Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 4/20/08.
"For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Habakkuk 2:14).
There is a painfully obvious discrepancy between the glorious visions of Habakkuk, Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Amos, and others, and what we see on planet Earth today. For the most part, Christians have had to settle for intangible promises, rather than the fulfillment of them. My friend whom I've quoted before is still struggling to understand exactly what we can expect of God today. She desperately seeks a healing for her son, or failing that, divine intervention with the Risk Management/Worker's Compensation people who are refusing to grant him the medical benefits he is entitled to from his employer. She recently asked, "Is all we look to God to do for us is to save our souls?" That rather shocking question is a sad reflection on the great deficit of power flowing through Christians today. The early church, depicted in the book of Acts, was filled with the power and glory of the risen Lord Jesus, so that no one would have needed to ask that question of Peter, John, Paul, or in fact, any member of the early church, for they had all seen and tasted the power of Almighty God. Our friend's solution for how to understand the divine? "God should have put a 'Yes' or 'No' button for answering our questions." She asks because she has not personally witnessed the truth of Paul's declaration: "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God" (II Cor. 1:20).
When I first realized there is virtually NO similarity between the church universal and triumphant described so powerfully by Paul, and the extant church on earth today, I was VERY angry and blamed the church herself for this failure to display the power and glory of God, which I (and many like me, including my friend) sorely needed. For those who just "tuned in," the church I grew up in taught that the Holy Spirit went back to heaven when the last Apostle died, because, they said, the "perfect" has come (I Cor. 13:10). By that, they did NOT mean Jesus Christ (they're still looking for Him to return bye and bye). No, they meant the Bible (King James Version, of course). That led to some pretty strange prayers, such as praying for the hands that ministered to the sick (but never asking God to actually heal the sick since they believed He could no longer do so). I used to wonder why God would help the hands of those who care for the sick, but wouldn't help the sick person directly?
I also envisioned a scene in which the elders of the church would come to a dying man's hospital room, lay a Bible on his chest, and say, "Read it brother; it'll do you good. It's all you need now." Hello?
Like much of churchianity's dogmas and twisted logic, it made no sense at all to me. I fumed at such folly and laid Paul's condemnation upon them: "holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people" (II Tim. 3:5). And avoid them I did, big time, as I acted out John's description of "young men who know they have power over the evil one" (I John 2:13). I became what Lenny now refers to as an "obnoxious teenager."
We cannot work our own way into or out of that rude and impertinent place until God opens our eyes to see His total and complete sovereignty. Yes, I talk about that constantly, not just because I'm old and prone to repeating myself, but because it seems to me that a failure to see, understand, taste and feel His sovereignty is at the root of most of our problems individually, and certainly at the root of most church problems as well.
Back to my friend's e-mail, I applaud her attitude, for in spite of her frustrations, she avows, "I'm going to keep chasing God until He catches me! I am a driven person about knowing God. I've been struggling (as you so well know) with this since I was about 18! Sometimes I have given up, but the desire always comes back to me." Her statement really expresses my life long struggle to understand the power of God and what it means for me and countless others today. There are great and precious promises in scripture, and I want to know and see and touch the realization of Paul's magnificent declaration about Christ and his body, the church: "And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" (Eph. 1:21-22). Most of us are in a galaxy, far, far away from experiencing "the fulness of him who fills all in all." I have been looking for transport to this mystical place since I was a child and first read the scripture for myself. If anyone could get there, I reasoned in my childish enthusiasm, it might as well be me.
Of course, Christ IS the TRANSPORT, the WAY, and in fact, the PERSON in whom God fills everything with His fulness. According to Paul, we are A-L-L IN CHRIST, meaning we are IN the WAY home to God and He in us. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). In Him, we are one: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are ALL ONE in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). In answer to my friend's question about whether all we can expect is salvation from God, here are a few of the many free blessings of grace we receive in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are A NEW CREATION in Christ (II Cor. 5:17); we are JUSTIFIED (reckoned to be righteous) in Christ (Rom. 3:24; Gal. 2:16); we are SONS OF GOD in Christ (Gal. 3:26); we are SANCTIFIED (made holy) in Christ (Eph. 1:4); we are SEATED WITH CHRIST in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6); we are "fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Eph. 3:6).
Paul uses the metaphors of a body and a bride to describe the church (See Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18, 14; II Cor. 11:2). The Greek word translated "church" is "ecclesia." In his compelling book, The Misunderstanding of the Church, Emil Brunner gives an excellent treatise of this organism Jesus said the gates of hell would never prevail against (Matt. 16:18).
"The community which had been founded and fashioned anew through the events of the passion, death and resurrection (of Christ), at Pentecost stepped forth out of its concealment; the Messianic secret is now disclosed and at the same time the interpretation of the Messiahship of Jesus transformed; He is now hailed as Messiah, a Messiah who is also the vicariously suffering Servant of God, the Lord who is present with His own through His Spirit. Henceforth the body of disciples are molded through the 'fellowship of the Spirit.' They live not by the inspiration of a historical memory; but He with whom they had eaten and drunk is now in the midst of them. He, the Lord, present through the Spirit is the life-principle of the Ecclesia....
"The gift of the Holy Ghost and the sharing in the invisible presence of the Master are so closely connected that it is hardly possible to distinguish between them, but rather it may be said: 'the Lord is the Spirit' (II Cor. 3:17). So then the fellowship of Jesus is the true people of the covenant, whose history doubtless begins with the Old Covenant, but which only attains full reality through the living presence of the risen Lord. But because the fellowship is nothing else than this people of God dwelling in the Spirit, it is in no sense an institution, but the living body of the living head."
