From an historical perspective,
there are four major epochs of the Church; four monumental turning points
in Her life of pivotal importance. The first was of course Her beginning,
Her birth. As wonderful as this was for us and for all
who have preceded us, how marvelous it truly must have been for our God,
who for the first time since the fall had opportunity to walk in close
fellowship with His creation once again. The birth of the Church
marked the reunion of fallen mankind to their Creator. This
fellowship with God which Adam had lost Jesus Christ has redeemed.
We each now have been restored to Adam's place through Jesus Christ and
have the privilege of walking in close communion with Him, seated with
Christ in heavenly places, at the right hand of the Father who created us
in love and destined us for eternal union with Him. The resurrection
of Jesus Christ, His return to the Father and the subsequent sending of
the Holy Spirit marked mankind's reunion into fellowship with God.
However, this first period was
merely the beginning. It is so interesting that every generation,
from then until now, has maintained the hope of being the final
generation. And many throughout the ages have grown weary in well
doing and have lost hope; they have been discouraged and have been
distracted by the ridicule and the seductions of the world, wondering when
and if ever the "Day of the Lord" would come. And that is why God
put it in Peter's mouth to encourage us. "Where is the promise of
his coming?" they say (2 Peter 3:3). Peter points us to God's
timetable. And when we take a step back, looking from the Church's
inception until now, we begin to understand something profound and deep in
the heart of God. He is after something. Every generation
thought they were ready, but in His mind's eye they were not. And
the very fact that THE day has not yet been realized means that we as well
are not ready. There remains more to be done. There remains
more to be accomplished in preparation for that day. The Bride has
not quite been made ready.
So, despite the hope of the
first generations of the Church, God in His understanding of time, which
is so contrary to the human understanding of it, proceeded with His plan
to realize His purpose for her. She suffered through much
persecution and laid the theological foundation in Her humble and immature
beginnings. And at the proper time, when She had reached a certain
stature, Her environment and course was radically changed. She then
entered into the second phase of Her existence at the salvation of the
Emperor Constantine and the Christianizing of the Roman Empire.
There is a view that holds this
transition as a tragedy. And indeed we do find here a masterstroke
of the enemy. He could not defeat the Church through persecution,
torture and slaughter. Every effort he made to crush the Church only
resulted in Her proliferation. She grew in strength and character,
upward in glory. She sank Her roots deeper in divine wisdom and
understanding. So with a step that reveals his cunning, the enemy
legalized Christianity; mandated it for citizenship. The result was
then an influx of carnality and false confessions that greatly confused
the Church and muddied the waters. This seemed to be a great triumph
for the enemy. What he could not do by force he accomplished by
license. If he could not destroy Her he could at least pervert her.
And his plan seemed to have worked.
And this remains a weakness to
us to this day. Despite great and wonderful revivals throughout Her history, the Church still suffers from this legal lethargy. It acts
like a wet blanket upon the eternal flame of Her passion. She is yet
to regain the vibrancy She once had in Her infancy. When She was at
liberty to serve God on Her own accord and was no longer pressured by
force one way or the other; when it was no longer a matter of physical
life or death, but rested solely on inward, heart conviction; this new
freedom terribly bedazzled her. Worldliness then made great inroads.
The enemy seems to have won. He knocked Her off course and worked to
produce a worldly Christian hybrid, a people becoming more and more
satisfied with this world as opposed to the next, partly foiled by the
Lord's apparent delay. "Where is the promise of his coming?"
She began to ask this question herself and settled in, getting more
comfortable within this world, subtly and by degrees loosing the grasp on
Her eternal hope. And from that day until this there exists a
worldly permeation, a worldly influence that is yet to be overcome.
And this, as we stand so near
to the advent of our Lord, is one of the issues facing us. We have
the privilege of accomplishing what so many generations before us have
failed to do. This masterstroke of the enemy will backfire. In
our preparation and in our coming to full stature, we will awaken from
this legal lethargy, throw off the constraints of worldliness to be the
vibrant, blushing Bride we are meant to be, our eternal, passionate fire
burning brightly and consuming all that hinders it. Legalized
Christianity will no longer be an oxymoron. What the enemy attempted
for evil, God will utilize to our highest good. The Church will no
longer equate legality with license. We have the legal opportunity
to serve God with all our hearts, to implement His mandate of seeking
FIRST His Kingdom and His righteousness, and to realize what He is after
in waiting so long, the fully mature and complete Bride made ready for Her Husband, freely giving herself to Him by the choice of
Her will, by the
conviction of Her heart without any pressure or secondary motivation to do
so. She will give Her life away to Him, not because She has to, but
because She will come to the point of loving Him as He has first loved Her (1 John 4:19), in walking in self-sacrificing love as He did, taking up
Her cross for Him as He had done for her. She will be a living
testimony of the cross of Jesus Christ, the love of God in its greatest
manifestation, to all the world.
