There have always been some who not only recognize the glaring deficiencies of what the church is, but are grieved and troubled by what they see, to the point that they cannot remain content to let things continue on, but are compelled to do something about it.
Of these blessed few who choose to stand up and speak out against the religious system, the response seems to fall along one of three approaches. As we will see, only one approach is harmonious with the prophetic example set forth in the history of the people of God, and it is the one approach that seems to be the last resort instead of the first recourse. But let us consider them in the proper order.
First, there are those who call for what amounts to Reformation. These are the Martin Luthers who standup to the religious leadership and rightly confront their unscriptural practices. The well-meaning intention is to fix what is wrong with the church by identifying all of its problems and coming up with Scriptural solutions. But this represents a zealous naivety on the part of all would-be reformers. First, it assumes that once the leaders recognize their unscriptural practices, they will repent and change their ways. History has proven that this never happens. Second, it assumes that the church system is something God wants to reform, when the truth is that the church system was made by man and was never authorized by God in the first place. Reforming it has the same effect as patching an old garment with new cloth, or pouring new wine into old wineskins, which results in ruining both the old and the new.
These attempts at reformation, if they are not quashed altogether, typically result in the establishment of something very similar to compete with what was already there. When the Catholic church rejected Luther, he founded another religious system based upon his understanding of Scriptural truth. To be sure it was an improvement over the Catholic system; but it was still a religious system nevertheless. From the Protestant Reformation many thousands of denominations have sprung, each more or less based upon their own interpretation of Scripture and upon the founding principles of the Roman Catholic church embedded in their history. The end result is that we are even further away from the simplicity of Christ with each attempt to repair what God never called us to build in the first place.
Second, there are those who espouse Revival as the cure to everything that ails Churchianity. The church is sleeping, and needs to be roused from sleep (so the thinking goes). The revivals of generations past, and the preachers who seemed to be instrumental in stirring up these revivals, are idealized and venerated as great heroes of the faith; the kind of people we need to be (or find) in order to experience the same kind of revival and awakening that they experienced. The Revivalist is similar to the Reformer in that both types of people hope to repair what is wrong with the church, hoping to spark a movement or a move of God that will shake the church out of complacency and restore something of the power that the early Christians had. But the Revivalist lays emphasis more on the spiritual experience than Scriptural integrity. This naturally creates a certain hankering after signs, wonders, miracles, and visible manifestations of the “power” of God as evidences and proofs that God is moving or doing something to revive and restore to what used to be.
Again, the clear witness of Scripture and the prophetic record of God’s dealings with His people rises up to contradict the Revivalist in his enthusiastic naivety. Yes, it is true that revivals and spiritual awakenings have occurred and will continue to occur. One of the greatest revivals of the 20th Century was the charismatic movement, which formed the background of my own spiritual awakening. Even so, however much individual people may have benefitted from these revivals and spiritual movements, none of these things have resulted in any fundamental change to Churchianity itself. The religious system continues on, and the deception and abuse it dispenses in the name of God gets worse with every generation.
God will not continue to pour out His Spirit or send any kind of revival to people who still remain in a religious system that God has judged and called us to come out of. Any real pouring out of God’s Spirit must result in a people being called out; God is not the author of something that requires people to go back to Babylon in order to benefit from it themselves, or to bring Life to it. On the contrary, the very idea of “revival” is frequently used by Churchianity in a desperate attempt to breathe new life into something that is clearly dead. It is dead because it is under the judgment of God. He has not called us to bring it back to life again; on the contrary, His judgment says, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead” (Mt.8:22).
While God has certainly been patient with His people and has even blessed efforts to reform or revive, it has always been with an understanding that He was calling those who had been reformed and revived to come out and be obedient to Him. The prophetic declaration is to “come out of [Babylon], My people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues” (Rev. 18:4).
God’s ultimate intention is neither Reformation nor Revival, but Repudiation! Repudiation is a strong word. It means, “to reject the authority or validity of; to disown or cast off.” But this is precisely what followers of Jesus have had to do from the very beginning. To the elders and high priests of Judaism, the apostles stated simply, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Later, when the Christian Church took on the same religious spirit as the Jewish Sanhedrin, other men and women followed in the same tradition of the apostles and repudiated the authority of the religious establishment in order to maintain the Testimony of Jesus. They were neither Reformers nor Revivalists; they simply repudiated the religious system altogether.
There is a wonderful reformation happening right now – not within the religious system, but within the hearts and minds of people who are repudiating that system. There is a tremendous revival taking place right now, and it is a revival along spiritual lines, among those who have heeded the call to “come out of Babylon” and have been raised to new Life. God is revealing Christ to people, and people are learning how to enter into Him and how to live in Him, and how to walk in Him. They are leaving the complexities of Religion for the simplicity of Relationship. This is a quiet reformation, a quiet revival, a grass-roots movement that is governed by the Holy Spirit.
This article is an excerpt from “ The Church in The Wilderness” By Chip Brogden
Throughout history, God has continually called out a people, a remnant that will represent His heart and mind in the midst of universal deception and decay. To answer this calling, God’s people have always been asked to leave where they are and travel through an unfamiliar, lonely place – a wilderness – in order to reach the place He has prepared for them.
This happened twice in the history of Israel, and it has happened twice in the history of Christianity. By looking back on how God has called His people out in times past, we can better see and appreciate the significance of the final exodus that is taking place at this time.
Israel’s First Exodus: God Called the Hebrews Out of Egypt
We have already seen that Moses established a “church in the wilderness” by leading the Hebrews out of Egypt and into the Promised Land by way of the desert of Sinai. This exodus is recorded in our Bibles, not just for its historical significance, but for us to learn by: “With most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us…” (1 Cor. 10:5,6). We see how they were tested in the wilderness, and how they failed many of the tests, and failed to enter into the Promised Land because of doubt and fear. We also see how many of them were tempted to go back to Egypt.
