DENOMINATIONS AND MINISTRIES
Are They of God?
One question that has been bothering me in recent times is the whole matter of what the Body of Christ is and just what the Lord thinks of "denominations" and "ministries". When the New Covenant Church first began in the late 1980s it took the classical Restorationist position that denominationalism was not of God but a consequence of the Great Apostacy which eventually destroyed the last semblances of the New Testament Church at the beginning of the third century. Unlike the traditional Restoration churches, though, we did not maintain that we were the "one and only true Church" and that everyone else was wrong; rather, we taught that apostacy was a condition which afflicted all men and women everywhere, and therefore all churches too. We taught that this understanding demanded a more tolerant attitude from us towards other churches and a more humble view of our own calling.
By the mid 90's the Church had shifted its paradigm more and more away from the concept of there being a "one and only true Church" to the concept that the Body of Christ was more or less, as Protestantism has traditionally taught, an invisible assembly of all true believers in Christ. And whilst the New Covenant Church still maintains this position it has, in the light of recent experience, begun to ask itself some searching questions.
Is it Biblical?
In the world of the late 20th century there are an uncountable number not only of denominations and church organisations which are multiplying daily, but also of "Ministries". Whilst not being churches themselves, these Ministries very often take on the appearance of denominationalism. Particularly on the Internet, which has opened a whole new concept in the way we humans communite with one another, new Ministries are sprouting up day by day.
What is a "Ministry"? A ministry is essentially a spiritual service which is trans-denominational in some way or another. Thus there are Internet sites devoted to the promulgation of Creationism, prophecy, dream interpretation, Scripture study, Scripture interpretation, etc.. There are sites devoted to attacking the cults, listing Church organisations, providing support for single mothers, attacking abortion, promoting homosexuality in the Christian community, and so on. Whilst most of this is commendable a fundamental question has arisen in my mind in regard to them: to whom are they accountable?
They will, of course, say that they are accountable to God, and that must be true for all of us. We are all, ultimately, accountable to God at the Judgment Day. However, accountability has another dimension which seems to be largely missing from many, if not most, of these ministries -- and that is, accountability to the Church of God.
The great error and weakness of Protestantism in that it recognises no single "Church of God" upon the earth. Protestantism, a product of a rebellion against a powerful institutional Church which would not reform its reprobate ways, has always shyed away from any concepts of an complete earthly manifestation of God's Church -- an organisation, if you will, with a Priesthood structure, and accountability to a worldwide Body. To be sure, there are numerous expressions of Protestantism, some of which come nearer the mark than others, but the old impetus of the Reformation remains -- it is still essentially a rebellion against structure.
If this is sounding like a plea to return to something like Catholicism or Mormonism, it is not. It is, however, to recognise the virtues of a system. Thus the New Covenant Church of God presents what it believes to be the correct balance of structure and Spirit -- it claims to have a specific calling and an organised Body which, if true and faithful, will become what many Restorationists already believe they have -- the one and only true Church. For Protestants, this dream belongs only to the heavenly realms and so they are not occupying themselves with theocratic systems. They believe that the theocracy is already in place and, like an occupying army, will be brought directly from heaven to earth (assuming they believe in an earthly Millennium) or will already be waiting the faithful when they come to heaven. Thus for them, getting the earthly structures right is not nearly so important as getting people into right relationship with God.
And they are, of course, right. Getting into right relationship with God, through acceptance of Jesus Christ (Yahshua the Messiah) as Lord (Yahweh) and Saviour, is the most important thing. Here most evangelical Christians agree. The first call is to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. We believe that by and large they are doing an admirable job and we support them all the way down the line. If the Gospel were simply a matter of bringing people to faith we would be evangelical Christians ourselves. It is for this reason that we so closely identify with the Billy Graham Crusade. We can all (Bible-believing Christians) be united in the degree of the Gospel which he teaches.
But it is much more than that. Bringing people to faith is one thing, but developing them in their discipleship is quite another. Here even evangelicals start falling out. Most Pentecostals claim, for example, that speaking in tongues is a necessary test of salvation. Baptists do not. So what do they do? In theory they oppose one another's teachings but in practice -- for the sake of unity -- they ignore them. They apply a double standard. "United in the essentials", is their cry, "and tolerant of differences!" But is this biblical? What are the essentials? Isn't the whole Gospel essential?
