Steps to Restoration
In the eighteenth year of his reign, to purify the land and the temple, (King Josiah) sent Shaphan . . . to repair the temple of the Lord his God . . .
While they were bringing out the money that had been taken into the temple of the Lord, Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law of the Lord that had been given through Moses . . . He gave it to Shaphan.
Then Shaphan took the book to the king and reported to him . . . “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.
When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes. He gave these orders to Hilkiah . . . “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in the book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”
II Chronicles 34
You will notice that it was not until the eighteenth year of his reign that King Josiah became aware of the Book of the Law. However, before he discovered what was in the Book found in the temple, the king had been trying to honor the Lord for many years. In the prologue regarding King Josiah’s reign, we read,
“In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek the God of his father David. In the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of high places, Asherah poles, carved idols and cast images.”
(Emphasis added) II Chronicles 34:3, 4
He found certain conditions that he knew were not right and he attempted to correct them. For ten years King Josiah had been seeking the Lord. For six years, he had been destroying the idols brought into Judah and Israel from the surrounding pagan cultures. Then, while cleaning the Temple, they discover the Book of the Law. Only when he reads from the Law does he find out how far off the truth he was, even in his diligence for the Lord.
The text does not tell us what part of the Book of the Law was read to King Josiah (See Deuteronomy 31:24-26). For example, it could have been from the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy. Quoting Moses as he speaks to Israel, Chapter 28 begins with the following:
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessing will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God . . .” Deuteronomy 28:1, 2
Moses also declares what will happen if they disobey the Lord:
“However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you . . . ”
Then Moses, in one of his final acts, asks Israel to renew their covenant with God (Deuteronomy 29, 30).
Whether or not it was this section of Deuteronomy, King Josiah realized that despite all the good efforts they were making, they fell far short of God’s requirements. Upon hearing from the Book of the Law, King Josiah is stunned beyond words! He tears his robes. He is in tears before the Lord. You will remember how similar this is to how the king of Nineveh responded when he heard God’s Word from the Prophet Jonah.
Beyond that, King Josiah called all the elders and leaders of the nation to Jerusalem. Before them he repeats his covenant with God. Afterwards, he asks them to follow his example, which they do. As with Nineveh, God again postpones judgment on the nation because the king humbled himself and obeyed God’s word (II Chronicles 34:26-34).
King Josiah’s EITHER/OR
The choice before the king was between what he believed he was doing right and what God’s Word said. For eighteen years, he had been doing what he thought was correct. During that time, he was known as a “good” king. What’s so bad about that? Serious enough for him to repent? If he repented, would he not face possible criticism from the very people he was trying to lead into right living? “Do we really need all this ‘Law business’?” they might demand. “Why not just keep things going as they are?”
King Josiah understood, however, that while he had acted in good faith, he must now respond to the light of God’s Word. Although he could continue as before and be considered a “good” king by his generation that option was not acceptable to God. Either he would be God’s king and obey His Word, Or he could ignore God. One alternative had God’s blessing, the other God’s judgment. Like the church of Laodicea, God was about to “spit” Israel and Judah from His mouth. Unless they repented, God would remove them from being His agents to the world. Either/Or. Josiah’s choice would profoundly affect the people of Judah. His action, whatever it was, would extend far beyond his palace and his time.
Josiah’s Steps to Obedience
You may not be a king or “leader” as was Josiah, but his response to God’s Word gives us a pattern we would do well to follow. Let’s trace the steps he took in making his commitment fully to follow the Lord.
- 1. Even before the Book of the Law was found, Josiah was headed in the right direction. Early in his reign, “he began to seek God . . . ” There were things he knew to be right. He was active in doing them. (II Chronicles 34:2, 3, 8 )
- 2. When the Book of the Law was presented to him, Josiah asked that it be read to him. He had a compelling desire to know what God said. It is one thing to discover the Book. It is quite another to study the Book. (34:18-21)
- 3. Josiah took God’s Word personally. He did not pass it off as referring to another person or time. As the old spiritual song goes, “Tain’t my brother nor my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” (34:27)
- 4. Before any public statement, he humbled himself before the Lord and repented. In the light of God’s revelation he saw the need in his own life. He did not offer excuses or attempt to blame others for his actions. (34:19, 27)
- 5. After his personal response to God’s Word, he inquires about the impact on the people of Judah and Israel. He understood and was distressed over the implications for God’s people. Though he was Judah’s king, his concern extended to the remnant in the northern Kingdom. (34:21).
