By Rodney Lensch
The word “perestroika” is the term Mikhail Gorbachev uses to describe what is happening in the Soviet Union these days. It means the “restructuring” of the economic and political systems which are stagnant, unproductive, outmoded, if not totally unworkable. Gorbachev’s desire is for the people’s basic needs to be met, for a new spirit of democracy to be released in the land, for the Soviet Union to become a partner in world commerce, yes, for communism to take on a brand new face.
It is causing a new springtime in the Eastern bloc countries as well as in China. Who would ever have believed such a thing could take place? Yet in Russia the people are confused and perplexed. Will it work? Where is it going? Will Gorbachev survive politically? Will things get worse before they get better? It is a time of massive turmoil, ferment and upheaval. But no one would deny that it is a reality. Nearly everyday “perestroika” is mentioned on the front page of the newspaper.
The good news is that God has a “perestroika” of His own going on in the Church worldwide today. There is a sovereign “restructuring” occurring in the kingdom of God that doesn’t make the evening news, (at least not too often!) but it is an undeniable reality just the same. Personally, in all my years of being a Christian, I have never known a time of such change, stress and bewilderment within the Church. Everything seems up for grabs.
The predictability and security of past traditions can no longer be taken for granted. It is as though we were walking in the midst of an ecclesiastical earthquake. Pastors are checking out of the ministry. Bishops are wringing their hands over all the problems in charismatic and non-charismatic churches alike. Sincere born-again believers are staying home on Sunday mornings and having church by themselves because the confusion and frustration in so many local churches is more than they can bear.
As an advocate and a victim of God’s perestroika, allow me to make some prophetic sense of all the shakings, quakings and breakings that are taking place in the Church today. What I will have to say is not the last word on the subject but a humble attempt to shed some spiritual light on what God is about from my limited vantage point. Come Holy Spirit! Be our Teacher and our Comforter as we in faith embrace the perestroika of God.
The Prophetic Basis for God’s Perestroika
It is a biblical truth that God is never surprised at what occurs on earth, least of all in His Church. He knows the end from the beginning and has a plan that is methodically being worked out in the fabric of history. He is finally the Lord of history. And secular history is God’s handmaiden, for Paul writes in Ephesians 1:22-23: “And He (the Father) put all things in subjection to His (Christ’s) feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.”
We need to understand that when God wraps up this age it will be much like the time when Jesus walked on the earth and fulfilled His redemptive mission. It was a time of prophecy being fulfilled, of the divine and the demonic hitting head on with mighty fury, of change, upheaval and new direction as the Old Covenant ended and the New Covenant began, of the end of the apostate Jewish system and the releasing of the Body of Christ after Pentecost. It was indeed a roller coaster ride! Will the culmination of the age be anything less spectacular? It is apt to be even more dramatic and cataclysmic!
Hear the Word of the Lord!
- Haggai 2:5-9, “As for the promise which I made when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear! For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. And I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations; and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts … ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and in this place I shall give peace.’”
The holy writer is looking down the corridors of history to the close of the age and sees God’s perestroika unfolding. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken, and in the midst of it all the Lord’s glorious Church will emerge. The glory of the latter house no doubt has a double connotation. First, it refers to the surpassing glory of the New Covenant over the Old Covenant which Paul contrasts so powerfully in II Corinthians 3. Secondly, it points to the exceeding glory of the Church of the last generation over that of any preceding generation of New Testament history.
Jesus will present to Himself a glorious Church as Paul outlines in Ephesians 5:27. However, to bring this about, mighty shakings will be necessary: Holy Spirit fire on the inside and persecution and tribulation fires on the outside. But never fear, Haggai says, at length there shall be peace in the glorious Church!
- Ephesians 2:13-18, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were afar off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups (Jew and Gentile) into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,* by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might … reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity … for through Him (Christ) we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
According to Paul, Christ’s blood was shed not only for vertical reconciliation, namely, that Jew and Gentile alike can be forgiven of their sins and be made right with the Father, but the blood of Jesus was also shed for horizontal reconciliation between Jew and Gentile in the one Body of Christ, the Church. All of the legal and carnal reasons (enmity) which kept Jew and Gentile estranged, socially and spiritually, were done away with in the blood of the cross. So the great miracle of the Church of the first century was that Jews and Gentiles could publicly relate together in peace and love as the people of God under Jesus Christ. This got the world’s attention!
