The Jesus Movement of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s was a spiritual phenomenon, the culmination of social, spiritual, and political unrest for Americans and indeed for most western cultures of the world. Its vibrancy and vision held the promise for spiritual renewal and lighted the way for many disillusioned young people who felt trapped within the religious ranks of established Christianity. The fire and passion of the Jesus Movement could hardly be ignored as hundreds of thousands flocked together to form communities, coffee houses, and street ministries throughout North America and abroad. It offered hope for an answer to the declining moral and spiritual climate in society at large.
The Jesus Movement shot off with a “bang,” but like an airplane revving its faulty engines, readying for take-off, it was doomed before it could even lift off the ground. Although it seemed to take off, when the smoke cleared they were still right where they started — just going to church on Sunday.
Now, some thirty years later, many feel their souls devastated, wondering about the gospel they put their trust in. It had promised life, but in reality it proved to be an empty promise. Much like the Hippiecrits,1 they have settled into a life of compromise and the false comfort of materialism — the very things they once hated with a passion. Their spiritual lives are permeated with the same old complacency as that of their fathers, having accepted a religion steeped in man-made tradition and formality, but devoid of life. The Jesus Movement did not take them back to the original way. It tried to revive the life of Acts 2 and 4 without restoring the foundation it was built upon.
There was a process, a transition between the way of the original church and the way of Christianity today, but the critical change occurred long ago.
The first-century church was founded on love and thrived on prophecy — the strengthening, encouragement, and comfort2 that came from the words they spoke to one another. The revelation they received kept the church alive with vision and understanding. Prophecy was instruction for the church to hold fast their confidence and boast in Christ, as expressed through their outspokenness and freedom to speak publicly in the assembly (unhesitating, with frankness, candidness, and without reservation) thus proving themselves to be God’s House.3 In so doing they would speak the very utterances of God,4 and the church would continue to progress on the foundation that was laid by the apostles and prophets.5 If all prophesied, when an unbeliever came into their gatherings he would be convicted by all he heard.6
However, their love for each other and their devotion to the apostles’ teaching began to diminish. In all of their communities everywhere, people became silent towards each other with their many offenses and divisions. They failed to stimulate one another daily to love and good deeds to bring grace and encouragement to each other.7 They went on in pretense and form in their gatherings, and the Holy Spirit was quenched.8
When the first-century church lost their outspokenness, they not only lost their freedom to speak, but their lampstand as well.9 No longer was this church the Body of Messiah, but it became10 an organized, religious institution. Between the years AD 100 and 500 the original pattern of the church is documented as having “changed almost beyond recognition.”11 In the midst of this institutional atmosphere the Nicolaitans12 (the main spokesmen) among them found opportunity to gain an advantage. As apathy and indifference drifted in, these self-appointed leaders usurped Christ in the heart of each member. What developed out of the Nicolaitan influence was the clergy-laity system called Christianity.
The clergy-laity system is in direct contradiction to how the Body of Christ was supposed to function.13 God cannot and will not dwell wherever this system exists — even if it is proclaimed in His Name. He does not recognize or acknowledge it.14 Just as the religious leaders of Judaism refused to accept Christ’s judgment15 that their religion was a dead system built on legalities and man-made traditions, so it has been with Christendom down through the centuries.16 Despite their self-confidence, the there is no record that the vibrant life of the first-century church, as described in the book of Acts,17 lasted into the second century. The early church fell and was cut off from grace,18 losing their lampstand19 of illumination.20 Since they did not remain on the rock Peter was on, being obedient to the Master and receiving revelation from Him,21 Jesus’ promise no longer applied to them: they ceased to be the church which the gates of hell would not prevail against.22 The voice and spirit of its members had been silenced.23
Nicolaitan literally means, “Conquer the people,” and so it was with the original church. By the end of the first century apostate24 leaders within the church had conquered the people. They did so by taking the message of truth, the gospel of salvation, out of the hands of true apostles and distorting it by craft and cunning, disguising themselves as ministers of righteousness.25 Seeking their own glory, they desired to create a following and a name for themselves.26 They spread a false Jesus and a false gospel which eventually destroyed the simple devotion and purity to Christ and to the apostles.27 This is how the First Church was deceived, even as the first Eve fell.
