When God shakes a local assembly...
Rachael HillMemorial Website
What must we learn?
Our second great error is directly related to, and possibly a direct result of the first:
II. We have failed to maintain a close, intimate, personal communion and walk with the Lord Jesus Himself, and we are deceived into thinking that our fellowship in the church, or our receiving ministry from men is sufficient for us to maintain a right relationship with the Lord.
Perhaps this is the greater deception. As one brother said, Christianity today is a hundred miles wide and less than an inch deep. And this is true of many of the most �spiritual� and mature saints.
Perhaps the greatest lack in God's people today is the lack of a close, intimate, personal relationship and walk with the Lord Jesus. At the same time, there is far more Christian activity and works than ever in history � but with what fruit?
A. We have placed so much emphasis on �the church�, that our relationship with �the church� has supplanted (replaced) our relationship with the Lord Jesus Himself.
Long ago, C. H. Mackintosh wrote [caps mine � rah],
�We do not get to Christ through the Church. We get to Christ first, and then to the Church. Christ is our Life, NOT THE CHURCH! No doubt, church fellowship is something above and beyond it , and it is of that something that "unfeigned faith" takes possession. Timothy had this faith dwelling in him before ever he entered the house of God. He was connected to the God of the house previous to his manifested association with the house of God.
It is well to be clear as to this. We must NEVER SURRENDER THE INTENSE INDIVIDUALITY WHICH CHARACTERIZES "unfeigned faith". We must carry it with us through all the scenes and circumstances, the links and associations of our Christian life and service. WE MUST NOT TRAFFIC IN MERE CHURCH POSITION, or build upon religious machinery, or be borne up by a routine of duty, or cling to the worthless props of sectarian sympathy or denominational preference. Let us cultivate those fresh, vivid, and powerful affections which were created in ouir heart when we first knew the Lord......
We suffer materially by allowing what is called Christian fellowship to interfere with our personal
connection and communion with Christ. We are far too prone to substitute fellowship with man for fellowship with God
- to WALK IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OUR FELLOW, RATHER THAN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CHRIST - TO LOOK AROUND RATHER THAN UPWARD
FOR SYMPATHY, SUPPORT, AND ENCOURAGEMENT."
(C. H. Mackintosh, in "Provision for Perilous Times" on II Timothy)
There is such an emphasis on the church today that in many places, the conscience of the church has replaced the conscience of the individual believer walking with God��the hearing from the Lord by each believer has been replaced with the church hearing from the Lord for us. A whole movement out of China distorting the teaching and ministry of Watchman Nee arose out of just such error, and now the same error is infecting countless assemblies of God's people where the believers relationship with the church is more important than the believers walk and relationship with the Lord.
Oh, it is never defined outwardly as such. But, the way it is communicated is that the believers relationship with the Lord is judged by his/her relationship to a particular gathering. Thus, the �bride� of Christ makes herself to be the head! We must see that by all other definitions, any one or anything who attempts to take the place of Christ is ultimately � anti-Christ.
B. We receive our understanding of the Word, God's will for our lives, our spiritual life from men in ministry or leadership rather than directly from the Lord Himself.
More than a few wise Christians have noted that it is when leaders begin to fail themselves to be wholly under the Lordship of Jesus Christ (due to either a lukewarm heart, disobedience or sin) that they consequently begin to sense their loss of authority with others. Wanting to maintain their own authority apart from the Lord Jesus (who actually is the only authority), they then begin to externally proclaim and exert their authority over others in outward ways. They declare to all in their communion that they are God's ordained authority, and all must recognize them as such, that all must therefore submit to them, and that to do otherwise is rebellion and death.
Fear is then used as a manipulative force in coercing and controlling the lives and beliefs of the saints. Sheep are fearful by nature, and run collectively to safety when any such threat of danger is sounded.
In the early 1970's, it seemed that the Holy Spirit began a work of recovering a long lost sense of God's authority. But, as with most recoveries, the pendulum swung far in the other direction.
Whereas in the early church, the authority proclaimed was solely that of the Lord Jesus Christ, the new (quite erroneous and deceptive) declaration was that God's authority was now vested in the �church�. As with all error, this is a truth taken beyond its reality. Of course God's authority is in the church, but only to the degree that she herself is submitted to her Head, the Lord Jesus.
