by T. Austin-Sparks
Beloved of God,
We concluded our last Editorial on the nature and purpose of this ministry with "Perhaps more later", and here it is. Having summed up the whole matter as an undercutting of the whole of Christianity as it is now known, as a crystallized and set system and tradition, we went on to indicate that, far from having a new and separate movement in view or intention, it is just a matter of seeing - we believe by a deep and painful work of the Lord in us - the real and essential significance of Christ Himself. In this further part of the explanation I am going to concentrate upon that point of seeing, and add a little as to its inevitable consequences.
Surely we shall not find disagreement when we say that an intelligent reading of the New Testament leaves no one in doubt that a true Christian life - i. e. true Christianity - in the case of every true believer rests upon a fact with two sides. On the one side, man is totally and helplessly blind to the things of the Spirit of God, and inclusively to the Person, nature and meaning of Christ. He is just without the faculty of sight in that realm, and it requires a supernatural act of creative power to give him that faculty with its resultant knowledge. On the other side, a true believer, a true Christian, is one who is in the good of that supernatural creative miracle. Is that, or is that not, the teaching of the whole New Testament - "Gospels" and "Letters"?
There are further aspects of this matter.
One is that what is true of the natural birth is symbolic of spiritual new birth. Sight comes with birth - if the child is normal. But, while the faculty is perfect, its use and value are not. It is diffuse, unco-ordinated and largely unintelligent. There comes a point at which vision becomes co-ordinated, focussed, and intelligence takes charge, so that the child knows the difference between things and cannot be put off with alternatives. But this faculty is capable of ever-increasing development, and things formerly undreamt of - although available - become possible of apprehension.
Another thing is that there is really no true substitute for sight. We may, if we are physically blind, be told of things that the seeing see; we may have them carefully and continually described to us; as things in existence we may be very familiar with them, and even take them for granted. We ourselves may go so far as to talk about them and give a description of or dissertation upon them. But the fact remains that it is all secondhand - just information, indirectly acquired.
Well, there you are. That position, in one or other of its aspects, is the position of literally multitudes of those who are called Christians. There are those - and they are very many - who have been born again and have the faculty of spiritual sight, but who, even after years, have the faculty neither co-ordinated nor developed. They still see only as babes (1 Cor. 3:1-2). There may be a true beginning in experience and then the acquiring of a whole mass of the common acceptance of Christian interpretation and procedure. This includes a reading and knowing of the content of the Bible without the vital revelation of its significance which makes everything in life tremendously different.
This is where we ourselves were. Our position was that of the generally accepted evangelical Christian world. All the fundamentals of the evangelical faith were most surely believed and preached. The system of denominations as 'regiments of the one army' (as it is commonly put) was accepted, or more or less taken for granted. We were in one of these 4 regiments because we believed that it was as good as - or perhaps a bit better than - the others. We had our Bible Schools and lectures, in which we gave the substance, content, and - as we believed - the meaning of the various parts of that sacred book. We were tremendously in earnest, and not a bit lacking in evangelical zeal and passion. Much more could be said about our enterprises and activities in work for God.
How the crisis came about and what led to it we should need to take all our available space to tell; suffice it to say that the main factor was a deep and growing spiritual dissatisfaction and a strengthening sense that there was something so much greater in the heart of God than we had discovered. This led to a strong quest for all that He would have us know. At length the crisis came, and that was done which answered the cry of need and revolutionised everything. As we have already said, it undercut Christianity as we had known it. That which happened was an opening of our eyes, and the immediate result was that we saw that we had hitherto never really seen. We had the doctrines, the statements, the truths, the Scriptures, and we earnestly taught them. Then the thing happened in us, and while the subject-matter of the Faith remained the same, we were brought into a new world of life, light, liberty and fulness, so that the power of the truth made all that world of difference. We date a revolutionary divide from then, as to traditional Christianity with earnest belief on the one hand, and a living experience of Christ in so much greater meaning, with an open heaven, on the other hand.
It is no new doctrine or information to say that we saw the meaning of Christ's Cross as setting aside one whole species of creation - man as we know him, even at his best and most devout - and thereby making room for another order of creation as represented by the Heavenly Man - Jesus Christ; but for that to be brought home with the mighty impact of the Holy Spirit is nothing short of shattering! Its implicates are comprehensive and all-inclusive, and its application cataclysmic! The inclusive result of such a foundational thing is to open the way for God to do thing's right out from Himself.
