BRINGING HEAVEN DOWN
BY REGAINING LIBERTY
December 12, 2013
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
– Luke 4:18-19
The above words of Jesus, quoting from the book of Isaiah, had special meaning for the Jews in attendance. At that time, the Jewish people were politically oppressed under the Roman rule, but to an even greater measure, they were spiritually oppressed under the burdensome rule of their scribes. Their once liberating religion had become a tool of manipulation, suppression, and restriction. They had lost sight of their true spiritual purpose in favor of political supremacy. And worse yet, those who lost the favor of their scribes had no where to go for comfort. These Jews were truly in need of the liberty prophesied by Isaiah.
True to the prophecy, Jesus brought liberty to the Jews in the form of spiritual freedom, which is the first step toward achieving political, social, and economic freedom. Jesus explained that the Jews were no longer slaves to the Mosaic Law or to the rule and traditions of men. They were a free people, sons of the living God and heirs to the Kingdom of the Heavens.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
– John 1:12-13
“What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
– Galatians 4:1-7
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
– John 8:34-36
For about 300 years, these sons of God enjoyed the spiritual liberty Jesus established and were spreading his message of liberty throughout the known world. They wrote hundreds of letters to each other encouraging them with their understanding of Jesus’ message. Though they were shamelessly persecuted for their faith, they were undeterred in spreading the good news of their spiritual liberty to the best of their ability. They shared Paul’s sentiment:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”
– Romans 8:18
But relatively soon thereafter, they lost their Christ-won God-given liberty and found themselves back in spiritual bondage and, once again, crying out for a deliverer.
Continuing up to the fourth century, the Christian community was very loosely organized. There were no centralized teachings or authorized dogma, other than having faith in Jesus and in the promise to be with him in heaven, and getting baptized to receive holy spirit. Each disciple taught about Jesus according to what he understood. The congregations were organized around their foremost teacher and in some instances, conflicts and dissension arose over what was part of the true good news, such as whether the Gentile converts to Christianity would have to keep the law of Moses, and things like these. (See, 1 Corinthians; Galatians; Colossians; Hebrews.)
Early in the fourth century, the Roman Emperor Constantine called together the leading ‘church fathers’ to centralize and codify the Christian teachings in an effort to unify and control the burgeoning Christian population in Rome. At this council, called the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., these ‘church fathers’ determined which of the hundreds of Christian writings would make up the acceptable teachings about Jesus.
These men sifted through the more popular notes and letters, and selected 27 of the writings that they felt best represented the teachings of Jesus as they understood them and provided the most continuity. Unfortunately, this codification of acceptable Christian teachings was the first step in officially changing the free-flowing nature of original Christianity into a centralized clergy/laity class that had far reaching, and not always positive, implications.
Most importantly, the Christians fell back into spiritual bondage to these ‘church fathers’ (essentially the Roman Catholic Church) who had set themselves up as authorities, lords and intercessors. They appointed themselves as doorkeepers to the kingdom of the heavens and the sole channel of salvation. They forced, on threat of death, the unswerving allegiance of all Christians. They snatched away the ministry of reconciliation and relegated the brothers to passive audience members. Like the nation of Israel, their leadership had lost sight of their spiritual mission and fought for secular and political power. Thus, throughout the middle ages, liberty was stalled and mankind was thrust back into servitude to a religious organization very similar to the Jewish system from which they just been freed.
Notwithstanding all of these negatives, the Council’s work and the decision to organize the Christian faith proved to be an important development toward preserving enough of the pure teachings of Jesus that would allow us to regain our liberty if we would truly ‘pick up our cross and follow Jesus.’ (Matthew 10:38) No, true Christianity did not die. It merely slumbered, awaiting a more spiritual age where the Master’s teachings may enjoy a fuller opportunity for development. (For a further discussion of Christian freedom, see The Freedom of the Children of God.)
Regaining What Was Lost
In the 16th century, a movement began, called the Protestant Reformation, that challenged the authority and doctrines of the Catholic Church. As a result, schisms developed and various Protestant churches were formed, each claiming itself as the ‘true church.’ This was a time of great dissent and even warring among Christians. But in spite of its ‘rough and tumble’ beginning, this movement made significant progress in causing the individual Christian to think on his own and to read the Bible for himself. And the agitation caused the Catholic Church to engage in some self-examination and reformation of its own.
