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There are two major movements that will mark the Church in the last days: apostasy and restoration. Tradition will not only be a major player in the process of apostasy, as we saw in the previous post, it will also be a primary force in the process of restoration.
The Root of Restoration
Restoration is the recovery of what once was, and was lost. As we saw last time, what was, and was lost was simply, CHRIST. HE became supplemented with, and supplanted by, lesser things in the Church. In particular, we saw that He was substituted for and displaced from His central, supreme and all-sufficient place as the unrivaled Center, supreme Identity, sole Foundation and uncontested Head of the Ekklesia. The local expressions of the church consequently moved away from the place of unity, fullness, purity, and balance and began to be marked by disunity, diminishment, impurity, and imbalance. The work of apostasy that developed over the ensuing centuries and millenia can be traced back to these fundamental shifts and changes that began very early on.
These four facets of Center, Identity, Foundation, and Head are especially significant because they each represent a core element of what constitutes any established and functioning social unit. Any free-will association, be it spiritual or natural, will have four core components that are essential to its constitution. These will vary in nature and content from one group to another, but they will all be present in some form or another, and will be the primary factors determining the ultimate nature, form, and function of the group. I call these four core components, the “formative core” of a group. They are:
1. An “attractional center” – This is the primary purpose, passion, or person that the group coalesces around. This is what primarily draws and holds the group together and is the main reason for its existence.
2. A “distinctive identity” – This is what designates the group as a distinct entity and distinguishes it from every other association. This distinctive identity is very often derived from the group’s “attractional center”, and/or serves to succinctly communicate something essential about the group.
3. A “foundational base” – This is what fundamentally establishes, unifies, and defines the group. Six foundational questions need to have a source by which they are answered concerning the groups basic nature, form, and function: who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, and how? The recognized and accepted source by which those six questions are answered becomes the “foundational base” upon which it is built.
4. A “governance principle” – This is the principle as to how the group is governed. This principle determines how the group is led, decisions are made, where authority lies, and how people or things that are detrimental to the group are handled. Every group encounters these matters and of necessity adopts some form of “governance principle” to manage them.
The “formative core” of every established group, then, consists of an “attractional center,” a “distinctive identity”, a “foundational base”, and a “governance principle”. These are the four core principles that every free-will association is established according to and coalesces around. Whatever “shape” this “formative core” takes, the “conformative matrix” that develops around it becomes fashioned according to its nature and “contour”. As was previously shared in this series, once this “conformative matrix” is established, it serves to “lock in” the shape and contour of the “formative core” that originated it so that any change that is made to the “core” later on, comes up against the resistance of the “matrix” that surrounds it. This is the fundamental nature of how a group forms, develops, and becomes established.
When it comes to the Ekklesia, the same is found there as well. When a local expression of the Ekklesia is established according to God’s eternal purpose, Christ is given the preeminence in all things. (Col.1:18) Therefore, in the New Testament we see the apostles, in essence, establishing the local churches with Christ as their:
1. “Attractional Center” – HE is the primary purpose, passion, and Person that the church coalesces around. He is that which primarily draws and holds the church together and is the main reason for her existence.
2. “Distinctive Identity” – HE is what designates the Church as a distinct entity and distinguishes it from every other association on earth. The Church is called by His Name, which is in keeping with her “attractional center” and also communicates that which is most essential about her origin, constitution, and purpose.
3. “Foundational Base” – HE is the One who fundamentally establishes, unifies, and defines the Church by His Person and work. He is, likewise, God’s comprehensive Answer to the fundamental questions of: who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, and how? concerning the nature, form and function of the Ekklesia.
4. “Governance Principle” – HE is the principle as to how the Church is governed. He, through His Headship, is how the ekklesia is to be led, how decisions are to be made, where authority lies, and how people or things that are detrimental to the group are handled.
