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.


Monday, October 24, 2011


With Rex's comment I realized I owe you all an explanation as to why I haven't written some fresh material on my blog. I honestly don't have an explanation other than whatever muse I've had for it has disappeared. It will return I'm sure, but in the meantime I'm going to take a brief hiatus from blog writing to focus on some other things. My schedule this fall has been surprisingly full of meetings [an old guy is still wanted in some quarters for which I'm grateful] and will not be letting up for the next month or so. will probably be around the first of the year before I return. Please comment on any of the previous posts you wish to address and I will post those comments and even respond if I think it is something that I can do quickly and without much research.

All of you who come by here and take the time to comment are special to me. Thanks for the connection and when I return I trust it will be with something to contribute that is worthwhile. Blessings!

Paul B.

Friday, October 07, 2011


I wrote about two mistakes ministers make in my last post. Those were..1) seeing the pastor as the all-important person/minister in a church and..2) seeing the church as a business instead of a body. Check the previous post for the entire idea presented about those two mistakes.

Now for the third mistake I'll be addressing made by modern ministers. This is one that is so major that I will deal with it by itself before continuing to a few of the implications of this problem in the third and final post on this subject. 

The third mistake I'm addressing is a failure to see the Old Covenant, including the moral law written on the tablets of stone, as being fulfilled in the New Covenant and not now binding on the people of the New Covenant as a standard for behavior as Kingdom people. 

This is major, as we will see, primarily because of the ramifications of it all. Some ramifications [for example, the tithe and the Sabbath] will be addressed in my final post on this subject next time. But the problem itself is my point at present.

In order to not make this mistake, it would be necessary that one understand how the Old Covenant [Testament] was basically between God and Israel. It is also important to see how the law, called the "Law of Moses" because it was delivered through him to the nation of Israel, codified their behavior as the people of the Covenant following their redemption out of Egypt. [The Exodus] 

At that time and place in history, they were brought out of bondage and into a Covenant with Jehovah as His special people and were to live under certain stated standards presented in the law of Moses. There were, in fact, several purposes for that law, but we are at present interested only in dealing with it's binding effect as a lifestyle upon the Covenant people called Israel . 

This law, by the way, was a unified standard that was not ever thought of as being divided into three parts, Moral/ Civil/ Ceremonial, by the Jewish people. So many bible students would later attempt to make that division with the purpose of retaining the moral law as an eternal standard even for people of the New Covenant. [Testament]  This would include many in our present day, including dispensationalists, who so frequently are found making that mistake.

But the Old Covenant with Israel and the Mosaic law were all only preparatory for something that was yet to come. That covenant was certainly an important step in what could be called "Redemptive history," or the "story of redemption," but God was using it as only temporary "until the time of reformation." [Heb 9:10]  That was when God would speak in a final way to a new brand new people in a brand new New Covenant with a standard of behavior to be  written on their hearts and not on stone. [2 Corinthians 3:3]  

Jon Zens, a friend of mine and as good a scholar on this issue as can be found today, points this out so well when he said... "Thus, all of procedures and special activities in the Old Covenant were types and pictures of the One who would come and deliver a new people from bondage and create a new nation holy to Himself with a new standard of behavior." [See Heb. 3:5/8:5/9:8-9]

All of this is not to say that the Law of Moses was/is not significant for the Christian in the New Covenant in some fashion. But it is to say that it was preparatory and not binding as a lifestyle on those of us who are in the New Covenant .  

Again, Zens states it this way..."This is simply to say, then, that the 'law' [for the New Testament believer] must now be identified with the current covenant in force for the former covenant is no longer operative. Moses was the head of his house: Israel. Christ is now the Head of His house: the church. So we must come to grips with the fact that the house of Moses is finished, and the house of Christ is being built until the end of this age (Heb.3:1-6; Matt.16:18; 28:20). These lines of thought come together rather clearly in Matthew 5:17-7:29." That statement of Jon Zens deserves a second reading I would think.

Jon goes on to say..."So Jesus stands in history as the long-awaited Messiah. The government is to be upon His shoulders, which is to say He is the law-giver. He here [In what He says in the gospels & the epistles] expounds "law" in the New Covenant." But - and this is crucial - While His explication of "law" in His Kingdom incorporates elements of the Mosaic code into the New Covenant, it is as He intensifies the Mosaic elements that they become new. ("whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart," 5:28)."

Jon's conclusion is that there are certainly similarities between the Mediator of the New Covenant giving His law, and the Old Covenant mediator, Moses, receiving the Ten Words at Sinai, but it is the authority with which the new Lawgiver says what is the standard for the behavior of the New Covenant believer's lifestyle that is to be recognized. We are not under law [Moses] but under grace. [Christ]

[I personally believe there is a major shift from "doing" which is the basis of the Old to "being" which is the basis of the New. This will be seen more clearly as we look at the Sabbath for example next time.]

The proclaimers of the New Testament message were certainly mindful of how their message flowed from the types, offerings, and sacrifices of the Old Testament,  but were also extremely conscious of how their message was new and found its authority in Christ alone and was, thus, fundamentally different than that of Moses.  

This contrast can be clearly seen in the familiar expression used by our Lord in the sermon on the mount when He repeatedly said... "But I say to you." This is why the writer of Hebrews was willing to say things like this in his letter to Hebrew Christians to show them how the old has given way to the new.

"If that first covenant had been faultless, then no place have been sought for the second" (Heb.8:7).

"In that he says, A new covenant, he has made the first old; now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (Heb.8:13).

"He takes away the first, that he may establish the second" (Heb.10:9).

"That which is done away....that which is abolished" (2Cor.3:11-13).

It is in this failure of seeing the uniqueness of the Law of Moses for Israel alone and the reality of Old Covenant's
abolishment/fulfillment in the New Covenant that modern ministers so woefully get it wrong. And why is this important? Next time I'll give my two cents on that.

Paul B.