ARThere Is One Body
How Do We Relate to the World's Churches?Truth unites. It is false doctrine that causes disunity, for all who are called to be one must be sanctified with truth. This is how the true church must relate to other churches.The Christian Church has had a tremendously eventful history since it inception in the upper room at Jerusalem. During the period of close to two thousand years, the church underwent persecution, growth, official recognition, apostasy, attempted reformation, and final restoration. Christianity today, with its fragmented character and denominational diversity, hardly bears any resemblance to the united community of believers that formed the original church. This article investigates the church's history from a biblical perspective.
The Christian Church has had a tremendously eventful history since its inception in the upper room at Jerusalem. During this period of close to 2,000 years, the church has undergone persecution, growth, official recognition, apostasy, attempted reformation, and final restoration. Christianity today, with its fragmented character and denominational diversity, hardly bears any resemblance to the united community of believers that formed the original church. Why is this so? Has the prayer of our Lord "that they also may be one" failed (Jn 17:21)? Or can it be that the Christianity that the world knows today is not a continuation of the original Christianity initiated by Jesus Christ? We shall investigate. History must be seen from a biblical perspective.
Jesus and the apostles predicted the infiltration of false Christs, false prophets, false teachers, and false brethren (Mt 24:24; 2 Pet 2:1; Gal 2:4). Views are divided as to whether there has been a period in history during which the true church was extinct. Some hold that the church could have never at any time been uprooted from the world, since the Lord Himself declared that "the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it" (Mt 16:18). They concede that the church at most "fled into the wilderness" at one time (Rev 12:6).
A survey of church history reveals that while there was a long period during which the official church was totally corrupt, there were small bands of people who separated themselves, some dwelling in the mountains. These splinter groups, albeit rejecting the frivolities of Rome, were not totally sound in their own doctrines (Box 1). Also, one group differed from another in the effort to return to pure Christianity. Very importantly, none could trace their roots to apostolic Christianity. The visible continuation of apostolic Christianity was, sadly, an apostate church that grew out of European civilization. Severed of all spiritual ties with the church that was founded by Christ, her degeneration and fragmentation were rapid. The gates of hell never prevailed over the unseen spiritual church made up of true believers of all time, but the visible true church was nowhere to be found soon after the apostolic era.
The Protestant Movement
One should not be too quick to call the Protestant Movement a "church reformation." In a biblical light, the church would fall away from the truth and then be restored by the hand of God (2 Thess 2:3 cf. Dan 7:25-27; Isa 2:2-3; Hag 2:9). This is analogous to temple rebuilding, of which God said to Zerubbabel, "Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zech 4:6).
Since the church had become a political machine controlling the nations of Europe, any movement against it would naturally take a somewhat political course unless it was divinely inspired. The Protestant Movement, generally ascribed to Martin Luther, could not steer clear of politics. The very name "Protestant" was derived from the formal protest made at Spires in 1529 by the Lutheran princes who ruled the northern states of what is now Germany against their Catholic counterparts in the southern states. In 1520, Luther wrote "To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation," in which he called on the German princes to reform the church by virtue of their office.
Luther's following among the princes greatly helped in furthering his movement but at the same time attracted political response from Rome. Under pressure from these princes, Luther wrote and spoke for armed resistance. Similarly, when the peasants revolted in 1524-25, Luther's sympathy for them could not persist and he had to favor the princes. In his fearsome tract, "Against the Wandering Thieving Hordes of Peasants", he asked the princes to "knock down, strangle and stab." As a result, 100,000 peasants died and many left the Lutheran fold. From then on, Lutheranism was a religion associated with status and power. It fared no better than Roman Catholicism in that it became a tool for rulers to seize power and wealth. Catholic properties were seized in Protestant German states, and monarchies were formed in Scandinavia. An ordinance of 1537, approved by Luther, made bishops salaried officials of the Danish state (S. Harrison, Europe in Renaissance and Reformation [New York; Harcourt Brace, Jovanovich, 1963]: 493-501).