The new view is that we only need to see, recognize, and submit to the church's authority and that the church's authority is equal to, the same as Christ's authority.
The general understanding of spiritual authority among Christians today has remained far, far beyond what is found in the scriptures. Men in leadership all the way from the pastors of denominational circles, to technically �Christ-centered� fellowships, to home churches strongly proclaim their �God-ordained� authority only to abuse a truth in order to manipulate and control saints, keep them �in submission�, deny them a true, direct submission to the Lord Jesus Himself.
In the early church, it was remarkably �not so.� Rather, the vitality and life of the church was a direct result of unanimously declaring the absolute authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. How interesting that even after sending the letter resulting from Acts 15, there is no strong declaration to submit to leadership. Nor is there anywhere else in the New Testament. Yes, a few places do address submitting to leaders, but they are few, and profoundly brief in their statements.
The authoritarian error of the past Roman church now dominates non-Catholic evangelical/fundamental Christendom. �The Church� is held as having almost supreme authority (while Catholics have themselves, for the most part, come out from under such a false understanding of authority). In almost every form of local church, either �the pastor�, or �the elders� (or whatever name they are called) declare the life/death necessity of submitting to leadership. They declare the church's authority � whereas the early church only declared Christ's authority. What a difference!
Yes, the early church did have and demonstrate Christ's authority. But it was wholly dependent upon her moment-by-moment submission to Christ's authority. The instant any stepped out of being under His authority, it was readily acknowledged that, no matter who they were and what their history or calling was, if they stepped out from under His direct Headship, they had no authority. Perhaps a prime example is that of Peter when he had to be rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11ff) � notably the same Peter that had spoken words of death to Ananias and Sapphira.
Peter had no authority in and of himself. He only could demonstrate the authority of the Lord Jesus when he himself was under that authority. If ever in sin or disobedience, Peter becomes as helpless as the seven sons of Sceva.
It seems to be an almost universal truth that when leaders begin to emphasize authority and submission, it corresponds with a spiritual decline in their own lives and ministries, thus being the gasps of the flesh striving to maintain an outward evidence of what has ceased to exist in the inward and invisible. When men who no longer are in direct and whole-hearted submission to the Lord Jesus themselves, or in whose life there is sin or disobedience (such as practicing deception), still proclaim to have God's authority, they are stating that they have authority in and of themselves � apart from Christ. In so doing, they are no less than anti-Christ!
What a devastating effect this error has on the church today. Saints by the millions worldwide are literally kept from knowing the true headship of the Lord Jesus in their lives because their whole comprehension of God's authority is confined to clearly defined leaders � men � rather than in Christ alone.
It seems that everywhere today there is a strong focus on �Leadership�. I strongly believe this to be a very dangerous expression of this error. Nowhere in scripture is there an emphasis on �leadership� other than the leadership of the Lord Jesus in the heart and life of the believer. The emphasis on leadership only supports and enforces a false belief and trust in man, with a corresponding loss of personal trust and faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ Himself.
Leaders following this pattern are actually bringing about and causing the very disease they are trying to cure � the spiritual emasculation of God's people. Saints are kept as spiritual babies instead of learning � by experience � the wonderful, exciting life of walking with and hearing from the Lord Jesus as Head, the Lord Jesus as Teacher, the Lord Jesus as Leader, Guide � All-in-All.
The Lord Jesus didn't talk a lot about leadership, and when He did, He boldly contradicted the world's form of leadership (Mark, Luke). Rather, quite in contrast, He demonstrated what spiritual leadership was and left it to the Holy Spirit to sort out who really �got the message� - - those whose lives proved that they �saw� His exalted place alone as Leader.
A class of dependency?
Articulate spokesmen for a certain political party point out that another political party, when in control, actively and aggressively seek to set up systems that create in needy individuals �a class of dependency.� They establish programs where the needy can come to have their needs met, and after a period of time, like a drug, the needy continually come to get their �fix�, having their needs met by the system.
Thus the needy are forever hooked in a loop, a cycle of dependency, until they become a class of dependency who cannot be separated from their regular source of supply.
