CLARK E. WADE's picture

"In reading this (Ephesian letter), you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ. Ephesians 3:4

The Secret of the LORD have they who fear and worship HIm and HE will show them HIS covenant and reveal to them its deep, inner meaning." Psalms 25:14

"Our passage from Ephesians says more...The gospel includes not only the person of Jesus Christ and His unfathomable riches, but also that mystery which was hidden in past ages--which has to do with God's eternal plan. The practical outworking of God's eternal plan is the church as it is described in the same epistle.

"Our understanding of the gospel is one-sided, and too much focused on man. As strange as it may seem to some, the New Testament gospel contains things which have nothing to do with sin and lost souls. When we reduce the gospel to mere salvation of the sinner, we distort it and fundamentally alter its character and message. And we counterfeit its results. When I preach only salvation, all I get is converts. If I make forgiveness the central theme of the gospel, the only result is people whose sins are forgiven. We could proceed to list a number of things in this way, and it would occur to us how improper and unbiblical modern evangelism is compared with New Testament witness.

"And what was the result of the work and ministry of the apostles in the New Testament? Church, communities, the body of Christ! Did they preach the church? Was the community of believers the focus of their message? Never! They proclaimed Christ! They were witnesses of the incomparable Christ! They spoke of the mystery and plan of God which HE purposed before the foundation of the world and which HE carried out in Christ Jesus and churches were the result of their preaching! Outwardly, they were communities with various strengths and weaknesses, each with its own merits and disadvantages. Inwardly, however, they were churches which embodied the living God, churches in which Christ resided, which took on the form of a body. The head was Christ and members were one in Christ.

“The results of modern, large-scale evangelism cannot even be compared to the fruits of New Testament apostolic preaching. That is the best evidence that we are not preaching the same gospel they did. It is proof that we are not preaching Christ but rather things pertaining to man and his situation. The things we preach may be biblical, but that is not the deciding factor. God evaluates all things by Christ. The Bible testifies of Christ. We have to put the gospel’s original substance and power—as well as all its forgotten aspects—back into our evangelism. Then we will encounter God’s eternal purpose, because, in the final analysis, what the gospel really proclaims is that God’s purpose can now be carried out in Christ. Everything which stood in its way before has been attended to or disposed of.” (Manfred Haller, “God’s Goal: Christ as All in All”)

This heavenly epistle, this unfolding of "God's Eternal Purpose," writ as a lyrical song to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and HIS Son, is a divine subject that has been lost for 1700 years. As an experiment, I looked up the "belief statements" of several denominations and could find nothing written regarding God's Eternal Purpose. Considering that Paul made God's Eternal Purpose in Christ the central focus of his preaching and teaching, I think this is significant. What I did discover is that most of these belief statements, as Manfred Haller pointed out, seems to focus on God's gift of salvation. In other words, rather than seeing the church as God's divine vehicle, created out of the Son in order to fulfill God's Eternal Purpose, most of these belief statements are centered on man and what God has done for him. Here is a belief statement example:

We believe in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Genesis 1:26; Matt. 28:19, II Cor. 13:14

We believe that Jesus Christ, Son of God, Born of the Virgin Mary is truly the Savior of the world. Matt. 1:21; Rom. 4:25.

We believe in the gift of the Holy Spirit to believers; and the gifts of the Spirit to the faithful. Luke 11:13; I Cor. 12:3-11.

We believe that the Church is the body of Christ, of which He is the head, and shall be preserved to the end of time. Romans 12:4; I Cor. 12:12-28; Col. 1:18; Matt. 16:18.

We believe in eternal life, which is the gift of God. Romans 6:23.

We believe that all persons are sinners standing in need of God's forgiving grace. Romans 3:10-26.

We believe that all persons must repent of their sins and through faith accept Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord if they would enter the kingdom of God.Matt.4:17; John 3:1-7; Matt. 3:2.

We believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the sins of the whole world; and that everyone who will believe in the atoning sacrifice of Christ's blood on the cross may be saved. John 3:16; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14-22.

We believe that Jesus Christ will come again and at His coming God's eternal kingdom will begin. Luke 21:27; Acts 1:11; I Cor. 1:7-8; Phil. 3:20; I John 2:28, 3:2.

We believe that it is our sacred duty to identify ourselves with a congregation of believers with whom we can worship God, observe the ordinances of Christ, exhort and support one another, labor for the salvation of others, and work together to advance the Lord’s Kingdom (Acts 16:5; Hebrews 10:24).

We believe in the Bible as God's own Holy word; written by men of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. II Peter 1:21.

We believe that soul winning is the “one big business” of the Church on earth, and that every hindrance to worldwide evangelism should be removed (James 5:20; Mark 16:15).

