Reconstructing the Johannine Church
Ephesus, John the Apostle, and the New Covenant Church of God
There is something rather odd about John - something rather special. Scriptorians, theologians and other serious students of the writings of the apostle have noticed it and this has elicited a great deal of comment. John does not read like the other apostles and indeed it took the Church a while to accept his writings for this very reason. Why? What lies behind the mystery of the Johannine writings - the Gospel, Epistles and Apocalypse?
John's Gospel differs from the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark and John) in almost every way - in style, chronology, locality, subject-matter, and the way Yahshua (Jesus) Himself is presented. But lest we should be tempted to think that John is a completely different species of apostle teaching another Gospel it must at the outset be clearly stated that there is a underlying similarity with the Synoptics of both an historical and theological nature. The Gospel is the same but it is presented in a rather different way: the synoptic writers take one incident at a time and interpret it in its own light whereas John takes each incident and interprets it in the light of the total significance of Yahshua (Jesus). If the synoptics represent a linear interpretation of Yahshua (Jesus) based on events, John represents a three dimensional one - a sphere of the earth, if you like - upon which the revelation of each of the individual events impinge like a light beacon from outer space. John wished his readers to see the total significance of the ministry of Yahshua (Jesus) and used incidents in His life to illustrate it whereas the other three writers use the individual incidents as singular revelations leading to a cumulative one.
Understanding this difference is vital to an understanding of John whose calling was a little different from the other apostles, even the remaining two
of the inner circle or Patriarchate (Peter and James). It was John whom Yahshua (Jesus) called the "beloved disciple" and it was to John that Yahshua (Jesus) entrusted the care of his mother at the foot of the cross. It was this disciple who sat at the place of honour next to Yahshua (Jesus) at the Last Supper and it was this disciple who was the youngest of all the other apostles, racing ahead of Peter to the empty tomb.
Whereas Catholic tradition has placed Peter at the head of the earthly Church (for its own purposes), a tradition which Protestantism has by and large accepted in a modified form, the New Covenant places John in this exalted position. He did not, however, obtain it all at once, but only in successive years as Peter's ascendency diminished and was replaced by James, the brother of Yahshua (Jesus). Whatever John's special mission was it was distinguished in many ways by the accounts which have survived in the New Testament. He was without a shadow of a doubt a Prophet of the same callibre as the Old Testament greats, as the Book of Revelation attests. He was also ordained to be the sole member of the Twelve to escape martyrdom and die at a ripe old age. He alone was exiled and it was during this time of isolation, not dissimilar to that of the Baptist in the wilderness, that he was shown in vision the end times that make up the Book of Revelation or Apocalpyse. It was John, moreover, who was the vital link between the Apostolic and the Sub-Apostolic Churches, to whom the divines of the latter period like Polycarp came to his home in Ephesus to seek council, tuition and guidance. He is a man who in many ways is clouded in mystery to whom a special custodianship was given symbolised by the mother of Yahshua (Jesus) Himself.
This mystique is to be found throughout his writings which, after Paul, dominate the New Testament. Though he came to live in Asia Minor amongst the Ephesian Gentiles, his mission was not one to the Gentiles
per se, the responsibility for that falling chiefly to Paul, whose dominating influence on the modern Church is chiefly owed to the shere volume of his writings in the New Testament canon.
John is above all a revelator of the highest callibre and his greatness, when compared to Peter, Paul, James and the others who hold prominence in the New Testament, is to be found in areas substantially different from theirs.
If the locus of the Protestant spirit is Paul, then it might be true to say that that of the New Covenant is John: which is not by any means to exclude Paul or to denigrate either him or Protestantism, but is rather to lay claim to a vantage point, understanding and spirit somewhat different from them, whilst holding to the same Saviour and aiming at the same goal. Until this has been realised, the mission and work of the New Covenant Church of God (B'rit Chadashah Assembly of Yahweh) is likely to be misunderstood by outsiders coming to find out who we are. Let everyone be clear: we are for Paul's teachings 100% - there is no conflict between us and Paul, nor do we believe, as some misguided souls teach, that the Gospel of Yahshua (Jesus) and 'Paulinism' are somehow two irreconcilable and antagonistic systems of thought. We are for Paul and, we believe, Paul is for us. But Paul's mission was not indentical to John's - his was to bring the Gentiles to Christ and graft them into the Vinetree of Israel whereas John's was essentially to those who were already of Israel.