So the Christianization of the
Roman Empire in many respects was a triumph for the enemy. However,
there is much more to it than that. If it was to be such a disaster
for Christianity to be mandated and for the eventual establishment of
Catholicism, then God would have prevented it. He was well capable
of steering Her around what seems, retrospectively, to have been so
devastating. Though the enemy certainly used these things to his
advantage and introduced worldliness and lukewarm-ness into the Church in
a much greater measure, yet there seems to have been a divine purpose
The removal of the persecuting
pressure and the establishment of a religion hierarchy gave the Church
some much needed rest after three arduous centuries. And Catholicism
was no afterthought. It was not something that emerged simply as a
device of the devil. The Church had been moving that way for many
years prior to it. It was only natural for Her to want this
authority figure in Her life, much like the people of Israel who wanted a
king. God could have said "no," but He did not. He allowed
Catholicism to develop. And though, centuries later, it would evolve
into a hideous beast (like Saul), its origin, like Saul's, was of God.
It gave the people of God at that time stability and equanimity that
they had not known before. It allowed the Church a rest and a
respite that was greatly needed. And it provided a rather tranquil
climate for doctrinal development and theological depth.
So, keeping in mind a single
individual, the Church of Jesus Christ who was at that time only three
centuries old, a mere child yet in God's eyes, this second phase of Her existence, the legalization of Christianity and the establishment of
Catholicism, was precisely what She required for Her development.
This was God actively and vigorously involved in the purpose of His
creation, in raising this child, His daughter, to be fitted for Her destiny. As He has commanded us to train up our children in the way
that they should go (Proverbs 22:6), so He was doing with this young Girl,
preparing Her for the sharing of an eternal throne. And we see in
the early stages of Catholicism the initiation, the planting of the seed
of unity: the people of God in concert, learning to worship God in harmony
together and forming a solid, doctrinal basis. (And that seed has
not yet sprouted; it has not yet reached full maturity. This too is
in our future, as shall be seen.) Not to mention the fact that we
own much gratitude to that young, Catholic Church for the canon of
Scripture. She could never have later been reformed (the
Reformation) without these earlier efforts of establishing what we espouse
today as our Bibles. She was responsible, in those early years, for
the roping off of the divinely inspired Word; for separating the wheat
from the chaff. We can focus now on what is really important because
of Her preparatory work. And also, though worldliness became a
greater and greater influence in Her life, the opposite is true as well.
With the Christianizing of the Roman Empire the world has been greatly
influenced by Christianity. Even the natural world, lost humanity
and tyrannical governments, have increasingly grown more civilized and
humanitarian, due to the presence and work of the early, Catholic Church.
The establishment of the
Catholic Church then was in the plan and foreknowledge of God, the
necessary course for arriving at full stature.
The Catholic Church though did
degenerate. It did become corrupt. It developed into a top
heavy, tyrannical monstrosity that, like Saul and like the Pharisees in
Jesus' day, instead of leading people to God, actually kept them from Him.
She became their god. She was the one they were to serve. She became terribly perverted and seemed to be greatly influenced by the enemy
in pride, selfish ambition and conceit. And this brought about the
need for reform. This necessitated the third great epoch of the
existence, the Reformation.
Now keep in mind the
single-individual concept. Compare Her then to the children that you
have seen grow up around you. And when we do that we find the
corruption of the Catholic Church as something very common and very
familiar. She had reached the age of headstrong adolescence. She was
becoming, in a fashion, self-aware, with a mind and a will of Her own
separate and distinct from Her parents. She began feeling Her oats
and consequently getting into all sorts of trouble. And this
precipitated disciplinary action on the part of Her Father. She was
greatly reproved and stricken by God. She was broken (into pieces;
many denominations) for Her good, for Her healing. And currently
among the many denominations we still find the original, completely
transformed from those early days, possessing a sweetness and an aroma
from God, the result of Her breaking. Though it is not being said
here that all Catholics are necessarily Christians and that all their
current doctrines are absolutely pure (truths that equally apply to all denominations and
all groups including your own), yet we can certainly
count them overall as part of what we today call orthodox Christianity.
They are part and parcel of the family of God, the Church of Jesus Christ,
the Bride being made ready. We, who may call ourselves Protestant,
in regard to Agape, self-sacrificing love, are to embrace them as brothers
and sisters in Christ, whatever may be our differences. And those
differences, not just with them but between us all, will soon be coming to
The Reformation is the third
great epoch in the Church's history. Instead of consisting of one
massive hierarchy, She was broken up into many smaller ones. This
disciplinary action brought Her back to Her first love, Jesus Christ.
And it greatly purified Her doctrinal source, removing the worldly
influence from it and establishing it solidly upon the canon of Scripture.
Similar to the second phase,
some could see this phase as a tragedy as well. Though great gains
were made because of it to which we should be very grateful, the negative
result has been disunity and segregation into doctrinal camps. There
has come much healing as a result of this breakup. However, the
prideful, conceited attitude that had developed in the Catholic Church and
was quite possibly the primary cause of the breakup, was retained.
There developed exclusiveness among each of the camps claiming their
way and their views to be right to the exclusion of the rest. And
this is still a prevailing characteristic of the Church today. We
remain segregated in tiny segments. And when we think of "Church",
if a physical building does not come to mind, then we usually think of our
tiny, little, exclusive congregation, or perhaps include our denomination
throughout the world while excluding every other.
