By George H. Warnock
The True Shepherd Appears
When Jesus came forth from the heart of God He was God's answer to the needs of the scattered sheep of God... the One that the prophets spoke about, who would come to gather together the scattered flocks of God's pasture, and cause them to lie down in quiet resting places. He had the heart of the Shepherd-God, with whom He walked in total union; and therefore as He looked upon the multitudes who thronged about Him to hear His Word and to be healed of their infirmities, He had compassion upon them, for they were "as sheep not having a shepherd." They were nevertheless God's sheep... not all of them, but many of them... and Jesus knew that all whom the Father had given Him would come to Him and hear His voice. They would not follow the stranger. The "stranger" tried many times to get a following, and for a while there may have been a certain amount of perplexity, but the voice didn't sound quite right. Jesus said, "A stranger they will not follow."
Sent By The Father
The story of His Incarnation, and His ministry in the earth, is beautiful as we consider it... as He gathered the flock of God about Him, and nurtured them in the ways of God. There was conflict with the hirelings, as might be expected; but the True Shepherd speaks, and the true sheep follow. They cannot help but follow. What they hear may oftentimes sound strange, unorthodox, or unscriptural, ...but still they follow. They know the Voice. What they do not understand they are prepared to leave in His hands, knowing that one day they WILL understand. "To whom else shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." But little by little the scales are removed from their eyes, and the sheep begin to see and to hear more clearly, and to understand what the shepherd is trying to teach them. And little by little the Scriptures take on illumination, and they see from the Scriptures what they hear from the Voice... and the Voice which once seemed to be unscriptural, suddenly begins to shine forth from all pages of Holy Writ.
For Jesus came forth from the heart of God to gather unto Himself the sheep whom God had given Him, and to take them back into the very heart of God, where they would be ONE fold and ONE Shepherd. It seemed almost impossible... for even in that day there were sects and divisions amongst God's people. There were scribes and Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, and Zealots. All wanted to be heard, and all called for a following, but the true sheep did not hear them. Jesus also told the sheep whom He had gathered that He had many other sheep that did not belong to their fold... but that He would bring them also, so that there would be ONE fold and ONE Shepherd. It was very distressing to them when this actually happened, but for the present, at least, it did not seem to disturb them. They really did not understand... it did not occur to them that one day they would mingle freely with Samaritans, and Egyptians, and Edomites, and Greeks... in a common bond of fellowship... and that there would be no distinction between them... washed in the same blood, renewed and filled with the same Spirit, and shepherded by the same Lord.
In the meantime there was but the "little flock." And because they were "little" they needed encouragement. "Fear not little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." This promise they continued to embrace. They were sure He was the King, and they were anxiously awaiting this wonderful Kingdom that prophets and seers had talked about, and which Jesus had assured them would be their very own.
Then one day there was sudden tragedy... the Good Shepherd was crucified and the sheep were scattered. It was calamity to the utmost. But it was, nevertheless, in accord with Scripture; for it was written, "Smite the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered." Their Shepherd-King had been crucified! And with His crucifixion their fluctuating expectations also vanished away. They had yet to learn that it was in the smiting of the Shepherd that the sheep would be redeemed. They had yet to learn that it was in the raising of the Shepherd from the dead, that the gathering of the sheep into one fold would actually be accomplished.
It took a long time, but little by little there came to them the understanding of what actually took place. The Shepherd had to die as the Lamb. The Shepherd must rise again as the King-Shepherd. But God's purpose was to take on still greater enlargement, which brought them into still greater perplexity. The Shepherd must ascend into the heavenly Zion, in order that He might gather in the "other sheep" that continued to wander far off from the fold.
The True Shepherd Is Glorified
But how would He accomplish all this from His throne in the heavens? Surely if He were to remain in the earth it would be much better? But no! God had a different plan. He would send forth His Spirit from the throne-room, and the Spirit of God in the earth would continue to lead the sheep into pastures of Truth, and refresh them with waters from the throne. The work which He began on earth would not be stunted, or neglected, or hampered in any way because of His departure. Rather, it would be His departure into the heavens that would bring about in the earth a greater fulfillment of the purposes of God than might have been possible had He remained in their midst. For the Spirit of God in His people would not just be a gracious influence from Heaven, to encourage them and to inspire them in the ways of the Lord. Rather, He would be the very SPIRIT OF TRUTH in the earth. He would be the VERY SAME JESUS walking with them, but in Spirit form. When Jesus was here on earth the Truth was WITH them in the flesh, but now He would be IN THEM, in the Spirit. Jesus told them plainly, that the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell within them would be BETTER for them, and MORE GLORIFYING TO GOD than if He Himself were to remain in the earth in bodily form. This is something, I feel, that has scarcely dawned upon the people of God, and how I wish I could emphasize it as Jesus did just prior to His departure:
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth: It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you" (John 16:7). Can we grasp the significance of what Jesus said? Jesus said, "I tell you the truth..." as if to impress upon our hearts the impact of what He said, so clearly, and so definitely:
"I speak the Truth; it is for your benefit that I am going away, it is for your sakes... it is for your own good... it is for your profit... You will lack nothing by reason of My departure, because the Holy Spirit abiding within you, will be to you EVERYTHING THAT I WAS WHEN I WALKED BY YOUR SIDE..."