In the beginning John was much with Peter as well as being in the Apostles' Council at Jerusalem at which James presided, as was to be expected since they were the triumvirate that governed the Church (Gal.2:9), but later there seems to be greater distance between the three. Unlike Paul whose extensive travels are well known and meticulously recorded, John's area of operation centred latterly around Ephesus, one of the seven churches (the first one, in fact) addressed in the Book of Revelation (Rev.2:1-7). So what was so important about Ephesus that John made this his base of operations? And is there any significant spiritual meaning behind the use by the Chief Apostle of this city?
By the time Paul first visited the city around AD 57 (Ac.19) it was an important commercial centre of the Roman Empire, and under Augustus became the first city of the Roman province of Asia. Tradition has it that Ephesus was the last home of the mother of Yahshua (Jesus) which, given
John's custodianship of her, is certainly most likely, and that Luke also died there (though this is less likely). But clues as to the apostolic importance of this city are mostly to be found in the Book of Revelation itself where apparently Ephesus, as a Metropolitan or Mother Colony, heads up the other six Asian local colonies of Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Though the Metropolitan Colony at Rome was later to assume a prominence based on the city being the capital of Empire, the evidence seems to suggest that the Church of God essentially had two loci - one at Jerusalem headed by James (and its Bishop, according to Clement of Alexandria) until his martrydom in AD 62 (by the dating of Hegesippus), and the other at Ephesus headed by John. If John, as New Covenant Christians claim, was the head of the Church of God, and more especially of the Apostles, then some sort of evidence for this ought to be found in the prophecy to the city where the illustrious apostle was based. Moreover, once James had been martryred, we would expect this city to head any list of important apostolic centres.
And so we find, in Revelation 2, that it was just this - at the head. Moreover, it was a centre for the exposure of false apostles:
This is indeed the function of the modern day Apostolate of the New Covenant Church of God who have as their responsibility the appointment of apostles, pastors and elders throughout the Church, and the discernment of those claiming to be apostles worldwide. Today this has evolved into the
Holy Order or
Chavurah Bekorot which is the govenment of the Church of God as a whole.
"I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance,and how you cannot bear evil men
but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false" (Rev.2:2, RSV).
These early Ephesians suffered much and demonstrated the quality of patience required of a people being persecuted for their faith (v.3). They also stood firmly against the kind of sexual immorality being advocated by an apostate sect or breakoff of the Church called the Nicolaitans (v.6). But
perhaps because of the problems they were facing, and of the responsibility of governing the Church, they were suffering the same sort of problem that all ecclesiastical centres have suffered over time - a loss of Christ-focus:
"You have abandoned the love you had at first" (v.4). They had lost their spiritual cutting-edge, that pure Christ-like love that stems from leading the fight against the flesh and all that is false:
"Remember from what you have fallen, repent and
do the works you did at first" (v.5).
For whatever reason - persecution, exhaustion, etc. - they were not as zealous in their good works as they had been at the beginning, perhaps occasioned by John being removed from them in exile on Patmos. Neutralise the Shepherd and the sheep tend to go their own way. John, their leader not only locally but of the whole Church - the last of the apostles - was imprisoned on a volcanic island in the Greek Dodecanese and it must have seemed to the colony at Ephesus that the last of the apostolic testators was about to be taken from them permanently. As it happens, his exile only lasted some months - perhaps a year - and he returned to live out his last days amongst the colonists. Nevertheless they were exhorted:
"To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God" (v.7). They too had their weakness, struggle and overcoming to accomplish.
