When God Was In Charge

When Jesus’ ekklesia was on the earth (from roughly 30AD to 70AD), God was in charge of it.  Let me recount some highlights in support of my point, with a view toward contrasting Jesus’ one-and-only original ekklesia with “the church” of today.

The Authority and Mission of the Apostles

First of all, we must recognize that the ekklesia was built upon the foundation of the apostles.  This point cannot be lost if we want to maintain an accurate view of what happened and what it all meant.  Consider these facts:

  1. Jesus personally appointed apostles.
    • Luke 6: One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. 13 When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles:
  2. Jesus personally enabled the apostles’ understanding of the scriptures.  (There is no reason from scripture to believe that anyone other than apostles received such help.)
    • Luke 34:45  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
  3. Jesus promised the apostles that after leaving them, he would send a “Helper” to live within them as a constant witness to the “truth”.
    • John 14:16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.
  4. Jesus promised the apostles that he would send the Holy Spirit to teach the apostles “all things”, as well as  to remind them of everything he had said to them.  No such promise is ever repeated to any non-apostle in the scriptures we have.
    • John 14:25 These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.
  5. Jesus promises to throw out any apostle that should not abide in him.  (Note that the context here is in the middle of an extended conversation with the apostles at the Last Supper.)
    • John 15:6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
  6. Jesus’ apostles were personally and fully trained by him, and were counted as his friends.  Thus did he not leave the ekklesia in the hands of anyone who did not know and understand him thoroughly.
    • John 15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.
  7. Jesus promised the apostles, when he appointed them to “bear fruit”, that they would have the continued and unlimited support of God.  No such promise was made to any non-apostle in the scriptures we have.
    • John 15:16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.
  8. Jesus promised the apostles that the Spirit would guide them into “all truth”, not holding back anything from what he hears from the Father, including “things to come”.  They would be authoritative witnesses, therefore, as to what lay ahead for the ekklesia. No such promise was made to any non-apostle in the scriptures we have.
    • John 16:13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.  (See Revelation 1:1 for an example of them being told what was to come.)
  9. Jesus’ intent for the role of the apostles is that others would come to believe “through their word”.  It was a top-down model, in which the apostles were indispensable.
    • John 17:20 I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
  10. Jesus gave the apostles some level of his own “glory” that they could remain unified throughout their tenure as apostles.
    • John 17:22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:
  11. Jesus appointed the apostles to make disciples of “all nations”, teaching as they had been commanded.
    • Matthew 18:18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore[c] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
  12. Jesus made it clear to the apostles that they would be his witnesses all throughout the world, and that they would receive special powers for this task.
    • Acts 1:8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

The Ekklesia

Given this foundation of apostleship, let us now observe some details about how the ekklesia itself operated and was maintained and protected.

  1. The ekklesia was attached both to the apostles’ teaching and to their fellowship from the very beginning.
    • Acts 2:42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.
  2. On at least one occasion, God himself directly intervened and practiced capital punishment in the ekklesia, presumably to keep it pure from incorrigible people.  Fear of further such interventions swept the ekklesia.
    • Acts 5:1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?”She said, “Yes, for so much.”Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. 11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
  3. Hearing about God’s execution of Ananias and Sapphira, outsiders were afraid to join the ekklesia.  Apparently, they would not venture lightly or hypocritically to “join”, as do so many today–when no such interventions from God are in evidence.
    • Acts 5:12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly.
  4. In this way, the difference between true believers and the others was obvious.  Even so, the ekklesia continued to grow significantly–even when the standard of morality was so high and capital punishment was instituted for the disobedient within the ekklesia.  (Church growth today normally comes not from this same sort of purist thinking, but from a “big tent” paradigm.)
    • Acts 4:14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,
  5. When tension rose between groups in the ekklesia, the apostles immediately intervened authoritatively, appointing servants to meet the need.  (And the ekklesia continued to grow in number.)
    • Acts 6:1 Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists,[a] because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
  6. On the one occasion in which the ekklesia’s doctrine changed, the change was initiated by God himself, and was brought first to the apostles’ attention.  (The changes here were that it was now acceptable to eat with Gentiles and to eat foods that had been declared “unclean” under the Law of Moses.
  7. On at least one occasion (the only one for which we have a record), God struck down a political/religious leader (King over Jerusalem) for accepting praise from men who said he had “the voice of God and not of a man”.
    • Acts 12:21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died. 24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
  8. The ekklesia was not only built through the personal journeys of the apostles, but was continually edified by subsequent visits and epistles from the apostles.
    • Acts 14:21  And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”
  9. The letters of the apostles authoritatively answered questions, gave warnings, edified, and instructed the ekklesia.  They were also written to be clearly understood by those in that generation.
    • 2 Corinthians 10:11 Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when we are absent, such we will also be in deed when we are present.
    • 2 Corinthians 12:19 Again, do you think that we excuse ourselves to you? We speak before God in Christ. But we do all things, beloved, for your edification.
    • 2 Corinthians 1:13 For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end
  10. When a widespread dispute of doctrine broke out (concerning the one and only change of doctrine that had occurred in Acts 10 and 11), the apostles convened directly to address the issue and to issue a very clear and decisive position in the matter.
  11. On at least one occasion, when apostles sinned, they were publicly rebuked, and the accounts of such were published.
    • When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
  12. On at least one occasion, apostles wrote to point out the bad behavior of local congregational leaders.
    • 3 John 1:9  I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
  13. On at least seven occasions, Jesus personally dictated letters to local congregations, warning them to repent, congratulating their faithfulness, and telling them of what was to come.
  14. On at least one occasion, Jesus issued a warning to a specific unrepentant Christian, promising to strike her with sickness, and to strike her children dead.  This, he said, would serve as an example to the other congregations that they would all be judged by their deeds, and that they should all fear him.
    • Revelation 2:22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
  15. On at least one occasion, an apostle struck a heretic with a physical ailment, as he had been lying in order to turn someone away from the faith.
    • Acts 13:8  But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.”
  16. On at least one occasion, an apostle promised to come and to confront the “puffed up” people in a congregation.  He even threatened to bring a rod!  Would he have exacted corporal punishment on them?  Or was this threat hyperbolic? We don’t have enough data to know, but the idea of corporal punishment in the ekklesia is not so far fetched when all the other facts in this present article are taken into consideration.
    • 1 Corinthians 4:18  Now some are puffed up, as though I would not come to you. 19But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will, and will know, not the speech of them which are puffed up, but the power. 20For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. 21What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit of meekness?
  17. The apostles specifically instructed the congregations to put certain unrepentant persons out of their fellowship.
  18. God had caused those who ate the Lord’s Supper unworthily to be “weak” and “sick”, and some of them he caused to “sleep”, which most probably means to die.
    • 1 Corinthians 11:29 For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep.