This, then, is the “formative core” of the Ekklesia as it is fashioned according to God’s eternal purpose. Christ Himself is it’s “Attractional Center”, “Distinctive Identity”, “Foundational Base”, and “Governance Principle” (i.e. Center, Identity, Foundation and Head.) When the local church coalesces around and is established according to Christ in these four aspects, she grows and develops according to God’s design for her. The “conformative matrix” that develops around this “formative core” takes the nature and “shape” of Christ, and eventually “locks in” the nature and “shape” of these four core aspects of Christ in the ekklesia. If later on, change to this Christ-established “core” is attempted, it runs up against the resistance of the Christ-established “matrix” that surrounds it. This, then, is fundamentally how the Ekklesia forms, develops, and is established according to God’s eternal purpose.
We have in this simple explanation, then, the essential pattern of the Church according to God’s eternal purpose, with Christ Himself being central, supreme, and all-sufficient as her unrivaled Center, supreme Identity, sole Foundation, and uncontested Head, and the entire life, function, and form of the Ekklesia taking its nature and expression from these four core aspects of Christ being established. It is the substance of this Christ-centered pattern which the Church once had, and lost.
The movement away from this Christ-centered original intention for the Church is the root of apostasy, as was discussed in Part 4. The recovery of this Christ-centered original intention for the Church, then, is the root of restoration!
The Fruit of Restoration
After defining the “root of restoration”, it is also important that we define the “fruit of restoration”. Many different aspects of the character, ministry, and works of Christ could be elaborated on here, for the entire “conformative matrix” of the restored Ekklesia will be filled with and expressive of the fullness of Christ. These innumerable facets of the fruit of Christ, however, can be identified by certain characteristics themselves. In fact, these characteristics mark the entire “tree”, root to fruit. When Christ is restored as the Root of the tree (i.e. as its “Formative Core”), the entire tree will be marked by four essential characteristics of Christ: unity, fullness, purity, and balance. These will develop naturally as a result of Christ being re-established as the true Center, Identity, Foundation, and Head of the Ekklesia. This is what I will define as the fruit of restoration. (All four of these can be deduced from Paul’s description of the fully matured Body of Christ in Ephesians 4:13-17, and elsewhere.)
The Futile Way and the Fruitful Way
To understand God’s way of restoration, it is vital to discern the difference between the “root of restoration” and the “fruit of restoration”. It is the confusing of these two aspects that has caused much failure in the past on the part of God’s people as He has sought to restore His Church. By developing a clearer understanding of them, we will be able to discern more fully God’s way of restoration, which will be vital for the Church going forward.
The fact is, there are two ways that restoration can be pursued… one futile, the other fruitful.
Throughout history, the majority of restoration-type movements have tragically followed the former of these. This is the more popular, less costly way, which ends up, itself, succumbing to the process of apostasy due to its fundamentally flawed basis. (This was touched on in the previous post, but I will elaborate further on it here.)
The futile way is to focus on “fruit” while ignoring or dismissing the “root”. This is the natural way, for fruit is much more visible and seemingly valuable to man than roots are. There is, therefore, a much greater awareness of and motivation to focus on fruit issues than there is on root issues. It is also, seemingly, less costly to attempt to remedy specific fruit problems than it is to try to fix systemic root problems. Movements, therefore, much more readily develop around a particular fruit focus, than they do around a root focus.
If the various restoration movements throughout history were to be examined closely, most would be seen to have centered around some aspect of the “fruit of restoration” i.e. promoting some aspect of Christian unity, of spiritual fullness, of doctrinal, personal or ecclesiastical purity, and/or of spiritual balance in some regard. Whatever their primary focus and purpose was, this became their “attractional center”, and it most likely helped to form their “distinctive identity”. (Think “Holiness Movement”, “Pentecostal Movement”, “Healing Movement”, “Faith Movement”, “Ecumenical Movement”, “Church Growth Movement”, and the like…)
Not dealing radically with the root (“formative core”) issues, however, these movements invariably ended up adopting some form of the “old wineskin” to seek to contain their “new wine”. Their “foundational base” and “governance principle” subsequently became adopted and adapted from the prevailing “substitutionary” system. This gave them a “formative core” that was centered around and identified by a specific “fruit focus” instead of CHRIST as unrivaled Center and supreme Identity, and was founded on and governed by some other construct and principle other than CHRIST as sole Foundation and uncontested Head. Although it seemed that they were making radical advances from prior expressions of the Church, in reality, they were merely giving the same old, Christ-supplanting “woman” a “facelift”. The very roots of the system that gave rise to the bad fruit that they were trying to counter continued to be the roots of the new “tree”. It was only a matter of time until a new form of the “fruit of apostasy” began to grow on their branches. This was inevitable!
