When God shakes a local assembly...
Rachael HillMemorial Website
What must we learn?
In recent years, many of us have gone through almost traumatic changes in our Christian experience relating to our concepts of the church, leadership, and the essence of fellowship (koinonia) itself. Part of this trauma comes from our having to go �outside the camp� where we have been so very comfortable for many years, from where we truly have thought that we had been seeing things �clearly� from the Lord�s perspective - only to find that our �light had become darkness�, and that we ourselves had fallen into the very sins that we have so fervently criticized and condemned in others � even to the point of becoming a total contradiction to our claimed purpose for being.
Indeed, these have been years of repenting of many sins, and a continuing to repent as the Lord gives light and grace. What is so interesting is that the same process seems to be occurring all around the world among God�s people in many, many places.
I thought it would be a great tragedy if we truly fail to learn from our sins of the past. As T. Austin-Sparks closed his article, �I Will Overturn, Overturn, Overturn . . .�, he wrote, �AND THE THRONE ABOVE SAYS, �IF YOU CAN�T READ HISTORY, YOU WILL LEARN IN EXPERIENCE.�
For us to repent and confess them most completely, it would be best to verbalize them � to name them, to call sin - sin. So that in our turning, we may indeed �gain� Christ Jesus, and Him alone.
What follows is a feeble and certainly incomplete attempt to do this. May His grace and Holy Spirit fill where I so lack. If, in reading this, the reader is inclined to not want to read further, I would request that you go to the very last point made at the very end of this article and at least read it. It is a section titled, �The Most Important Issue� found just before the �Conclusion�.
Where have we failed? It helps to remember our beginnings, if for no other purpose as a stark point of contrast from what has come to be.
Our early days were noted by several things: one, we knew we were nobody, we were nothings, and we knew that we knew nothing. None of us were preachers, no one had any formal religious training, no one had been in �high places� in any former church groups. Wonderfully, we were �nobody�s� who knew we were �nobody�s�. What did we have in common? A passion for the Lord Jesus Christ, to know Him, and to see Him have first place in everything we said and did. This was manifest by a willingness to seek the Lord, seek His Word, and wait on Him in fellowship and prayer to know His will in virtually every matter. No one sought dominance or control over others, as we all were truly submitted to Christ in one another. We had no hierarchy, and the Word of the Lord was as well received from one as from another. We just loved being together, as opposed to having �meetings�. The single attribute that most struck me (and drew me) in all was true humility and meekness. No one knew who we were, either. Either in our own city, across the US, or around the world. And, I believe, because of all the conditions listed above, our precious Lord seemed pleased to bless us with His very presence, and that for many years.
But over a period of almost thirty years, all this changed. Every spiritual strength noted in the previous paragraph was slowly, gradually, imperceptively � changed to its very opposite.
Actually, this progression was only a cycle from revival to declension that man has previously traced and repeated for thousands of years both in Israel and the church. Perhaps we can try to list the items that led to our downfall:
I. We have failed to maintain Christ as our Head.
For years, we have said that for the church to be true to its calling, Christ and Christ alone had to be three things: the head; the foundation; and the center.
He must be the head first, because it is only as His total Lordship, Headship, and Authority are acknowledged and submitted to that He is able to move in any way among men. It is only as either men or a man (individual) bow completely to the Lord Jesus (Paul � �Lord, Who are You? What should I do?�..�) that God moves men. This pattern is clear throughout scripture.
Every work of recovery and revival in scripture and history begins here � with the Headship and Lordship of Jesus Christ, in a very personal and intimate way. The explosive growth of the early church had absolutely nothing to do with �leadership�, for there were only twelve �leaders� in the beginning and tens of thousands of saints in only a few days. The growth, the supernatural life, the joy, the infectiousness, and all of the great and wonderful things that occurred in the early church were a result of only one thing � the saints, individually and collectively, were truly under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
They followed Him, they listened to Him, they learned from Him, they obeyed Him, they loved Him. It was that simple. And every spiritual revival in all of history has been the same. Even if the revival began with a man, it began as he called God�s people back to a place of being under the Headship and Lordship of God.
So it only makes sense that here also is where every departure, every declension, every back-sliding of God�s people also begins. Paul in Colossians speaks of �holding fast the Head� as the essential key to keeping the Colossians from departing their calling. His declaration and presentation of the Headship of the Lord Jesus in the first three chapters of this book are exceptional, because Paul knew the key to stopping their falling away was to first present the Lord Jesus in His rightful place of pre-eminence.
What is the opposite of the Lord Jesus being Head? It�s very simple: something other than Christ Himself becomes the head. That something else is usually a man, or possibly a group of men, or, our actually placing the church above its Head.