When God Was In Charge

These were the things that happened when God was in charge of his ekklesia.  Practically all these things were based upon and/or implemented through the apostleship–an office that no longer exists.  (No prescription exists in the records we have for any succession of apostleship throughout the generations.)

If this was the type of oversight, guidance, protection, encouragement, education, and accountability that the original ekklesia needed, why would none of these benefits be available if God intended for the ekklesia to continue to this day?  Many will jump in at this point and insist (as I used to do) that the role of the apostles has now been replaced by the Bible.  They claim that, now that the “canon” is established, the apostleship is unnecessary.  Even with multiple copies and versions of the Bible in practically every Christian household, however, we see nothing of this same level of fear and respect for God in the modern “church”.  Nor do we see the unity, the excellence, or the quickness to act in response to crises.  Thus does this explanation fail.

Indeed, the Bible does not write letters of correction to errant congregations today.  The Bible doesn’t punish anybody.  The Bible doesn’t answer new questions put to it.  And if you think it does, just try asking it whether you should have a Teen Ministry, or how many cups you should use in the communion.  Ask it whether you should use musical instruments in the congregational singing.  It will not answer, just as it has not answered in nearly two thousand years.

Even so, many will roll their eyes as if it is obvious that in this post-apostolic age of “the church”, things should be markedly different from the time in which the apostles reigned.  When I ask them to put forth even a shred of prophetic scripture that tells how things were to be any different in the ekklesia after the apostles’ terms had expired, they have nothing to offer.  I am asked, therefore, simply to take their word for such an important assertion with such important implications.

How anyone could argue that the ekklesia as outlined in the passages quoted in this article is the same institution as “the church” today is beyond me.   Clearly, such an assertion is not a rational one, based upon actual evidence.  Instead, it is bald presumption.  Let me count the ways:

  1. In the beginning, there was but one institution, spread out from city to city, and under the direct leadership of but one unified group of apostles.  Today, there are thousands of separate denominations, none of whom are led by Jesus-authorized apostles.
  2. In the beginning, they were taught by apostles that the return of Jesus was imminent in that very same generation.  Today, nobody who teaches that the then-imminent return is still imminent now is an apostle.
  3. In the beginning, God himself rooted out the unrepentant members in the ekklesia, and disciplined them severely, even to death in some instances.  Today, all manner of corruption exists in the churches and no such intervention from God is apparent.
  4. In the beginning, Satan was said to “walk” around “roaring” like a lion. (1 Peter 5:8)  Today, however, we are told that he is “prowling” around, as if in “stealth mode”.
  5. In the beginning, Satan (and perhaps his cohort angels) “masqueraded” as if they were good angels, rather than the evil angels they actually were.  (2 Corinthians 11:14).  Today, however, no credible person reports seeing angels, whether good ones or bad ones.  Instead, we are encouraged to believe that a new and attractive job offer might actually be Satan “masquerading as an angel of light”.  This rips all the plain meaning from this text and reduces it to mere fluff and conjecture.
  6. In the beginning, evil angels were preaching  false doctrine to living humans, harassing the Christians, battling against them in various ways, and even seeking human worship.  (Galatians 1:8Romans 8:38.  1  Corinthians 11:10.  Colossians 2:18.
  7. In the beginning, evil spirits (“demons”), which are to be distinguished from evil angels, for they were not the same, were teaching false doctrine and inviting human worship.  (1 Corinthians 10:20-211 Timothy 4:1)

Since none of these listed conditions apply today, it is not obvious that faithful people today simply would not need the same manner of protection and fortification as did the members of the original ekklesia?

