APOSTASY AND RECOVERY
As with Israel in the Exodus, the “mixed multitude,” (Ex.12:38) the exterior shell of every movement with which it loads itself and in which it later becomes buried, falls to lusting for “flesh.” One can usually judge the progress of this process by the things the movement comes to demand. Instead of delight in the pure Word, prayer and worship, a love for souls and zeal for good works, there comes entertainment, programs, musicals, sensationalism, and oratory. These things have no place in essential, true Christianity, but are professionalism – flesh! Oh, God, deliver us from fleshly substitutes for the Spirit.
Most meetings can only be kept alive now by continuous entertainment, professional evangelism, and a strong social spirit. And this is all too true in Pentecostal, Holiness, and interdenominational circles, as well as in the older denominations. Where is the life itself to draw the people and bring God to them as in the beginning! This is not New Testament. It is abnormal, grieving and limiting the Holy One of Israel in our midst.
Each movement seems to run its course faster than the one before it. Like the Niagara river, it flows downwards more swiftly as it approaches the falls, the end of time. These are the last days of apostasy.
The fight gets harder as we get higher up in our restoration from the early Church’s fall. When Adam fell, the Satanic powers intervened between the fallen race and God. God removed the seat of His presence with man from earth to heaven. So when the early Church fell, she again lost the image of God which had, in a sense, been restored in New Testament days when the body of believers became the Temple of the Holy Spirit. In a higher sense than Adam had known, the “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph.6:12) intervened between the Church and God again. Now, the prodigal Church, coming up out of the Dark Ages, has had to fight her way back through these evil powers. Each movement, as we go higher toward full restoration, has to meet a higher order of these wicked spiritual powers and intelligences and hence must fight harder.
Each step forward necessarily requires a deeper preparation and greater spiritual equipment for a greater measure of restoration. It was never God’s decree that the experience of the Church should be so long and drawn out in recovering the normal standard and going on to fullness. But we have ever sought to call our present abnormal understanding and experience normal. We must see that all has been abnormal since the early Church’s fall.
Experiences, understanding – everything has been partial, unbalanced, and abnormal. Nothing has been perfectly understood, and all the different truths and experiences have only been parts of the whole.
We have not understood these truths and experiences, just as no machine is properly and clearly understood in detail except as we understand the whole. We have been recovering the whole, in parts, without seeing the whole – thus we so often distort and overemphasize the truth or experience that our particular movement has recovered. I trust you grasp this, for it is very important.
The New Testament church in the Book of Acts entered normally into the fullness of the Spirit immediately at its inception, as for instance at Cornelius’ household in the tenth chapter of Acts. The different phases of our salvation were all viewed as just so many parts of one glorious, normal whole. But all the various movements in the restoration, since the early reformers, have ceased in their turn to go forward to full realization. They have established their party standard of a partial, abnormal revelation, putting a part for the whole. Then, in human vanity, they have each contended they had it all.
This is sectarianism, and it is like a lot of dams holding back God’s people from flowing on toward the vast ocean of God’s fullness. God cares little for these partial standards of men – their names, sects or parties, slogans or standards. All is only partial distorted light which finally becomes the enemy of the real truth as the Lord marches on to glory.
Each oncoming wave of the sea toward high tide must fight its way through the last receding one. So it is with the different movements toward a final restoration of the Church. The immediately receding one especially hates and opposes the next oncoming one. What fools the devil has made of us! Oh, that we might see it! However real and good, as far as they have gone, these past revivals and movements are each but faltering, uncertain steps toward the final goal.
LET’S GO ON!
God has but one Church, whether in heaven, where most of it is, or here on earth. And there is yet very much land to be possessed before we realize the Divine purpose to which we are destined. We must recognize the whole body of Christ. In our human thoughts, we fail to recognize God when we meet Him. Those who dare to go further with God toward the full restoration are denounced and opposed by others as if they were of the devil. And this was not just true of Luther and the Catholic Church – it was also true of Wesley and the Anglican Church, of Booth and the Methodist Church, and so on. And it is still true today. But, beloved, we must face it – the backslider has not yet been fully restored, the prodigal has not yet reached home. We must keep moving on!
Elijah’s rain came out of a clear sky, without even the sign of a cloud to begin with – the result of faith alone. So the Pentecostal outpouring came in 1906. And this has been the case with every revival. Revival is the property of faith, not sight. There is nothing for sight to see in fallen nature but hopelessness. Revival and restoration must come from God, out of a clear sky. We are earthly and fleshly, but God is Spirit. God’s Word is “spirit and life,” (John 6:63) and faith in that Word brings the living God on the scene regardless of circumstances or outward prospects.