In the same year that Martin Luther presented his Ninety-five Theses (1517), Ulrich Zwingli attacked Roman Catholicism in Switzerland. Five years later, he made a definite break with Rome and established a regime of clergymen and magistrates at Zurich that supervised government, religion, and individual morality. As a result of this religious conflict, the country was divided and civil wars ensued. Zwingli himself was slain in battle. The movement went onward, however, and found its later leader in Jean (John) Calvin, a Frenchman invited to Geneva in 1536. Although faced with initial political problems, Calvin's party regained power in 1541 and within a short period gained full control of the republic, making his brand of Christianity the official religion.
Calvin sought to establish a society subject to religious legislation. A committee of clergy plus twelve lay members known as the Consistory met regularly. With a presiding Magistrate, punishments and excommunications were passed for law-enforcement. Pastors who sat in the Consistory would visit households without warning to check every detail of private life and impose penalties on offenses like missing church, laughing during services, wearing bright colors, dancing, card-playing, or maintaining some form of Roman Catholicism. Magistrates sometimes used torture to obtain confessions. Execution of heretics was quite common. By using expulsion, and in some cases, torture and execution, Calvin managed to get rid of those who opposed his earthly setup of a Christian society.
Calvinism, like Lutheranism, spread in other lands, aided by political actions. In France, the 2,000 Huguenot consistories became a civil and military organization as well as a religious one. In 1559, in Scotland, John Knox, a pupil of Calvin, urged the nobility to raise arms against the Catholic administration. By his relentless energy, he swept away every trace of Catholicism and made the Presbyterian Church the established church of Scotland.
English Protestantism was even more clearly political. The breach with Rome was led by the king, Henry VIII, not a dissenting priest. Although more than a century before Luther, John Wycliffe had denounced Roman Catholicism on religious grounds and called for reform, Henry VIII now wanted independence purely for private and political reasons. Late medieval kings often quarreled with popes, and national pride had caused resentment of Roman domination. When the pope could not immediately annul his marriage to Queen Catherine, Henry VIII intimidated the clergy into proclaiming him head of the English church. Through the Parliament, he was granted the authority to appoint bishops in England. It was also passed that payments of revenues to Rome should cease, and the Anglican Church was established as an independent national organ under the king.
By the mid-sixteenth century, there were three varieties of state religion in the west: papal Catholicism, state Christianity (Lutheranism and Anglicanism), and Calvinist theocracy. Each was organically linked to the state in which it existed and was a compulsory religion; all citizens in a given province were considered members of the state church because they had been christened (made Christians) by infant baptism. Each tried to use the apparatus of the state as much as possible to impose a religious monopoly. This led to civil war within and between the European states. The result of the Protestant Movement was not a single, purified, God-restored church, free from the vices of Rome, but many self-governed national churches of various forms: Episcopal in England, Presbyterian in Scotland and Switzerland, and somewhat mixed in the northern lands. The radical reformers and their followers (e.g. Anabaptists and Puritans), who opposed the official link between church and state, were greatly persecuted by these state churches. Subsequently, each group brought its version of religion into foreign lands through missionary activity. The heterogeneous nature of present-day Christianity is to a great degree a legacy of the divisiveness brought about by the Protestant Movement.
In the matter of doctrine, the different groups were equally divisive from the start. Protestantism, in seeking to depart from the errors of Rome, was never represented by a unified movement held together by a common doctrine. Leaders differed from one another in theological opinions which remain irreconcilable to this day. Referring to the Holy Communion, Luther remarked that he "would rather drink blood with the papists than mere wine with the Zwinglians." Calvinists thought of Lutherans as virtually unreformed, Romanists masquerading in godly garments. Some Lutherans deemed Calvinist errors worse than those of Roman Catholicism. Both Calvinists and Lutherans condemned the Anabaptists, who in turn viewed the state churches as abominable. Such animosities are evident even in their creeds (The Augsburg Confession : Article V, XVI. The Second Helvetic confession : Chapter XIX. The Schleltheim Confession : Fourth Article). Contentions were not merely verbal; the Swiss Brethren, or example, faced capital punishment in Zurich, and the Puritans in England were persecuted and imprisoned.