I believe that the only responsible way to interpret the scriptures on this issue is as follows:  the evil angels, along with the demons, were dispatched irreversibly to the Lake of Fire in 70AD, bringing to an end that “wicked and perverse generation”, as well as to the ongoing struggle between mankind and evil interlopers.  With that battle being finally over, it follows quite naturally that a great many things should change on the earth—particularly with respect to God’s interaction on the earth.  Indeed, if the bulk of that interaction had been because of the interloping angels, then it stands to reason that after those angels had been permanently dispatched, God’s interactions would become considerably fewer in number.

This is what I believe we are seeing today.  While many contend that evil in the world today is issuing forth from none other than Satan, I can see no cause to believe that any of it cannot be explained merely by humans exercising their free will to follow their own vices as they see fit.  This includes even genocide, which is quite a naturally-occurring notion amongst those who do not learn to curb their own base instincts.

Those who endeavor to emulate the ekklesia today may well boast that they are in a better spot than the original Christians by way of having “The Bible”, yet such a boast fails to recognize the great number of questions that remain for Bible students.  The amount of doctrinal material that is simply made up is astounding.  They cannot find answers in the Bible even for such simple questions as:

  • How many cups are to be used in the Lord’s  Supper?
  • If women are not to speak in the “worship service”, what about at “Sunday School”?
  • How many elders is a congregation supposed to have?
  • How, exactly, are we supposed to appoint an elder?
  • What are the qualifications for an “evangelist”, and how are we to appoint them?

The list could go on and on, yet today’s churchers seem not to notice that great deficit of original facts that exists today.  They claim the support of the same God who so richly lavished knowledge and direction upon the original ekklesia, and yet the modern “church”, even believing they are somehow more mature than the original ekklesia, cannot show a fraction of the spiritual success or of the aggregate and common knowledge of the original.

It is no stretch at all for me, therefore, to conclude that God is not in charge of “the church” today, nor of any denomination purporting to be “the church”.  Indeed, of the original, we can read quite plainly about the foundation upon which his “body” and “household” was built:

Ephesians 2:20 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone

That “foundation” was removed from the planet with the end of the apostolic reign and of prophecy.  And, as I have already established in many of the passages quoted above, the role of the apostles was to be the conduit through which Jesus himself would continue to work (through the indwelling of the “Helper”, the Holy Spirit).  With the exit of the apostles, therefore, Jesus also exited the planet, for there is no other prescription in scripture for his continued oversight and leadership of any fellowship on the planet.

Therefore, if the foundation of the ekklesia/body/household of God was the apostles, prophets, and Jesus…

And if all three of those elements are now absent…

How could anyone argue that the ekklesia is still here?

If it were so, it would be a foundation-less house.

Such houses, however, were said to be unreliable:

Matthew 7:24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

Is it any wonder, therefore, that the churches today are doing so poorly?!

Jesus, being not only an adult, but a stone mason (“techton” in the Greek) would certainly know the value of having a firm foundation beneath a building.  And these things that he knew literally about the physical world, seem to have been models easily applied in figurative fashion to the spiritual/social world as well.  Thus do we see the strength of his blueprint for the original ekklesia:  a “building” based upon his unchanging self, his personally-trained and befriended apostles, and upon the real-time prophecy that was being driven by the indwelling Holy Spirit in that generation.

Jesus has since removed all of these “stones” from the planet, however.  From this, we may deduce that he did not intend for the “building” (the original ekklesia) to remain, for, if nothing else, surely he would understand that it had no chance of survival once these three foundational “stones” were removed.

The model I present here is certainly plausible, and I believe, even likely.  It is troubled by the fact that the scriptures are so sparse, and that we have no after-the-fact witness describing what happened in 70AD, as well as what it all should be taken to mean.  In light of our humble situation, however, this model is the most likely I can imagine at present, for it fully explains the sad state of “the church” today, pegging it as an anachronistic and ignorant attempt to replicate the original without any of the original spiritual support from God.

No wonder “the church” flounders so miserably today, for even if it imagines itself to be the “building” of God, it cannot place beneath itself the same foundation that God provided for the original.  Yes, it can (and does) imagine that such support is there, but it is nothing more than imagination.  The facts are indisputable.

Jack

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