The Present Subnormality of the Church

THE PRESENT SUBNORMALITY OF THE CHURCH is Lesson 2 in my new course in the Apostles Theological Seminary, AM350 Prophetic Models For Apostolic Reformation located in the School of Ministry And Applied Theology. This course might be sub-titled “Apostolic Strategies for an Apostolic Reformation”!

In this course I look closely at the three major or key reformations of Old Covenant Israel recorded for us by the prophets of the Old Testament: the reformation that took place in the wilderness as Joshua replaced Moses and reformed and led the holy nation across the Jordan to conquer the nations in the land of Canaan, the reformation that took place as David replaced Saul as King of Israel and led the armies of God in the conquest of the surrounding nations, and the reformation that took place as Ezra and Nehemiah led the exiled nation out of the land of Babylon and rebuilt the Temple and the City of Jerusalem.

Going beyond mere revival, this course is a study of the typical and prophetic significance of these three great historic reformations of Old Covenant Israel for the Christian Church today.  Careful attention is given to the powerful prophetic implications of these three major Old Testament reformation movements for the apostolic movement presently emerging throughout the world with special emphasis on the development of valid apostolic strategies for the restoration and a true reformation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

In addition to the Holy Scripture and my course notes and commentary, some of the special resources that I use in this study will include PDF files of two of J. “Ern” Baxter’s great prophetic teaching series: The Kadesh Barnea Crisis and The King And His Army. Ern Baxter was to the present apostolic movement what John the Baptist was to Jesus and the Apostles in the first century, “a voice crying in the wilderness.” These powerful prophetic messages where delivered by Dr. Baxter in the early 70’s to large gatherings of ministers and Church leaders in the United Kingdom, but continue to have great prophetic and practical significance for the Church today!

LESSON 2: THE PRESENT SUBNORMALITY OF THE CHURCH

In Lesson 1 we looked at “normative” or authentic Christianity, the Christianity of the original Apostles of the Lamb.

We saw that while some modern theologians and historians may speculate differently and dispute the fact, the Canon of the New Testament (all of which according the best conservative scholarship of recent years was actually written before 70 AD, including the Revelation of St. John) reveals that the 12 Apostles of the Lamb with St. Paul and those immediately associated with them like Luke and Mark together with the early or primitive Church (usually called the Apostolic Church or Church of the Apostles as contrasted with the Catholic or Orthodox Church) held to a standard or common rule of faith and practice, variously called the Gospel of the Kingdom, the message proclaimed, the teaching or doctrine of the apostles, the foundation of the faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, the form or standard of sound words, and the order or rule among the churches.

This included (along with certain other key elements such as the incarnation and the divinity of Christ and the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit) as foundational or fundamental to Christianity and the whole Christian community throughout the Roman Empire (of course this was before Christianity became negatively impacted and influenced by its encounter with Gnosticism and Greek Philosophy in the second and third centuries) the belief that the hope of Israel had been fulfilled and the Old Covenant age was passing away and the messianic or Christian age was being established.

Specifically the apostles and the apostolic church understood that the promises made to David and to the fathers of Israel had been fulfilled in the birth, life and ministry, death and resurrection, ascension and enthronement of Jesus of Nazareth on the throne of His father David at the right hand of God the father Almighty. The Holy Spirit was being given to all who obeyed the Gospel by getting themselves baptized into the Name of Jesus; salvation was being offered to all men, first to the Jew and then the Gentile in the Name of Jesus the Christ.

They also understood that the Church of Jesus of Nazareth was the household (family) of God, the restored house of David (Zion), the true Israel and the instrument of the Christ’s (Messiah) Kingdom purpose to disciple or discipline the nations and fill all things.

This was considered normative or apostolic!

The apostles were in agreement; they were one apostolate. As a result throughout the Roman Empire the apostolic Church founded upon them was one. The early Christians in the first century all had the same faith (Jesus is the Messiah or the Christ), the same basic experience of salvation (they had all been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and filled with the promised Holy Spirit. They had the same rule or governmental order (the apostles and the elders appointed or ordained by the apostles together governed the one Church). They were all one because the men who laid the foundation of the Church were one!

Today, 20 centuries later, we see a vastly different situation.

We see many different expressions or sects of Christianity with a multitude of contradictory doctrinal beliefs and practices, as well as a variety of competing governmental orders or structures, from Roman Catholic to Eastern Orthodox to Lutheran, Reformed, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Charismatic Churches, and many more.

This is not a course in Church history, but on Old Testament models or patterns for an apostolic reformation, so we will not try and trace the history of the decline of Christianity or the falling away from the faith originally entrusted to the first apostles and through them to the saints of the first century that has taken place through the centuries. A decline that began with exposure to Greek, Gnostic, and Roman influences in the second, third and fourth centuries resulting in the the eventual development of sacerdotalism (the emergence and practice of priest craft), sacramentalism (the distortion and abuse of the sacraments, often described as “magical grace"), and hierarchialism (the replacing of the New Testament pattern of Church government by apostles and elders to government by monarchial bishops and their presbyters or priests) of the Christianity of the middle ages.

(Please note that the emphasis or point I am attempting to make here is on the development of “isms” [the exaggeration, distortion, and abuse of New Testament patterns and principles]. My father in the Gospel, J. Ern Baxter, used to say that “if the Devil can’t keep you from the truth, he will try and get you to distort the truth by pushing it too far, so that it becomes error by emphasis.")

Nor will we here attempt to detail the numerous efforts and the restoration and reformation movements reaching back to Luther in Germany and Calvin in Switzerland during the 16th century (or even before that), to John Wesley in England during the 17th century, to John Seymour in Los Angeles, John G. Lake in South Africa, and other great men and women of the Spirit throughout the 20th century, all heroic and partially successful attempts to recover normative or authentic Christianity, the Christianity of the apostles.  J. Ern Baxter pointed out repeatedly that the history of reformation in the 20th Century is the story of the attempt on God’s servants to rediscover the truly apostolic dimension of the power and ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Brother “Ern” often pointed out that there has been “more Holy Spirit activity in the 20th century than any century since the first century!”

Nevertheless, what we see today is subnormal when contrasted with what we see in the New Testament, a Christianity or movement that is fragmented and divided. Modern Christianity most certainly does not measure up to the Christianity of the apostles of the first century recorded for us in the Canon of the New Testament. While there is much that unites us as Christians, there is also much that currently separates and divides us and keeps us from functioning together in the modern world as one global Church. There is much that keeps us from presently succeeding in our mission to light or disciple the nations and fill the earth with the glory of God.

Ironically, some denominational leaders claim that the present division (diversity) in the body of Christ is a good thing! Sadly, they believe that things in the Church are as God has ordained them to be. But if the Church of the 21st century is ever going to function as one body and be able to disciple cities and nations or influence and impact modern governments and transform culture, we must recover the substance of true or normative Christianity, the Christianity of the Apostles of Jesus the Christ. We must experience a true revival, restoration of the foundations, and a true apostolic reformation! 

If you are interested in enrolling in this course and learning more, click on Current Courses.

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