After this initial basic revelation, it was not long before the opened heaven and the opened eyes meant a seeing of the real nature of the Church. Here again institutionalism, traditionalism, denominationalism, interdenominationalism, undenominationalism (as such) just made their exit from our mentality and disappeared as part of our system of things. Indeed all such things came to be but a denial of that reality of the "One Body". But be it clearly understood that it was not even a new conception of the Church, as something in itself; it was not just another Church concept. It was a realisation of the fact that Christ - the Heavenly Man - can be neither comprehended by nor fitted into any denominator of this world, be it national, racial, ecclesiastical, temperamental, or any other of the marks which divide down here. As Christ is a new and heavenly Man, so the Church as His Body is a new and heavenly thing, above all sections, not uniting them. "There is neither..." says Paul, not 'There are both' or 'all'.
When this had broken upon us with such emancipating effect, and ministry related to Christ in this realm was given, we found that spiritually hungry people of various denominations were coming for food, and meeting on the ground of Christ only.
In the sovereignty of God, and without any seeking or action of ours, the issue of denominational connection was forced upon us from without, and we were compelled to face the issue of either abandoning our spiritual position, going back on all that the Lord had done, or of taking ground in keeping with our 'open heaven' and continuing our ministry to all the people of God, never raising the question of 'connections'.
This we did, but, to our amazement, while we only thought of the oneness of all true children of God, the first charge levelled against us was that of seeking to form a new sect and dividing God's people. To be quite frank, it was an almost stunning blow to discover that what had been so marked with the sovereign hand of God, so living and spontaneous, and so meeting the spiritual need of a growing number of disappointed and hungry Christians, was being looked upon by the evangelical Christian world with icy suspicion and complete misunderstanding. In our innocency and guilelessness we had never thought other than that the 'All one in Christ' position would be heartily appreciated and understood. What we did discover was that, rather than its being regarded as something which would meet a growing need, a heavy wall of ostracism, isolation, misrepresentation, and much untruth was being built around us to cut us off from fellowship and ministry. "Everywhere spoken against" is as true of us as it was of Paul's ministry, and, had it not been of God, we could not have survived these twenty-five years - much less have known an increase, expansion, and deepening - completely without a single one of the methods, recourses, and means of organized enterprise. Indeed, we have besought the Lord to bring us to an end immediately He saw that our existence in His interest was no longer justified.
A main factor in our foundation, from the beginning, has been John 5:19: "The Son can do nothing out from himself, but what he seeth the Father doing..." If that were true of Him, how much more must it be of us!
But we did not set out to try to vindicate ourselves. The part which relates to the painful disillusionment as to reactions to the effect of an opening of our eyes is really only included to lead to the point that, as it was with Paul and others, it is ever a costly and lonely way to see the heavenly as so different from and other than the earthly! So the Lord Himself found it, and today perhaps our surprise is that we should ever have been surprised at this. In a part of the dispensation when - because his time is shortening - the Prince of the Power of the Air is flooding the whole world with suspicion, mistrust, distortion, falsehood, and fear, it is grievous to see how this atmosphere is being breathed in by the people of God, so that more than ever relationships are affected by it. Perhaps it is here that an 'opening of the eyes of the heart' is needed, but because such a working of the "Spirit of wisdom and revelation" means so very much in the Church's ascendency over his kingdom, Satan will take full advantage of the slightest opportunity to use suitable ground available or to create phantoms, which nevertheless are very real to those who accept them.
The focal point of this Editorial is just this. The Bible itself makes it perfectly clear that it is possible to be in possession of the Scriptures, to know them very well, even to be passionately devoted to them, and yet at the same time to be utterly and violently in contradiction to their true meaning. This was true of Saul of Tarsus. It was true of Peter at the house of Cornelius (for Leviticus 11 seemed to forbid his doing what the voice from heaven demanded). It was said of those who "killed the Prince of Life" that it was because "they knew... not... the voices of the prophets which are read [in their hearing] every sabbath" (Acts 13:27). So we may have our Bibles and build up every contradictory position with the - seeming - support of Scripture. What is needed is "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him": and that was prayed for by the Apostle for believers - not for the unsaved - and moreover for believers who had a very real "first love", namely, the Ephesians. It will cost and lead to a lonely way, requiring much courage. The Lord give us that courage.