From Bondage to Blessing

Chapter 16 - Restoration and Blessing

"Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." (Isaiah 43:19)

God is always doing a new thing! Because He is always moving us towards completion, perfection, and purity, we are constantly undergoing a process of restoration and renewal. Like the Israelites following the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night in the wilderness, following the Lord means leaving former things behind and embracing the new. It means being willing to move on to a new place as we endeavor to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit - a new place of understanding and revelation, a new place of vision, and a new place of practice. I believe that many of the problems we see in the Church today in terms of our ineffectiveness, our inability to manifest the heart and the power of God, and our irrelevance to the world around us, are the result of camping around various watering holes in the wilderness journey since the Reformation. Times of revival, renewal, and moves of God in the past have been like watering holes that released the many sectarian movements which have become today's denominations and church networks. We have stopped at various places in the journey towards oneness in Christ, saying in effect, "Well, we've come far enough. We've arrived." We have not been willing to move on to follow the presence of the Lord when He has tried to take us further.

Acts 3:20-21 tells us that heaven must retain, hold, or keep Jesus until the restoration of all things which God has spoken through His prophets since the world began. Jesus isn't coming back until God's restoration process is complete. The Lord still has a great deal of restoring to do! As the Body of Christ, we haven't advanced since the first century. That statement might come as a surprise to many. But the reality of the situation is that we are still recapturing much of the life and power that was lost by the Church in the Dark Ages.

The health of the body

The Church is not healthier than it was in the first century. In fact, institutionalism has made it corrupt and diseased. So many parts of the Body aren't working that it is largely incapacitated. The members which are working often aren't working together. Rather, they are frequently working against each other - pulling and pushing and competing with one another while the world looks on in confusion and disgust. We are a grotesque caricature of what the Body should be!

The Divine Physician desires to bring healing and wholeness to the Body of Christ, both individually and corporately. He longs to set us free from every chain of bondage, even those chains we have put upon ourselves. He is passionate in His love and desire for us, and wants to see each member of the Body be all that we were created to be. He waits with anticipation to see each member of the Body fulfill their divine purpose and destiny. As individual members step into and begin to walk in this purpose and destiny, the corporate vision that God has for the Body of Christ will be fulfilled. He has ordained a process of restoration for His Church, but it requires our cooperation.

When are we going to listen to the Lord and follow His prescriptions? The need to submit to God's plan and process of restoration is imperative in this hour. He's coming for a Bride without spot or wrinkle. Our own efforts have so bound and contorted us that we cannot function the way He ordained the Body to function, and our robes of righteousness look like twisted, wrinkled rags. We have stabbed and cut to pieces our own members. The Church is filled with people who are not functioning according to their giftings and callings because we have limited them to only those functions that we have deemed appropriate to their age, gender, or level of training. The Church is trying to operate according to operating manuals written by the Church. We need the mind of the Lord. We need His heart. We need so desperately to understand His ways and His purposes!

The Word and the Holy Spirit

We must come back to a place where we give equal emphasis to the Word of God and the Spirit of God. I see churches that preach the Word and make no room for the Spirit. They are dry, rigid and often miss the heart of God. The letter without the Spirit kills, doesn't it? These churches are raising up modern-day Pharisees who go through all the right motions and then miss Jesus when He shows up. They are not tuned into the Spirit of God who came to reveal Jesus. I also see segments of the Church who are bouncing off the ceilings "in the Spirit", but have no foundation in the Word to keep their feet on the ground. There is no ability to judge what is of God and what is not. There is no capacity to judge between the holy and the profane, because they don't know the Word. We desperately need to come back to a place of balance, where we give equal place to the Word and the Spirit!