The many churches that sprang from the Protestant Movement with their different creeds and doctrines do not fit the biblical description of the "one body" defined by "one faith" and "one baptism" (Eph 4:4-5). Also, the political orientation of the Movement does not conform to the biblical church, which is a kingdom "not of this world" (Jn 18:36). Apparently, the restoration of God's true church by His Spirit did not occur until many centuries after the so-called Reformation.
The Tongues Movement
Cautious people in some denominations hesitate to call the Tongues Movement the Pentecostal Movement, and with good reasons. One ought not to link any movement to the biblical downpour of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost before being acquainted with the history, beliefs, and practices of that movement.
We have seen that attempts at church reform go farther back in history than Luther's time, and we note the same for the Tongues Movement. As early as the 2nd century, the Montanists were already "speaking in tongues," with their leader, Montanus, claiming to be the very Paraclete (Comforter). He and several prophets also "prophesied," claiming to deliver inspired messages directly from God. Visions and revelations were also common. We have noted in Box 1 why their beliefs were unsound. "Tongues" also appeared among persecuted Protestants of France in the 17th century. The Mormons experienced "tongues" in the 1830's and claimed that they could speak the language of the Indians nearest to them. The most notable occurrence of tongues prior to the modern movement is that of the Irvingites in the 1830's (incidentally the same period as the Mormons), not only because it was chronologically the closest, but because among numerous charismatic people today, there is an increasing interest in Edward Irving, its founder, and a growing recognition of him as the forerunner of the Charismatic Movement (For example, Gordon Strachan, who wrote The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving; see Box 2).
We now focus on the so-called Pentecostal Movement that started just prior to the turn of the 20th century before its differentiation into the modern charismatic denominations. Although it became more widespread after the 1906 outburst at 312 Azuza Street in Los Angeles, the Movement actually commenced 20 years earlier in Tennessee, led by a Baptist pastor whose objective was "to restore primitive Christianity and bring about the Union of all denominations" (C. W. Conn, Like a Mighty Army Moves the Church of God [n.p., n.d.]: 7). It later spread to Wales and Los Angeles.
The manifestations of the Movement, as described in its own records or in books written by its adherents, were quite typical everywhere. Tongues were spoken very loudly, even when the gatherings were small. Sessions were extremely long, often lasting through the night. In exhaustion, many required assistance to stand or walk. Services had no fixed order, so as to allow the Spirit of God the freedom to lead. In the midst of singing or prayer, someone would spring from his seat and shout at the top of his voice, in tongues or in English. It was not uncommon to see people, including the preacher, suddenly fall flat on their faces and speak for hours in that position. This phenomenon, termed "being slain in the spirit," would sometimes cause one to fall onto a group of people of the opposite sex. Also, people had to be on standby to arrange the skirts of women, or to cover them with towels as they lay on the floor. Some would see visions while lying on the floor, shaking.
Predictions, too, were a prominent feature of the Movement. The principal advocate of Pentecostalism in India, Max Wood Moorhead, claimed that God gave a message through a Swedish missionary on 23 September 1907, saying that Colombo would suffer an earthquake and Ceylon would be sunk in the sea. He gave a lengthy account of how by tongues and interpretation, the prophecy was confirmed to him on four occasions. The favorite topic of the Second Advent was of course much prophesied about. Many of the prophetic utterances were quite precise, such as that the Lord would come "this year" or that "this may be the last winter before He comes." The movement had on a few occasions admitted that mistakes could occur. As for the Colombo prophecy, a spokesman said, "The Apostles even made mistakes after 'Pentecost'…The Devil's voice was also heard among the 'sons of God…' (Written by T.B. Baratt to A.A. Boddy and published in a Supplement to Confidence dated June 1908).
