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Rebuild David’s Fallen Tabernacle

KC Tsai—Toronto, Canada


“And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written:
‘After this I will return
And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;
I will rebuild its ruins,
And I will set it up;
So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the LORD who does all these things.’
“Known to God from eternity are all His works.”

(Acts 15:16–18)

This passage comprises the words of Elder James at the Council of Jerusalem. The latter established an important milestone in the history of salvation with its decision not to bind gentile (i.e., non-Jewish) believers with the statutes and judgments of the Mosaic Law. James, quoting Prophet Amos, understood that God’s desire to rebuild David’s fallen tabernacle did not refer to the rebuilding of the physical holy temple in Judah under the leadership of Zerubbabel. Rather, it referred to the spiritual kingdom that would be established after the ascension of Jesus, the church that would be established at the downpour of the promised Holy Spirit.

Source of the Fall

The Gospel of John records Jesus’ words: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19). The author specifically notes that the temple Jesus was referring to was His own body (Jn 2:21). In other words, Jesus foretold His death and resurrection, as well as the rebuilt temple, the church (Eph 1:23).

The Jews, especially their religious leaders, had permitted the secularization of the physical temple. Instead of being a house of prayer, the temple had turned into a marketplace for moneychangers, as well as cattle and sheep traders. Such activities were initially started for the convenience of those who had come from afar to worship in the temple, but soon became a means of profiting from godliness. To Jesus, the temple was little better than a den of thieves (Mt 21:13). Worse, it was a place where God no longer wished to dwell. To Jesus, the Jews had destroyed the temple.


The destroyed temple which Jesus was going to rebuild in three days would be a spiritual kingdom. This is the “forever” kingdom that was promised to David when he determined in his heart to build a temple for God. God had then told him: “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). David’s fallen tabernacle (or tent) would be rebuilt so that Gentiles who are called by the Lord’s name could enter to seek the Lord (Acts 15:17).

David’s Empire

David’s empire, stretching from the River Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, up to the border of Egypt (1 Kgs 4:21), fulfilled the promise of God to Abraham. God had established a covenant with Abraham, saying, “To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates …” (Gen 15:19–21). Later, when the Israelites left Egypt and entered the Wilderness of Sinai, God reiterated this promise to Moses:

“And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the sea, Philistia, and from the desert to the River….” (Ex 23:31–33)

And again, before the Israelites crossed River Jordan, God proclaimed to Joshua, “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory” (Josh 1:4).

“[This] shall be your territory” was an Old Testamental promise of a specific land area defined by boundaries. It was thus difficult for Abraham’s physical descendants who inherited this promise to mentally break through these boundaries. For example, some Pharisees who believed in Jesus had argued that the gentile believers must be circumcised and abide by Mosaic Law (Acts 15:5). However, their insistence was overridden by testimonies of Barnabas and Paul’s evangelism amongst the Gentiles, and by the wonderful works of the Holy Spirit as witnessed by Peter in the house of Cornelius.

Supported by such empirical evidence, James recalled Amos’ prophecy and realized that the fallen tabernacle of David had already been rebuilt. And that is the true church. The physical city of Jerusalem, which was the center of worship and offering during the Old Testamental period, was no longer the chosen place of God’s dwelling.(Jn 4:21).

The Rebuilt Temple

With His blood, Jesus established a new covenant. By His blood, Jesus rebuilt the spiritual temple, the dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:22). Those who believe in Him need no longer make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for worship; instead they are to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21–24). The earlier covenant has now been superseded: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb 8:13).

Jesus rebuilt the ruins of David’s tabernacle, and set up the spiritual temple so that all mankind may seek the Lord. The rebuilt tabernacle is no longer restricted by the old boundaries. There is no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. In fact, anyone who is willing will be ushered into the salvation grace of the Lord (Gal 3:26–29).


“Sing, O barren,

You who have not borne!
Break forth into singing, and cry aloud,
You who have not labored with child!
For more are the children of the desolate
Than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings;
Do not spare;
Lengthen your cords,

And strengthen your stakes.
For you shall expand to the right and to the left,
And your descendants will inherit the nations,
And make the desolate cities inhabited.”

(Isa 54:13)

The LORD urged the barren one to enlarge the place of her tent. Her descendants stand to inherit the nations. What did the Prophet Isaiah mean by this prophecy? How is this related to David’s fallen tabernacle?

