If we look at church history we will realise that, even though the church became degraded, the Lord’s recovery of the church has been gradual and progressive, starting from the first century and until today.
We have seen that God desires to gain the church, for He created everything and everyone for the church, his corporate expression. The mystery hidden from the ages and the deep desire in God’s heart is the church his corporate expression in man.
When He gained the church, after the Lord Jesus resurrected and ascended, there was an original condition of the church, which was pleasing to the Lord. This original condition of the church had the following characteristics:
- There was no hierarchy among the believers, but all believers were brothers, with no distinction in rank, they were members of the Body functioning in their measure, and they were priests to God.
- The church was fully separated from the world, and it had no involvement with the world. Even though the church was in the world, the world was not in the church.
- The church forsook all the idols and fully allowed God to speak what He wanted to speak. They treasured the word of God and gave heed to the speaking of the Holy Spirit.
- There was only one church, one expression of the Body of Christ, in a locality. This kept the oneness of all the believers, and this was a glorious testimony of the one true God.
- The churches were all in one fellowship, and the saints has much fellowship with other churches. Each local church was independent in administration, but there was no autonomous church, no head church, and no federation of churches.
- The churches honored Christ as the Head, giving Him the ultimate preeminence in all things, and the church allowed the Holy Spirit to have authority. They always checked with the Lord, the Head, about everything, and they allowed the Holy Spirit to have authority.
However, as history confirms, even from the end of the first century, the degradation of the church came in; today what we see is the church being involved with the world (even married to the world), having hierarchy among the believers, having idols in the church, being divided, not allowing God to speak, having organization (so that they may be unified), and usurping the headship of Christ and refusing to be under the authority of the Holy Spirit.
If we look at the general condition and situation in Christianity today, the church is far off from God’s original purpose. But praise the Lord for His recovery work: the Lord’s recovery of the church has been going on from the very beginning, for He wants to bring the church back to its original condition, as He intended it to be.
The Lord’s Recovery of the Church has been Gradual and Progressive throughout History
Even though the degradation of the church has been going on throughout history, the Lord’s recovery of the church for His move on earth has also been going on at the same time.
Before the end of the first century, when the degradation began, the Lord’s recovery also began, and century by century the Lord’s recovery of the church has continued on (see 2 Tm. 2:19-26).
The recovery of the church has been continual, gradual, and progressive; what we have today is the culmination, the building up, and the standing of the shoulders of what the Lord has been recovering in the past.
The history of the Lord’s recovery is vast and with many aspects and important persons, but today we want to focus on three main sections: the Reformation (with Martin Luther), the recovery of the church life (with the Moravian brothers and count Zinzendorf), and the English Brethren with the further recovery of the truth and the church life.
The Lord’s Recovery with Martin Luther: an Open Bible and Justification by Faith
In the sixteenth century Martin Luther rose up to begin the Reformation.
First it was John Wycliffe (mid-1320s – 1384) who stood up against the corruption of the Catholic Church and promoted the translation of the Bible into the common language of the people. Then, John Huss (1369-1415) in Bohemia was influenced by his writings and preached the Scriptures and exposed the degradation of the Catholic church.
Both John Wycliffe on the British Isles and John Huss on the continent had a strong light, a clear light from the Bible, and they influenced Martin Luther (1483-1546). Martin Luther read the Bible, the German medieval mystics, and Augustine, and he was greatly impacted by Paul’s writings.
He realized the truth of justification by faith in Rom. 1:17, where he read that the righteous shall have life and live by faith. He realized that justification was not as the Roman Catholic church said through sacraments, rituals, or the teachings, but through faith given by God.
In 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses. He went further to open the Bible to the public, and he released the Bible completely so that everyone would have a Bible in their hands and read it.
With the development of the printing press by Guttenberg, Luther printed many copies of the Bible in the language of the people (after he translated it), and then spread it among the people.
Martin Luther was used by the Lord to start the Reformation, and the sealed Bible was unlocked; based upon the Bible, he recovered justification by faith, but the proper church life was not recovered.
Rather, because the Pope and the Roman Catholic church wanted to destroy him, Martin Luther sought refuge and was allied with the king of Germany; thus the Protestant churches were started, and the church was in union with the state.
The Protestant churches were not separated from the world, and they didn’t eliminate the intermediary class. Furthermore, among the Protestant churches there were more divisions, and the various denominations didn’t put away organization for unification.
The denominations in Protestantism didn’t allow Christ to have the absolute position, and they didn’t allow the Holy Spirit to have absolute authority.
We thank and praise the Lord for Martin Luther and the other reformers, for it is because of these ones that we now have a Bible in our language that is open, and we can know the truth of justification by faith.
However, we need to realize that Martin Luther made a big mistake when he was joined to the German government, and the state churches were produced.
In Europe now there is the church of England (having the queen as the head), the German state church, the Danish state church, the Norwegian state church, and the Swedish state church, all of which take the head of the state as their head.
Then there were even more divisions, for many have read the Bible and discovered truths in the Bible, and then formed their own “church” based on these truths. There are the Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, the Methodist churches, the Apostolic churches, and many private churches and denominations.
We need to continue the Lord’s recovery of the church which He started with Martin Luther by going further and further until we reach the original condition of the church, having the church life as God intended it to be for His corporate expression.
Lord Jesus, thank You for Your recovery of the church throughout the history. Thank You for recovering the open Bible and justification by faith with Martin Luther. Take us on with You, Lord, in Your recovery, until You gain what You are after. Bring us back to Your original intention that You may have the church as You intended it to be. Amen, Lord, gain Your corporate expression on earth today!