We go back again to the plan
and foreknowledge of God. It was no great surprise to Him that such
exclusiveness would develop as a result of the Reformation.
As the second phase was evaluated, so can the third. Certainly God could have
prevented it, yet He allowed these doctrinal, isolated groups to evolve
and develop for a purpose. Though certainly the exclusiveness is not
good and points to clearly devilish influence, the divisions themselves
were divine and exactly needed at that time for the Church's highest good.
The Church had grown to where She required a diversity of interest and
room to explore the many and varied aspects of God's heart. And
individually, the segments provide a safe haven for the maturing of those
inclined one way or another. For example, some love Calvinism.
For them the Calvinistic doctrine best aligns with their heart. And
so they join a fellowship which closely aligns doctrinally with Calvinism.
They feel safe here. And this is OK. This is one of the
reasons these groups have been allowed to form. They are a means of
perpetuating the maturity of the saints, concentrating their interests
without being bothered by anything that seems to contradict them. It
is a distinct, individual shelter designed by God (or at the least
allowed by Him), where a specific type of individual is provided the
nourishment and the doctrinal understanding he or she needs to facilitate
their spiritual growth.
(as well as the nondenominational groupings)
primarily marks secondary
doctrinal differences. However, they all remain beneath the umbrella
of orthodoxy. And that umbrella is THE shelter. That umbrella
marks the boundaries of all the saints, the love of God's heart, the
Church of Jesus Christ. And this brings us to the fourth epoch of
the Church. And this belongs, not to our past as the other three,
but to our future. One of the things soon to come in the Church's
future, preparing Her for the millennial reign, is a synthesis of all that
She has learned thus far. It will incorporate all the good from Her
infancy, perfectly merged and blended with the love and fragrance of
Catholic unity, complemented with a broad and deep theological
understanding, a depth of wisdom and knowledge derived from Her
denominational pursuits. She will become the Bride of full stature,
doctrinal pure as well as diverse, no longer out of joint but embracing
all within Her who call upon the name of the Lord, and exhibiting the
glory of childlike innocence.
A new emphasis will be coming
to the fore. We will begin to peer out of our denominational and
and begin to find one another. We will discover the shallowness of
relationships that are built upon doctrine only. We will find the
unfathomable depth of relationships that are built on none other that
Jesus Christ Himself. He alone is to be our true basis of
relationship. This will allow, not just the embracing of one another
from the purest motives, but an enrichment of our own lives as we begin to
understand and appreciate the doctrinal differences that have kept us
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It
is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there
the LORD has commanded the blessing, life for evermore. Psalm 133
The Church in the United States
The kingdom perspective and the maturing to full stature of the saints,
the Bride of Jesus Christ being made ready, is
of course applicable to the entire worldwide Church. However, these
Chronicles will be limited in scope to the Church in the United States.
Although mention may be made to Churches in other nations when necessary
and when it is relevant to our purposes, we will confine ourselves to the
familiar culture that we all share, the lifestyle that is known to us
within this nation's borders.
So our scope is limited to that portion of the bride in this country, the
Church of Jesus Christ within the United States. And this is of course as
God sees Her, which is more than likely quite different from what we
perceive. It includes every denomination and every non-denominational
group. It also includes many isolated individuals, many indeed who are
saved but not joined to any particular segment. He sees one body. He sees
the Holy Spirit and every person in whom He has taken up residence. And
because it is His vision, it excludes all those who may proclaim to be
among us but who in reality are not; those who may use the right words and
convince us that they are saved, yet remain outside the covenant of God;
those who have merely given lip service to Christianity but who have not
committed their hearts to Him and have not been born again by the Spirit
of life. Like the Lord's pronouncement upon the Pharisees, they may
conform to an exterior image, yet be dead inside. Hopefully, though some
are plants of the enemy, tares among the wheat stealing nutrients, zapping
our resources; hopefully as we respond to God in our preparatory work many
of these will be won, the enemy's plan backfiring as we steal his
So, though the institutional Church is indeed a mixture, our focus is
sifted and we are concerning ourselves with the true sons and daughters of
the kingdom. The true Church of Jesus Christ can only be seen
prophetically, through His eyes, requiring a close union with Him and
discernment from Him to reveal Her accurately. And as we fulfill His
desire to seek His kingdom and His righteousness first, then He will begin
to reveal to us in ever increasing degrees of glory His Church, His pure
and spotless Bride being made ready for Him, the burning passion of His
heart, the one to whom He has granted that solitary place by His side, to
share in His eternal reign.
The Church of Jesus Christ, the
pillar and bulwark of the Truth, though yet infested with many problems,
still struggling with worldliness and still encumbered with a pride and an
exclusiveness that keeps Her membership at odds; the Bride of Jesus Christ
will mature through all this and reach the pinnacle of Her existence.
She will come to full spiritual stature and be fully equipped for Her destiny.
These are our days ahead.