The "We-Are-The-Ones" Syndrome
Since the time that the apostle Paul first grappled with the Judaizers over the matter of circumcision, the issues of the identity of the church and the definition of salvation have been at the heart of the church's fiercest contests within itself. This age-long problem has plagued the church's development, yielding a plethora of streams, bodies and groups, each contending for itself as the one true church and rightful heir to the mantle of the first apostles.
For a gospel that has been so simple, how is it possible that such complex battles have emerged to cloud the church's identity and open the gospel's definition to perpetual debate among grown believers?
Faith in Christ is a simple thing. Unfortunately, too simple—i.e., not only too simple for the unregenerate man, but for the regenerate as well. Faith in Christ defies all human wisdom, understanding and effort. Human wisdom and effort seek to redefine salvation in terms of themselves. This is not only true before conversion, but after conversion as well.
But how can this be? Yes, we know that unregenerate men cannot accept the simplicity of faith. But how is it that the regenerate do not as well? How is it that men saved by faith's simplicity later go on to redefine their first faith by their later understandings—understandings which invariably differ from that of others and thus yield contention?
There is a subtle deception here which is hard to perceive, but that gives the answer. As we go on into Christ, and deeper into the things of Christ, we forget that the further revelation and illumination we receive as believers comes processed through what remains of our human makeup. This makeup is our flesh, replete with its vestiges of uncrucified life—its pride of knowledge, its trust in its own efforts—a life subject to the powers of deception and delusion.
Because of our subjection to our remaining fallen state, we are perpetually seduced to take the further light we receive through spiritual growth and, not just build it upon our foundational simple faith, but redefine our first faith in terms of our later light.
This is because more than our heart is blessed by the new light. Our flesh also is blessed and wishes to glory in the truth to its own advantage and to the building up of its own esteem.
Becoming enamoured of the further light we have gained, we find the temptation irresistible to go back and redefine our first faith in terms of this later light, conviction, or experience, whatever it may be. This redefinition is a way for us to subtly distinguish ourselves from "others" who have not received our light, generating to ourselves a sense of self-importance in standing before the Lord at the expense of others.
What does this produce? It produces a false gospel whereby salvation becomes defined as faith in Christ plus adherence to some doctrine or practice of later light.
In turn, to secure the new additional self-esteem we have found through the new truth, we go on to redefine the Church as inclusive only of those who profess faith in Christ plus our new doctrine, practice, or experience. Hence is born the "we-are-the-ones" syndrome. It is the mentality that says, "We alone are the true church."
The Church however is not defined by its later grasp of doctrines and practices illuminated through growth. We were saved long before we had the understandings we obtained after we first professed faith as a "little child." It is the insidious pride attached to our later revelations and spiritual experiences that leads us to redefine the simplicity of the gospel and the composition of the Church.
In some cases, there are those who know better than to tamper with the simplicity of the gospel and the meaning of basic salvation. They are astute enough not to try to add later light to the condition of salvation. Nevertheless, they still attempt to add their light to the definition of the Church.
While they will admit to the existence of true believers outside their fellowship, they yet define the "true church" by their later light. By this device they declare, "We are the only true manifestation of the kingdom of God in the earth." All others outside their adherence to the given doctrine/practice structure are not part of the manifest kingdom, even though they may be "saved."
This distinction however is quite artificial, for the Church consists of all who belong to the Lord, and those who belong to the Lord comprise the Church. These are one and the same, finding their common definition through the simplicity of faith in Christ. It is not possible to be "saved" and not also be a member of God's one true people, the Church.
Part of the problem in identifying the church is the spiritual nature of faith. Since faith in Christ is a spiritual reality, and since the Church is defined solely by that faith, it means that the Church's essential identity is spiritual and cannot be measured physically.
But this is an offense to the flesh. The flesh demands visible measurability for identifying the Church. This unbelieving demand of the flesh is part of what motivates the seduction that redefines the Church by a professable doctrine or manifest practice beyond simple faith.
The flesh's demand for visible measurability is motivated by the root lust for control. Only what is visible can be controlled, and only what is professable or practicable is visible. Control is the ultimate issue behind the redefinition of salvation and the church.
But the truth remains: The church is essentially spiritual. Not until the day that "faith becomes sight" will the Church move from an essentially hidden spiritual identity to an indisputably manifest visibility totally inclusive of all who are saved, exclusive of all who are lost. Such will be the era of the manifest sons of God when all flesh is removed and perfection obtained.
Meanwhile this essentially hidden spiritual nature wreaks havoc on all presumed "sole manifestations of the kingdom" based in fleshly control spun around added light. For not only are there those who are saved outside all presumed bounds of the redefined "church," but there are those within their bounds who are lost, never having known the true faith, destined only for hell.
Moreover, as the simplicity of the faith becomes increasingly adulterated within the redefined church, fewer and fewer entering into profession are truly born again. This is because they have not been converted to Christ, but to a doctrine, a practice, and a certain body of people.
On top of this, as the true light within and outside of such groups grows and changes, the bounds of the "kingdoms" based on the earlier light are shaken. These kingdoms then break apart because they have been built apart from their one true unshakable foundation.
The story of church history is the story of an essentially spiritual race seeking to overcome fleshly redefinition and control based in its later revelations of truth. It is the story of a spiritual people who have succumbed to such delusion in one generation, only to throw off that delusion in the next. Side by side have existed in the same groups people who have retained the essential spirituality of simple faith, and those who have yielded to the spirit of human control through redefinition of the faith by later light's doctrines and practices.
To this day, however, the true church pushes on through every human attempt to harness and define it by graspable manifestation. Fleshly adherence to super-structural doctrines and practices is repeatedly challenged and overthrown in every generation as the spiritual church marches on relentlessly toward manifest perfection at the return of Christ and the harvest.
Is any of this to say that true faith has no visible evidences? Is it to say that genuine faith need not manifest visible works? No. Genuine faith does and will manifest in these ways. Spiritual faith will produce increased revelation light, and obedience in harmony with that light. What we must see, however, is that these evidences can never be used to redefine salvation or finally prove the identity of the church.
Visible evidences bear witness to unseen reality. But they are not the essence of reality and cannot substitute for it. No understanding based on the gospel will ever substitute for the gospel. And no practice motivated by the gospel can ever finally prove the identity of the church. The hidden simplicity of the true faith has and always will be the one true standard of salvation and the measure of the real church.
written from Merrimack, New Hampshire
First Love Ministry
- a ministry of Anglemar Fellowship
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Page created September 28, 2016