Book Review   


The Torch of the Testimony
John W Kennedy

 The Seed Sowers
Christian Books Publishing House
Beaumont, Texas
Published October 1965


A review by J Wayne Airy
September 21, 2008
Originally Presented in Serial Form
Starting May 30, 2008

Dear family and friends,

A while back I recommended a book I’d read several years ago titled The Torch of the Testimony by John W Kennedy.  Jim Johnson, a brother you may not know, originally recommended the book to my youngest son, John.  As I started rereading it, I decided to pull quotations from it to share with you, hoping to whet your appetite to read the entire book.  If you’ve ever questioned the efficacy of denominational "Christianity" or the direction organized-religion has taken, then I’m sure you’ll find Kennedy’s book of great value to your understanding of God’s work with His people today.

When I commenced this review, I intended to prepare and release it in a short serialized form. I had no idea where it would lead – certainly not that these segments would develop into long treatises.  After I’d started my review, I found a few brief online reviews, which basically only quoted the back cover introduction, which I also included with my first chapter excerpt. My articles are a chapter-by-chapter, in-depth review with excerpts and commentary.

The excerpts from The Torch of the Testimony in these articles were not intended to glorify the men or movements mentioned but to show how, in some cases, the church survived despite them.  Some passages are lengthy because I wanted to capture the full essence of the significant insights at the heart of Kennedy’s observations. I took the liberty to underline some of his remarks for emphasis.

 Alan Hemenway, another brother you may not know, asked permission to post these articles on his website. He suggested that I compile all the articles into one. Now that I’ve compiled them into a single document, he’ll be able to post it as one continuous article. This will expose my repetitious theme, but that’s the risk of serialized format.

Originally, I devoted more attention to some chapters than others. It was not my intent to slight any particular chapter or avoid any topic. In this compiled and expanded version, I exercised my prerogative to insert additional excerpts and observations. For some chapters, I created preambles and summation statements that I had not included in the original articles, and I modified and amplified some of my original comments for clarity and consistency of format. The original excerpts are essentially as originally presented except for minor editing to correct typographical errors.

J Wayne Airy

619 GO AIRY 4
4192 East Arrieta Circle

La Mesa, CA 91941-7817



Perhaps you’ve wondered why there are so many denominations in Christendom, and you recognize that it should not be that way, "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints." [I Corinthians 14:33] If so, you’ll find a very good explanation of religious confusion in the world today in John W Kennedy’s book The Torch of the Testimony. You’ll also find proof of our Savior’s prophetic words that the gates of hell will not prevail against Him and the church founded upon faith in Him.

The Torch of the Testimony presents "[the] 2,000 year history of those Christians - and churches - that have stood outside the Protestant-Catholic tradition.  This book was originally published in India in 1964 and is little known in the western world.  Beginning in the first century, John Kennedy traces the history of Christian groups who remained outside formalized religion down through the ages.  A stirring, passionate and sometimes heart-rending story of suffering to the centrality of Christ within the body of Christ.

"John W Kennedy is from Great Britain, but has lived in India since 1952 ministering among indigenous and apostolic Christian groups." [Back Cover]

Chapter One


In chapter 1, Kennedy presented a brief introduction to the format of the Jewish synagogue and its relationship to the early church. He traced the history of the church from Pentecost to scattered regions of Asia. It is an excellent accounting of the progression of thinking among believers in those early days. Please bear in mind that in the first several chapters Kennedy cited many accounts of the early church we already recognize because of our acquaintance with Scripture, therefore I have not pulled as many quotes form these chapters. His insights are worth reading, if you are able to obtain a copy of the book.

"When that which is revealed of God is crystallized into a tradition, rigidly held and propagated with purely human energy, it becomes an impenetrable barrier to the truth. The life of the Spirit can never be confined within the framework of religious tradition. God is much greater than man’s thoughts concerning Him, and the plant of the church grows best in soil uncluttered by the pretty hedgerows of man’s limited understanding." [Page 9]

Religious traditions and creeds are enshrined in granite to shelter folks from having to face the truth. How many times have you encountered an individual who refuses to become involved in a discussion or argument [Horrors, no!] because their mind is made up and they don’t want to be confused with facts? It’s so easy for men in religion to become bound by doctrinal bias and tradition and lose contact with the God.


Chapter Two


Echoes of the following excerpts from The Torch of the Testimony could be heard as recently as the early 21st Century when some believers I know were faced with a choice whether or not to incorporate for tax-exempt status.  Rather than stand on principle and pay taxes under protest, they caved, compromised and incorporated. Their predecessors a generation - some 40 years - earlier had refused to bow to Caesar’s pressure to take a name for their association for the sake of mammon. Preferring to secure financial benefit, the new "leaders" were not of the sufficient spiritual character to stand on principle and resist the pressure to incorporate.

 "…Bowing to the Lordship of Christ is the essence of salvation, and this attitude of submission is foundational to the whole life of the church. Wherever it exists the Lord has ground on which to work, even although understanding of His ways be rudimentary; where it is absent there can be no real church." [Page 11]

"Under the ministry of Barnabas and Paul the church at Antioch continued to grow. A significant indication of its growth was the concern of the believers for God’s people in other places, and this was given practical expression in the help that was sent to the saints in Judaea…This is all the more significant when it is remembered that the believers in Antioch were predominantly Gentile in background, while those in Judaea were Jewish. God had freed those in the Antioch church from considerations of class and race. They were unshackled by any loyalty to formal observances of the ceremonial law and saw, much more clearly than their Jerusalem brethren did, that fellowship in the church is on the ground of relationship with Christ alone. Those in the church at Jerusalem found it much more difficult to disassociate themselves entirely from the traditions of Jewish ritualism, and this obsession with outward form…was both the beginning of the rot which was ultimately to corrupt the life of the church itself, and also helped to make the association between the early believers and the synagogues increasingly untenable, since it was clear to those who wanted to follow Christ wholly that any compromise with the religion of the past was a denial of the cross and the difference that it makes in the lives of those who believe." [Page 12]

"Pride of race and the traditions of the past had been too deeply entrenched in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch to give way to the undisputed sway of Christ as Messiah. A separate community, therefore, came into being, and the Jews, further incensed by this impudent piece of sheep-stealing, which was no more popular then than it is today, stirred up some of the sincere but gullible elite who should have known better, and hounded Paul and Barnabas out of the area." [Page 14]

"The Romans forbade the practice of any religion except it were specifically recognized by law; but Judaism was a recognized religion, and Christianity, legally, was but a Jewish sect.  Its continuing association with the synagogues, however precarious, served to accord it a share in the standing of a ‘religio licita’ in Roman eyes." [Page 16]

"Paul was a far-sighted man, and could not have failed to see that the policy he was deliberately pursuing was designed ultimately not only to make final the break between Judaism and the church, but also to bring about the withdrawal of the recognition of the Roman government which the Christians had been enjoying, for the moment this final cleavage between the church and the synagogue became public, Christianity would cease to be a religio licita, and Christians would have to renounce their faith or become fugitives of the law.  This is the path along which Paul was deliberately leading the church, for he saw that there could be no other which would leave uncompromised the revelation which had been committed to him."  [Chapter 2, Page19-20]

Here’s an observation I didn’t offer with the serialized release of this review. Satan has always enticed believers to compromise along three distinct fronts of a spiritual battle, namely: 1) established religion; 2) secular government; and 3) leadership or clergy. (Kennedy delineated the three factors with a slightly different twist in chapter 4.) Notice the similarity between these three entities and what Satan employs to lure mankind in the world: 1) the lust of the flesh; 2) the lust of the eye; and 3) the pride of life. [I John 2:16] These are the same tactics he employed in the temptation of Jesus [Matthew 4:1-11]; and they are essentially the same tactics he uses in his attempts to lure the church away from its spiritual foundation. In the early centuries, believers were tempted to embrace the traditions of Judaism, curry favor with Caesar and split into sectarian factions. Today believers are tempted to compromise with essentially the same forces: organized religion, National and State governments and charismatic personalities. Throughout the past twenty centuries, torchbearers of the church marathon have struggled to avoid compromise with those three areas of temptation; and Satan is obviously behind the three-prong assault against the church – the body of believers in the Son of the living God. He promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him - our Rock [Matthew 16:13-19]; and if the gates of hell shall not prevail against Him, surely they shall not prevail against the church, for we are as the apple of His eye.

As an aside, the word "gates" is interesting in Matthew 16:18 because gates are defensive in nature, not offensive. This indicates that the gates of hell will not be able to withstand God’s assault. While Satan will continue to assault the church, the Force - Spirit - within the church will prevail against the gates of hell.


Chapter Three


The following quotations will perhaps have more meaning to those who have been exposed to sectarian or cult culture.  The insights presented will certainly "ring a bell" with those abused by men who attempt to be over-lords of God’s heritage.  We’ve witnessed ambitious men who were led to believe all male believers should "desire the office of bishop" (or elder) in the church - as if the office itself is the goal, not the spiritually qualified life of one who is to be recognized as a bishop.  As in any situation where believers put their brains in neutral and leadership is left to men without checking the Guide Book for themselves, they often find they’ve taken the wrong trail.  We must never allow ourselves to take the easy doctrinal route; we must be like the noble Bereans and search out the truth for ourselves.  In brother Kennedy’s Chapter 3 insights on deacons, we see a strong hint that hierarchy has no place in the church.  With the washing of His disciples’ feet, Jesus stated that a servant is not greater than his master, yet He demonstrated with His actions that He who would be greatest must be willing to serve others - He became servant of all.

"…Chief among the officers of the synagogue and of the churches were the elders. Strict standards governing the conduct of those eligible for such a position are clearly set down, but beyond this there is detailed instruction neither as to how these elders should be chosen, nor as to the limits of their authority and duty within the assembly. There is divine wisdom in this absence of any rigid code of procedure. The church was not organized into being; it was born through the working of the Spirit of God. It is not a mechanical contrivance but a living organism, and its life is dependent upon that element of spontaneity which a rigid and predetermined order denies." [22]

"The emphasis of the Scripture is that elders are the appointment of the Spirit (Acts 20:17, 28).  They were marked out as the divine choice by their life and conduct, a choice which was accepted by all who were spiritual in the assembly.  Thus relegating the choice directly to the Spirit according to the standard laid down in the Word on the one hand effectively debars the self-assertive from assuming a position of authority and, on the other, protects the work of God from the fallibility of human judgment."  [24]

 "It is well to notice the exacting qualifications demanded of deacons.  They may not have been required to have the same ‘aptness’ to teach as was expected of elders, but their personal lives and devotion to the things of God were governed by no less rigid a standard. In no sense were they of some lower spiritual strata, entrusted with more mundane tasks because of their inability to cope with anything higher.  They were all men "full of the spirit and of wisdom" (Acts 6:3), and at least two of them, Stephen and Philip, were teachers of outstanding ability.  In the early church, every service to God required men who were wholly yielded to Him." [25]

"It is here important to recognize that Scripture is fundamentally a guide to principle, and in that sense is also an infallible guide to practice; but it is not a list of precedents which are to be mechanically and slavishly followed. We can only fully understand the application and implications of any Scriptural incident when we view it in the context of the circumstances in which it occurred. Otherwise we are prone to error…" [27]

"The church and the Scriptures developed together, and the church ultimately recognized in the truth of the written revelation of her complete foundation…" [30]

"Paul and others…formed a spiritual link of great value between the people of God in the various churches. They were not officials of any ecclesiastical organization, but ministers of Christ who were accepted, and whose authority was recognized because the mark of the Spirit was upon them. The effectiveness of their ministry was dependent solely upon their spiritual worth. They occupied no legal position which could have afforded them a guarantee of continued statue should their devotion to God and their spiritual vitality wane." [35]

While the excerpt noting that Scripture is fundamentally a guide to principle was taken from the context of "baptism" as a church ordinance, the observation is equally applicable to the topic of elders and bishops. The last excerpt leads me to wonder why - if Paul, the apostles, first-century ministers and church "officers" were not guaranteed a position - those who claim to be led of God to lead the church today think they should be guaranteed positions – or salaries. All members of the body of believers have a "ministry" to the body; our sole spiritual "worth" is based upon our relationship with the Head of the church.

Kennedy also showed that we have reason to be grateful for the full compendium of the Word. During the Acts transition, of course, the Spirit demonstrated the credentials of Truth with signs and wonders; but we have the complete record – at least enough of it to understand that the church is a work of God. Kennedy cited I Corinthians 13:10 ("But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away.") to bolster this point. The value of the eternal Word surpasses temporal signs and wonders.


Chapter Four


Many of you for whom I’ve prepared these The Torch of the Testimony excerpts witnessed episodes in recent history of the church where some of our brethren were encouraged to follow "the leadership" whether right or wrong.  The rationale behind the "leadership" admonitions to follow them was the contention they are responsible to God for what they teach; believers are just responsible to God for humbly and obediently following them. The only way to please God and "walk in the truth of the one true church" - they asserted - was to follow the men who had followed the men before them - those we’d heard faithfully preach the word of Truth some 20 years earlier.  Yet despite the fellowship "split" that resulted from the so-called "leaders" attempting to force unity, many of us began to observe how the Spirit of God really works beyond human strictures and limits.  The following excerpts describe essentially what we experienced. Reading some of them, if we didn’t know otherwise, we’d almost think Kennedy was right there with us through it all.

"Human nature being what it is, and this world being what it is, it cannot be expected that the work of God will remain uncontested. The child of God and the church are born into a life of continuous, spiritual battle, and whatever God establishes man ultimately wants to prune and shape to his own liking…"

"…The problems encountered in the churches of the apostolic era are set down for our examination in the epistles. They are typical of the heedlessness to divine principle which, down through history, has been at the root of the ultimate decay and declension of practically every movement of the Spirit of God…" [37]

"…[There] are three things which have been emphasized as a grave danger to the life of the church and a curb on the working of the Spirit.

  1. The practical refusal to recognize that life in the Spirit is the only and indispensable ground of fellowship… [Religion]
  2. The tendency common to all human nature to be man centered instead of God centered… [Government]
  3. The move towards centralization of control and ecclesiastical authoritarianism… [Clergy]

As we pursue the course of the church down through the centuries, we see these three tendencies again and again assert themselves, and the Spirit of God, hindered in His working by humanly imposed limitations, move afresh to reveal the fuller purpose of Christ on freer ground."

"…[The Corinthians’] experience shows us that anything that would detract from the Lordship of Christ in the assembly, even an occupation with truth itself, is a potential destroyer of God’s purpose in His people. [46-47]

"Pride or self-sufficiency is the basic evil which denies God His rightful place.  It may take many forms, all of them outwardly plausible; the expedient of human organization to facilitate the functioning of the assembly and protect it from error; dependence upon a man or a human hierarchy, guised as humility and fellowship; a zeal for a particular aspect of truth which will deny the right of fellowship unless that ‘truth’ be imposed upon everybody.  All of these deny the Lordship of Christ…to dethrone Him from His rightful place in the midst of His people has been the cause of the great, spiritual warfare of the ages.  How often the archenemy has seemed to succeed, but when man has apparently prevailed, and the corn of wheat of the Lordship of Christ has been cast to the ground as dead, it has but sprung up again to yield forth a more abundant harvest."  [48]

Again, central to the unity of fellowship is observing the unity of the Spirit in the church. Assemblies that bowed to the Headship of the Savior of the body have always flourished and edified the body on the spiritual plane. When anything else is allowed to take center stage, there is declension.


Chapter Five


As Kennedy noted in chapter four, faith declined when human authority began to overshadow the Lordship of Christ.  This insight became the foundation for the theme of Chapter five, where he showed that the inevitable result of that decline was change.  Human rule was not in accord with the original intent, purpose or mission of the church; but the change was slow and almost imperceptible, even to those who had met with eyewitnesses to the Savior’s ministry.  My recollection of a similar transition from one generation to the next leads me to suspect there was with the change in the early centuries of the church an assurance by the "leaders" that what the faithful interpreted as change in message and format was actually simply an effort to preserve the faith.  No doubt the "leaders" had deceived even themselves with this rationale.