Now just before we proceed any further, let us emphasize one thing. When God declares Truth, let us have faith and grace to EMBRACE it whether we see the fruits of it or not; for it is in embracing the Truth that it shall become the Seed of Truth in our hearts, that will bring forth REALITY in the fulfillment of God's plan and purpose. What a revelation this was to my own heart as I contemplated the above Scripture. And how I was tempted to think, like so many others... it sounds so good... if only it were possible... if it had only worked that way! But now I have come to understand that Truth declared by God that remains UNFULFILLED is God's promise to you and I that we must embrace until it is fulfilled! And furthermore, its fulfillment in the fulness of God's plan and purpose is JUST AS CERTAIN as any other declaration of His Word. How prone we have been to read the Scriptures, and as we come to some Truth of great wonder and beauty... to stand back and admire it, and bemoan the fact that it is impossible. But now we are encouraged to grasp it, and lay hold upon it, and embrace it, knowing it MUST COME TO PASS because God has declared it. The Word that He sends forth from the throne will not return to Him empty... it will accomplish the desire of His heart in sending it forth! (See Isaiah 55:11)
I think as Christians we all recognize that if Jesus had remained in the earth after His resurrection and until this day... we would have a sure infallible witness in the earth concerning the Truth of God, and the will of God for His people. Perhaps many of us would never have the opportunity of talking to Him personally, in times of need and perplexity. But some would certainly have this opportunity, and we would be able to receive from them what they had received from Him. But this is not the way it was to be! It wasn't a good enough plan for God! God's plan was far better! Jesus would go away, but Another Advocate would come in His stead, and HE THE HOLY SPIRIT WOULD BE TO YOU AND I IN THE EARTH EVERYTHING THAT JESUS WAS WHEN HE WAS HERE... THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE!
But how would He accomplish this? The Spirit of God would take up His habitation in human vessels; and ordinary men, redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb, and anointed of God, would continue to carry on the work which the Good Shepherd had started; and the Spirit of God would also abide in His people, and would lead and guide them INTO ALL TRUTH. There would be no intermission in the program of God because of the sudden tragedy of His death... for His death was part of the plan of God even before it happened... the sheep moreover had already been warned: "Ye shall be scattered, every man to his own... and I shall be left alone..." But God's plan was that after the scattering there would come a re-gathering; and He would continue to make a preparation in the hearts of His chosen ones to carry on the work which He had started; and the Spirit of God dwelling within His people...
Would not speak "FROM" Himself...
He would speak only what He heard from the Son...
He would reveal what was yet to come...
He would glorify Christ in all things...
He would take the things that pertained to Christ,
and manifest the same to you and me.
(See John 16:7-15).
Delegates From The Throne
What Jesus did in the earth He did as the Son of God sent forth from the heart of the Father. So now in exaltation He would send forth His own apostles ("sent-ones") and they would continue the work which He had begun. Their authority would not be impaired by reason of their infirmity... He having come as the Son of God by birth, whereas they were sinners. For they too would become sons of God by new-birth... and though not sharing His place in equality of majesty, or position, or glory... they would share His place in the perfection of the nature of Christ within them, because the Spirit of God--even the Spirit of Jesus--would dwell in them, and walk in them. In this way they would live as He lived, speak as He spoke, and love as He loved. All the former frustrations that they went through as they sought a place of earthly preeminence for their King (and of course, indirectly for themselves). all this had to pass away; and they must learn by experience that the true shepherds would serve the sheep and not themselves. They would feed the sheep, care for the sheep, and would not be concerned about their own welfare. They would in fact lay down their lives for the sheep, even as the Good Shepherd had laid down His life for them.
