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In 8 Parts

Part 1: The Title

Part 2: The Cross

Part 3: The Icon - General Perspective

Part 4: The Icon - Historic Perspective

Part 5: The Eagle - Jesus in Matthew and Mark

Part 6: The Eagle - Jesus in Luke

Part 7: The Eagle - Jesus in John

Part 8: End Note

 

 

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Part 4: The Icon - Historic Perspective

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 behind it.

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 Church's 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 light.

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.

Denominationalism (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 group boxes 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 isolated.

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 resources.

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.