We believe that tithing and offerings are ordained of God to sustain His ministry, spread the Gospel, and release personal blessing (Malachi 3:10; 1 Corinthians 16: 1, 2).

Do you see here how so much of this belief statement does center on man's salvation? It appears that over half of what is stated here does refer to what God has done for man. But God had a purpose for the creation of man before the foundation of the world that was planned in HIS heart before the Fall. What we have done in centering our preaching and teaching on man's redemption rather than God's eternal purpose is to egregiously miss God's high calling in Christ Jesus.

As we continue to contemplate God's Eternal Purpose in this epistle, there are a couple of things that may happen if the LORD is gracious to us:

1. The scales will fall from our eyes; we will realize how far we have strayed from God's purpose. It will dawn on us how narrowly New Testament truths have been handed down and continue to be taught. We will see how carelessly and indifferently we have regarded the deep things of God.

2. The longing will awaken in us to do everything we can to see that God's principles and desires are obeyed, and His intentions realized. (Manfred Haller, "God's Goal: Christ as All in All).

What I want to do here is to add thoughts and resources that may help us in our understanding of God's Eternal Purpose. If we would ever experience revival in the church, we must see revival of the deep things of God in Christ Jesus. We need to pray that God's Eternal Purpose will be recovered in its New Testament fulness and glory and that we will no longer contend with God by substituting other spiritual things in the place of HIS purposes as revealed in Paul's writings.

If any of you know of other resources or writings that would be of benefit, please post those as well.

P: I pray here in the Name of Jesus Christ, that those who follow You, who love You, who serve You will not give rest to our eyelids until we have made a place for Your Eternal Purpose in our thinking, in our practices, in our praying, in our serving. May everything we think we know submit to all that You are in Your Eternal Purpose. Forgive us LORD for substituting spiritual things, spiritual experiences, and all spirital pursuits that do not lead us deeper into Your Eternal Purpose as co-workers and co-participants with You.

CLARK E. WADE's picture

Some thoughts from the writings of Elton Trueblood

I have read Elton's writings for years and appreciate much his practical wisdom and his insights into the vitality and genius of the early church which we so need today. Whenever I read Elton's books, it is like I'm reading from the warm thoughts of a personal friend and brother. I have most, and have read just about everything Elton has written, but I think "The Incendiary Fellowship" and "The Company of the Committted" are my favorites. Awhile back I also ordered a used copy of "The Best of Elton Trueblood: An Anthology" and was delighted to see his signature on the inside cover:

"Faithfully, Elton Trueblood 10-10-1980."

Pretty cool! And I remember a time awhile back while I was at work, I received a business phone call from an individual whose last name was "Trueblood" and I asked him if he was any relation to Elton and he told me that Elton was his uncle.

Anyway, here are some quotes from Elton that I pray you will appreciate, or at the very least, tends to challenge some of our conventional wisdom and thinking on what it means to be the church of the living God:

“The faith…is nurtured by a special kind of fellowship in which Christ himself is the central member. It is our holy privilege to help to nourish such fellowships. If enough persons do the same, we shall have a new world.”

“There is no possibility of renewal unless we are always living on the spiritual frontier. Of all of the enemies of Christ, none is more damaging than a tired old religion. We do not know all of the ways in which vitality appears, but we at least know that it will not come by three hymns and a sermon and a conventional benediction. The dying churches are those in which the pulpit is “occupied” and the old record is run off in the presence of persons whose attendance is largely habitual or is produced by a sense of duty.”

“The more we study the early Church the more we realize that it was a society of ministers. About the only similarity between the Church at Corinth and a contemporary congregation, either Roman Catholic or Protestant, is that both are marked, to a great degree, by the presence of sinners. After that the similarity ends, for we think it is normal for one man to do all the preaching, while the others are audience, whereas, in Corinth, many did the preaching. “When you come together,” reported their most famous visitor, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (I Cor. 14:26).

“Christ twice commanded His followers to pray for the emergence of a labor force, which was the obvious bottleneck of the new movement. The harvest, i.e., the development of a redemptive fellowship made up wholly of ministers, is potentially great, but it cannot be actualized without the labor of men who are sufficiently gifted and dedicated to facilitate its accomplishment.”

“Perhaps the greatest single weakness of the contemporary Christian church is that millions of supposed members are not really involved at all, and what is worse, do not think it strange that they are not. As soon as we recognize Christ’s intention to make His Church a militant company we understand at once that the conventional arrangement cannot suffice. There is no real chance of victory in a campaign if ninety per cent of the soldiers are untrained and uninvolved, but that is exactly where we stand now. Most alleged Christians do not now understand that loyalty to Christ means sharing personally in His ministry, going or staying as the situation requires.”