They were, in fact, delegated by the Son to minister His Kingdom in the earth, just as the Son had been delegated by the Father; so that the works which they would do in His Name would even be "greater" than He did when He was here on earth. Not because they were greater... they were in fact much less... but because the resurrected Christ had ascended to a greater throne and to a greater realm of glory than He had while here in the days of His flesh. And now His chosen ones would partake of His glory by reason of His ascension to the right hand of the Father... where He would ask and receive of the Father whatever provision was needful for His own. In reality, therefore, it was not Peter or James or John or Paul or Apollos doing the "greater works"... it was the Living Christ... living, moving, and walking in His chosen ones in the earth by His Holy Spirit.
The Power Of Delegated Authority
When God truly establishes Authority in the earth He also projects into the hands of that Authority the power that is required for the execution of that office; and the Authority is answerable to God who established it. This is true as it relates to governments in the earthly realm, or in the Church. A man with authority from God does not need to ask the people for it, or even seek after it... it is just there. If God gave it, He will confirm it; and those who have the Spirit of Christ are content to leave it entirely in the hands of the Lord to vindicate and to stand behind whatever purpose God has in mind. God sent Moses, gave him a rod of authority... and God was faithful to stand behind him when Korah, Dathan and Abiram contested it. In fact Moses simply fell on his face before the LORD, and God did the rest. In like manner God vindicated Aaron, and caused his rod to bud in the Tabernacle, while the other rods remained lifeless. God established the authority of Samuel, so that not one word fell to the ground, and all Israel from Dan unto Beersheba knew that he was established as a prophet of the LORD.
Likewise in the realm of earthly government: "The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God" (Romans 13:1, 2). And again, "He beareth not the sword in vain" (verse 4). With every governmental authority ordained of God there is a certain measure of power to stand behind and to enforce the laws and decrees of that authority.
But in this writing we are particularly concerned about the authority and the power that God has vested in His chosen ones. And we do not need to look far in the Scriptures to see how great that power was. Peter and the apostles had power on earth, and power in heaven (Matthew 16:19; 18:18). Paul had authority from God to "edify" the Church, and this included whatever authority would be required to discipline those who were not walking in God's ways. He had authority that he might use as a rod of discipline, or something he could manifest in a spirit of love and meekness (1 Corinthians 4:21). In each and in every case it was God who established the Authority Himself, and the minister in question simply walked in God's ways, and God stood behind him. No minister with the authority of God upon him needs to seek, nor should he desire, any other support for that ministry. God confirms and establishes it Himself, and He gives to every one of His chosen ones whatever power and authority is required for the faithful execution of the ministry that God has imparted.
Dangers Related To Delegated Authority
Before we proceed with the matter of Delegated Authority we do well to consider some of the dangers that lie in the pathway of a man who has authority from God, but who may be lacking in Grace and Mercy. Ministers who have power and authority vested in them by God are in a place of tremendous responsibility. For they may use the authority they have for good or for evil, to fulfill the purposes of God, or to justify or commend themselves. This is why it is so absolutely important that any minister exercising governmental authority comes into a higher relationship with God than that of his office... a relationship so intimate, that he shall in fact minister out from the very heart of God Himself. Unless such a one pursues this goal, his very office could destroy him, as well as work havoc among the people of God.
In times of spiritual crisis in the Church, when the people of God are being shaken concerning their relationship to established institutions within the Church structure, there is always a tightening of the strings of leadership in an attempt to keep the ecclesiastical systems from falling apart. This seems to be what is happening today, and we are persuaded that this present emphasis on Church leadership and Church structure indicates a certain fear that ecclesiastical hierarchies are being shaken. This fear is well founded, for the time is upon us when judgment must begin "at the House of God" and God always begins with the "ancient men"... the elders, and the leaders, when He begins to judge His Sanctuary. (See Ezekiel 9:6; 1 Peter 4:17). It is the shepherds, not the sheep, that trample down the meadows and foul the waters with their feet. It is the "priests of the LORD" that God calls upon to "weep between the porch and the altar," and their concern is not: "Let the sheep learn to follow me..." but rather, "Spare Thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage a reproach unto the heathen, that the heathen should rule over them..."
It is important therefore, for God's ministers to know that they may have authority and power from God, because of their office, and still walk in disobedience. Let us cite just a few fearful examples:
(1) Moses had authority to strike the rock and bring forth waters to quench the thirst of the people of Israel; but he himself failed to go into the promised land because of his disobedience. (See Numbers 20:12).
(2) Saul had authority to slay the priests of the LORD... and when his personal bodyguard, who were duty-bound to obey their master, refused to do so, Doeg the Edomite took up the challenge, and slew God's anointed ones. Doeg was simply obeying instructions from the authority over him, but hear what God had to say about his actions: "God shall likewise destroy thee forever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living." (See 1 Samuel 22:18; Psalm 52:5). Doeg was not acquitted just because he was obeying the orders of a higher authority.