This failing “fruit-focused” way of pursuing restoration has repeated itself so many times throughout history, it has proven itself to be a fundamentally flawed and futile way.
If we discern the difference between the “fruit” and the “root” of the problem, we can understand quite clearly why this is so. Jesus said, “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Matt.7:16-19 He, likewise said, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” Matt. 12:33
The fruitful way of pursuing restoration, therefore, is to deal radically with the tree, beginning with the roots. In fact, this is the only way there will be true and lasting restoration. The “root” of the Ekklesia, the “formative core”, in all four of its essential components, must become simply, and exclusively…CHRIST! Only then will the fruit of the tree be CHRIST, and the entire tree be restored to God’s original and ultimate intention.
First and foremost, therefore, all energies and focus must be directed at the radical restoration of CHRIST to the place of unrivaled Center, supreme Identity, sole Foundation and uncontested Head of the Ekklesia. All four areas must come into uncompromised conformity to the centrality, supremacy, and all-sufficiency of CHRIST, that the entire tree will be according to God’s eternal purpose and that it will bring forth the full-blown fruit of CHRIST in unity, fullness, purity, and balance. This way, and this way alone, is the fruitful way of restoration.
A Radical Returning Remnant
This process of restoration is a much more difficult process than apostasy. Apostasy is the natural course of things in this fallen world. It takes no more effort to propagate than a boat exerts in drifting untethered from its mooring. Restoration, on the other hand, is a swimming against the tide, a constant uphill climb, a rebuilding in the midst of perpetual opposition, a straining against a resilient and resistant psychological and sociological “web”. It is truly a work of God, and He has called a stalwart breed of men and women to participate with Him in it.
Martin Luther once said, “Learn from me, how difficult a thing it is to throw off errors confirmed by the example of all the world, and which through long habit have become a second nature to us.”
His life is a poignant example of that, and yet he didn’t even deal radically with the full “formative core” of the existing Church structure! The Anabaptists were much more radical in this regard, and they endured a bloodbath of persecution and martyrdom from both the Catholic and the Protestant camps.
The reality is, that once the “formative core” of a religious movement or system becomes established and the “conformative matrix” sufficiently develops so as to “lock it in”, it is virtually impossible for that movement or system to ever be radically changed. Change from the core out is strongly resisted by the tensile strength of the surrounding matrix, and change from the matrix in is strongly resisted by the established core, where the authority base lies. This resistance, in both directions, comes not only from the sociological constructs that have developed, but also from the psychological mindsets that it has spawned, driven, in both regards, by the insidious and ubiquitous power of Tradition.
Those who choose to remain in such a movement or system, aware of the fruit of apostasy within it, have but a few options. I have identified the main ones here by personifying them as distinct groups of people.
• “Resigners” – These resign themselves to the situation as it is, figure they can’t change it, look pragmatically at the good that is being done, and assume that if God is in any way blessing it, He must also be endorsing it. This is the easiest and most popular group to belong to.
• “Revivalists” – These feel that the real problem is that there just isn’t enough of God’s Spirit and power at work in their system. These are constantly preaching and praying for “REVIVAL” (i.e. for God to pour out His “new wine” into their “old wineskin”.) This approach, however, never deals with the underlying root of why they are corporately dying in the first place. Unless that is radically dealt with, the deadness will remain, or quickly return after a temporary “visitation.”
• “Reformers” – These hold out hope that the system can be reformed, either from the top down, or the bottom up, or as was just said, from the inside out, or the outside in. If changes are actually brought about, they will invariably be partial and generally short-lived because of the resilient nature of the “formative core”/”conformative matrix” construct.
