AND THE NEW COVENANT
A Precious Inheritance
Brethren and sisters, today I wish to occupy the pulpit to share with you something of the wonderful spirit that was enjoyed by the sub-apostolic Christian Church and to understand the great spiritual blessings they enjoyed from the Lord, blessings that should rightly belong to a modern Christian people aspiring to be obedient and faithful to the Law of Christ.
Your first reaction may well be: what do you mean by the "sub-apostolic church? I have never heard of such a thing." If this is your confession, then it is likely to be the confession of most of Christendom which has forgotten a priceless heritage. I hope today to bring to your knowledge this lost treasure both for our sakes and for the Christian world in general.
The Three Periods of Gospel Light
In the New Covenant Church we speak of three periods of glorious light at the beginning of the Christian dispensation in the years before apostacy snuffed out the unique spirit of the first Christians.
The Secondary Canon of the New Covenant Church of God
- The first period we call the Gospel Period which corresponds to the time of Christ's personal ministry in the flesh. The Church, which in organisation consisted of no more than 12 apostles in the process of training, centred around the oral teachings of Jesus.
- The second period we call the Apostolic Period which corresponds to the time following Christ's death and resurrection, and the ministry and martyrdom of the 12 apostles. The Church, which in organisation consisted of the 12 apostles and local congregations led by pastors, and assisted by deacons and teachers, centred around the oral witness of the apostles, their writings (and especially those of Peter, James, John and Paul), and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- The third period, which is the object of my examination today, we call the Sub-Apostolic Period, which corresponds roughly to the century following the apostles' death. The Church, which in organisation had lost the quorum of the 12, consisted of local congregations led by pastors grouped around a central congregation called a bishopric. The bishops, which were equal in authority to one another, resolved doctrinal and practical matters by convening conferences called synods. The teachings of the church centred around the oral testimony of the bishops, especially those who had been personally tutored by the late apostles -- for example, Clement of Rome by Peter and Paul, and Polycarp of Smyrna by John, the writings of the apostles, the four Gospels, and the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit. This was the last period of what we New Covenant Christians call the genuine New Testament Church, though technically it occupies a period immediately after the New Testament and should perhaps be called the Sub-New Testament Church.
We are fortunate that we possess many writings by the leaders of the sub-apostolic church, best known of whom are Clement (the third Bishop of Rome after Linus and Anacetus), Ignatius Theophorus (the second Bishop of Antioch after Euodius, who died in A.D. 69), and Polycarp (the second Bishop of Smyrna after Bucolus) who was born shortly after Ignatius assumed the Bishopric in Antioch in A.D. 69, and was a disciple of John the Apostle who spent his last years in Ephesus. These writings are accepted as inspired and spiritually upbuilding by the Holy Order and are considered deutero-canonical by the local Colonies, and are therefore studied by us. Apart from their benefit in personal ministry, they give us a wonderful picture of what life was like in the Christian Church after the apostles. I personally regret that they are not a part of the New Testament, where they deserve to be, for their presence would have precluded so many of the doctrinal controversies that have divided Christianity.
The Proto-Catholic Period
The period following the Sub-Apostolic period is best called the "proto-Catholic" period for it was at this time that popes started appearing on the scene, the church became politicised and worldly, false doctrines borrowing Platonism creeped in (e.g. on the Godhead), false ordinances began to be practiced (e.g. sprinking and infant baptism) pagan festivals began to be combined with Christian festivals (e.g. Christmas and Brumalia), and petty schisms occurred (e.g. between the Roman and Asian churches). Though apostacy was present in the Church right from the beginning, did not become so pervasive as to quench out the Holy Spirit until this proto-catholic era. Therefore for us, as New Covenent Christians, true Christianity essentially came to an end towards the middle or end of the second century A.D.
The Seeds of Apostacy
Having acknowledged the importance of the sub-apostolic era and its usefulness to us, I am bound to add that we believe the seeds of the future catholic apostacy were already sown. There is no evidence from the New Testament that the apostles were even intended to die out or that they were to be replaced by bishops. Had God intended the apostles to to consist of only 12 men who would not be replaced after their deaths, he would not have called Matthias or Paul. And in the opinion of many scholars, other apostles were later called like Andronicus and Junia, with as many as a quarter of the original apostles replaced. So why did the apostles die out? Why did not John, who survived longest, being the last surving apostle, take steps to preserve the Apostolate? Or did he understand, by the revelation of God, that the disappearance of the Apostolate was a part of the divine scheme of things? Did he underatand that the present structures of orthodox churches -- consisting of popes (or archbishops), metropolitans, and bishops was the next Order of the Church until Christ returned? Or did he more likely (as we believe) understand that a General Apostacy was imminent and that the prophecies must therefore be fulfilled? Or was he simply ignorant of what was to come?