“We need not go back to the original pattern with superstitious obedience, but we are wise, when we see some central feature of early Christianity which helps to account for its success, to ask whether this can be incorporated into our present practice. What we want is not slavish adherence to a supposedly perfect and changeless pattern, which is in fact nonexistent; rather, we want the humility to re-examine our own conventional expectations and standards in the light of something which succeeded—in sharp contrast to our own mixed record in contemporary life.”

“True recovery is never a matter of going backward for the sake of re-establishing an older pattern, but rather of uncovering what has been hidden or overlaid and therefore forgotten. The purpose of such uncovering is the potential effect upon the present and the future. We go back to the New Testament, therefore, not as antiquarians and not as mere historians, but in the hope of finding hints of vitality of which our times are relatively unaware.”

“The harm of too much localizing of religious responsibility in a few—however dedicated they may be—is that it gives the rank and file a freedom from responsibility which they ought not to be able to enjoy.”

“Usually, in our characteristic Christian gatherings, whether large or small, all of the talk flows one way, from the platform to the hall, but a contemporary small group breaks this pattern completely. Many of the changes in lives occur because the participants come to have a wholly new understanding of their responsibilities, when they realize that they are supposed to be the ones who pray, who advise one another, who admit their needs, and who plan together some modest steps in the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom.”

“The metaphor of the fire would be meaningless without the fellowship, because it has no significance for merely individual religion, as it has none for merely ceremonial religion, though it is, of course, impossible to have a committed Church with uncommitted members, the major power never appears except in a shared experience. Much of the uniqueness of Christianity, in its original emergence, consisted of the fact that simple people cold be amazingly powerful when they were members one of another. As everyone knows, it is almost impossible to create a fire with one log, even it is a sound one, while several poor logs may make an excellent fire if they stay together as they burn. The miracle of the early Church was that of poor sticks making a grand conflagration. A good fire glorifies even its poorest fuel.”

“Our common mistake is to read back into the original what we experience. This is why, in medieval paintings, the original apostles tended to look like Italian priests.”

“In any case we know enough to realize that these meetings were not at all what we think of as characteristic Christian gatherings in our own day. The probability is that there was no human audience at all and not the slightest thought of a pattern in which one man is expected to be inspired to speak fifty-two times a year, while the rest are never so inspired. A clear indication of procedure is provided by Colossians 3:16 where we read “as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.” The most reasonable picture which these words suggest is that of a group of modest Christians sitting in a circle in some simple room, sharing with one another their hopes their failures, and their prayers. The key words are “one another.” There are no mere observers or auditors; all are involved. Each is in the ministry; each needs the advice of the others; and each has something to say to the others. The picture of mutual admonition seems strange to modern man, but the strangeness is only a measure of our essential decline from something of amazing power…

“That early Christians, when they met, expected general participation in vocal expression is the whole point of I Corinthians 14:26-33. Indeed, the expected participation was so nearly universal that rules had to be made to avoid consequent confusion. If there had been the expectation of only one speaker as in a characteristic contemporary Christian service, it would have been pointless to warn that “you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (I Corinthians 14:31).

“The glory of the coach is that of being the discoverer, the developer, and the trainer of the powers of other men. But this is exactly what we mean when we use the Biblical terminology about the equipping ministry. A Christen society is made up of men and women whose powers in the ministry are largely unused because they are unsuspected. The Christian coach will be one who is more concerned therefore, in developing others than in enhancing his own prestige. Ideally, he will not do anything himself, if another can be enabled to grow by being encouraged to do it. If the sermon can be given effectively by an ordinary member, the pastor, insofar as he is truly a coach, may keep silent while the other person may cost him far more in time and toil than his own preparation for speaking would have cost.”

“The early Christians, many of whom had had a background of synagogue worship, for which they had consciously departed, seem to have gathered in the simplest possibly way, and with the complete absence of any prearranged pattern. That there was great spontaneity and general participation in original spoken messages is the clear implication of the well-known passage in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish one another in all wisdom and as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” There is not even a suggestion that there is one officiant in charge or that participation is limited to a special ecclesiastical order. In a revealing passage in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, one of the early books of the New Testament, there is abundant evidence that the worship practices of early Christians had not yet hardened into a mold. Paul described to the Corinthian Christians what their practice was, and thus provided later generations with the best evidence available of what the actual character of the earliest Christian worship was. Far from being a one-man affair, each worshiper was supposed to be a member of the team and therefore obedient to Christ’s leading. “When you come together,” says Paul, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (I Cor. 14:26). The problem was not that of too little general participation, as ours is, but rather that of too much. Therefore the writer had to admonish the Corinthian Christians to wait for one another. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (I Cor. 14:29).