- 6. He accepted God’s message that came from a little-known source. The five officials sent by Josiah went to “Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District.” (34:22) Jeremiah was around, but on this occasion, they did not call on the great prophet (II Chronicles 35:25). To Josiah, it made no difference. He acted upon what Huldah, an obscure prophetess, reported from the Lord. (34:28b, 29).
- 7. After reading God’s Word, personally responding, and getting understanding from Huldah, Josiah called the leaders of his nation to Jerusalem. To them, he reads the passages that had caused him such distress. (34:29:30).
- 8. As he had done privately, Josiah publicly renews his covenant with the Lord according to the Book of the Covenant: “ . . . to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book.” (34:31).
- 9. After reading the Covenant and teaching from the Book, Josiah asks everyone there to join him in pledging themselves to God’s Word and Covenant. This takes place. (34:32).
- 10. Josiah acted on the agreement he and the people had made. “Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites . . . Josiah celebrated the Passover to the Lord in Jerusalem.” It went beyond the borders of Judah. (34:33; 35:1, 16-19).
We would agree that Josiah did not flinch from doing what he knew to be God’s will. Lest we forget, Josiah was just twenty six years old when all this took place (See II Kings 22:1; 23:22, 23). Nevertheless, what legacy did Josiah leave?
“This he did to fulfill the requirements of the law written in the book that Hilkiah the priest had discovered in the temple of the Lord. Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with all the Law of Moses.”
(Emphasis added) II Kings 23:24, 25
We now come a full circle to our concern. Within the Church of Modernity many are well intentioned. You may be doing the best you know how. Like King Josiah, you want to be sure it is God and not the surrounding pagan culture that you are following. We know that following the crowd where everyone is saying the same thing is far easier than stopping to be certain of God’s will.
In similar circumstances, King Jehoshaphat (one of Judah’s earlier kings) wanted to check out his plans with God. Four hundred prophets had already told him, “Go for it!” These prophets were the “establishment” of that time. Nevertheless, the king insisted they hear from Micaiah, the Lord’s prophet. So off the messenger goes.
“The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.’ But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what God says.’ ”
II Chronicles 18:12, 13
As is so often true, the majority was wrong.
Perhaps you have thought in reading to this point, “Can things today really be that far off? Are all these leaders missing the mark?” Yes. For years, we have seen a steady erosion of truth. Recently, courageous people have written books with titles such as: No Place for Truth, Dining With the Devil, Ashamed of the Gospel and others.* The intended audience is not accepting these books graciously—leaders in the evangelical world, our churches and seminaries.
The gradual slide into the Church of Modernity has captivated many of our leaders. With so many repeating the same thing it must be true. Yet, we must find a way to return to the Church of the Firstborn. If we follow Josiah’s example in full obedience to the Lord and His Word, we will discover it.
What Can We Now Do?
You will recall from our discussion about the church in Laodicea, its members had a certain ambiguity about their status. They believed they could keep one foot in the secular world while attaching the other foot to heaven’s doorstep. The Lord of the Church expressed it like this: “ ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot’ ” (Revelation 3:15). Jesus said this kind of straddling between two opposing worlds is not acceptable to Him—Either/Or. Consequently, He was about to “spit (them) out of His mouth.”
If you have recently read the opening chapters of Revelation, you are aware that Laodicea was not the only church included in this heavenly audit. Seven churches of Asia Minor*
are identified. All seven were under some kind of pressure from worldly practices around them. Most had serious problems that were revealed to the Apostle John. Yet, Jesus did not forsake any of the churches. In fact, the language to each group is consistently hopeful and eager for restored fellowship. This is a good place for us to go to find the answer for our question, What can we now do? As we look into the messages to these churches, we find some underlying principles that apply to our situation.
1. Return to God’s Word.
“Returning to God’s Word” is an overused expression in our day. Just what does it mean to return to God’s Word? To understand the meaning, look at how Jesus introduces Himself to each church:
Ephesus—“These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.”
Smyrna—“These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
Pergamum—“These are the words of him who has a sharp, double-edged sword.”
Thyatira–“These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.”
Sardis—“These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”
Philadelphia—“These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David.”
Laodicea—“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”
As you read through those statements, notice the first few words of each message. Do you get the sense that Jesus was serious about His words? Do you believe that He expected each church fellowship to listen to His words? What do you think each group thought about His words when they read them? How do you regard these words from the Son of God?
When we listen only to what God has said—not the words of our peers, our secular culture, our friends, or even our own thinking—we begin to understand what it means to return to God’s Word. It is to be our daily experience. To be Jesus’ followers, we are responsible to listen to Him.