Other groups move out of the systems they are a part of to find or create new institutional or “organic” alternatives. These can be categorized as “Revisionists”, “Reactionaries”, “Rebels”, “Refugees”, and “Recluses”, each with their own nuance of approach to the problem of apostasy. As was discussed in Part 4, these are essentially reactionary in nature, seek to remedy the fruit of apostasy without dealing radically with its root, and, in the end, perpetuate the problem all over again. (See also the series, “Rebels, Refugees and a Returning Remnant”)
The psychological and sociological power of Tradition is so blinding, and so binding, that most never think, or dare to seriously consider, that the foundational elements that are universally taken for granted as to what constitutes a legitimate “church” may actually be un-Biblical, being substitutionary in nature, rather than substantive….i.e. CHRIST.
Those who would dare to declare such a thing are considered rebels, heretics, or worse. As one has said, “When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” -Dresden James
However, God’s purpose and program in the light of such root-level apostasy is to raise up one final group, a radical, returning Remnant. These are those who are willing to leave the confusion of the present system (“Babylon”), return to the God-ordained “land”, re-lay the age-old foundations, and rebuild the House of God according to God’s pattern and original intention. This is the only way for the “tree” to be made “good”, from the roots up. It is with this final group that God’s hope of full and final restoration lies.
Tradition and Restoration
Given the massive complexity of all of the conformative matrices of an untold multitude of apostatizing religious systems, and all the man-made traditions that it has spawned, how is this returning remnant going to fight its way back through all the rubble and confusion and re-establish, once again, the “Formative Core” of CHRIST in the Ekklesia?
Ironically, I believe it will be primarily through the power of…you guessed it… “Tradition!”
Even as un-Biblical traditions are a primary driving force in the process of apostasy (as discussed in Part 4), so Biblical traditions are, and will be, a primary driving force in the process of restoration. Biblical traditions originate out of a paradigm where CHRIST is in His rightful place in all things, and they powerfully work to secure and guard that place for CHRIST alone. These are the apostolic and prophetic teachings and practices that have been handed down to us through the Holy Scriptures, and are implemented in and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, the true issue with the Church is not the fact that it adheres to ancient traditions, but that it adheres to man-made traditions and fails to adhere to the most ancient traditions of all in the Church…the traditions of the apostles. All Biblical traditions pre-date the un-Biblical traditions that have enslaved the Church for nearly two millennia. If these apostolic traditions had been faithfully held to, there would have been no place for the un-Biblical traditions to have gotten in and taken root. As God is now working to restore the remnant of His people back to His original pattern, He will do so by restoring these ancient Biblical traditions, and through them, uproot and supplant (“sub-plant”) the un-Biblical ones that have predominated for so long.
As much as I would like to believe that this full restoration will take place within the established movements and systems of Christendom, given the psychological and sociological power of tradition, and the interlocking nature of the “formative core”/”conformative matrix” dynamic, that is highly unlikely. Much more in keeping with Biblical precedent and teaching, is that God will do a work within individual hearts and then call them out of these apostatizing systems. After a time of testing and purging in the “wilderness” (to get the “system” out of them), these will then be used to establish fresh testimonies that are founded from the very beginning on CHRIST alone, central and supreme in all things.
Those Biblical traditions that will, and must be, most firmly and faithfully adhered to by this returning remnant will be those apostolic teachings and practices that establish CHRIST as central, supreme and all-sufficient in all things in and for the Church. In particular, this remnant will need to embrace those ancient traditions that establish CHRIST, in essence, as her “Formative Core”.
The apostolic teachings and practices of the centrality and preeminence of Christ in all things must be regularly taught and faithfully embraced in all practical ways. HE must her “Attractional Center”, the central purpose, passion, and Person that the ekklesia coalesces around. HE must be that which primarily draws and holds the church together and is the main reason for her existence. HE must be the One that the church gathers around as the centerpiece of its life and assemblies. HE must be the primary focus and fullness of all teaching and worship. All secondary and sectarian “attractional centers”, in whatever form they are found, must take their rightful place as secondary, subservient, and complimentary to Christ. HE must be the ekklesia’s unrivaled Center!
