THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST IN AMERICA is currently undergoing a radical shift in doctrine, purpose and function. This shift is bringing the Church toward her proper role. Committed Christians all over the nation are now changing their attitudes and asking new questions about the Church, such as: “What should she be doing?” – and – “What should she look like? These questions are being answered in a current transition period – what I have termed “Paradigm Shift 1992.”
What is a Paradigm?
A paradigm is a set of beliefs which act as a model for one’s sense of reality. This model or belief system will ultimately shape one’s actions. In other words: “What you view is what you’ll do.” Another way of looking at paradigms would be to see them as a set of proven value judgments which reside at the core of one’s being. This is commonly referred to as a “worldview.” When we are talking about paradigms, we are looking at patterns of thinking which – whether you realize it or not – determine your conduct and lifestyle.
There has been much heated debate in recent years about paradigms. This discussion has focused on the shifts which occur when an old paradigm is seen to be obsolete or false. In which case, one paradigm gives way to another. This transfer of belief systems and values is termed a “paradigm shift.”
A good example of a paradigm shift in the business world would be the transfer of the influence and power of computer manufacturers that came with the invention of the personal computer or “PC.” Prior to the invention of the PC, larger, well established computer manufacturers produced bulky, expensive computers which had to be run via a mainframe to a computer terminal. The invention of the PC by a smaller, less established company provided a compact, inexpensive computer that could be run from a built-in “hard drive.” Small businesses and individuals found that the PC was much more reliable, useful and efficient than its older counterpart. While this smaller company has grown by leaps and bounds, the larger computer manufacturers are now scrambling to shift their entire operation to compete with this younger innovative company.
Paradigm shifts are not confined to the business world. In fact, we can see a common historical paradigm shift which has occurred in the Church just prior to every revival and spiritual awakening. The pattern has generally followed that an old paradigm has become entrenched in the Church and God’s people are unable to discern the need for revival and reformation along with the new paradigm or vision that is carried along with it.
No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, “The old is better.” – Luke 5:37-39
While it would be interesting to investigate the times, events, and paradigm shifts which have preceded each revival movement over the past 500 years, I believe it would be more useful to find the overriding biblical principle of paradigm shift which leads to revival. This is especially critical in our generation, for the evidence would indicate that the paradigm shift is already underway in the United States.
Jesus’ Parting Words Before His Ascension
On one occasion, while he was eating a meal with them, he emphasized that they were not to leave Jerusalem, but wait for the Father’s promise. “You have already heard me speak about this,” he said, “for John used to baptize with water, but before many days are passed you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
This naturally brought them together, and they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
To this he replied, “You cannot know times and dates which have been fixed by the Father’s sole authority. But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth.”
- Acts 1:4-8 JB Phillips
The School of Christ
Here we find an all important example of paradigm shift. The scene is set just prior to the inauguration of the Church on the day of Pentecost. The resurrected Christ issues forth His final instructions to the disciples before His Ascension. This school of Christ was to last forty days. A new paradigm, the Church, was being erected on the site of an old paradigm (the Sanhedrin, the Temple, Judaism, etc.) yet with none of the old discarded materials.
The subject matter of this last day school of Christ was the bedrock for the new paradigm. The elements of this new order were as follows:
1. The emphasis on the Kingdom of God
2. The ministry of prayer (Being commanded to wait on the Lord)
3. The reception of the Holy Spirit
What is Ecclesiology?
These three subjects fall under the theological category termed ecclesiology. The word comes from the Greek root: Ekklesia meaning “the called-out ones” or “the Church.” The term ecclesiology is defined as the study of the doctrine, purpose, and function of the Church as Jesus intended it to be.
The forty day school of Christ instructed the disciples in the present reality of the Kingdom of God along with the immutable eternal purposes upon which it was based. The place for the discovery and implementation of these Kingdom principles was to be the commanded prayer meeting. And the empowerment for the testimony and expansion of this Kingdom was to come in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus Christ intended this victorious worldview to encompass the globe even “to the ends of the earth.” This new paradigm – “the Church” – was given a grand and glorious vision with all the power and divine authority of the resurrected Christ to carry out her mission. (See Ephesians 1:17-23.)
However, the disciples had great difficulty in this school of Christ. The new paradigm of ecclesiology – what they were to be as the Church – was a new and foreign idea being clouded by an old paradigm. That old paradigm was an emphasis on eschatology or a study of the end times.
What is Eschatology?
Eschatology is derived from the Greek word Eskatos, which means “the last things.” Eschatology is the study of the “end times” or the final events in world history.