This dynamic fellowship of believers that arose after the first Pentecost is as "rare as hen's teeth" on earth today, IF it exists at all. Brunner follows the thread of church history to show how the living, fluid organism, the "Ecclesia," became a static organization. He traces the transformation beginning with the time that "canon law was in the hands of the theologians." Later, he says, "lawyers schooled in the science of Roman law enter the Curia (the papal court of the Vatican by which the Roman Catholic Church is governed)... They introduce for the self-determination of the Church a notion which had been unknown to the early Church but which from henceforth is to shape the whole life and thought of the Church: the notion of the Church as a CORPORATION."
The result is that "In neo-catholicism a new (legal) person has stepped in between Christ and christianity, the Church as a corporation... (By law, corporations operate as a "legal person.") The "church" Christ established is no longer the "Ecclesia," as Paul envisioned it, but had become a corporate institution. Christ's rule therefore was limited to the churchly organization, ruled by the pope through the bishops. By the 12th century, the papacy had granted itself absolute power and authority to determine what was scriptural AND what was tradition.
Brunner does not say that a consequence of this effort to organize the church caused the decline in the Holy Spirit's influence and power, though I've always thought that to be the case. One reason he did give for the Holy Spirit's dwindling presence, is that the second coming of Christ, which the early church expected to see momentarily, did not happen when they thought it would (Hal Lindsey has had this problem as well).
The result? "The Christian community had to abandon its tense eschatological expectations: it had to reckon with the possibility of a long life for the Ecclesia and make its arrangements accordingly... The disappearance of the pneuma (Spirit) and of the order it had created inevitably made way for the substitution of a different kind of order, that of ecclesiastical administration." End quote.
In other words, church leaders had to "punt," to fill in the blanks, to give the flock something to do while they waited for Christ to appear again in their midst. Brunner does not fault the church for this situation, however, as I once did. Nor does he blame them for splintering off in so many different pieces, for He reasons that God caused it and God will bring good out of it. I had come to the same conclusions several years ago. If God were really put out, angry, distraught over the situation found in most churches today, He certainly would do something about it. As it is, He who knows the end from the beginning is not worried, because He knows it will all turn out for His glory.
I like Harry Fox's conclusion about the foibles of the church. He says that even as God reckons our faith for righteousness, as He did with Abraham (Rom. 4:3-13), even so He reckons the church's faith as righteous for the same reason. Paul is clear that God reckoned Abraham righteous by faith alone, because it happened before he was circumcised (Vs. 10). It was not his reward for obeying God as many see righteousness today, but rather was a gift from God. Yes, Abraham had faith, but it was a gift, even as our faith is today (Eph. 2:8-9). Paul concluded, "The promise to Abraham and his descendants, that they should inherit the world, did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (Vs. 13).
Brunner's comments about the church devolving into a corporation came to mind when I read an e-mail from a brother who is planning to organize those who believe in Ultimate Reconciliation. He will offer a magazine in which you can buy ads to tell folks about your ministry, business cards to identify yourself and how to contact you, and of course there is a meeting scheduled to expedite these professional ideas. When I read it, the first thing that came to me was an organization to prop up what God is doing in this hour, with the decided risk factor of organizing the Spirit right out of it. I don't doubt the zeal and enthusiasm of the brother who is spearheading this effort, but to me, it sounded a lot like an invitation Lenny and I had once to become Amway representatives. There is a way that sounds good to a man, but the end thereof is death, spiritual death anyway (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). And if not death, then a detour for sure.
I thanked him for inviting us, but repeated my mantra these days, which is that we only do and write and give what the Lord instructs us to do and write and give. Anything else is merely self effort and in my opinion, won't make it through the refining fires. However, no one died and made me pope, priest, bishop, pastor, or guru. We all have to follow the light we're given.
My comfort and refuge is knowing that our God who calls the things that are not as though they were and gives life to the dead, can take any mistake we make, or detour we take, and use it for His glory. Does the church need to be healed? Indeed she does, and Christ IS the Great Physician. He is also responsible to "present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5: 27).
So far as man's ability to organize the church, he may work on the external facade, the building, which is what most Christians mean when they say "church," but he cannot touch, amend, codify or regulate the living organism in communion with the living head, because that's a "God job" from start to finish. Hallelujah!
Father, thank You that You are the One responsible for keeping us from falling and presenting us faultless before the throne, the lover and sanctifier of our souls. All praise, all worship and all honor belongs to You, Lord, for You are the stone not made with hands which became a mountain that filled the whole earth, the rock of our salvation, and the Sovereign Lord of all creation. Thine be the glory, now and forever more. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be continued.....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)
Healing, or Stealing God's Glory?
Risky Business, Healing, Part II
The Royal Priesthood, Healing, Part III
Rest in the GIFT, Healing, Part IV
Restoring the Glory Land, Part V
Victory Through Helplessness,Healing, Part VII
What Does Faith Have to do With It? Healing, Part VIII
The Death of Death, Healing, Part IX
The Death He Died, Healing, Part X
Freed From Sin, Healing Part XI
Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, the Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
The End of the Law, Healing, Part XV
The Divine Possibility, Healing, Part XVI
What Shall We do? Healing, Part XVII
The Tyranny of the Vegetable Eaters, Healing, Part XVIII
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 04/17/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.