Faced by a massive onslaught by atheism, which is unquestionably the major threat in the Western world, Christians of most Protestant denominations are uniting to counteract. Massive trans-denominatonal crusades are organised to win unbelievers to the "essentials" -- thereafter they are left to fend for themselves. Charismatics (Pentecostals, Toronto, Faith Movement, etc.) and non-charismatics (Baptists, Lutherans, etc.) work side by side and "ignore" their differences. New Age-like preachers from the Faith Movement work side by side with traditionalists. So I wonder, is this any sort of front against atheism?
Judging by the fruits, I do not think so. A lot of research has recently been conducted on these evangelistic crusades and the results are disturbing -- only a tiny percent of those who "convert" remain as converts. and many of those lead lives which can only be described as compromise -- one foot in the Gospel and one still in the world. Huge churches have arisen to accommodate these people, particularly the young. They are the fastest growing churches in the West.
Over the last few years the New Covenant Church of God has tried to work closely with some churches and ministries in the Protestant world. It has been a very interesting, if frustrating time indeed. No one can accuse us of not trying. The lessons we have learned have been varied. And, if I may attempt to summarise them, they are as follows:
There are other points I could make but I think these are the essenial lessons we as New Covenant Christians have learned since 1992 when we dissolved out first attempt to create a Zionic alternative.
- (1) The "one and only true Church" mentality really is destructive to the operation of the Holy Spirit because it creates an artificial environment of self-righteousness and superiority;
- (2) Working together inspite of differences is healthy for humility, developing awareness of others, teaching patience and long-suffering, and indeed makes for the possible growth of many Christian virtues which the "one and only truth church" mentality instantly snuffs out. It also demonstrates that the essential virtues of personal Christianity can transcend denominationalism;
- (3) Walking the Protestant road leads inevitably to compromise in doctrine and practice and a dilution of the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
- (4) A good organisational structure is essential for the promotion of Christian discipleship, the eradication of self-centredness, and preparation for the theocratic Millennium.
The current trend in Protestantism is even less organisationally-minded as the more spiritually alert perceive that the denominations are quenching out the Spirit and binding the infant to the cradle. Consequently we have witnessed an enormous upswing in what one might call "independents". But even they are organising, as they must do, to have any sort of impact on the world.
Who ever you are, whatever Christians tradition you espouse (whether established or personal), the reality of our humannness and need for fellowship demands that we organise. We can't do it alone, and deep down in our souls we don't want to do it alone. We were made to be together. Recognising this, however, is not enough -- we are then faced with the question, how do we organise? And how do we agree? Even more importantly, how to we disagree without separating? And where do we draw the doctrinal lines?
This is the eternal dilemma for most Christians today. We have experienced it and not enjoyed it very much. You see, the great barrier to coming together has always been, and always will be, fallen human nature. We are, by nature, disposed to selfishness and sin. Receiving Christ (the Messiah) as Lord and Saviour is to challenge the authority of this behaviour by insisting that Jesus Christ be allowed to effect a coup d'état in the soul. But since we treasure our sovereignty so much (as denominationalism bears eloquent testimony of) we either reject that divine claim to authority or we grudgingly yield to it degree by degree, usually through painful struggle.
The country I live in (Norway) is the instrument of the infamous Olso Accords which are supposedly going to pave the way to peace between Israeli and 'Palestinian' Arab. The idea is that Israel gradually yields sovereignty over parts of the Holy Land to their opposite numbers in stages. The Arabs cynically call this the Pizza Accords. What they mean is that they will take back their land slice by slice, when they can and by whatever means they can, until they have got it all and Israel does not exist anymore.
I think this is a perfect picture of the battle against the sinful nature. The natural man is cunning and deceptive. He says he only wants a slice of sovereignty in our lives but secretly wants the lot. He offers beguiling temptations to the spiritual man: "Look, why don't we learn to live together and make peace? You give me this slice of sovereignty and in exchange I will stop terrorising you." When the spiritual man falls for this trick, he is signing away all his sovereignty. And because it takes place in gradual steps he doesn't notice it happening until it is too late.
The PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) only got wise to this method this decade. Before they attempted to win the war for an independent Palestine by bloody terrorism. Human nature will always try the direct assault approach in its quest for sovereignty in the beginning and spiritual nature will always stand up for the right. The spirit nature is the most vunerable when the carnal nature uses the weapons of deceit, because it is, by nature, trusting.
