FRAMEWORK OF THE EARLY CHURCH
What made the early church the dynamic and powerful organization that changed the course of history and why did it disappear into obscurity?
The answer to these questions reveal the reasons for the early church’s demise, its continued obscurity for many centuries, and why it will rise out of obscurity and become more dynamic and powerful before Christ returns than in its beginning.The apostle Paul reveals the framework and organizational structure of the early church in his letters to the elect at Corinth, Rome, and Ephesus. It is within this structure that we find the functions, responsibilities, and supernatural abilities, attributes, and authorizations of power that made the early church so dynamic and powerful.
When this organizational structure is again implemented by those truly dedicated to performing the functions and responsibilities their heavenly Father has called them to fulfill in this gospel age of salvation, the church will rise out of obscurity to perform a dynamic and powerful witness and warning to the world. This rise will begin and end the following prophecy recorded by Habakkuk, which was meant for the Father’s elect and the modern day Israelites scattered among the nations:
“Behold you among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which you will not
believe, though it be told you” (Hab.1:5 KJV).
When Paul spoke to both Jews and Gentiles at Antioch he indicated that Christ partially fulfilled this prophecy recorded by Habakkuk:
“Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: “Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you” (Acts 13:38-41 NIV).
A Witness and Greater Works
Christ said that, before he returned, the Father’s good news message would go to all nations as a witness. He also said that those who believe (i.e., truly believe) would do greater works that he did:
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt.
“Truly, truly, I tell you, he that believes on me, the works that I do he shall also do, and greater works, than these he shall do; because I go to the Father. And whatever you will ask in my name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the son. If you will ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (Jn.14:12-14 Para.).
The biblical record tells us that the Sovereign God gave his holy spirit (i.e., his spirit power) to Christ without limits (Jn.3:34) and Christ performed awesome supernatural works using this power. On one occasion, Christ said that nothing would be impossible for those who had the faith to use this power (Matt.17:20). It is through the Sovereign God’s spirit-power that his elect are given abilities and powers above and beyond those of normal humans (i.e., gifts of the spirit) to preform these greater works before Christ returns to establish his heavenly Father’s government on earth.
Although the Bible is the most published and read book in the world, the Father’s true good new message has not been preached to the entire world for a witness. As powerful as the apostolic church age was in the performance of their responsibility to proclaim the Father’s message, they did not do a greater work than Jesus. However, some of the Father’s elect who will live just before Christ returns will do this greater work.
They will do a greater work because they will have the kind of faith, power, and protection necessary to do a greater work. See Dan.11:31-32; Jn.14:12-14; Rev.11:1-6.
A DEPARTURE FROM THE FAITH
Paul said to the Galatians, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel:
Which is not another; but there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal.1:6-7 KJV). See also
Paul warned Timothy,
Now the spirit speaks expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1.Tim.4:1-2 KJV). “For the time will come when they [the elect] will not accept sound teaching . . .. And they shall not pay attention to the truth, and shall turn it away, and shall be turned instead to fables” (2.Tim.4:3-4Para.).
Many who fellowshipped in the congregations of the early church would not accept sound teaching. They sought out teachers who would teach things that were pleasing to them and things that did not require their obedience to God’s laws, precepts, and principles. To deceive the gullible and the spiritually lazy, these teachers replaced truth with error and taught mysticism and other philosophies that appeal to human nature.
The Prophecy of Zechariah
The answers to the perplexing questions concerning the demise and disappearance of the early church are only partly answered by the warnings of Jesus and the apostles. Additional answers, are found in a prophecy recorded by Zechariah. Matthew, Mark, and John all record Jesus quoting the first part of this prophecy that foretold the scattering of Jesus’ disciples after his death:
“All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered abroad” (Matt.26:31 KJV). See also Mk.14:27; Jn.16:32.
This is an extremely important prophecy because the rest of the prophecy, which Jesus did not quote, allows us to understand why the early church ceased to exist as a powerful entity:
“I will turn my hand upon [i.e., against] the little ones” (Zech.13:7 KJV).
The little ones mentioned here are the Father’s elect who are mentioned in many scriptures (see Matt.8:12; 18:3-10; 19:13-14; Mk.9:42).
But, why would the Lord of hosts turn against the little ones? And why did Jesus omit this prophecy? The reason for the rejection of the little ones is that they would reject the “faith once delivered” and cease to be zealous for truth. The reason that Jesus did not quote the rest of this prophecy is that it was a different prophecy, which was to be fulfilled at a different time. The second part of this prophecy began its fulfillment during the apostolic church age and will continue to be fulfilled until shortly before Christ returns.
