Prepared by Greg Austin for
Before proceeding, I want to ask the reader for forgiveness and not a little forbearance as I take a few liberties in straying afield a bit from Jon Zens’ document.
It’s not that I have disagreement with the author. On the contrary, I affirm nearly all that he asserts. But I must approach this subject out of the context of my own journey and experience.
There is, it seems to me, general and critical misunderstanding in so many circles between the themes and functions of the Kingdom of God and the Church of God. During the 1980’s I was privileged to sit under Dr. Gordon Fee as he brought great illumination regarding the immediacy and consequently the present-day relevancy of the existent Kingdom of God in the earth.
As the layers of ignorance and erroneous teaching began to peel away from my mind, I began to see, then embrace the concept of a Kingdom not to merely be hoped for or to be anticipated in some long and distant future time, not a concept for the mind to grapple with, but rather a Kingdom to become aware of, laid hold of, embraced.
The recognition of a “church” existing and moving within and for the purposes of a greater and eternal Kingdom began to bear serious consequence upon the manner in which I viewed all of life around me: The way I viewed all men, of time, of space, of possibility: My dimensions of reality increased exponentially. I began to realize the part within the whole. For much of the Christianized world, the concept of “church” is the main, perhaps the only theme. This is a gross misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus and of the experience of the first Christians. These words are also dangerous ones, likely to put a man at odds with any of the myriad denominations in the Christian-church-world. And these words are dangerous because they threaten, they are subversive, they are true.
Allow me one further diversion from my stated purpose:
With Jesus’ utterance of those powerful words at Caesarea-Philippi, “I will build My church . . .” (Mt. 16:18), generations have focused on the concept of a church – in many cases blindly focused on that concept while not understanding barely a whit of what He intended.
It goes without challenge or explanation that Jesus used the Greek ecclesia in this passage, from which we have derived our theologically-sounding “ecclesiology” to describe the study of the church. Generations of believers in Jesus have transposed, simply substituted “ecclesia” with “church.” So our English rendering of Matthew 16:18 gives us the clear “build My church” phrase. A careful reader, however will note that He did not use the word church here. Jesus said, literally, “I will build My called-out-ones.”
Two hi-jackings of meaning have occurred, both with negative impact upon the true Body of Christ. The first is in the (wrong) interpretation of Jesus’ words at Caesera-Phillipi (“I will build My church” versus “I will build My ‘called-out-ones’”).
The second error surrounds the usage of kyriokon,” belonging to the Lord or “of the Lord” (Greek, kyriokos), derived from Greek κυριος (kyrios) "lord." The word is used sparingly in the New Testament: 1 Corinthains 11:20 gives us, sunercomenwn oun umwn epi to auto ouk estin kuriakon deipnon fagein. Please note the word kuriakon here. The English rendering is “Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper.” The key thought has to do with Kuriakon, “come together,” in whatever form that may be.
Yet tragically, Kyriokon has come to represent the whole, expansive religious world and liturgical, theocratic, may I suggest, pharisaical system we now commonly call “church.”
This is an interesting turn of lexis, since the old Anglo-Saxon is cirice, circe, the French cirque (any mountain climber understands this term: It means a head of a mountain valley, in the general shape of the end of a football stadium, or the curve of a circle). The modern German has cirche, kyrka or kirke to verbalize “church,” but the old meaning is far more curious:
The derivation of the word is generally accepted to be from the Greek kuriakon ‘belonging to the Lord, above.’ But this descent has been assumed rather than considered. Consider the word kirk, meaning the Latin circus, and the word circulus, the Greek kuklos gathered in circles.
Our English word church is a transliteration and not a translation of the Greek, kuriake (not karaoke!). This is a potentially huge mistake since the result of translation is interpretation and understanding while the result of transliteration is to mimic or to copy as closely as possible with or without understanding. Is there the potential that the biblical meaning of church has more to do with a circle than with a system? That the intent of heaven was that we should gather – in houses, in public meeting places, and in time in coffee shops or in lunch rooms or wherever “two or three are gathered in (His) name” in circles?
