In the previous parts of this series we examined the establishment of the prophet, as well as the other Fivefold ministry offices within the Church. We also established the fact that the Church Age began with all the Fivefold ministry offices in operation, and that they were all intended by God to be functioning throughout the duration of the Church Age. Unfortunately, however, according to history, that is not at all what transpired.
The account of what did happen is of vital importance in order to understand clearly why a move of God to restore the ministry of the Prophet (as well as the Apostle) into its rightful place of function within the Church became necessary. Without the backdrop of Church history, it is difficult to fully understand the significance of the “times of refreshing” and “periods of restoration” (Ac. 3:19) which have transpired over the last four-hundred-ninety-five years in order to bring restoration of what was lost in the Church less than three hundred years after its inception. The intent of this part of the series is to put this matter of the demise and restoration of the Fivefold Ministry Gifts into its proper perspective within the framework of Church history. Thus, it is only a very simplistic overview of Church history that is presented. For those desiring a more comprehensive study of the subject of Church History, many volumes are readily available in bookstores, libraries, and on the Internet.
Birth of The Church
There are several schools of thought regarding the birth of the Church. Some say it was born on the Day of Pentecost. Others argue that since Jesus was the “first-born of many brethren,” He was, thus, the first member of the Church, and therefore the inception of the Church was the birth of Jesus. Still others contend that the Church began on Easter morning when Jesus rose from the dead, thereby becoming “the first‑born from the dead” and the first member of the Church. Still others point to Jesus’ Baptism in the Spirit as the day the Church was born, and some even say the Church was born when Jesus entered the upper room and breathed upon the disciples to impart the Holy Spirit to them following His resurrection and priestly ascension. None of those theories is without merit. Yet, more important than the Church’s nativity is the fact that it was indeed born in power and that it was born with all of the ministry giftings of Jesus in operation.
Infancy of the Church
Most theologians do agree that the Church’s period of “infancy” began sometime around 30 A.D. and lasted to about 100 A.D. During this period, the Church is often referred to as “the Early Church.” The growth of the Church and the record of supernatural events occurring during the Church’s infancy is phenomenal and truly amazing. History bears out that the number of those associating themselves with the Church in Jerusalem grew from the one hundred and twenty who congregated in the upper room to several hundred thousand within the first year alone. Moreover, though the early disciples did not launch out from the Jerusalem Church to begin fulfilling the “Great Commission” of Christ to evangelize the Gentile nations until they were forced to do so by the great persecution which arose in connection with the martyring of Stephen, within the first forty years of the Church’s existence, the Gospel apparently, according to the Apostle Paul, had been preached “unto every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23).
This is significant in that there is much to-do made today about the return of Christ being contingent upon “the preaching of the Gospel to every nation and tribe,” and so on, especially by those who with vested interest extol the importance of modern media such as television as a primary vehicle for the fulfillment of that prerequisite. Yet, if the chief contingency for the return of Christ was merely the dissemination of the Gospel to every tribe and nation, then Christ would have surely returned around 62 A.D. when Paul wrote in the Colossian Epistle that the Gospel had already been preached to “every creature under Heaven,” that is to say, ostensibly—to every person alive at that time.
Power But Not Perfection
The Book of Acts records the plethora of supernatural events that took place in the early days of the Church through the early Apostles. It gives us a record of God’s performance of the promise He gave to the disciples at the outset of the Book—that when the Holy Ghost came upon them, they would be endued with supernatural power by which they would be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Ac. 1:8). This record gives us more than ample evidence that the Early Church indeed possessed great POWER.
Nevertheless, Christ did not return to claim the Early Church as His Bride. Why not? The answer is that something else was yet required in order for the Church to be the Bride suitable unto Christ. What could have been lacking? Though the Early Church did indeed possess a measure of power for service, and though that power enabled the early disciples to be powerful witnesses of the resurrected Christ unto the entire world, it was not the power she manifested that would make the Church-Bride suitable unto Christ. The prerequisite for eternal communion of Christ and the Church is not power, but PERFECTION, that is to say—MATURITY.
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13)
The above passage indicates that the Church Age will culminate with the eternal marriage of Christ to His Church-Bride when the Body of Christ has become ONE “MATURE MAN” (one, united, completed, fully matured Body), unto the full measure of the stature of the FULLNESS of Christ Himself. It is only then that the Church will be a suitable Bride for Christ, when she is “in all her GLORY, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but…holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:27). It is then—when the Church has been glorified—that Christ will return to claim the Church as His Eternal Bride.