The new Protestant churches dismantled the clergy/laity distinctions and established a more brotherly-like spirit within their groups. They abandoned much of the manmade doctrines and burdensome rituals, and sought to regain the liberty Jesus proclaimed in the 1st century. However, in time, most Christians lost their incentive to ‘find Christ for themselves’ and again entrusted their faith into the custody of men, thus falling back into spiritual slavery. And more importantly, they failed to re-establish the work that Jesus required each of his followers to do, not just those taking the lead:
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
– Matthew 28:19-20
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”
– 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Over the next few centuries, the reform movement continued as individuals and small groups continued to break away from their churches to form new sects that they believed more accurately followed the true teachings of Jesus. An interesting development occurred in the 19th century when a young man, Charles Taze Russell, formed a sect of Christianity based on his understanding of scripture.
Pastor Russell’s vision of a true church was a loosely connected network of congregations where all members were brothers. There were to be no clergy/laity distinctions and he abhorred the idea of becoming another controlling hierarchical religious organization. He also saw the importance of every member of the sect engaging in the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’ Today, the major offshoot of the sect Pastor Russell started is known as Jehovah’s Witnesses who are famous (or infamous) for their door to door preaching work. Yet, in spite of its auspicious beginning, Jehovah’s Witnesses have become a mirror image of the very thing Pastor Russell abhorred. And again, free Christianity was back in bondage to men.
It seems that every time Christianity takes two steps forward, it takes one step back. It’s growth and maturity is slow moving because it fails to appreciate that the world has already been delivered! Remember Jesus words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
– Luke 4:18-21
Jesus has already released mankind from bondage and given him liberty. He is the Supreme Savior who is also a Supreme Upholder of his deliverance. ‘No one can snatch us from my Father’s hands.’ (John 10:27-30) Jesus set the mind and body free to join the already free spirit that dwells in us.
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17
Let us not minimize the importance of Jesus’ first advent. During his ministry, he did everything for us that needed to be done to bring about liberty. He did not fail. His deliverance of mankind has been an undefeatible constant on earth ever since that time. Only the unbeliever and those who fail to follow the plain and open teachings of Jesus and the leadings of the spirit remain enslaved. Thus, the Christian challenge is not to pray for deliverance, but to spread the message to all men of liberty already won so that those who choose to accept their God-given liberty can stand up and be free. Liberty, true spiritual liberty, is only one consecrated decision away from each of us! (For a further discussion on the surety of our deliverance, see EverlastingLife Now! and Being Free.)
Imagine if all of Christianity knew and accepted their power as sons of God, not slaves to men. Imagine if we ‘set your minds on things above’ (Colossians 3:2) and joyfully acknowledged the existence and presence of our celestial family who is eager to support all who are consecrated to doing the ‘perfect will of God.’ This multitudinous enhanced spirit movement will cause the change we all long for. It will surely bring Heaven down!
We Begin Again
Today, we have dozens of Christian sects, and dozens of sects of those sects. We are not yet ‘one faith, one hope, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:4-6) because we fail to appreciate the diverse and multi-leveled teachings of Jesus. Our self-glorification and self-imposed blindness restricts us from seeing the true unity in Christianity. We do not need to be uniform in doctrine, but we must be unified in faith.
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:26-28
For a further discussion, see Unity Not Uniformity.
We rejoice that a stirring is again occurring in the world of Christianity. An awakening is taking place around the world as modern thinking man shakes off the shackles of spiritual bondage imposed by primitive religious ideology. It is no accident that uprisings are occurring in various parts of the world where controlling and oppressive religions dominate. It is not happenstance that the newly installed Pope of the Roman Catholic Church is making bold efforts to change and reform. It is not mere chance that eyes are being opened to the plain and open teachings of Jesus.
The Spirit of Truth is roving about in the earth causing an agitation. The true Kingdom message is awakening from its slumber. Therefore, we must be reminded of our spiritual mission and hear anew Jesus’ proclamation of liberty:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”
– Luke 4:18-19
Our next article will discuss in detail the liberties proclaimed by Jesus and herald the meaning of ‘The Lord’s Year of Favor!’
We welcome your comments.
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