Babylon (the false church) is called ‘the great’ eleven times in the Book of Revelation. Jerusalem (the bride of Christ), on the other hand, is called ‘the holy city’ (see Rev. 12-21).
If we seek to be great in the eyes of the world as a ‘church’, then we drift towards Babylon. Jesus said that what men esteemed highly was an abomination in God’s sight (Lk. 16:15). We have, therefore, to check up constantly whether there is anything in our church (even if it be music or the preaching) that is said or done to impress men. Numbers are always impressive in men’s eyes. If we are keen on presenting the statistics of the growth of our church to others, that is one sure mark of Babylon. This does not mean that God is not interested in adding to our numbers. He certainly is – if He finds that we are a flock that He can recommend to other of His sheep (who are wholehearted). But growth in numbers is not necessarily an indication of God’s blessing – for the heretical cults are also growing in numbers and so are heathen religions. And very often their statistics are more impressive than those of many Christian groups!
So growth in Jerusalem is measured by growth in holiness – which includes love for one another. Jesus said that the way to life was narrow and that few would find it. Those who proclaim the narrow gate as narrow as Jesus made it will find that very few join their church (Matt. 7:13,14). If, on the other hand, we make the gate broader than Jesus made it, we shall increase in numbers easily. This is where much of today’s Christendom has gone astray. Jesus spoke about the narrow gate and the narrow way in the context of the ‘sermon on the mount’ (Matt. 5-7). The content of those chapters is therefore what constitutes the narrow gate and the narrow way.
1 Cor. 3:13 makes it clear that it is the quality of our work that will be assessed by the Lord in the final day – and not the quantity. A ministry of quality can come only out of one who lives in constant self-judgment – “who lives with the consuming fire and the everlasting burning” (Isa. 33:14). Here, the church is to be different from all the denominations around us. Once this distinction is lost, we will end up as another dead denomination.
In the old covenant, the emphasis was always on the external – “because of the hardness of men’s hearts” (Matt. 19:8). The law emphasised cleanliness in the external. The new covenant, in contrast, emphasised cleanliness “inside the cup” first (Matt. 23:25,26). Jesus said in that verse (v. 26) that once the inside was cleansed, the outside would automatically become clean, so that there would be no need to clean the outside at all. One can see this clearly from Matt. 5:21-30. If one has cleansed his heart from anger, there would be no danger of his committing murder externally. Likewise, if he has cleansed his heart from sexually dirty thoughts, there would be no danger of his committing adultery externally. Clean the inside of the cup and the outside will automatically become clean.
Where the emphasis in a church is primarily on the externals – avoiding cinema going, smoking, drinking, gambling, wearing ornaments, etc., – such a church will only become an old covenant church! The way to get rid of external evils is not by concentrating on them first, but rather on the internal worldly attitude of mind which produces those external evils.
There can be no inward cleansing without self-judgment. It is impossible to build the church unless this inward cleansing is constantly preached. The Bible tells us to exhort one another daily in the church to avoid being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13; 10:25). Most Christian ‘churches’ have no interest in such preaching, except perhaps occasionally. Certainly not daily!. Hence they breed Pharisees with cups clean on the outside only. Here the bride of Christ must be different.