With several succinct statements in his fifth chapter, Kennedy captured the separation of the church from its spiritual foundation.  Citing Scripture passages and other historical documents, he showed how change crept into the fellowship.  As you read the passages I’ve selected, you may be reminded (I certainly was!) of similar instances in contemporary associations of believers.  You may recall some of the ways well-meaning brethren followed a nearly identical path our first and second century brethren did. 

 "We have seen the basic attitude behind [ecclesiastical] changes, but what was the outward reason for them?  The outward reason for the majority of ecclesiastical changes was simply expediency.  When the Lordship of Christ ceases to be the sole impetus of the church, and self-sufficient man takes over, there are bound to be changes in the spiritual pattern which suggest themselves in the name of efficiency, for the spiritual pattern just does not work when man, and not God, is in control.  Human expediency, however, has never proved a good hand-maid to spiritual progress."  [50]

 "Transition from eldership to authoritarian leadership is not difficult to understand, and from a human point of view, such change is almost inescapable.  The Scriptural principle is demonstrably unworkable apart from the Spirit.  Whenever humble dependence upon the Lord slackens, the eldership degenerates into no more than a human committee.  [Substitute the term "Men’s Meeting" if it helps.]  Committees have all sorts of interesting possibilities.  If all the members are weak, no one will decide anything; if all the members are strong, no one will allow anyone else to decide anything; if there are but a few strong personalities, the committee is likely to disintegrate in an explosion of invective; if there is but one strong personality, all the rest become ‘yes-men’ and the committee, to all practical purposes, gives up in favor of one man rule.  Committee rule is notoriously weak unless there is one strong mind which can take the lead, and when his position is recognized and perpetuated, the committee naturally melts unassumingly away and leaves him to it." [51]

"The establishment of the monarchical Bishop soon gave rise to the recognition of two classes within the church, and also opened the way for other evils.  These two classes have been perpetuated down through the centuries in the distinction between clergy and laity.  [You may substitute the terms "the leadership" and "the brethren" here.] It is interesting how singularly inept the word "clergy" is in this connection.  It is derived from the Greek word ‘kleiron’, a word used by Peter in his first epistle and rendered in the the word ‘heritage’.  The revisers have translated the verse, "Neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you" (I Peter 5:3).  This is part of Peter’s exhortation to elders (vs. 1) and nothing could be more clear than that the charge allotted to them, or God’s heritage, is the believers in the assembly as a whole, yet through some strange etymological perversion, from a word which indicated the great unity and privilege of the church as a whole, there has been derived a word which means practically the opposite, and is used to denote a class of people with special privilege within the church itself." [54]

"But the cause of Christ was not lost.  The leaven had been introduced into the fellowship of the church, and was doing its insidious work, a process that was to continue till the ‘whole was leavened’.  This corrupt church, however, was only what appeared outwardly to the world as the result of the Gospel.  In the midst of an increasing denial of the life that is in Christ, God had His people who were not carried away by the assimilation of heathen ways, and thus, down through the centuries, were to bear the torch of the testimony.  As we follow the course of this witness through the years, it will become increasingly evident that it diverges very far at times from the organized institution of Christianity.  The history of the working of the Spirit of God is not the history of any organization, and what usually goes by the name ‘Church History’, is only too often a sorry tale of bigoted quarrels and selfish intrigue.  Yet the history of the two, the spiritual movement, and the earthly institution, are sometimes so closely intermingled that it is impossible to give an account of one without referring to the other." [56]

"How did the standard of the church as a whole fare during these centuries of trial? There were bound to be many who were attracted by the Christian ethic who yet never reached the stage of faith where they experienced true regeneration.  Such people easily lapsed into their old position when the day of testing came.  Others recanted only under the severest provocation.  Yet on the whole, the Christian testimony remained unshaken, and the fortitude of many of God’s people under suffering broke down popular opposition.

"About the middle of the second century an anonymous writer wrote to an enquirer called Diognetius, giving a description of the life of the Christian community.  His words aptly sum up the judgment which the whole Roman world ultimately had to accept.  ‘Christians,’ he said, ‘display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They live in their own countries, but simply as sojourners, yet endure all hardships as foreigners.  Every foreign land is to them as home, yet their every home land is foreign. They pass their days on earth, yet they are citizens of heaven.  They obey the laws of the land, and at the same time surpass the law by their lives.  They love all and are reviled by all.’  The blood of the martyrs had watered the seed of the Gospel, and the fruit of the Spirit was the testimony of the church." [59]

In my association with some of you brethren, we experience many years of wholesome fellowship; our best fellowship lies ahead in Glory. Yet our struggle that began twenty to thirty years ago was not too dissimilar from that of our first century brethren or from that of other torchbearers. We witnessed a transition from the stewardship of elders to the overlord-ship of men’s meetings – a consensus of men and "leaders" overriding the elders and brethren. Of "bigoted quarrels and selfish intrigue" we witnessed more than a little. We may have even been tempted to go along with it to an extent. But when we could take no more of it, we left them to their bigotry and intrigue. Just because we weren’t carried away with their dissimulation – and, for the most part, weren’t even missed by them - are we to conclude that all those who don’t miss us are not truly our brethren? No. They are certainly brethren no less than our sectarian brethren at Corinth, and brethren no less than true believers within contemporary denominations and sects. Yet we’re left to wonder how we can all claim to be members of the same body when we are at odds with one another. Obviously, we are not seeing the body with our spiritual eyes if all we see is the division of fellowship and not the unity of the Spirit. Do you believe the Head of the church sees His body of believers as one? If He does, shouldn’t we? The only way to see it that way is it to ignore divisions of fellowship and look for the evidence of the unity of the Spirit. After all, He ignores the divisions and preserves the unity. And He does not uproot the tares from among the wheat, as Kennedy observed in chapter seven.


Chapter Six


As fellowship evolved from focus on the Lordship of Christ to man-centered religious organization, it was inevitable that heresies would arise. In Chapter 6, Kennedy gave a brief synopsis of several heresies that sprang up in the first two centuries of the church: Gnosticism, Docetism, Marcionism, Manichaeism, Arianism, Pelagianism and Sacredotalism.  Sects of various sizes formed around each of these heresies.  Like all human doctrines and dogmas, sects display the influence of Satan in one way or another, and the net result is the deception of otherwise intelligent, or even spiritual, individuals.  Without exploring all the parallels of these heresies to what we’ve witnessed in our time, I’ve simply quoted general paragraphs to show that little has changed in Satan’s tactics, which are basically aimed at distracting believers from their unity with all saints - from the unity of the Spirit.  Such heresies led many to confuse conformity with unity and spirituality.  It’s no stretch of imagination to conclude that the end result of any heresy stressing conformity can differ little from what Constantine or Jim Jones established.  If you think I’m off mark with this observation, consider the fact the first and second century church was not far removed from its roots, yet many believers were easily removed from the faith once delivered unto them.  It should come as no surprise then that in less than two generations we’ve witnessed this same sort of drift among saints we’ve known from the truth once delivered unto us.  We were taught to observe the universal church; sadly, we were to learn that some among us considered our sect to be the only legitimate contemporary representation of the church on earth.  Isn’t that exactly what the Church of Rome - the Roman Catholic Church claims?  

"As early as New Testament times the life of the churches was disturbed by various forms of erroneous teaching.  The Greco-Roman world of apostolic days was full of philosophic speculations, and many of the intellectual elite indulged their minds in ‘superior’ forms of learning, which theorized on the nature and problems of life.  [A 20th Century "sex manual" certainly qualifies as philosophic speculation. Scripture provides all the instruction we need on the topics of sex, incorporation, finance and personal conviction.]  The common ‘cultural’ spirit of the day is nicely captured by Luke when he writes of Athens, "Now all the Athenians and strangers sojourning there had leisure for nothing else, but either to tell or to hear some new thing." [Acts 17:21]    These religious speculators borrowed from a great variety of sources in an attempt to devise some theory of God, which satisfied the human mind, and were not hesitant to draw also from Christianity.  Greek thought in this way made an effort to penetrate into the church, and the ultimate attempt to interpret Christianity in terms of ‘modern, enlightened thought’ gave rise to various heresies which for many years stood in opposition to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints’.  Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, and John’s first and second epistles, for example, give warnings against these prevalent forms of error which were the source, consciously or otherwise, of a number of difficulties with which the churches of the New Testament were beleaguered." [60]

"Between the end of the early history recounted by Luke in the Acts of the apostles and the end of the second century lies a period of which no consecutive account of the development of the church is available.  At the end of that time, however, when we once again see the situation clearly, it is a situation very different to what existed in apostolic days.  Different factors have worked together to bring about a crystallization of much of the Christian testimony.  What we find is not only a number of independent, Christian congregations linked together in the bonds of fellowship and spiritual life, but also an ecumenical body, the Catholic Church, possessing a clearly recognized canon of Scripture, and an increasingly well-defined statement of doctrinal belief.  Apart from these there were, of course, also the definitely heretical groups, more heathen than Christian.  Of the believers who remained symbolizing the reaction of spiritual life to the increasing formality and lifelessness of the Catholic institution, we shall see more later, but a hundred years before the time of Constantine there existed the concept of an organized, Catholic Church which excluded from it all who would not conform to its practices." [69]

For a period of about 150 years, between the end of the Acts period and the end of the second century, as Kennedy noted, there is no consecutive account of the church. It was not exactly a "dark age" if we take into consideration what emerged on the other side. The church survived and witnesses of its survival were the "independent…congregations linked together in the bonds of fellowship and spiritual life" as Kennedy put it. He also noted that an ecumenical body – the Catholic Church – held the canon of Scripture. It’s interesting that the Author of the Word chose to utilize this particular method to preserve It. What I find of greater interest is the fact the Head of the church preserved the church apparently without the canon of Scripture. The unity of the Spirit was unbroken; the bond of peace among true brethren was not unraveled. God obviously preserves the unity of the Spirit and ignores fellowship divisions.


Chapter Seven


As you’ll see from the passages I’ve chosen to excerpt from Chapter 7, intellectualizing was the natural reaction to the confusion of sectarian debate in the early church.  That danger is ever present, even into this 21st century after its beginning.  What people think is the work of church is not always what the Spirit reveals as evidence of the church.  My father used to tell one of those humorous fictional stories about Peter greeting new arrivals at the pearly gates.  In his story, Peter was taking a group of newly translated saints on a tour, showing them one room after another.  At the first room, Peter said, "In here we have the Methodists."  The new arrivals peeked through the doorway; inside they saw a congregation respectfully singing hymns of the faith.  At the next room, Peter said, "In here we have the Presbyterians."  The new arrivals saw a congregation of folks sitting up straight in their pews listening to a preacher.  At the next room, Peter said, "In here we have the Pentecostals."  The new arrivals saw an animated crowed, waving their hands in the air, shouting and praising.   At the next room, Peter whispered, "In here we have the Baptists."  One of the new arrivals asked, "Why are you whispering?"  "Shh-h-h" Peter replied, "I’m whispering because they think they’re the only ones up here." 

While sectarians think they have a corner on the truth market – and that no one else has discovered it - what I find most interesting about Kennedy’s book is his observation that truth has known no human guardian independent of the Spirit of God.  In the work of the Spirit there is freedom of the Spirit.  Kennedy did not aim to form a movement, but to reveal the genuine movement of God among all His saints.  Lest anyone think it futile mental gymnastics to go over his insights, I want the readers of these lines to know I’ve found in them a clarity that abolishes the notion we need anyone but God to teach us all there is to learn about faith.  The purpose of this review is not as much to expose all the heretics I’ve ever met as to reveal what causes heretical movements to form.  The doctrinal evolution I witnessed about 20 years ago taught me to beware the urge to seek mentors who build or maintain spiritual movements - no matter how close to the true church it may be.  All human religious movements lead to bondage to one degree or another. 

"[Two] questions dominated the [early] church’s deliberations.  First, what is truth?  Secondly, how can the truth be best defended and preserved? ...[Intellectualization], in fact, one of the most subtle dangers which continues to afflict the church, and its insidious encroachment can be seen whenever, in any company of believers, the spontaneous devotion to the Lord which accompanies the inflow of the Spirit’s life, begins to ebb away.  In a preoccupation with resisting error it is only too easy to forget that correct belief does not insure spiritual life."  [71]

"[What] had been gained in the church’s defense of its spiritual life against falsehood was not to be constricted within an exclusive, ecumenical circle which, on the one hand, gained in authority and prestige by being the supposed guardian of the faith and the Word and, on the other, began to arrogate to itself the exclusive right to define the faith and interpret the Word, excommunicating from its fellowship all who did not own unquestioning loyalty to its findings.  It is a fact to be pondered that even after nearly twenty centuries of Christianity we have not yet fully learned that the only adequate defense of the truth is the practice of the truth.  Wherever there are those who live lives of subservience to Christ, the Spirit can be trusted to protect the faith and the Word without the need of any human organization.  Man’s well-intentioned desire to protect the truth by making it captive to his own limited understanding of it within some human organization is doomed to failure.  Truth cannot live in captivity."  [72-73]

"…[Greater] awareness of the nature of the truth and of the authority of the Word also brought a greater awareness of heresy and, unfortunately, lent encouragement to the practice of witch-hunting.  Heresy hunting is an extremely dangerous pursuit, not simply for the heretics, but particularly for those who engage in it.  It proved a very potent destructive force in the life of the early church, for the dominating factor quickly became the passion to root out the evil instead of to build up the good.  A Christianity which becomes engrossed in the negative is destructive to its own nature…We need not think that tares are good, but uprooting them is not the main concern of the church.  [Tares] will exist within Christendom till the end of the age, but it will have less room to develop where the wheat is growing strong and hardy."  [73]

"…The tendency to over-intellectualization of the faith and the heat engendered through the resultant controversy led to an inflexibility which cut at the very root of fellowship. Mind was triumphing over spirit.  It did not seem to be sufficiently appreciated that finite man has a limited capacity to contain infinite truth, and that in all theological speculation, important and edifying as it may be, grace plays an absolutely essential part.  Grace is the only basis on which fellowship in the Spirit can be maintained."  [74]

"There must be a very few men particularly used of God who have not, at some time in their career, been called heretics, often by those who have an equally sincere desire for the truth.  The practice is even yet not dead, but it will be a great day when some of the well-intentioned defenders of the faith find that some of their much maligned heretics have been allotted even ever so small a corner of the heavenly home."  [79]

"...Man rarely approaches God’s readiness to show mercy and forgiveness."  [80]

No one can point to the church; no camera can capture an image of it; no microphone can record its entire message; no detective can find all the clues to its existence; no Senate committee can investigate its spiritual work.  Jesus warned His disciples, "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not." [Matthew 24:23]  The church, which goes simply by His Name, is no less illusive than its Head.  If any man say, "Lo, here is the church or there," believe it not.  It is a living, spiritual organism.


Chapter Eight


The intent of this series of review articles is to showcase quotes from The Torch of the Testimony with as little commentary as possible.  Yet it’s easy to get carried away in the spirit of a topic.  Please indulge my lengthy commentary this time. 

If the first three centuries of church history teach anything, they teach that the experiences of the early believers are often mirrored in our own.  In Chapter 8, Kennedy detailed the results of political affiliation between the Church and the Roman State.  The relationship that evolved almost entirely obscured the spiritual effectiveness of the body of genuine believers - at least as far as recorded history is concerned.  Organization overshadowed organism. 

While the interaction of the church with the State today is far from an affiliation, countless denominations, sects and cults enjoy benefits from the state such as tax-exempt status.  As noted earlier, in some cases principle was compromised to secure it.  Tax-exempt status is legitimate for a genuine non-profit charitable organization; but organizing or incorporating or modifying the definition of the church to gain tax-exempt status is a compromise unbefitting a claim of being a genuine work of God – especially the body of Christ, which walks by faith, not by sight.  When members of the church, which was incorporated by its Head nearly 2,000 years ago, incorporate with any other name, or with any other format, in order to obtain an earthly benefit, the compromise binds their organization to Earth and looses it from Heaven.  It doesn’t make believers any less members of the Heavenly order; it just yokes them to an inferior, man-made ecclesiastical order.  This doesn’t necessarily lead us to conclude that the church is being "flattered" today on the magnitude the fourth century church was, but many sects have succumbed to essentially the same sort of flattery in our day. 

