AN UNFEDERATED WILDFIRE
Another in the Series on EKKLESIA
I hate to entitle this article on Ekklesia “another in the series” because it sounds like I’m organizing this thing, when actually, this “series” is anything but antithetical to that phrase when it comes to the Ekklesia—perhaps it’s as close to something done “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40) but that’s as far as it goes!
On occasion I’ve asked my associate, Henry Hon:“Is this ‘Ekklesia business’ just another movement ‘in a series’ of revivals that starts out as “times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord’ (Acts 3:20) – then matures, gets ‘organized” – “institutionalized” – and then fizzles out as per normal? Kinda burns itself out?
THE FINAL HARVEST
Many of us speak in terms of a “great end-times’ revival” – a FINAL HARVEST of souls – the “latter-day rain” – that final burst of Holy Ghost outpouring that shakes the foundations of the world and brings forth His REMNANT in the spirit of Elijah, the prophet who would be sent forth upon the earth before that “great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5) – YES! We’re looking with John, the Revelator, when we hear:
“Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a SHARP SICKLE. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped” (Rev. 14:14-16).
Now, many of us view Revelation 14:14-16 as the final end-time’s harvest of souls to be gathered into the Kingdom of His Dear Son – with Revelation 14:17-20 seen as “another angel” who gathered “the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe” to be cast “into the great winepress of the wrath of God” – the one harvest unto eternal life and glory and the other just the opposite, into the winepress of the wrath of God.
I know, sounds like I’m off on one of my numerous rabbit trails—but I assure you, I’m not. What does revival look like? Well, a lot like the Son of Man reaping the final harvest of the earth!
When the early Ekklesia “took off” it was a “mighty, rushing wind” with “tongues of fire” appearing over the heads of 120 disciples of Jesus in the Upper Room—they began to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4). Folks outside heard the SOUND and then heard them speaking in all the languages who had gathered from around the Roman Empire to Jerusalem’s feast days and heard in their own languages “the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT – NOT “SPIRITS”
But, keeping with the theme of an uncontrolled burn (viz., a “wildfire”): “Others mocking said, ‘They are full of wine’” (otherwise known as DRUNK). (Acts 2:13). Now, most drunks I’ve known or met don’t seem to have their “act together” – slurred speech, with some being very talkative and somewhat delirious – hardly the epitome of a “controlled burn” (if you would).
So, the early Ekklesia, you know, the one Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 . . . “I will build My Ekklesia, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” . . . seemed to be akin to a bunch of out of control drunks (according to the folks viewing this from around the world gathered in Jerusalem during the Feast of Weeks [aka, Pentecost]).
I like Peter’s retort to this drunken charge: “For these are not drunk as you suppose” . . . since it’s only 9:00 A.M. in the morning! (Acts 2:15). Don’t you love it? The first evangelistic outburst of the Ekklesia Jesus was building was accused of BEING a bunch of drunks spouting off in other languages declaring the “wonderful works of God” – I know, seems a bit incongruous—but don’t be surprised if, during the final end-time’s harvest things get OUT OF CONTROL!
Then Peter, after making it plain he and the others were not drunk (although, I’ve witnessed some drunks at 9 A.M.), launched into Joel 2:28-32 and the rest is history.
KILL & EAT – NO WAY – NO PARTIALITY!!
The spontaneity of things in the early Ekklesia took a radical turn when Peter was told three times to “kill and eat” a rather un-kosher meal full of “four-footed animals, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air” (Acts 10:12) – of course, Peter was in a trance-like state when he heard the Almighty declare: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” . . . with Peter’s repeated reply: “Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean.”
But God was setting Peter up to preach the gospel to the House of Cornelius in Caesarea. Think about it. You can’t get any more Gentile than that: Caesar (Caesarea) with an “Italian Band” and a Roman Centurion controlling a repressive Roman Regiment—good grief, WHAT WAS GOD THINKING!