The apostolic teachings and practices of Christ being the consummate Identity of the Church must be regularly taught and practically expressed. HE and not some secondary identity must designate the Church as a distinct entity and distinguish it from every other association on earth. HE and not some sectarian identity must be the “distinctive identity” of the ekklesia’s self-concept and confession as to who they are. All secondary, sectarian names, labels, titles, denoms, descriptives, confessions, and the like must be supplanted with the supreme, unifying Identity of the Church, CHRIST.
The apostolic teachings and practices of Christ being the sole Foundation of the Ekklesia, Who alone, by His Person and work, establishes, unifies and defines the churches must be regularly taught and practically applied. All fundamental aspects of who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, and how? of the church’s nature, form, and function must find their all-sufficient Answer and Source in CHRIST. All secondary, sectarian “foundational bases” that men contrive and employ to establish, unify, and define a particular expression of the Ekklesia must be discarded and replaced with CHRIST alone, without supplements or substitutes. CHRIST must be established as the sole Foundation for each local expression of the Church, according to God’s eternal purpose.
The apostolic teachings and practices regarding CHRIST as the unrivaled, functional Head of the Church and churches must be regularly taught, pursued, and practically expressed. HE, in His Headship, is the “governance principle” by which each church is led, how decisions are made, where authority lies, and how people or things that are detrimental to the group are handled. All secondary, substitutional “governance principles” that men employ to govern a particular expression of the Church must be surrendered to the cross and submitted to the sovereign authority and functional leadership of Christ. HE must be the unrivaled Head of each assembly of His Body, the Church.
Through the recovery and re-establishment of these “Biblical traditions”, CHRIST will be restored to His rightful place in the remnant expressions of the Ekklesia. The “root”, i.e., the “formative core”, of each ekklesia will thus be established according to God’s eternal purpose. This will “make the tree good” so that its fruit will, likewise, be “good”. This will establish her heavenly “DNA” so that the “tree” will grow “organically” according to God’s Pattern. The “conformative matrix” that develops will naturally be conformed to CHRIST and begin to manifest all of the fruit of the fullness of CHRIST. This will, in turn, “lock in” the “Formative Core”, thus preserving the “Root” of the “tree”. The entire “tree”, as it grows and develops, will manifest the full expression of the “fruit of restoration”: unity, fullness, purity, and balance in every respect. The remnant Ekklesia, thus established, will stand as a “Tree of Life” for the nations, and a testimony to God’s unfailing purpose in His Son at the end of the age.
A Final Word
This, then, is an overview of the place and power of Tradition as it relates to the end-time restoration of the Church. Much more can be said concerning this process, but may this suffice to give an essential “paradigm of restoration” by which we may safely and surely pursue the Lord in this final day.
In closing, I would like to say that, although this process has been described primarily from a collective, corporate perspective, it begins, first and foremost, on a personal, individual level. Before Christ can possibly be established in a corporate expression of the Ekklesia as its “Formative Core”, He must first be established within the individual hearts of His people who comprise it as their personal “formative core”.
So I ask you…
Is CHRIST your unrivaled Center, or do other secondary things take preeminence in your heart?
Is CHRIST your supreme Identity, or do you look to other factors and associations to define who you are?
Is CHRIST your sole Foundation, or do you trust in lesser, worldly principles or man-made things to establish, unify, and define who you are?
Is CHRIST your unrivaled Head, or do you look to yourself or others to supremely direct your life?
The establishment of CHRIST in these fundamental ways in our individual hearts and lives is what God desires so that our inward “formative core” may be according to His ultimate desire and design. He is working to make our “tree good”, from the “roots” up, that we may bear the full “fruit of restoration”, a life marked by personal integrity, spiritual fullness, moral purity, and holistic balance. Then, and only then, will we be fit vessels for His end-time purpose of restoration in the Ekklesia!
May God raise up such a company in this last day!
May it begin with you and me!
Related posts and pages:
Rebels, Refugees and a Returning Remnant (Audio and series links.)
Centrality and Eccentricity
Centrality and Balance
The Headship of Christ in the Gathering of the Church