The turmoil created by the persecution of genuine believers from within the church in the first 300 or 400 years was arguably just as damaging to fellowship as that aimed at them from outside the church.  Yet the worst erosion of spirituality came as the result of the flattery it received after being declared the State religion by Constantine.  Fellowship was diluted with an influx of carnal elements from a pagan society.  While we might decry the corrupt influences of a carnal society on the church today, it certainly does not amount to flattery.  Still, the church is being flattered in very subtle ways, as we shall see. 

The "church" appears to have abdicated its role as salt of the earth.  The establishment of sects and denominations shifted the attention of some of its members from building a body of believers toward building steeple houses - warehouses for religion businesses.  Focus turned from edification to edifice; ministration surrendered to administration.  When sects formed a centralized human governing authority, even genuine believers were seduced into becoming obsessed with knowing which men to follow or not follow.  They set aside the example of genuine leadership the Savior illustrated by becoming servant of all.  Too often the predominant focus became "church discipline" where convocations of men passed judgment of "personal sin" in the lives of believers instead of allowing the Spirit to judge them, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira.  The salt of such a "church" lost its savor long ago. The hideous aspect of this judicial system in the hands of church "leaders" is that it is promoted as love - despite the fact such tactics resemble the loveless episode of the adulteress the Pharisees brought to Jesus.  The irony of this practice among "Christians" is that the Pharisees at least had enough decency to recognize they had no authority - much less purity – to cast the first stone.  Jesus didn’t even cast a stone, preferring rather to appeal to her on the spiritual level through mercy.  He told her to go and sin no more.  Obviously that’s impossible in a literal sense; while she might never commit adultery again, she would no doubt sin again.  Jesus apparently meant she should not commit a greater sin, such as denying God, or being quick to judge others, as the Pharisees had been quick to judge her.  For the moment, go ahead and consider this observation speculation on the order of heresy, if you will.  Can it be proved heretical with a thorough searching of the Word?  Often that which is labeled "heresy" by men is proved to be Truth - after the damage has been done.  Too often "heresy" is perceived to be appropriate "church" judgment against believers with different attire or with different perspectives or doubts about the authority of a particular self-promoting class of men in the church.  But when men allow judgment of all believers to trump judgment of all things [I Corinthians 2:15], what passes for the church has lost its nobility. It exposes the fact men haven’t objectively searched the Word to determine the validity of differing views.  (Don’t forget, the gospels differ – they tell essentially the same story from different perspectives.). 

Various "States" of the world and the world body "United Nations" attempt to imitate a few compassionate works of the church - feeding the poor, healing the sick, comforting the feeble minded.  Under the guise of humanitarian aid, without offering spiritual hope and eternal life, the State is little more than a godless religion.  The world system has taken the place of the church, and the "church" has adopted a world-view governmental system.  "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."  When the world turned to compassion and the "church" to judging people, flattery finished its dirty work - it reversed the roles.  Oh yes, the "church" was guilty of flattering the world too.  It flattered the world by imitating its governmental systems.  The influence of man’s order exists in every religion: Spiritualize, organize, formalize.  

There’s no disputing the fact the church must guard against carnal influences and restore members overtaken in faults; that this must be balanced with other church functions is a tremendous overstatement.  It is, after all, the signature quality of our fellowship that we love one another; and love covers a multitude of transgressions.  Yet discipline in the church should be no more than a footnote - a matter of guarded consideration.  When parents spend more than 2% of their time finding fault with their children or administering punishment, we suspect their parenting skills are deficient.  Genuine discipline is more than performance evaluation; it’s part of everything parents do for a child.  Teaching by good example, they spend less time in the woodshed.  The same holds true in the church.  When believers young and old look to our Good Example, we rarely stumble.  Yet time and again when men are proclaimed "leaders" in the church, they begin to think they are called to use the "keys" of the kingdom to lock out some members and lock in others.  They claim for themselves the authority to eternally excommunicate based on the promise given to Peter in Matthew 16:19.  No clique of men has authority from God to admit or eternally reject anyone.

Any spiritually bankrupt shell of a "church" claiming the promises of God by declaring its judgments of church members are eternal, and surpass human courts, cannot fulfill the charter of the body of Christ. Consider: Will whatever men bind on Earth be bound in Heaven?  More to the point: Will whoever men bind on Earth be bound in Heaven?  Such arrogance!  Check it out; examine the context of the promise. Think: If it pertains to judging doctrinal heresy or sin against God, as some claim, then some sins and heresies would be bound in heaven; others would be loosed - some sinners and heretics would be bound in heaven; others would be loosed.  It doesn’t even make sense; you’d have go to great lengths beyond Scripture to "prove" it "true".  Context proves the promise to Peter to be a declaration that the authority comes from above, not from men - from the "keys" to the kingdom, not from the man who holds the keys.  Whatever is bound on Earth will, some translations state, have been bound in Heaven; and whatever is loosed on Earth will have been loosed in Heaven.  It is presumed, of course, that those who hold those keys will be guided from Heaven by the Spirit of God.  When it comes to judgment, here’s the key: Mercy - for mercy triumphs over judgment! [James 2:13b NIV]  So, when it comes to judgment, we’re to be governed by the key principles of mercy, forgiveness and grace - that which comes from above.  Over all is love.

This discourse may seem far afield from the topic at hand, but current events are eerily similar to history. Many names of individuals and organizations indicated in the passages excerpted below could easily be replaced with the names of people and sects we know today. 

"God organized the church for catastrophe; man organized the church into catastrophe."  [87]

"…Had centralization in the organization of the Church not been fostered, it would have been impossible for Constantine [or substitute the name of any other man that comes to mind for application in the church today] to have been offered, or to have exercised the measure of control he did.  The prominence given to Bishops, and the regard in which a few...were held above others, [gave] them, in fact if not in theory, control over their more humble brethren…"  [89]

"…Unfortunately, the [intolerant] spirit of the early fourth century was not a passing phase.  It had come to stay, and it is all dismally familiar down through the pages of Church history, nor is it yet an unfamiliar part of Christendom.   Intolerance within the Church began to grow at an alarming rate, and with it that unreasonable insistence upon non-essentials and upon uniformity, which is ever the mark of a lifeless religion.  Conformity to the every whim of a central, religious authority became the mark of orthodoxy, and those who would not conform came increasingly to be regarded as rebels, either to be coerced into submission or to be exterminated.  The irony of the situation is tragic in its intensity.  The Church which had been so violently persecuted, and had won for itself such a well deserved freedom, was itself to adopt the role of persecutor and deny to others, even within its own ranks, the freedom it had so lately won."  [Chapter 8, 90]

"…It was [Leo, Bishop of Rome] who found the authority for the Roman Church in his interpretation of our Lord’s words to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19, ‘Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church: and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ ...It is almost certain that Peter visited Rome, most probably more than once...Unfortunately, [this fact tends] to be clouded in the minds of many Christians by prejudice.  But they still do not make Leo’s argument true, nor his interpretation of Scripture a justifiable one."  [91]

"It may well be asked what all this has to do with spiritual Christianity.  The answer, of course, is, ‘Very little.’  Yet it is just for this reason that it has been necessary to mention this grimmer side of fourth century Christianity, for it demonstrates how far organized Christianity had departed from a spiritual faith.  From the fourth century on, the spiritual movement is much more distinctly defined from the organized religion.  The picture prior to that time is, in a sense, much more confused.  As church organization had developed, there were always those who remained unaffected by the process and maintained the original simplicity, free from entanglement with the emerging Church system."  [91]

"In holding that spiritual life and character, not sacraments, are the basis of the church, the Donatists were right, but their idea of separation did not extend to a repudiation of the desire to be recognized by the secular power as the true, Catholic Church.  It may be idle to conjecture what would have happened had they received such recognition, but if the experience of others is a valid teacher, the Donatists too would have found that power corrupts.  As it was, the desire for that power was a corrupting influence, which left Donatism more of a negative than a positive force in Christian history.  It is ever hard for Christians to believe that part of their life is to bear the reproach of Christ in a world that does not recognize Him, and the humility of the Lord displayed in the church is an essential requisite to a fully effective testimony.  The life of Christ which is the basis of the assembly is not simply the absence of sin and compromise with evil, but the existence within regenerate men and women of the graces of Christ by which they live their daily lives."  [95]

Allow me to conclude with something a little lighter to illustrate the tendency toward corruption that is the result of the evolution of a human hierarchy in the church.  When my mother sponsored her father to come to the United States from the old country, she wasted no time presenting the gospel to him with her childhood Italian vocabulary.  Not long after he was saved, he told her a story that circulated among the people of his Italian village of Mazara del Vallo, Sicily.  It had been a stumbling block to him. He told of a priest who had a housekeeper.  She came to his house everyday, fixed his meals and did his housework.  One Sunday morning, she served his breakfast before he left to perform his duties at the cathedral.  As he ate, she began work on his mid-day meal - a nice large chicken with all the trimmings, which she popped into the oven before he left.  The smell of the roasting chicken filled the house, and the priest left that morning anticipating his dinner after the service.  His housekeeper set the table after he left.  When she found all her work was complete a little ahead of schedule, she ducked out to hear his sermon.  She arrived in time to hear him say, "If a stranger comes to your door and asks anything of you, give him up to half of all you have."  He continued on this theme for quite some time; the housekeeper knew it was time to return to his house to take the chicken out of the oven.  When the priest returned home for dinner, she set it before him. He noticed she had cut the chicken in half, and there were only half portions of all the other dishes.  He asked the housekeeper the meaning of this.  "Well," she said, "I heard your sermon this morning about giving half of all we have to a stranger who asks; and when I came back to your house, a stranger was standing at the door.  He smelled the aroma of the chicken roasting in the oven and asked for something to eat, so I gave him half, just like you said."  "Crazy woman!" he screamed.  "That was for the people; not for me!"


Chapter Nine


This is now the ninth in this series of excerpts from The Torch of the Testimony.  In the Chapter 9, Kennedy featured several notable men and movements that for a time and to varying degrees upheld the torch of faith in Christ, and at times kept it lit with their very lives.  Throughout the book there are accounts of the various tortures and deaths many of our brethren suffered through the centuries - accounts too numerous to list here.  [Another reference on this topic, available on line and posted in chapter format for easy reading, is Foxes Book of Martyrs. Link:] Not all persecution took the form of physical abuse; far more took the form of threats and excommunication.  For that reason I want to add some personal observations that bring Kennedy’s insights home for many of us.  Our soul-searching agony was not entirely unique, as these accounts show; yet, when it comes to persecution, few of us have suffered unto death because of doctrinal abuse.  Few?  One was too many.  

When the legalistic atmosphere in assemblies of professing believers leads a pogrom of excommunication over differing views, unbelievers think little of it - especially if there’s no physical violence directly associated with it.  Yet the implementation of the persecution dogma we faced forced an unnatural division that was of more than little consequence.  It led to severing of family relationships - parent from child, sibling from sibling, husband from wife.  The instrument utilized to sever relationships was misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture.  An edict calling us to "mark and avoid" genuine believers for their association with other believers outside the assemblies seemed to bear the stamp of Scriptural authority - at least in the minds of those who were not diligent enough to investigate the circumstances and examine the Scriptures cited; those who did, and would not comply, were also excommunicated.  We went away feeling abused; we struggled to understand the division of fellowship we had witnessed - a division that has continued over the past quarter of a century.  A few are quietly thankful they "escaped" with their own family and circle of friends in tact; they only find cause for rejoicing; they lack compassion, forgetting that the same abusive division that left them free of legalistic pressure was devastating for other folks. When they just smile and tell those still suffering with separation from loved ones to stop dwelling on it – to get and over it and quit denouncing the perpetrators of schism - the net result is they’ve inadvertently become complicit with the persecutors, bringing even more pain to those who suffer. That’s not the way the church works. 

We were abused by those we had considered mentors.  Following their misuse of Scripture to its natural conclusion, at the extremity of its application we find that some deaths can be attributed to it.  Fanaticism created insecurities in young folks who were weak in the faith, and were unwisely exposed to doubtful disputations.  A young man, raised within a legalistic doctrinal system, was unable to reconcile his legalism with his human failures and after being "marked to be avoided" took his life.  A young woman stepped into traffic, ending her short life after struggling with the turmoil of a dogmatic religious environment and a broken home.  After years of self-mutilation due to fear of falling into temptation, a young man blinded himself; and those who helped drive him to such madness are nowhere to be found among the few faithful who attempt to soothe his tormented soul with a proper explanation of the Scriptures.  "The way of the transgressor is hard," the legalists recite mechanically.  They protest that these are isolated incidents involving individuals with obvious mental difficulties.  They can’t have it both ways: either these individuals were sinners or mentally challenged.  If sinners, where are those who are mature in faith and able to restore one overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness?  If mentally challenged, where is their move to comfort the feeble minded?  At times, all factions appear to push these cases aside, forgetting the grieving family members.  Just the same, although not as intense as in former times by outward appearances, persecution and dissension continues in those assemblies; it’s just as ungodly now as it was in any prior century. 

In our day, and in our land, we haven’t seen persecution to the point of public execution.  Our civil government has confronted members of cults and sects who violated civil laws, and some of these confrontations resulted in arrest or violent death because of resistance. These incidents don’t amount to religious persecution - not that our government has never harassed religious people in other ways, namely by inhibiting the free expression of faith; but those cults were clearly in violation of human law - and God’s law. 

It’s difficult to capture the scope of an entire chapter with a few short quotes.  I selected excerpts I believe most in keeping with the main theme of the book, and those that relate to our experience, as I see it. There is even more to be gained from reading what is not quoted here - the text between the quotes.  I urge you to read the book.  While it might help to give a brief capsule of the life of each historic figure in the chapter, as Kennedy did, the insights I featured remain in context without the biographical sketches.  Again, the names of individuals, sects and movements we know today could easily be inserted into all these passages of Kennedy’s book with equal approbation or condemnation. With this backdrop, please read now about some of the teachers and doctrines of the fifth century that were figures typifying, perhaps even foreshadowing, those we find today.

"…Nestorius [stressed] the two natures of Christ…[and] was accused of teaching that Christ was two persons.  He was arraigned before the Council of Ephesus in 431 on a charge of heresy...[He], of course, protested that Mary was the mother of the Man Christ Jesus, but not of His deity.  He was condemned and banished, living the remainder of his life in impoverished circumstances in the Egyptian desert...There were many Bishops, however, who refused to accept the judgment passed on Nestorius.  These were likewise expelled…This gave an impetus to the zeal for preaching the gospel which was to carry the Nestorians to the far corners of the globe with the message of salvation…Part of their labor was the translation of the Scriptures into several languages."  [96-97] 

"While the record of the Nestorian missionary ventures is a story to inspire us all in our witness for Christ, yet their work was hampered and ultimately failed because of their adherence to ecclesiastical tradition which had become such a major factor in the life [sic] of the Catholic Church.  New churches were organized under one head, and Bishops appointed in accordance with the old hierarchical order."  [97] 

"The churches founded by the Nestorians degenerated as a testimony to the life of Christ. ‘Christian’ idolatry was little witness to heathen idolaters, and all paved the way for the great wave of Islam which was to sweep over vast territories, blotting out everything in its path.  But maybe Islam was but the judgment of God upon a Church which had so degenerated and departed from the truth as it is in Christ Jesus as to have been better destroyed than remain as a reproach to the Name of the One it professed to own as Lord."  [98] 

"…Amidst the dross of superficial religion there was also that of much greater spiritual value. 