2. Apply and act on what God has said.
Each of the seven churches had a distinctly different message sent to them. To a degree, all had differing cultural environments. All had attempted or were tempted to adjust their church to their contemporary surroundings. Does that sound familiar to us? This prompts Jesus’ warnings; He calls them back to the Source—the Foundation, if you will—of Truth for the Church. Each church received special notice about their particular circumstance. While each situation differed, the message to all ended the same:
“ ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22
Where have we heard that phrase before? Recall Jesus’ parable of the Sower and soils in Matthew. Jesus closed that and other parables by saying, “ ‘He who has ears, let him hear.’ ”(Matthew 13:9). This is not an irrelevant or inconsequential ending to the Lord’s message. As with Jesus’ earlier public teaching, some rejected what He was disclosing.
Here in Revelation, Jesus through the Spirit says again, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” Why? Not every one in the church is going to pay attention, serious or otherwise, to what Jesus revealed. When He declares, “He who has an ear, let him hear,” Either/Or is reaffirmed. Those hearing His words must make a choice: Continue as you are, or listen and apply what the Lord of the Church has revealed. Either the Church of the Firstborn Or the Church of Modernity.
3. “So be ernest, and repent.”
Of the seven churches mentioned, five had gotten off track. In each case, the Lord of the Church of the Firstborn requires repentance. The instructions to the members of the church of Laodicea was, “Be ernest and repent.” He says unless there is repentance, “I will spit you out of my mouth.” To another church He warns, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. ” From Adam to our time, the necessity for repentance is absolute. The continued “papering over” of sin within the church was not acceptable then nor is it today. Our desire to follow the Lord of the Church can only be measured by how we follow His instructions. The warnings from Jesus are absolute and normative for the Church. He speaks to us all.
“ ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
What Jesus had to say was for the entire Church throughout this age. Restoration to partnership in the Church of the Firstborn begins with repentance. The ultimate sin that places humanity in estrangement from God is an unwillingness to bow to the authority of God in our lives. To ignore the instructions of the Lord of Church regarding the requirement of repentance for restoration and forgiveness takes us out of fellowship and out of usefulness to Him. God does not trifle with sin!
4. Jesus’ expectation and promise.
Jesus does not close His message of warning without the offer of hope. To each church, He extends His hand of grace and promise. To all, He declares: “ ‘To him (her) who overcomes, I will . . . ’ ” (2:7, 11, 17, 27-29; 3:5, 12, 21)
Without question Jesus is calling out to His Church to follow their Lord in all aspects of their lives. The cross and the resurrection stand out preeminently across the ages. What He announced to these churches is not different from His explanation of the Gospel to His disciples. It is not different from what the Apostles, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote in the New Testament.
It is God alone who can accurately describe our true condition and He who understands our inability to help ourselves. He it is who offers forgiveness and redemption, but it is we who have the choice—Either/Or.
5. The church’s choice.
This writing is about the true nature of the Church of the Firstborn and what in large measure has today become the Church of Modernity. The nature of this material is not to call the church back to its former self of twenty years ago, a century ago, or even seventeen centuries ago. It is the restatement from the Founder/Owner, Builder/Leader of the Church to return to Him and His Word. Without doubt, we have strayed from His intentions and instructions.
We have come to the point where our secular culture often has more to say about the church and its mission than does the Lord of the Church. Decisions of church action and method can relate more to the satisfaction of the ego, entertainment and emotional needs of leaders and participants than to doing the will of God from pure and true motives. It is no casual question that we have posed: Either the church will return to its foundation laid down by the Lord of the Church or it will remain on its present course. Simply stated: Either the Church for the Firstborn/Or the Church of Modernity.
The Church of the Firstborn and Your Home
As far as we know, all of the features of the Church of the Firstborn are present in the house/neighborhood church fellowship. That statement is valid if the Scriptures are accurate in describing how the New Testament church functioned. The home/neighborhood church was the New Testament Church. Does that mean that the house/neighborhood church is immune from “spiritual disease?” Not at all. As we saw earlier, some New Testament churches exhibited many of the symptoms plaguing the Church of Modernity. The dates may have changed, but not the problems.
