The Plan and Purpose of God through the Church Age

lightTo try and understand the plan and purpose of God through this Church age is not easy and when we consider what has taken place since the mid 1950’s when the so called Charismatic Ecumenical Renewal began and it seemed that God was moving through the denominations despite all their errors we may be increasingly confused. Having a knowledge of Church history certainly helps but the best of biblical scholars finish with differing conclusions. So we need to ask for spiritual understanding that only the Holy Spirit can give us. He needs to bring His light upon our understanding of what has happened since the Church began and what is going to happen yet as we approach the end of the Church age.

In this section I will endeavour to share some of the answers I believe that I have received in my quest for understanding.;

We know that as soon as the church began, two thousand years ago, things were going wrong almost immediately as the spirits of antichrist arose amongst the saints. John speaks of this in his first letter –“Children, it is the last hour and just as you have heard that anitichrist is coming, even so now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know it is the last hour,(1John 2:18). He goes on to say, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us." (v.19) We also know from Paul’s writings that there was a huge battle surrounding the early church. He mentions that amongst the elders at Ephesus would arise those savage wolves from among themselves that would not spare the flock; "and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them." (Acts 20:28-32). It is a matter of church history that the last two thousand years have been a huge battle for the true church. We arrive where we are in God’s plan with a background of the horrors that have been committed in the Name of Christ.

In my quest for answers I believe the Lord led me to a writing of the 1600’s by a Scottish Quaker by the name of Robert Barclay. He wrote,

“The great apostasy came not on the Christian world all at once, but by several degrees, one thing making way for another; until that thick and gross veil came to be over-spread, wherewith the nations were so blindly covered, from the 7th or 8th until the 16th century. Even as the darkness of the night comes not upon the outward creation all at once, but by degrees, according as the sun declines in each horizon. So, neither did that full and clear light and knowledge of the glorious dispensation of the gospel of Christ, appear all at once; the work of the first witnesses being more to testify against and discover the abuses of the apostasy, than to establish the Truth in purity. He that comes to build a new city must first remove the old rubbish before he can lay a new foundation; and he that comes to a house greatly polluted and full of dirt, will first sweep away and remove the filth before he put up his own good and new furniture. The dawning of the day dispels the darkness, and makes us see the things that are most conspicuous; but the distinct discovering and discerning of things, so as to make a certain and perfect observation, is reserved for the arising of the sun, and its shining to full brightness. And we can from a certain experience boldly affirm, that the not waiting for this, but the building among, yea, and with, the old Popish rubbish, and setting up before a full purgation, hath been to most Protestants the foundation of many a mistake, and an occasion for unspeakable hurt.”

This passage begins to explain something of this journey upon which we are travelling and which is not yet finished. We are not yet at the full light of the noonday, even if we are much further on than Robert Barclay was when he wrote this. 

We see that the recovery from the darkness of the middle ages began with Martin Luther rediscovering (if that’s the right word) justification by faith. The Quakers in the 17th century emphasised the need to be led and taught by the Holy Spirit, a mighty move of God not recorded in most Christian History books because it also questioned the man made denominations in it's time. The Methodist revival of the 18th century reaffirmed the need for sanctification and holiness. The authority of the scriptures as containing the Word of God was emphasised by the revival that brought the Brethren into being in the 19th century as well as the truth of the priesthood of all believers. Sadly they ignored and misunderstood the role of the Holy Spirit and were dividing into factions almost immediately. The beginning of the 20th century saw the recovery of the baptism in the Holy Spirit which historically is often linked to Azusa Street in Los Angeles. Again, within months men were organising what the Spirit had begun and the Fire moved from this location. In the late 1940’s the ‘healing revival’ and, so called, ‘Latter Rain Movement’ saw even more recovery of Truth and reality to the Church but not without controversy. Each step is always accompanied by a great spiritual battle. That each of these moves of God resulted in men taking from the Holy Spirit that which was initially of Him should not make us think any less of each of these major spiritual breakthroughs. We owe our understanding to the victory won by these saints of old. What is called, 'the Reformation' forms part of this story and this was to cost the lives of many believers. When the true Church moves in reality persecution always accompanies what is from God. The 1600's saw the prisons of England filled with true believers guilty of nothing but trying to walk in accordance with the will of God. Not found in history books is the resultant judgement of God upon our nation in the Great Fire of London in 1666 as a result of this yet it can be found in the record of events of this time in George Fox's Journal. 

