“I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word”
A sweeping assessment of approximately 2000 years of Church history could be summarised thus… The story of the Church is one of an almost immediate falling away (from revealed New Testament truths and practices) followed by staggered periods of notable recovery.
Such a statement is of course a broad generalization. Much of what is called ‘the Church’ today is still so obviously very far from New Testament purity. On the other hand, a reading of a good Church history book (such as Broadbent’s Pilgrim Church) shows us that there have always been pockets of faithful ones scattered throughout the centuries who have sought in varying measure to maintain New Testament teachings and practices – God always has His remnant! However, in the more mainstream story (as has been summarised above) we see that there has been times and seasons of men returning to an understanding and experience of some New Testament truth. The ever-present danger in all such ‘reforms’ is that people will have a tendency to think and say, “Ah, now we’ve got it,” and from thenceforth to become once again stuck on the treadmill of ‘religion’ instead of being carried along by the moving of the Spirit into the next phase of God’s blessing. John Robinson’s words below are to my mind a timeless piece of godly wisdom that are relevant to every generation no matter how far we may think we have come.
In 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for America aboard the Mayflower. These men, along with their families, had great hopes of finding/founding a society where there would be liberty for them to follow the Lord in the things that had been revealed to their hearts and understanding. A man by the name of John Robinson (who himself stayed behind) sent the departing company on their pilgrim voyage with these earnest words:
“I charge you before God…that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ. If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word. For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of those reformed churches which…will go, at present, no further than the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of His will our God had revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things. This is a misery much to be lamented…”
Clearly John Robinson understood that the voyage being undertaken required not only fortitude in human endeavour but also an attitude of ‘pilgrim spirit’ in their journey on in light and truth if it was all going to be worthwhile.
Paul said that it was quite appropriate that we should be followers of him, that is, in as far as he was following Christ: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” (1 Cor 11:1). We are also told to follow others, that is, those that are godly men, being careful to take special note of their manner of life: “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.” (Heb 13:7). Of course we are first and foremost all to be followers of Christ, but God has given to His Church men who are worthy of esteem and worth taking notice of. The charge of John Robinson so wisely puts this ‘following of others’ into perspective. We must be so careful not to become a follower of men in such a way as to only ever come as far as their limitations allow them.
The reformation was by no means a completed process. Neither has the teaching of the various denominations and movements since that time brought about a full restoration of biblical Christianity. Of course we should receive that which is from God in all of these various groups who in their early days undoubtedly had grasped some truth and revelation of something that God was restoring to His Church. However, if you read the pages of the New Testament with a desire only to conform to its teachings then you will see that there are yet more things to break forth from God’s Holy Word. The single most outstanding issue, which seems so glaringly obvious to me, is the need for genuine Spirit-filled believers to form once again into ‘biblical’ that is, New Testament, churches.
It is wonderful that we understand that salvation is by faith alone. It is a tremendous thing that believer’s baptism (by immersion) is frequently practiced as a testimony of regeneration. It is to our great profit that many nowadays recognise that spiritual gifts are for every generation. Amen to all of these. But surely any honest examination of the pages of the New Testament show us just as clearly that God has set forth His pattern for the churches, showing how they are to meet and function. What good is the wine if it is only contained within a defective wineskin? Jesus said that new wine bottled into an old (wrong) wineskin would only leak out and be lost. No matter what patch-up jobs men may perform on the defective wineskin, God’s assessment is that it is a complete waste of time! A few minor adjustments to an old wineskin will never be sufficient to meet the needs of Christians or satisfy the heart of God. The period of history we call ‘The Reformation’ barely accomplished anything more than the feeblest of modifications in respect of ‘church practices’. Thank God for the light there was and the men who stood for it, but so far as this matter is concerned it was no more than a patch on the old bottle! Few have been bold enough since to reject the old bottle in its entirety and seek to conform to the pattern of the churches of the New Testament.
Note: The above references to ‘wineskins’ and ‘bottles’ are being used interchangeably and have in mind the old leathern type of which Jesus was speaking about in Mark 2:22
My personal desire for myself and exhortation to those who love God’s Word is this: Let us see beyond what Luther saw, what the Anabaptists saw, what the brethren saw (who in some measure did seek to restore the wineskin). Let us go beyond the Pentecostal and Charismatic revivals (the latter also in the ‘house-church’ movement came close to biblical church practices for a while). Let us open the New Testament and read, without preconception, allowing ourselves to be instructed in things that will take us beyond what our predecessors have seen, taught and practiced. Not only must we go beyond them but also we will have to be prepared to go beyond most of those who are known as pastors and teachers around us today. If these men are genuine spiritual teachers then they should have no problem in saying with John Robinson: “If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry…”
Regardless of whatever you have seen thus far and whomever you have been ‘following’, it is always time to ask the question, “Does God have yet more truth to break forth from His Holy Word?” To examine truth in this way with boldness to act upon the things we find in the pages of the New Testament will require us to have a great singleness of mind. Are you willing to be one who is ever moving on in the light of the Word of God irrespective of where men before you and around you may be? Are you going to be willing for God to fill you with the heart and mind of the pilgrim spirit?
The above excerpt of John Robinson’s words is found in numerous Church history books. I have copied here from ‘His waiting Bride’ by E. F. Parkyns.
Related Reading ~ Book Review: His Waiting Bride ~ Edgar Parkyns
Related Reading ~ Bible Study: His Church (study on Biblical Church)