“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time. (Ac 3:17-21)
This verse above also indicates that Christ cannot return until the Church has reached full maturity. It explicitly states that Heaven must RETAIN Christ until “all things about which God spoke through the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient times” are totally restored during all the divinely appointed “periods of restoration” which have and will yet take place. Christ will not return one “nano-second” before the full maturation of the Church and until the complete restoration of all things that shall be restored within the Church has taken place through the Apostles and Prophets. Neither Israel, nor events in the nations of the world, are the weather-vane to watch to decipher the imminence of Christ’s return, but rather—the CHURCH! Christ is not coming back to claim a country in the Middle East, i.e., natural Israel, as His Eternal Bride, but rather, spiritual Israel, i.e., the Church—”a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a HOLY NATION, a PEOPLE FOR GOD’S OWN POSSESSION” (1 Pet. 2:9)!
FORCED WEANING FROM JUDAISM—DESTRUCTION OF JERUSALEM—70 A.D.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” (Mat. 5:17)
Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He was what all the types and shadows of the Old Testament represented. He was the Mediator of a NEW Covenant (Heb. 12:24). His appearance and the redemption He purchased with His shed blood rendered the Old Covenant ordinances and oblational sacrifices as the way unto rightstanding with God null and void. The New Covenant in Christ’s blood superseded the Old Covenant, and made it forever obsolete. When He came, Jesus plainly declared, “I am THE WAY, the Truth, and the Life, no man can come unto the Father, except by Me” (Jn. 14:6). Jesus Christ inaugurated “a new and living way” (Heb. 10:20) of access into the Holy Place of fellowship with God through the veil of His fleshly vicarious death. The ceremonies and rituals of Judaism were no longer “the way” but rather Jesus was now the only WAY. Since Jesus was the fulfillment of the types and shadows of the Old Covenant, Judaism with its rituals and observances was no longer necessary, and thus became obsolete with the coming of Jesus (Heb. 8:6-13).
Nevertheless, the Early Church refused to break its ties with the customs and rituals of Judaism for forty years after the ascension of Christ. The Jewish Church as a whole just could not get themselves to fully disassociate their faith in Christ for salvation from the ancient traditions of the religion of their forefathers, though it was now as “unauthorized” as the false religions of Rome, Greece, and Babylon.
Many today who receive the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior also are not able to fully separate their faith in Christ from the rituals and observances of the religion in which they have been reared. Such is the case with some contemporary so‑called Messianic‑Jewish believers, who while professing faith in Christ as the Messiah, also continue to practice Judaistic liturgies and rituals in so‑called “New Testament Judaism” churches. The Truth is that there is no such a thing as “New Testament Judaism.” Such groups are nothing more than modern‑day Galatian Churches, with the same unfortunate result that they “have been severed from Christ…seeking to be justified by the (Jewish) law; and…have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). In a similar way, some Catholics, Lutherans, and Episcopalians professing faith in Christ, continue to practice unscriptural rituals and observances, recite unscriptural creeds and liturgies, and to adhere to unscriptural doctrines after being Born Again and receiving the Baptism in the Spirit. This is error. True believers are to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17), and assemble together with an element of the one and only true Church (Heb. 10:25), which God’s Word tells us is comprised of both Jews and Gentiles (1 Cor. 12:13).
Therefore, because the Early Church refused to obey God’s charge to disengage themselves from the traditions of Judaism in order to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth (Jn. 4:23), the Lord Himself, in order to demonstrate the utter obsolescence of Judaism, divinely orchestrated the virtual annihilation of the city of Jerusalem along with the most sacred icon of Judaism—Solomon’s Temple. On August 10, 70 A.D., the Roman Army under the command of General Titus attacked and invaded Jerusalem, pillaging, plundering, and destroying. The devastation was complete: Josephus calculated that 1,100,000 Jews were killed in the city; another 257,660 were killed in surrounding areas; and 97,000 other Jews were taken captive. Even Titus acknowledged divine assistance in bringing destruction to Jerusalem: “We have fought with God on our side; and it is God who pulled the Jews out of these strongholds: for what could machines or the hands of men avail against such towers as these?”