Towards the latter end of the first century, the Nicolaitan leaders brought the church as a whole into apostasy. An apostate is a person who is no longer devoted to the apostles and their teaching. He does not stand in agreement with them, but is disloyal, wanting to bring another anointing contrary to that of the apostles.28
Diotrephes, the man John writes about in his third letter, is an example of an apostate or Nicolaitan type. He was turning people against John, and would put people out of the church who were loyal to the apostles. He loved to be first among the brothers and would not accept what John had to say. He did not submit himself to or acknowledge apostolic authority. He unjustly accused the apostles with wicked words and would not receive those sent to the church by the apostles, and he forbade all who desired to do so. It seems that John had written a letter of instruction to the church, but Diotrephes refused to read it.
Such was the power struggle that went on among the false leaders in the early church. That is why Peter wrote a universal letter to be read to the churches about the quality of leadership and who was approved and who wasn’t.29 Diotrephes and men like him were obviously not those who proved themselves examples to the flock, but rather those who sought for sordid gain, and were disapproved by our Father.30
These men produced the religious system that is rooted in division and deception, holding to a form of godliness, but denying the power of the Holy Spirit to create unity.31 The nature of organized religion is revealed through its denominational schisms. The church system spawned by Diotrephes and the like is controlled by an authority structure that hobnobs with the governments of this world.32 There are no longer prophets or apostles, let alone a simple devotion to the Lord.
The only way back to God is to return to His original purpose and plan. The vast and complex infrastructures of Christianity (which could be likened to a city or megalopolis) stand in stark contrast to the original blueprint of how the living church community was to be established according to what Christ and the apostles themselves commanded.33 Community, as established by the apostles as a result of love being poured out in the hearts of the disciples,34 is what made the distinction between those who served Him and those who did not.35 Those who believed their message were completely devoted to Christ and the apostles.36 They contributed all their wealth, time, energies, and possessions as an expression of their love for their Savior to build up the Body of Christ.37 This was their “new life” in Christ. They were consumed with a zeal for His House, and as a result it turned the world upside down.38
Just as Jesus had to go outside the camp of Judaism to provide the means of salvation and the forgiveness of sins, in the same way one must go outside the camp of Christianity to find the vibrant community life Jesus gives to those who follow Him. Although Christ’s life is so central to the teachings of Christianity, His life cannot be incarnated39 or embodied40 within that “camp.”41
In Christianity the presentation of Christ is targeted for the individual, and the Scriptures are interpreted for the effect they have upon the individual. However, when the gospel was first preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost, the outcome of obeying it was community. The life of Jesus Christ could not be found apart from the expression of a corporeal body.42 There, within community established by apostolic grace, each individual found his place so as to function within the one body,43 each part giving what it had for the common good of the whole body.44 Community is what de-mystifies the Body of Christ. It is the visible, tangible result of Ephesians 4:11-16 — the Body being perfected in love for all the world to see.
John the Baptist saw the state of the religion of Judaism and publicly excommunicated all Israel, calling them to repentance and baptism (normally a practice for Gentiles converting to Judaism). John did this in readiness for the coming Messiah and His Kingdom.45 He told the Pharisees, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees [referring to Old Israel and the religious system of Judaism], therefore, every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” The religion of Judaism did not bear the fruit of a good tree,46 and was destined for the fire.47
Jesus knew that in order to bear that fruit,48 there would have to be a restoration of a spiritual nation of twelve tribes.49 This was clearly burning in His heart when He called twelve men to be His disciples and to serve by His side as foundational stones on which a whole new nation could be established that would accomplish God’s intent.
Jesus always had the vision of Israel’s original intended purpose.50 He was willing to count the cost and make the personal sacrifice to see it happen. In His baptism by John, Jesus separated Himself from the apostate system of Judaism.51 He knew that it could not achieve the purpose of being the witness of the Kingdom of God before the nations of the world.52
Later, when Jesus confronted the Jews concerning how they treated the prophets sent to Israel,53 He concluded by telling them that the Kingdom was going to be taken away from them and given to a nation producing the fruit of it.54 The Jews had failed to accomplish their intended purpose in being a holy nation.55 Rather, it had developed into something that actually opposed God’s purpose. They had turned their religion into a powerful man-made hierarchy that was favored by Rome.