The Earthly Jerusalem Will Be Desolate

David erected the tabernacle in Jerusalem to house the ark of God (2 Chr 1:4). The tabernacle was located within Zion[1]—the city of David—within the walls of Jerusalem. After Solomon had built the temple, the ark was brought into the temple (2 Chr 5:7–14). God chose Jerusalem to be the dwelling place of His name because of David (2 Chr 6:6). This city would be the place of worship and offering for His people (Deut 12:13–14)—the center of their faith.

However, it was also in Jerusalem that subsequent kings led the people to worship idols, playing the harlot and defying God. In order to redirect the faith of His people, God sent His servants, time and again, to lead them back to Him. However, these servants were killed by the people, who were unwilling to listen.

During His ministry on earth, Jesus once lamented over Jerusalem. Speaking as the Father in heaven, He said: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Lk 13:34–35). Since the Jerusalem of the old covenant was unwilling to heed God’s message, He wanted to depart from her.

The physical Jerusalem (cf. Gal 4:23–25) corresponds to Hagar and those born to her; the latter refers to the physical descendants of Abraham. Born under the old covenant, they were kept under the guardianship of the Law, in bondage to the beggarly elements, the handwriting of ordinances (Gal 3:23, 4:1-3, 9; Col 2:14), i.e., their misplaced trust in physical rituals. Such were in the same barren state that Sarah was before she received the promise. These Israelites were unable to see the love of God through His commandments, statutes and judgments. Nor did they find the life that He wished to bestow through the commandment (Rom 7:10). In particular, when they were taken captive by other nations, their path to worship at the temple in Jerusalem was cut off, making them even more like a barren woman without hope.

The words of the Lord are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). Since He declared that He would abandon Jerusalem and leave her uninhabited, it would surely come to pass. But although earthly Jerusalem is abandoned, the Lord had prepared greater and more abundant grace.

The Heavenly Jerusalem Will Be Mother of All

[B]ut the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written:

"Rejoice, O barren,

You who do not bear!

Break forth and shout,

You who are not in labor!

For the desolate has many more children

Than she who has a husband." (Gal 4:26–27)

The salvation grace that God wants to bestow on all humankind was a mystery, “which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ” (Eph 3:9). Through the Holy Spirit, this mystery was revealed to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. The mystery was that gentile and Jewish believers would come together to receive the grace of salvation through Christ. And the “Jerusalem above … which is the mother of us all,” which corresponds to Sarah (Gal 4:26), is the true church comprising gentile and Jewish believers.

The period leading up to the establishment of the church, when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, is like the period before Sarah was promised a son. She was a barren woman. But through the promise of God she gave birth to Isaac, the only son of Abraham. And God said, only those born of Isaac shall be called the descendants of Abraham (Gen 21:12).

The other sons of Abraham did not inherit the covenant God established with Abraham. Only Isaac, the son of promise, inherited this covenant. Therefore, the genuine descendants of Abraham—those who would inherit the covenant and thereby receive eternal life—are the children of promise (Gal 4:28). They are those who have entered the true church. They do not need to be physical descendants of Abraham, but must be born by the promise of God to Abraham (Gal 4:29). The Jerusalem above is the spiritual true church, which is the mother of them all (Gal 4:26).


“[Y]ou shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ” (Mt 23:39b).

Jesus spoke these words after His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey and after the cleansing of the temple. However, as Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the multitudes had shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:9b). Why, then, did Jesus say that they will not see Him until they have uttered that phrase?

What Jesus wanted to highlight was that even though the multitude had welcomed Him with great rejoicing, they were in actual fact hoping for Him—the Son of David—to deliver them from Roman rule and establish an earthly Davidic kingdom. They were not praising Jesus because they truly knew Him and the kingdom He was to establish. At that point in time, it never crossed their minds that the Messiah (the Anointed One) they had been waiting for would eventually be treated as a sinner, and be crucified in place of a notorious criminal such as Barabbas. They never expected the Messiah to be crucified in atonement for their sins, to bleed, and then to resurrect. Nor did they know that the kingdom the Messiah was going to establish would not be of the world (Jn 18:36–37). And even more so, they did not expect Him to establish His church that would lead men into His kingdom.