We have always taught in the New Covenant Church of God that the seven churches of Asia were not just a representation of the seven types of spirits that are to be found in Christendom in the last days but of the trials every Christian Church aspiring to the fullness must work through. Each Church-spirit has attached to it a promise connected with overcoming or conquering the tendency to sin. And though the Ephesians had their own particular weakness at the time, it is fitting that they should head the list as the primary colony of seven, the number of completion and of spiritual perfection. Ephesus was, as it were, the "Sabbath Church" or colony, the other six corresponding to the six days of the week with their labours and particular problems - persecution (Smyrna), sexual immorality and false prophecy (Pergamum), feminism and sexual immorality (Thyatira), spiritual atrophy (Sardis), legalism (Philadelphia), and lukewarmness (Laodicea). One
of the purposes of the Holy Order is to alert the Church's members to these problems and to encourage them in their spiritual battles.
It is not surprsing that a man like Paul, zealous for legalistic observance of the Law before his conversion, should so stress grace in his numerous writings, and it is not surprising to find that the other apostles like James and John in particular reminding the saints that good works are a sign or evidence of salvation obtained by grace. The judgment of the seven churches of Asia Minor is of their works -
"I know your works" (Rev. 2:2,19; 3:1,8,15) and the urgent counsel of the chief apostle is to
"conquer" (RSV) or
"overcome" (KJV) by active discipleship (Rev. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,12,21). The true Gospel represents, in many ways, these two angles of salvation, so long divided - faith producing good works through active struggle to overcome the fallen nature through Christ.
Paul preceeded John to Ephesus, which is entirely appropriate given the emphases these two spiritual giants were commissioned to give of the One Gospel. The doctrine of Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians has often been described as the "crown of Paulinism" (C.H.Dodd) for its theme is the Church - one, holy, universal, apostolic, divinely planned and founded for the redemption of humanity in Yahshua (Jesus) - an appropriate theme given that the apostolic head, John, would subsequently make Ephesus the Head- quarters of the Church, bringing with him the virgin Mary who was under his care, herself a type of the Church. Paul's message to Ephesus is
unity, for without it there is no Church of God. The door to this church or assembly is baptism, the remission of sins, the gift of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), and the consequent assurance of election to the faithful, who must constantly be reminded of the high calling they have received. The unity and coherence of the Church of God depends, Paul says, on (1) the reconciling love between man and his fellow, and (2) upon the ordered life of the Church in dependence upon apostolic ministry. Both this moral ideal and this ordered unity are on the one hand given, and on the other hand are objects of intense striving.
So here we have the significance of Ephesus - it is a symbol of the very work of the Church of God itself, for it represents
love in perfect balance with
discipline (discipleship). This is the heart of the Church, its life essence, so often nullified by abandonment of one or the other, and which historically, and in a general sense, has resulted in the schism of Catholicism (a highly ordered tradition) and Protestantism (which has always stressed grace and love). Rome has thus come to represent order and Geneva (or one of the other many former Protestant centres), love, and each lacking the positive qualities of the other. 'Catholic Peter' stands facing 'Protestant Paul' but both have forgotten who is actually in charge.
Rome and Geneva have played essential rôles in the history of Christianity but neither are its capital. The capital will one day be Jerusalem, to which we must all metaphorically return. But before that day (which will not occur until Christ returns) we must turn to
Ephesus. It is here that the Church in exile from Jerusalem is to be found. Not the modern-day Ephesus, an archaelogical ruin in modern-day Turkey near the village of Seljuq, but the Ephesus of the apostle John, and its modern-day spiritual restoration in the New Covenant Church of God.
The New Covenant Church of God has been on a long journey, beginning in 'Catholic Rome' in 1986, passing through the 'Geneva' of Calvin and Knox in 1992, and finally returning home to 'Ephesus' in 1996 and to the Apostle John. We are a Johannine Church with a completely different tradition to other Christian bodies. Here there is a Holy Order called the Chavurat Bekorot, an apostolic seat where the order and discipline of the Church is maintained, and here there will be Local Colonies where the wonderful grace and love of Christ may be found. Together, in holy spiritual matriomony, is the restoration of Yahweh's Assembly of latter-day Christians, preparing to return, when Christ comes, back to Jerusalem. We hope you will join with us in this last crusade, for if you love the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus) with all your heart, and desire to obey Him in all things, you are most assuredly called to be a pioneer, a builder of the Church of God.
Click here to read Part II: Reconstructing the Johannine Church
This page was created on 6 November 1999
Last updated on 6 November 1999
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