The Bible does teach that tongues, visions, and prophecies will be restored in the last days (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:16-18). However, the history of the Tongues Movement will cause an objective mind to realize that the true church cannot have stemmed from it.
The Ecumenical Movement and Other Modern Trends
The Ecumenical Movement is one of the most significant Christian developments of the 20th century. Christians, long divided by theological and other denominational differences, have always yearned for unity. In 1948, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was established for this purpose. The message of the Second Assembly of the WCC contained these moving words:
"Is your Church seriously considering its relation to other churches in the light of our Lord's prayer in that we may be sanctified in the truth and that we may all be one? Is your congregation, in fellowship with sister congregations around you, doing all it can do to ensure that your neighbors shall hear the voice of the one Shepherd calling all men into the one flock?"
In about two decades, it had already managed to bring into common fellowship over 250 denominations in more than 80 countries committed to "study, witness, serve and advance the common unity." By that time, however, it could be observed that the Council became increasingly involved in issues outside its rightful realm and entered into actions that many Christians found objectionable. It started to launch programs to combat racism, using its funds to back "liberation" movements in Africa and insurrection in the US. Worse, some of the most generously financed groups were avowedly communist and had records of terrorism. In a Reader's Digest article (October 1971) entitled, "Must Our Churches Finance Revolution?" the question was asked, "Is this what Christ taught?"
The World Council had also carried ecumenism too far. In the 1970s, in seeking more togetherness with the communists, it initiated "Marxist-Christian dialogues." Marxists were allowed to diligently propound their theories in these dialogues, which would cause an observer to question who was converting who. Another article appeared in the Reader's Digest in November 1971, bearing the title, "Which Way the World Council of Churches?" It put forward the question: "Has the 'ecclesiastical United Nations' become just another platform from where communism seeks to flay the free world?"
On the religious front, the WCC is becoming increasingly friendly with the Vatican. In 1965, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was set up to develop ecumenical collaboration between the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). Roman Catholic participation and membership in regional councils of the WCC has increased worldwide. The WCC invited the RCC to be represented at its 6th Assembly in July 1983 in Vancouver, Canada.
Both the RCC and WCC are very open to inter-religious unity. The 5th Assembly of the WCC began a tradition of inviting guests from other faiths. At the 6th Assembly, this openness to non-Christian faiths was exhibited by the raising of a common pagan symbol, the totem pole. A multi-faith statement in advance of the 7th Assembly advocated a "new paradigm of relationship" among "all religious traditions" (Statement issued after a multi-faith consultation held in Hong Kong in August 1990). Here are some excerpts:
"We have to learn to recognize in our neighbors the presence of the divine spoken of in different ways in different traditions: the Shekhina in the Jewish tradition, the Holy Spirit of the triune God to the Christians, the Atman to the Hindus and Sikhs, the Rub to Muslims."
"In our inter-dependent world, people of one religious tradition alone will not be able to find solutions to the ills of our time."
The 7th Assembly held in Canberra, Australia in 1991 was attended by 15 guests from other faiths. The pluralistic tone was set by scantily-clad aborigines with their tribal dances around an altar. Ecumenism, the concept of "one household," is gradually, but more than subtly, embracing the people together with the elements of other faiths.
There are other disturbing trends. A number of theologians and clergymen from almost all the major denominations are now expressing their denial of the fundamental tenets of biblical Christianity, such as the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ. Accounts of the Fall, the Tower of Babel, and the Flood, are dismissed as myths. More appalling, such remarks are even found in official church organs, statements and educational materials, as well as study aids.
The Interpreter's Bible: The Commentary of the RSV Bible, says: "From the earliest records of primitive sacrifice man has been obsessed by the efficacy of innocent blood to save from disaster. Both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches have perpetuated this primitive tradition…there is also an ancient superstition that there is some magic efficacy in the murder of the innocent."