Without belaboring the point, merely consider this: The circle, and not the arch (as has been commonly mis-taught) is the strongest structural shape in creation.
This, then is the context from which I approach Zens’ missive: That the church, very early in her history “jumped the track” and has suffered long for that error.
In the 1980’s, the unfolding revelation of “Kingdom” became part of the process that first stirred, then awakened me as a conventional pastor of a conventional church to the realization that not everything was well in the Neighborhood. Since those days, I’ve been on a conscious journey to find a better, more accurate representation of the church of Jesus within the context of His Kingdom in the earth.
The collective “we” – those of us who have journeyed with God towards a “more perfect” understanding – have spent sufficient time and energy identifying the myriad problems of the institutional church. We could all no doubt preach until the cows come home about the many misrepresentations, miscomprehensions and misapplications of the church. Among these are:
u The abysmal lack of sound doctrine found in many “church” circles.
v The woeful state of even the thing termed “the organic church.”
w The decline of the impact and significance of the church in society.
x The lack of biblical accuracy in many Bible schools, church pulpits, and members brains.
And sadly, the list goes on. But my aim here is not just to become another perturbed customer standing in line at the complaint department – I’m more interested in solutions than in criticisms.
In my view, Zens has done a good and concise job of summarizing the most damaging mutations of the church during the roughly two-hundred year period from the Apostolic church up through the Ante-Nicene and Nicene eras of church history.
What I find to be most interesting regarding Zens’ work is not that these shifts have occurred, but that we’re noticing!
For centuries the church has functioned with limited effectiveness in direct proportion to the effects of each of these shifts, yet believers for centuries have either been blissfully unaware of the negative impact of these shifts, or have at least been willing to co-exist with them.
So I wonder, since we are noticing, are we currently living
through a season of God’s gracious revelation? Are we the generation of
fathers God has chosen to bring His church back to center, back to a
Christ-centric, divinely effective and God-honoring organism?
Then there’s a whole other discussion related to Zen’s summation regarding the “whys” and the “whats” of these shifts.
● Why did the church move from a dynamic organism towards dead formalism?
● Why did the church shift from a polyform type of ministry to a central and restricted pulpit and the ensuing clergy-laity divide?
● What forces brought the decline of persecution that the early church had experienced, and what caused the withdrawal of the Holy Spirit as the leading, guiding, teaching influence of the church?
Perhaps Zens’ list is upside down. I think the first cause of these shifts away from the original order and dynamic influence of the church in the earth was the diminution of the influence, the focus on, and the recognized necessity of the presence of the Holy Spirit among the church.
When the Holy Spirit is recognized and fills the church, there is an innate awareness of life and relationship, of commonality and of “family.” Where the Holy Spirit is ignored, grieved, cold formalism always follows.
When there is emphasis & reliance on the ministry of Holy Spirit, a polyform ministry will be encouraged by the self-same Spirit. And finally, when the Holy Spirit is pushed to the side line, a professional order of ministers must step in to fill the void created.
There are laws in the physical universe which are immutable. We learned many of them from our school teachers, and perhaps a few by way of painful mistakes which manifested in bumps and bruises.
There are laws in the spiritual universe that are likewise absolute and fixed. In the physical environment, Newton’s Third Law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In the spiritual dimension, we might set forth an equation that states: Lifeless Religion increases in direction proportion to the decreased dynamic of the Holy Spirit.
The effect of lifelessness – of dead ceremony and formalism - spawned by any man-system or program introduced to the church increases in direction proportion to the decreased dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit.
Paul said it like this: Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. 3:3) and “No other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:11).
The effect of the introduction of these systems, programs, hierarchies, the institutionalization of the church, increases in direct proportion to the decline or absence of the dynamic presence, movement and involvement of the Holy Spirit.
That which is flesh will always encourage more of the same. That which is Spirit will produce spirit. As the influence of the Holy Spirit decreases, the void thus created must be filled, and that is the place and purpose of man-made institution.