Will God visit His people again? Why not? As surely as He has done it in the past, He will do it again. God’s skies are full of Pentecosts. He only waits for us to claim them. Do we not need one? Then we can have it, when we are willing to pay the price of obedient faith.
The Church is not fully restored. No past group, after it has waned, has had the faith and vision to move God to visit them again. If they had, they would not be strewn along the way as more or less dead movements, their bones bleaching in the wilderness. None of them had future faith. They stopped short of the goal. None of them went clear through. “They limited the Holy One of Israel,” (Ps.78:41) just as we do today. They would not pay the price. That was the trouble.
But worse than this, they justified themselves in their abnormal standards and opposed and condemned others who would go further … and still they do so.
The sin of the Jewish high church in Jesus’ time was the same. They refused to go further themselves and set themselves in their backslidden condition to oppose all who wished to go forward. That spelled their doom, and it will bring down the judgments of God on any denomination, movement, or group who follow in their steps.
But a Gideon’s band is forming again today. Faith is rising. Another visitation from God is coming. It is only the Gideon’s band that can ever bring or receive it – only a praying, consecrated, pilgrim band. They of the “mixed multitude” (Ex.12:38) will not be in it, for they are too many and too fleshly. “Upon man’s flesh” the Lord said of the precious anointing oil in the tabernacle, “Shall it not be poured.” (Ex.30:32) God usually has to work with the little things, the weak things – the small, consecrated groups.
“I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon the dry ground.” (Is.44:3) Dryness is a condition that invites rain. At such times men cry for rain. It is a cause for encouragement when we thirst for God. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst, for they shall be filled. (Matt.5:6) It was after an awful drought that Elijah’s rain came. The rain is ready, beloved – when we want it, and when we are in a condition to receive it.
We must have the spirit of Caleb and Joshua, a different spirit from the multitude. They “wholly followed the Lord,” (Num.32:12) therefore, they entered Canaan with the next company to go forward. They had their portion in it, while the old crowd died in the wilderness. No movements, as a movement, has ever gone all the way through to full restoration for the reasons I have explained. Hence, we must never become the property of or limit ourselves to, a party or a movement. Worship only God. Join God in His great movement. Keep moving!
THE END IS NEARING
We are rounding the corner toward complete recovery. God is again pressing His full claims upon His Church and upon the world in this, the end of the age. But the devil is also pressing his claims with great vigor. Whom will we serve? It is either one hundred per cent for God or for the devil – there is no neutral ground. We are nearing the awesome climax of this deadly war between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. Each must be at his best for his side.
A normal Church is always one hundred per cent for God. There can be no flirting with the enemy. The Church has no other business than to carry the Gospel to the world and press the claims of God upon His own. All its energies and resources should be used with that one object in view. “Then shall the end come.” (Matt.24:14) God waits for this.
Nothing but the zeal and the one hundred per cent consecration of the early Church, both in laboring for the salvation of the nations and in building up the one true world-wide Church, will or can satisfy God. He will accept no substitutes or compromise with our ideas and fleshly plans. There simply must be an utter abandonment to His full will and His great eternal purpose in His own children! Nothing short of this can clear our conscience and responsibility in the day of judgment. We could have done this long ago – if we had willed to do so – but we have not. Oh, let us not delay longer, but at once go right up and storm the enemy’s citadels, vowing never to withdraw our sword until Jesus comes and the whole land is ours!
We are rapidly approaching the last days. I am convinced that God is going to put the Church through the fire to destroy the dross. Judgment begins at the house of God. (1Pet.4:17) And, believe me, nothing but one hundred per cent reality will remain! A theoretical salvation will not do.
We are reaching the culmination of this age, and nothing but a practical application of the Gospel can hope to survive. All else will be destroyed by the fires of worldwide persecution. God can only defend obedience to His Word. Never fear – He is going to have a Church without spot and wrinkle. (Eph.5:27) But do you and I want to have a part of it? A sectarian competitive, selfish, self-seeking Church cannot survive. The Church must return to the spirit of the early Church in the Book of Acts. She must yield to God and press into His “present truth” (2Pet.1:12) for this last hour – or perish in the fires of persecution and in her own blood. “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29)!
Let us go on!
Frank Bartleman – 1925