An Apostolic Understanding – Part Twenty-two

Blog for November 30, 2017

As we have been discovering – God is preparing to pour out new wine, a fresh move of His Spirit. And, in preparation for this new move He is preparing His Church, the wineskin, to contain the new wine – the move of the Spirit.

God wants His new wineskin established. Where the wineskin Is completed, we will then experience the fullness of Jesus and His ministry – remembering that he ministered in all five major ministry roles … apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher (APEST). The fullness of Jesus is the new wine. If we prepare the new wineskin in response to His moving on our lives, then He will certainly pour in His new wine.

Our problem is that most of us have settled for a church that operates in a non-biblical manner. Thus it is the old wineskin. Oh, we think we are doing it “by the book” but we read the book with religious and traditional glasses and so miss the truth about the life of the early Church. Most of the Church today is the old wineskin – a man-made design of the church that functions in a non-biblical manner. A design built upon the ministry of a solo pastor who is in control as the leader of the people.

First there is a congregation made up of “laymen.” The dictionary definition of the word ‘laymen’ is, “Those without knowledge or training.” Layman is not a biblical word. God never intended for the Church to be a group of people without knowledge or training. He intended for His people, the saints, to be taught, trained, and equipped for life and ministry.

I very recently had a lengthy coffee with a new leader of an influential Christian camp. He manages and overseas the operation of this camp that functions year round. He used the word “laymen” in our conversation. I gently corrected him mentioning that this is not a biblical term and runs contrary to everything the camp he is now managing has been built upon over the last 40 years. The camp has been, before his leadership, equipping the saints for the work of the ministry,” training them so they would not be “laymen” but well informed and trained workers in the harvest field. It was a heated and tense part of our conversation as he totally disagreed with me. He has a top-down, pastoral understanding of the Church.

Most churches today are made up of laymen. Their knowledge of God is limited to a few Bible stories and some proof-texts. Laymen are expected to attend church, give money, read their bibles and live good moral lives. They are not taught to heal, prophesy, win the lost, or minister in any way.

Then you have the “pastor” or leader. The position of “pastor” in most churches today has very little in common with the biblical office of the fivefold pastor. In the fivefold ministry of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor (shepherd) and teacher we have a team of ministers who work trans-locally. We think of apostles, prophets and evangelists as travelling from church to church. But, as soon as the word ‘pastor’ is heard we immediately think locally. That is because this is all we have seen in the church in the last few centuries.

However, the “pastor” is fivefold and they travel just like the others in the team. Their role is to move from church to church teaching the people, the saints of God, how to minister to one another and others who do not know Jesus. They teach people how to ‘do pastoral care.’ This way the body members minister to each other and don’t need to look to the ‘pastor’ for ministry or help. Paul talks of this in 1 Corinthians 12 where he discusses body ministry with each member connected and ministering to those they relate to. And, in the New Testament there are 59 “one another” verses … where we are commanded to minister to each other and not sit back and let the hired ‘professional’ pastor do our ministry for us.

The job of the modern-day pastor does not involve working with other fivefold ministers to equip people to minister. They are “the minister.” Whatever ministry is done, to is their job to do it. They are paid by the laypeople to do it. He takes care of the laymen. The laymen are seen as “the flock” made up of helpless sheep. The pastor’s job is to feed, comfort, and protect them.

This is the church nearly every one of us has known. It is difficult for most believers to imagine church operating any other way. We assume it is the norm. And it has been the norm for the last 1500 years. But, it is not biblical. Absolutely not biblical.

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Twenty-one

The end result of embracing the new wineskin that we have been looking at?

Simple – God set it out for us in the Scriptures:

Ephesians 4:11-16 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

He wants His people – the Church – to grow up and become mature

That everyone would know what they believe – the correct teachings of the Bible
That every member becomes a minister and is released into their ministry
That we reach out to the lost and see them come into the Kingdom (Ephesians 4:18)
That the Kingdom will spread and push back the spiritual darkness
That there would be unity in the local church – so He can pour out His anointing
That every part of the Church would be healthy
That every member would do their part to keep the Church healthy and whole
That the false teachings and doctrines would be defeated and removed
That everyone would come to know the real Jesus of the Scriptures
That we all become a part of the priesthood of all believers
That we all become ambassadors of Jesus Christ
That we all become ministers of reconciliation
That we form a holy nation within the nations
That we become workers in the harvest fields because the harvest is ripe / ready
That we not miss the next move of the Holy Spirit and what God is doing today

AND that we can be the new wineskin and actually contain and move with what is happening today in His Kingdom

The Church today is needing new wine – a fresh move of the Spirit of God

In many places people are praying for a fresh move of the Spirit (power, presence, peace)

They are praying for renewal, refreshing, fresh fire, revival – call it whatever you want

But God is asking:

“Where is the wineskin to hold it?”