The Early Church Became Corrupted
The early church failed to hold onto the “faith once delivered” and became corrupted with false and misleading teachings about the Sovereign God, his ways, and his plan for humanity. Because of the persistent corruption of God’s truth, the once dynamic and powerful entity that Jesus established for his heavenly Father on the Feast of Pentecost began to collapse from within.
As the early church became more and more corrupted by evil individuals the gifts of the spirit which made the elect a dynamic and powerfully entity were no longer sought after, understood, or manifested to any great degree.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and following the death of the apostle John, the organized preaching of the gospel on a powerful basis ceased. The elect were persecuted and their numbers were greatly reduced by the Romans. They became scattered and eventually disappeared into obscurity. Centuries of intense persecution forced the church to go underground. Until the 19th century, the only remaining records of the early church were written by their enemies. A careful study of prophecies about the Sovereign Father’s true body of believers clearly shows that the church Jesus built will remain small and obscure until just before his return at the end of this age of human rule.
The prophecies about the end of the age show that just before his return, Christ will again establish a dynamic and powerful people to proclaim his Father’s good news message and his coming Kingdom to rule the earth.
During this time many of the Father’s elect will become unified in belief and filled with dynamic supernatural spirit-power. Many will manifest the authorizations of the early church and more, which is noted by the prophecies about the Two Witnesses, the Third Elijah, and in Daniel 11:31-32.
It is likely that some of the people whom Jesus will use in a dynamic way in the end of this age will come out of six of the seven church groupings noted in the Book Revelation, chapters two and three. These will be awakened out of their spiritual lethargy and begin performing the functions and responsibilities they were originally called to do. During this time, many of the elect will have the ability to defy the laws of the physical universe with their miracle working power. Moreover, no physical or spiritual power will be able to stop them from doing their God-given tasks.
A Short Time Before Christ Returns
Daniel chapter 12, verses 1-4 speak about the troublesome times a few years before Christ returns, the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous, the wise, and the increase in knowledge:
“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince whichstands for the children of your people (i.e., all Israelites): and there
shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be
delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But you, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Dan.12:1-4 KJV).
It is apparent that the wise who turn many to righteousness during the time of trouble, which is a few years before Christ returns, are the elect who truly understand the reason they were offered salvation and know the functions and responsibilities that they are expected to perform within their heavenly Father’s earthly family. These are the ones that will participate in the greater work Christ spoke of just before he returns. But, how will these individuals know what to do and how to do it?
They will know because they will have searched the scriptures in order to understand the structure of the early church and the functions, responsibilities, and gifts of the spirit that made the early church so dynamic and powerful.
The Elect at Corinth
The congregation at Corinth was a dynamic, evangelizing group of the elect, but they were having problems maturing spiritually. Therefore, Paul’s letters to them contained many reprimands about sinful attitudes and behaviors and instructions regarding how to live righteously. It is within this context that Paul lists many supernatural abilities the Father gives to his earthly children in order for them to mature spiritually and perform their various functions and responsibilities in an organized manner:
“Now concerning the spiritual [not “spiritual gifts”], brethren, I would not have you ignorant. You know that you were Gentiles,
carried away to these dumb idols, even as you were led. Therefore I give you to understand, that no one speaking by the spirit of God calls Jesus accursed: and that no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the holy spirit. Now there are various gifts, but the same spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are differences of operations, but it is the same God which works all in all. But the manifestation of the spirit is given to everyone to profit” (1.Cor.12:1-7 KJV Para.).
The word gifts in verse 1 is not in the Textus Receptus and was added by the King James translators, therefore it has been omitted. The addition of the word gifts obscures Paul’s intent to urge the elect to desire things pertaining to godly spirituality (i.e., godly characteristics).
It is apparent from verses 1 through 12 that the supernatural abilities the Father gives are to be used in a unified organizational structure to perform the collective work in which he has called each of the elect to participate.
“For to one is given by the spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same spirit; To another faith by the same spirit; to another the gift of healing by the same spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another different kinds of languages; to another the interpretation of languages: All these are the work of one and the same spirit, and he gives them to each person, as he wills. For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1.Cor. 12:8-12 KJV Para.).
In verses 8 through 12, Paul mentions the following supernatural abilities which are given to individuals within the Father’s earthly family: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, different kinds of languages, and the interpretation of languages.
In verses 28-31, Paul again mentions some of the same abilities he mention previously along with these additional ones: apostles, prophets, teachers, helps, and governments:
“And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing,
helps, governments, different kinds of languages. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Have all the gift of healing? do all speak with various languages? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet I show to
you a more excellent way” (1.Cor.12:28-31 KJV Para.).
The English words first, secondarily, and thirdly are translated from the Greek words proton, deuteros, and tritos, which respectively mean first, second, and third in time, place, order, or importance. By stating that “God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,” Paul reveals the hierarchical structure of the church.
