Regaining What Was Lost
In the 16th century, a movement began, called the Protestant Reformation, that challenged the authority and doctrines of the Catholic Church. As a result, schisms developed and various Protestant churches were formed, each claiming itself as the ‘true church.’ This was a time of great dissent and even warring among Christians. But in spite of its ‘rough and tumble’ beginning, this movement made significant progress in causing the individual Christian to think on his own and to read the Bible for himself. And the agitation caused the Catholic Church to engage in some self-examination and reformation of its own.
The new Protestant churches dismantled the clergy/laity distinctions and established a more brotherly-like spirit within their groups. They abandoned much of the manmade doctrines and burdensome rituals, and sought to regain the liberty Jesus proclaimed in the 1st century. However, in time, most Christians lost their incentive to ‘find Christ for themselves’ and again entrusted their faith into the custody of men, thus falling back into spiritual slavery. And more importantly, they failed to re-establish the work that Jesus required each of his followers to do, not just those taking the lead:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:19-20
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Over the next few centuries, the reform movement continued as individuals and small groups continued to break away from their churches to form new sects that they believed more accurately followed the true teachings of Jesus. An interesting development occurred in the 19th century when a young man, Charles Taze Russell, formed a sect of Christianity based on his understanding of scripture.
Pastor Russell’s vision of a true church was a loosely connected network of congregations where all members were brothers. There were to be no clergy/laity distinctions and he abhorred the idea of becoming another controlling hierarchical religious organization. He also saw the importance of every member of the sect engaging in the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ Today, the major offshoot of the sect Pastor Russell started is known as Jehovah’s Witnesses who are famous (or infamous) for their door to door preaching work. Yet, in spite of its auspicious beginning, Jehovah’s Witnesses have become a mirror image of the very thing Pastor Russell abhorred. And again, free Christianity was back in bondage to men.
It seems that every time Christianity takes two steps forward, it takes one step back. It’s growth and maturity is slow moving because it fails to appreciate that the world has already been delivered! Remember Jesus words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
– Luke 4:18-21
Jesus has already released mankind from bondage and given him liberty. He is the Supreme Savior who is also a Supreme Upholder of his deliverance. ‘No one can snatch us from my Father’s hands.’ (John 10:27-30) Jesus set the mind and body free to join the already free spirit that dwells in us.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”
– 1 Corinthians 3:16
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
– 2 Corinthians 3:17
Let us not minimize the importance of Jesus’ first advent. During his ministry, he did everything for us that needed to be done to bring about liberty. He did not fail. His deliverance of mankind has been an undefeatible constant on earth ever since that time. Only the unbeliever and those who fail to follow the plain and open teachings of Jesus and the leadings of the spirit remain enslaved. Thus, the Christian challenge is not to pray for deliverance, but to spread the message to all men of liberty already won so that those who choose to accept their God-given liberty can stand up and be free. Liberty, true spiritual liberty, is only one consecrated decision away from each of us!
Imagine if all of Christianity knew and accepted their power as sons of God, not slaves to men. Imagine if we ‘set your minds on things above’ (Colossians 3:2) and joyfully acknowledged the existence and presence of our celestial family who is eager to support all who are consecrated to doing the ‘perfect will of God.’ This multitudinous enhanced spirit movement will cause the change we all long for. It will surely bring Heaven down!