"Much too little importance is usually given to the part played by ordinary men and women in the advance of the Gospel.  So often the history of the church is portrayed as simply the organized advance of organized religion.  The life of Christ, however, should pre-eminently find its expression in the day-to-day lives of those who have submitted to His Lordship, and this witness should be the most potent power for the extension of the Gospel.  This has always been true, and still is where spiritual life has not degenerated to the realm of the purely formal.  The fellowship thus established between men and God and between believers together is something much higher and greater than can be expressed in any humanly sustained, ecclesiastical system."  [98-99] 

"In Augustine we see the confusion of spiritual life and ideals with ecclesiastical barbarism.  Probably no man has made such a great contribution to ‘Christian’ thinking as Augustine, and probably no man has made such a great contribution to the establishment of the Roman Church and the perpetuation of centuries of ruthlessness in the name of Christ.  Augustine had an experience of Christ which granted him a deep insight into some of the most glorious truths of scripture, yet he not only condoned but also perpetuated some of the gravest errors."  [99] 

"Augustine developed, in particular, two lines of doctrine, the doctrine of grace, and the doctrine of the Church.  His emphasis on the former has been the source of much spiritual enlightenment; his treatment of the latter has equally been the source of great spiritual darkness."  [100] 

"The doctrine of the Church as expounded by Augustine found full expression in the Catholic system.  Everybody who did not own allegiance to the ‘one and only Church’ was a heretic, and every group of Christians who maintained a Scriptural independence and bowed only to the Lord who dwelt in their midst was schismatic.  By intrigue, persuasion, or by persecution, the Roman Church sought to bring all under its sway.  But God was not without a witness.  Even within Catholicism there arose men of great devotion to the Lord who spoke out against the flagrant evils that were commonly practices. They had a genuine burden to minister the Gospel, but very often, through a misplaced loyalty to the degenerate Church in which they had been born and nurtured, their testimony was compromised, their service frustrated, and their spiritual insight darkened by the shroud of an ecclesiastical traditionalism which they were unable to shake off.  Beyond the pall of Rome, however, there were those who, in simple dependence upon the Lord through His Word, maintained the light, life and liberty of the early churches, and it is in those, who form the stream of the spiritual movement of the church down through the centuries, that our main interest lies." [102-102] 

"The decline of spirituality and the increase of worldliness within the churches led to the separation of groups who sought to maintain their communion with God and with one another on simple, Scriptural lines.  It led others to withdraw themselves entirely from the affairs of the world and to give themselves over to ascetic lives of study and solitary worship.  This developed into monasticism, which found a lasting place within the organized, Christian communion.  A proportion of these monastic orders laid emphasis on simplicity but not asceticism, and were given over to service rather than the sole development of their members’ own spiritual lives.  [102] 

"Priscillian based what he taught squarely upon the Word of God which he accepted as the sole rule in matters of doctrine and daily living.  Christians are called to a holy life, which is the outcome of communion with Christ.  This communion is entered into, not through sacraments, but through living faith.  Priscillian recognized no spiritual distinction between laity and clergy.  All believers alike are partakers of the Spirit who instructs them through the Word, and the ministry of the Word is, therefore, open to all according to the Spirit’s pleasure.  It is not hard to see the divergence of these views from the accepted teaching of the Church, and to understand how the preaching of Priscillian and the holy lives of those who were associated with him cut at the very roots of clerical domination, the doctrine of apostolic succession, and sacramentalism.  That the Catholic Church should deny them was inevitable, for Priscillian’s Scripture-based concept of the church was diametrically opposed to that of Rome."  [102] 

Thus we see that some individuals gained recognition in the history of organized religion based on their enlightenment with the truth, only to distort it to promote the empty form of godliness that denied its power.  And like today, others remained true to the Word and withstood false doctrines.  The pure, spiritual, living church was unaffected by temporal systems because believers remained faithful - and suffered persecution for it.  Rejecting the ecclesiastical system, their lives glowed from the truth within; and the Word was spread to the far corners of the known world. 

Some of you who read these articles have known a particular man or men with a track record similar to men mentioned in Kennedy’s book.  For a time they clearly proclaimed the truth and edified the fellowship, only to embark, with gross misapplication of God’s Word, on paths of cruel abuse against believers.  Of the mentors I’ve known, I’ve been blessed to have found several who remained faithful and humble unto the end of their pilgrimage; I’ve known others who became obsessed with their position and knowledge, using Scripture against me and my brethren, forgetting the two-edged nature of the Sword.  Augustine brings to mind those who were, for a time, inspirational along my pilgrim path, only to reject me when I followed the admonition I had learned to be like the noble Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to verify what they heard.  The mentors from whom I learned that habit even urged me to check them – to never just accept what they said without verification.  "Trust, but verify," as Reagan said.  With safeguards like that it’s easy to expose "mentors" who would betray us.  The verification process helps us easily detect false doctrines and expose works not ordered of God.  

Somewhere in their past, perhaps long before we met those false teachers, they failed to verify their standing in Christ.  Such "shepherds" led sheeple in a different direction and to a different destination than that mapped for us by faithful men.  We were pointed away from organized religion; they led the unsuspecting into it.  "Leadership" became a high calling - a thing to be desired, coveted or grasped - above a clear understanding and application of the Word.  "Leaders" were to be revered as over or above the flock; thus, the seeds of ecclesiastical hierarchy were planted - even in a "non-denominational, non-sectarian" setting - and found root in the soft, easy soil of complacent minds unaware.  Despite the confusion created by false teachers in such circumstances, the glow of the torch of the testimony was not dimmed in the world; and we came away with the glow of the Spirit in our hearts.


Chapter Ten


Chapter 10 provides sketches of the men and movements that shaped church history from the middle of the sixth to the beginning of the fourteenth century.  There were also the influences of external elements, not the least of which was the rise of Islam.  Of the movements and men Kennedy noted were the Paulicians, Constantine Silvanus, Sergius, the Bogomils, the Cathars and the Waldenses. While most of the non-Roman Church groups did not take names for their churches, they were often given names by those outside the movement - names that stuck and targeted them for persecution.  So the effort to avoid taking a name is not unique or new to the fellowship of believers; and it has not always been a hedge against the encroachment of false doctrine or persecution.  Yet, again, where the winds of false doctrine seemed strong enough to extinguish the flame of truth, it only burned more brightly if only for brief moments of time in any one place; the embers of the flame were blown to distant places and ignited a testimony of faith there. 

Although we were separated from those we love and "scattered" in different directions, we see God’s hand in it and our eyes are open to His broader mission for us in the world as torchbearers.  And if you think God hasn’t raised up someone with the message you’ve discovered is important, you ought to take another look - it’s very likely you are that someone. 

"In less than a hundred years from Muhammad’s death, the dominion of Islam stretched from India to Spain, and its conquests were by no means over.  That such a catastrophe should have overtaken the Church almost defies the imagination, yet it was not the spiritual movement of the church that suffered near extermination, but the proud ecclesiasticism which claimed dominion over the souls of men and offered to sacraments and idols the reverence that was due to God alone.  Islam was a judgment upon pagan idolatry.  It was a judgment upon Christian idolatry as well."  [109] 

"The Paulicians accepted no central authority to rule over the scattered assemblies.  The local churches looked to God as their Head, and they were built up and strengthened spiritually by teachers who moved from place to place to minister in their midst in a manner similar to that of Paul and others in New Testament times.  They did not draw up any code of doctrine to which they had commonly to subscribe as a basis of unity, and since different groups came into being through the ministry of different people, they no doubt differed somewhat one from another, both in form and in emphasis.  Their spiritual unity lay in the life which they had in Christ, a life which manifested itself in their daily walk and witness.  They owned a profound respect for the Word of God, which they accepted as their guide and basis of spiritual growth."  [111] 

"The fires of persecution but served to strengthen the faith, courage and devotion of the believers.  Preachers and teachers were raised up to take the place of those who had given their lives for their Lord, and the congregations increased."  [113] 

"Sergius…ministered in Asia Minor during the…ninth century…he was brought to faith in Christ through reading the Scriptures…He received new life and a burning call to minister the Word of truth which had so transformed him.  Maintaining himself by working as a carpenter, he nevertheless traveled extensively, and ministered through letters which were widely circulated among the churches.  His ministry was with peculiar authority, and he was used to instruct the believers and heal differences such as will always, unfortunately, exist in the churches of God while man has not yet reached to ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’.  Sergius also met a martyr’s end."  [113-114] 

"Where God’s people can be persuaded to press their claims to their own rights in this unjust and sinful world as a matter of prime importance, soon fleshly means will be employed, and the churches will be rendered spiritually impotent."  [114] 

"The church is the embodiment of the life of Christ, and is not dependent upon particular leaders or institutions for maintaining its existence.  Where the vitality of the Spirit directed by God’s Word exists in those who are part of that body, the churches will extend and grow.  No power of earth or hell can overcome them.  If they are stamped out in one place, it will only be to reappear in another, and the Scriptures alone will be proved sufficient to lead on and establish God’s people in the way of Truth."  [115] 

"Amidst trial and persecution, the work of God continued to expand for many years, to reach the peak of its development at the end of the twelfth century in Bosnia where the ruler and his family, along with some ten thousand others joined the Bogomils."  [116] 

"According to inveterate and age-long habit, those who receiving the light of the Gospel through the preaching of [the Cathars] sought to return from the morass of dead formalism to the teaching of the Scriptures, were dubbed with sectarian names.  Man never seems to have been able to learn that any movement of the Spirit can be greater than any particular person whom God, through His grace, has used in it."  [117] 

"…[Fellowship] in the Spirit…is based upon something much more binding than organizational association."  [118] 

"[The Waldenses, perhaps named after Peter Waldo, an "indefatigable" preacher] traced their beginnings back to apostolic times, and claimed that the faith which they held had been passed down from father to son from the earliest ages of the church’s existence.  It may well be that these congregations were the spiritual progeny of Christians who fled northwards during the early Roman persecutions at the close of the apostolic era.  Their antiquity was attested by their enemies, as was also their blameless life."  [118] 

"Waldo was in the most intimate associations with the Waldenses, and his preaching brought much blessing and enlargement.  The brethren had tended to become isolated in their remote valleys, but the influence of Peter Waldo and his associates was used under God, to give a much needed impetus to the endeavors of the Waldenses to spread the gospel over a much wider field.  Peter Waldo died in Bohemia in 1217. 

"An interesting comparison with the ministry of Peter Waldo is found in Francis of Assisi…[As] he was listening to the reading of Christ’s words to the apostles from Matthew 10:7-14, he felt that same divine constraint that Peter Waldo had experienced over two decades earlier, and set out to preach repentance and the kingdom, having vowed himself to observe the utmost poverty and humility.  As others were attracted to him, he drew up a ‘rule’ which was composed mainly of commands enjoined by our Lord… 

"...But the ‘rule’ which he had established for his followers was soon modified and was ultimately transformed into a full monastic order.  The emphasis on preaching gave way to an emphasis on begging, poverty gave place to riches, and order degenerated into a worldly force which helped to keep people chained to the authority of Rome.  The changes which took place in Francis’ own lifetime were a deep grief to him, yet he seemed to accept them, however regrettable he might have felt them to be, with complete deference to the ecclesiastical power… 

"...[The Franciscans became] an instrument of Roman tyranny.  We do not deny the devotion of Francis and his early followers, nor their desire to see a revival of true spiritual values within the Roman church, but when any spiritual movement can be contained within the confines of a worldly, ecclesiastical system, it will soon be dragged down to the same level as the system that it tried to reform."  [120-121] 

"The fierce wrath provoked by the possession and reading of the Scriptures highlights for us the important place which the Word of God must occupy in the life of the local church.  At this period in Church history we see more clearly than at any other that the struggle for the maintenance of a church testimony as it was known in apostolic days has largely been the struggle to give the Bible its rightful place in the midst of God’s people. Rome sought to remove the Bible altogether from the hands of ordinary men and women.  Protestantism has never made any pretense to follow such an example, but if the volume of the Bible has not been denied any who wish to have it, again and again the authority of the Bible has been removed by systems of Church order which have been superimposed upon it, or by the interpretations of blatant infidelity masquerading as enlightened religion.  Wherever this has been the case, and it is a state of affairs all too common in the present age, the meaning, purpose and vitality of the church have been lost.  But whenever the Scriptures have been restored to their rightful place, there has been a return to that simplicity of order, life and authority which, in the Acts of the Apostles, marked the companies of them that believed."  [121 – 122] 

"The [various] groups of brethren exercised a wide and enduring influence through which the truth of Scripture spread rapidly, and the number of assemblies of believers increased remarkably."  [122] 

For a time, the flame of truth burned brightly in the assemblies of believers we knew; and we basked in the glow of it.  When outreach gave way to inquisition and the light of the gospel was hidden under a bushel, the life of the association was all but smothered in a smoke cloud of legalism.  Yet we discovered the work of the church did not cease with the rise of false teachers in our midst.  Their heresy but forced us to look for God’s work elsewhere.  In fact, we discovered it was outside "the camp" all along.  We began to hear the Word of Truth preached with clarity by those deemed common and unclean by men unworthy to bear the torch of the testimony for failure to observe the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace with all saints.



Chapter Eleven


With Martin Luther still nearly a century (and a whole chapter) off into the future, in Chapter 11 Kennedy showcased men who resisted the organized forces of Rome, and translated, preserved and upheld the Word of God for future generations.  It was a time of change leading up to the Renaissance - a rebirth of interest in the arts, not in spiritual purity.  Men of God stood out in contrast to the moral climate of the age: John Wycliffe, John Huss, Erasmus, and William Tyndale - men known to history by name, but representative of a greater number of believers, known - by name - only to God, who revered the Word of God above the decrees of man.  Like Gideon and his 300 men, they carried the treasured torch of the testimony in earthen vessels; and when their vessels were broken, the light of the torch shined brightly for all to see.


"The church is the company of those who trust in Christ, not the ecclesiastical organization with its Popes, Bishops and clergy.  The latter, therefore, have no authority to define Christian truth and compel obedience to their decrees.  These offices were, in fact, of human origin.  Peter had no special place among the apostles, and clerical distinctions were foreign to the Word of God."  [124]


"Interpretation of Scripture is not the sole prerogative of any man or organization; the meaning of Scripture is made clear by the Holy Spirit to those who are enlightened of Christ and approach God’s Word in a spirit of humility and teachableness."  [125] 


"The existence of the church in its local aspect is based wholly and solely on the living Word.  Where the Word of God does not occupy its rightful place, the church...will fall into decay and die."  [127]


"When John Wycliffe gave the Bible to the English people in their own tongue, he was laying the foundation for the emergence once more of the testimony of the church of apostolic times."  [128]


"About the middle of the fifteenth century…various congregations were known as the Unitas Fratrum (United Brethren).  They had no desire to form any new party or sect, for they recognized their complete oneness of spirit with Christian brethren in every country where they might be found.  They did, however, declare themselves separated from the Church of Rome."  [130] 


"If history teaches us anything, surely one of the clearest lessons is that great institutions are not easily changed, unless one considers the inevitable change wrought by time which, just as inevitably, is a change for the worse, where that which may at one time have held something of divine, degenerates to the purely human.  Rome has certainly changed with the times, but the direction of its move has not been towards the simplicity of the early churches.  And the same is true of the great communions of that section of Christendom that is now called protestant.  Change there has been, but always it has been towards the dominance of man, not of God…In every age God has had afresh to gather out a people unto Himself.  He is still doing it."  [133]


"Henry VIII has been called the ‘father of the English Reformation’.  That may be so if what is meant by the Reformation is simply the severing of the religious tie between England and Rome, but the fat, licentious monarch who so readily sacrificed his wives and subjects, Protestants and Catholics alike, to gratify his every regal whim, was certainly not the father of that spiritual movement whereby men and women, regenerated by the power of a risen Christ, were free to meet around their Lord and display to the world the testimony of a glorified Saviour in the church.  Spiritual reformation is based upon much more solid ground, the ground of the Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.  It was Tyndale whom God used to re-establish in the English speaking world of the sixteenth century the solid foundation upon which He could build, but this foundation and the church built upon it, as we have seen, has never been absent from the world since the church was first established at Pentecost, in spite of all the attempts of the arch-enemy to overthrow it.  And the advent of the Reformation era was to bring with it its own subtle attacks upon the testimony of the living church."  [136]

Lest we be tempted to entertain the naive notion our endeavor to meet simply in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ has been historically rare, Kennedy offered abundant evidence in his book to disprove that notion.  Bottom line: There are, no doubt, many more believers than we realize meeting simply in the Name of the Lord throughout the world today. [I Kings 19:18 & Romans 11:4]


Chapter Twelve


The "Reformation" brought new views, new tensions, new persecutions; but the outward movements of Christendom can never be united by human doctrine, much less unite the spirit of man with the Spirit of God.  As with all tyranny and oppression, Rome could only forestall the outburst of truth for so long - truth can not be hidden under a bushel of false doctrine.  In Chapter 12, Kennedy presented evidence of the spiritual church, united in its resolve to hold the Word of God above organization; he also revealed what happens with attempts to enforce Biblical principles with civil laws and physical force.  The cases he cited were not examples of Rome against dissenters and defectors but examples of Protestants against other Protestants - sectarians against other sectarians.  He found that the root of the problem was the fact that while notable men of the Reformation recognized many spiritual principles in God’s Word and applied them literally to their personal lives, they failed to consistently see how the implications of those same truths applied literally to the life of the church as well.  We have seen that the reverse of this can also be true. 