When we examine the history of the church, beginning with the Pentecostal Church of Acts 2 and following, we discover that at its heart and core, it was a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led, Spirit-engendered church. The enjoinder, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us,” was the functionary posture of the church.
In this first church, while leadership and order obviously existed, it was the leadership of the Holy Spirit operating through humble human instruments who understood their place in the newly forming Body.
We need only consider the process of securing a replacement among the disciples for the fallen Judas. Peter gave the qualifications for the position which eliminated any number of good men from consideration. So the issue is not whether the church should have leadership or not. The issue rather has to do with the methodology of determining leadership.
What then, happened to derail that first church, and where did the church veer from the course God had established and the first church enjoyed?
Interestingly, the only pattern for worship gatherings the newly born church possessed was the Old Testament Temple construct; yet the worship configuration of these New Testament believers was vastly different than that which the law prescribed.
Acts 2:42-47 has been used as a blueprint for the church by
various groups with varying and seldom satisfactory result. As Zens
rightly concludes, “it is far more important to capture the spirit of
church life as we see it unfolded in the New Testament, than it is to
try and woodenly replicate cultural particulars of the first century.”
Jon Zens himself has said: We all need to be bathed in humility.
As Thomas Dubay reminds us, “despite my grandest aspirations and my best efforts, I am perilously close to zero; without the Lord, I am zero.” As the Lord gives us light, it is crucial to share it with others in love, in wisdom, and at the proper time. And we must remember that He has light for us to receive from others. Human traditions are the only entities that can nullify God’s word. They need to be challenged. But the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle, knowing that the Lord brings the receptive heart. Look for those who are asking questions. Fan the embers or the little flame you see in others. Your servant heart will go much farther than your eloquent arguments. I’m reminded of the story from the 1870’s when a simple-church person was talking to a Lutheran scholar about church. Upon hearing the other’s ideas, the Lutheran said, “That will never work!” The humble reply was, “Have you tried it?”
Jesus indicated that the traditions of men had made His word of none effect. We so quickly say “Amen” to His judgment of the inter-testamental worship structure and at the same time fail to recognize our own complicity in holding desperately and often without question to the traditions passed to us.
Having promised not to drift into complaint, I need to register at least one problem with the New Testament Church here: And I think this may be at the root of much of our error. The word is “mixture:”
Mixture from Old Testament Temple worship; Since Jesus was the fulfillment of the law, every worship system must transfer from the strictures of temple worship to full worship of the “Temple” Jesus promised to raise up after three days. Continuing the steady procession of the sacrifice of bulls and of goats robs Christ of the very purpose for which He was crucified, buried and resurrected.
Yet among primarily those Judaizers who insisted that new Gentile believers should adhere to the Torah Laws originally given to Israel as a partial but accurate revelation of the One Who would become the full and complete sacrifice for sins and others, there was a cry to return to the law, perfect though it was, but not a man was found capable of keeping that law, save Jesus Himself.
Mixture from the pharisaical traditions, the endless additions to, explanations of, insistence upon multitudinous laws, ritual washings, prayers, the stoicism necessarily connecting to a life of denial and prudish holiness on the outward man kept true seekers of truth at bay from the very One Who would bring freedom to any heart surrendered to Him.
Mixture from gentile idol worship and pagan practices; Inclusivism at the loss of the simplicity of the gospel. Following the base mind-set and crude desire of the soul, at the sacrifice of the pure gospel Jesus preached.
and in today’s church,
Mixture from the world. Political correctness at the cost of spiritual truth. Acceptance by a God-rejecting populace at the price of being rejected by God.
When God gave Moses the command to prepare a holy oil of anointing, he was instructed never to “compound” any like it. The Hebrew word here, Raqach means literally “mix or compound.” God specifically commanded that the holy oil of anointing be pure and without mixture, in part because:
● Mixture Dilutes – watered-down oil is ineffective oil.
● Mixture Obscures: “The tendency of religion is to muddy.” CM Ward.
● Mixture Kills: The killing agent in rat poison comprises only a miniscule percentage of the whole compound, and to the rat, the poison is sweet to the taste.