(3) Peter had just received the office of his apostleship. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:18, 19). But hear what Jesus had to say to Peter just a short time later: "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offense unto me: for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (Matthew 16:23). In the first instance, Peter had just received the wonderful revelation of the Christ, the Son of God... and his authority as an apostle followed hard after that revelation. But in the second instance he was speaking as old Peter the fisherman himself... inspired by Satan. How foolish to embrace the thought that we receive anything and everything an apostle or prophet teaches, simply because he is in fact an apostle or a prophet!
(4) Pilate had authority from God, by which he actually crucified the Son of God (John 19:10, 11). We know that Christ died by the "predetermined counsel and foreknowledge of God," but the fact remains that these were "wicked hands" that actually performed the deed. Remember how Jesus said to Pilate, "Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11).
(5) Caiphas, the high priest, who gave sentence of death to Jesus, also prophesied by the Word of the Lord that it was "expedient... that one man should die for the people..." God gave this wicked high priest a Divine prophetic utterance, in view of the high office that he held... he did not speak it "of himself." He did not think it up... it did not come from his own wisdom... God inspired him to say it. (See John 11:51).
Jesus could have called more than twelve legions of angels to His aid as He hung on the Cross, because He was the Messiah. But because He was more concerned about doing the will of God than He was about fulfilling His role as the Messiah--He chose to remain on the Cross. Are we not all glad for this?
God has given us ample warning in the Scriptures of what could happen when His misguided ministers seek to take advantage of the authority they have to serve their own purposes... and these serve as solemn reminders to those who imagine that they can use the authority and power the exalted Christ has vested in them, as they see fit. Their judgment shall be very severe, and I believe we should earnestly pray:
"Lord, how we need the power and authority of Heaven to minister to the needs of suffering humanity, and to deliver your sheep that have been scattered and bruised in the wilderness of life. But Lord! Do not, we pray, place in our trust any measure of authority and power that is not counterbalanced with an equal measure of grace, and humility, and meekness, and patience, and kindness, and longsuffering, and mercy, and wisdom. Keep this power and authority in Thine own hands, we pray, as the sword of Goliath was taken out of the hands of David, wrapped in a priestly garment, and hidden away in the Sanctuary till he was prepared of God to have it permanently, and to use it wisely. Continue to hold us in the hollow of Thy hand as a sharp sword, to be used of Thee at Thy discretion. Continue to polish us like the shaft of the arrow, and keep us in Thy quiver, that when Thou dost see fit to send us forth we shall not miss the mark, but we shall strike through the heart of the enemy unerringly. Keep Thy power unto Thyself alone, for Thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory... and may we only partake of it as we come into harmony and union with Thyself. Amen!"
Our Relationship To Earthly Government
In this writing we are chiefly concerned with the nature of God's Government in the Church, and our relationship towards it. And although it is true that God has established a Government for His people in the Church that is entirely foreign to the governments of this world order... the fact is that the "god of this world" is determined to take over the Government of God in the Church and to sit in the very Temple of God. He has no doubt succeeded in doing this in the past, at least in measure... and he will succeed in even greater measure in the days to come. It is extremely important therefore that we understand our responsibilities towards "government" as such, whether it be in the world or in the Church... for these governments have not always confined themselves within their own boundaries. This matter may seem irrelevant to many today... living as we do in a nation that is dedicated to the individual's pursuit for freedom. But it may not always be this way, and we must know the Truth that will make us free even when freedom is denied us.
Earthly and ecclesiastical governments seem to be drifting closer and closer towards a state of anarchy in many areas of the earth. As this takes place, and one government order is replaced by another, there is inevitably a lot of perplexity and confusion among the people as they seek to determine where their true allegiance belongs. But God wants His people to have peace in times like these. God wants His people to know that they must obey God first and foremost, regardless of the ecclesiastical and earthly laws to which they might be subjected. On the other hand, we simply recognize whatever government we find ourselves subjected to as government sent from God... and we must do nothing, by carnal, earthly means... to overthrow a governmental structure that God has established, or to seek to reinstate or uphold a governmental structure that God is overthrowing.
This is the clear teaching of Scripture:
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1).
"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake; whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and the praise of them that do well" (1 Peter 2:13, 14).