I dare say that an even greater miracle will shock the world in the last generation when this horizontal reconciliation will be manifested between Christians of hundreds of separatistic traditions in the one Body of Christ, the glorious Church, after it has gone through enough shakings. You can count on it, the blood of Christ shed for true Body unity will not have been shed in vain. Given our sectarian traditions we may not have faith and vision for it but God does because His plan will prevail. It is only a matter of time. Shakings will speed up the process!
- John 10:14, 27, 16, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me … My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me … And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.”
These familiar words of Jesus beautifully correspond to His high priestly prayer in John 17 where the Lord prays for true spiritual unity among all of His sheep such as will be visible to the world and trigger the last harvest. In John 10, Jesus prophesies what He prays for in John 17. He says, “They shall become one flock with one shepherd.” This is not a matter of “maybe” or “hope so” but of divine certainty, “They shall become one flock with one shepherd.” As the prophetic scriptures about Jesus’ conception and birth were literally fulfilled so these prophecies about Christ’s Body at the close of the age will be literally fulfilled. Again, God’s perestroika will aid in accomplishing this, if we have ears to hear.
The Primary Target of God’s Perestroika
The primary target of God’s perestroika is the Babylonian spirit which has been at war with the rule of God over His people ever since the Fall. Literally from Genesis 11 to Revelation 18 this evil conspiracy has been at work. In Revelation 17:5, which predicts her doom at the close of the age, she is described as “… a mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth.”
That she has been at war with the true Church of Jesus is evident in Revelation 17:6, “And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.”
That even true believers can unwittingly be associated with her evil influence is clear from Revelation 18:4, “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, ‘Come out of her, My people, that you may not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues.’”
That she reserves her most vicious attacks for apostles and prophets is implied in Revelation 18:20, “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.”
In the early days of the charismatic renewal we used to joke with the classical Pentecostals about how their fathers at the turn of the century felt constrained of God to “come out” of the old-line denominations that rejected their baptism in the Spirit. How dare they call these church bodies “Babylon”! I’m wondering now if they did not have some genuine light and that the Spirit was warning us of events soon to occur as the end of the age draws near.
Characteristics of the Babylonian Spirit
If we study the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, we can observe some significant characteristics of this spirit.
- It is a spirit which attempts to deny, frustrate and usurp the rule of God over His people. In Genesis 9:7, the Lord told Noah and his family, “And as for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it.” However, in Genesis 11:4, we are told of Noah’s descendants, “And they said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’”
- It is a spirit which elevates man and ministers to human pride. In Genesis 11:4 the people said, “Let us build a tower whose top will reach into heaven and let us make for ourselves … Let us make for ourselves a name.”
- It is a spirit which delights in uniformity. In Genesis 11:3 we read, “and they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’” Bricks are not only something that man creates but they speak of uniformity. In God’s living temple the saints are called “Living stones” which speak of divine life and divine diversity.
- It is a spirit which causes confusion and division. Because God is opposed to a united humanity under the control of the Babylonian spirit, He passed swift judgment upon those building the tower of Babel. We read in Genesis 11:7-9, “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another’s speech. ‘So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth and they stopped building the city. Therefore, its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth.’ “
Only when people repent of their sins, come under the lordship of Jesus Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to bring forth the kingdom of God will there be unity among men on earth that pleases God. Meanwhile, where the Babylonian spirit operates, confusion and division will follow as a sign of God’s displeasure.
We would like to think that this spirit only operates in church groups that blatantly deny the gospel of Christ. My conviction is that it tries to manifest itself in all Christian denominations, even those that have the most spiritual light.