That being said, let’s return to the Scriptures. Ultimately, it is the Bible, not our experience that is the standard for our conduct as well as our doctrine. The Church designed by the Lord of the Church and established by the Apostles He trained was a Church constructed of people functioning like a body. From various Scripture references, we refer to the Church as the Body of Christ, the Body of Believers, the Body (Romans 12:4, 5; I Corinthians 12:12, 13 Ephesians 5:29, 30). In Romans 9, the ascended Christ is talking with Saul the persecutor: “When you persecute those Christians, you are touching Me. They are my flesh and body on earth.”
What makes the human body the perfect analogy for the Body of Christ is a single characteristic: A healthy human body absolutely requires interrelatedness and inter-dependance of all body parts with each other. Without all of them, we do not function well. Without some of them, we die. When not used, parts atrophy and the body deteriorates. Used incorrectly, the parts become damaged and infected. But working harmoniously, the human body is an incredible display of God’s creative power. It’s also true in His Church.
The Lord wanted His Church to function in a mode that would fuse the inter-relational aspects of a body with the exercise of God-given spiritual gifts. At humanity’s beginning, God proclaimed the family as the foundational unit of His creation. By a similar creative act, Jesus placed the family at the center of His new creation, the Church.
It was not accidental that the Apostles, through the first century and their successors in the following two centuries, saw the home and the Church of the Firstborn as essential companions. These leaders knew this was the way it was supposed to be. From the very beginnings, they fashioned the local church in the mold of the home. Treading into new and often hostile territory, the home continued as the foundational unit of the Church. Although that truth has escaped from our thinking, we can rediscover and reinstate that principle.
Demolishing Church Structure
Try to think of “church” without any buildings or hierarchy. That means no sanctuary or worship center; no family life center or Christian education building; not even a gymnasium. There is no senior pastor, youth pastor, mission’s pastor, choir director, etc., and no preachers on radio or TV as mentioned earlier. At this most basic (and in our day, primitive) setting, what would you do about going to church?
Right at this point, you might reply, “You’ve just taken away everything I know to be ‘church.’ There is no church left!” However, what we have removed are just the trappings of a church. A church fellowship is something entirely different.
Still, let’s restate our question: What would you do about a church fellowship? Can we suggest something? As unthinkable and as impossible as it may sound, would you find a friend in your neighborhood and ask, “Can you and yours come over to our home this Sunday? We are going start a church fellowship.”
Identifying your home as a place for Christian fellowship will give you a fresh opportunity to rediscover the New Testament Church. Here are some things that would happen if you are courageous enough:
- 1. In your new “home/neighborhood fellowship” your whole family would stay together.
- 2. Everyone there, all eight or ten of you, can participate. Everyone is on the “playing” field.
- 3. As in the New Testament Church, you will have Scripture reading, praying, a time of listening to each other’s needs (and more prayer), one or two people may explain some verse or chapter of the Bible, a few others may comment on the same text with some application.
- 4. You will join in singing a couple of songs and hymns, maybe the reading of a Psalm of praise or devotion, with someone praying to give thanks to the Lord.
- 5. With the kitchen handy, perhaps this morning you will celebrate the Lord’s table with some hymns, songs, prayers of confession and thanksgiving.
- 6. Since it has turned out to be such a pleasant day, everyone goes to their own home and regroups in an hour to have lunch together at one home. More time is given to talking together (this used to be called fellowship).
- 7. Through all of this, your neighborhood friends who are in your home will hear everything you say. They will understand what being a Christian is all about. This is all taking place on Sunday. You are“at church!”
- 8. Monday evening, as you are driving up to your home from work, you notice that one of the neighbor’s kids has just driven his bike into your flower garden. You immediately stop your car, jump out and begin to yell at this kid to get out of your yard. Anything wrong with that last sentence? Yes! It doesn’t fit with your church fellowship, does it? You wouldn’t say it and you couldn’t say it since your worship has been integrated into your neighborhood.
- 9. Later that same evening, you’re watching a TV program—one you really get into. Your twelve-year-old daughter comes over with a homework assignment and asks you a question. You reply, “Go ask your mother (father). Can’t you see I’m busy?” Wouldn’t match up too well with your church fellowship, would it? How about your comments the previous day on Ephesians 6 and family sharing?
- 10. Wednesday evening, you are going to take in a major league sporting event. As you are getting ready to leave for the game, a neighbor kid (the one with the bike) comes running up and says, “My Mom just cut her hand real bad!” Some choices now appear. Return to the kid’s home to stop the bleeding. Call 911. The paramedics arrive and take your neighbor to the hospital for treatment. However, the father is not at home. Someone has to look after the young children. Another choice. When the father gets home, you tell him you’ll stay so he can go visit his wife. “Hey, I’ve missed most of the game by now, anyway.”