So it is among most groups of Christians.
Many of those who minister, do so in a way that creates a spiritual dependency on their ministry. The spiritually needy � the normal condition of most of God's sheep � find a place where they can get their weekly (or semi-weekly) spiritual �fix�, and then go back to their lives feeling that they have been fed. They even can get to the point to where the focus of their fellowship is on what they have been fed, rather than on Christ Himself.
This is the same as the old story of the difference between giving a hungry man a fish and teaching him to fish. One meets his temporary need, and brings him back begging for more � keeping him dependent - while the other sets him free to find the joy of getting his own food directly and being dependent on no one.
How much ministry today creates dependency? And how much ministry teaches God's people to learn to feast on the Lord Jesus, to find in Him our full supply, to depend on Him alone, and sends the saints out not only free in a direct dependency on the Lord and His faithfulness, but setting them free to actively demonstrate to others the glorious freedom of being dependent only upon the Lord Jesus?
The tragic result of ministry that creates this dependency in God's people is devastating in several aspects. For one, it feeds the saints with �second-hand�, or �pre-digested� food. It does not nourish as food directly from Christ nourishes. In fact, it creates and maintains a state of spiritual atrophy � spiritual weakness. Spiritual muscles weaken, and even die. And the saint comes to where he/she can only be a static, almost dead, receiver of its daily bread provided by another.
Where do you ever find saints as the Bereans (Acts 17:11) who, instead of saying, �This word is from the great, anointed, well-known Paul, so it must be true and we must accept it.�, �examined the scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so.� Where do you find saints who know the word first-hand, for themselves, who have �bought the truth and sold it not� (Prov. 23:23). You will only find these where ministry has led the saints to a dependency upon Christ instead of a dependency on men and their ministries.
When a group � a corporate expression of such saints � depends upon men, it becomes ingrown, self-centered, self-occupied. There is little if any fruit and growth. Often there is shrinkage, the opposite of growth. Continued, the eventual result is an atmosphere of death.
In contrast, the saint that is lead to learn to feed directly on Christ leaves a dependency on men, continues to grow in �grace and truth�, and finds his/her spiritual muscles strengthened to where he/she becomes a fruitful plant in God's house, giving and ministering to others, and leading others to dependency on Christ alone � and to the glorious freedom of knowing Him intimately and personally.
A group of saints knowing how to feed directly on Christ, and how to lead others to the infinite supply of His grace, bears much fruit, grows, expands, and sends saints out reproducing the same fruit in others.
Oh, how far have we fallen! We have so focused on being �Christ-centered� that in blindness we in reality have become �man-centered�. Not in doctrine�.not in the technicals��but in reality. And because our doctrine, our �technicals�, have been so correct, we have been deceived into thinking that we have the reality when in truth we are �poor, blind, and naked.�
I believe the test of any ministry is whether that ministry make you more dependent upon that ministry, or whether it so leads you to the Lord Jesus that you are set free from it. It's not unlike our earthly children. How tragic is it if, in raising the fruit of our bodies, our own children, we make them so dependent upon us that they can never leave home? What if they never become fruitful producers that are able to have, not only enough to meet their own needs, but an abundance to give to others?
Such it should be spiritually � Christ's life in saints is always fruitful. Perhaps the best �test� of our ministry is whether it produces fruitful saints who are able to get their daily supply directly from the Lord with an abundance of Christ's life � fruit � that is shared with others.
Or do we only produce a �fruitful� class of �leaders�, or �workers� - a clergy � a special group � who, because they are �anointed� and �called� are able to be fruitful in this way? And in so doing, also create another, far larger class of those wholly dependent on the �fruitful� class for their spiritual needs?
And while we become dependent upon our leaders, we lose touch with the Holy Spirit and His quiet leading. Instead of being a people filled with and led by the Holy Spirit, we only know how to be led by men and filled with their thoughts.
The testimony of the scripture is clear. The early church developed no such class of leaders (clergy, �workers�, etc.). It miraculously produced � eventually � millions of saints who knew Christ so well, knew His Lordship, His Headship, His marvelous grace and infinite supply.