Manifestations of the Babylonian Spirit in the Church
- The usurpation of Jesus’ lordship by establishing a central hierarchy/bureaucracy that controls the life and ministry of the local church. This trend began in the second century when apostles and prophets were replaced by bishops and archbishops who controlled large geographical areas and consolidated more and more power. When the baptism in the Spirit was lost to the Church, human control and tradition naturally supplanted Christ’s rule. According to Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus desires to speak directly to every local church without bureaucratic interference. This is why Rev. Wolfram Kopfermann, the German charismatic from Hamburg, recently said, “The peoples’ church is historically out of date. The hour of the free Church is here.”
- The attempt to control local assemblies by requiring their property to be owned by the central bureaucracy. The Roman Catholic church has operated on this basis for centuries and owns billions of dollars worth of real estate worldwide. Only recently has American Lutheranism fallen into this trap. The new Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a case in point. Obviously it will be much more difficult for churches to leave their denomination if they can’t take their buildings with them. This is all part of the devil’s strategy.
- The notion that “our group” is the best or the only legitimate expression of the Church of Jesus Christ. Here is Babylonian pride at work. We will make a name for ourselves. In seminary I was taught that my denomination was the true visible Church of Christ on earth.
- The attempt to prevent church members or member churches from leaving their denomination by using intimidation and false guilt. Because the Babylonian spirit is always trying to build up a denomination at the expense of the unity of the Body of Christ, it resists anyone’s leading to leave. Such a person or group is apt to be told, “If you leave you will suffer loss. You will come under judgment. You will be disloyal to God or to your confirmation or ordination vows. God would never call you away from here.”
- The refusal to change any doctrine or tradition as if “our way of believing and doing” is the epitome of Christianity. Recently I read about a Lutheran pastor and his wife who wondered why there was such a violent reaction to any godly change they wished to introduce to their congregation. In reading some old church records they discovered a resolution adopted in 1873 which stated, “No so-called new measures, anxious bench systems and the like, in doctrine or in practice, shall ever be tolerated in any shape or form in this congregation.” New measures obviously referred to any and all changes resisted by the established church of the day. The “anxious bench system” was an altar call or praying with any form of emotion at the altar.
- The rejection of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. This is due to the fact that when the Holy Spirit comes in power, and not just as a doctrine in the Creed, He exposes the Babylonian spirit and seeks to liberate the people of God from bondage to human control and tradition. This is why the great reformers in every age were martyred, excommunicated or exiled. This is what Revelation 17:6 is referring to. This also explains why the Inquisition followed the Reformation. Who follows in their train?
- The subtle attempt to weaken the Church by luring it to embrace the world’s philosophies and temptations. Here we need only to consider how secular humanism, feminism, parapsychology, homosexuality, abortion and liberation theology are readily accepted by many denominations as compatible with the faith of Christ as revealed in Scripture.
Recently I learned of a Lutheran congregation where a feminist woman pastor was being interviewed as a pastoral candidate. Although she denied the Virgin Birth and the reliability of the Bible as God’s Word, 60 percent of the people voted for her. They said her theology was her business. They just wanted a pastor, and she was willing to serve. When the charismatic members, who voted against the woman, left the church they were accused of being unloving and divisive.
A Contemporary Analogy of the Babylonian Spirit
The best illustration of the nature of the Babylonian spirit is the hamburger franchise. Immediately we think of McDonald’s or Wendy’s or Burger King. Though they are very different they have a lot in common! Each of them is controlled by a central office. Each of them conforms to a certain menu, decor and architectural style. Each of them is out to compete against the others and be number one. Each thinks its products are the best. It would be unthinkable for McDonald’s to serve a “Whopper” or for Wendy’s to serve an “Egg McMuffin.” It would be heresy to even suggest that all three franchises merge into one super hamburger chain for the sake of simplicity, variety and profit.
When we think of the denominational church franchises on every corner on mainstreet America, it doesn’t take a prophet or the son of a prophet to tell us that the Babylonian spirit is alive and well in today’s visible church. Because Jesus is not returning for a “McChurch” He is sending down from the throne a divine remedy for all this confusion, and it is called God’s perestroika, a wholesale restructuring that will produce in time the glorious church.
Rodney Lensch is the director of Rod and Staff Ministries, located in Clifton Park, New York. His newsletter, Rod and Staff, can be obtained by writing P.O. Box 2280, Clifton Park, NY 12065.