God longs to pour out new wine, but He needs a wineskin that can and will contain it.

He has given us the job of making the new wineskin

Generally He will not pour out new wine into old wineskins

HISTORICALLY: There have been times in history when God has been gracious enough to actually pour out new wine when there was only old wineskins

The results have often been very tragic and such a waste

The best example is the Welsh Revival (and I will end with this story)….

One hundred years ago revival swept through the nation of Wales

It was one of the greatest revivals in history

The Spirit moved from county to county, region to region, and transformed the nation

People walking down the street would be hit by the power of the Holy Spirit, fall to their knees, repent, and get saved

Every part of society was affected

Drunkenness disappeared
Pubs were closed for lack of business
Crime became almost nonexistent
Jails were empty
Police forces were downsized
There were places in Wales where it was reported that there were no unsaved people left in the city
Prayer meetings happened daily – sometimes all day
Churches were packed night after night … and Sundays

Those who study revivals love to talk about the Welsh Revival, but none of them want to talk about the nation of Wales today

One would think that a revival like the Welsh Revival would bring a permanent change in a nation and in the churches of the nation
That for generations to come, people would talk about the great revival that transformed their country

But that is not the case – because the nation was not transformed and neither was the Church

The Welsh Revival was a great move of the Holy Spirit (new wine), but the Welsh Church was an old wineskin

It’s legalistic structure quickly quenched the results of revival and eventually the revival itself

If you visit Wales today, 100 years after the great revival, you will find one of the least Christian countries in Europe

Less than 5% of the Welsh people are born again

New Age, witchcraft, and Islam (Muslim faith) are growing rapidly

Most Welsh people have never heard of the great Welsh Revival

Those who have heard of it think of it as a legalistic movement that happened somewhere back in their history

The old wineskin allowed the new wine to pour out and the wineskin (church) was destroyed just as Jesus said…

Matthew 9:16-17 “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

God does not want that to happen again

God wants us to prepare a wineskin that can and will hold the new wine

That is why Jesus said, “New wine MUST be poured into new wineskins” (Luke 5:38)

The new wine is a fresh move of the Spirit restoring to the Church that which has been lost over the years…

The new wineskin is the Church that Jesus is building based upon the fivefold ministry with apostles and prophets being foundational to all that will need to happen…

Ephesians 2:19b-20 “the household of God, (the Church) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”

1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues…”

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

So, we will need to be making a choice – two doors (remember the parable – An Apostolic Understanding – Part 17)

Personal choice
Choice as a church

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Twenty

And, Jesus knew how much people – even His people, the Church – would not like to change so He said: “Hopefully these changes won’t offend you”n … the changes to becoming a new wineskin

Let’s look at that comment….

It is interesting to note – well, interesting to me – to look at the context of Jesus’s comments about the new wineskin

John the Baptist as been prophesying about the Kingdom and the coming King (Jesus)

He is now in prison and he is reviewing his life and his ministry both of which are, by the way, about to end

He has announced that Jesus is the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world

He has seen the miracles and heard much that seems to be directly from the heart of God
This is not as it has been in the past – major changes from the previous 400 years of God’s silence and apparently inactivity

And, this is not as he expected it to be – he did not expect to be in prison

And, the Kingdom is turning out to be different than he thought

So, he sends his disciples to speak to Jesus about his concerns and his doubts

In the chapter about the new wineskins – the leaders from John’s wineskin come and question the new wineskin that Jesus is forming

Jesus explains the ways of the Kingdom and the Church – the new wineskin

In Matthew 11 … the story continues … and Jesus tells them His answer to John’s question, “Are you really the Messiah or should we look for another to come?”