In giving equal place to the Word, however, it is still important that we rely on the Holy Spirit for our interpretation and understanding of the Word. If we do not, we are merely teaching the doctrines of men and calling it "Bible". Jesus spoke of this very situation when He lamented in Mark 7:7 (KJV), "in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." It is imperative that we depend upon the Holy Spirit and be led by Him in our study of Scripture. Susan Hyatt ends her book, In the Spirit We're Equal with a plea:

"the need is obvious and the need is now ... it demands that we - both men and women - bring our theologies, our attitudes, and our actions into agreement with the Author of the Book - the Holy Spirit."1

Because we have not been listening to the Holy Spirit, He is quenched in our services. We go to church but we don't know how to be the Church. A large segment of the Body of Christ is forbidden to operate in their giftings and callings, and we are trying to operate according to a secular system of organization and government which has killed much of the life the Church had once had. Many of the sectarian groups which were spawned by past seasons of revival or renewal, and have become established denominations or networks, have lost to institutionalism the life of the Spirit they once possessed. C. Peter Wagner comments on the dysfunctional nature of the modern Church as he opens his book, Churchquake!, "Structures that were originally developed to facilitate the evangelism, Christian nurture, worship, social service and ministry in general are now considered by some as the causes of much inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the same areas. Dysfunctionalism has been setting in."2 He goes on to list and discuss institutional factors that have caused and perpetuated denominational decline.3

Organism not organization

The Body of Christ was meant to function as an organism, not an organization. It was only in the second and third centuries that man's ways began to prevail, and the Church became structured more like the Roman civil government. Previously, it functioned as a living, growing organism. How did the Church function in the first century?

First, leaders operated out of a servanthood model, not an authority model. The servanthood model is based on Jesus' definition of leadership. He did not come to be served but to serve, by laying down his life for others (Matthew 20:28). He also told his disciples that if they desired to be first or to lead, then they must be willing to put their own interests last and be the servant of all (Mark 9:35). The servanthood model is not hierarchical with the leader at the top telling everyone else what to do. Instead the leader is underneath, lifting everyone else up and encouraging them forward to release them into God's plan and purpose for their lives.

Secondly, members of the Body in the first century functioned primarily according to giftings and callings rather than according to human assignments of title or position. Because the Holy Spirit was directing and coordinating everything, the members of the Body functioned smoothly and efficiently together towards the common goal of reaching the the lost and hurting people around them with the good news.

Finally, the early Church was united. Luke's account, called the Acts of the Apostles, records eight different times that the people were "in one accord". They were joined together in fellowship through the blood of Jesus, and were of one mind and spirit.

The Church was not focused on perpetuating an institution like it is today. It's a sad fact that there is so much empire building happening in the Church these days. Many local fellowships and networks of churches focus almost solely on building their own empires, expending huge amounts of effort and using any justification to perpetuate the institution. People are used to build ministry, rather than ministry being used to build people. Local churches compete with one another for what they consider to be their piece of the pie. What has happened to the biblical concept of working together to build the kingdom of God? I'm reminded of Paul's words to the church at Philippi, urging them, "fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." (Philippians 2:2-3)

While there is much more cooperative effort today than there was twenty years ago, there are still dividing walls in the Body of Christ - between denominations, between Charismatics and Evangelicals, between local churches in the same city, between clergy and laity, between generations, between races, and between the genders. However, God's plan and purpose is to break down the dividing walls. Paul's words in Ephesians 2:11-18 reveal God's plan to reconcile Jews and Gentiles into one body and one man. However, this is the heart of the Father with regards to every place of separation and alienation in the Body of Christ. He is working to bring reconciliation and restoration, that in Christ we might be as one man:

"For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation ... so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:14-16).

The walls of separation that exist in the Church are given support posts in the form of the institutionalism that has crept in over the centuries. Institutionalism and authority-based models help to hold these walls in place. A friend recently gave me information from an article in the Reader in Christian Education. Some of the differences between institutionalized and Spirit-led Christianity were identified. Institutionalism leads to a focus on order, authority, government, rationality, hierarchy and officialdom. In contrast the Holy Spirit and revival lead to a focus on the things of the Spirit, freedom, spontaneity, heart issues, relationships and equality.4

Re-digging the ancient wells

I like what Michael Mitton shared in his book about Celtic Christianity. He contrasts the Roman and Celtic churches and points out a number of differences, which primarily arose out of the institutional nature and hierarchical structure of the Roman Church. He describes the Celtic leaders as being unworldly, immaterialistic, humble, caring shepherds of their flocks who said, "Do as I do", and hoped to be followed. In contrast, the Roman leaders said, "Do as I say", and expected to be obeyed. He describes them as worldly, materialistic, glorying in pomp, and as monarchs rather than shepherds of their dioceses.5 As shown in Chapter 9, there is ample evidence to support that Celtic Christianity was the product of a purer form of Christianity than the Roman form. The Lord is calling us to put aside our institutional mentality and re-dig some ancient wells to tap into the pure stream of His Spirit. I don't think we will truly rediscover that stream until we are willing to set aside the traditions of man and our own ways of thinking.