All these things are recorded so that we will recognize this tendency in ourselves today and not make the same mistakes they made. So this first exodus establishes the spiritual principle of God calling His people out and is the key that unlocks our understanding of how God goes about the difficult work of calling and setting apart a chosen people for Himself.
Israel’s Second Exodus: God Called the Jews Out of Babylon
Once the nation of Israel was established in the Promised Land, they began a slow and steady moral and spiritual decline, occasionally punctuated with godly kings and periods of repentance and revival. But eventually the wickedness of the nation called for judgment, and this judgment came in the form of Nebuchadnezzar, who conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, killed most of the people, and took the remainder as captives with him to Babylon, where they lived in exile for 70 years.
After that, the Lord once again called them to come out – to leave Babylon, journey back through the wilderness to Jerusalem, and rebuild their Temple and their city.
The significant thing about this is that most of the Jews stayed in Babylon. Out of an estimated Jewish population of greater than one million people living in exile, only 42,000 returned. The vast majority preferred the comfortable bondage of Babylon to the uncomfortable, uncertain future of rebuilding their nation. The significance of this is extraordinary. Just as the young nation wanted to return to Egypt, the nation in exile wanted to remain in Babylon.
So we have two exoduses in the history of Israel that provide us with spiritual discernment into what follows after. Let us now turn to the two exoduses in the history of the Ekklesia.
Our First Exodus: God Called the Christians Out of Judaism
A remnant of Jews did return from Babylon. They rebuilt the Temple and inhabited Jerusalem once again. Having paid the terrible price of their idolatry, they resolved to never disobey God again. But in their zeal they went to the opposite extreme of fanaticism. What eventually developed was a religious system and a hypocritical priesthood obsessed with outward appearances and obedience to the letter of the Law while overlooking mercy, grace, righteousness, faith, and love.
Into this atmosphere our Savior was sent, just as Moses was sent to Pharaoh with a mandate to bring God’s people out of bondage and into the Promised Land. And, just as Pharaoh resisted Moses, so the religious leaders resisted Jesus. Undaunted, Jesus promised another “church in the wilderness” that would stand forever, and charged His disciples to take this message to “all nations” and “to the uttermost parts of the earth.”
Even with this clear direction, it would take many years for the truth to sink in: faith in Christ was not compatible with Judaism. Peter struggled with preaching Christ to the Gentiles and was rebuked publicly by Paul. James, based in Jerusalem, tried in vain to make Christianity fit in better with Jewish ideology. But once the Gospel was preached to the Gentiles, it marked the beginning of something new. The Way, as it was then called, was no longer a mere sect within Judaism. The Gentiles heard the message, and thanks to Paul, understood that faith in Christ has nothing to do with obeying the Law of Moses.
Now followers of Jesus were forced to make a decision. Were they going to “come out of Judaism” and be “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a set-apart people” distinct from Judaism, or, would they cling to their Jewish traditions and the teachings of their elders, all of whom rejected Jesus as the Messiah?
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jews struggling with that very dilemma. After demonstrating conclusively that you cannot enjoy the benefits of the New Covenant while clinging to elements of the Old Covenant, the author concludes:
“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin, are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through His own blood. Therefore let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach He endured” (Heb. 13:10-13).
Once again, when offered a choice between comfortable bondage and uncomfortable freedom, we find many chose to stay “within the camp.” They were known as the Ebionites – Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah but insisted on obedience to the Jewish laws and customs in order to be saved. Of course, they also rejected Paul as a genuine apostle. This group flourished within Jerusalem until it was destroyed by Titus in A.D. 70., after which they established themselves in Pella. They persisted for some time, but by the fourth or fifth century they were no longer in existence.
Our Second Exodus: God Calls the Remnant Out of “Churchianity” By that time, the followers of Jesus were recognized as something springing out of, but totally different from, Judaism. For about 300 years the followers of Jesus practiced their faith in simplicity and in obedience to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, even when enduring fierce persecution from the Romans and the Jews. Eventually, Rome accepted Christianity and made it their state religion. Masses of “converts” poured in. Pagan temples were converted into “Christian” churches, and more church buildings were constructed. An elaborate hierarchy of bishops was established and a religious system was organized that soon exceeded the Jewish religion, both in numbers of adherents and in material wealth. Christianity became institutionalized into three main sects: Catholicism, Orthodox, and Protestantism. Out of Protestantism, Christianity was further splintered into thousands of denominations.
So we see that Israel’s history has repeated itself in the history of Christianity. Just as God called the Hebrews out of Egypt to form a new nation, so God called the early Christians out of Judaism to form a “new nation” of kings and priests. When Israel rebelled against God and committed idolatry, they were led away to Babylon for judgment. In like manner, when Christendom rebelled against God and created an idolatrous system of worship “in Jesus’ name,” they were also brought to judgment; the chief difference being that God did not send them away – He simply gave them over to their own devices, and they were quite content to proceed under the assumption that God was endorsing and blessing the works of their hands.
This brings us to the present time. Just as God called out a remnant of Jews to leave Babylon and journey to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple, God has in these last days called out a remnant of Christians to leave “Churchianity” and take a journey through the wilderness. What is He bringing them to? Not to a temple made with hands, but to a house of living stones. Not to the Jerusalem that is below, but to the Jerusalem that is above: the New Jerusalem, the Heavenly City, whose builder and maker is God. It is a “Church in the Wilderness” – not a building, but a body of people in transition between the religious system and the spiritual fulfillment of God’s original intention for the Ekklesia.
This article is an excerpt from “ The Church in The Wilderness” By Chip Brogden