Yet, not one Christian perished in the destruction of the City of David, because unlike the disbelieving Jews, the Church heeded Jesus’ warning:
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart…because these are DAYS OF VENGEANCE, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled” (Lk. 21:20-21).
Solomon’s Temple caught on fire and burned to the ground. The heat was so intense that the gold and other precious metals melted and ran in between the blocks of the foundation. The soldiers disassembled the temple stone by stone to retrieve the gold and precious metals, fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy concerning the Temple (Mat. 24:1-2). With the destruction of the City of David and the Temple of Solomon, God resoundingly reiterated that His official Headquarters and place of habitation was no longer in the Law and Tabernacle of Moses, or in Solomon’s Temple, and not even in Jerusalem, but was now in the Church. With this annihilation of the last remaining icon of Judaism, God’s intent was to obliterate the last remaining vestige in the minds of all Jewish believers henceforth of reliance upon the rituals of Judaism as the means of gaining rightstanding with God.
GREAT PERSECUTION—90 A.D. to 313 A.D.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem, the Church began to undergo years of persecution. The previous persecutions were a result of divine discipline, the goal of which was to force the early disciples to obey God’s commands and thereby carry out His plans and purposes for the promulgation of the Gospel in all the world. The continuous years of persecution that started around 90 A.D., however, unlike the previous few intermittent persecutions and including the destruction of Jerusalem, was authored by Satan, the Church’s arch-adversary (1 Pet. 5:8), in an attempt to destroy the Church. These persecutions were examples of occasions in which the wrath of the wicked is poured out against the righteous (1 Tim. 3:12). This was the kind of suffering—”according to the will of God”—that the Apostle Peter was alluding to in his letter addressed to those believers who were residing “as aliens, scattered (by the persecution) throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,” to whom he wrote this exhortation: “Therefore, let those also who SUFFER ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:19).
The persecution of the Church served to keep it purified and purged of hypocritical, deceptive, dishonest, and insincere tares for nearly 300 years. It kept the chaff separated from the wheat in that becoming a Christian meant possible loss of citizenship, imprisonment, occupational repercussions, monetary deprivation, torture, possible crucifixion, burning at the stake, being made public sport of by being thrown to wild animals, abduction, sexual and physical abuse of the young women, enslavement, and other heinous treatment.
Eventually, on the basis that it was a threat to Roman customs, laws, mercantile mores, polytheism, and the social class system, Christianity was actually outlawed during the era of the Great Persecution, and all Christians were stripped of their rights of citizenship within the Roman Empire.
DETERIORATION—313 A.D.—Dark Ages
Great Persecution Ends
The Great Persecution of the Church ended with Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Toleration in 313 A.D., which sanctioned Christianity and outlawed persecution of Christians. Constantine favored Christians and encouraged all his constituents to convert to Christianity as their religion simply by way of declaration rather than by virtue of a true Born Again experience.
The Church had passed through periods of preservation to periods of persecution and now had come to a period of political prosperity.
Seventy years after Constantine’s Edict Of Toleration, Emperor Theodosius took it a step further and actually made Christianity compulsory and the official state religion of the Roman Empire. This was the final blow against any remaining hope for the preservation of Truth and purity by the Church. With this imperial act, the Church had begun its darkest hour, what became known as—The Dark Ages.
Corporate Great Apostasy
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
The verse above is prophetic reference to the Great Apostasy for the corporate Church, concerning which the Apostle Paul prophesied. During this age of spiritual darkness, the Truth was subverted by humanistic ideologies and vain philosophies—the doctrines of demons of which Paul forewarned (cf. Col. 2:8). Eventually, nearly all the foundational teachings and doctrines of the Church were distorted, perverted, diluted, invalidated, or totally abandoned.
One of the primary causes of this horrendous spiritual debacle was the fact that the Bible was taken out of the hands of the saints. Common believers were prohibited from reading the Bible and eventually from even possessing one, on the basis that uneducated commoners were not qualified to rightly divide and interpret Scripture; that was a task for which only the academically educated theologians were fit. Only these Roman Catholic clerics were allowed to read, study, and interpret Scripture. Theologians whose theology was based more and more on the unscriptural, humanistic writings of the medieval European philosophers, told the people what to believe and established their own humanly-conceived and unscriptural doctrines, many of which are still the premise for doctrines espoused today in some mainline denominations. As a result, the light of personal spiritual illumination soon grew extremely faint, and eventually great darkness prevailed over the Church, for it is the entrance of the Word of God that gives light or illumination (Ps. 119:130).