When we are willing to divest ourselves of everything that is not from God, then we will finally see the Body begin to function the way God ordained it to function. We will begin to see the Church come into the measure of the fullness of the stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:13) as each joint or member supplies what God has given them to contribute to the whole. Interestingly enough, when Paul speaks of God giving gifts to men of pastors, teachers, prophets, apostles and evangelists to equip the saints for the work of the ministry in Ephesians 4:8-12, he actually speaks of gifts given to mankind, the Greek word anthropos. He gives both men and women these gifts that they might be equipped for the work of the ministry. All the saints are to be equipped for ministry - young, old, educated, uneducated, men, women, mature, and immature. The apostle doesn't make any distinction!

Dismantling the prison walls - setting women free

While every denomination or Christian group gives mental assent to the fact that the saints are to be equipped for ministry, Church practice reveals that so many restrictions and limitations have been placed upon God's people that they rarely are equipped for ministry. One well known prophetic minister recently declared that less than 10% of the Body of Christ know what their calling is, and fewer still are equipped or released to serve in this calling. With regards to women in particular, I see a number of reasons for this difference in theory and practice within the various Christian streams.

The first reason focuses on the man/woman alienation that began at the time of fall. Sin has created a barrier between the genders, fueled by fear and competition for control. I appreciate J. Julius Scott's honesty. In his paper, which looks at women in the Second Temple period of Judaism, he admits that women have often been put in a restricted position because "...the protection of male positions of dominance and power and the fear of losing them have and do play a part."6 Dave Bilbrough, one of the foremost songwriters and worship leaders in Britain today, has confessed, "In the recent past of the house church movement there was much emphasis on women submitting to men and men always being right. This was often sourced in insecurity..."7 As mentioned earlier, the authority-based models which the Church has been operating under have contributed to keeping the barriers between men and women in place. Lorry Lutz shares some information developed by Linda Smith of Ontario Bible College and Seminary. In her seminars, Linda explains how the power-based model creates a tension between men and women. "Men then fear encouraging the 'power' of women and women resist the 'power' of men." She goes on to conclude that we need a paradigm that fosters servanthood, not dominance.8

I believe the second reason women and others have been so restricted in the Church has to do with our concepts of ministry and leadership. For many, ministry is something grand, and only for the privileged few. It is seen as something to attain, some lofty goal that can only be reached by meeting certain special requirements. But this kind of thinking is all skewed! Jesus defined ministry as serving. He didn't elevate it like we do as something glorious for the exalted few who "qualify". The kind of men He chose as His disciples should show us who qualifies! They were ordinary men, rough, with very few skills and many weaknesses. When Jesus defined His ministry in Mark 10:45, He used the word diakoneo, which means "to minister or to serve". Ministry equals servanthood or service in the original language of the New Testament. Further, according to Jesus, "leadership" also means servanthood, not exercising authority. He said in Mark 10:42-43 (emphasis added),

"You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all."

We've adopted the secular concept of leadership somewhere along the way. For this reason, we are comfortable with women serving as an usher, but not with them "serving" the Church by leading. We are quite willing to allow the ladies to serve as Sunday School teachers or on the hospitality committee but we don't want them to "serve" from a pulpit by preaching. There is absolutely no difference, according to Jesus! We have created the categories and the limitations put upon women through our own humanistic systemization and human reasoning, all rooted in the pagan philosophy of the Greeks!