'This shall be a holy anointing oil to Me throughout your generations. It shall not be poured on man's flesh; nor shall you make any other like it, according to its composition. It is holy, and it shall be holy to you. Whoever compounds any like it, or whoever puts any of it on an outsider, shall be cut off from his people.” Exodus 30:31-33
Mixture, by its nature, dilutes.
Draw a simple glass of water from the tap and look at its clarity. By the naked eye, one would obviously assume that the lack of murkiness, the lack of sediment indicates purity.
That assumption, we know is false. We’re told that these special bottled waters sold for anything from .99 to several dollars are pure, uncontaminated, untainted, but independent studies have shown that common tap water from our homes is often more pure than the water we pay big bucks for at the grocery store.
Ten years ago a study of 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of bottled water revealed that about 1/3 of the waters tested contained levels of contamination -- including synthetic organic chemicals, bacteria, and arsenic.
The problem isn’t with the water itself, it’s with the mixture, the contaminants that are introduced to the water at some point, either through natural means or by artificial manipulation of the water.
A parallel can be drawn between water and the church. What appears as the church, what has become the pattern for the church has typically come from those places where church is judged (success/failure) by size or by impressive form and physical structure and not by the size of hearts or by the spiritual structure of the church.
The Bigger, the Better. Size equals success. Numerical Growth is a barometer of spiritual growth - But these statements are not consistently or logically true: Time and again we have watched with pain and sorrow as mega-ministries became mega-disasters when empires established on shaky foundations imploded.
Most of us have been around long enough to remember Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker, Marvin Gorman, Ted Haggard. Most recently, Todd Bentley and the Florida Outpouring were in the spotlight of both the church and the world.
The common denominators of all these works were great numbers, great promotion, great excitement, great activity, great offerings and great harm done to the Body of Christ when these spiritual ponzi schemes and works of flesh came crashing down.
2. WHAT’S REALLY WRONG WITH THE CHURCH? It was in May, 1996 that I heard the Spirit say, “The current structure of the church cannot accommodate what I’m about to do.”
With Zens, I agree that we have a structural and not primarily a spiritual problem. I think a lot of people have spent a lot of time attacking the wrong enemy – it’s a structural issue as much as it is a theological issue that denudes the church of its power and glory.
The structure is what Zens is speaking of – And it was a structural and not a heart problem that God took issue with when David said, “I’ll build a house for God.” God sent the prophet to David to correct him, “Will you build a house for God? I will build YOU a house.”
And the “house” has nothing whatsoever to do with buildings, architecture, wood and stone and stained glass. Indeed, the church functioned with amazing success for the first 200 to 300 years of its existence. Is it coincidental that when the church began to acquire property, it began to lose spiritual significance and power?
WHAT SHOULD THE CHURCH LOOK LIKE IN 2009, or 2010, or 2012? I don’t pretend to know or particularly care – but I DO know how the church should function, and I know that in most places there is a huge gulf between facade & function.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THAT WE ‘GET IT RIGHT’? Regardless of your personal view of eschatology, I think there is general agreement that we are, in 2009 living through a time of transition, this is a time of massive change, of critical challenge and enormous consequence.
There was a time in our lives when we did not need to worry about the condition of the church or of society as a whole. We were children, and our minds were occupied with the concerns of children. There were seasoned, mature and responsible adults to do the worrying, the work and who bore the effort of making sure we had a place to worship and a nation to live freely within. But those times are long gone; we no longer have somebody else to take care of the church – we are now those “somebodys:” We are called of God – ordained of Him to take our places as the apostles and prophets of our generation,
In the vernacular, it’s time for us all to “man up,” to seriously take our places within the Army of God and lead a new generation into the light and the truth that both Jesus and the first apostles diffused.
“it is incumbent upon believers to work for the recovery of Christ's ways and to stop contributing to the perpetuation of non-edifying ecclesiastical patterns.” (Zens)
HOW DO WE GET FROM WHERE WE ARE TO WHERE WE NEED TO GO? Perhaps we feel stuck in a quandary like the summer tourist who asked a farmer in Main: “Which way to Millinocket?” After considering and then rejecting a few possible routes, the farmer concludes, “Come to think of it, you can’t get there from here.”
