GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 600 • January 3, 2021
REVIVAL, RENEWAL, RESTORATION, AND RESURGENCE OF THE CHURCH – Part 2
The pattern for the church was implemented and flourished shortly after the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus to heaven (Acts 1–5). But division and departure from the pattern occurred early (1 Cor. 1:10-13, 3:1-3). The division was exacerbated and has accelerated during all the time since shortly after its beginning. So a return to God’s original intention has been necessary, but it is not yet complete in all aspects, even now in what we continue to call the Restoration Movement.
NEGLECT OF THE NEW TESTAMENT PATTERN FOR THE CHURCH WILL PRODUCE EITHER A COUNTERFEIT OR AN APOSTATE CHURCH.
There is no “new gospel” and no extension or addition to the old gospel of Jesus. All changes are properly called a perversion of the gospel (Gal. 1:6-8). This is usually the first sign of departure from the New Testament. Every change in the activity, organization, and worship of the church is preceded by a change in the message. The new or perverted message is centered in the authority of man, and not in Christ. Galatians, 1 John, 2 Peter, Jude, and other several epistles were written to offset early tendencies to change the message. The first part of the message to be changed was the plan of salvation. Note the controversy at Galatia, for example (Gal. 4, Acts 15). Not so obvious, except to the one who makes a careful study of church history, is the change in organization: an episcopal hierarchy replaced the simple plan for elders to oversee each congregation and deacons to act as their specialized servants. Worship has been subjected to many changes, both in form and content. Examples: There are prayers offered to saints and angels – even to Mary as “the mother of God.” Blasphemy! I tell you unequivocally and emphatically: God has no mother! Mechanical instruments of music were rejected by the apostolic church, and only introduced hundreds of years later over the protests of faithful Christians. Communion as the central and ultimately most important activity of worship, communion in one kind (bread only for the “laity” who had to be absolved of sin by a priest before they could have even that), annual, quarterly or daily observance – and many other errors.
Perhaps we should have listed a change in attitude first, since nearly all changes in the Lord’s plan originate in the heart of a person (Mark 7:21-23). All departures from the mind of Christ are idolatry! The denial of the virgin birth and incarnation of deity in Jesus Christ result in one’s having neither the Father nor the Son (2 John 9). “Demythologizing the gospel and/or making it relevant to man” denies the inspiration and sufficiency of the scriptures and is simply a cover-up for rejecting the Lord’s will. The “Sunday only” Christian is certain a radical departure from those who practiced their faith daily (Acts 2:42-47). The evangelistic zeal, the strong emphasis on missionary activity, seems to have been lost in many or most contemporary religious groups. The most prominent feeling today seems to be: “I/we have the truth, thank God! If others do not have it, too bad for them. Let them seek it on their own.” Too many who do care about others hearing and obeying the truth are content to “let somebody else teach them.” There is no widespread feeling of personal obligation and opportunity. Compare Romans 10:14-15.
The results are predictable: DIVISION, DISFAVOR, and DEATH. There is a form of religious institutionalism which has grown and is growing. There are many distinctive messages and methods, but they are not of Christ. Even if sectarian, denominational, or ecumenical religion should fill the earth, it will never be the religion of Christ, nor will it be the church of the New Testament. It will be dead to the Lord (Mt. 7:21-28).
SUMMARY: The period from the 5th to the 16th century AD is often called “the dark ages.” But the dark age of the church actually and properly extends from the beginning of the first departure even to the various errors of today. It is still the dark age of apostasy and damnation for many who do not know and obey the truth. The Reformation Movement followed the same pattern (about 1530-1800). Reform movements were made in protest to the corruption of the church then in power, and in an effort to revive the church of the New Testament. Hence the name Protestants. Persecution only strengthened the reformers. Inquisition could not stop them. Prestige, popularity, and power brought a reduction in purity – the Protestant groups split, and split again, each one struggling to gain a major share of public approval. Result: the awakening church simply died again. The church of the Restoration Movement is traveling the same road. An accurate knowledge of the scripture and an intense desire to share the gospel and convert the world to Christ have become uncommon, rather than common characteristics of the church of Christ.
The concept of growth in some corners of the church today is not to convert more people from the error of their ways and thus save their souls from death, but rather to compromise the truth and fit in with others in the religious world, so making a broader and more inclusive fellowship. Apparently many professed Christians, many nominal members of the church of Christ do not know that we cannot add anyone to the real church of Christ – only the Lord can do that (Acts 2:47, Col. 1:13). We cannot change the church of Christ in any way. We can either
accept it as the Lord designed it, or we can reject it. Either way, we do not change it. We exclude ourselves from the church of Christ and everything it is designed to do, from every blessing that God placed in it, and from any valid hope of salvation and heaven when we try to make it something other than Lord designed it to be, or accept into spiritual fellowship any the Lord rejects.
THE FULL RESTORATION AND REVIVAL OF THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH IS POSSIBLE, AND IT CERTAINLY DESIRED BY GOD.
What God intends is the restoration and revival (it has ceased to exist and flourish in most places on earth) of the church that was designed in heaven, established by Christ, and governed by the gospel. Preaching the right message is not enough. We must submit to the authority of Christ in all things (James 1:25 and 4:17). Preaching and obeying the right plan of salvation is good, but if one does not continue in it, he falls from grace (Gal. 5:4-7). Proper organization and correct worship are required. No deviations can be tolerated.
When the authority, plan of salvation, organization, and worship have been restored, will the church of the Lord, the New Testament church have been fully restored? Unity, favor, and growth need to be restored too. Morality and spirituality need to be restored too – and that means a proper emphasis on both negative and positive discipline. But they will come only when the church fulfills its commission to evangelism.
I for one would like to see the full revival, renewal, and restoration of the church of the New Testament. I would like to see a resurgence of the church to its first century vitality and explosive growth. It would be amazing and energizing to see again people so appreciative of the grace of God and their salvation from the sins, errors, failures, and traumas of their past, that they would be willing to give themselves completely in gratitude to their Savior Jesus. It could happen, and it will come when each Christian person is as concerned about the glory of God, the glory of the church, the salvation of souls, and the assurance of their own salvation as were the Christians of the first few years of the church. We sometimes sing, “Revive us again.” Lord wilt Thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in Thee?” (Psalm 85:6). let’s say it now: “O Lord, revive your work, and let the revival begin with me.”