Monday, October 31, 2011

I'm still off writing for awhile. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy someone who is on target with his writing. Jon Zens, my friend, is one of those. I'll post the four shifts fully explained next time.

Four Tragic Shifts In The Visible Church
180-400 A. D.

by Jon Zens

Most professing Christians do not realize that the central concepts and practices associated with what we call 'church' are not rooted in the New Testament, but in patterns established in the post-apostolic age. While there are a legion of disagreements among serious students of church history concerning various issues and details during the period of 50 A.D. to 325 A.D., they all speak as one voice in affirming the four undeniable shifts that will be examined in this article. Church historians of all theological and ecclesiastical backgrounds observe in their writings the following four shifts: 
1. The church portrayed in the New Testament was a dynamic organism, a living body with many parts. The church from around 180 A.D. onwards became an increasingly hardened institution with a fixed and complex hierarchy.
 2. The early church was marked by; the manifestation of a polyform ministry by which edification and the meeting of needs were accomplished through the gifts of all the brethren. The post-apostolic church moved more and more toward a uniform conception of church offices which separated ministry from the 'laity' and limited significant ministry to the 'clergy'.

3. The church of the first and most of the second centuries was characterized by cycles of intense difficulty and persecution - it was a suffering body. With the advent of Constantine the church became protected, favored and ultimately sanctioned as the state religion by the Roman state, and thus became an institution at ease.

4. In the New Testament the church, with no small measure of vulnerability, depended on the Holy Spirit to hold the brethren together and to lead them in ministry. Later, the church trusted in itself as a very powerful institution, along with its many rules, rites and offices to secure visible unity among its adherents.

These four shifts are indisputable. They did not come about in a day. They were the result of many factors working together as time elapsed. There are many implications to ponder in light of these significant changes that occurred. I would like to explore each of these shifts in order to highlight certain key issues that each of us needs to face.

We claim to take Christ's revelation about the church in the New Testament seriously, yet the reality is that too often we are more attached to the 'received order' which is based on human traditions. What does it mean to be faithful to the New Testament's teaching about the church? In what sense are the examples of the church life 'binding' on us?

For instance, some assert that since the early church met primarily in homes, we are obliged to emulate this example. I think the primary theological point of the New Testament in this regard is that under the New Covenant there are no holy places. Contemporary Christianity has almost no grasp of this significant point. Taking the cue from the Old Covenant, people are still led to believe that a church building is 'the house of God'. Believers are free to meet, anywhere in which they can foster, cultivate and attain the goals set before them by Christ. The problem today is that many church structures neither promote nor accomplish Christ's desires for His body.

Homes are a natural place for believers to meet, and the early church flourished well into the first and second centuries without erecting any temple-like edifices. In places around the world where persecution reigns, house-church movements have flourished. Someday in America, if our religious infrastructure falls as a result of economic and political turmoil, true believers will be forced to meet outside of traditional church buildings.

But the issue still is not what type of place believers gather, but what shape their committed life together takes as they wrestle with the many duties and privileges flowing out of the priesthood of all believers.
I believe that it is far more important to capture the spirit of church life as we see it unfolded in the New Testament, than it is to try and woodenly replicate cultural particulars of the first century. We do not live in the first century, but the concepts and principles in the New Testament endure and will come to expression in any culture.

The four tragic shifts about to be examined will give us all plenty to reflect and act upon as we seek to take our discipleship earnestly. Christians must take their stand and devote their precious energies to building up the body of Christ in ways that return to the original patterns of the New Testament.



Anonymous said...

Zon Zens,
To say, “These four shifts are indisputable” to Baptists is like waving a red flag in front of a hurt bull.

First red flag is your “SHIFT ONE” saying there was no hierarchy in the early church but started after 180 A.D.

If the following Scriptures do not indicate ‘hierarchy’, would anyone tell me why?

1. “…they arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy.” (Acts 15:2)
[The controversy was if Gentiles could be saved without obeying the Laws of Moses.]

2. “Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God among the Gentiles, but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20)
[It looks to me like pope James has made HIS judgment.]

SHIFT THREE described Christians as being only Catholic under Constantine, but there was another group named Anabaptist in 251 A.D. that withdrew from the majority because they disagreed with baptizing babies for salvation.

SHIFT FOUR indicated the early church depended on the Holy Spirit to hold them together.

