The early church grew in number and expanded to other countries. Eventually, so much structure and non-Biblical additions meant that a reformation was needed. Martin Luther stepped forward with his 95 Thesis, and so began a reformation that called for a return to grace. After many years, the church, started by Luther’s insight, developed in the same way as the one before it and deadness was again the result.
Along came the Presbyterians with similar results; the Baptists then carried the banner of grace for a while. The same thing has happened with a number of para-church organizations. God gives one man a fresh vision but in time he, or those who follow him, develop a manual. It sets forth the principals that make them distinctive but unfortunately, these principals are often simply another form of legalism. The movement becomes people trying to live under a mixture of the old and new covenants. Paul reminds us that the “letter kills, but the Spirit brings life.” (2 Corth. 3:6) This has led some to characterize this kind of development of ministry as, “Man, Method, Monument.” This progression has obviously left out many developments and is not meant to be chronologically accurate but rather to show an overall trend.
Each new stage brought a fresh focus on grace and the person of Jesus, but eventually, the emphasis shifted to the preservation of the institution and its ideals or doctrinal convictions. There seemed to be an almost unavoidable erosion when a movement developed ecclesiastically. As each movement grew in size, it developed a larger body of doctrine. With the development of creeds and doctrinal statements came form and form demanded compliance to its codes and traditions. This usually started with good motives but almost invariably tended to move the people back under the Law or the old covenant. It led, and still, today leads, to living focused on a body of knowledge instead of living by the Spirit.
The whole institutional church (including non-denominational) is about to go under from its own weight because, for the most part, its leaders are doing what those before them have done. They continue to build bigger buildings, more entertaining programs, better music, TV, radio and tapes, theme parks, etc. It is very stimulating to “build for Christ,” but it dulls the senses to what should really be happening.
The church is vulnerable on two fronts. There is danger from within when we mix the old and new covenants. The church is the bride of Christ, and when we flirt or have an affair with the law, God calls it Spiritual adultery. (Rom. 7) When we flirt with the world, the danger comes from without. We are guilty on both fronts, so more than a revival is in order, we need a reformation. May God grant the church a return to the centrality of Jesus Christ, and His grace.
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