"…What we generally mean by the Reformation is the great cleavage which split a major section of Christendom into two camps, Catholic and Protestant.  Our history, however, is mainly concerned with something else, the tracing of the spiritual history of the spiritual church down through the ages, a church which has continued to witness while controversies and scandals have rent the ecclesiastical world, and mighty religious systems have risen and collapsed."  [137] 

"From [the] background of the Lutheran movement, it is evident with what vigor and courage Luther brought into full view the Scriptural revelation which had made such a mighty impact upon his own life, the revelation that each individual is saved through faith in Christ alone.  At the same time, it is clear that many obstacles would have to be overcome if this emphasis upon personal relationship with Christ was to form the basis of a return to the Scriptural concept of the church.  Did Luther see the implications of an acceptance of the authority of Scripture upon the foundation and life of the church as well as upon the individual’s salvation?  If he did, would he have the courage to pursue the Scriptural path to its ultimate goal?   

"…Luther, in his early search after spiritual truth, was greatly drawn to the Brethren.  The many influences which later pressed themselves upon him, however, were to bring about a profound change.  In the ruggedness of the conflict with Rome in what was a very rugged age, Luther’s humility soon gave place to a boisterous dogmatism which was in no way mellower than the dogmatism of those he opposed...The Lutheran Church which he established was a compromise between his Scriptural ideals and his earthly loyalties."  [142-143] 

"Luther had a much deeper understanding of the nature of the church than he was willing to see put practically into operation.  It may be pointless to wonder what would have happened had Luther pursued a different path, but his State church, dominated by the civil power, was destined to be a source of great spiritual weakness."  [144] 

"Zwingli had…considerable touch with those who sought to order their lives and gatherings directly according to the Scriptures, and at one period he was much exercised over the question of baptism.  It is interesting to notice how the cornerstone of his reformation teaching in later years was his expressed conviction that the Scriptures contain the final rule for Christian living.  Whether he fully accepted all the implications of all he taught is another matter, but to the extent to which Zwingli did carry out reform according to God’s Word, he went much farther than Luther.  Luther’s respect for the Bible is not to be questioned, but, in a sense, it was overshadowed by the great fact of his radical experience of conversion.  Subjective experience dominated an objective allegiance to the Word of God.  He was willing, therefore, to allow practices which were not explicitly forbidden in Scripture, while Zwingli held that only those things that are laid down in Scripture should be accepted in practice."  [145] 

"Zwingli’s insistence that church practice should be in accordance with Scriptural precedent meant that the Reformation in Switzerland was much more radical than that carried on under Luther.  Vestments, images, relics, the mass, the celibacy of the priesthood, Episcopal control were all swept away, and the preaching of the Word was made central."  [145] 

"Zwingli’s theory of the Christian community as represented by its civil administrators acting in accordance with Scripture being the final authority in all matters respecting the Church is fallacious, because the Christian community is not synonymous with the church.  The church of Scripture is but a remnant called from the world into fellowship with Christ to be a witness unto Him.  That the church should ever be synonymous with the Christian community of a Christianized country we have no Biblical authority to believe, nor has it any historical precedent in over nineteen centuries of the church’s life.  Zwingli’s view, and that of Calvin, has given rise to the widely held distinctions among Christians of a church visible and a church invisible, the latter being the real church which, however, has no concrete expression upon the earth, and the former that great conglomeration of good and bad, truth and error, which is found in the great Churches of Christendom.  Such a distinction has served to relegate the church to the realm of things theoretical and impractical, and will be looked for in vain in the Word of God.  It is, however, necessary, in order to maintain the theory of a State Church such as Zwingli introduced."  [146] 

"The inevitable outcome of Zwingli’s theory was that the power of the State should be used against all who would not conform with the Church system which the State itself supported.  The Reformation, therefore, was to bring but a continuance of the persecution, albeit from a different source, of Christians who sought freedom to worship God and witness for Him simply according to the Word. 

"A distressing indication of the intolerant spirit of the day was the great controversy between Luther and Zwingli on the meaning of the Lord’s supper…the controversy was pursued in a spirit of great bitterness, and the Catholics smiled with pleasure as they witnessed a split in the Protestant ranks."  [146-147] 

"Somewhere during the years 1532-33 Calvin had an experience of conversion which radically altered the tenor of his life.  He had a great sense of the authority of the Scriptures, and the study of the Word of God became his foremost thought."  [147] 

"[Jacques] La Fevre had been brought to a place of peace in Christ through the reading of the Scriptures, and began to gather others around him to listen to his fervent and able exposition of the Word.  He taught plainly that salvation unto eternal life is through faith, before such doctrine had been proclaimed either in Germany or Zurich by Luther or Zwingli.  It was but the teaching of the apostles, but so long had it been obscured by the teaching of salvation through the sacraments of the Church, that it seemed new to many of the hearers and caused no little stir.  Among those who found salvation through Le Fevre’s ministry was William Farel, later to become a renowned preacher of the Gospel and the person who, in 1536, persuaded John Calvin to stay in Geneva."  [147] 

"Calvin sought to institute reform in a Church that was already under the control of the civil government.  He believed that the civil government was a divine institution, but also that the Church should be independent within its own sphere, and stood out strongly for the right of the Church to excommunicate those of its members who failed to comply with its discipline.  Calvin also drew up a creed to which each citizen should subscribe. These proposed measures aroused bitter resentment, with the result that both Farel and Calvin were expelled from [Geneva]."  [148] 

"[With] Calvin’s confusion of the church and the Christian community, it is not altogether easy to understand where, in his estimation, the influence of one should end and the other begin.  It is certain that he allowed, and indeed encouraged, the civil authorities to interfere in religious questions to an extent which was in no way their right.  The cruel case of Servetus is an apt illustration of this fact.  Servetus was a Spanish physician who became an ardent opponent of Calvin’s theology.  In 1553 he was arrested in Geneva, and in a trial which was really a test of strength between Calvin and himself, was condemned as a heretic and burnt.  Calvin felt it quite in order that the civil authority should adjudicate in matters of doctrine.  Excommunication from the church, therefore, was not the final penalty.  Disagreement could be punished even with death, and the State Church system inevitably became a means of tyrannizing and persecuting those who would not conform. 

"On the positive side of what Calvin taught there is much to be commended, and the effects of his genius were to be carried far afield.  Geneva became a haven of refuge for the persecuted from many other countries.  Men such as John Knox of Scotland were profoundly influenced by the insight which God had given to Calvin.  Knox, a man of unyielding strength of character and a spiritual giant, molded the thought of an entire nation probably as no other man has ever done…These factors, coupled with John Knox’s own peculiar genius in applying what he had learned of the Scriptures to the life of the church, were of incalculable benefit to the spread of the pure word of the Gospel. 

"One of the most potent emphases of Calvin’s theology was the place he accorded to the law in the life of the believer.  Salvation, he solidly maintained, is not by works, as the Romanists taught, but by faith through which the life of Christ is appropriated by the believer.  Yet salvation, though not by works, is unto works.  That a believer lives a life of righteousness is proof that he has entered into a vital relationship with Christ, and the standard of that righteousness is the law of God contained in the Scriptures, the guide to the Christian’s daily walk.  Calvin, therefore, was strongly insistent upon character.  He also realized the value of sound education, a conviction that Knox carried over into Scotland to make the Scottish peasantry and ministry among the best educated in the world. This emphasis upon a sound character and a sound mind dominated by the authority of the Word of God has, without doubt, molded some of the most powerful lives the world has known in the service of Christ, and has produced a wealth of Scripture exegesis to which, under God, believers everywhere owe a profound debt."  [149-150] 

"Yet there were others, as we shall see, who continued to hold their faith in complete freedom from political entanglements.

"The great heritage of the Reformation has been the freedom of access to the Word of God and the recognition that the Bible must occupy the place of pre-eminence in Christian thought and living.  If Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and others failed in the application of Scriptural principles to the life of the Church, there was yet engendered a profound respect for the Bible and a freedom to seek God’s mind and ways through its pages which has laid the way for others to follow more precisely in its path."  [151]

In the lives and associations of men and movements we’ll find flaw and error.  Perhaps no other factor has disrupted the fellowship of believers since the early days of the church more than sectarian attitude.  It was present at Corinth, and there would have been no reason to expect it to go away with the Reformation or with any other religious "revival" movement thereafter.  Outreach with the gospel of salvation is usually the first victim overwhelmed by sectarian proselytizing.  In the fellowship we once enjoyed, the rejection of sectarianism (particularly its most obvious expression through denominational Christianity) was a primary tenet of our mutual association; we also rejected religious incorporation.  Yet this didn’t lead us to united fellowship with all saints.  As we have observed, the public message became entangled in a more insidious form of sectarianism than the ones it rejected.  As the spirit of rejection overpowered all else in the ministry, the sect appeared to be more sectarian than the denominations it condemned for their sectarianism. Informality evolved into structured organization.  The doctrinal emphasis slowly morphed from a quest for a recognition of our unity with all saints to a march toward enforcing uniformity as the means to unity, although it wasn’t stated that way in so many words.  The phrase "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit" was repeated over and over to shame those who dissented and mask the underlying message that uniformity of expression was evidence of unity, and that unity could be created and preserved by human effort.  Isn’t that what denominationalism is all about? 

The marvelous fact of spiritual unity is, of course, that it exists without our help, and all we have to do is "keep" it - observe it - see it where it is.  This occurs naturally (or rather supernaturally) whenever our spirit bears witness with other believers, while recognizing the diversity of expression in the body.  When we lifted that light to its rightful place on the lamp stand for all to see, we were expelled from the shadows of what had become just another human religious movement.  It was hard to believe, once free of their religious strictures, that our brethren could not see unity as we had come to see it.  At the time, the "split" seemed to all but extinguish the torch of the testimony among us. Not to be too hard on ourselves - it’s just that we almost seemed ill prepared to accept what was to follow as from the Lord.  We who heeded the witness of the Spirit within telling us something was wrong, resisted the political maneuvering; and that was a good thing.  How could we know it would free us to pursue a truly spiritual relationship with all saints?  After all, that’s what we had sought all along.  When we found it, it just seemed - like the gospel of the grace of God - almost too good to be true.

Immunity to the iniquity of sectarian attitude isn’t guaranteed with the knowledge of truth; like liberty, it requires constant vigilance.  When we think we stand firmly against sectarian attitude, we must remember the apostle’s admonition against thinking we stand, lest we fall.  It’s so easy to become trapped into thinking that only those who walk a certain way are walking according truth.  "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.  And, let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity." [II Timothy 2:19]  It behooves us to seek to edify every one He "knoweth".  We recognize and edify them when we walk in the light. We cannot force that on others.


Chapter Thirteen


In these excerpts from The Torch of the Testimony you may have noticed that the author highlighted a common characteristic of torch bearers.  It was not total doctrinal agreement or separation from denominational affiliation.  It was reverence for God’s Word.  Since the beginning of the church, the true, living Word has been the flame.  All doctrinal differences aside, local manifestations of the church, although separate geographically, were linked together, if not in fellowship, in the Word by the Spirit.  As we’ve found so far, it was not unusual for these groups to be labeled by their opponents with names they would not necessarily take for themselves.  Kennedy shows in Chapter 13 that this was no less true as the church continued into the 16th century.  

From the historical perspective, the "sacraments" ("ordinances") have been a perpetual source of divisions in fellowship.  Of course, there are far more insidious factors behind any division, but "the elements" are the most notorious superficial factor.  In what you are about to read here, "baptism" was a divisive issue that led to drastic consequences for some believers.  The brethren (derisively called Anabaptist) were separated from the world, and faithful to the Word with their walk.  Yet a peculiar point of doctrine, while of questionable authenticity in the Word, was attacked with a vengeance by those with equally questionable doctrines.  (Such is the nature of man-made religion.)  The outward tension between the State Church and the almost fiercely independent local churches only partially masked the underlying factor that drives leadership/authority struggles in Christendom to this day: Personal ambition.  Ambition is a characteristic of unbelievers; but it’s also a characteristic of believers who walk by sight, not by faith. 

Even movements springing up around godly men often degenerate into a status quo of mere tradition, ritual or formalism - a hollow shell with no spiritual life.  With a decline in faith and a focus on leaders and externals, such movements become more involved with self-perpetuation than with nurturing the spiritual lives of believers.  Religious movements without spiritual life are as dead as faith without works.  Torch bearers set examples that offer clues not only for a successful personal walk by faith in Christ but for perpetuation of the testimony of Christ: the living church.  Yet too many people seek the easy route and are entrapped by format mentality, following the heroes of the faith as they followed Christ rather than as they followed Christ.  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when it comes to a relationship with our Father in Heaven, flattery will get you nowhere. 

An unfortunate consequence of having people in the church (No people, no church.) is that while the spirit is willing, the flesh is often weak.  Many "mighty" men have fallen in the torch marathon, perhaps reluctantly giving up the torch to another.  In some cases, I believe they’ve been unaware the torch has passed to another generation. They assume that because they’ve held it, they always will.  In any case, the torch has never been allowed to "fall to the ground" with the fall of the bearer – and we need not worry that its flame will be extinguished. The following excerpts substantiate this observation. 

"While the struggles of the Reformation were making their mark upon Christendom, other groups of believers, quite apart from this great movement of change, were pursuing their life of witness and devotion to Christ.  They were not connected with Rome, nor ever had been, but were the spiritual progeny of those who, from earliest times, have maintained a simple testimony according to the Word of God.  The centuries of fierce, Roman oppression and cruel persecution of ‘heretics’ had, to a great extent, driven these congregations of faithful believers away from the public eye, but the apparently propitious circumstances of the Reformation made it possible for them to emerge once again into the open.  Thus we find coming into prominence, in the first half of the sixteenth century, groups of Christians who formed a third and increasingly powerful stream of religious life, totally independent of Catholics and Protestants alike….These groups of believers generally called themselves simply by the name of Christians or brethren...and were stigmatized by the name Anabaptists, meaning ‘those who baptize again’.  This referred…to the fact that the brethren did not recognize the baptism of children as valid, and in the eyes of both Catholic and Reformed parties were, therefore, guilty of baptizing a second time those who came into an experience of salvation through faith." [152] 

"The [Zurich] Council issued an order requiring that all parents who had not already had their children baptized should do so, and forbidding the practice of baptism by the brethren themselves… The…government ordered that any who baptized or themselves accepted baptism, should be drowned, and a relentless persecution was instituted which spread far beyond the boundaries of the Zurich canton.  Still the churches continued to grow… 

"It is sad to find that this effort to exterminate those faithful people who sought to order their lives according to God’s Word found a willing party in Zwingli, himself ostensibly a champion of the authority of Scripture.  He opposed the brethren with great bitterness, but had little success in winning them over to his cause.  [153] 

"…Shortly after this, through his study of the Scriptures, [Balthasar] Hubmaier began to entertain doubts about infant baptism.  These he discussed with Zwingli who, according to Hubmaier’s testimony, agreed with him, yet later Zwingli was to denounce those who practiced the baptism of believers and be party to the strenuous persecution initiated against them. 

"In Waldshut, many believers gathered in Hubmaier’s own home to study the Bible. Soon he was ministering to a very large congregation.  He showed that supreme authority rests in the Word of God, and the church, in its local aspect, is the company of those who, through profession of faith and consistency of life, demonstrate that they are partakers of the life of Christ.  He repudiated any association with the State.  He held that the principle of earthly government is allowed of God and that believers should, therefore, submit to the powers that be in fear of God.  The rule of God in the church, however, cannot be entangled with civil administration in the State, which is man’s rule in an imperfect world." 