What’s the point of all this? These ten items help describe the Church of the Firstborn as it functioned in the New Testament. It places the hands of Jesus right into the middle of where we live and extends His love into our neighborhood. Do you think your neighbors will ever forget that Wednesday evening? When they ask about your relationship with God, do you think they will believe you? How novel this all sounds to us, today. Yet, this was the everyday experience of the New Testament church fellowship.
In contrast, church as it is practiced today, forces us to live most of our lives separated from what we call “worship.” The connection between the two is lost. However, Jesus told the Samaritan woman that our worshiping and our living must tell the same story. By instituting home/neighborhood fellowships wherever they went, the Apostles and their followers made Jesus’ teaching a living reality to the world. The Church of Modernity makes that almost impossible.
On one occasion, the Pharisees got together to try to trip up Jesus with a critical question about the law, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied,
“ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’
In this single response Jesus brought all people and time into one picture. Jesus said, “No matter where you look in Scripture, relationship with God and with your neighbors cannot be separated from each other.” The two are intrinsically welded together.
That’s how the home/neighborhood fellowship functions. It provides both the physical and spiritual environment that stimulates the simultaneous fulfillment of God’s greatest commandments. It replaces attachment with vital connection. Everyone is on the playing field taking an active part. It cultivates personal relationship—with God and with each other.
The final Either/Or is ours. Just a few pages back, we suggested that King Josiah would be a good pattern for us to follow. Remember that one day, the Book of the Law was discovered. Although he was obeying God as best as he knew how, it revealed he had to make a choice.
Over the years and even centuries, literally hundreds of modifications have been made to the Church of the Firstborn found in the New Testament. These changes have obscured its purpose and crippled its function. We have gotten ourselves so invested in church programs and processes that we feel uncomfortable even questioning the status of the Church of Modernity.
We can take heart! What has been presented here is obtained from the Scriptures themselves. Josiah was in the same situation. It had been 300 years since the death of King Solomon, the builder of the Temple. The Book of the Law had been written long before that. Who was Josiah to question centuries of religious development? What were his spiritual credentials? Not much! But he had the one decisive element: He took God and His Word seriously. He looked at what he was doing and realized he had to make a choice—Either/Or.
By summarizing the ten steps King Josiah took in following the Lord, we can identify where we are and what we must do. You may find yourself already headed in the same direction. You are ready, now, to follow through on your choice.
King Josiah’s Ten Steps to Restoration (Summary)
- 1. Josiah was open to God’s leading. He was seeking after God. He was available and open to God.
2. Given the opportunity, Josiah read the Book of the Law. God’s Word was foundational.
3. Josiah believed God’s Word applied to him, first.
4. Josiah responded to God personally. What he read meant he had to repent and humble himself. Good intentions were useless.
5. While distressed about his own condition, Josiah saw the needs of others. He was eager for them to hear and understand what was just discovered.
6. To Josiah, the message, not the messenger was the critical issue.
7. Josiah provided others the same opportunity to hear God’s Word. He allowed them to respond personally.
8. Josiah repeated publicly what he had said and done privately. In humility, he repented.
9. After leading the way, Josiah invited the people of his kingdom to join him in devotion to God and His Word.
10. Josiah’s commitment to God’s Covenant brought outward change. He enlisted the people of Judah and Israel in returning things to God’s pattern.
The steps Josiah took in fulfilling God’s will included at least two phases: He had to turn his back to his past experience. Secondly, he had to place his confidence for the future in God’s promises.
Much like King Josiah, the Apostle Paul had to repent. His training, experience and contemporaries all confirmed his attitude about Christians was right. They had to be silenced! The voice from heaven, however, changed everything when Jesus revealed the true nature of the Church, His Body. The Apostle dramatically states the Either/Or we all face. When we stop conforming to our world, God’s will becomes apparent and we can be transformed.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers (sisters), in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12, 1, 2
What gave the Apostle Paul such confidence? Much like King Josiah, He understood Who God is. After that, nothing from this world’s culture could enlighten him about God’s perfect will. The “Therefore . . . ” of Romans 12:1 is preceded by this grand declaration. We need nothing else!
“Oh, the depth of the riches of the
wisdom and knowledge of God.
“How unsearchable his judgements,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“ ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?’
“ ‘Who has ever given to God
that God should repay him?’
“For from him and through him
and to him are all things.
“To him be the glory forever! Amen.”
*See listing at the end of this book.