When Paul and Peter wrote about the higher powers they were not referring to some form of government that was sympathetic to the Christian cause. The immediate reference was to the Roman Government which was at that time worldwide in its domain, was even then opposing Christianity, and which would shortly dedicate itself to the task of crushing the new Christian religion, and wiping it off the face of the earth. There is no suggestion whatever that if a government becomes perverse, or oppressive to the Christian cause, then the Christian has the right to revolt against it. The governments of other nations, many of which are ruled over by dictators and kings who even now are persecuting the Church of Jesus Christ, are just as much ordained of God as our governments are in a democratic society. The Christian, therefore, will submit to whatever form of government he finds himself subjected to, recognizing as Jesus recognized, that they have no power to exert over men that God did not confer upon them (John 19:11). The Christian will obey these governments, and submit to them... as long as such obedience does not conflict with his commitment to Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Our real citizenship is in the Heavens. Our real walk is in the Heavens. Our warfare is in the Heavens, And in this heavenly realm the Body of Christ is in a position to do the will of God, and to take authority over the principalities and the powers of the spiritual world, according to the will and purpose of God. And let us be assured that this effectual warfare in the Spirit will bring about whatever changes in the earthly and the ecclesiastical realms that God has determined. We are not talking about mere passive onlookers in a world that is governed by anti-christian forces. In the Spirit we are yet to become a vital, powerful army, and in the Spirit only will we wage effectual, triumphant warfare against the powers of darkness. This is the way it was in the early beginnings of the Church... and the godless Roman Empire that was dedicated to the destruction of Christianity from the face of the earth was literally subdued and conquered by an army of saints and martyrs, who drew no sword to support their cause but the mighty Sword of the Spirit. Daniel saw this very thing in vision many centuries earlier... he saw the saints of the Most High taking the Kingdom, and a Stone cut out of the mountains without hands smiting the Roman Empire in the feet, and bringing it to nought. Since then the Stone has been growing... growing... growing... and it shall yet fill the whole earth.
God's people must be fully persuaded that this is the Truth; for though it may not seem important now to those of us who live in areas of the earth that enjoy relative religious freedom, we may not always have this kind of freedom. And if and when we lose it we must be prepared to face whatever situation God may allow to arise in the land, and for the possibility that one day we may be ruled by a government that will oppose the Name of Christ, and begin to enact laws and decrees that are designed to crush the saints of the Most High and destroy their witness in the earth.
The Three Hebrew Children
The case of the three Hebrew children is a classic example of what our stand ought to be when confronted with decrees from the government that are contrary to the laws of Christ. These young men had been taken into captivity after the Fall of Jerusalem. Jeremiah had already warned the people what would happen if they did not repent, but they would not hear; and the whole nation suffered as a result of their disobedience. But these young men were different. They knew and worshipped the true God of Israel. That was something that was settled in their hearts. But now in captivity they find themselves living under a government that was beginning to make demands of them that were contrary to their convictions. On this certain occasion they were to bow down and worship an image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up on the plains of Dura. It would not be something that would be enforced permanently, but during these festive occasions it became a decree. They could still keep their religion, but after all they were under the authority of the Government of Babylon now. In fact, Jeremiah had told the people to go down to Babylon, and to serve the King of Babylon. (See Jeremiah 27:17). So the issue was very clear: obey the king as citizens of a new country, or be true to their convictions. There didn't seem to be the slightest question in their minds as to what course they would take. "Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up" (Daniel 3:18).
Give Honor To Whom Honor Is Due
There still seems to be a lot of confusion in the minds of the people of God as to what their responsibility is to Government that is ordained of God. When the Word says, "Be subject to the higher powers..." that word does not abrogate and nullify a thousand and one exhortations that we find in the Scriptures to serve the Lord God, and Him only. Did Jeremiah think it necessary to make a list of exceptions to the rule he made when he told the people to "serve the King of Babylon"? There was no need for that. They knew what Moses and the Prophets taught concerning this, and the thought of disobeying God because the government required it was not entertained in their hearts for one moment. The seeming contradictions of the Word will harmonize within us like a beautiful symphony when we begin to walk in Truth. And so it is with our responsibility towards Government. God sets in power whom He will... a dictator, a king, a president, a prime minister. Because we honor God we honor those whom God has placed in positions of authority over the land. We do not malign them; but if necessary we must declare unto them the ways of Righteousness and Truth. We will support them in the Spirit, as we pray for them, and take up spiritual warfare against the principalities and powers in the heavens that are exerting tremendous pressures upon them to enact laws and statutes that are anti-God and anti-Christ. Prayers and intercessions of this nature are effectual, and they are able to overthrow these unseen powers, and cause the earthly ruler under them to submit to God. On the other hand, if the nation does not repent and submit to God, and God has decreed judgment against the land because of the sin and iniquity that abound, no amount of prayer will prevail anything, because the Spirit of God knows the mind of God and will not allow you to pray effectually in the Spirit contrary to the will of God.