"…People who had spiritual needs turned to those who seemed to spend more of their time occupied with spiritual things than with the shady activities of political maneuvering.  Many found the spiritual guidance they sought in the companies of Christians who were often called Anabaptists.  

"…In 1527 Hubmaier was arrested and taken to Vienna where he was publicly burnt.  A few days later, his wife was thrown from a bridge into the River Danube and drowned."  [154-155] 

"…[John] Denck was shocked to find that, although many of the abuses of Romanism had been abolished and Luther’s emphasis on salvation by faith was firmly established, there was not a corresponding improvement in the morality of the people.  Godliness of life seemed to be conspicuous by its absence.  The problem which he faced was a concern to a number of men of influence within the Lutheran fold itself. 

"Martin Luther had made a necessary and uncompromising emphasis upon faith in Christ as alone the basis of salvation, but he had not sufficiently balanced this glorious truth with the indispensable evidence of true faith.  The result was that, although Luther commenced with a transparent evangelicalism, the movement which he initiated faded off into just as clear a formalism.  Faith became no more than mental assent to particular articles of creed.  Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s friend to the very last, came to recognize this clearly and departed radically from Luther’s own views.  That these differences did not cause the two friends to part company was due only to Luther’s love for his younger brother, and Melanchthon’s grace and tact.  [155-156] 

"The spirit of Christ and the Gospel obviously had little place in the sensitive sects which had grown up round the personalities of good men, and those who had experienced the grace of Christ longed for the inward peace which comes from gathering round Him."  [156-157] 

"One thing of which Denck was much aware was his dependence upon the Holy Spirit in his understanding of the Scriptures.  He was far from despising an intellectual appreciation of the Word of God, but at the same time he recognized that it is through total dependence upon Christ and submission to His will that the Word becomes a means of spiritual life and growth.  The standard of the Scriptures was certainly reflected in his life.  In his preaching and writings in defense of the truth, he never descended to that spirit of bitterness which is a denial of the truth and was so common in his day.  Luther and Zwingli, avowing that they were standing up for the cause of Christ, may have been hurling imprecations at one another, but John Denck, while lamenting the difficulty with which, in his human weakness, he restrained himself from giving vent to resentment in reply to unjust provocation, determined that, as God granted him grace, he would never make an enemy of a brother in Christ."  [157] 

"From what we have already seen, it is plain that the name ‘brethren’ or ‘Anabaptists’ as they were often called, did not refer to any organized system of Christian congregations. The different assemblies came into being in different ways through the ministry of different people, but had the one common bond of spiritual life which all alike had received through faith in Christ.  It is obvious, therefore, that there would be differences within the various groups, although in the basic matters of fellowship with Christ and allegiance to His Word they were one, so it is not possible to produce a rigid formula of doctrine and ascribe it to the brethren generally."  [157]

"…[In] the general religious world of the sixteenth century, even with its militant Protestantism, [the brethren doctrines and practices] were considered outrageous and heretical, and drew upon those who shared them the most violent abuse and cruel persecution.

 "[A brethren leader named Michael Sattler] was arrested in Rottenburg and sentenced to a most cruel death of mutilation and burning for his beliefs.  His wife was drowned shortly afterwards. 

"The leaders of the brethren did not suffer alone.  Many others who dared to follow the truth shared the same fate.  Altogether thousands were executed, and thousands more were beaten, branded, tortured, driven out of their homes…[The] slaughter went on, but the light of testimony continued to burn.  It could not be put out."  [158-159] 

"It is not surprising that some extremists should have sought to attach themselves to the brethren, but it is unfortunate that the tendency has so often been to judge the whole of the so-called Anabaptist movement by the bad example of a few who were in no way representative of the believers in general.  It should be remembered that the early church attracted men such as Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8), but it is not to be condemned on that account."  [159] 

"…Christ dwelling within human beings makes up the church, and however solid the beginning, the human element within the church allows for the dire possibility that what has begun in the Spirit may, after a very short time, end up in the flesh.  Whatever remains is but a human organization, and not the church of Jesus Christ.

"…Scripture gives no place to a faith which is simply a cold belief in a doctrinal statement with little or no effect upon daily living.  The Epistle of James was written to emphasize the poignant fact that ‘faith without works is dead’.  The basis of the church is not faith; the basis of the church is spiritual life; and spiritual life is the result of the impact of faith upon the daily walk in relationship to God and man; spiritual life is the life of one who is inevitably made a new creation through faith in Christ."  [161-162] 

"One of the reasons for the spiritual degeneration of Lutheranism and Zwinglianism was a bitter intolerance which ruled out the possibility of either party’s learning from the other, or from anyone else.  Having each shut themselves up to their particular, rigid conceptions of truth, they banished true fellowship of the saints, and while they were busy anathematizing the groups of brethren as ‘sects’, they themselves became slaves to the most bigoted sectarianism.  Inasmuch as the hearts of the brethren were open to receive all who had experienced the power of new life in Christ, they were genuinely free from sectarianism.  The root of sectarianism is intolerance, not of sin, but of brethren in Christ who, while holding fast to the Lord in faith and demonstrating their faith in holiness, yet diverge from us in understanding of such things as we can expect to see with final clarity only when we have together grown ‘unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph. 4:13).  The intolerance of believers one towards another has been a mighty weapon in the hands of the Satanic power to divide and destroy the testimony of the church."  [163] 

"It is profitable to note that the prophets were men of deep sincerity, convinced of the divine nature of their mission, and of boundless zeal, but of little intellect.  This does not mean to say that God uses only the intellectual giants such as Origen, Tyndale or Calvin. History affords most striking examples of men of very little formal education who were outstandingly used in the hands of the Spirit, but it is also true to say that they were used in proportion to their allegiance to the Scriptures, and their minds were consecrated to the knowledge of God through His Word. 

"Pretension to revelation can be the outcome of an emotional spirit or of an unconscious desire to obviate the hard, mental exercise of understanding the Word of God.  It is by no means strange to the twentieth century, and is an understandable reaction to the cold lifelessness of professing Christianity and to an intellectual approach to the things of God that is devoid of the Spirit.  But God’s way is the way of balance, the Word and the Spirit, both essential, and each dependent upon the other.  The Spirit reveals Himself through the Word.  It is through our understanding of the Word that we discern the mind of Christ; it is through our dependence upon the Spirit that we understand the Word of God."  [164] 

While these excerpts help us recognize our relationship with all believers through the ages, few of us have suffered physically, as they did, as a result of our faith; certainly, few we’ve known personally have suffered torture or death for their testimony.  About the closest we came to persecution was when backstabbing, double-minded "leaders" - motivated by personal ambition and perhaps by fear - turned on us after agreeing with our assessment of fellowship problems.  Obviously, we weren’t martyrs in the gravest meaning of the term as a result of these betrayals, but something in us died - thank God!  Respect for human leaders died; we were forced to seek the Leader of the church - our Savior - and respect Him only.  We learned to accept the fact that blind personal ambition often leads to faulty judgment; we witnessed enough of that, along with false accusations and false doctrines, to fill volumes.   

Yet the amazing thing is that "leaders" usually have ardent followers who remain loyal no matter what. Loyalists pose little threat to leaders, being blind to their personal ambition.  Loyalists never notice the persecution of others by their leaders.  They guard their own comfortable little circle of "fellowship" and resist change - even change for the better.  We’ve always done it this way, so it must be wrong to do it any other.  While it’s admirable that loyalists may have no "leadership" ambitions of their own, they fail to recognize that they’re caught up in an ambition of a different sort - the ambition to draw other believers away from sects or denominations to join their cult.  They may choose to not be personally involved in proselytizing, but they enthusiastically support those who do it for the group. It matters little that they utilize "the truth of the one true church" as bait to entice believers and build an association that shuns the majority of other members of the church. Therefore, while loyalists are no threat to "leaders" they are a significant threat to unsuspecting new converts to the faith. 

You’ve no doubt heard the adage: Politics and religion don’t mix.  Godless Politicians use it to persuade folks to accept their "separation of Church and State" agenda; and we’ve heard preachers proclaim that Christians have no business becoming involved in secular politics.  This is all surface posturing.  What I have come to abhor is politicking within church fellowship and association; it’s a cliquishness that leads to sectarianism.  The thing I find astonishing is that those engaging in behind-the-scenes political maneuvering don’t seem to think anyone notices or pays attention to what they’re doing.  They seem to think the rest of us can’t figure it out.  I’ve noticed that "the rest of us" can figure it out but are often reluctant to stand up and shout: "In the Name of Christ, forbear."  (There’s a good story behind that statement.)  When we do speak up, it’s often too late - the political tide has changed and we’re branded as heretics.  The "benefit" of this dubious category is that we have time to contemplate things and entertain legitimate questions.  Why do believers think they must look to "leaders" or "leadership" in their association with one another?  Why are men ambitious for roles as "leaders" and so few seek the humble role of mentor?  What makes them forget Who is Head of His church?  These questions should cause every believer step back for a broader view of the wondrous work the church is - and the miraculous path the torch of the testimony has taken over the past 2,000 years.  The history of Christendom proves how easy it is for people to get their eyes off the prize and prize human religion in its place.  Lincoln stated, "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."  I maintain that some people can never be fooled because they rely on God’s Word and the Teacher. 


Chapter Fourteen


Kennedy was keen to note that denominations focus on a narrow understanding of Truth, which limits their broader vision of the church.  In chapter 14, he provided accounts of men and movements that grew outside organized religion, and told of men called to labor among saints who were sincerely trusting in God, not the organized Church, to guide them.  As is often the case, fellowship movements grew around faithful men, even when they didn’t intend to form a movement or denomination; those movements evolved into entities far different from what their "founders" envisioned the church to be, as all human efforts are prone to do. Human inventions and organizations evolve; that’s probably the "intellectual" basis for broad acceptance of the theory of evolution.  I’m afraid it’s also the main reason people become comfortable with sectarian evolution in the church.  Most saints aren’t interested in church politics; it’s easy to miss subtle changes "the leadership" in any association of saints promotes.  Yet it’s surprising how perceptive and resistant "the laymen" have been to religious tyranny and human dominance.  We can credit only one Factor - the Spirit of God.  The lesson that comes to us through the centuries is that God’s approach with His people may vary based on their particular needs at any time, but He never changes and His purpose is not thwarted.  

The sixteenth century experienced a dramatic change in access to the Word of God.  It was not available to the "laity" (the "common folk") in written form.  The laity of that era are often portrayed as ignorant or common; this is not a true picture - I even hesitate to use the phrases "common folk" or "simple folk" to describe those who, without direct access to Scripture, remained faithful through godly living.  Peter was admonished in a vision at Antioch not to call that which God cleanses "common".  Scripture always plays a pivotal role in the walk of true believers, but the Spirit is still the Teacher.  As the Word became more available, it ignited a firestorm of spiritual activity at the grass-roots level of the church.  It unleashed a liberating pressure to reject the human constrictions of formal, static religion.  Without Scriptural monopoly, it was difficult for clergymen to control the laity with misapplications and false doctrines.  Knowledge of the Word does not entitle anyone to a superior attitude.  As a matter of fact, when we stand in awe of what we learn from It we realize we have no right to think we are superior in any way.  Sad to say, we have observed folks who know the church is a spiritual organism, not a human organization or denomination, treating saints in denominations as common or unclean - as untouchables; we’ve also observed the reverse of that.  Of course, they’re rarely bold enough to vocalize their attitude or express it in written form in such terms.  Meanwhile, those "common" or "unclean" folks are often the ones to advance the torch of the testimony in small increments exceeding in sum total the work of any great man, movement or organization. 

Many brethren down through the ages have paid with their lives for the preservation and distribution of Scripture.  With his book, Kennedy paid tribute to such men.  The torch of the testimony only burned brighter with their sacrifice.  Yet even champions of Truth who delivered inspirational messages succumbed to the pressure to conform to the dictates of organized religion and established Churches.  Our nations Pilgrim forefathers were not willing to compromise, conform or join.  They recognized, at least, that the life of the church was more important than its organization; and they carried the torch to a new land.  

"…[Such] was the testimony of the Lord’s people. It was stamped out in one place only to emerge again in another."  [166] 

"About a year after his great spiritual experience, Menno [Symon] met a few godly men who were much burdened about the need of scattered believers, separated from the world and sectarianism, who were meeting according to the light they had received from God’s Word.  Among them, they told him, there was a hunger for the truth, and they pleaded with Menno to devote himself to this ministry.  Menno felt the call to be from God, and in 1537 left the Roman Church and commenced his years of itinerant service in the midst of these congregations of believers.  Leaving the shelter of Rome meant leaving the popularity which he once enjoyed and being called an Anabaptist or a heretic.  Luxury and material security he had none.  He was often in danger of arrest and imprisonment, but his ministry was to yield abundant fruit for the cause of Christ.  He devoted himself to the strengthening of believers, gathering them together and building them up in the faith, for many had been scattered through the fierceness of persecution… 

"Some of the congregations who came under the influence of Menno Symon’s preaching came to be called Mennonites, in common with the practice of calling churches by the name of some well-known person associated with them.  It was, however, not a name that they either chose or wanted.  From them have sprung the Mennonite communities of today, although the years have wrought changes from the simple principles which brought the believers together in the sixteenth century, and the spirit of freedom has given way to the all too common spirit of sectarianism."  [167-168] 

"…The only authoritative version of the Scriptures was the Latin Vulgate, and its interpretation was the sole right of the [Roman Catholic] Church.  Tradition was not clearly defined.  The position of the Pope as holding supreme authority over the Church was reiterated.  While, on the one hand, God was, through His own chosen instruments, fostering the faith of those who were meeting in simple faithfulness to His Word, on the other hand a weapon was being designed with consummate care to bring the Scriptural expression of the church to destruction."  [171] 

"…The world has never forgotten the martyrs Ridley and Latimer who died at the stake for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, and Latimer’s prophetic words to Ridley as, together, they faced the flames, ‘Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day, by God’s grace, light such a torch in England as will never be put out.’"  [172] 

"Independent churches were known in London and elsewhere in England early in the latter half of the sixteenth century, but a conspicuous increase in the number of such congregations associated with the name of Robert Browne.  Browne was a student of Cambridge and became a Puritan loyal to the National Church.  When he was about thirty years of age, his convictions underwent a change, and in 1581 he, with another friend, were the means of establishing a congregation of believers in the city of Norwich.  It was not long before his preaching brought the censure of the law upon the church and he, together with a sizable proportion of the congregation found refuge in Middleburg, Holland.  There Browne continued his ministry, producing a number of treatises in which he condemned those who refused to leave the Church of England, and set down the principles of the church as he understood them from the Scriptures.  In England in 1583 two men were hanged for distributing his writings.  Browne showed simply that a church consisted of a company of believers who are united through their relationship with Christ. Each congregation sets apart the officers through whom it should be governed and is completely independent, yet owning a vital, spiritual link with every other company of born again people.  As a result of relentless persecution on his return to England, Robert Browne returned to the established Church in 1585 and remained within it till his death in 1633."  [174] 

"[In 1620] John Robinson…charged the departing company [of Pilgrim Fathers aboard the Mayflower] with words which go right to the foundation of the life of the church.

"‘I charge you before God and His blessed angels, that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  If God reveals anything to you by any other instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any truth by my ministry, for I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.  For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of those reformed Churches which are come to a period in religion, and will go at present, no further than the instruments of their reformation.  The Lutherans cannot be drawn to beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of His will our God has revealed to Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things.  This is a misery much to be lamented.’

