? So why do we do it like we do?  I think there are a number of answers. First, we’ve always done it like this, and because we have never taught our people to embrace change, some of the voices upraised against change would make it too difficult to change. Second, we’ve perhaps never taught systematically the things I’m  trying to pick up in this series and so we don’t see how far we have strayed from the New Testament guidelines, and so we see no need to change. Third, an underlying and uncomfortable factor in much of what I have been saying is the Holy Spirit, and we would have to confess our inability to recognize Him, know Him and be led by Him, and in fact have a completely new Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered perspective on ‘church’. Fourth, it is easier to stay the same and not think about change which will require thinking about, teaching and then (scarily) applying. Fifth, the other side of that coin, it requires effort to consciously structure church to be unstructured or able to accommodate a move of the Spirit in our gatherings. Sixth, having perhaps done it once, there is always a great temptation to try to replicate that and then we slide back into man-planned meeting. Seventh, we so enjoy the good elements of what we do – some of our preachers are excellent and sometimes our worship band leads us into the heavenly realms – that we dare not lose these things or release them in a different context that might include the unknown. Eighth, for there to be a true flow of the Spirit that flows through the whole congregation rather than just three or four leaders, it requires careful, patient and graceful teaching, encouraging and empowering of the whole congregation or as many as possible of it, to bring this about. Is it possible? I don’t know, I haven’t come across a church of any size where this happens – and that raises another question that we will pick up in the days ahead, that of size of congregation.

But: Buildings are not bad. Big congregations are not bad. Small congregations are not bad. That’s not what is being said. Jesus’ teaching of wineskins and garments highlights the differences that he came to bring, summarized by one word – ‘life’. Perhaps we need to ponder that next, but don’t lose the heart of this study, so when Paul wrote if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” as I’ve said before, I’m sure that means the individual, but in the light of Jesus’ broader teaching, I’m equally sure it must apply to the whole church as well. So, have we gone back and resurrected the old?  Perhaps we need to think about that.

28. Clear your Mind

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 5 – Starting from Scratch

28. Clear your Mind

Mk 2:21,22  “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

The Problem of Presuppositions : A presupposition is, according to a dictionary, “a thing tacitly assumed beforehand at the beginning of a line of argument or course of action.”  I concluded the previous study with the following words: I want to start by considering what would we do if we were starting utterly from scratch. The next few studies will be:

28. Clear your Mind

29. A New Creation

30. Life (1)

31. Life (2)

32. Being Together

33. Fellowship

So take a dose of amnesia, sit down on a desert island with a Bible, and see what might happen. I have tried to put myself in the position of starting completely from scratch, as if I knew nothing about church life at all, but the trouble is I have all these assumptions, these presuppositions, because I have history and I’ve just written twenty-six studies on the beginnings of it. It’s almost impossible to clear my mind of what I know from the past fifty years of being a Christian. But why should I want to do that? To perhaps see if it is possible to imagine what Jesus wants of us, without all the clutter of my (our) history.

An Imaginary Scenario: Supposing I just had a Bible, found myself on a desert island with a bunch of other people and we’re all unbelievers who have never been to church. We know nothing of church. I read the Bible I find in the remains of a wreck that got us there, and as I read my heart is strangely warmed on one hand yet convicted on the other. There is a sense of truth about what I am reading and I am warmed by the sense of love that comes through the stories of Jesus in the four Gospels and then I find myself convicted that I know nothing of this love. As I read on through the New Testament, I hear more of prayer, of talking to God and so one day, on my own, I talk to Him for the first time. I tell Him how wonderful I find the things I’ve been reading and yet how sorry I feel that all these years I have not known of it or experienced it, and I ask Him to change me, take me and do whatever needs doing in me to make me the person He would like me to be. I assume, having come down this path, it is first and foremost to experience more of this love that I have been reading about while at the same time letting Him (somehow?) speak to me to show me more of what He does indeed want me to become.