The Word is clear as to our responsibility to all men, to the fellowship of the brethren, to rulers in the Church, to rulers in the world. As we walk in Truth we do not require cumbersome lists of "exceptions" to the rule... we know what the Law of Christ says... and we know that we do not go against His holy law in a vain attempt to satisfy and appease some lesser dignity.
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers..." But Paul who spoke these words laid down his head on the chopping-block at the command of the higher power, because he refused to stop preaching Christ.
"Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands IN EVERYTHING" (Ephesians 5:24). The virtuous woman submits to this, and she finds it to be her joy and freedom as she does so, for she knows it is God's order. But even as she takes her place as the weaker vessel, joyfully, knowing it to be the will of God... she shall also know the strength of her Lord to resist her husband if he commands her to lie and cheat and steal and commit adultery with his cronies... She doesn't need a list of exceptions to the rule... the Law of Christ is in her heart and mind, and there is no controversy within her, and no doubt in her mind as to what she should do or not do.
It should hardly seem necessary for us to use illustrations of this nature, but sometimes it seems necessary to "shock" a person to his senses if he has become extremely dull of hearing. The fact is there is not the slightest indication in all Scripture that it is the duty of man to obey any government, in the earth or in the Church, when it begins to intrude into the realm of a man's conscience and into areas which relate to his personal relationship with God. The whole duty of man as set forth either in the Old Covenant or the New, is to obey the LORD first and always... and then, of course, obey whatever government there may be of a lesser dignity. God's people, of all people on the face of the earth, are to be law-abiding; and contempt for established, delegated authority must have no place with them. But when established, delegated authority begins to intrude into areas of your soul and spirit that belong to God alone, then there is no question whatever as to what course you must take.
Christ Or Politics
Ever since Emperor Constantine put the Cross on his battle standard, and went about to Christianize the Roman Empire, the Church has been confused as to her responsibilities toward earthly governments. Up until that time the Christians were a SEPARATE PEOPLE, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, and were hated and ostracized by pagan Rome. But when Constantine came to the throne the whole strategy of the Enemy of Christ suddenly changed. We believe it was due to the subtle tactics of Satan that Constantine sought to Christianize paganism, by making Christianity the state religion, by baptizing his armies into the new Christian religion, by elevating the ministry to places of leadership in the land, and by granting the Christian Church all kinds of earthly favors. From this unholy union of Church and State the Church of Jesus Christ has never recovered. It now sounds like strange doctrine to most Christians, and to most men in the ministry, that the Church was intended of the Lord to be SEPARATE from the world structure. If Satan is indeed the "god of this world" and the "prince of the power of the air," then only in the power of the Spirit are we going to be able to wage effectual warfare against the antichristian forces that are at work in the earth. (See Ephesians 6:10-18). If the ills of our nation, or any other nation, are considered to be merely of a political or economic nature, then it really doesn't matter all that much if our statesmen are pagan or Christian; and ungodly men will readily support any man seeking political power as long as the ECONOMY rather than CHRIST, is the main issue... as long as our standard of living will continue to rise... as long as it is generally understood that the life style of Sodom with all her debauchery and her unspeakable licentiousness will not be seriously tampered with. Sodom's economy was one of the best in her day, but God was not the least impressed with her abundance and prosperity... In fact, God considered her booming economy to be her fundamental sin: "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, PRIDE, FULNESS OF BREAD, and ABUNDANCE OF IDLENESS..." (Ezekiel 16:49). How well this sums up the situation as it exists today, especially here in the Western World!
God wants His people to be assured that a Spirit-filled, Spirit-taught, Spirit-anointed, Spirit-led people is the only answer that God has for human need; and that He is in the process of creating such a people. Apart from national repentance and a turning toward God, the Bible gives no hope whatever for the renewal of our society--nor are we to try to change it by any other means. When men desire to continue in their rebellion, God literally withdraws His restraining grace, and gives the society over to greater and greater wickedness, and finally to a "reprobate mind," which means, "a mind void of moral discernment"... it is no longer capable of knowing right and wrong, but it calls GOOD evil, and EVIL good... and actually believes the lie. (See Romans 1:24-28).
And so as God releases His hand of restraining grace, the forces of evil are being given free course in this last hour, this day of Harvest. Just as the mystery of Christ comes to fulness in His people; so the Mystery of Iniquity comes to fulness in the seed of the Evil One. There is to be an acceleration of evil in the last days... as well as an acceleration of righteousness. "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still... he that is righteous, let him be righteous still" (Revelation 22:11). Let him carry on in it... let him increase in it... LET HIM COME TO FULNESS!
Winds of judgment are about to be released in the earth; and when the tables are turned, and God' s judgments engulf the earth, God would have us to know the reason for it all. It will be...