"John Robinson has aptly stated one of the most essential elements in the life of the church, namely, the ability of freedom to progress, to develop in the understanding of the Scriptures.  At the same time, he has just as aptly pointed out the root of sectarianism or denominationalism, limitation to a particular aspect of Scriptural truth.  In that a denomination propagates a facet of divine truth, its work may be good and useful, but its weakness lies in its limitation, because it neither sees the whole truth nor is it willing to go on to apprehend it, so occupied is it with the blessedness of the amount of truth it does understand.  It cannot be said that any Scriptural expression of the church apprehends the whole of truth.  Such fullness of knowledge will be ours only in eternity.  But the church fully recognizing the limitations of its understanding, must be pressing forward with a divine urge to know more, unrestricted by bounds imposed by human understanding. That vital, spiritual growth is essential to the church’s life."  [175-176] 

"…First, the basis of the church is the life of Christ imparted through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit to those who repent and trust.  Secondly, the order and development of that divine life, both personally and in the church, is by means of the Scriptures through which God speaks to man.  The Word of God is the food by which the church lives and grows.  It is also the means whereby God expresses His supremacy in the midst of His people.  The life of Christ and the Lordship of Christ through His Word are, therefore, the two things which mark out the church of the New Testament.  When these are supplanted by anything or anyone else, the result is a departure from the principle of Scripture and ultimate confusion.

"One of the most common threats to the supremacy of Christ in the assembly is loyalty to a man, a great and spiritual man may be, but a man nevertheless who receives some at least of the submission and dependence which should be accorded directly to God…A church which was dependent upon human leadership would have rapidly disappeared. The measure of the church’s existence through centuries of the most violent persecution was the measure in which it reposed directly upon Christ through His Word while learning of Him through every minister He sent.  The spiritual downfall of movements such as those of Luther and Zwingli was that, in becoming sufficiently powerful to withstand persecution, they became open to the domination of a man, and loyalty to him and to what he said superseded direct loyalty to Christ through the Scriptures."  [176-177] 

"The invention of the printing press, the influences of the Renaissance and the Reformation, brought a new depth of theological awareness within the range of ordinary people. The Reformation ushered in an era of pamphleteering.  Every new inquiry into some particular aspect of truth became the subject of a treatise, and these writings exercised a profound influence upon spiritual thinking.  Nor was this influence bad.  It was healthy and invigorating, but brought with it also the dangers that are an inherent part of all progress and everything new.  There is a sense in which anything new or convenient is dangerous, not because it is bad, but because it may be given a place of importance which should be occupied by something else.  A child with a new toy may want neither to eat nor study. A person who owns a car may become so enslaved to it that he will never walk a hundred yards, and suffer physically as a result.  In the spiritual realm it is very easy to substitute sight for faith, to put what we understand of the Lord’s ways, be it little or much, in the place of the Lord Himself, in other words, to build the church around a doctrine instead of around Christ.  This was the danger of the post-Reformation period, and it multiplied in proportion to the increased number of ways in which Christian truth was systematized, or in which particular emphases were brought to the fore."  [177-178] 

"…Arminius himself was not a man of extreme views, but the views he held, and those of Calvin, have been taken to extremes by those who profess to follow them.  Maybe were they alive today neither Calvin would be a calvinist nor Arminius an arminian."  [179] 

"…The establishment of the earliest independent congregations was generally on a much more sure foundation.  Their basic objection to a State Church was that it did not allow for the Scriptural conception of a church based upon a purely spiritual unity.  In this way they recognized that believers must gather only because of their relationship to Christ, and that matters of spiritual understanding are secondary to spiritual fellowship.  It was not long, however, before the order was being changed.  Churches were being formed because of doctrinal affinities, and others were being split because of doctrinal differences.  In doing so, spiritual life began to fade.  Sectarianism became the order of the day.  The ground of the church was deserted by all but the remnant whom the Lord has always preserved from the earliest times."  [179] 

Kennedy made a good point that perhaps some of the men around whom movements developed would not be recognized if they were to walk among the congregations bearing their names or doctrines today.  If they were to return, I suspect they would not detect among their religious descendants the Spirit that shaped the way they lived.  I doubt they’d endorse the evolution of their own ideologies from which those modern denominations stem, or the way they’re used to divide Christians.  Kennedy also put his finger on how denominations evolve.  Our human nature is prone to look to great men; so, as Christians, we look to men of great faith.  The problem is that while those great men have great messages that lead to great ministries that lead to great movements, great movements often lead to great mistakes.  If there’s nothing wrong with a message, it’s too easy, being comfortable with it, to embrace a whole ministry; from accepting a ministry it’s not a stretch to support a movement; and once support for a movement is established, it’s difficult to recognize its mistakes, so its mistakes are embraced as part of a "true" message.  That’s the nature of human influence in religion and in the church.  Many Christians - warmed by the glow of the Spirit within great me - never kindle or fan the flame of the Spirit within their own heart. 

Men like Robert Browne recognized the evil of politics in organized religion, yet "as a result of relentless [political and psychological] persecution" they turned to practices of the very sects and divisions of corrupt, organized and politicized religion they’d rejected.  It matters little whether they found safe-haven in a denomination,  sect or cult, the rationale for their return was essentially the same, at least perhaps on the surface: a desire to fellowship in peace and agreement.  That may be a smokescreen for trusting in human contact over contact with our Savior.  The safeguard in our association with other saints is found in Jeremiah 17 [5-8] which tells us, "Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm and whose heart departeth from the LORD...Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is."


Chapter Fifteen


Some of the men and movements that carried the testimony forward through the very difficult times of the seventeenth century were the focus of Kennedy attention in Chapter 15. Movements formed and struggled to function outside the organized Churches only to become organized denominations too.  A few of those movements are familiar to us, and the evidence of their influence is still around in our age, although not as originally formed or intended.  Some of the "great" (large, at least) denominations sprung from that era. Many started as Bible societies, home study groups or community churches; all began with good intentions to strengthen believers.  Many failed and eventually adopted what they’d rejected in organized religion.

The perpetuation of any religious movement requires organization and zealous members. Structure may not be an open or conscious effort; it just evolves when humans interact with humans.  These movements typically enshrine the doctrines of the men that inspired them.  God raises up a man of faith to serve the church; movements form around him and focus on his doctrines; focusing on the man and his doctrine, they can easily fail to lift up the Man (God our Savior) that he preached.  Even when they preach the Gospel, it tends to take precedence over the surrounding fabric of God’s Word that presents the whole counsel of God.  You may wonder what’s wrong with that.  Well, neglect of the believer is not excused by any amount of Gospel preaching; that’s why not every believer is called to the work of evangelism. 

The lesson we learn in the rise and fall of men is that the message is more important than the messengers - at least, for the survival of the church.  God may allow vile men to rule the world [Daniel 2:21, Psalm 75:7], but He promotes humble men to be a blessing to the church.  (If they become lifted up with pride, they are usually humiliated by their own weaknesses and failures.)  Man’s role as torchbearer is a limited moment of time, yet in some cases, we still see a brilliant glow of the torch flame in the messages faithful men preached years ago, and in the accounts of the way they lived their lives. 

"…[George Fox] grew to detest the sham of religious observances and lofty church buildings which so ill concealed the worldliness and spiritual emptiness of people’s lives.  The clergy from whom he sought help had turned him away empty, nor did he find any more solace from the Dissenters whom he approached in his deep hunger for fellowship with God.  At last, in 1646, he felt the voice of God speaking to him, telling him that in Christ alone would his every need be satisfied.  From that time he entered into a new joy and relationship with Christ, and determined to give himself to the spreading abroad of the light of the Gospel. 

"Fox was a man of strong convictions molded by his reaction to the empty formalism of his day.  He completely rejected a professional ministry along with the observance of the sacraments.  The true sacraments, he held, are inward and spiritual, and need not be dependent upon any outward form...Many were attracted by Fox’s preaching, and meetings of the ‘Friends’ as they were called were begun in many places.  The manner in which Fox and his friends carried out their mission was completely fearless.  Fox would interrupt the service in a ‘steeple house’, as he called the church buildings, and would sometimes end up by preaching to the congregation himself."  [180-181] 

"The Quakers did not establish churches in the New Testament sense, but the power of their testimony lay in the limited extent to which they did, nevertheless, return to basic Scriptural principle.  George Fox laid great stress upon the inward witness of the Spirit through which God speaks to man.  Alone in the countryside with his Bible, he would hear the voice of the Lord and some portion of His Word would be lightened up to him in a new way.  He felt that the power of revelation was upon him as it had been experienced by the apostles, yet that it was in accordance with what was already revealed in the Word.  Fox may have tended to draw too much of a differentiation between the revelation of the Word and the inner revelation of the Spirit, but his emphasis on the reality of the Spirit’s indwelling was salutary.  The power of the Word is not recognized alone through the intellect, but through the Spirit’s quickening… 

"…Fellowship with God is not a matter of outward conformity to a religious ceremony, but a matter of the heart.  On the other hand, our Lord established the church as the means whereby that inward fellowship may have a full expression and be a witness to the world.  Life in Christ touches not only our personal relationship with God and the relationship within the family circle, but our relationship in the world with the whole divine family and it is only in the life of the church that that relationship can be fully developed. Fox, in his eagerness to do away with the sham of an empty religious form, practically did away with the church altogether, for meetings of the Friends were not based upon a common experience of regeneration…The saving factor is the ministry of the Word in the power of the Spirit.  Where that is absent, all religious meeting will be a sham, even if it is only to sit in silence awaiting the Word from the Spirit as in the pattern of Quaker ‘worship’... 

"Fox’s society was founded upon reaction.  No doubt that is partly true also of a church testimony inasmuch as the work of the gospel is a reaction to the sin of the world.  But the church is much more than a group of people united by a negative outlook on the world; it is a group of people who are united by a positive fellowship with Christ, a positive purpose to be the vessel of His glory.  It is a consuming spiritual vision and fellowship with its risen Lord that is the power of the church.  Any group coming together on lesser ground must ultimately find itself ill equipped to fulfill the purpose that God has for his people."  [181-183] 

"…The church in which [John Bunyan] was an elder and then a pastor was one of the early Baptist churches, but Bunyan said that he wanted no other name than Christian. Water baptism was not to him a condition of fellowship, and he steadfastly refused to allow that differences of judgment were a legitimate ground for division between believer and believer."  [183] 

"The continuity of the spiritual succession of the church as opposed to the outward organization can be traced right back to the times of the apostles.  The line has never been broken.  No age has been without some testimony of the Lord’s dwelling in the midst of His people.  On the other hand, there have been movements which have returned only in part to Scriptural principle.  To the extent that they have preached and practiced divine truth they have been good, and their ministry has been a means of rich blessing to others, but their spiritual life and effectiveness have been restricted by a misplaced loyalty to a traditional organization from which they have not been able to separate.  Where such movements have affected succeeding generations for their spiritual good and there has thereby been an apprehension of more spiritual light, it will be found that the ultimate result has often been a separated church testimony free to worship and witness in direct dependence upon God."  [183-184] 

"Those who would serve Christ enter upon a life of intense, spiritual conflict.  There is a complete infallible guide in the Word interpreted through the presence of the indwelling Spirit, but there are ever forces, be they of this world or of Satan, whose influences are subtly calculated to divert attention from the way which is straight and narrow.  The history of the [organized] Church is also the history of man’s innate belief that he can improve on God’s order, and [Jean de] Labadie, in his latter years, became a prey, albeit unconsciously, to this delusion.  The assembly is not the abode of Christian perfection; it is the abode of the family of God, those who through regeneration have been made partakers of His life and are developing in that life, sometimes in much weakness and limitation.  Labadie was zealous for the full maturity of the Lord’s people, and thought that end could more easily be realized by forming a community where those who belonged to the church could live together, could get to know one another intimately, and build one another up into a deep knowledge of Christ.  To this end a house was rented in Amsterdam. 

"The ‘household church’ early ran into difficulties.  One of Labadie’s most earnest supporters, recognizing the dangers of such an enterprise, and doubting its Scriptural foundation, refused to become associated with it…pointing out that the substitution for a church according to the New Testament standard of an exclusive community was most unwise and was apt to give rise to evil rumors…In all this the household became more separate from the community, and more closed in upon itself.   

"If Labadie was hated outside the household, within he was venerated as an apostle. People hung upon his every word and felt that they had never experienced true communion with God till they were touched by his preaching.  Such an attitude was bound to lead to excesses...Labadie died in 1674, but the household continued and, in fact, increased for some time.  At one stage two missionary parties were sent out, but it seems they were more interested in winning others to their particular experience of community living than in winning them for the Gospel.  The enterprise ended in failure.  Practical difficulties led the household to abandon the system of community of goods, and the members began to disperse.  The ‘household church’ eventually died out."  [186-188] 

"The life and experiences of Jean de Labadie teach us many valuable lessons.  After thirty-five years of selfless labor, he came to the inescapable conclusion that to restore the great religious systems of Christendom to the principles and practices of New Testament times was an impossible task.  Seeing from the Scriptures the truth of separation, he bent his energies to the end that God might raise up assemblies of believers as He had done in times of the Acts.  In this he was the means of great spiritual blessing and, over a wide area, churches were raised up the effect of whose life was carried on.  Where Labadie failed was in thinking that absolute maturity and purity of testimony can be maintained in any circle upon this earth.  He was right in separating from the organized Churches on the ground that the true church should contain only those who are partakers of Christ’s life through an experience of personal regeneration, but he was wrong in ultimately trying to restrict the church to a household of those who had ‘arrived’ spiritually, an effort which was signally doomed to failure.  The fallacy of his concept was ironically portrayed in his own unspiritual…inability to accept, in a spirit of humility, any challenge to the absolute authority which he assumed."  [188] 

"The middle of the seventeenth century saw the Lutheran and reformed Churches in a low spiritual state.  In Lutheranism particularly, the prevailing tendency was towards an intellectual orthodoxy which demanded outward conformity to sacraments and pure doctrine, but paid little heed to godliness of life.  Lutheranism taught the priesthood of all believers, but it was a truth which, to all practical purposes, had been forgotten.  The position of the laity was passive.  They had to listen to the orthodox doctrine preached to them, give their assent to it, and take part in the sacraments of the Church.  That was the sum total of their Christianity.  The protest against these tendencies has come down to us in history with the label ‘Pietism’. 

"…In 1670 [Philip Jakob Spener] began gatherings in his own house for study of the Bible, prayer and mutual edification, and proposed such meetings from other congregations as a ‘church within the Church’ which would be able to return to the apostolic manner of gathering, and grow in holiness of life.  He emphasized that true Christianity must manifest itself in daily life, and is entered into through a conscious experience of regeneration.  Believers are not passive in spiritual matters, but have a responsibility for building one another up in the faith, and they live a life of moderation and separation from the grosser pleasures of the world.  Spener minimized the importance of formal creeds and dogmas in order to return to the direct authority of the Scriptures.  He stressed the vital importance of a spiritual experience, and said that where there was true life in the Spirit, intellectual differences in interpretation would look after themselves.  His work caused violent controversy, and he was accused of heresy.  What he taught was indeed destructive of the lifeless intellectual orthodoxy which summed up the Lutheranism of his day…[but he] was not prepared to follow to the ultimate limit what he himself taught [and did not separate from the Lutheran Church.]"  [189-190] 

It doesn’t take deep thinking or a thorough knowledge of history or Scripture to realize that human government is not the solution to human problems.  From these excerpts we see that human formulas are not the keys to perfect, successful fellowship for believers.  Is it any wonder? If it doesn’t work on the physical plane, we should not be surprised that it doesn’t work on the spiritual plane. Without a doubt the insights and inspirations of godly men have contributed to the benefit of the body of believers, yet their peculiar human twists have often produced sectarian societies with disastrous results. 

Some of us still remember the "hippie" communal living experiments of the 1960s.  They even had an influence on the "Christian" community, and we saw the emergence of the "Jesus People" and communes of believers who felt that by drawing closer to one another they could draw closer to God.  Working off the passage where Jesus declared that the world will know we are His disciples if we love one another, they took it to the extreme of compressed church-family living.  It’s not expedient to examine here whether they sought "absolute maturity and purity" as Labadie and his followers allegedly did.  It’s enough to observe that they experienced the same fate as the household/community churches he established - for the most part, they failed.  Other closed societies of believers formed in the twentieth century, which were not quite as extreme; some are still around today.  To the world, their members appear to be within the "normal" range, holding jobs, owning homes, raising families.  There are noticeable differences in their peculiar manner of dress and grooming that set them apart from the world, and in some cases, make them the subject to ridicule - which they no doubt attribute to persecution.  They’ve had the same net effect.  Just as the "Jesus people" attracted those inclined to a bohemian lifestyle, these sects and cults attract those who seek a closed, ordered and tightly regulated society.  Their effect in reaching the world either with the gospel or with a testimony of their love for one another is minimal. 