The Lord’s Recovery of the Church Life with the Moravian Brothers
In the eighteenth century the Lord raised up count Zinzendorf to lead the Moravian brothers to a recovery of the church life.
In the 1700s a small group of believers in Moravia had a revival, but they were persecuted by the Catholic church and came in 1722 as refugees to Count von Zinzendorf in Saxony, in the eastern part of Germany.
Zinzendorf received them, they built a community, and many other believers escaping persecution joined them. They all had differing opinions, and there were many arguments.
So one day Zinzendorf called them together and convinced them to drop their disputations and hold only to the items of the common faith; that Lord’s day at the Lord’s table, they experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and there was a great revival.
The lord moved among the Moravian brethren to recover something of the practice of the church life. They really enjoyed the Lord’s blessing to a certain extent, for they practiced the church life according to the Bible to a certain degree.
The Moravian brothers under the leadership of Zinzendorf were separated from the world, removed any distinctions of rank, emphasized fellowship and coordination, endeavored to keep the oneness, removed any formal organization for unification, and allowed the Lord to be their Head and the Spirit to rule among them.
This was a great recovery of the church life – not only of the truths in the Bible, but of the church life, and we owe so much to these dear brothers.
The Lord’s Recovery with the Brethren: the Discovery of God’s Truth and the Overcoming Life
In 1827 the Lord raised up a group of brothers in Dublin, Ireland, who saw that many things in the church were dead, lifeless, and formal; so they began to ask the Lord to show them the church according to the revelation in the Scriptures.
Through prayer and fellowship, these felt that they should start meeting according to the principle of 1 Cor. 14; they broke the bread at a brother’s home and fellowshipped as brothers. Later John Nelson Darby began to join their meetings and expounded the Bible among them.
Gradually, more expositors were raised up among them, such as William Kelly, C. H. Mackintosh, B. W. Newton, and J. G. Bellett. Through their writings they exposed the error of denominational organizations and realized there’s only one Body of Christ; the church shouldn’t be formed by human opinions but it should be under the direct leading of the Holy Spirit.
This was a golden time that was a great help to the church life. The raising up of the Brethren brothers (they only called themselves brothers, with no other name), might have been the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy in the Lord’s epistle to the church in Philadelphia in Rev. 3, the church of brotherly love.
Many spiritual brothers were raised up by the Lord in this period, including Charles Stanley, George Cutting, Robert Govett, G. H. Pember, D. M. Panton, and George Muller. Furthermore, there were others like R. P. Smith, Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith, Stocknell, Evan Hopkins, and Andrew Murray.
Then H. C. Trumbull released the truth on the overcoming life at the Keswick Convention, bringing in a great recovery concerning the knowledge of the overcoming life and the way for believers to experience this life in their living.
In the hands of the Brethren, the Bible was truly an opened book – a book full of light, a shining book; they absolutely obeyed God’s word, and many important truths were released through them (1 Tim. 2:4).
They absolutely eliminated any hierarchy among themselves, and they were simply brothers together, members of one another, with the emphasis on mutual love and fellowship. The Brethren eliminated sectarianism and maintained the testimony of oneness.
The Lord used their writings to release the deeper truths in the Bible, uncover the riches and real meaning of the truths in the Bible, cut straight the word of God, recover the proper church life with brothers and members of Christ, practice the church life in oneness, and learning to live an overcoming life.
However, in certain aspects the Brethren were a failure – they started to contend on doctrinal matters, on interpretation of prophecies, and receiving of the believers; therefore, even though what the Lord recovered through them was so good, they were divided in many groups and churches, and there are many Brethren churches which are no longer one.
We stand on the shoulders of all those who went before us, we benefit of all the riches and deeper truths they have recovered, and we practice the church life as the Lord has revealed in His word and with the help of the Brethren writings; however, we want to go on and learn from the mistakes made throughout history, and keep the oneness of the Body and practice the one accord in the church.
Lord, how we thank You for the light in Your word, the expounding of the truths, and the recovery of the proper church life as seen with the Brethren. Thank You Lord for going on in Your recovery of life, truth, the gospel, and of the church. Amen, Lord, we stand on the shoulder of all those who have gone before us, and we want You to advance in Your move, in the Lord’s recovery of the church life. Keep us in Your present recovery, Your present move, Your up-to-date speaking and move, that we may return fully to what You intend to have – the church, Your corporate expression!
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, ch. 3 (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.
- More resources on the history of the Lord’s recovery:
– Read more about Martin Luther, count Zinzendorf, John Darby, the Brethren, the Plymouth Brethren, and the history of the brethren in England.
- Hymns on this topic:
# That word above all earthly powers, / No thanks to them, abideth; / The Spirit and the gifts are ours / Through Him who with us sideth: / Let goods and kindred go, / This mortal life also; / The body they may kill: / God’s truth abideth still, / His Kingdom is forever. (Hymns #866, by Martin Luther)
# God’s Christ, who is my righteousness, / My beauty is, my glorious dress; / Midst flaming worlds, in this arrayed, / With joy shall I lift up my head. (Hymns #295, by Zinzendorf)
# O the joy of having nothing and being nothing, seeing nothing / But a living Christ in glory, / And being careful for nothing but His interests down here. / Whom have I in heaven but Thee? / And there is none upon the earth that I desire beside Thee. / O the joy of having nothing and being nothing, seeing nothing / But a living Christ in glory, / And being careful for nothing but His interests down here. (Song by J. N. Darby)
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