The Layman's Bible Commentary consistently disparages the historical accuracy of the Scriptures, labeling them as legends, fabrications, and prophecies composed after the events occurred. It also teaches that all men shall be saved whether in Christ or out of Christ.
We must not see these recent trends as the beginning of a downward course. They are but a continuation and aggravation of the apostasy that began soon after the apostolic era. Only in the restored true church will the truth be defended and kept until the Second Coming of Christ.
God's Restoration of His Church
The True Jesus Church believes that she is the true church, restored by God Himself through His Holy Spirit. This article does not reckon that the aforesaid movements were, like John the Baptist, God-appointed forerunners that paved the way for the truth. We do seek unity, but we do not believe that we can be "one body" without being of "one faith." We cannot unite with any individual or body that does not stand on the apostolic teaching (Acts 2:42; Eph 2:20) restored to us by God. We therefore reject the notion, "Love unites, but truth divides." Truth unites. It is false doctrine that causes disunity, for all who are called to be one must be sanctified with truth (Jn 17:17-21).
We are also not bigoted separatists. Though we do not align ourselves with the denominational churches or claim a share in their historical heritage, it is unjust for us to discredit the labors of their forebears. The Protestant Movement has brought to us benefits that cannot be overlooked. The Bible, which had been for years accessible only to the clergy, was made available to the common folk. In the days when the death penalty was imposed for illegal possession of the Scriptures, the sacred writings were mass printed and circulated. The ecclesiastical ban also did not deter Luther and Calvin from translating the Bible into the common tongues of their people. Of particular importance to the English-speaking world is the great work of John Wycliffe, who first translated the New Testament into English and subsequently, with the help of a few friends, the Old Testament. Today, the Bible, in whole or in part, has been rendered into thousands of languages, all undertaken by people outside our fold.
The important question we need to answer is: How do we relate to the world's churches? The question is in fact twofold: Firstly, how do we view them, and secondly, how should we treat them? The answer to the first is not too difficult. We have already seen that they do not correspond to John the Baptist. However, the assistance they have rendered us makes them comparable to King Cyrus: not of the stock of Israel, but called the Lord's "anointed" (Ps 45:1). In this sense, we see God's hand working through the Bible translators. And we know that God has worked, and still does work, through any person or event as it pleases Him, since He has even worked through a donkey (Num 22:28). This is in line with our conviction that in everything, God works for our good, for we are His true children who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
The way we should treat the world's churches is well defined in this statement: The possessors of the truth owe the greatest debt of love. We owe it to the whole world, but especially the professed Christians, to preach the true gospel to them. We need to have the enthusiasm of Aquila and Priscilla in expounding the full gospel to those who have an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of it (Acts 18:26). The extreme love of Paul for his kinsmen has to be replicated in each of us. Our hearts should go out to them, despite their misunderstanding or persecution. The truth of God is essentially the gospel of His love in dying for sinners, and so we who are called to be valiant for the truth must be ambassadors of love.
As the post-apostolic church became plagued with heresy and church organization became more imitative of the imperial government of Rome, a puritanical group, led by Montanus of Phrygia in Asia Minor, sought to return to the simplicity of primitive Christians. They believed in the priesthood of all true believers. Tertullian (160-220 AD), one of the very respected early church fathers, embraced their views and wrote in their defense. There are questionable teachings among the Montanists, which include that Montanus and a few others, including women, were a continuation of the inspired mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit, after the manner of the apostles, and that the new Jerusalem would literally "come down out of heaven from God" and that it would be fixed in Phrygia.