Let’s see, Peter said, “So why are you [‘sect of the Christian Pharisees’ in verse 5] challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke…we are all saved the same way, by the underserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 15:10-11 NLT)

But the letter to the Gentiles swept Peter’s words under the carpet and repeated James’ judgment: “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these NECESSARY things…” (Acts 15:28 Holman)

The question arises: If burdening the Gentiles was “challenging God”, did the Holy Spirit decide otherwise? The point being the Holy Spirit DID NOT hold these two groups of Christians together.

I believe one group became the foundation for Catholics, and the other the foundation of Baptists.

Rex Ray

Anonymous said...

Of the New Testament Church, Zon Zens states:
1. Was a dynamic organism.
2. Marked by; the manifestation of a polyform ministry.
3. With no small measure of vulnerability.
4. Was characterized by cycles of intense difficulty and persecution.

Number one:
“Organism” is defined as a living thing such as animals and plants. (There is NOTHING about a dog that's not a dog.) But there was plenty in the early church and every church today that has SOMETHING that is NOT church such as sin. Therefore the early church was not an organism.

Number two:
“Polyform” means the joining together of identical basic polygons.
But in the early church as well as today, there are no two Christians with identical ideas or beliefs.

Number three:
Zens hit the nail on the head with this one since “vulnerability” is defined as a weakness which allows an attacker…

The attacker was the devil. His greatest victory was confusing his greatest defeat—Calvary. He did this by adding 'works' to faith.

Number four:
Zens speaks of persecution from outside the church, but ignores persecution from within the church which in my opinion is more hurtful and dangerous.

To be persecuted by the enemy is to be expected and we know how much non-believing Jews treated Paul. He was whipped, beaten, and stoned to the point he was in heaven. But to be persecuted by your own kind (Christians) is what really hurt Paul. He wrote:

“Some people even say that I myself am preaching that circumcision and Jewish laws are necessary to the plan of salvation. Well, if I preached that, I would be persecuted no more—for that message doesn’t offend anyone. [“anyone” is speaking of Jewish Christians] The fact that I am still being persecuted [by these Christians] proves that I am still preaching salvation through faith in the cross of Christ alone. I only wish these teachers who want you to cut yourselves by being circumcised would cut themselves off from you and leave you alone.” (Galatians 5:11-12 Living Bible)

Was Paul in danger of being killed by Jewish Christians? (Acts 22:20-23 NLT)

“You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all follow the law of Moses very seriously. But the Jewish believers here in Jerusalem have been told [by them?] that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They’ve heard that you teach them not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come. Here’s what we want you to do…”

Rex Ray

Aussie John said...


I first read Jon's "Four Shifts" quite some time ago and found him to be thoroughly in accord with the New Testament. He was careful to place Scripture ABOVE denominational traditions, which very few have done during my lifetime.

I,long before I read the writing of people such as Jon, and I suspect you, also Paul, found it very challenging to have long held beliefs placed under Biblical examination.

It is well etched into my mind, how studying Scripture, when preparing sermons, caused me to rethink much of what had become denominational dogma, including many of those matters mentioned by Jon.

It is far too easy, and humanly comforting, to read Scripture so that it reinforces long held beliefs, which rely, very often, on ONE proof text, and ignoring the importance of comparing Scripture with Scripture.

It took me several years to fully understand that, more often than not, as the old saying goes,"PROOF TEXTS WITHOUT CONTEXT ARE PRETEXTS".

Another lesson I learned through all of the aforesaid is, "TAKE THE TEXT OUT OF ITS CON - TEXT AND YOU END UP WITH A CON" (from someone I read. Don't ask me who, but they are spot on).

Jon has been more brave than I in turning the light of Scripture onto some of the CONS.

Rex Ray said...

Aussie John,
I agree with you saying, “…the importance of comparing Scripture with Scripture.”

Christians may believe one thing about doctrine, but change their minds years later.

If we quote them, should we use what they said/believed at first or what they said/believed last?

An example is Peter at first saying a person received the Holy Spirit AFTER being baptized (Acts 2:38 Holman):

“Repent”, Peter said to them, “and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

But comparing (Acts 10:44, 46 NLT):

“Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message…For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Then Peter asked, “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?”

Verse 45 said the Jewish believers were amazed. Wonder if Peter was amazed also, since God proved his words in Acts 2 incorrect; especially “…be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins”.