Even though God’s commands and laws were central to Judaism, the life and Spirit of God was simply not there. The proof is that they killed Jesus and thought they were doing God a service.56 Under the guise of piety, the same spirit of those religious leaders of Judaism is present inside the camp of Christianity today. If anyone disagrees with or makes a claim to having any authority or credibility outside her ranks, they are quickly branded as a “cult” and must either conform to the “norm” or are considered anathema (accursed). Jesus knew He had to go outside this camp if He were to ever establish the Kingdom of God.57
In Christianity today the gospel is presented by those who pay lip service to Christ and His commands while subtly endorsing conformity to the world. They do not call anyone outside the gates,58 but encourage their followers to remain inside the camp of organized religion. But true faith in Christ is demonstrated through obedience to the apostles’ demands of discipleship and all that Christ commanded.59
It takes apostolic grace and authority to bring about a visible demonstration of Christ’s life through community.60 The proof that the apostles are true representatives of Christ is in those who receive their message and bear the fruit of love and unity.61 There is a bond of affection and loyalty created between the one who hears faith and the one who speaks it. The good news is not just receiving the message, but also receiving the messenger as Christ Himself.62 That is why it says in Acts 2:42 that those who received the gospel were devoted to the apostles and their teaching, to fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. Some translations mention that they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching and their fellowship. How indebted would a person be to the one who brought them the message of life and the forgiveness of sins?63 How grateful would a person be, having escaped his sin and the pollution of the world to come into Messiah’s life in community? What freedom it would be to no longer live for yourself, but for Him who died and rose on your behalf!64
Apostles are the living examples of the community churches they establish. Their lives express the essence of love, poured out daily in their devotion to all the saints. They are wise master builders and lay a solid foundation of Christ’s life in a people set apart and devoted to Him.65 The work of apostles brings into existence the evidence of Jesus’ victory over death and Satan.
The Body of Messiah is the material, visible oneness that will convict the world. It is not mystical. In community there are countless opportunities daily to carry out all that Jesus commanded66 and through this the world can see the witness of the Kingdom.67 It is the outcome of His life lived out in love and obedience that proves to the world that God has indeed sent His Son. Those who receive the apostles’ words will be the ones who carry out the will and pleasure of Christ.68 Apostles are set apart, chosen to carry out the administration of our Father’s will on earth.69 They establish His House70 and maintain its development into the nation Christ spoke of in Matthew 21:43.
Apostles have the God-given grace and authority to bring others into obedience to the faith of Christ.71 This obedience is what produces community. The authentic documentation of this is recorded in Acts 2:37-47 and 4:32-42. Through their words, apostles minister grace to cause one to believe and to give him the faith to obey.72 Faith comes by hearing. However, unless someone is sent with the authority to proclaim the gospel, no one can hear it.73 Being sent out as one who represents Christ involves being under the authority of the one who sends. This means no one can just send himself, but he must be discipled and prepared for this ministry by those who have the authority to send. Apostles are sent ones. They are sent out as messengers to present the full gospel of Christ and to establish His life in a people.
No one can confidently say he has been saved by grace through faith when no messenger has yet been sent to command him to believe in and obey the gospel. In the first century, the church grew in number by receiving the messenger and his message. You have to receive a real, live human being as the representative of Christ.74 The great commission was given to the apostles, giving them all authority to make disciples of all the nations.75 The gift of apostleship extends to the end of this age, and it will be at the end of this age that complete restoration of the church will come. Paul told the Romans that he had received “grace and apostleship to bring about obedience to the faith for the sake of His name among all the nations.”76
The Great Commission was specifically given to the apostles, and they were the ones responsible for teaching the communities they established to obey all that Christ commanded.77 The authority of apostleship was missing in the Jesus Movement. This is evident from the fact that the ranks of the Jesus Movement have ended up in the pews listening to the preacher once again. Those who are disgruntled Christians from the Jesus Movement know this better than anyone. Without apostleship, there is no way to go outside the camp of Christianity to where Christ is. He isn’t inside her gates, but is outside this camp.78 We have to go where He is, and that is only made possible through the authority and grace of apostleship. It is given to them to establish the embodiment of Christ on earth, bringing all into the obedience of faith in Christ.79
What is the fruit of the Jesus Movement now some thirty years later? You can’t help but ask this question and ponder in your heart what it was all intended to bring about. Everything you have ever wanted in Jesus is to be found within the context of true apostolic community. It is where He is and it is where He can be served, and it is where He honors those who serve Him.80