During the medieval times, around the year 1170, a group emerged in southern France, known as the Albigenses, so called because Albi was an important center. This group, also known as the Cathan ("Pure") repudiated the authority of church tradition, circulated the New Testament, and opposed the Romish doctrines of purgatory, image worship, and priestly claims. They were, however, dualists, believing that there are two eternal powers, one good and the other evil, that the visible world is the creation of the evil power, and that the spiritual world is the work of the good power. As a result, they endeavored to shun all that had to do with reproduction of animal life. They saw marriage as perpetuating the human species in this sinful world. Those who had fully embraced their way of life were called Perfecti ("Perfect") and must become celibate and vegetarian. The rest were called Credenti ("Believers") who would work towards becoming part of the "Perfect" before their death. Another aberration was their view of many parts of the Old Testament as well as of the devil.
A contemporary group, the Waldensees (Waldensians) was founded by Peter Waldo, a merchant of Lyons who went to a theologian to ask the way to heaven and received the reply, "If thou wilt be perfect go sell that thou hast, and give to the poor." He proceeded with this injunction by giving his wealth to charity, and founded a lay order of evangelists, the Poor Men of Lyons, who went about preaching two by two, simply clad, barefoot or wearing sandals, taking no purse, subsisting on what was given to them by their listeners. However, they still practiced the hearing of confessions, holding that a layman was as competent as a priest was to do so. Many of their views were extreme; for example, they taught that every lie is a deadly sin and that the accumulation of wealth is evil.
Edward Irving was a Presbyterian minister of the Church of Scotland who served in London from 1822 until his death in 1834. In 1824, he was influenced by a man named Hatley Frere to view that the prophetic books of Daniel and Revelation indicated that the coming of Christ would be just a few years away. The following year, he wrote that there would soon be an "outpouring of the Holy Spirit" attested by "signs and wonders." His view that the charismatic gifts would be restored during the millennium was later modified under the influence of A. J. Scott, a ministerial probationer in Scotland. He came to believe that the gifts were never withdrawn, but that the church lost them only because of coldness of heart. As such they were as much available as they had been in the apostolic days.
Tongues soon broke out in Scotland (1830) under the influence of Scott. Delegates from London visited these tongue speakers and upon returning started to speak in tongues themselves. By the beginning of September 1831, a considerable number of people in Irving's church were speaking in tongues. Some could interpret tongues while others could prophesy in English, purportedly giving inspired messages directly from God. The messages however, were simple truths and lacking in substance, which any person with a fair knowledge of the Christian faith could compose. Six persons in this company were known as "the gifted ones" and sat together in a prominent pew during services. Though they were designated specific periods in the service to exercise their gifts, they soon disregarded the limits and interrupted the services with their exhibition of tongues and prophesying. Others in the congregation soon did the same, and Sunday services were often disrupted by tongues, sometimes with sudden shrieks, hissing, or groaning.
Other gifts soon developed within the charismatic faction of the church. One Robert Baxter, a lawyer, was deemed to have received "the gift of knowledge." He offered to answer "in the power" any questions that might be put to him. He also began to "preach in the Spirit" and made predictions. For example, he set the date of Christ's return as June 27, 1835, which was accepted by Irving himself. He instructed his minister brother to baptize his six-week-old daughter "with the Holy Ghost" so that she could speak in the Spirit. Worse still, he was told by revelation to leave his wife. There were other prophets whose declarations "in the power" often contradicted one another.
At that time, tongues were thought of as actual foreign languages. As such, it was deemed unnecessary for missionaries to learn foreign languages and some sought tongues in order to participate in missionary work. Human inducements were commonly used to get people to speak.
Before long, the features hitherto mentioned caused some to doubt and eventually abandon their charismatic views. Among them were strong advocates like A. J. Scott, Robert Baxter. and one of the "gifted ones," Miss Hall. But Irving held firm to his conviction until his death. He had, besides those mentioned, other peculiar beliefs. He opposed the use of medicine because he saw sickness as either punishment from God or attack from Satan. He also held that Christ possessed the fallen nature though He "did no sin." Also, he told his friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who denied the deity of Christ, that he had learned more about true Christianity from him than all other men he had met.
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