Church? But then one day I share what has happened with another of the survivors and they respond in exactly the same way as I did. Amazingly the word spreads like wildfire and before we know it there are over fifty people who have responded in the same way. As we read the Bible, we realize we are what the Bible calls ‘Christians’. “The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26  See also Acts 26:28) and then we realize we have run across the word ‘church’ a number of times: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” (Mt 16:18) and “If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Mt 18:17). Then later, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events,” (Acts 5:11), and “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 8:1) and “But Saul began to destroy the church,” (Acts 8:3) and, Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened,” (Acts 9:31) and “News of this reached the church in Jerusalem,” (Acts 11:22) and “Barnabas and Saul met with the church,” (Acts 11:26) and so on. We see that ‘church’ were the Christians gathered in various places, presumably where they lived. But what more can we gather about this concept of these Christians who gather together? Why do they gather together? What do they do together?

Back-tracking? Yes, I realize as I said that I have already written a lot of words describing how this body of people comes into being, but what do they do in the New Testament and why? If I’ve taken rather a tortuous route to get here, this far in this study, it is simply because I have history that includes the knowledge of so many different churches and it is almost impossible to clear away my presuppositions of what church ought to be, but I can’t help thinking that going back to basics must be a healthy exercise and if it challenges some of the things we do today, so be it.

Where to Start? The Gospels are not the obvious place to start; following the Son of God in the flesh was a limited-period experience. The easier starting place – as far as experience in history rather than principles in teaching is concerned – has to be Acts. At least it shows us a) how the church started off without the physical Jesus in their midst and b) what God led them to do. Now in respect of that latter thing, some of the things they did were clearly led or inspired by the Holy Spirit and others were natural responses to who they now were and the circumstances in which they found themselves. Let’s try and tabulate those two things:

Things clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit Natural expressions
All filled with the Spirit 2:4 Prayed together 1:14 (men & women together)
Spoke with other tongues of other nations 2:4-11 Peter preached 2:14-40 Chose replacement for Judas 1:15-26 (Some point out nothing more heard of Matthias!)
Apostles performed signs and wonders 2:43 Taught by apostles, met in fellowship, held ‘communion’ and prayed together 2:42
Peter & John heal a cripple 3:1-8 Met regularly, had everything in common even selling goods to help others 2:44,45
Gave answer to leaders 4:8-12 Met regularly for breaking bread together, praising God and seeing more added 2:46,47
Sprit falls as they pray 4:31 and enabled to speak boldly Went to temple prayers 3:1
Peter exercises word of knowledge and Ananias dies 5:3-5  Ditto his wife  5:7-10 Preached to crowd  3:12-26
Signs & wonders performed by the apostles 5:12 Arrested for preaching Jesus 4:1-3
Angel releases apostles from jail 5:19,20 Prayed together 4:24-39
Apostles arrested & jailed 5:17,18

That is probably enough to go on with. In the left-hand column some of the things are specifically explained as happening as the Spirit filled individuals, power fell, angelic help given, but some, the miraculous happenings at the hands of the apostles, are clearly impossible to humans and are therefore obvious manifestations of the work and power of the Spirit.

Early Spirit Activity: Here we see inspired preaching, healings, signs and wonders, all very clearly the work of God in their midst. In each instance we see men inspired and empowered by the Spirit, i.e. responding to and being used by the Spirit. For future consideration, the questions might be asked, were these things purely for that point of history? Well  history denies that. The records show that at various times (relatively rarely before the 20th century) such things have been seen in a number of parts of the church. Following the Spirit outpouring in the early part of the 20th century, and then subsequent movements of the Spirit  (Charismatic movement, Toronto Blessing, Wimber movement etc.) in the late decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century, it is obvious to anyone with integrity who bothers to research these things, these things have had a resurgence in various denominations and ‘streams’ within the Church. Perhaps we need to look later at why.

General Lifestyles: Without doubt the early church was impelled by the wonder of the Spirit’s outpouring, and their ‘life-in-common’ lifestyles are sufficiently challenging that we need to consider them more fully in subsequent studies. A common prayer life, regularly meeting together, specifically to remember the Lord, sharing with one another, caring for the less well off, etc. seem to be uncontroversial characteristics of their corporate life that perhaps we need to think about emulating. Watch this space!

14. New and Old

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 14.  New and Old

Mt 9:16,17   No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

In the previous study, of the two verses before these, we saw Jesus was contrasting the world of the religious with the world of the kingdom of God. Some reading that may feel threatened or defensive because so much of modern church life in the West is NOT like the celebration of new, transformed life that Jesus implied through his analogy of the wedding feast, but the analogy is still there and is now being repeated twice by the next two analogies we now have before us.