How can we tell when a man or men usurp and supplant the headship of Christ? Actually it�s amazingly easy � it is when men cause us to put our trust in them. They become our teachers and instructors, rather than the Holy Spirit. They become our guides and our consciences, telling us how to discern and interpret things. They assure us � with much �evidence� - that their authority is from God Himself. Almost whatever they tell us, we accept. Perhaps their past lives and ministries are so profound, that we cannot imagine that they would ever represent anything but the Lord�s will. Perhaps this is when we are most susceptible � to putting a man or men in the place that only the Lord Jesus should occupy.
While the scripture clearly indicates that there are gifts of pastor/teachers, apostles, etc. given to the body of Christ, their role is to lead us to learn to trust, rely on, and to be lead by our Head, just as John clearly does in I John 3:27: �the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you: but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.� If you do a full search of the New Testament, you will find that scriptures such as this one far outnumber and outweigh those such as Hebrews 13:17 (�Obey your leaders, and submit to them�.�). It is a rare �leader� who will present these truths in the same balance as scripture.
Unfortunately, a man-centered view of these ministries � and men themselves desiring position and power - lead us to put our trust in these men themselves.
The simple key to what happened in Acts 2 � 6 was that the saints of the early church simply had a relationship with their Head that they knew how to follow Him, hear from Him, and obey Him. Nowhere do we see the apostles or any leaders being the key to what happened in the early church in Jerusalem, or Antioch, or later. Paul and others most simply �equipped the saints� by teaching them to come under Christ�s headship individually, personally, and then collectively.
While it is relatively easy to explain when Christ is not the Head, it is often very difficult to discern, mainly because the only ones we allow to take the place of Head are those that we deeply trust. This is the �catch-22�.
As Wayne Jacobsen so well pointed out in his article, �To Trust or Not to Trust� (can be found at http://www.lifestream.org/LSFeb96.html ), nowhere in the Word of God are we ever told to put our trust in any man, no matter how godly he is, no matter how greatly he is used of the Lord, no matter how powerfully the Lord may speak through him, no matter what his history in the Lord is. In fact, the more godly, the more Christ-like, the more mature a servant of God is, the more we need to beware of putting our trust in him/her. We so see the Lord in them, that we unknowingly, subtly, begin to believe anything they say just must be from the Lord. It is at this point we have crossed a line, unknowingly, and put a person in the place of the Lord Jesus Himself.
In fact, when any man, however subtly, leads us to put our trust in him, he is as those Paul described in Acts 20:29, 30, �from amongst your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.� Keep in mind that the men to whom Paul was speaking and referring were the very men that the Holy Spirit had, years earlier, told Paul to lay hands on and place in the role of elder! The men God Himself had chosen! But, not unlike Judas, they had another agenda hidden in their hearts which God revealed to Paul � an agenda that would not surface until after Paul�s departure. What was their agenda? Most simple: to get others to follow them��.follow them�..more than follow Christ. Of course, it did not begin this way. In the beginning, these men lead others to Christ.
These men, of course, were convinced (deceived) that their agenda was of God. After all, were they not put in positions of leadership by Paul himself?
The danger here � of putting our trust in men - is directly proportional to how godly a man is, or how great his ministry or gifts are. The more godly the man, and the greater his ministry or gifts, the more we are tempted to put him in a place God reserves for His beloved Son alone. And the minute we do put our trust in him, a fallen man like ourselves, we have supplanted the Lord Jesus. We have made the man an idol; we have the man an anti-Christ.
The true man of God will always refuse to let others put their trust in him, always and only pointing us to put our trust in the Lord Jesus Himself. And he will be ever-so-sensitive to when others put him in a place reserved for God�s Son. I�ll never forget a life-changing experience when a deep and famous man of God refused to let me put him in the place of the Holy Spirit, but forced me to look only to the Lord Jesus Himself.
If they lose this sensitivity, having once had it (so few ever have it), it only means that their own personal walk with the Lord has deteriorated � in some way, to some extent � no matter what their past history has been.
This leads us to observe that just as recovery almost always begins with a man or group of men, so departure always begins with those in leadership, those in authority. How?
There are many ways, but continuing this thought, here are perhaps the main ones:
A. Those in leadership fail to maintain a close, intimate, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, living in lowly submission to His will in all things, taking the cross daily in their lives. In other words, the leaders leave Christ�s headship themselves. This occurs long before outward sin arrives�it begins with a coldness in the heart. Or a lukewarmness.
Yet these leaders must maintain their appearance of spirituality. The status quo must be maintained, and all public presentations of self must be accompanied with a due appearance of spirituality. The outward show must go on. But the heart is cold. God knows. The leader knows � initially. Even some especially spiritually sensitive saints may know. But we in leadership become so convinced of our �calling� that we think that our own spiritual condition is irrelevant.
But it is not irrelevant � especially to others around us, others that may look up to us. The effect on God�s people is disastrous. Why? Because �the flesh begets the flesh�, �that which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the Spirit is spirit�. No matter how spiritual we look, if we are in the flesh, we promote fleshliness�..perhaps the worst kind. If we are deceptive in our presentation, our very deceptiveness becomes that which is emulated and adopted by others. We don�t feed God�s people Christ, we feed them self, all clothed in a very scriptural, doctrinally-correct outer garment.