Jacob learned this lesson almost too late. The usurper and deceiver Jacob lived a double standard for the first half of his life and tried to buy the favour of his brother Esau (who represents fallen nature) when he decided it was time to return to the Promised Land. He had to wrestle through that spirit of compromise at the River Jabokk and only when he had overcome and instsited on God's absolute soveriegnty in his life did he receive a blessing and a new name: Israel.
The Fruits of Compromise
There are two sorts of compromise: compromise over non-essentials and compromise over essentials. The trick is knowing the difference. Part of the problem New Covenant Christians have had with the Protestant world is agreeing on what these are. And I suppose, if they are honest with each other, they have the same problem amongst themselves.
Small though we are at present (a situation we do not anticipate will last for very long) we have come to understand the vital importance of not compromising. We learned during the times we were persecuted in 1995 what the price of compomise was. Against us was what I can only describe as the spirit of the world wearing the clothes of Christianity. That spirit insisted -- no, demanded -- that we follow the customs and traditions of the world before the Word of God. It attempted gentle persuasion at first and then turned to outright persecution -- threats of violence, court action, and the removal of our children. We discovered, as we got to know this "Christianity" that it was the very epitome of compromise. It maintained that those who followed the system were true Christians even if they had never confessed Christ in their lives before. It taught (completely unbiblically), of offenders like practicing homosexuals, that we "we should forgive them, because God has forgiven them" and just let them do what they wanted. And yet, predictably, that same freedom to be family-loving New Covenant Christians was not to be given to us. We were to be eliminated as a Church. (Can anyone spot the spirit of the PLO in here?!). This is what "liberal democracy" really stands for.
During 1996-7 the New Covenant Church established several contacts with ministries, having cooperated with Pentecostal and Baptist churches to some extent in the 1992-4 period. We soon discovered that we were expected to respect their beliefs but not vice versa. Once it became clear that we were fundamentally and unapologetically (though politely and respectfully) opposed to the Rapture Doctrine (the biggest responsibility/ stewardship cop-out that I can think of) and the gibberish they call "tongues" we were, in many instances, no longer welcome. We had broken the unwritten rule not to comment on "differences".
This year the Church established a cooperate ministry with a newly formed independent group in Moldova. We entered into negociations as to the area of common ministerial overlap which their leadership and membership democratically agreed to. We agreed to support them financially and with witten materials provided this written and signed agreement was upheld. Friends from the Baptist Church in Moldova reported back to us that they were breaking their agreement and so when we confronted them with this state of affairs we were met first by indignation and then by silence. The cat was out of the bag.
This year we started a very fruitful cooperative ministry with an Internet site dedicated to the prophetic. We still have good relations, as a matter of fact, but our official connection was broken (by them, as in Moldova) because we did not agree with their interpretation of some material.
I am reminded, sadly, of little children when I see such behaviour. Since there is no accountability to a higher authority that self, fallen man breaks off contact with his fellow man when his expectations are not met.
I do not believe that the New Testament Church was run the way modern churches and ministries are. Like it or not, Protestants are one day going to have to realise that the Church of God was not only a living organism but, as the Catholics, Mormons and others rightly teach, a system of Priesthood with responsibility and accountability. They are right, of course, in being worried about the dangers of institutionalised religion -- they are real enough. And they, perhaps better than others, have every good reason to fear a return of the kind of politicised, anti-spiritual hegemony that the Catholicism of Martin Luther's day represented. We, like them (because many of us have come out of autocratic religious systems) fear the same things. Accordingly New Covenant Christians, because they belong to an organisation, are constantly on the watchout for priestcraft and anything that might quench the activity of the Holy Spirit.
We believe, like many discerning Protestants today, that Protestantism is being sifted. Unlike them, though, we do not believe that the faithful remnant is going to be suddenly whisked out of their boots in a dramatic "rapture". Rather, they will gather and start yearning for what we, as New Covenant Christians, believe is being created amongst us, and equip themselves with the spiritual tools to pass through the Great Tribulation..
So where does that leave us? It leaves us, I suppose, where we have always been -- in the Zionic quest. We are willing to cooperate with the honest-in- heart no matter what denomination or ministry they come from but we are not willing to stifle our voices for the sake of imagined "unity" or compromise with the truth as we perceive it in any way. We shall, in short, continue as we always have done, driven by the same Spirit that began this work and which will see it to its glorious conclusion.
Bergen, 16 July 1997
This page was created on 11 April 1998
Last updated on 11 April 1998
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