Therefore, when Jesus said, “You shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,’ ” He meant that they had not yet seen Him because they did not truly know who He was, and they did not realize that He would bear their grief and sorrows. But one day, the Jews would acknowledge that Jesus, whom they had nailed on the cross, is the One who has come in the name of the Lord; they would then believe in Him and praise Him. Until then, they had not yet seen this Messiah who was once on earth. Jesus continues to wait for them (cf. Rom 11:1–27).


“Sing, O barren, you who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman.” (Isa 54:1)

In Galatians 4:21–31, Paul gives a detailed exposition of Isaiah’s prophecy. After the earthly Jerusalem’s destruction, and when the fullness of time has come, the Lord shall return to rebuild the ruins of the fallen tabernacle of David. According to the understanding of James, the apostles and the elders (Acts 15:13–18), this rebuilt tabernacle would indeed be the house of prayer for “all nations” (Isa 56:7)—the spiritual true church.

The Spiritual True Church

God established several covenants with the Old Testament Israelites, and was a husband to them (Jer 31:32). At that time, the Gentiles who were outside the covenant were like a woman without a husband and without God (Eph 2:12). However, today, the Jerusalem above (the spiritual true church) has been revealed through the downpour of the promised Holy Spirit. The true church shall enlarge the place of her tent and stretch out the curtain of her dwellings to welcome children of the Lord from amongst the Gentiles. She fulfills the prophecy that the woman who was without husband will have many children (Gal 4:27).

The spiritual true church comprises many in the Old and New Testament—ancient saints like Abraham[2], Isaac and Jacob (Lk 20:37–38), the apostles, those who held fast to the faith, and us today. All these had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, but were born into the world according to their time to glorify God. The ancient saints had passed away and were received into the spiritual true church. This spiritual true church is the holy city Jerusalem which will come down out of heaven (emerge from the spirit) from God (Rev 21:2).

Preaching the Word, Rooting in the Word

Lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited.” (Isa 54:2b–3)

God was commanding an expansion without limits! To the apostles who saw Jesus ascend to heaven on Mount Olive, the prophet’s words would have been vague and inconceivable. To these Galileans, Jesus’ instruction to go and make disciples of “all nations” would have boggled their minds (Acts 10:28–29). Their lives were hemmed in by geographical boundaries, numerous covenants, Jewish traditions, and the Mosaic Law. Had it not been for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they would never have ventured beyond the closed-up Jewish community and enter the world of the Gentiles (Acts 10:28). How far could they lengthen their cords? How could they have reached out to all the nations?

However, nobody and nothing can stand in the way of the Holy Spirit’s intent! He wants the true church to evangelize globally, taking the gospel to literally every corner of the world. At the same time, the church is to strengthen her stakes, to lay a deep foundation wherever she reaches. Then the complete salvation gospel can be deeply rooted in all who have the heart to seek the Lord, and they can remain steadfast when the rain descends, when the water floods and the wind blows (Mt 7:24–27).


When they were in Antioch, Syria, Paul and Barnabas were sent by the Holy Spirit to a new land to proclaim the gospel of the Lord (Acts 13:2). They passed through the island of Cyprus and entered a few towns and villages in the province of Galatia. They bore testimony of the Lord wherever they went and established a few churches. There were Jews as well as Gentiles who came to believe in the Lord and were baptized into the faith.

Not long after this missionary trip, some believers came down from Judea and taught the necessity of circumcision for salvation (Acts 15:1). This claim was hotly disputed by Paul and Barnabas. Eventually, the issue of whether gentile converts had to undergo circumcision was brought before a council of apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Quadrilateral

After much debate, Peter stood up to bear testimony of how he was sent by the Holy Spirit to the home of an Italian centurion, Cornelius, to preach God’s salvation grace to them. He described how he personally witnessed the Holy Spirit being poured down on the Gentiles during his preaching, which proved that it was God’s will for them to be baptized into the Lord. Following this, Paul and Barnabas also recounted how God worked through them to perform miracles amongst the Gentiles. Finally, James concluded the debate by citing the prophecy of Amos:

“After this I will return

And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down;

I will rebuild its ruins,

And I will set it up;

So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,

Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,

Says the Lord who does all these things.” (Amos 9:11–12)

On hearing James’ judgment on the matter, the council came to a consensus and consequently wrote to inform the Gentiles that they need not undergo circumcision when they come to believe in the Lord (Acts 15:10); it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to the church that the gentile converts would be subject to no greater burden than abstaining from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality (Acts 15:28–29).