Yet surely we will “get there from here.” Indeed, we must find the authentic among the counterfeit. The imperative of heaven dictates that we do so.
We must return to true, time-worn and proven biblical foundations – Certainly, we have a Blueprint that is two thousand years old, not concocted by some mega-ministry and published under fancy cover to allure those looking for some new and attractive “way.”
We must return to an authentic understanding of apostolic foundations – and here I am implying a return to the past, to the old, to the true foundation of the church of Jesus – there is such a clamor for something “new.” People don’t just want a word from the Lord, they want a NEW word from the Lord.
There is this empty pursuit of some “new thing” among so many in the Body. Nadab and Abhihu, who offered strange fire before the Lord were Aaron’s sons! Aaron, the brother of Moses, Aaron, The first High Priest of the Hebrew people, Aaron, who knew God first-hand. It was his sons who brought strange fire before the Lord, and the tragedy didn’t end with their deaths, but they took 23 thousand children and men with them. Disobedience always exacts a price beyond what we can imagine.
The sons of Aaron substituted a kind of incense different from that which God had commanded. So much of the so-called “words” or “new revelations” I’ve heard in the past fifteen or so years has been at best substitute incense.
But there is a word from heaven: It is a call to stop the jockeying for position, to learn the foolishness and wasted effort of pride and arrogance the endless and fruitless quest for success – to stop printing impressive business cards and get about the business of providing and strengthening the foundations of the church.
It’s a call to roll up our sleeves and to shoulder the responsibility of teaching, mentoring, of proclaiming to a new generation the truth, even when it’s inconvenient or unpopular or decidedly un-sheik.
I believe that a major role of the apostolic ministry is in restoring biblical foundations of ecclesiology, and that means reformation, even revolution
Walking in the apostolic today, I believe, means to Re-learn, Re-consider, Re-Form, Re-order, Re-teach, Re-model.
Premise One: The further the Church drifted from its post-Pentecost history, the greater became the intrusions of religion, institutionalization and formalism. The church often reflected proper orthodoxy while experiencing poor orthopraxy. The church manifested right tenets of belief and wrong behavior – having a form of godliness and denying the power thereof.
Jesus, let us remember, said He is the builder of the church. The construction of the church is not our responsibility or even our business: I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it, He said.
Our concern must be with recognition of, alignment with, and faithfulness to the structure He builds.
Premise Two: New Testament teaching and history is replete with examples of the polyform ministry Zens describes. That the concept of the priesthood of the believer was paramount in the life of the early church is without question. The whole post-apostolic clergy-laity divide is at best an artificial construct, and at worst a demonically-inspired strategy, fueled by equal parts of human pride, fear, tradition and dependence upon the flesh rather than dependence upon God’s faithful leadership.
In the post-apostolic era, the church fathers (especially Tertullian and Cyprian) began to plant the seeds for the rise of a class of teachers and priests from the laity, until by the 3rd century the clergy was an entrenched institution.
This was one of the most insidious corruptions of the post-apostolic church, and it served to sever a powerful spiritual artery with devastating results to the Body.
Jesus told His followers, “. . . it is expedient, It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (Joh 16:7).
If I had been standing with Jesus when He spoke these words, I might have said, “It’s to my advantage that You stay! I don’t need the Helper – the Comforter – the Parakletos – the One called along side, when I have You at my side, You are my Helper and my Comforter – How is it to my advantage that You go away?”
But God so loved the world, that He gave, and if Jesus is beside me, then by reason of physics, He’s not with you in North Carolina or in North Africa, and the gospel, by its divine nature is not selfish and possessive but God wills that we “go into all the world” carrying the presence of the Holy One – the Holy Spirit –
We are literally “carriers” of the glory of God. And the post-apostolic church by its construct and by its orthopraxy robs earth of the manifest presence of God by attempting to confine God’s presence to a man-made clergy.
