Understanding Church Movements and their views of Scripture

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Church movements throughout the years have all approached the Bible differently and this in turn has greatly impacted their life and practice in the world and relationship to Israel and the Jews. While the following models presented are general in presentation they do nevertheless faithfully define these movements and thereby help us to better understand the theological factors that motivate their actions.

The Aerial View
These movements look at the Bible as if it were a sphere. They see method in its pages and embrace the principle. In other words they see a temple in the Hebrew Scriptures, take the principle, and build churches that are in like fashion divided up into two sections. I.e.: A holy place for the congregation and a holy of holies for the Ministers or Priests. They do the same with candles, incense, vestments and “methods” of the New Testament Scriptures like elders, deacons etc.

  1. As regards Jesus death they stress His passion and sacrifice and call on their people to follow His example in sacrificial living etc.
  2. As regards eternity there is very little preaching on the reality of hell. The impression is very often left that all people, who live decently, will go to heaven.
  3. The dangers in this tradition are lack of true evangelical zeal, compromise and Laodiceanism (the lukewarm church).
  4. The Jews are mostly in reflection. That is, their symbols and stories adorn stained glass windows and furnishings.
  5. Their historic engagement is in the arena of social issues relating to justice and righteousness on earth.

The Segment View
For folks in this tradition the Bible is indeed like a sphere but they remove a segment of it. They see principles and embrace method. Much like removing a piece of cake from the whole. It is on this segment that they concentrate. They mainly emphasize the book of Acts as a resource and are reactionary to the wider Church in the world. That is, they are “ purists” in that they believe that they are rebuilding a New Testament Church. Their approach to other expressions of the Church is very often summed in one phrase, “Come out of them my people.”

  1. As regards the death of Jesus it was a passionate expiation of sin and they spend much time preaching on hell and the consequences of sin.
  2. The danger is that very often they are authoritarian in character, have cultic tendencies and fall into the trap of Nicolatianism (power over the laity).
  3. For them the Jews are in history. They are a biblically outdated people with no further role to play in world events.
  4. The historical engagement of this part of the church has been evangelism, as in the house church movement in the United Kingdom of the 80s and 90s. They are isolationists with a heavy emphasis upon a heavenly kingdom. They sometimes even frown upon Christians who vote in national elections. In short they have abandoned the world and its suffering completely. After all it is passing away!

The Linear View
Christians in this tradition see time and purpose. For them the Bible is like a long line of events, beginning at the Book of Genesis, that are broken up into dispensations of time. History is thus dispensational in that the dispensations of time reflect a different aspect of heavenly purpose. These dispensations of time are ages and there are five of these in sequence. That is, ages of innocence, conscience, law, grace and fulfillment.

Those who hold to this tradition have embraced Darbyism, though many who hold to this view of the Bible wouldn’t know it. In America it is called Scofieldism.

  1. As regards the death of Jesus, it is a passionate rescue plan and as a consequence there is much preaching on end time events.
  2. The dangers in this tradition are tunnel vision, the devaluation of Biblical truth and very hardened eschatological views. They easily birth false apostles and do not engage the world compassionately.
  3. For them the Jews are a prophetic sign and they have no real concern or interest in them other than their capacity to fulfill end time expectations.
  4. They engage the world evangelistically with much emphasis on the “lateness of the hour.”

The Legal View
This view sees action and consequence. That is, all have sinned and therefore fall short of the glory of God or; the wage that sin pays is death. The Bible is thus a book of “The Covenant.” Salvation through all of time has only been by grace on the grounds of Jesus Finished work on the cross. The promise of the Son that He would die for the sins of the world was given, before time began, and thus, theologically, He died before the foundation of the world. The various Covenants of the Bible reinforce the Abrahamic Covenant which is God’s great decision to save the world and constitutes the first proclamation of the Gospel. (Galaltians3:8) The God of the Bible thus enters into a relationship with humankind based on legal undertakings that are set out and enforced in the covenants.

  1. As regards Jesus death it is a passionate act of propitiation. He, on the cross, satisfied the demands of God’s character that is reflected in the moral or majestic law (Ten Commandments). Jesus was born under the law, lived perfectly under the law, was condemned under the law and died under the law.
  2. The dangers are that one’s expression of faith becomes too technical and doctrinal losing warmth, love and compassion. Since this view recognizes the role that Israel plays in God’s plan of world redemption it can produce warped theological views and sometimes Israel can supplant the place that Jesus should occupy in believer’s lives.
  3. Jews and Israel occupy a central role in this theological position since they are the custodians of the oracles of God and Gentiles share in their spiritual things.
  4. The historical engagement of this part of the Church is seen in philo-Semitism and world evangelism.

This is a general but fairly true definition of Church groups. There is something good and bad in all of them and it is for us to think about them and construct our view accordingly.

I leave you with this challenge.

Malcolm Hedding

The Non-Pentecostal Pentecostals

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I travel all over the world and have a world view of the Church that few indeed have. This is particularly true of churches that claim a Pentecostal testimony. Their meetings are up-beat and even dynamic music-wise, but the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit in terms of the congregational gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophecy is nowhere evident. I fear that we have swapped these things for a dynamic platform and music ministry! To be Pentecostal in name only is not good enough and even to have conferences and “get-togethers” about the subject is not good enough. We need the dramatic “breaking in” of the Spirit in our meetings. There is no substitute! After all, scripture says that the verbal gifts of the Spirit are for the edification and up building of God’s people.

How quickly we have abandoned our heritage for second best. Just thirty years ago a new outpouring of the Spirit took place, all over the world that brought the reality of God back into our meetings and churches by the ecstatic gifts of the Spirit. Who can forget books like, “Nine O’clock in The Morning” by Dennis Bennet and others, like Derek Prince and Michael Harper, who wrote of their encounter with the Holy Spirit and the consequences for their lives and that of their churches?

I well remember sitting in meetings and being overwhelmed with joy as we sang sweet melodies in the Spirit without musical accompaniment. How I long for those days. The presence of God would swell and crash down all around us as we sang in other tongues to the glory of God. Prophetic words would follow and tongues and interpretation. It was electrifying and the outsider and those believers unaccustomed to this would affirm, “Truly God is in your presence!”

Now we sit in bland meetings so well orchestrated that God by His Spirit cannot move, even if He wants to! Professional platform ministry is the order of the day but our lives are left dry and thirsting for life, the life of the Spirit. All the while scripture declares that to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. The truth is we are witnessing what Jesus called Nicolaitanism! That is, power over the laity is exercised to the extent that even the ordered manifestation of the Gifts of the Spirit cannot take place. Much of this is the situation in many Pentecostal Churches!

What happened and who cares? I am often told that it is too difficult to control this phenomenon in congregational meetings. This is not true. The early church had multiple thousands in their meetings and yet the Spirit moved in power. Some big churches during the renewal days of the late sixties and early seventies had “word groups” in their meetings that exercised the Gifts of the Spirit. These were proven individuals who had demonstrated a maturity in this area of ministry. Much like the leaders in the Church at Antioch as recorded in Acts 13. The truth is, we are far too scared to abandon our churches to the moving of the Spirit. It’s a control thing!

May God give us thirsting faith and may He, as a consequence, send renewal again into our lives and congregations. This renewal brings the presence of God into our meetings in a way that nothing else does and can and this in no way devalues the central place that preaching must and should hold in our congregational gatherings. I believe that Jesus is preeminently seen in the proclamation of His word and thus all things should be done “decently and in order”.

Yours for the blessing of the Church,

Malcolm Hedding