Jesus’s answer:

Matthew 11:4-6 “And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them (all Kingdom stuff – new wine). And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

We need to guard our hearts and not become offended:

We must be careful not to pick up an offence:
Things will not be as they were
Things will not be as you want them to be
Jesus is not going to ask you your opinion
You will have abundant feelings – not all of them good
You might not like what is happening
You might be afraid of what is going to be happening
You may even like things as they are right now
Or as they were 15 – 20 years ago
You will not be consulted by God before the changes take place
You may no longer be a leader in the Church
You may be called and propelled into leadership in the church
You will not fully understand
It will seem that things are out of control when they are not
Church life will get messy
New people will come and the dynamics of current relationships will change

But, remember whose Church this is – It is Jesus’s Church

“And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

These new wineskins – the new way of doing things and the way of living a Kingdom lifestyle – need to be received – accepted – embraced

It is “new” …

I remind you … the word “new” can mean two things or both together at the same time:

1> ‘neos’ = something that has never happened before

2> ‘kainos’ = something that is in the process of going to a new quality or forming a new way (something old changing so as to be new)

To embrace what is “new” we need to let go of what is “old”

Old thoughts
Old ways of doing things
Old theology that was not biblical to start with
Old formats and formulas
Old understandings of church and ministry
Old structures
Old foundations that were not biblical in the first place

They were not all “wrong” and they are not all “bad” – – –
They are simply not “NOW”

Some were actually added by the early Church from the realm of pagan religions and simply incorporated into the faith

God is working in the “now” and not in the past
And, God is removing the “old” so He can pour out the “new”

The end result of embracing the new wineskin… next time

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Nineteen

So, this Church – the new wineskin – that Jesus is building:

Ephesians 2:19b-20 “the household of God, (the Church) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”

1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues…” (NOTE: no pastors)

To have the fullness of the ministry of Jesus in a local church we need all five ministries that Jesus had when in Galilee training His disciples

He is the apostle of the faith – Hebrews 3:1

He is a prophet without honour in His own home town – Mark 6:4

He is an evangelist – John 3 (Nicodemus) and John 4 (woman at the well)

He is the Great Shepherd of the sheep – Hebrews 13:20

He went about teaching everywhere He went – Mark 2:13b

So, He had five ministry roles when He was here

And, as He ascended into Heaven He gave those five roles to various people

Each person receiving one role – so that it takes a team of a minimum of 5 to have the fullness of Jesus’s ministry in a local church

Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

So, instead of a pastor and a pastoral focus – – – the Church Jesus is building will have a fivefold focus all aimed at training and equipping God’s people to reach the lost

Apostolic – to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19)

Prophetic – to do the work supernaturally using the 9 gifts of the Holy Spirit
(John 14:12; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

So, we are switching “wineskins” OR bringing change to the old wineskin so it becomes new … and can contain the new wine

Old wineskin – pastoral model started around the year AD 500
New wineskin – apostolic model that existed from start to mid-400’s
Now being reintroduced to the Church

Matthew 9:16-17 “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Luke 5:38 “…new wine MUST be poured into new wineskins.”

The word “new” can mean two different things or both together at the same time:

1> ‘neos’ = something that has never happened before

2> ‘kainos’ = something that is in the process of going to a new quality or forming a new way (something old changing so as to be new)

So new churches (wineskins) being formed and moving forward in the things of the Kingdom

And, old churches (wineskins) are in the process of being transformed into new wineskins

And, Jesus knew how much people – even His people, the Church – would not like to change so He said: “Hopefully these changes won’t offend you”

Let’s look at that comment next time ….

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Eighteen

We are looking at the new wineskin that Jesus is building into which He will be pouring new wine – the Church is in need of change. So, we can allow Jesus, who is building His Church, to change the current local church you attend or He will simply move down the street and find some people who want to move forward with His plan and purpose and He will start again…

A prophetic word received recently…(Anne Klassen for 2017)

God said, “The Church will rise to a whole new level this year. What has seemed impossible in the past will now become the norm. Instead of “trying” to heal the sick, a supernatural grace will fall on My people and signs and wonders will flow automatically. It will lead both the one ministering the healing and the one receiving it to be in utter amazement. This is My grace, says the Lord. Do not take it for granted, but expect it and cherish it highly. In the eyes of most, many of these “ministers” will seem unqualified, but did I, the Lord, not say that I would use the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the wise? These “unlearned people” will come from all corners and take their place in the Kingdom of God and their God-given assignments. Be ready to receive them for they are my choice instruments in these ends of days. Many of them will be very young, and these too shall receive great grace to fulfill their assignments, even in the midst of much persecution. This grace will be given to those who say YES with no restrictions.