Interestingly enough, this Cornelius fellow was a very devout man who had been praying and fasting (go figure) and about the same time of the day (the Ninth Hour, or 3:00 P.M.—Acts 10:30) that our Lord cried out: IT IS FINISHED (Matt. 27:45-50) . . . now I ask you: Did not our Savior die for the sins of the world – not just the sins of the Jews? Sounds like there is a connection of these NINTH hours—His crucifixion and the answer to the prayer of Cornelius at the ninth hour.
In any event, Peter put it this way—as “things” were getting out of control:
“Then he (Peter) said to them (the Gentiles gathered together by Cornelius), ‘You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” . . . then later, after Peter asked Cornelius why Cornelius sent for him in the first place, uttered a most profound out-of-control statement: “In truth I perceive that God shows NO PARTIALITY . . . But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him . . . the word which God sent to the sons of Israel, PREACHING PEACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST—He is Lord of all.” (Acts 10:28, 34-36).
Could it be this is the PEACE spoken about in Ephesians 2:14-18? “For He Himself is our PEACE, who has made (viz., Jew and Gentile/the Nations), BOTH ONE, and has broken down the middle wall of separation.”
Listen up, the emphasis here was not necessarily the Gospel of the Grace of God (Acts 20:24) unto repentance—which it was most definitely so preached by Peter and they of the household of Cornelius did repent of their sins and turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation (Acts 11:17)—no, the emphasis was upon the breakdown of the MIDDLE WALL OF SEPARATION between Jew and Gentile . . . two of the most separated peoples on the planet! (Ref. Acts 10:34-36; Eph. 2:14-18)
Thus, the Gospel of Salvation was directly tied to the Gospel of Peace! NO PARTIALITY… “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon Him” (Rom. 10:12; Acts 3:25; Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; 1 Peter 1:17).
Got it?When things are out of control THERE IS NO PARTIALITY.You don’t get to pick and choose who you want to show up at an Ekklesia-style “I will build My Ekklesia” gathering! (Matt. 16:18; 1 Cor. 14:23).There’s no distinction, no partiality – stop calling so-and-so common and unclean when God Almighty has declared everyone CLEAN – folks, it’s time to KILL AND EAT.
UNCONTROLLED BURN – FIRES JUST FLARE UP!
Furthermore, during an uncontrolled burn, fires have a tendency to “flare up” out of nowhere! And just as you think you got this whole thing under control—while giving a most dynamic, even Spirit-filled sermon, you are rudely interrupted as sparks break out and the Holy Spirit “fell upon all those who heard the word . . . and those of the circumcision (aka, Jews) who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Nations also” (Acts 10:44-45).
How dare the Holy Spirit interrupt Peter’s amazing sermon! That’s what happens in an uncontrolled burn—big time—for this time the whole place is set ablaze . . . not just our little compartmentalized elite, or those with whom we’re sort of “used to” – those least expected to respond, do so, and we’re left with: I had no idea so-and-so would ever find the Lord! Imagine, Holy Ghost revival striking the Catholic Church or a bunch of Russian Orthodox believers—it can and has happened—notwithstanding what impossibility you might conjecture!
THE EVANGELISTIC CRUSADE THAT WASN’T
Well, that’s what happens when the Son of Man intends to thrust in His sickle to reap the harvest of the earth. Meanwhile, however, we’re desperately about trying to crank up the most recent evangelistic crusade—pouring over countless organizational meetings and lots of money to pull it off . . . thinking, even with “organized prayer and fasting” we’ll be able to see the “fruits of our labor.”
Recently, in my own backyard, an immense effort was made wherein local pastors and earnest Christian workers in the gospel, sought out and succeeded in bringing a famous evangelist to our area for a huge “evangelistic crusade”—a one-day rally that would turn our town upside down (and that’s saying a whole lot for this California stronghold of bureaucratic tax and spend, liberal bastion—just sayin’).