The Hierarchical Structure
Although it is beyond the scope of this study to go into great detail regarding the hierarchical organizational structure of the early church, it is important to give an overview of this structure in order to understand that this same structure may well be implemented by Christ as the church emerges out of obscurity to perform a powerful witness to the world.
An analysis of the organizational structure of the early church shows apostles, prophets, and teachers (1.Cor.12:28) being the three offices which governed and directed the church and its collective work. Within this organizational structure were other men performing various functions, such as bishops, pastors, elders, evangelists, prophets (both predictors of future events and inspired speakers), and men given the task to care for widows. It is within this structure that all of the gifts of the spirit that the Father gives to individuals must be exercised for the benefit of the elect and their collective work. It is also clear that, in order for the church to function as a dynamic and powerful entity, each of the elect must understand and use the supernatural abilities they have been given.
The Elect at Rome
Paul explains to the elect at Rome that all of the various supernatural abilities, functions, and responsibilities that the Father gives individuals are to work together in a unified manner for the benefit of all the elect:
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,
which is your logical service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you
may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom.12:1-2 KJV Para.).
In order to become a living sacrifice, we must truly dedicate ourselves to a holy lifestyle. When we totally give ourselves to practicing a sinless life and to the work we have been called to do, then we are doing what the Father expects of us as a living sacrifice.
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than they ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom.12: 3-8 KJV Para.).
Here, Paul mentions several supernatural abilities he did not mention to the elect at Corinth, among which are prophecy (predictions), ministry, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy.
The Elect at Ephesus
In his letter to the elect at Ephesus, Paul list apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers which all require supernatural abilities, attributes, and authorizations of power in order to perform their responsibilities adequately:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the
saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we are no more children,
tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the deceitful scheming and trickery of people, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up to him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body to the edifying of itself in godly love” (Eph.4:11-16 KJV Para.).
The problem we face when studying the gifts of the spirit is that these gifts and the explanation of what they are and the purpose for which they are given is scattered throughout the biblical record. So, we must view the study of these supernatural abilities in the light of what the Creator inspired the prophet Isaiah to record about the acquisition of knowledge and understanding:
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and
drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” (Isa.28:9-10 KJV).
In Isaiah 28:9, the English phrase shall he make to understand is translated from the Hebrew word biyn, which means to separate mentally (or distinguish), i.e., (generally) to understand. The English word doctrine is translated from the Hebrew word shemuw`ah, which means something heard, i.e., an announcement.
Clearly, if we are to comprehend what the Father has recorded in the biblical record for the elect, we must move beyond an academic understanding of the Hebrew and Greek languages. Being “weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts” means to have the foundational truths of salvation firmly fixed in our mind and be in the process of moving toward spiritual maturity.
Although gifts of the spirit were abundant during the beginnings of the early church, some of the elect were spiritually immature and were not using these abilities correctly or to their full potential.
The Elect at Corinth
From what Paul writes to the elect at Corinth, there is no doubt that the Father had given many of these individuals supernatural abilities to proclaim his message of salvation and to grow in godly character, but they were having difficulty maturing spiritually:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual, but as to carnal, even as to babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not
with meat: for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet now are you able. For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not carnal, and walk as humans?” (1.Cor.3:1-3 KJV Para.).
After explaining Christ’s experience as a human and who he is now, the writer to the Hebrews reprimands these elect for their lack of diligence to their calling and their spiritual immaturity:
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be
teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone
who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb.5:11-14 NIV).
In order to mature spiritually and exercise the supernatural power we receive at the moment of our adoption into the Father’s family, we must move past spiritual infancy and grow toward spiritually maturity and perfection:
“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance
from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead,
and of eternal judgment” (Heb.6:1-2 KJV).
In Hebrews 6:1, the English word perfection is translated from the Hebrew word teleiotes, which basically means to finish what is begun.
This tells us that, after baptism and receiving the Father’s holy spirit, we are to begin the process of maturing spiritually while performing the functions and responsibilities we are called to perform in this age.
The organizational framework of the early church and how it functioned is clearly described in the biblical record. Also described are many of the supernatural abilities, attributes, and authorizations of power the Father gives to his elect, along with how these gifts are to be applied.
It is evident from the biblical record that, before and after the advent of Christ, in order for an individual to effectively use their supernatural abilities, attributes, and authorizations of power, one must have and maintain a certain level of spiritual maturity and an understanding of why these spiritual gifts have been given to them.
The question for us today is not whether or not the Father gives gifts of the spirit to his elect, because he does. The question is when will the elect reach the level of spiritual understanding and maturity that our heavenly Father requires in order to bestow on us the powerful supernatural abilities, attributes, and authorizations that his elect must have in order to bring this current age of salvation to a close and begin the next phase of his plan for the salvation of humanity.
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