The Church will need to adapt to sudden change. Things will happen so fast … one thing at the heels of another. Flexibility, spontaneity, and obedience is critical for the Body of Christ in these end days. I hear the Lord say, “travel light.” Carry no burdens, unforgiveness, or ulterior motives. Give much grace and grace will be given to you.

There will also be a great falling away. Many who have seemed to be “in” will turn away because the price is too great to pay (like the rich young ruler). These will quickly fall into sin and deception, but not so with those who have committed themselves wholeheartedly to the King and His Kingdom. These will be refuelled with a fire hotter than they have previously known. This fire will propel them forward fearlessly, and through these the Holy Spirit will perform incredible signs and wonders. They, like Moses, will hold the rod (authority) over the waters and the sea will part. They will hear the Lord clearly and follow instructions precisely. This will result in miraculous works and a great joy will come upon the people. Praise will flow from a heart overflowing with thanksgiving, and the joy of the Lord will be their strength.

So, a season of great change and serious adjustment as we become the Church that Jesus is building for new wine and the Last Days that we are in

The current form of the Church is no longer working – The Church needs fixing

Despite it’s godly heritage, America is now one of the world’s greatest mission fields

Gideon’s International estimates that there are over 250 million unsaved people in the United States. This means two out of every three Americans doesn’t know Jesus
Of all the nations in the world, only China and India have more unsaved than America

The American Church is notoriously ineffective in reaching the lost.

Campus Crusade for Christ reported that it takes one thousand laymen and six full-time pastors a full year to lead one person to Jesus. That is not effective evangelism Of those who respond to our evangelist efforts, less than five percent are still in the Church a year later. If the Church in Acts had been that ineffective, they could have seen 3000 saved on Pentecost, and been down to 150 members within a year

There are an estimated 25 million unchurched Christians in America! These are born again Christians who don’t consider being an active part of a local family of God – the church – to be worth the effort Growing in numbers quickly – the “unchurched”

The average church in America has 65 members and is decreasing  Since 1991, the number of Americans who do NOT attend church has increased by 92%

Not one county (municipality) has seen a net increase in church attendance in decades. A few churches are large and growing, but they are always surrounded by “feeder churches” that are small and dwindling as people leave for the larger, full-service churches. The Church is no longer having an impact on society

80% of American pastors (that is 4 out of 5) are discouraged in their ministry and regularly struggle with depression

These and other statistics speak loudly that the church is not working – it needs fixing

The reason for these staggering statistics and many others is not that people – leaders – are not working hard and putting in long hours

I believe that the reason for these statistics is because we have not been following God’s plan
And that God is now speaking through His apostles and prophets regarding a major Church quake

And that, like the Sons of Issachar, those attending churches like ours need to recognize the times and the seasons and what God is wanting to do

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Seventeen

Let’s continue our look at the Church and the Kingdom and the changes taking place in both as we gain a greater apostolic understanding of what the Lord is doing in His Church and His Kingdom.

For the next few blogs we will be looking at the new wineskin that is being prepared for the new wine that Jesus is soon to be pouring out.

Let’s start with a parable I believe I found on one of Frank Viola’s blogs…

The Parable of the two doors

There was this guy who nicked his foot while mowing the grass.

The man showed the wound to his wife, and she didn’t know what to do. So he thought he better get down to the Emergency Room to get it checked out.

So he went to the hospital, walked through the Emergency Room front doors, and when he entered, he was greeted by two more doors. One door was marked “Male,” and the other was marked “Female.” So he went through the door marked “Male.”

When he got inside, there were two more doors. One door said “Under 40.” The other door said “Over 40.” So he walked through the door marked “Over 40.”