By now the Roman Catholic (Universal) Church was the only sanctioned religion of the Roman Empire. It was officially part and parcel of the Empire. Since they were usually the most highly educated, clerics often held the highest political posts. As a whole, Roman Catholic clerics had become a corrupt corps of elitist ecclesiastical bureaucrats, imperialistic viceroys, and hyper-religious agents provocateurs bent on malevolent domination of the plebian common folk, operating under the auspices of what Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) termed, libido dominandi—lust for rule or dominance.
Jesus’ apocalyptic admonition to two of the Asia Minor churches some two‑hundred years before this time plainly conveys His utter disdain for the premise of such ecclesiastic hierarchical sovereignty over the saints. He commended the Ephesian church saying, “Yet this you do have (in your favor), that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, WHICH I ALSO HATE” (Rev. 2:6). On this score, He condemned the Pergamum church, however, saying, “I have a few things against you” (Rev. 2:14) among which one charge was that some among them “hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (Rev. 2:15), which He follows with this solemn command: “Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Rev. 2:16). The components of the term “Nicolaitans” (“nico” = to conquer; “laitans” = laity) combine to convey the thought of: “those who conquer the laity.” The Nicolaitans were the beginning of what became the elite corps of Roman Catholic clergymen. (It is interesting to note that the term “priest” was not used as an attribution to the clergy until after the Second Century as the Nicolaitan doctrines became more widespread.)
The Early Church leaders sought to heed Jesus’ teaching that the greatest among them were to be servants of all, and were not to “lord it over” the flock of God (Mk. 10:42-45). But as the Spirit of Christ diminished in the Church, the desire for power, prestige, prominence, and preeminence by the clergy increased. SERVITUDE was soon supplanted by SELF‑AGGRANDIZEMENT among clergymen in the Church.
The Church Age began with the ministry offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in operation (Eph. 4:11; 1 Cor. 12:28-31). These men were the overseers and elders who provided shepherding and oversight to the Flock of God. Early Church ministers were men who had responded to a solemn calling and responsibility; they were not seeking a position, power, prestige, prominence, or preeminence over fellow believers comprising the Church.
Fivefold Ministry Gifts Abrogated, Subverted, and Replaced
Unfortunately, however, the Pharisee Spirit (Mat. 3:7; 5:20; 12:14; 16:6; et al.), which has always plagued the Church, was never completely purged from the Early Church. Consequently, the Ministry Offices/Gifts were eventually abrogated, subverted, and replaced by a religious hierarchy (the papal system of bishops, arch-bishops, cardinals, and a pope) through which the clergy “lorded over” the people. The Nicolaitan clerics craved dominance and control. Their strategy was to subjugate the people of God under them for their own selfish gain. Jesus emphatically declared that He hated their demonically inspired teaching and their deeds (Rev. 2:6).
Other Doctrinal Deviation During Dark Ages
Some of the other major departures from the Truth occurring during this time which contributed to the deterioration of the Church were: the replacement of simplistic and spontaneous worship in the Spirit, the only true worship (Jn. 4:23-24), by formalistic liturgy (“holding to a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” [2 Tim. 3:5]); conversion of pagan customs into Christian rituals and observances; the institution of the practice of penance; the integration of religious icons as objects of devotion and other religious paraphernalia as supposed aids in worship; the veneration of Mary; and, the canonization of departed saints.
Although there were a few sparks of would-be reform during The Dark Ages, each was eventually extinguished, and for 1,200 years the Church languished in its corporate “Great Apostasy.” (cf., 1 Tim. 4:1-2)
Primary Cause of The Dark Ages Debacle
The holistic abrogation, subversion, and replacement of the Fivefold Ministry Offices through which Jesus intended for the Church He was building to be governed and spiritually edified with a humanly contrived and appointed ecclesiastical hierarchy of human clerics that were neither anointed nor appointed by God to lead and instruct the Church is the primary cause behind the twelve centuries of spiritual debacle and deconstruction known as The Dark Ages.###
In the next part of this series, we will examine the history of the restoration of the Fivefold Ministry Offices from its inauspicious beginnings to the present day as it continues in the 21st Century.