This is perhaps the greatest deception of all we can bring on others.
So how do men move from leading us to trust in our Head into leading us into trusting in them instead?
B. Leaders begin to believe in themselves, their gifts, their callings, their �ministry�, and they begin to outwardly and overty or surrepticiously and covertly promote themselves, increase their power and position among others, and use political means to achieve their ends, which of course are only �for the good of all�. Men, and women, begin to put themselves in places of influence and control over others, and use relationships to advance self, and self�s positions.
Then often follows the most serious and evil result:
C. Leaders allow sin to exist in their lives, cover it up, minimize its seriousness, and fail to deal with it.
All those in leadership in God�s economy are called to a higher standard. Their lives must be holy, or they lose the very authority of God Himself, and thus they have no authority.
Sin comes in most often when special relationships develop among leaders, whereby they �cover� and �protect� one another, where they accept behavior in one another what they would not accept in others outside their group. In hiding sin, leaders become co-partakers of sin; and sin is like cancer, always creeping into new places - eventually taking over.
The pre-condition for this is when leaders know one another �after the flesh� when their relationships are not impartial and unbiased. They become partial to one another, they favor and support one another over others. They promote one another. They see themselves as elite, above others, special. They treat one another differently than they treat everyone else. Partiality is treated in scripture as a most serious sin. Ref. Gal. 2:11 � 14; James 2:1- 9ff
Perhaps the best expression of this is seen in many police forces. The whole world opposing them, and they alone left standing against �evil�, they form an exclusive, self-protective group. �It�s us against the world� is the mentality. �We alone are good.� �We only trust one another.� And then it results in �we cover one another�s violations of the law.� This then leads to an even worse result:
D. Leaders, to maintain their position, �spin� the truth to their followers to �explain� things in a way that is acceptable to the flock, actually practicing a subtle (or sometimes overt) deception upon God�s people. They also, to assert their authority, emphasize the �power� or �person� that put them in authority, seeking an external credential for authority other than the only one that God ever gives � the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. (note: in God�s economy, the past is irrelevant. Only the anointing from the Lord that results from a man�s present/immediate relationship with and walk with the Lord is evidence of God�s authority.)
Eventually it becomes Machiavellian, almost a conspiracy where leaders plot and manipulate others � including other leaders - to maintain their positions and control. Having lost God�s authority through themselves, they must maintain their authority. But the authority they maintain is no longer God�s, it is their own. It is carnal, it is self. If continued, it can even become demonic.
Spiritual saints � those walking in close, intimate relationship with the Lord - will sense the change, and be greatly troubled. They will find that they cannot follow such leadership, and they must separate themselves from such.
Tragically, the saints who do not have such a close relationship with the Lord are oblivious to the change, to the difference. In wanting to maintain a submissive heart to those in authority, they blindly accept all that is fed to them by the now fallen leaders. They sense and know something is not right, to varying degrees. But, wanting to be faithful, they continue to follow their leaders as they always have. They think that even though something seems desperately wrong, they must still submit and follow.
These saints end up following man and actually being led away from the Lord Himself. They often wither and die spiritually, and they are puzzled as to why such dullness or deadness should exist. Still they continue to follow �the blind being led by the blind�, resulting in their own spiritual poverty.
A fourth and most dangerous possibility is that a group may follow all of the patterns listed above, but be totally blind to what is happening because the group maintains a doctrinal correct teaching ABOUT the headship of Christ - while denying the reality and practice of it. In their deception, they sincerely believe that because they have the teaching, because they have the doctrine, and that therefore they have the reality. But tragically, as the book of James so well addresses, there is a world of difference between having the doctrine of the headship of Christ and having the reality of His headship.
We have already listed the evidences of the loss of Christ�s headship, so we need not repeat them here. We only need to point out that the greatest danger of all Christian beliefs is in thinking that by possessing the doctrine that we possess the reality. The greatness of this danger is seen in that many will be surprised to find themselves in hell for this very reason. It could even be said that the whole focus of our Lord Jesus� ministry to the Jews was on this point: they thought that by possessing the teaching, they had the reality � and the Lord Jesus called this the greatest of all deceits.
S. Kaung, in �The Splendor of His Ways� wrote, "Do let us realize, dear friends, that there is a great difference between knowing God by hearing, and knowing Him by seeing. Job confessed that his knowledge of God in the past had come by hearing; which is to say, that it had been indirect and informational in character and had therefore not been intimate, personal, and experiential enough. It had been more a mental than a spiritual knowledge. Such a knowledge is entirely inadequate, since it puffs up a person instead of bringing him low. Knowing God only by hearing makes one into a somebody (i.e., "important" - rah) - but knowing Him by seeing reduces one to a nobody; to dust and ashes." The great evidence of knowing, but not seeing, is pride, which we will address more thoroughly later. And the greatest evidence of having seen Him is humility, lowliness, brokenness.