He then found two more doors. One door said “Upper Body,” and the other door said “Lower Body.”  He took his foot through the “Lower Body” door and walked inside.

Inside were two more doors. One door was marked “Internal,” the other door was marked “External.” So he went through the “External” door.

Inside there were two more doors. One was marked “Serious,” and the other was marked “Not Serious.” He walked through the door marked “Not Serious.”

And he ended up in the parking lot.

When the man arrived back home, his wife asked, “Sweetheart, did they help you?”

He said, “No, but they sure were organized.”

In my experience and observation, today’s brand of pop-Christianity and the way most churches operate and minister isn’t helping as many people as it should or can.

But it sure is organized – organized religion

Yes, we know how to “do church” but now God is bringing some major adjustments and changes so that we will know how to “be the Church”

BUSINESS AS USUAL IS NO LONGER ACCEPTABLE AND GOD IS MAKING SOME MAJOR CHANGES:

And, they are plain to see and easy to understand – God is not keeping secrets about what He is doing and where things are headed….

The Bible states that God always reveals what He is doing – ahead of time – through His fivefold ministry team – especially the prophets:

Amos 3:7 “The Lord God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets.”

And, He has been speaking loudly and clearly now for several decades about the needed changes and some of the actual changes that are now taking place

You see … even today we have people who are like the Sons of Issachar

“Of the tribe of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” 1 Chronicles 12:32a

“From the tribe of Issachar there were 200 leaders of the tribe with their relatives–all men who understood the temper of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” (The Living Bible)

Next time – a prophetic word given recently in western Canada about the new wineskin

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Sixteen

Blog for November 22, 2017

Constantine, the Roman Emperor, made a number of basic, foundational changes to the Early Church so that by the year 500 A.D. it no longer resembled the Early Church and no longer moved in power. (see the previous blog)

By the Middle Ages, Christianity has become a different religion altogether. It had no resemblance whatsoever ever to the Church we read about in the New Testament. If you were a church member in the Middle Ages you would not have been allowed to read the Bible. You would not know that God loves you. You would have no understanding of the power of God or the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. You would probably not even know how to get saved.

The thing that was called the church was not the Church. The Church was dead! The Church that the apostles had founded no longer existed. For more than 1,000 years the Body of Christ was under the power of man and the secular world.

But God had not forgotten His Church. After 1,000 years of bondage and a secularized / paganize church, God began to restore His Church back to health. Acts 3:21 states that “heaven must receive Jesus (He cannot return to Earth) until the time for the restoring of all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets long ago.” He is restoring the lost truths in the opposite order to which they were removed from the Church. That which was lost last was added back first. Beginning around 1500 A.D., through a whole series of great moves of the Holy Spirit, God began to restore His Church.

Around the year 1500, God put His hand on a German monk named Martin Luther. Luther had been given a rare gift, a Bible, and he started reading it. As he read he discovered that salvation comes by faith in Jesus, not by the church’s rituals or sacraments. Martin Luther got saved!

To this day, many denominational churches still believe that the church’s sacraments bring a person into right standing with God. The denomination of which I was a part of for 30 years directly stated in its material, “There are two sacraments necessary for salvation, holy baptism (of babies), and the Lord’s Supper.” When a baby was baptized by sprinkling, one of the prayers offered said, “…that this child is born again and regenerated by the waters of baptism.”

Martin Luther began to teach anyone who would listen about salvation by faith. The organized church tried to burn him at the stake for specifically this teaching. Luther also translated the Bible into the language of the people so ordinary Christians could read it. That was really revolutionary. The result was the Protestant Reformation.

In Luther’s day an understanding of salvation and access to the Bible were restored to the church. But there was much more to come.

In the 1700’s God awakened the Church to the need for holiness and sanctification. In the early 1900’s God began to resort the power of the Holy Spirit, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the nine supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

The 20th Century saw a whole series of spiritual movements each restoring a different aspect of the Church’s life. There was the Pentecostal movement, the Healing movement, the Charismatic movement, the Prophetic movement, the Apostolic movement, with several more still to come.

But all of this restoration is really simply preparation for what is coming upon the Church that Jesus is building. God is bringing the Church back to His original plan and pouring His life, once again, into the dead and dry bones of the institutional church. He is preparing the Church to be a new wineskin to receive the fast approaching move of the Spirit so that we can respond and participate in what is about to happen in the Kingdom of God.

