When we see the original condition of the church and the degradation of the church, we will realise the great need for the recovery of the church today.
After the Lord Jesus died and resurrected, He came and breathed Himself into His believers and imparted the divine life into them to regenerate them for His Body, and ten days after His ascension He descended as the economical Spirit upon the believers to constitute them into the church, the Body of Christ.
Now there was on earth an entity that expressed God in a corporate way by living our the divine life within them, holding Christ as the Head, and giving the preeminence to the speaking of the Holy Spirit.
The original condition of the church, as the Lord prophesied and as the Spirit constituted, was excellent, and this is what God desires to gain.
However, even from the first century – before the departure of the apostles – degradation came in, and eventually all the items that were ordained by God for the church to possess, now have been lost and corrupted.
Today, since we live in the twenty-first century, we may not be aware of what the original condition of the church was.
We need to come back to the Bible, the word of God, and see under the Lord’s light what the original condition of the church was, and then study the history to see how the degradation of the church came in, so that we may be one with the Lord for His recovery of the church.
In the original condition of the church, all believers were equal, with no hierarchy among them, there was no leading class or clergy, and all believers could fellowship together and coordinate together in life for the building up of the church.
There was no distinctions or rank between the believers, but rather, they all were functioning as members of the Body to build up the church. All believers are priests to God, with no “intermediary class” or “clergy-laity” system; we all are born of God to be priests of God, a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
The early church was completely separated from the world – the church was in the world, but it was not of the world. The early church forsook any idols and fully allowed God to speak what He wanted to speak.
The Bible has the highest authority in the church, and the speaking of the Holy Spirit is more important than the speaking of man. We need to care for the word of God and for the speaking of the Spirit, and we need to give the Lord the preeminence to speak what He wants to speak in the church.
Today we want to see more items of the original condition of the church, and how degradation came into the church.
One Church in Each Locality, Fellowship among Churches, and Christ is the Unique Head of the Church
In the early days of the church life we can see that there was only one church in a locality; according to the principle set forth by God, there was only one expression of the Body of Christ in a locality (see 1 Cor. 12:27; 1:2; Rev. 1:11).
There was only one church in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), one local church in Antioch (13:1), one in Ephesus (Eph. 2:1), and one church in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:2). This is a very simple yet strict principle, and it kept the oneness in the Body.
The churches were one in fellowship, but each local church was independent in administration; also, there was no “head church” or “federation of churches” (1 Cor. 10:16).
Because of time and space, there are many local churches; however, there is no head church or “mother-church” or “leading church” – rather, all churches were on the same level, and they practiced having fellowship among the churches.
Today there should be the practical expression of the Body of Christ in the form of the local churches – which are many; however, these churches need to be one in fellowship, not isolated or separate from each other. Each church is independent in administration only, and there’s no church that is above all.
There should not be such thing as an “autonomous church”, nor there should be a “federation of churches” – thus making the churches into some kind of political arrangement with a head church and headquarters.
There are many local churches but there’s one universal fellowship of the Body of Christ. Our fellowship in the Lord is one, yet we are in the many local churches as the Lord has arranged in His wisdom, in time and space.
Our life is one, our essence is one, our truth is one, our nature is one, and even our expression is one; our reality is that we are one in every way in the Lord in the Body!
In the early days the churches honored Christ as the Head – He is the unique Head of the church – and they allowed the Holy Spirit to have authority (see Col. 1:18; 2:19; Acts 13:1-2; 10:19-20; 11:12). There was no human opinion nor human authority; rather, the believers honored Christ as the Head and obeyed the authority of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is the Head of the church, which is His Body (Col. 1:18; Eph. 4:15), and He reigns in the church through the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2; 15:28). In this matter we all may be vulnerable to some failure, for we may not allow the Spirit to have authority and we may not honor Christ as the Head.
We need the Lord’s help with His gracious reminder to realize that all the churches should hold Christ as the unique Head and listen to the Spirit. May we be those who have an ear to hear what the Spirit is speaking to the churches today.
Lord Jesus, recover us to Your original intention concerning the church. May we be brought back to one church in one city, one expression of the Body of Christ in a locality. May we all learn to fellowship among the churches, blending in Spirit and through the cross. Amen, Lord, keep us in the local churches, cooperating with You for the building up of the church and fellowshipping with the saints in all the churches under Christ as the Head. Lord Jesus, You are our unique Head; we hold You, we receive the supply from You, and we allow the Holy Spirit to have authority in the church!
Seeing the Degradation of the Church from God’s Original Intention for the Church
God’s intention and purpose concerning the church is wonderful and glorious, and it was fulfilled for a little while in the original condition of the church; regrettably, this kind of situation didn’t last long, because the church became degraded.
If we study the book of Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation, we will see that, even at the time of the apostles, the church became degraded. All the items that the Lord ordained for the church in His purpose – now have been degraded, corrupted, and even lost.