Importantly, in this meeting, the Holy Spirit Himself bore testimony and provided guidance because everyone had been united in following His leadership. The will of God was clear. He had walked ahead of them, leading them down a path which no one had walked before (Josh 3:3–4).


The church had affirmed that it was necessary for a believer to abstain from “things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (the Jerusalem Quadrilateral). However, is such abstinence sufficient to ensure that the believer walks smoothly unto eternal life?

On closer examination, there was a preceding context to James’ conclusion. He had said, “For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21). In those times, the Gentiles who believed in the Lord were able to attend Sabbath worship in the Jewish synagogues, to listen to the reading of the Pentateuch of Moses. If they wished to obey the commands of God and uphold His teachings, it would be insufficient just to abstain from the Jerusalem Quadrilateral. They would still need to understand the spirit of the Law of Moses.

Under the new covenant that Jesus had established through His blood, He puts His laws into men’s hearts and writes them on their minds (Heb 10:16). Although the Gentiles did not need to undergo physical circumcision, they needed to be continually renewed through the Spirit, to become a new man, to abide by the word of God, and to be circumcised in their hearts (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 3:3–6; Rom 2:26). All these can only be achieved through knowledge of the Old Testament laws and the prophetic books. Through daily spiritual nurture, the believer can gradually transform himself and regain the image of God, possessing true holiness and righteousness.

The Perpetual Covenant of the Sabbath between God and His People

As the Mosaic Law was read in every synagogue in every city, the apostles and elders would not need to repeatedly admonish or remind the gentile believers of the righteous requirement of the Law (Rom 8:4) in their letters to the gentile churches. The gentile believers in apostolic times attended Sabbath services every week and so had every opportunity to learn and understand the will of God.

“Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”

(Ex 31:15–17)

Keeping the Sabbath is a “perpetual covenant” between God and His people, an everlasting sign (Ex 31:12–17). This means it will never change, regardless of the appearance of the new covenant. In addition, it is an Old Testament prophecy that the gentile believers shall keep the Sabbath:

Also the sons of the foreigner

Who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him,

And to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—
Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath,
And holds fast My covenant—

Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,

And make them joyful in My house of prayer.” (Isa 56:6–7a)

This is the basis for discerning the true church today. The non-Jewish members of the true church will also observe the covenant of God by keeping the Sabbath. This is consistent with God’s will. God shall lead them to the holy mountain—He shall take them to higher ground where they can draw nearer to Him and be high above the worldly wind and waves. As they have deep spiritual communion with God through the Holy Spirit in the spiritual true church, they will be truly joyful in the house of prayer. It goes without saying that Jewish believers must continue to keep the Sabbath.

When the Lord Jesus was preaching on earth, it was His custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath to read and teach the people from the Scriptures (Lk 4:16). Paul did the same thing (Acts 17:2). The Bible reveals that the true church will keep the Sabbath. This was the case for the apostolic church, and it will be the same for the church revived by the latter rain of the Holy Spirit.


“On that day I will raise up

The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down,

And repair its damages;

I will raise up its ruins,

And rebuild it as in the days of old.” (Amos 9:11)

When James quoted this passage, he said, “After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up” (Acts 15:16). The tabernacle of David was damaged so God would return to rebuild it.

Source of Damage

The temple of Solomon was built in BC 957. After 371 years, in BC 586, it was burned down and the walls of the city destroyed when the great army of Babylon attacked Jerusalem (2 Chr 36:19). Although this was when the temple was physically destroyed, God’s presence had long departed from it. Under the leadership of their kings, the Jewish people had started to burn incense to Baal, walking after other gods even as they continued to call upon God’s name in His holy temple (Jer 7:8–11). Hence God departed from the temple, the place where He had chosen to establish His name. The faith of the people had become corrupt, which in turn defiled the holy city. Without the presence of God, the city became desolate.

In BC 538, God moved the Persian king Cyrus to allow the Jewish people’s return to Jerusalem to restore the temple of God (Mal 1:1–4). Zerubbabel led a group of exiled Jews back to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple upon the original foundations. The temple was completed and dedicated in BC 515. Soon after, however, the people’s faith deteriorated. As Nehemiah and Malachi noted, the Israelites did not abide by the teachings of God in terms of Sabbath-keeping and the spirit of offering; they did not pursue godliness; they took the marriage covenant lightly and neglected social justice (Mal 2:9, 3:5).