These are hard questions. The new system that evolved after the apostles' death led to numerous problems. The Church, organised from the top downwards under the apostles, possessed unity and order. After the apostles' death, authority and doctrinal purity was maintained by communication from those congregations established by the apostles, whom the apostles instructed, to newer founded congregations, where the apostles' writings were read out. It does not seem these writings were read regularly in the newer churches; rather, the oral testimony of travelling evangelists seems to have been the basis of their doctrinal teachings, and the testimonies of the letters of such men as Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp who thus preserved apostolic teaching. By the time the Bible Canon as we have it today was established, the Church was no longer scripture-based [the earliest known canon -- the Muratorian Canon -- dates from the end of the second century, the the modern canon, established by one of the councils of Carthage, dates from the third century]. Soon afterwards the Bible was banned by the Catholic Church and its teachings were those of the Papacy.
The Two Achilees' Heels of the Early Church
Though many elements contributed to the demise of the early Christian Church, the lack of (a) apostolic authority, and (b) a universal scriptural canon, undoubtedly were the main causes. Until the Council of Carthage many false writings were accepted as scripture and these served only to sow confusion and division in the churches. These twin needs -- apostolic and scriptural authority -- have, unfortunately, rarely been found together. Today the Catholic Church maintains apostolic authority but rejects Biblical authority, whereas the Protestant Churches maintain the opposite. The Catholic Church, for all its failings, has maintained unity, even if it is unity of error; and the Protestant Churches have maintained Scriptural Unity, even if they have failed in doctrinal unity owing to a lack of bona fide apostolic ministry. Mormons have tried to combine the two but have shown that without a consistent, internally harmonious body of scripture and the apostolic anointing of the Holy Spirit, a Catholic-style central authority and a Protestant-like Scriptural authority cannot work. Indeed Mormonism has failed to find this balance and has become a neo-catholic institution, conferring infallibility on the matter of doctrinal interpretation to the First Presidency and 12 Apostles even in the face of doctrinal inconsistency and error.
It is a point of historical interest that the Reorganized Latter Day Saint Church, one of the schisms of early Mormonism, has attempted a different approach; not only is authority from the general to the specific (from the First Presidency down to the congregations), but from the soecific to the General (with the congregations electing their own pastors as occurred in the sub-apostolic period). By contrast, the Mormon system appoints all officers from the top downwards; and whilst technically local congregations have the right to reject by vote a nomination to a Bishop, in practice they never do and never have, which gives them the illusion that their whole structure has been divinely appointed from the beginning. Yet in cases where members have tried to oppose appointments (as happened when people of black descent were admitted to the Mormon Priesthood), those voting against the First Presidency were quietly "taken aside" and warned that they were acting in an apostate way for not "sustaining the divinely appointed leaders of the Church". The truth is that whilst technically the Mormon system is democratic (compare with the former East German political system, a communist dictatorship absurdly called the "German Democratic Republic"), in practice it is not.
The apostolic and sub-apostolic churches teach us an important lesson in the nature of ecclesiastical authority which the New Covenant Church seeks to emulate. New Covenant Church pastors are selected by the Apostolate and presented to the congregation for their vote. The people are free to reject an apostolic nomination and are never "taken aside" and warned that they are courting apostacy or threatened with excommunication (as would occur in the Catholic or Mormon systems). If a candidate is rejected, the local apostle has the responisbility of nominating another until a two-thirds majority is obtained. If harmony cannot be reached between a local apostle and a congregtion, then congregations may be reorganised, perhaps two or three local Colonies combined into new ones so a different "mix" of people, and thus a different "congregational spirit", can be created where agreement can be reached. (Such, I hasten to add, has never occurred before). Ideally, the apostle and lcoal congregation should resort to prayer and fasting until unity is obtained.
Why Did the Apostles Die Out?
I suspect the reason why no apostles followed after John and the first apostles was simply because God did not call any. I am sure many were qualified but history, ordained to go in a certain direction, could not bear them. There are many unanswered questions. Why, for example, was Islam permitted to arise, a corrupt form of Judaism mixing some heretical Christian elements? Where is the love and mercy in such an historical development?