It is interesting to note that each of these moves of God took place outside the denominations but sadly created another! Men have always organised what began in the Spirit and this, usually within a generation. But a change was to occur in the early 1950’s. Many believers might not understand the role played by the ‘Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International’ but believe it was a very significant step in this journey I am trying to describe. It was key in the unfolding of the Lord’s plans and purposes. But like all other moves of God, even as this new move of God had begun – and it was a powerful move of God – it began to go wrong. Instead of moving outside the denominations as other moves of God had done FGBMFI was used to birth a move of God within them that took the name of the Charismatic Ecumenical Renewal. The CER was birthed through FGBMFI. Few realise this but the eyewitness account of Clayt Sonmore on the day this took place – June 27th 1956 – explains what transpired. Clayt Sonmore was one of the founding Directors of this organisation.

Contrary to the Lord’s teaching it seems that God was actually involved in putting new wine into the old wineskins of the denominations. It cannot be done, of course. It is by this that I believe we are so easily confused when we consider present day ecumenism because many think that it must therefore endorse what men have built for God rather than what He has directed. It is therefore essential for us to understand what God’s purpose was in permitting this.

The CER did not really effect the UK until the late 1970's. At this time there was a move of God here that saw revival spreading throughout the nation. But within a few years this move of God, like all others was beginning to wane and those involved in it had no idea why. At this time I was part of a small number of men in the North West of England who began to seek the Lord as to the reason why. 'I have already shared what we began to be shown in my booklet 'Who Is Leading The Church?' To this group a prophecy was brought in January 1993 that there was then beginning a separation of the Harlot and the Bride. The import of what we heard did not fully strike us but within weeks we found ourselves part of this very separation and from that time a shaking has come to all Christian organisations with splits and regroupings of believers who might realise something is amiss but not know why or what it really is. 

Because of the true church’s innocence the spirit of antichrist has always stopped any move of God. This has been amazingly quick and certainly within a generation spiritual death was effecting that which initially had so much life. This is the reason, I believe, that it has been necessary before the coming end-time move of God that we gain victory over the spirits of antichrist that have brought spiritual death so quickly to all past moves of God which have brought the true Church from the dark ages. So it is that I believe we – the body of Christ - have been led through the denominational mixture to learn that which is not of the Lord and that which is, moving us from innocence to purity. Innocence is where we do not know what is wrong but purity is where we do but reject falsehood and are washed clean.

For the Church to reach the final victory that will see the Bride of Christ emerge with no spot or wrinkle a last battle has to be fought. Jesus has to be her one and only Head. It is in the area of correct ‘Church Government’ that this final battle is being and will be fought, but it is a battle that brings the Church into the full freedom for which Christ has set us free. It brings us out of from Mystery Babylon and into the reality of the Bride of Christ, the true Church set finally free from that which began to ensnare her 2000 years ago. It is in the area of having names over us other than Jesus, having memberships or organisations to which we additionally belong, with hierarchical leadership contrary to the teaching of Jesus rather than a level brotherhood, that I mean by ‘Church government’. It has always been in this area that men have gone on to organise that which began by the Holy Spirit but as we approach the end of this age this must not happen again. My booklet ‘Who Is Leading The Church?’ is all about this. Before the Lord returns He will have a church that is without spot and wrinkle; a church without mixture. It is this, I know, that we all long for and it is this that is now beginning to unfold.