It is necessary that I go away, so that I may send the Holy Spirit – Clerics institutionalized the presence of God, false vicars cop-opted the knowledge that every man, every woman who knows Jesus is a carrier of the Holy Spirit and of the Presence and the Glory of God.
Premise Three: “Intense difficulty and persecution” Is out of the control of man: We cannot artificially induce persecution, although if we become the true, living representation of Christ in the earth, we will, Jesus promised, suffer persecution, and the Western church is moving now towards a head-on collision with a spirit of persecution from the world.
Premise Four: In the brilliant film adaptation of General Hal Moore’s We Were Soldiers Once, And Young, North Vietnamese Commander Chu Huy Man opposed Moore’s Cavalry Troops. Man incorporated an effective strategy to counter the effectiveness of helicopter-borne troops on the battlefield: He ordered his men to use the cover of darkness to silently slip up near the American lines, so that Moore’s artillery and air power would be useless. The NVA officer used a term called "hugging the belt" -- staying in such close contact that the enemy could not use its superior firepower to any advantage. Col. Man later said, “This is the first time we try our tactics: Grab them by the belt buckle, “hug them.”
Please catch this significance in General Man’s statement here: “The closer we come to you the less your firepower is effective. Yet Man’s wasn’t a new tactic; armies had long since discovered the art of mixing with and blending in with their enemies. And another enemy devised this tactic long before the first army entered the first field of battle in earth’s history.
Satan has always used the cover of darkness to silently slip among the church, so that in the first case, he will not be recognized, and in the second, the church will lob its spiritual artillery outward, where the enemy is no longer, leaving him in our midst where he can do his greatest destruction. He can and has literally co-opted the leadership of the church.
Satan employs this tactic with frightening success: Once he infiltrated the church, he succeeded in camouflaging himself until for centuries we didn’t even notice his presence near or among us: He gave the church just enough religious flavor, religious sound, religious “feel” that undiscerning masses of believers never even noticed the enemy’s presence among us.
The lament of David, “Let us bring again the ark of our God to us: for we enquired not at it in the days of Saul” (1 Chron. 13:3) should be our heart’s cry today – let us bring again the presence of our God to us; let us bring again the fire and the essence and the empowerment of the Spirit of the living God
Saul’s administration represents the effort of the flesh, the creation of religion and of institution. “. . . we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations” 1 Sam. 8:19, 20
Simply put, we must take our places in the apostolic and prophetic hour in this generation. As President Ronald Reagan (and many others) have dramatically and accurately put it, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”
We have examined four clear shifts in early church history. These shifts are acknowledged by church historians of all theological persuasions. James D. G. Dunn, one of the foremost New Testament scholars of our time, summarizes the essence of these four shifts like this:
Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism - when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. We saw above that such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the second generation the picture was beginning to change.11
'Such features were absent from first generation Christianity,' that is, they are not found in the New Testament. Does this concern you? Is your heart burdened by the chasm between the original work of the Spirit and the hardened institution that quickly emerged in the post-apostolic days? Does it bother you that most of what we associate with 'church' has little to do with the New Testament, and more to do with patterns that reflect a drift away from it?
Further, and this is the key question, were the shifts we have studied a faithful extension of New Testament ideals, or a tacit denial of all that they stand for? If the answer is the latter, then it is incumbent upon believers to work for the recovery of Christ's ways and to stop contributing to the perpetuation of non-edifying ecclesiastical patterns.
The Clergy System, W. Carl Ketcherside
Online document: http://www.scionofzion.com/clergy.htm
The Clerical Error: Exposing the False Practice of the Clergy/Laity System, Milt Rodriguez
Online document: http://www.therebuilders.org/articles/clericalerror.html
The Distinction between Clergy and Laity – Is it of God?, Stephen Hesterman
Online document: http://www.plymouthbrethren.com/clergy.htm
STRANGE FIRE by Ray C. Stedman
Online document: http://www.pbc.org/files/messages/3533/0510.html
Interview with Jon Zens, Lionel Woods
Parallel Greek New Testament, John Hurt www.htmlbible.com/contactus.htm