A History of the Christian Church
Part Eight, by Denis Jenkins
compiled by Denis Jenkins
Title A History of the Christian Church
Theme Understanding the Nature of the fine line that Luther trod as a Leader of the Reformation.
Spiritual warfare is the single word that can be used to describe the nature of the battle that Luther had to fight as a soldier of Christ. The Bible is all about this battle between Christ and Satan. In Genesis 3:15 it says that the serpent Satan was going to bruise Christs heel and Christ was going to bruise his head. As the scripture portrays it, Satan is fighting a losing battle as bruising a heel is not as serious as a bruise to the head. For this reason, the Bible tells us that Satan is going about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, knowing that he is defeated, but trying to delude many (1 Peter 5:8,9).
It was Satan's temptations of Christ, where he deluded himself, believing that he was able to make Christ sin while He was in human form, made in our likeness, representing man in his original created image. Satan attempted through these temptations to aim a blow at the Godhead but only succeeded to bruise the Godhead's heel, as Christ in human form suffered those temptations as we would but through the power of God the Father proving that it is possible to overcome (Luke 4:1 - 13).
At the cross, Satan's second but futile attempt was to do away with the son of God through death. Satan worked through the lives of men who had rejected the spirit of God but embraced the nature and spirit of Satan. Satan through man tried to keep the son of God in the tomb by sealing it and placing Roman soldiers to guard it (Matthew 27:62 - 66). What a futile effort this was, as on the third day after Christ's death, the power of God the Father moved upon the Son of God who rose despite all efforts of Satan and man to keep the son of God bound by the prison of death (Matthew 28:1 - 6). Jesus before his death told the disciples that He would be raised up after three days (Matthew 20:19). Satan therefore only bruised the Son of God's heel trying to before mankind bring the image of God into disrepute. Satan brought upon Christ the affliction of death, which seemed to halt the work of God thus damaging the cause of God (Luke 24:13 -32). But God the Father demonstrated to mankind His creative and supreme power to break the bonds of death proving that Satan's attempts to hinder Christ's work of man's salvation only fulfilled the conditions of our salvation (Mark 10:45). Christ demonstrated that eternal death is only a result of separating ourselves from the source of the eternal life-giving power and that our connection with God the Father through Himself will renew this connection. To join ourselves to the source of life again means eternal life (John 3: 34 - 36).
Since Satan was defeated at the cross, he has tried ever since to confuse the understanding of mans' way back to God and therefore diverting some from being able to receive the gift of eternal life. Satan's first attack on mankind, after Christ's ascension to His Father, was to confuse the gospel through mixing it with pagan rituals. The combining of Christianity with paganism led men to believe they were doing the will of God but were in fact working under the power of Satan. It is through these religious powers that Satan brought about the "dark ages" where Satan himself tried to obliterate the knowledge of mans' way back to God. But as at the cross, God could not be overcome, God had his faithful people among mankind who preserved the knowledge of God.
It is not just the matter of determining which church groups and denominations are connected to the leadership of the Holy Spirit by the surrender of it's members to the Holy spirit. It is a matter of determining which fellowships and what individuals within those fellowships are led by the Holy Spirit and obey the spirit's commands. For the test given us by God is, "Then the dragon was enraged at the woman (the symbol of the church of God) and went off to make war against the remnant of her offspring - those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17). As Christians world wide, we must realise that our fellowships are the target of Satan's attacks. Satan tries to divide us against one another. He often does this by just discouraging Christians from moving forward in seeking the continuing revelation of God's will through the Holy Spirit. We become increased in goods and feel we have need of nothing. Or we become discouraged by the battle and fall away and become nominal believers failing to connect with the Holy Spirit. Satan has also attacked the Christian fellowship through compromise, where groups of God's believers have in the name of unity watered down the commands of God. Satan loves this watering down of God's word. Thus separating the fellowships from God and encouraging them to follow the wisdom of sinful man. The wisdom of man does not promote the love of God the defining feature of God's character that produces unity.
Unity amongst God's people can only occur as all followers of God truly surrender to the leadership of the Holy Spirit seeking a continuous unfolding of God's will relevant to the unfolding circumstances of current events in the warfare between good and evil. We need to seek fellowship with those who encourage each other to stand firm in this battle between good and evil. We are told that each member of each fellowship must through the guidance of the Holy Spirit study the scriptures to see whether the ideas that are being shared in our fellowships are in fact God's will and instruction (2 Timothy 2:14 - 16).
Therefore, how do we know in this spiritual battle what religious bodies and fellowships are of God and those who are driven by the power of Satan? Christ himself revealed this sign. He said you will know that you are my disciples if you love one another (John 13:34,35). The Love of God or the revelation of the character of God, through His people, is the continuous test of a religious organisation's or fellowship's connection to God through the Holy Spirit. If we have God's love we will be willing to keep his commands. For Christ said " If you love me you will keep my commands", (1 John 5:1 - 4). God has also instructed us to test the kind of spirit that is the leading force of individuals or fellowships. God says through Isaiah that if the spirit leading a person or group does not speak according to the Law (the Character of God) and the testimony (Which is the Holy Spirit revelation in scripture of God's will and character) there is no light (or truth) in them (Isaiah 8: 20).