The Deeper Significance of Pentecost

The understanding I am trying to convey in this section is by no means new but has been an unfolding revelation to the Church. The attached PDF file is a message given by Frank Bartleman shortly before he went home to be with the Lord in 1925. It is of perhaps more pertinence for the Church today than when it was preached. Frank Bartleman is well known for his eyewitness account of the Azusa Street Revival of 1906. His personal account under the title 'Azusa Street' can still be found in differing publications and is highly recommended reading as it gives such insight into how men can find it so hard to give up the kingdoms they have built and so easily take what is of God and build yet another kingdom of their own making.

It is written of Frank Bartleman that "he was a man of passion and deep burden. His prayers literally opened the heavens, and his messages were withering to all that was of the flesh. Everything that stood as an obstruction to the full exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all became the object of his travailing prayer and was ruthlessly opposed by his fearless pen and tongue. But Frank Bartleman was more than an intercessor and more than a dauntless revivalist. He was a man of vision - a prophet! He perceived a deeper significance of what the Holy Spirit was after in revival and called upon God’s people to go on to that ultimate. His voice, although so long silent, now once again goes forth.

With similar insight to Robert Barclay, Frank Bartleman writes of the Body of Christ being like a prodigal son who has wandered from the Father’s house that since the Reformation is gradually returning. He writes,“The route back has been devious and long, with many a dark valley, as well as many a glorious summit. But steadily, relentlessly, the mighty Spirit of God has been moving on, restoring that which was lost and heading things up toward that great prophetic revelation of the Body of Christ in unity and fullness – even one Body, fully matured “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ!” (Eph.4:13) 

He is speaking of the return of Jesus for His Bride, His Bride who has not only made herself ready but come to maturity in Him, having Him as her only Head.

Just as Robert Barclay did, Frank Bartleman’s shares his amazing insight, an insight born out of his first hand experience of the 1906 Revival that initiated the Pentecostal Movement of the twentieth century. Frank Bartleman writes of this journey the Church has made, “The early Church ran well for a season. Everything went down before it. But by the third or fourth century, they had compromised to escape the cross. They sold out to the devil, backslid, and went down into the “Dark Ages.” They lost the Holy Spirit anointing, the gifts, the life, the power, the joy, everything. The Church became a prodigal, left the Father’s house, and went to feeding swine.

“The early Church came forth from the “upper room” fresh in her “first love,” (Rev.2:4) baptized with the Holy Spirit, filled with God, possessing both the graces and gifts of the Spirit, and with a one hundred percent consecration for God. This was the secret of her power. She was all for God, and God was all for her. This principle will apply in all ages, both individually and collectively. No sacrifice on the altar means no fire. The fire of God never falls on an empty altar. The greater the sacrifice, the more the fire. 

“Without question, it was God’s desire to restore the backslidden, prodigal Church at once, when she fell, just as He must have desired at once to restore the human race in the beginning when they fell. But He could not. Human, fallen nature was too weak. When the prodigal gets home, and the Church becomes one hundred per cent for God again, we will have the same power, the same life and the same persecution from the world. The reason we have so little persecution now is that the Spirit cannot press the claims of God home on the world through us. When that happens, men must either surrender or fight. 

Beloved, unless we understand this, we will not be able to move on with God and understand the different stages, experiences, and various standards and operations in the Church’s history during this dispensation. That is why most Christians have failed to move on with God and to accept His cumulative unfoldings in the restoration of revelation, light and experience, once lost, but now being restored to the true Church.' 

Frank Bartleman was convinced that to understand our own walk we must first understand God's plan for mankind. He writes, "If you do not fully see this, or if it seems to differ from your present idea of things, do bear with me. Before I am finished I believe you will understand, and, if so, it may well transform your life, giving new and vital direction to your prayers and ministry.”

This was the importance Frank Bartleman placed on understanding the reality of this battle that began in Genesis and continues today in the battle to restore man fully back to God. It is a battle that only concludes with the last pages of the Revelation. It is an understanding that transforms us because we begin to understand God’s plan and purposes and begin to walk with Him in it rather than replace it with our ideas and agendas. 

Here is Frank Bartleman’s full sermon to download :-

Download "The Deeper Significance of Pentecost" here (80k)