There is a movement afoot in Christianity today, and it is one that is gaining some popularity, especially here in North America. It is not by any means a new movement or feature of Christianity. Indeed, it is one that has existed for centuries upon centuries, and in fact, pre-dates Christianity and has origins stretching back sometime after the Jews returned (in part) from their Babylonian exile. The movement may even be older than this. But whatever the case, it’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over the years depending on a number of factors, and is something that can often be hard to trace because of the grass roots and largely (though not always) unorganized expression this movement takes.
Right now I believe we are seeing a rising tide of Christians who have, for various reasons, deliberately chosen to remove themselves from fellowshipping with any intentionally organized local body of believers. Generally speaking, the people in this historical movement have felt that the fundamentals and purity of the faith have been lost by the masses. They don’t believe God is with anything that is going on in the “establishment.” Thus, being unable to feel at home anywhere, in protest they officially withdraw themselves from a larger assembly of believers, and become wanderers in what they feel is a spiritual wilderness, a wilderness which they have chosen to embrace.
Such individuals picking up on various Biblical themes, consider those like themselves to be part of “a remnant” of believers in the last days, who must “come out” of a corrupt Babylonian church system, and wait upon God to revive a larger work to which they can join themselves. Until then, they will find themselves content to walk almost entirely alone, except for sporadic fellowship they experience through the internet and various conferences that they travel to. Many often see themselves as prophetic types of individuals, like an Elijah, who alone is left to take a stand against Ahab and the prophets of Baal.
I must say up front, that I’m very sympathetic to my brethren who are broken-hearted over the state of affairs we see within Christianity today. I too weep with them. Things are just not as they are supposed to be. The gospel that is preached today is often watered down, and has lost its power. Many act as if righteous and holy living is legalism, and immorality abounds, even amongst those in the ministry. Truth is fallen in the streets, and many abhorrent theologies are proclaimed. There are great excesses amongst folks who seek for signs and wonders, yet at the same time, there are people who make no room for the demonstration of the Holy Spirit whatsoever. In all of these things, it just feels as if Jesus Christ is almost entirely forgotten in the Church, and indeed, at times, it feels like He is never even there. Thus, I understand why many are leaving. Everything is just a giant mess.
But at the same time, while being very sympathetic to the legitimate concerns of those in this “remnant” movement, I believe these Christians have perpetuated some falsehoods of their own, and having so focused on the speck of dust in their brothers eye, they have failed to notice the log in their own. They say that they see, but in such a confession, they only make themselves doubly blind. And in their refusal to remain in fellowship with an intentionally organized local group of believers, and calling upon others to “come out” and join them in the wilderness, they ultimately embrace the carnal and fleshly attitude of a schismatic, and in doing so, truly meet the qualifications of the Biblical definition of a heretic.
I know, these are strong words. But I feel compelled to speak in such a way, because I believe the error perpetuated by these individuals, and the intentional division they bring to the body of Christ, to be very great. Their leaving of the local Church comes from a misreading of what the New Testament Church actually looked like in practice, and their dis-fellowshipping of entire local assemblies is altogether without apostolic precedent whatsoever.
Truth be told, if one truly reads the New Testament as it is actually written, although there are some very strong and vibrant Churches that are found in its pages, the fact of the matter is that the early New Testament Church was often a very messy place, and was far from being the romantic utopia many have falsely imagined it to be. Although we read of great preaching, great power, and a great manifest Presence, we also read about many great problems. In fact, almost every single epistle that is found in the New Testament was written to combat and correct many of the great problems that plagued the early Church. And if we look at things today in light of what we have written in the Scriptures, I believe we will discover the problems we face today are really no different than the problems they faced then.
If you read the New Testament for what it really says, you will find that there were Christians then who are just as caught up in error as Christians are now. On the pages of the New Testament you will find that the same errors that abounded then also abound now. Here is just a random sampling of the problems we find in the New Testament Church that we also find today:
- Sexual immorality and unrighteous living, all being done under the banner of grace.
- The prosperity gospel, teaching that godliness is a means of gain.
- Charismatic chaos, along with false apostles, prophets, and teachers.
- Cessationist tendencies that quenched the gifts of the Spirit in public assembly.
- Ascetic legalisms of the worst kind.
- Cold and lifeless Churches.
- Blatant denials of basic Christian teaching.
- Denominational factions and hero worship.
This list could go on and on, and many other ills could be multiplied. Yet for all of these problems that existed in the Church then, never once do we find anybody ever instructed to withdraw their fellowship from an intentionally gathered local assembly of the saints. Not once. What instead do we find? We find the Lord and His apostles instructing the saints to do the hard thing, and work out the difficulties that existed amongst them. Those in error are encouraged to change, and those who refuse to change, after undergoing Biblical Church discipline, we are encouraged to put out from the Church. But never once are we encouraged to abandon the deliberate and frequent intentional assembling of ourselves together with others who have been born again.
Indeed, it is my conviction that in light of these truths, that those who run around saying they are the remnant, and refuse to gather themselves together in a local assembly of believers, truth be told, are just as carnal as the Church they lament and weep over. They are spiritually immature children who refuse to grow up and prefer to have tantrums in their own sand box, which they confuse with a wilderness. Self-absorbed, and being left largely to themselves, the cancerous ideas that have infected their minds eat them alive, and almost entirely consume them. Thus, many of them begin to imagine that they are spiritually mature, and maybe even prophetic voices crying in the wilderness. But truth be told, they are everything except what they imagine themselves to be.
Indeed, far from being spiritually mature and prophetic voices, these individuals have refused to grow up in the Lord by embracing the cross of Jesus Christ in authentic Christian community. Instead of becoming men who embrace the hard realities of doing life together, they run away from the responsibilities the Lord has placed on them, and the calling Christ truly has on their lives. Instead of confronting the issues of their day and in their Christian community, they shy away from doing the real work of the Lord, and prefer to make-believe they are prophets. And because they refuse to embrace this cross of Christian community and undergo death, like many within the “established” Church today, they become just as cold, dead, and powerless in their ministry. And in the ways of God, death always precedes life, as Passover always precedes Pentecost.
So, running from the call of God on their lives to be intentionally involved in a local Christian community, they withdraw from the saints, and imagine they are one of the few people they know in their city that are actually saved and filled with the Spirit of God. They withdraw from local fellowship, and take their precious little light and hide it from others, except maybe those on Facebook, blogs, and forums, where they lament about the glory having departed from the Church, and how they long to see revival. Such are perhaps, some of you.
Truth be told though, if you truly longed to see the glory of God return to the Church, and longed to see revival, you would not forsake the assembling of yourself together with other born again saints in your town. Instead, you would be actively involved. And even if there were no genuine born again Christians for you to fellowship with wherever you may live, if you are truly following the Lord with all your heart, and are in right standing with Him, the weight of the New Testament suggests that if the life of God is truly in you, fruit will eventually follow. So, even if you are the only born again Christian living in a town in America (which seems very unlikely to me), the onus is upon you to establish an authentic Christian community wherever you are at. If you cannot find any Christians to fellowship with, you must make other Christians to fellowship with. Simply put, Christians make other Christians, and Christians form local Churches.
Again, I know the words in this essay are perhaps hard to hear. But, I really feel we live in a crucial time where the truth of these words must be spoken. Some of what I have said may seem a little over the top, and no doubt, I have employed some hyperbolic language in what I have said. But these words were spoken in nothing but absolute love, not only for the Lord, but also for my brethren, and those who believe themselves to belong to an out-of-Church remnant. It is my hope that you will have ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart that can receive. For I believe this to be the word of the Lord.