Well, virtually an entire year went into the planning of the effort—over 300 churches were engaged in some way. Lots of concerts, extraneous endeavors were put in place with sundry tents, things to do for the kids, special music, prayer rallies, counseling trainings – you name it, we’re PREPARED! Only problem was this: On the day of the “Great Crusade” it was 106F (scores were treated for heat stroke) . . . no kidding, couldn’t wait to get out of that place.
Tens of thousands of dollars were spent to pull this off. In all, a whooping six people found Jesus! Oh, I’m sure, a lot more went down at that gathering, but that was the final tally. One could speculate: We organized that “thing” to death. Yes, one soul is indeed worthy of all our efforts—but I think you’re getting the picture here, right?
WHAT DOES AN AWAKENING LOOK LIKE?
Getting back to our Ekklesia issues . . . what does that look like or what doesn’t it look like? Well, in past AWAKENINGS and/or REVIVALS or MOVES OF GOD upon the earth (even the early Ekklesia) – things sort of “fall apart” and get institutionalized very quickly. Look at the “Early Church” – by the time John, the Beloved, passed from this earthly clod around 100 A.D. things had gotten more and more institutionalized (aka, DEAD) until 325 A.D. when Emperor Constantine utterly institutionalized the Roman Catholic Church leading to the so-called Dark Ages. We bogged down into ceremony, rituals, basilicas, hierarchical systems, utter separation of Jew and Gentile (OT Feast Days were replaced with quasi-pagan, do-over Christian holidays), relics, “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof” (2 Tim. 3:5) – in sum: DEAD RELIGION.
Honestly, I don’t think my distant relative, Martin Luther (I being a direct descendant) had any idea he would be creating the Lutheran State Church(es)—but he did—then when “sparks broke out” and new fires (Anabaptist) raged, Luther found himself and his “followers” trying to put out these uncontrolled burns with the fire hoses of “Reformational persecution”
Frank Bartleman in his book, Another Wave Rolls In, talks about the wave that rolls in and then rolls back into the ocean fighting the new, on-coming wave. Bartleman talks about the “wave of the Holy Spirit” in the Pentecostal early days and how the “organized Church” resisted, even persecuted those who partook of this fresh move of the Holy Spirit—that’s just the way it is.
THE “COURT OF THE NATIONS/GENTILES” – REV. 11
Let’s take the message of Revelation 11 in which those in the “court of the Gentiles” shall persecute (trample asunder) the Holy City for 42 months: “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles [aka, “Nations”]. And they [those in that court] will tread the Holy City underfoot for forty-two months.” (vs. 2).
This novelty of the “Court of the Nations” was set up to appease the sect of the Sadducees (the liberals of their day) at the Temple in Jerusalem. Uncircumcised Gentiles who were devout could at least make it up to the Temple Mount but could NOT offer up a sacrifice at the Altar unless they were willing to be circumcised then and there—YOU FIRST!
In point of fact, those unwilling to go “all the way” were defacto compromisers and would be seen “on that day” trampling asunder those who’ve gone “all the way” – the “worshipers at the altar” who readily constitute the Holy City ultimately descending from the heavens in Revelation 21. Be that as it may, you get the idea, some of the worst “persecutors” of God’s people will be “those of your own household” (Matt. 10:36) . . . all the while they’re thinking they are doing God a service in harassing His remnant!
Rarely will you find an atheist in a foxhole under fire – rarely will you find division in the Ekklesia under persecution. I don’t know about you, but frankly, believers who have “gone through it” – perhaps been tossed out of “several churches” (normally, because you just don’t fit in all that well) or who have found themselves in some sort of “Christian cult” where they thought they were the “only game in town” – only to find they weren’t but were actually highly sectarian and divisive (who knew?) – and then found themselves “disfellowshipped” from “the group” and “walking about the streets of confusion” for a time (still might be) . . . well, if that describes your “journey” – sounds like you might be suspect to join in the Ekklesia where there’s NO PARTIALITY and where KILL and EAT is the norm – where “divine interruptions” mess with your sermons (outstanding though the delivery be). Sincerely, and I mean this with all reverence, you’re probably not worth your salt unless you’ve gone through these bouts of exclusivity and ejection! Not that you must—but you’d be surprised how tenderized meat is when smashed with a metal mallet.
