As most of us know, today we find ourselves at a time in history like none other. I have said this in other articles and have applied it to numerous aspects of our lives. Today I would like to apply it to the Church. What is the “Church”? Who is the “Church”? What is the function of the “Church”?
The Church was a total mystery before Jesus the Messiah came the first time. There was, however, an unusual dynamic that formed as a result of Jesus’ followers meeting in the Upper Room as He had instructed them. While they waited on God, the power of the Holy Spirit came on all 120 of the gathered group. As promised by the Messiah, the “Comforter”, or Holy Spirit came upon them in obvious displays of the supernatural. They were then sent out with a power that they had never before experienced. Let’s look at what is recorded in Acts 1:1-11:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, “which,” He said, “you have heard from Me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to israel?” And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” (NKJV)
Here we find the instruction Jesus had made to His followers, as well as what the outcome would be if they followed these instructions. They would become witnesses, not only to Jerusalem, but also to the uttermost parts of the world. In light of all the events that had transpired for these people in the past handful of weeks, this was an amazing promise. The fulfillment of the promise however was to have an effect on their lives, the like of which they could not have imagined. We find the first part of this promise being fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4. We will look in the NKJV:
When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance…”
This was the beginning of the mystery, “The Church”. As the supernatural unfolded upon these folks, the power of God brought about such a metamorphosis that their lives would never be the same. A good example of this was Peter. Peter, who had denied his Lord three times due to his fear, became Peter, the Apostle–a man who had fear lifted from him. On the very day of Pentecost, he preached a sermon that caused 3,000 people to cry out for mercy to the only One that could forgive their sins. We find the account of this in Acts 2:36-41:
“…Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
What was it that took this man who could not stand up to the questioning of a little servant girl during Jesus’ trial and turned him into a fearless evangelist? Something gave him such power in his words that 3,000 people were moved to cry out in desperation for an answer to their spiritual plight! This same power was in evidence in the whole body of believers representing Jesus, the Messiah. The Church was born and its growth was stupendous.
This Church, which before the Messiah’s first coming was a total mystery, has been in existence now for nearly 2,000 years and for those that have any understanding of Biblical prophecy, the second coming of the Messiah is imminent. Is the Church ready? How much of the Church will be caught off guard? How much of the Church today is so lost in “religion” that it is not recognizing the time in which we are living? How much of the Church thinks that “we” the Church are the ones that are going to bring the world around us into subjection, and as we do so, then, and only then will the Messiah return to take His throne? How much of the Church today thinks it has taken the place of Israel as “The Chosen People”? These are all questions worthy of an answer.
In Revelation 2 and 3 we find Jesus Christ addressing seven churches. These seven churches were in existence during the first century and were located in what is modern day Turkey.
Because we are looking back from the extreme far end of the Church’s 2,000 years of history, we can also see how the details of each of these individual churches were quite literally represented in recorded history. As we study Church history today we can also apply these principles to our individual churches as well as to each of our personal lives as part of the corporate “Church”.
I believe the Church is in great mortal danger today. Of course not every church is in the same condition but it is important that we see the danger for what it is and make sure we do something about it.
I have looked back into the history of the Church, looking into the biographies of people like William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, for instance. What was it that drove this man to ignore the laughter and insults of people who ridiculed him? A quote attributed to him might give us a clue. Booth said this:
“We are not sent to minister to a congregation and be content if we keep things going. We are sent to make war and to stop short of nothing but the subjugation of the world to the sway of the Lord Jesus!”
Jonathan Edwards, to whom many attribute the first great awakening in the young American nation, is said to have commented:
“True weanedness from the world doesn’t consist in being beat off from the world by the affliction of it, but a being drawn off by the sight of something better.”
Charles Spurgeon had enough quotes to fill books. One of my favorites is this:
“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labor in His service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them….Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord…”
A.W. Tozer was another man who was used mightily of God. Many quotes are attributed to him as well. One of them is:
Any objection to the carryings on of our present gold-calf Christianity is met with the triumphant reply, “But we are winning them!” And winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ? Of course the answer to all these questions is, no!”
I could share quote after quote by many men who God has used to speak to the masses in the latter part of the Church Age. The 19th century was called the Age of the Evangelist. These were the days of D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, John and Charles Wesley, and a great many others. One of the things that these men were known for was their uncompromising stance on the absolute truth of the Bible and what a holy God requires of us. This is not a popular message in our materialistic world. I suspect that these men would make many enemies in our world today. They would not be found to be politically correct; in fact, they would not be considered religiously correct in the church world today. They would be considered too harsh for today’s typical church-goer and receive the left foot of fellowship for being too rude and lacking the proper sensitivity to the feelings of their audience. Today it seems more important for people to leave the church service with happy feelings!
There are a number of reasons why much of the Church is in great danger today. I am going to leave you with at least some of these reasons, giving you the task of pondering these things and deciding whether they are true or not.
In Revelation 2:2-5 we find Jesus making these statements:
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for my name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have lost your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place–unless you repent.