BECAUSE the hearts of men have become utterly depraved and corrupt, as it was in the days of Noah and of Lot... and a holy and righteous God can no longer stay His hand in judgment.
BECAUSE our educators and intellectuals have succeeded in brainwashing the nation and persuading our youth that they are but animals in the process of evolution... just a spontaneous outgrowth from the slime of some primeval ocean bed... and now after many eons, just a hairless ape... but gradually rising higher and higher, by his own knowledge and wisdom... that there is really no definite standard of righteousness or morality... and whatever a society deems to be right is right... or if they deem it to be wrong it is wrong... that there is no such thing as a man created in God's image who sinned against his God... that God (if there is a God) is not a holy and perfect Being with whom we have to deal, but merely some kind of impersonal force whose name we still have to use on occasion because of our inability to define certain aspects of the universe that seem as yet to be beyond the understanding of science... and little by little as science is able to understand these mysteries and explain them, then the whole idea of God as a Supernatural Being can be dispensed with altogether...
BECAUSE the hearts of men have become so hardened towards sin and immorality that there is no longer a true sense of moral values. and the basest of sins are considered to be proper and honorable... sins so vile that one would almost hesitate to mention them by name in polite conversation, or even to put it in writing... and in and through it all they are upheld and honored even by men who hold high positions in the land as a people to be desired and lauded. As the apostle Paul puts it: they "not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them" (Romans 1:32).
BECAUSE those who profess to be Christian, and to honor the Bible... have in fact become the lukewarm Church of prophecy, concerning which Jesus said, if they would not repent, "I will spew thee out of my mouth..." Jesus said, "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt hath lost his savour... it is thenceforth GOOD FOR NOTHING, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (Matthew 5:13).
But in the midst of all the chaos and turmoil that shall arise in the land, let the "little flock" not despair, who cry unto Him day and night, because of all the abominations that are committed in the earth and in the Church... and may they take courage in the promise of our Lord, who said, "Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily" (Luke 18:7, 8).
Withdrawing From Established Authority
One would imagine that if and when established authority becomes oppressive or perverse, especially in the Church--that God would immediately take steps to disannul that authority. But God's ways are not our ways. He knows how to deal with powers in the earth or in the Church, and He will do so in His own time. What, then, about those who are forced to live under this kind of authority? When, and under what circumstances, are they permitted to cast off misguided authority?
The question as it relates to Church Government is not: "Do God's apostles and prophets have power and authority to rule in the Church today?" The Scriptures clearly teach that God "hath set" these ministers in the Church; and we accept this as a fact, and we would encourage the believers to recognize and to honor the ministers whom God hath set in the Church to bring order and harmony to the people of God. But the question that seems to be in doubt in the minds of many Christians is rather this: "Am I to give unquestioned obedience and submission to a valid, established ministry in the Church? Or do I have the right to "try those which say they are apostles"... their words, their decrees, their actions... and through it all to maintain a direct, open-line communication with God alone, and refuse to allow any minister, from God or otherwise, to jam this line of communication because of their special office?"
We have many illustrations in the realm of both earthly and ecclesiastical governments of situations where the people of God had to decide whether to obey the Authority, or God who is above all Authority. And we likewise have many examples of God's provision for His own in the hour of their oppression. Until God's hour comes, there is nothing the people of God can do about it, but to obey and submit to whatever form of earthly or ecclesiastical government they find themselves subjected to. In rendering this kind of submission, of course, they are never under obligation to violate righteous principles of conduct in an attempt to satisfy the Authority. But in as far as their conscience will allow, they will seek to render due obedience, until the time comes for God to bring them into deliverance. Israel remained under Egyptian bondage, and had no choice in the matter until God intervened. Later, they were taken into Babylonian captivity, and were exhorted to "serve the King of Babylon," which they did. But when it came to a question of serving God, or the king, they knew where to draw the line.
We have had similar situations arise in the realm of ecclesiastical governments through the Church's long history, and great has been the agony, and the fears, and the heart-searching of God's chosen ones as they found it necessary at times to stand forth against established Authority, and withdraw from its dominion. As God led them step by step, they were looked upon by those who remained loyal to the Authority... as renegades and apostates. But God vindicated them over and over again, as they stood forth valiantly for the Truth, against all the power and might of earthly and ecclesiastical powers combined. We would like to remind God's people that they simply cannot cast off authority because of certain disagreements that have arisen, or because of certain pressures that they have been subjected to. God must indicate His will in the matter, and He will bring about deliverance in His own time and in His own way. God may seem to be late according to man's standard, but He is always right on schedule. There was need for Reformation many, many years before Luther came on the scene, but God's time had not yet come. And one cannot read the account of the Reformation without realizing the great heart-searching and agony of soul that these men of God knew and experienced as they were faced with the decision of withdrawing from established ecclesiastical authority. Many of us have gone through similar experiences--and though perhaps not comparable in magnitude with the warfare and the turmoil that we have read about in Church History, we are confident the agony of soul and spirit was just as bitter.