Polar Struggles in Religion
The answer is, I think, to be found in any kind of institution which holds absolute power over its people. Given sufficient time and a lack of the anointing of God's Spirit, institutions fossilise, as the Roman Catholic Church did. It has changed very little in over a thousand years. The greatest social and political impetuses have come through Protestantism. There is, in this writer's opinion, the necessity for OPPOSITION for creativity to abound in an imperfect world. Catholic vs. Protestant, Mormon vs. Reoganized LDS, Christian vs. Moslem, etc.. Though it is a sad testimonial to the fallen nature of man, good seems only to have ever risen out of conflict situations. Good only ever breaks out into the darkness where there is struggle. Even before this world was made, there was a struggle in the heavenly realms between the angels of God, under the leadership of Michael, and the angels of Lucifer (who became Satan). The defeated angels, the demons, were cast upon this sphere, where the struggle continues. What God creates, Satan opposes. And whilst God always ultimately wins, Satan does prevail from time to time. This state of affairs God permits because it presents the necessary medium for soul-growth. Light and darkness, with miriad shades of greys inbetween, provide the soul with choices. Often the choices are of a lighter grey for a darker one, until such a time as pure light can be chosen.
Why Did the Apostolic Church Die?
But why allow the apostolic Church to die out? Could it not have continued to exist alongside heretical ones? Well, this it did do for a while. But one must consider that at the time of the apostles, and in the period immediately afterwards, only a minority of the human race was ready to receive the pure light of truth. As anyone knows, if you mix black paint with white, grey results. The first Christians lived their lives in pagan cultures which influenced them daily. They had no real opportunity to isolate themselves, of even part of themselves, in special communities that would preserve an alternative Christian culture. The Essenes attempted this at Qumran and elsewhere but were wiped out by the Roman army. Many groups have tried this but were overwhelmed. Some of you may have seen the film called "The Missionary" about a United Order set up by the Jesuite Catholics amongst the Indians in south America. It was a tremendous success and resembled the sub-apostolic church in many ways. But the communties were massacred by envious Europeans.
We therefore conclude that an Apostolic Church could not have survived in the first centuries of the Christian Dispensation. It was bound to be overwhelmed sooner or later. So why establish it in the first place? Because truth must assert itself -- it cannot compromise. And the Lord could no more establish an imperfect Church anymore than He could effect a partial atonement for our sins. This apostolic Church -- the the sub-apostolic church that followed it -- has nevertheless left us a record of itself in the New Testament and in the writings of the early bishops which God intended Christians to try and emulate. Many have tried. The Mormons tried to establish an isolated community in Utah but were overwhelmed externally by a hostile Protestant America and internally by false doctrines and wrong practices. And Christians, fired up with the love of God, will continue to try.
The New Covenant Task
And that, brethren and sisters, is what we have been trying to do too. As we all know, not only the world, but also Christendom too, wants nothing to do with it. They do not have the vision of what we have and in any case wish to jealously guard their own systems in which they have grown up and which gives them imagined security. We face an mountain rising up like a vertical cliff. We never said it would be easy, and seven years on we are still struggling desperately not to slide back into our old ways.
So what are we to do now? Our goals are crystal clear. We know what we want and what we want to try to do. But we are not yet connected. What do I mean by that? I mean, simply, that the communal covenants are still eluding us. We have yet to become one Body spiritually. And so long as we have our own private agendas pulling us in different directions, we will never become that united Body of believers.
Remember also that we are not living in the first century A.D. Jesus Christ is not walking with us speaking to us with a human voice. Rather, we have the records of His apostles written nearly two thousand years ago in an environment very different from ours in so many ways, and we have the promptings of the Holy Spirit which, because of our own impurities, causes distortions in God's Word to us. Much of what God is trying to say to us is filtered out. Thus we, like all men and women seeking after the truth, must, to a certain extent, work things out in the "grey zone".
Our greatest weakness is the testimony we give out as a Body. I think most people are impressed by us individually, not least because of the spiritual knowledge we have, which all too easily provokes others to anger and jealosy. I remember one of our persecutors in recent times confessing, just before the persecutions of the Second Wave began, that we were living purer lives than her. But this young journalist nevertheless decided to occupy higher moral ground and accuse us of impurity! The Word we bring agitates and infuriates people because it leaves them with one one of two options: to repent or persecute. And this, brethren, is exactly what the first Christians experienced.
There is much that I want to talk about from the sub-apostolic church period, and I must therefore limit myself, perhaps taking these themes further at another time. The themes themselves are not new but since they were expressed in an environment that few of us know, I think you will find them interesting.