I am afraid that if the Lord Jesus were to show up in most church services today, He would not be recognized. Not only would no one recognize Him for Who He is, anything He would likely say would not be received. He would be told that what He has to say has no relevance to the modern church today. His attitude toward our accomplishments in our work for God would be out of line. Would He pick up a horse whip and clear our churches of all the commercial paraphernalia that litters most of our foyers, or would He stand in the back of the auditorium with tears running down His face because we are worshipping our worship instead of Him? Would He be angered because we are guilty of censoring God’s Word, deciding which parts we will or will not teach? Would He be incensed because we have become a “feel good about ourselves” church?
Many of our churches today have become more of a religious entertainment center than a house of prayer. Going to some churches today is like going to a sports event–the only thing missing being the cheerleaders–although some “worship” teams come pretty close. We have forgotten where we came from! We have also forgotten the enormous price that was paid for our freedom from sin and death.
One of the things that makes the Great Reformers and the 19th century evangelists so unique is that they were not afraid to call sin, “sin”. They spoke of “hell” and they were not afraid to use the word, “repent”! But many Christian leaders today feel they have to put a sugar coating on God’s Word! Difficult parts are avoided. Most of the Old Testament is never taught. Prophecy is totally avoided. We are being told to take the disturbing parts of Jesus’ parables and not take them seriously; after all, they are just parables! How can we with a clear conscience do this? Some of the things Jesus said were pretty disturbing and they provoked controversy! Of course! He was dealing with a dying human race!
This first church Jesus was speaking to, the Church of Ephesus, had forgotten from where they came. Jesus commended them for having followed Him carefully, fulfilling what they were called to do. They had persevered and had not grown weary doing it. Yet, they had drifted away and had not even realized it. The intimacy they had enjoyed with their Lord had been lost! Jesus told them that they needed to remember where they had fallen from. If not, they would lose their place in Him! Becoming complacent has a very high price.
There are many of us today who fall into this category and do not recognize it, nor would we admit it if we did. We have become part of a “Bless me Jesus” crowd! Instead of being all about Jesus, it has become all about us! Jesus is coming for a Church without spot or wrinkle. If He calls and we are not prepared we will miss the Ark of Safety He has prepared for us. I find the passage in Revelation 7:9-14 especially interesting because of who the people in this crowd represent.
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” And I said to him, “Sir, you know.” So he said to me, “These are the ones who come out of the Great Tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (NKJV)
This tells us that the crowd in this passage is not the same crowd we find in Revelation 5:8-14. The elders, four living creatures, and angels are the same, but the multitude of saved humans are not the same. Those in chapter 7 came out of the Great Tribulation and had apparently been martyred, or they would not be found in heaven yet.
There is an Old Testament Scripture that the modern church should take as a challenge. It is found in Jeremiah 6:16:
Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not listen.’
This world has never had as many Watchmen warning the Church that we are on the threshold of the Second Coming of the Messiah than there are today. Because these warnings are given again and again, they are being tuned out. Warnings are being given from around the globe to prepare for the coming of the KING of Kings. Are we hearing? Most are not!
Living a life that is truly prepared for the imminent return of Christ is not convenient in our very busy lifestyle today. We can’t discipline ourselves enough to get our priorities straight! There are so many movies to watch; so many TV programs, so many YouTube comedians to watch. We have people who cannot leave their video games long enough to eat! Others live to watch one sporting event after another. The fallen one is making sure that our time is eaten up with an abundance of worthless time-consumers
I find it interesting that so few American churches will take serious the plight of our persecuted brethren. It really says something about the prevailing shallowness of our respect for those who are enduring things that we cannot even imagine. There is a reluctance to even bring them up in our services. Is it because it doesn’t bring “happy thoughts”? What if our roles were reversed with these people? We would be grateful for every little prayer offered for us. How is it that the heart of Jesus bleeds for them and we don’t even tell their stories? The Book of Acts is still being written, and it is being written about people who are enduring the absolute worst persecution in the history of mankind. At least 100,000 Christians have been martyred every single year since the year 2000. This last year has had that number go up exponentially. Yet, most of the Western Church is oblivious. God will hold us accountable!
I have always loved sports but we can’t afford to ignore the events of our day. It would be ironic if all the things we have so much fun with keep us from realizing that the great Shofar is about to blow! Many Christians aren’t so anxious for the Lord’s coming because they are enjoying life too much! Yet, in third world countries, people are looking forward to that return every single moment! I ask again, what if the roles were reversed? Do we know we aren’t going to go through some of the same persecution the third world is? It could happen nearly overnight!
I look at what has happened with the stock market since the year of the Shemitah began in September 2014. It has dropped about 1100 points since September 24th! Are we going to experience a Stock Market crash? Yes. Will it happen tomorrow? Not likely, but it is likely by next fall. Even if the economy were to hang on somehow, there is a whole litany of events that are already in motion which will leave America like we’ve never seen it before. What is our faith in? Fantasy football? I sure hope not!
America has ignored God’s warnings for many years now. The warnings are still coming but God’s judgment on this nation will not be delayed much longer. It is too late for us to come to true repentence as a nation, but God will still bring anyone into the fold that will humble themselves before Him. God’s mercy is very great but there comes a time when His mercy runs out. Isaiah 66:2b says, “…But on this one will I look, on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word”.
After each and every commentary that Jesus gives to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, he says, “To him who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches…”
We dare not have selective hearing today. God is still speaking to the Church, but time has nearly run out…
Continued in Part 2