Yes, we praise God for all His moves throughout the centuries – Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Anabaptists, Christian Church, Church of Christ, Methodism, Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, Pentecostalism, Charismatics, Jesus Movement—you name it, God’s been in it—but given our propensity to corral the herd, or control the burn, we find ourselves, once again, stomping on the Holy City from our well-organized Court of the Gentiles. I know that bites, but folks, once you think you “got it all together” – well, that’s the beginning of the end – here comes another wave, and in all likelihood you’ll miss it and wind up persecuting that wave because it appears to be messing with your own!
MY, HOW THINGS GET ORGANIZED!
Seriously, attempting to “federate” or make His Ekklesia a “controlled burn” is akin to organizing that which never was intended to be organized.You can burn down a Church but you can’t burn down the Ekklesia—we’re NOT an organization nor a federated bunch of little Ekklesias organized into some kind of ecumenical movement.
Could I? Yes, the Jesus Movement took off in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s—initially, it was wholly unorganized—yet, the Spirit of God was “moving upon the waters” – upon the forest – and fires were breaking out all over the place. “Christian communes” were a-happening, it was hard, nigh impossible, to distinguish it or extinguish it. Yes, it was full of hippies, old and new believers—we weren’t concerned about what denomination you were in . . . all we cared about is ARE YOU WITH JESUS? That’s all we need to know!
Then as the Jesus Movement “matured” some in the denominations realized they had to get a handle on it or join it in some form—new associations were formed (e.g., Calvary Chapel, Gospel Outreach) . . . new “independent churches” were birthed, and, even new “Christian cults” were started by dynamic leaders “in total control.”
Some of us were gathered together near Santa Rosa, California by the hundreds (perhaps 2,000) – from all kinds of “Jesus People” types. Yes, sundry ministries, various emphases, but all under Christ, the Head of His One Body. We invited some “deep brethren” to address us – fellowship with us – they proceeded to inform us that what “you have” is wonderful but there’s a problem: “You’re not under authority.” In other words: WE WERE OUT OF CONTROL.
It was over—any semblance of a “Jesus Movement” died that day—the sheep were scattered. Sure, once in a great while we gather and talk about “the old days” when we . . . but if we weren’t going to come “under authority” under some form of “discipleship” – then, we were just in some form of rebellion and OUT THE DOOR YOU GO!
There were, and still are, some true apostles of the Lord who were and still are able to raise up “ekklesia” but know how to keep their hands off it and allow the saints, equipping them, to exercise their gifts for the “work of the ministry” in the “building up of the Body of Christ” . . . but that’s so rare, so very rare. No, if it gets out of control, the fire might rage on!
Were those final days of the Jesus Movement federated? Only in the most informal fashion—but even then, we were vulnerable for another “organized entity” to do us much harm. You see, if we would have maintained our GORILLA WARFARE tactics, we would have caused the enemy of our souls, much destruction. We were “teaming up” with other ministries “and in nothing terrified by our adversaries, which to them was an evident token of their perdition [destruction] but to you of salvation and that from God” (Phil. 1:27).
SUMMING IT UP
The EKKLESIA is organic – it’s not designed to be organized by man, but under the headship of Him Who is the Head of the Body. Once we try to “organize it” – it’s the sounding of the death nil. Yes, God’s people desperately need to come together – ekklesia needs to occur – ministries need to team up – but above and beyond that don’t think for a minute that God’s Spirit can be contained in your little framework? It can’t.