Any church body or fellowship can start out under the spirit of God's leadership, but along the way, because of the frailty of our humanity, depart from it. While the fellowship members are connected to Christ through the surrender to the Holy Spirit, the fellowship can claim to be following after the revealed truth of God but the denomination or fellowship group can never claim to possess complete truth or be the true church. The best that any group, fellowship or denomination can claim is to be followers of present truth and that is the present revealed will of God as it is shown through the lives of people who are surrendered and connected to the Holy Spirit. Jesus says, I am the way the Truth and the life (John 14:6). Christ is the only one who can claim to possess truth. We are told in scripture that it is the Holy Spirit that leads us into Truth (John 16:13). The sign of this connection to the Holy Spirit is the love of God as outlined in (1 Corinthians 13).
The second sign of a fellowship that are followers of present truth is the acceptance of progressive revelation. For the scripture says, now we look through a glass darkly, but when we come face to face with God this is the only time we will have complete truth revealed (1 Corinthians 13:12). Church groups or fellowships who create fixed creeds are missing the point of what our connection to God through the Holy Spirit is all about. For the character of God to be revealed to us day by day leading us into present truth (Ephesians 1:15 - 22). It is only as individuals experience certain facets of life that Christ through the Holy Spirit is able to reveal understandings of His wisdom, character and power.
In the light of the discussion above, the thin line Luther trod was a complex one. Luther had to fight, aided by the spirit of God, well conditioned tradition or fixed dogmas. He also had to fight personal conflict of surrendering or not surrendering to the Holy Spirit's guidance, the very force of Luther's ministry. As human beings we can become so wound up defending the sound doctrine of God that we forget to deliver it in the surrendered love that is only possible through the possession of the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The very fragile nature of human reliability in following the will of God can be observed in King David, who having been called a man after Gods own heart, committed adultery and murder. But David's strength was that once being confronted with his wrong he was ready to repent and turn from his wrong ways. Thus, as it appears, God does not look at our temporary failures but how we handle them demonstrating a willingness to repent and turn away from our wrong doing. However, the influence of man's failures to follow God have the habit of influencing others, causing them also to take a detour before coming back to following the will of God. Some individuals and groups of God's followers who are detoured from following the will of God never return to God's direction.
This brings us back to the question, why does God have to keep raising up new fellowship groups and church denominations to represent Him. The reason is very clear. As each denomination or fellowship disconnect from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, Gods purpose can no longer be worked out through them. When disconnected from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, it is the deceiving power of Satan that is working through such fellowships. This does more harm to the cause of God than all the worldly practises put together as it confuses man's pathway to God. It mixes truth with error thus leading many in the world to shake their heads in disbelief as to what some claimed Christians do to their fellowmen.
Thus Satan brought so much political and social stress on Luther, that at times like Moses who led the Children of Israel, he let go of his connection with God, trying then to battle the enemy of God in his own strength. We cannot stand in judgement of Luther or any great men and women of God as the same stress is applied to us, our fellowships and church denominations.
Today, we face the stress of material wealth and desires that cause us to be increased in goods and enjoy a good life and believe that we are in need of nothing (Revelation 3:17). Some fellowships who claim to represent Christ even teach that unless we possess an abundance of wealth it is a sign that God is not with us. However, the scriptures tell us in Luke 12:15 that a man's life does not depend upon the abundance of possessions.
This is the power of evil that Luther faced and it is the power of evil that we face today. The only hope of remaining true to God is through surrendering our mind to Christ, accepting the mind of Christ through the daily ever present guiding of the Holy Spirit on a day by day, minute by minute basis.
The true follower of Christ, in demonstrating the love of God as received through the Holy spirit, will never gloat over the falling away of our brothers and sisters in denominations and fellowships who have obviously departed from the leadership of God or fail to have a progressive revelation of God's Truth. The true follower of God, led by the Holy Spirit, will reach out to those who are being side tracked by the deception of Satan, and will model care and love while continuing to share God's will with them. Not one of us in any denomination or fellowship should stand in judgement of one another but we should in surrendering to the Holy Spirit work out our own salvation lest we also fall in this dreadful battle between Christ and Satan. Let the Holy Spirit lead each one of us into the knowledge of how we may appropriately serve one another in leading each other into carrying out the will and deeds of God's Character in our daily lives. This does not mean that along the way we may not fail. But we must be faithful to repent when God points out our error.
As we consider the nature of the power against which Luther was fighting, it can be seen that he was, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, treading a thin line between the true leadership of God and the counterfeit set up by Satan to confuse and mislead.
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