 

 

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Fifteen

Constantine, the Roman Emperor at the time of the Council of Nicea ((325 A.D.) brought about a large number of changes that permanently changed the future of the Early Church. Let’s look at some of those changes…

One of the biggest changes Constantine made was to outlaw house churches. Constantine could not control what happened in house churches, so he built magnificent “temples” for the church all over the empire. Constantine not only outlawed home churches, he also threatened severe punishment for those who continued to meet in homes.

Constantine’s church buildings we called ‘basilicas.’ They were amazing buildings, even magnificent, patterned after the throne room of his own imperial palace. At the front of each basilica, he placed a throne. Remember, there is a governmental shift going on here from the leadership of the fivefold ministers of Ephesians 4:11-12, especially the leadership of apostles and prophets, to paid, professional clergy under the regional leadership of a bishop and the local leadership of a priest. The throne, therefore, was for the bishop. It served as a reminder that the bishop was now the leader in the district (now called a diocese) and a trusted representative of the Roman government and the Emperor himself.

Within these basilicas, Constantine instituted a new kind of worship. Borrowing from the pattern of Rome’s pagan temples, the church hired professional clergy to perform sacred rituals which the church members watched in silence. “Laymen” were no longer permitted to minister. Through most of the Dark Ages (many centuries), the average churchgoer was not even permitted to sing in church. Music was performed by professional choirs. But the worst changes were still yet to come.

Constantine was troubled that his empire was sharply divided between pagans and believers, so he tried to unify the empire by bringing pagan elements into the church. To make his new religion, the Christian faith, more comfortable for the pagans now crowding in, he outlawed “Jewish” celebrations like Passover, and replaced them with “Christianized” versions of familiar pagan feasts.

By the end of the century, paganism was outlawed. Pagan temples became churches. Pagan shrines were changed to Christian shrines. Pagans were told that they now lived in a Christian empire, and it was their responsibility to live as Christians. The trouble was they did not know Jesus. They were still pagans. They still wanted to burn incense to their favourite deities. The pagans responded to the official decrees by giving Christian names to their pagan gods and continuing to worship as they always had.

If you were a pagan farmer and were told you could no longer go to your temple and pray to the god of the harvest, what do you do? You would go to the church building that use to be your temple and pray to the patron saint of the harvest. Your worship has not changed; you are simply calling your old gods by new names. They still called it “church” but much off what took place in the church was now paganism.

As a result, many segments of the Christian faith today pray to dead saints asking them to answer their prayers making them into minor gods. They are actually speaking with the dead in direct contradiction to the teachings of both the Old and the New Testaments.

When paganism and idolatry were brought into the Church, the Holy Spirit departed.
By the year 500 A.D., the Church was overrun with paganism. Many church leaders were unbelievers. When the secular government of Rome crumbled, the church stepped in to fill the gap. The church became a great political and military power, but lost the power of God.

 

 

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Fourteen

For the first 300 years the Church that was birthed at Pentecost (Acts, chapter 2) spread very rapidly. The believers met in homes and the life of God was so real to them (inside them) that they shared it with everyone they knew. People were being born again, new houses were opened for believers to assemble, and the Church spread throughout the Roman Empire. It was amazing. This was an apostolic age as the apostles led God’s people to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:18-20).

The death of the Early Church began with an event that, at first, seemed like a great blessing. It was the “conversion” of the Roman emperor Constantine. The year was 312 A.D. and there was great turmoil in the Empire. Two rivals, Constantine and Maxentius, were struggling to seize the imperial throne. As he prepared for battle, Constantine was nervous. He had heard that Maxentius was a master of the occult arts, so Constantine decided to pray for supernatural help. He prayed to his favourite god, the Persian sun god Mithras.

As Constantine prayed to Mithras, he reportedly saw a vision of a flaming cross in the sky next to the sun and heard the words, “Conquer by this.” In response to this vision, Constantine took the cross as his symbol, won the battle, and came to the throne with the announcement that he was now a follower of Christ.