David went through similar experience as God brought him away from the authority and dominion of Saul. God did not abrogate Saul's authority, and David continued to recognize Saul as God's anointed one, even to the day of Saul's death. But David knew that God had delivered him from Saul's authority. He would gladly have returned to Saul's kingdom and come under Saul's dominion again, if Saul would only have changed his ways and walked before the Lord. But David never lived to see that day, and he had to walk in obedience before God, isolated completely from his brethren in the kingdom of Saul. Great was his agony of soul... not simply because of the wanderings to which he was subjected, but because God's "anointed" was walking in perverseness, and David and his band were cast off and exiled from God's inheritance.
"My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword... they have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down: they have digged a pit for me, into the midst whereof they are fallen themselves" (Psalm 57:4, 6).
God's Sheep Are Looking For True Rest
Some of God's shepherds have been slow to understand the heartache and the agony of God's sheep in times of spiritual drought and apostasy... and when God begins to call the sheep unto Himself, and into union with Himself alone, and they begin to depart from established Church systems and structures... there is usually consternation and dismay among the leadership. And very often this brings about a tightening of the strings of leadership in order to coerce the sheep into obedience to their authority.
The fact of the matter is that sheep, God's sheep, are longing for true guidance and true leadership... but their hearts grow weary and their soul becomes dry and thirsty as they go from one pasture to another looking for true rest. Most of the shepherds do not understand because they themselves have never been sheep. They do not have the heart of a sheep and therefore they do not have the heart of a shepherd. We know there will always be the rebellious and the stiff-necked who will not come under any kind of authority... but these are not the "sheep" of God's flock. they are the goats. God's sheep are looking for true shepherds and true leadership... and that is why so many of them come out from under one kind of bondage, and almost immediately submit themselves to another. until eventually many of them simply give up in despair, and either settle down in some ecclesiastical structure, or withdraw completely from anything that bears any semblance to a meaningful fellowship of the Body of Christ.
Many of us have known much of the Glory of the Lord in times past, and we can find no comfort in the assurances that we receive from time to time that if we will just submit to this New Testament Church order, or get on this sure foundation, or come under this covering or that... all will be well. And though in the will of God many of us have submitted to some form of established church order for a season, we knew of a certainty that the Glory of the Lord was sadly lacking, and we continued to hope and pray... and to anticipate the dawning of a New Day when the Lordship of Christ would dominate every gathering of God's people in His Name, and where every member of the Body knew what it was to worship the Lord in Spirit and in Truth.
In saying this, of course, we are not suggesting that we should look for a return of the Glory that we have known in the past. We simply recognize that the Glory we have known in the past is but a foretaste and an earnest of what God has in mind, and we cannot be satisfied until we explore the whole inheritance. Caleb and Joshua were not interested in making a second excursion into the land of Canaan in order to grasp another cluster of grapes from Eschol, and a few more pomegranates... but having tasted of that precious fruit they could no longer be satisfied with the manna that fell every morning throughout the Camp, with the water that flowed out of the Rock, or even with the Cloud of Glory that hovered over the Tabernacle by day and by night. They appreciated all that... and we continue to appreciate all the way the Lord has led us... but we simply recognize that in spite of the manna, and in spite of the water out of the rock, and in spite of the cloud of glory by day and the pillar of fire by night... THAT GENERATION OF ISRAELITES WASN'T GOING ANYWHERE. They were going to die right there in the wilderness. There were not going in to enjoy the inheritance that their present blessings were intended to prepare them for. All over the land we are witnessing many wonderful things, as God pours out His Spirit upon all flesh. And yet in and through it all we are saddened as we behold a great measure of the blessing and the power of God in the midst of His people, and yet oftentimes no real anticipation of coming forth into the inheritance that is ours in Christ Jesus... even the putting on of the very stature and image of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that if this is not the vision, and if this is not the hope, and if this is not the expectation of God's people, then all this blessing and glory and excitement that is prevalent today means little or nothing, because it is leading God's people nowhere. We can thank the Lord, however, that there is developing in the hearts of men a new hunger and a new vision... and many are being awakened to the realization that there is indeed much more land to be possessed, and new frontiers in the Spirit to be explored.