The third reason I see for the restrictions placed upon women in the Church is the result of our misunderstanding of what the Scriptures teach. For so long, many of us have been taught things that were just not true to the heart of God or the original language of the Scriptures. It's a bit like evolution. The myths in both cases have been taught for so long as fact that everyone just assumes they are true! The Scriptures actually teach that women were created equal in power, authority, and dignity as God's ambassadors on the earth. They teach that women, like men, were redeemed from the curse of sin and the effects of the fall by the blood of Jesus. They teach that women are called to serve God and to minister by the leading and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The three issues discussed above have been interwoven together by an unseen evil hand to hold women captive in the Church and build a wall of separation and imprisonment which has kept women feeling like second class citizens in the Body of Christ. The alienation between the genders and the false concepts of ministry and leadership are like bricks in the wall, with the theological justification as the mortar holding it all together. If we can chip out the mortar, by exposing the faulty theological arguments, then perhaps we can make room for the Spirit of God to come in and dismantle the prison walls.

A final consideration here is a self-imposed restriction placed upon women in the Church. Because of fear and intimidation, many women will not rise to answer the callings upon their lives, even when the liberty exists to do so. Michal Ann Goll offers a poignant personal account of her battle against intimidation in her book Women On The Front Lines. She urges us, "Don't let your fears stand in the way of your dreams! Take out the spike of intimidation and, like the Israelite woman Jael did to the Philistine Sisera in Judges 4, drive it into the enemy's head and kill the plans and schemes he has devised against you."9 We will not find ourselves free to take our places in the body of Christ until we are willing to confront the fear and intimidation that hold us captive.

Answering the call - men and women

Making room for the Holy Spirit to dismantle the prison walls around God's women requires a number of things from all of us. We must come to the end of ourselves, being willing to trade our wills for His. Honesty and humility are required on our part so that we can confess our failures and our sin to Him. We must submit to Him and invite Him to take control. We also need a passionate desire for Him to change us, renew us, and fill us again with all that He is! Making room for the Holy Spirit also requires obedience when He leads one way and our training leads us another. Our call to obedience means we are faced on a moment by moment basis with the choice of whom we will serve, the choice of life or death and the choice between blessing or cursing.

We stand today on the brink of not just another reformation, but a spiritual revolution. The call awaits us! Will we answer it? Will we respond to the Spirit of God? Will we follow the cloud of His Divine Presence or will we stay camped around our particular watering hole in the wilderness, hoping it won't run dry? My heartfelt prayer is that the Church will arise and shake herself from the dust (Isaiah 52:1-2). We have the accumulation of dirt from almost two thousand years weighing us down. But we can be washed and cleansed by the fresh, life-giving blood of the Lamb, if we will only come to Him and respond to the voice of His Spirit who cries, "Arise!" As God led His people from the bondage of Egypt to the blessing of the Promised Land, so He endeavors today to bring us, His Bride, from bondage to blessing. Precious saints, will we put our hands in His and allow Him to lead us?


Chapter 16 notes

  1. Susan C. Hyatt, In the Spirit We're Equal (Hyatt Press, Dallas, 1998), p. 302.
  2. C. Peter Wagner, Churchquake! ((Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light Publishing, Ventura, 1999), p. 6.
  3. C. Peter Wagner, Churchquake! ((Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light Publishing, Ventura, 1999), p. 23-28.
  4. Finley B. Edge, "Experiential or Institutionalized Religion", Reader in Christian Education, Eugene S. Gibbs, Ed. (Baker, Grand Rapids, 1992), p. 212-213.
  5. Michael Mitton, Restoring the Woven Cord (Darton, Longman and Todd, Ltd., London, 1995), p. 15.
  6. J. Julius Scott, Jr., unpublished paper, Wheaton College Graduate School, "Women in Second Temple Judaism: Some Preliminary Observations".
  7. Joan Martin, Is Leadership Male? (Nelson Word Publishing, Milton Keyes, England, 1996), p. 179.
  8. Lorry Lutz, Women As Risk-Takers for God (World Evangelical Fellowship in assoc. with Paternoster Publishing, Carlisle, Cumbria, 1997), p. 257.
  9. Michal Ann Goll, Women On The Front Lines (Destiny Image Publishers, Shippensburg, PA, 1999), p. 16.