The Christians could hardly believe it. The Church has been through a number of different persecutions over the 300 years since its founding. Now the new emperor claimed to be a follower of Jesus! It seemed like an answer to prayer.

Persecution ended immediately. Christianity changed from being just another religion to a favoured religion. Constantine offered extravagant gifts to prominent citizens who would convert to his new religion, so thousands of the Roman elite rushed to join the emperor’s new church. Constantine made Sunday an official Roman holiday. He built magnificent church buildings all over the empire.

But Constantine not only legalized Christianity, he tried to improve it. In return for his favour, Constantine demanded control. He didn’t like the way Christians organized things. It seemed too loose for his administrative Roman mind, so he brought the Church into a governmental shift.

In the year 325, Constantine called and presided over the first general council of the Church, the Council of Nicea. Its purpose was to recognize the Church and give it a new image. At the Council of Nicea, Constantine literally reinvented Christianity. Christianity after Nicea was a different religion than what the original apostles had known.

Next time we will look at some of the things that the emperor changed….

 

An Apostolic Understanding – Part Thirteen

The Early Church was certainly different from what we today would consider to be “church.” We began looking at what an assembly in the first century might have looked like in general.

7> After the meal was over – with the Lord’s Supper also celebrated as part of the regular fellowship meal – there is a subtle shift in the atmosphere as people begin to quieten down and focus, once again, on worshipping the Lord with their whole hearts. The air seems to thicken and there is a tangible sense of God’s presence that pervades the room or the courtyard where they are meeting. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul writes that when the church assembles, the power of the Lord comes and is present with them.

8> It is at this time, as people are focused on the Lord, that ministry begins to take place. People are worshipping and being touched by God’s presence; others are lost in worship as they sing; some are flat out on the floor as the Holy Spirit ministers to them personally and directly.

The ministry of the Early Church is described in 1 Corinthians 14. Paul writes, “When you come together EVERYONE has a hymn or a word of instruction, a revelation or a tongue or an interpretation… You can all prophecy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.”

9> Although it won’t be evident, there is a leader. No one is the “paid professional” up front. But, the Holy Spirit is leading the meeting as He touches and moves through many of the people gathered. Everyone is taking part in the ministry time. Someone gives a word of knowledge for healing; someone else raises their hand and acknowledges that they need a healing. People gather around this person and pray. The healing is received and the person is set free.

Someone else then reads a passage of Scripture (Old Testament, as most of the New Testament was not yet available). Someone else sings a prophetic song often called a “song of the Lord” or a “new song.” Many are touched by the words of the song and what they are expressing of God’s heart for His people and so they begin to weep. There is a strong anointing – a manifest presence of the Lord in the assembly – and everyone is aware of it. Prophetic words are given. There are tongues and interpretation of tongues. More songs of praise and worship.

10> If there are visitors present, they are introduced and prayed for – especially if there is any newcomer who is in need of a healing or a Word from the Lord. Healing and prophecy (word of wisdom and word of knowledge) are key elements in the evangelizing of visitors and newcomers. Often, because of the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit, through those who are born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit, unsaved people present experience God’s love for them first hand and come into the Kingdom during this time. This is power evangelism in the Early Church.

Irenaeus, an early Church Father, writing in the year 195, tells us that prophetic words, tongues and miracles of healing were common in his day. He adds that people were frequently raised from the dead through the prayers of the saints. Great church growth strategy.

The house church meeting runs late into the night, but no one seems to notice. Finally, the meeting begins to break up. The sense of the Spirit’s presence begins to lift, but there are still several small groups huddled in prayer.

As people are preparing to leave there is more visiting at the main door, hugging and kissing. You would recognize that these people truly love one another and care for one another. They act like this is their family. And it is!

This is what it was like “to go to church” in the first century. There would have been hundreds of meetings like this going on at the same time throughout a city … Jerusalem, Corinth, Antioch, and Ephesus, to name a few. These are the kind of churches that Paul planted as he moved around establishing the Kingdom where there was spiritual darkness and no light of the Gospel present.

This is how the Church met for 300 years, and it spread everywhere. It literally took over the Roman Empire. Some estimate that by the year 300 as much as half of the Empire had converted to Christianity. That was the life of the Early Church.

But then the Church died. By the year 500, the Early Church had ceased to exist.