In part 1 of this series I put forward the idea that not all those claiming to be God’s people are truly so. Invariably—because of sin—inner faith devolves towards external ritual, becomes an organised religion, and then inevitably corrupts into a stagnated mockery of the original ideal. This was so for both the ancient kingdom of Israel, and the Roman-ruled Israel of Jesus’ day. As Paul writes so succinctly,
Romans 2:28, 29
For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God.
Many Christians might be surprised to learn that Jesus was never interested in world domination. Nor was he even particularly concerned with empire-wide evangelism. When Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him as the first ‘Christian’ missionaries, their instructions were clear.
“Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The ‘lost sheep’ of Israel were people whose genuine faith had withered in the hostile clime of institutionalized Judaism. Like the false shepherds of Ezekiel 34, Israel’s spiritual elite paid no attention to the needs of these authentic believers; pushed to the edges of society, they were broken, condemned, and ignored. Yet it was in people such as these that Jesus found a faith worth far more than all the pretentious preening of the self-righteous Pharisees. The responses of people like Matthew and Zaccheus the tax collectors, the woman with an issue of blood, and the prostitute who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil show that though stunted, the faith of these poor Israelites was real—and that when exposed to the spirit of God in Jesus, engendered a response that was automatic, extravagant, and sincere.
It was from believers such as these that Jesus built his Church. He bypassed the corrupt sects that confessed hope in the Messiah but opposed him when he came, and ignored worldly political institutions out of hand. Jesus sought out and found the remnant believers in Israel, and to them and through them preached the hope of a still-to-come Kingdom that will never warp or fade.
So too the Church
Like Israel, the Church is not immune to corruption, or to total disqualification because of religious pride. The Lord’s apostles saw no major break between themselves and the believers of the Old Testament; followers of Christ were the inheritors of all that the prophets saw by faith, but together believers on either side of Messiah’s appearing were considered the faithful of God. In the same way, the potential for sin to corrupt a corporate body remains relevant to the Church. Israel’s miraculous birth (Mount Sinai) did not prevent idolatry; and neither is the Church’s miraculous birth (Pentecost) a guarantee of future glory.
Like Israel, the Church has become bewitched by the glamour of idolatry. The idols are different and take different forms, but their ability to corrupt and disqualify God’s people remains as potent as ever.
- Authoritarian hierarchies. This idol reared its head almost as soon as the Church was born. Speaking from heaven, Jesus twice condemned ‘the doctrine of the nicolaitans’ (Revelation 2:6, 15), which was an early form of clergy / laity divide—the spirit of which remains in opposition to Jesus’ desire for leaders who are servants (Matthew 20:26).
- Individualism. The prized possession of the West, individualism creates a ‘private life, private faith’ mentality; it places a filter over the scriptures so that activities originally communal in nature become individualistic experiences, e.g. ‘The Lord’s Supper’ is no longer a shared love feast, but is now reduced to an introspective contemplative segment during the weekly Sunday gathering.
- Ritualism. Our churches are stuffed to the gills with hollow religious rituals fuelled by the belief that external ceremony produces faith and righteousness. Original Christianity relied on relationships rather than rituals; yet after the meddling of the Roman emperor Constantine, Christian leaders were happy to accommodate religious symbolism in exchange for political favour.
- Historical ignorance. If more Christians learnt and understood Church history, perhaps some of the more grievous errors of the past could be avoided. Western culture in general is content to believe itself the pinnacle of human achievement, the ‘right way’ of civilisation needing nothing from the past—and the Church seems content to accept this view.
- Self-reliance. The Church is full ofprayerless, powerless, faithless, unspiritual sheep content to imitate the world’s methods and values for growth, i.e. emphasising numerical / quantitative expansion rather than spiritual / qualitative discipleship, and the use of and reliance upon psychology-based, self-help programs. This is in direct opposition of the command to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5).
- Doctrinal Errors. Western Christianity has allowed speculative Greek philosophy to shape many of its classic doctrines. The Church has never properly investigated, re-evaluated, and renounced many of the doctrinal decisions made under pressure from a Roman emperor with questionable motives (Constantine), nor has it ever properly understood ‘the gospel of the kingdom’ as preached by Jesus and his apostles. Additionally, the Church is becoming increasingly accepting of and motivated by Babylon’s pet doctrines, such as ‘tolerance’, ‘world peace’, and the elimination of poverty.
- Ungodly spirituality. Devoid of the Holy Spirit, many Christians are now imitating and replicating within their churches occult spirituality, which has as its root the pagan ethos of ancient Israel’s enemies (e.g. Babylon, Greece). These activities are then given false justification from the Bible and/or history, and corrupt the worship of God’s people; incredibly, Christians are now so Biblically illiterate that they do not discern the unholy origins of their worship, even going so far as to attribute their spiritual experiences to God.
While most Christians ignorantly slumber under the weight of these and many other false gods, a spiritual remnant agonises in distress. Some remnant believers are consciously aware of the issues causing the Church’s dearth of spirit; others only intuit that something is terribly wrong, though they know not why. Yet all are hungry to return to a Biblical expression of Christianity that faithfully follows The Way shown by the apostles—and though narrow, they know this path leads to fullness of life forever in the eternal Kingdom of God.
Reviving remnant Christians
Remnant believers are not a group, an organization, or a denomination. They rarely gather in a formal or structured way. Some are fringe dwellers, only attending church once a month; others might be ‘pillars of their local congregation’ yet in their own hearts doubt the religious machinery they uphold. Some might be horribly wounded— victims of ridicule and scorn for daring to warn the Church of her impending doom; others endure meekly in a system that has ceased to seek the truth. Many remnant believers will not recognise each other, though they attend the same church congregation or live near to one another in the same town or suburb; neither will they necessarily agree on every issue. Freedom to follow one’s own conscience is an integral part of discipleship with Jesus, and forcing a mandated set of beliefs upon another, or refusing to fellowship with other Christians despite demonstrated love for Christ, is the opposite of how Paul expected believers to behave. Yet despite external differences, remnant Christians are easy to discern, for their heart’s response to Jesus, his people, and the problems besieging the Church makes them known.
- Do you hunger for a greater presence of God within your own life?
- Are you prepared to follow Jesus anywhere, no matter the personal cost?
- Are you unsatisfied with modern Christian spirituality and worship?
- Do you long for a return to New Testament Christianity?
- Do you desire daily fellowship with God’s people?
- Do you long to meet with genuine believers but feel isolated and alone?
- Have you suffered past hurt from the Church and are yet to rejoin a spiritual family?
- Do you despair at the sinfulness rife within the Church?
- Does your heart burn against the idolatry within the Church?
- Do you cling to the hope of Christ’s return and the Kingdom established at his coming?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, then you belong to the remnant people preserved by God for salvation (i.e. freedom from death) at the coming of Christ. Eternal life is the reward for the endurance you must now display—ever hoping, always praying that Christ’s love will encourage and keep you true. Don’t be afraid to speak of the things that fill your heart, for in doing so you will be like a beacon on a hill, drawing others of like spirit so that together strength might be increased. Fear brings isolation, which becomes despair, then apathy, and silence; and silence makes strangers within even the closest of families. Yet our God is powerfully able to protect us from even the most violent of storms, and though speaking truth will inevitably invoke the majority’s idolatrous wrath, He will provide for us the sustaining wealth of His mighty and immeasurable Spirit. Maranatha!