Flashback to Clement's Corinth
I am going to begin with an extract from Clement's letter to the Corinthians, probably written around the end of the century at the same time John was writing the Book of Revelation. The Corinthian Church, which had enormous problems in Paul's day, was slipping into apostacy. The apostles were almost all gone. John was probably alive but too old to travel very far. A rebellion had occured in the Corinthian congregation where the people had got rid of all the priesthood officers, literally deposed them. Clement describes how the Corinthian saints were before this rebellion took place. As I read these words to you I would like each of you to soberly consider if you, in your discipleship, are matching the discipleship of those early pre-rebellion Corinthians. He writes:
Does anybody doubt the inspired character of this passage? Does anybody doubt that this is the kind of people that God wants us to be? My heart weeps with joy when I read of these things, for this is what I have desired with my whole soul for so, so long. This is the goal of the New Covenant Church, stated so beautifully and truthfully. And how removed is the spirit of this from most of the modern churches today! Worse than that, how far removed it is from us, even though we can truthfully say we have fulfilled much of what is written there.
"There was a time when nobody could even spend a short while among you without noticing the excellence and constancy of your faith. Who ever failed to be impressed by your sober and selfless Christian piety, to tell of your generous spirit of hospitality, or to pay tribuite to the wide range of soundness of your knowledge? It was your habit at all times to act without fear or favour, living by the laws of God and deferring with correctness to those who were set over you. Your elders were treated with the honour due to them; your young men were counselled to be soberly and seriously minded; your womenfolk were bidden to go about their duties in irreproachable devotion and purity of conscience, showing all proper affection to their husbands; they were taught to make obedience the rule of their lives, to manage their households decorously, and to be patterns of discretion in every way.
"Humility, too, and a complete absence of of self-assertion were common to you all; you preferred to offer submission rather than extort it, and giving was dearer to your hearts than receiving. Asking no more than what Christ had provided for your journey through life, you paid careful heed to His Words, treasured them in your hearts, and kept His sufferings constantly before your eyes. The reward was a deep and shining peace, a quenchless ardour for well-doing, and a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you all. You were full of aspirations to holiness; after any involuntary transgression you would stretch out suppliant hands to Almighty God in an agony of piety and devout trustfulness, and implore His mercy. Day and night you would wrestle on behalf of all the brotherhood, that in His mercy and compassion the whole number of His elect might be saved. In your single-minded innocence you harboured no resentments; any kind of faction or schism was an abomination to you. You mourned for a neighbour's faults, and regarded his failings as your own. Never did you grudge a kindly action; always you were ready for any deed of goodness. In the beauty or a pure and heavenly citizenship, whatever you did was done in the fear of God, and the statutes and judgments of the Lord were engraved on the tables of your hearts." Amen.
Kadesh-Ephraim Not to be Built in This generation
Many of you were sad when the Lord told us recently that this generation would not be permitted to build Zion because it was too rebellious. Moses too was told that he would not enter the Promised Land. But did he sit down and sigh? Many times he wanted to quit, because he was despairing of the people he had to lead. But he got up. He conquered the east bank of Canaan and established three tribes there -- Gad, Reuben and East Manasseh. Do you yet understand what that means? Three tribes were established! What does that mean for us? It means that THREE FIRSTBORN COMMUNITIES WILL BE ESTABLISHED IN OUR GENERATION IF WE DON'T GIVE UP! Three, and not just one. Not Ephraim -- not the one in the North Countries, but three others. Who can tell me where Manasseh is today? [America]. Correct! North America. How many tribal areas did Manasseh occupy in Canaan? [Two]. Yes, two. One on the west side, called West Manasseh, and one on the east side, called East Manasseh. There will be two firstborn communities in North America, and one of them will be built in this generation. But there are two others too -- Reuben and Gad, more of which will be said another time.
I wish to remind you also, most urgently, that we have been called to go to the Netherlands but have not fulfilled that call yet. I invite you, therefore, and especially those responsible for the local Colonies, to prayerfully consider and plan a missionary tour to Holland. These are a special Israelitish people, having in them a mixture of Judah, Ephraim, Manasseh, Zebulon, Reuben and Simeon.
Finally, while we are on the subject of Israel's tribes, I wish to point out to you Norwegians that the tribes settled in this country are not just Ephraim -- there are many groups from Judah, Benjamin and Dan here also. Like most countries, Norway is not a pure race, but a mixture of many, as should be evident just be comparing the features of the people in the different regions. And while I am on the subject, may I remind you of our brethren in Sweden and Denmark, both of whom have much Danite blood, with much of the tribe of Reuben in that country. If you will bother to check up the Patriarchal blessings of these tribes you will learn much of our neighbours here and why it is we, as a Israelite Covenant Church, have to minister to them...
This page was created on 31 May 1998
Last updated on 31 May 1998
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