In the first one he speaks of a piece of new cloth and an old garment. It is that simple. The point he is making is equally obvious: new material will yet shrink when it is washed while the old remains exactly as it was when it is washed, and so you don’t try patching the new into the old because it will tear the old. Now the problem here is that Jesus is teaching by implication and he does not apply what he is saying to the situation around him, yet it is fairly obvious what he means.

The ‘old garment’ that is unchanging must be Judaism with its powerful leadership in the chief priests and the temple hierarchy, who wanted to maintain the status quo and were thus annoyed at Jesus who they saw as a threat to their established ways, the traditions of the religion. By contrast, the ‘new material’ must be the life of the kingdom that Jesus was bringing. It was full of life, full of action, full of transformation, noisy, vibrant, exuberant and unpredictable. I don’t know if that is how you see Jesus’ ministry but that is how it was. Every time another person was healed there would have been rejoicing and all the words above would apply. The life that Jesus was imparting that brought transformed lives also meant that it wasn’t just a physical change but a whole life outlook change.

Life in the temple carried on day after day with no change. Life with Jesus was one of complete change. If you were one of Jesus’ disciples traveling with him, you never knew what the coming day would bring. For example, one day it meant healing a leper (8:3), then healing a centurion’s servant with a word (8:13), then the healing an old lady (8:15), but then they would leave it all and cross the Sea of Galilee and confront and deliver two demon possessed men (8:32) then, crossing the lake again, healed a paralytic on a stretcher (9:7), then comes feasting at tax-collector Matthew’s house (9:10) – all those things led up to this teaching. Imagine you were one of Jesus’ disciples and let’s assume all these things happened on the same day (maybe they didn’t), when you got up in the morning you wouldn’t have ever guessed all those things could happen. It was a completely unpredictable life as Jesus sought to work with his Father (Jn 5:17,19) expressing the kingdom of God on the earth. No, this was clearly a ‘new piece of material’ and it wouldn’t fit comfortably in with the ‘old garment’ of the life of the establishment. See that last word – ‘establishment’. It means those who are established, those who are set in their ways. If our church services are ‘established’ with the same thing week in, week out, we are more akin to the temple priesthood than to Jesus.

But then he adds a second analogy which makes exactly the same point: new wine and old wineskins. They just don’t go together is what he is saying. New wine is still unstable and changing and even may be effervescent. If you put it into old wineskins which are stiff and rigid and try and contain it, the life of the new wine will just split the skins and pour out. Isn’t that what happens every time a new denomination springs up? The old order gets rigid but as the Holy Spirit keeps working in some, they can no longer tolerate the old and they break out and form some new group. Sadly, and almost inevitably, that new group eventually settle down and becomes rigid and so the conflict continues – and it IS a conflict as the life of God pushes against the rigid boundaries that men so often establish.

Remember the context of all this was John the Baptist’s disciples coming to cross examine Jesus (9:14). Already they had settled in their thinking that John’s severe way was THE right way and so they had trouble with the life and vibrancy of what was happening with Jesus. Later John, in prison, was to send some of his disciples to Jesus to enquire of him, possibly to introduce them to Jesus so they could move on now John’s ministry had ended. When they questioned Jesus about who he was he replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (11:4,5) Look again at that summary of Jesus’ ministry and envisage the joy etc. that accompanied it. This was the new wine and so it was no wonder that it upset the ‘old wineskins’ of orthodox Jewry.

This was Jesus’ way of explaining to John’s disciples on the earlier meeting how incompatible the life he was bringing was with the more orthodox ways (praying and fasting) of the established religion of Judaism. He didn’t actually say it, but the question still hangs in the air – which would you prefer, the day by day, never changing humdrum religion of law and ritual, or the life-transforming ministry of Jesus with its accompanying joy and exuberance, excitement, energy, and liveliness? Will we simply settle for the old, stable and unchallenging and unchanging ways of traditional religion, or will we seek the Lord for an outpouring of his Spirit as he continues to do today what he did then? Be careful how you answer because new wine cannot be controlled and is often unpredictable – but it is life from heaven and it is the expression of the will of God on earth!