Notice that the disciples ask the question: “Lord, is this the time when you are going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The question is distinctly eschatological in nature. They were caught in the old paradigm of the Sanhedrin which had an undo emphasis on eschatology, especially the dates, times and endless speculations about the coming of the Messiah, rather than on the lessons of the school of Christ. It should be noted that while the Sanhedrin was very adept at knowing prophetic writings, it failed as an institution for they had no sense of the redemptive purposes of God for all nations. Thus they speculated about the time of the Messiah’s coming, yet missed the day of their visitation.
Jesus responded to the disciple’s eschatological question by bringing the paradigm shift into a burning focus: “You cannot know times and dates which have been fixed by the Father’s sole authority.” Clearly Jesus shifts the emphasis away from eschatology and refocuses the disciple’s attention back to the lessons of the school of Christ or ecclesiology: “But you are to be given power when the Holy Spirit has come to you. You will be witnesses to me, not only in Jerusalem, not only throughout Judea, not only in Samaria, but to the very ends of the earth.”
The question our generation faces is very similar to that of the disciples. Will the Church in America be able to make a paradigm shift away from an undo emphasis on eschatology to a proper emphasis on ecclesiology as we move toward another Great Awakening? There are signs that a paradigm shift is already well under way in the Church. We will look at the signs of this shift momentarily, however, we must understand a recurring pattern between the paradigms of eschatology and ecclesiology.
We see in times of stagnation or decline within the Church an overall loss of vision and testimony. The challenge of the Great Commission and the Church triumphant seems beyond our scope of experience and no great emphasis is placed on ecclesiology, for the times and the poor state of things dictate that the best days of the Church are behind her. Thus prayers for revival and massive, global spiritual awakening are not only seen as naive, but are actually frowned upon by a paradigm of malaise and decline.
Historically, we find an emphasis on fatalistic eschatology, which gradually makes its way into the Church and severely hampers her global mission. Speculative date setting about Christ’s Second Coming and undo attention to current events, and subjective extra-biblical interpretations of prophetic writings have always hindered the Church. These were the very things for which the disciples were rebuked.
This pattern has shown itself not only in our example from Acts chapter one, but also just prior to the Reformation, the First and Second Great Awakenings, and the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. We can also see that before any of these movements were brought into full fruition, a paradigm shift took place away from eschatology and toward a victorious ecclesiology.
Today, we find that the Church in America has been obsessed with a calendar driven, date-setting, escapist eschatology which demeans the role of the Church in the world. The results over the past seventy five years has been a Church which has disengaged herself from society and given it over to every anti-Christian power imaginable. As the Church has withdrawn from society, a vacuum has been created, and pagan humanism concealed within the Trojan horse of pluralism has captured most of the societal institutions of our land, including many “Christian” denominations, seminaries, and pulpits. The deplorable result was a prayerless, hopeless church without purpose, purity or power.
However, approximately twelve years ago a sovereign prayer movement for revival and spiritual awakening began to take shape all across the land. The results of this prayer “counterattack” has been astounding in its scope and effect – especially in the last three years. As the prayer movement has turned into a holy conflagration so too, a clear paradigm shift has been evidenced. The victorious ecclesiology for which Christ successfully labored forty days to impart to His disciples is again making a dominant resurgence as we move toward yet another Great Awakening.
The following outline depicts this paradigm shift. Here is a common ecclesiology and eschatology based in confessional orthodoxy, yet poignant and robust in pointing the way for revival in our generation.
I. Common Ecclesiology
A. The Church is the only institution to advance Christ’s Kingdom on earth. No other institution is intimated.
B. Christ has furnished all the means to accomplish His work (His finished work on the Cross, the Word of God, the Holy Spirit).
C. We have the witness of the Early Church in triumph over the Roman Empire, the Great Awakenings, and today’s Third World Awakenings as evidence of a victorious Church.
D. It would dishonor the gospel of God, and the work of the Holy Spirit to intimate that the Church will ultimately fail in accomplishing the Great Commission.
E. The Purpose of the Kingdom of God
1. To prevent the universal spread of idolatry
2. To preserve the testimony of Christ’s reign
3. To gather the elect
4. To reaffirm the covenants and moral law of God
5. To triumph over all
II. Common Eschatology
A. All nations will have an identifiable indigenous witness of Christ and the Church.
B. Ethnic Jews will be reingrafted in a mass way.
C. All anti-Christian powers shall be destroyed not only judicially but practically.
D. Christ shall return in person to judge the living and the dead.
E. The saints will inherit the consummated Kingdom.