The degradation of the church involved hierarchy, union with the world, idols, divisions, not allowing God to speak, having organization for unification, usurping the headship of Christ, and encroaching on the authority of the Holy Spirit.
First it was hierarchy that came in; this took place as early as the beginning of the second century, and Clement (an elder in the church in Rome) clearly referred to the matter of bringing the Judaistic priestly system into the church.
Then the degradation of the church continued with the union with the world, when in AD 313 Constantine (the Roman Emperor) accepted the Christian religion and brought the church into union with the Roman Empire, that is, with the world.
The third item was the bringing in of idols; in the Roman Catholic Church we see a lot of idols, brought in to replace the worship of Christ and of God.
The fourth item in the degradation of the church is not letting God speak; when the Church of Rome locked up the Holy Bible and took the word of the Pope as their criteria, the whole world plunged into darkness, and the church became degraded to the uttermost.
The fifth item in the degradation of the church is having divisions; even from the second century, a small number of people in the church began to separate themselves from the rest due to the differences in the interpretation of the truth, and differences in systems.
Then there was the organization for unification, damaging the principle of the original church of “once church in one city”; In the middle part of the third century, Cyprian suggested unifying the churches, even using the term “catholic church”, meaning “universal church”.
The final and worst degradation of the church is the usurpation of the headship of Christ and the encroachment upon the authority of the Holy Spirit; when the church began to be organized by men and there was a unification of the churches, Christ lost His position in the church, and the Holy Spirit could no longer rule in the church.
There are in total twenty-three or more items of the degradation of the church that are mentioned in the New Testament, which took place while the apostles were still alive, such as,
- Being taken over by gnostic philosophy and the elements of the world, the rudimentary teachings of both Jews and Gentiles consisting of ritualistic observances, meats, drinks, washings and asceticism.
- Teaching things different from the economy of the God taught by the apostle, resulting in turning away from the apostles teaching.
- Supposing godliness being means for gain.
- Turning away from the apostle who completed the divine revelation.
- Bringing in heresies like gangrene, making people wooden and earthen vessels unto dishonor in the great house (the church became, “a great house”).
- Having a form of godliness but denying its power.
- Not following healthy teachings but heaping up teachings to tickle the ear.
- Some becoming factious.
- Backsliding to Judaism and neglecting God’s New Testament salvation.
- False teachers bringing in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and following the way of Balaam who loved the wages of unrighteousness.
- Denying that Jesus is the Christ and becoming the antichrist, not abiding in the Son and in the Father.
- Not confessing that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.
- Not abiding in the teaching of Christ.
- Loving to be the first in the church.
- Forsaking the faith, denying our only Master, our Lord Jesus Christ, having gone the way of Cain.
- Leaving the first love toward the Lord.
- Having the works of Nicolaitans.
- Becoming in union with the world, where Satan’s throne is.
- Holding the teaching of Balaam to eat idol sacrifices and commit fornication.
- Holding to the teaching of Nicolaitans to have hierarchy.
- Tolerating the woman Jezebel, who holds herself a prophetess, to teach and lead the Lord’s slaves astray, to commit fornication and eat idol sacrifices, and to teach the deep things of Satan.
- Having a name of being living and actually being dead.
- Being lukewarm and keeping Christ outside of the door.
We need to see the degradation of the church, and we need to be fully one with the Lord for Him to recover the church back to His original intention, so that He may gain a corporate expression in man.
Lord Jesus, save us from continuing the degradation of the church. Bring us and bring the local churches back to Your original intention concerning the church. Save us from having hierarchy in the church or from being in union with the world. Save us, Lord, from any idols and from any division. We want to give You the full authority to speak in us and in the church, and we want to learn to fellowship with the saints in the Body. Lord, we take You as our Head, and we treasure the speaking of the Spirit!
References and Hymns on this Topic
- Inspiration: the Word of God, my enjoyment in the ministry, the message by Minoru Chen for this week, and portions from, The Testimony and the Ground of the Church, Section Three, chs. 1-2 (by Witness Lee), as quoted in the Holy Word for Morning Revival on, The Recovery of the Church (2017 fall ITERO), week 2, The Original Condition of the Church, the Degradation of the Church, and the Recovery of the Church.
- Hymns on this topic:
# On Christ we here would focus, / No other center make; / With Christ in sweet communion / His riches to partake. / He is our Head and content, / His Body we express; / Whate’er we do while meeting / Himself must manifest. (Hymns #867)
# Through the church’s degradation, / Saints this office desolate; / Through the weakness of their spirits / Preaching doth predominate. / Most are leaning on the message / And the preaching emphasize, / Yet neglect the priestly praying / And their spirits’ exercise. (Hymns #848)
# Learn the lesson from church hist’ry / Of the failures we must avoid; / Degradation we fight against, / Recov’ring from divisive ground / To the oneness of the Body; / Returning to what God’s revealed. / Lord build in us, Lord build in us / The Kingdom life. The Kingdom life. (Song on, The Church of God)