All these were breaches in the tabernacle of David. The crux of such damage was their inability to wholeheartedly serve the one true God. Although the people came to worship in the temple, they had idols and immoral thoughts in their hearts. They did not persevere in following God’s words, corrupting their worship with secular practices.

Come Out of the World

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?
For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”


“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”

(2 Cor 6:16–18)

Departing from one’s present situation in the world is an important theme of salvation grace. God’s first utterance to Abraham began with: “Get out of ...” (Gen 12:1). Leaving his father’s country was a prerequisite for receiving the blessings of God. Similarly, when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He told him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:10, 29:46). If they did not depart from Egypt, then God would not dwell among them.

Depart! Depart! Go out from there,
Touch no unclean thing;
Go out from the midst of her,
Be clean,
You who bear the vessels of the Lord.
For you shall not go out with haste,
Nor go by flight;
For the Lord will go before you,
And the God of Israel will be your rear guard. (Isa 52:11–12)

To depart, or be separated, from the world does not mean becoming a hermit (1 Cor 5:9–10). Rather, it means that we do not adopt the values of the world which are not in accordance with biblical teachings, and uphold the moral standard of the Bible whilst resisting compromise with secularism. The true church is the Lord’s sheepfold which He shepherds with His words. There is no need for the church to rely solely on the administrative practices of the world to govern the church (cf. 1 Sam 8:4–7).

The most important task of God’s servant is to work with God to mend the breach of faith in the church. This means humbly submitting to the revelation and guidance of the Holy Spirit to wholeheartedly uphold the common faith of the true church (Tit 1:1–4); to hold fast the pattern of sound words from the Bible, through faith and love in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:13–14); and to uphold the mystery of the faith (1 Tim 3:9).


When the apostles gathered at Jerusalem to debate the necessity of circumcision for gentile converts, they affirmed a key insight in the history of faith. The prophecy of the rebuilding of David’s fallen tabernacle did not refer to a physical reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem; instead it was about the establishment of a spiritual kingdom which Gentiles who are called by the Lord’s name could enter to seek the Lord (Acts 15:17). It is the will of God that both Jews and Gentiles can come together in the true church to receive the grace of salvation through Jesus Christ. The spiritual true church consists of the ancient saints, the believers of the church in the apostolic time as well as believers today.

The believers of yore faithfully served the true God when they were on earth and followed His command wherever they were. This is a constant reminder that the true church holds fast God’s perpetual covenant (Ex 31:16). She worships the God Whom Abraham worshipped, the only true God—Abraham did not worship a god in three distinct persons, the Trinity[3]. Specifically, she must keep herself from defiling the Sabbath (Isa 56:6). In addition, the true church has a firm belief in the Bible and does not conform to worldly trends and values. The true church is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit who guides and directs the church (Eph 2:22). Individually, the body of every member of the true church is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in him or her to provide counsel and comfort (1 Cor 6:19).

Throughout the history of man, God has continually selected and sent out His servants to minister to His true church. Workers of God must assiduously work to heal the breaches in the church such as disunity amongst brethren or in doctrine, heresy, bad behavior, secularism etc. There is no servant who can complete the entire course of the salvation plan alone; instead, each servant must work to the utmost of his ability during the limited time span in which he has been commissioned. And the examples of Moses and Paul remind us that no matter how gifted an individual worker is, he must always work humbly alongside co-workers.

Patriarchs of the faith such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Heb 11:10). God prepared this city for them (Heb 11:16) just as He prepares it for us. May we all look forward to abiding with our Lord in this holy city, New Jerusalem, the everlasting dwelling place of all those whose names are written in the Book of Life (Rev 21:27, 22:5).

[1] Zion was originally an ancient Jebusite fortress in the city of Jerusalem. It is described in the Bible both as the city of David (cf. 2 Sam 5:7, 9) as well as the city of God (cf. Ps 87:2–3).

[2] Jesus said that God refers to Himself as the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Since God is not the God of the dead, but of the living"(Mt 22:31–32), these ancient saints are still living men in the sight of God although their physical bodies had long perished. They make up the spiritual true church.