The reason communal church experiments fail may not be a major topic of discussion these days because it appears obvious.  Aside from the fact close human contact can be stressful, we have the example of the church at Jerusalem in the years shortly after Pentecost where they had everything in common and no one considered anything his own personal property. [Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37]  It was a true communist model: From each according to his ability or means, to each according to his need.  A few years later, Paul was collecting charitable donations from other churches on their behalf.  Yet there is another principle, stated by the Savior Himself, that I believe leads to the conclusion believers have no business entering into long-term communal living situations on Earth.  Jesus said, "Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall [the earth] be salted? [the salt] is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men." [Matthew 5:13]  (Notice that this verse falls between the topics of persecution [verses 10-12] and testimony [verses 14-16].)  It is commonly taught that salt is a preservative, or that it contains medicinal properties, or that it enhances food flavors; combined with other elements it produces useful compounds; it’s even used in winter to melt ice on mountain roads; it performs all these functions and many more.  The principal salt characteristic I believe Jesus applied to believers is that to be effective it must be sprinkled not concentrated.  Too much salt in one place may not be a good thing.  Have you ever been in a restaurant and grabbed the saltshaker to sprinkle a little salt on your food only to have the lid fall off with a big pile of salt onto your plate?  Some prankster loosened the lid!  You can’t eat your food once it’s overloaded with salt; the salt has lost its savor and the food has lost its flavor.  In the same way, the whole world is not reached for the glory of God when believers are all concentrated in one location.  Perhaps too many voices drown out the voice of the Spirit whispering within. Like His purpose for Adam’s race [Genesis 1:22 & 28], believers are to spread out and replenish the earth.  "Ye are the salt of the earth" - to be effective, salt must be sprinkled not concentrated.  The mega-Churches we see today may be a blessing to new converts, but real fellowship and edification usually occurs on a smaller scale. 

The desire and need for fellowship among believers cannot be denied; but fellowship is not intended to be the sole focus of our attention as believers.  A personal relationship with our Savior should be our primary goal.  And that’s the point Kennedy makes clear; the men he cited as examples in this chapter discovered essentially the same insight.  If we concentrate the majority of our efforts on resolving doctrinal differences or problems in church assemblies, or on analyzing personalities, we become speck inspectors with huge timber planks in our eyes. 

A few of my readers were at one time associated with a dear brother who was revered almost as an apostle, although I never heard him encourage such veneration.  He’s now at home in glory, but his influence endures in two distinct forms: One legalistically memorializes his personal convictions; the other endeavors to walk in the spirit of his approach to the Word of God - to be like the noble Bereans and search the Scriptures daily to verify what is taught.  One has become a closed society, examining in intimate detail the personal lives of its members, disciplining those who stray in the slightest way from their prescription for living, "marking" them to be avoided; the other has been sprinkled across the nation and the world to reach out to, and edify, all saints with whom they come in contact.  It’s interesting that this brother who had such a great influence on many believers - and was the first to admit he was not perfect - very strongly encouraged us to examine his message and his life.  His judgments in matters of discipline were not universally accepted; it’s alleged he showed partiality in some cases - and the seeds of these failures have produced a crop of sectarian attitude and division.  I, for one, am not willing to cast off his inspirational message to the church just because I find a flaw or two in him.  But I will not memorialize or enshrine him in the form of a religious movement; that was the last thing he’d have wanted his students to do.  And that is not what our Savior, as Head of His church, wants us to do - memorialize a man or a movement.


Chapter Sixteen


With chapter 16 of The Torch of the Testimony, Kennedy introduced men and movements that in varying degrees attempted to follow the example of the first-century church.  Some of the fellowship format experiments of the previous century evolved into protestant denominations in the later centuries. Whereas fellowship should be in the unity of the Spirit with all believers, denominations gravitated toward a form of centralized control that blocked the fellowship of their members with other believers and choked the work of the Spirit.  Yet certain men were instrumental in reaching vast numbers of people with the gospel and in inspiring them to walk in the Spirit - and we benefit even today from their influence.  Unfortunately, the movements that formed around those men and their messages became stumbling blocks leading to divided fellowship.  The spirit of division and restriction in Protestantism - and every other form of sectarianism - should never deceive genuine born-again believers, for the Spirit instills within us a yearning to fellowship with all other believers; we are one body - and children of God. [Romans 8:15-17]   

"PROTESTANTISM, divided into innumerable parties, was the scene of the bitterest internal strife.  Catholicism, while outwardly united in one monolithic system, had long cut off the direct access of man to God through the imposition of sacraments and a mediating priesthood.  Protestantism denied fellowship with fellow-believers; Catholicism denied fellowship with God...

"The divisions of Protestantism, and more so the un-Christian strife which accompanied them, increased the hunger in the hearts of many sincere believers for freedom of fellowship between all those who were truly the children of God."  [192] 

Mystics were primarily concerned with their personal fellowship with God, and did not see the importance of fellowship expressed in the gathering together of believers.  Their influence, however, stressing inward holiness along with the desire aroused through such men as [Gottfried] Arnold for a practical expression of fellowship with all who were truly born again, led to the beginning of meetings which spread widely throughout Germany, the low countries and England during the first half of the eighteenth century.  They represented many and various elements, but all regarded the unity and perfecting of the saints more important than adherence to an outward ecclesiastical form.  All did not separate from the Churches to which they had belonged, but many did, and they gave their gatherings the name ‘Philadelphia’ which means ‘brother love’.  This may have originated from the historical interpretation of the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation held by numbers of them, upon which they based a call to all true believers to unite in the faithfulness of the church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-10).  The witness of these groups was fruitful in winning others for Christ.  One of their converts who will always be remembered for his beautiful hymns was Gerhard Tersteengen."  [193] 

"…Centralization of control [in the Moravian community] proved a hindrance to the work and the system had to be modified, but the community pattern itself made for further difficulties.  The strength of Moravianism was its vital, spiritual life.  The weakness of Moravianism lay in the fact that, disregarding the Scriptural concept of the church, there was no adequate vessel to contain the life of the Spirit.  The simple manner of the churches of the New Testament is the only pattern spiritually designed to be universally applied to meet many and varied needs."  [194-195] 

"[Before the arrival of John and Charles Wesley, the] spiritual state of England in the eighteenth century was at a low ebb…It was an age of mental adolescence, of men who knew all and rejected all.  There was the Deism of Voltaire whose convictions were molded in England, and he returned to France to mold the mind of a nation to bloody revolution.  There was the superior skepticism of Edward Gibbon who wrote the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Late in the century there was the brutal blasphemy of Thomas Paine, a Quaker’s son.  Rationalism had invaded the realm of religious thinking, and preaching had become powerless, the colorless homily on morals that drew but few to listen and left untouched those who did.  Assemblies of God’s people were comparatively few, and there too spiritual life was tainted with spiritual lethargy.  If a religion is to be judged by its effects, there can be no greater indictment of skepticism than the general debauchery of the eighteenth century.  There was need of revival."  [196] 

"…The rigidity of Anglicanism could ill contain the vitality of the Methodist societies which it so stringently opposed.  Society members gathered on the ground of their desire for salvation.  Beyond that they could hold their own views on various points, but were not allowed to make them subjects of contention.  They were free to attend any place of worship they wished."  [197] 

"…All who preached in the chapels had to receive the recognition of the Conference. The Conference was a clerical body and as such, was much aware of its authority and jealously guarded its privilege.  This led to divisions within the Methodist ranks and the spiritual degeneration of the whole movement.  If John Wesley were to make an anonymous visit to Methodism today, it is doubtful whether many of its churches would welcome him.  They would not want his ‘enthusiasm’."  [198] 

"George Whitefield’s early life was very different from that of the Wesleys… While [in Oxford] he passed through great anguish of soul in his search after salvation and joined the Wesley’s ‘Holy Club’ to seek peace with God through fastings and other religious practices.  In 1735, through reading the Scriptures, the light dawned, and he experienced the mighty transformation of regeneration.  Receiving Episcopal ordination the same year, he started out on his career as a preacher although only twenty-two years of age. From the very beginning his outstanding power as a preacher was obvious.  His treatment of sin and forthright rejection of the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, widely held in Anglican circles, scandalized many and closed many pulpits to him, but people were soundly converted, and immense crowds flocked to hear him. 

"Although Whitefield was an Anglican himself, and lived in a day when sectarian loyalties were intense, denominational feeling meant nothing to him.  In this respect he was notably different from the Wesleys who, throughout their lives, were never able to rid themselves completely of Anglican prejudices.  Debarred from the Church of England, Whitefield would preach wherever there was a door open to him, and through his field preaching reached countless multitudes who were completely estranged from organized religion…

"…Whitefield’s theology was strongly Calvinistic, while Wesley’s was just as strongly Armenian.  At one point this gave rise to a fervid interchange of correspondence between the two, but their personal relationship was always maintained, even if it did have to pass through some stormy patches.  Both proclaimed justification by faith, and the preaching of each was equally effective.  Many who listened to Wesley chose to follow the Lord, and many who listened to Whitefield found that the Lord had chosen them.  Whitefield, unlike Wesley, organized no denomination, but many thousands brought in real subjection to the feet of Christ were the fruit of his ministry.

"The main impact of the eighteenth century revivals under Wesley and Whitefield did not lie in the formation of any denomination, for the spiritual blessing had a profound effect which extended far beyond the confines of Methodism or the Anglican Church, influencing the whole character of the English speaking nations of Britain and America."  [198-199] 

"…[Robert and James Haldane] saw clearly that baptism was not the basis of fellowship, and resisted any thought that the church should be divided because some were baptized and some were not… 

"…Geneva, which had been the center of so much spiritual light, had sadly departed from the truth that had been proclaimed by Calvin and the early Reformers.  Unitarianism had brought a blight upon the life of the Church, and the students who studied divinity at the Geneva Academy were ignorant alike of the doctrines of grace and of the Word of God. Robert Haldane found them in dire need, and began to expound to the group which met in his home Paul’s epistle to the Romans.  His commentary on Romans can still be classed as one of the greatest expositions of that book."  [201-202] 

"Alexander Campbell’s father Thomas Campbell had been a Presbyterian minister in Northern Ireland, but in 1807 had moved to North America where he settled in Pennsylvania.  There, quite unknown to his son, he felt obliged to withdraw from the Secession Presbyterian body of which he was a member and sought, according to the convictions he had received from the Scriptures, that believers should gather without sectarian prejudices, accepting the Word of God alone as their rule of faith and conduct 

"…The fruit of the labour of these and other devoted servants of God still remain, although the sectarian spirit against which Thomas and Alexander Campbell strove so unremittingly has re-asserted itself, and the large denomination today known as the Disciples of Christ is the descendant of the simple company of Christian believers which first met at Bush Run, Pennsylvania. 

"The ministry of the Haldane brothers shows very clearly that where Christians are ready to accept the Word of God with a completely open heart and mind, and in a spirit of obedience, they will be led back to the simplicity of New Testament times in the gathering of the church..."  [203]

The recurring theme of Kennedy’s book is, of course, that the torch of the testimony (borne by the church, and to varying degrees witnessed by the world) has never been extinguished; it has passed from hand-to-hand, generation after generation since its first century beginning.  It hasn’t always taken the route history recorded; it has been a
living witness through the lives of believers within various eras of history despite the attempts of Satan and the forces of evil men to prevail against it.  Although men with "good" intentions have also impeded the advance of the torch at times with their "arbitrary gloss" [as Judge Zirpoli put it] of organization and naming rights, it has not been deterred from its purpose. 

Worthy of note is the fact great men of faith who faithfully studied and applied the Word were not always responsible for the divisions that followed in their wake; but, with few exceptions, the cadre of men that surrounded them, or fell heir to their work, formed organizations that are responsible for many of the sects, denominations and cults we see today.  Every generation should learn a lesson from these historic examples; it’s a lesson almost universally ignored, and the result is more of the same - sectarian prejudice and divided fellowship.  The church is a living organism, not an organization subject to the control of human design.  The solution to sectarianism is not ecumenicism but a return to the principles upon which the church was established - among them the Word of God and brotherly love.

As God’s children, brotherly love is in our spiritual DNA so to speak.  The relationship of Whitefield and Wesley is a prime example of the way brotherly love is the foundation of fellowship and not contingent upon doctrinal agreement.  The fact they didn’t resolve their difference of opinion can be easily excused; yet they were remiss in allowing their difference of denomination to continue without turning to the Word they cherished for a lesson easily learned from the first-century church.  While the Spirit did bear witness with their spirit, they also had a party spirit, which is not a work of the Spirit. 

It is of little consequence to be of different persuasions on non-essential issues [Romans 14:5]; but making non-essentials matters of consequence or essential for fellowship is not walking charitably with our brethren.  We should look for the Spirit working through the diversities of gifts, administrations and operations - the manifestation of the Spirit given to profit every believer. [I Corinthians 12]  Although believers may not agree upon a topic of conversation as we walk together, there’s no reason we can’t "agree to do so" - to agree to walk together. [Amos 3:3]  It may take determination and hours of patient discussion before we agree on the topic, but we should at least agree to walk together.  As someone observed a long time ago: "If we can talk over the fence, we can tear down the fence."

Why are people so inflexible about discussing issues objectively? Men [And I mean males.] must have very a strong predisposition to be perceived as the final authority when they offer opinions.  I don’t claim to be exempt from this trait, but I try to guard against it.  I first became aware of it when I was about seven years old watching my father and a few other men looking under the hood of an automobile diagnosing a problem.  Each gave his opinion with a ring of authority in his voice.  It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, not because I didn’t know a thing about automobile engines but because each opinion differed from the other.  One man declared the carburetor needed overhauling; another, with equal assurance, declared the spark plugs were bad; I think I heard one say it was the distributor cap and another the thermostat.  I wondered if any of their suggestions would really work.  The problem certainly wouldn’t be fixed with a consensus of their opinions.  Yet those are two ways men attempt to govern the church: by men’s opinions or by a consensus of men’s opinions.  One approach is little more than acquiescence to the prevailing individual recognized as an authority to be consulted in all spiritual matters; the other approach recognizes a consensus of respected individuals.  Either way, when men attempt to govern the church with an air of absolute authority, it’s a hindrance to fellowship.  There is no such thing as spiritual machismo. That may be what contributed to the denominational division between Whitefield and Wesley. 

The administration of the church was never intended to be based on human consensus; men were never granted authority to be consulted on all matters pertaining to the daily function of an assembly or in all matters that regulate the personal lives of believers.  The church is not a democracy.  In a democracy there is the suspicion that more than half the people are right more than half the time.  The fact borne out in history is that more than half the people are wrong more than half the time.  In the church, authority is not based upon opinion but on the Word of God.  When a prevailing current of opinion of what is found in the Word is allowed to assume authority, the liberty of the Spirit in the fellowship is diminished.   

Centralization of human authority has always created problems for assemblies under human control.  The authority granted may not be as formal as a paid staff, committees or commissions; it may be as simple as recognition of "the men" who are to be consulted on every decision of the body.  If men are given positions of "authority" in any assembly of believers, there’s always the danger they’ll be lifted up with pride in their office - if not pride, a sense of territorial protection.  Yet there’s an even greater danger: The exclusive nature of any elite inner circle or clique.  It contributes to a breakdown of the body and it’s care for one another in love, with every member adding to the edification of the whole; it leads believers to entrust other men with the guardianship of truth and meeting their spiritual needs.  Only the Head of the church can meet our spiritual needs; we can only build one another up by faith in Him - our Savior. 

Human nature attempts to achieve unity through uniformity; we seek balance, symmetry, geometry – "a level playing field" – sensitive notions like that. God achieves unity through individuality and diversity. [I Corinthians 12:4-5]  What a paradox! There’s really nothing wrong with uniformity, balance, symmetry, geometry or fairness in human works and inventions, but in the church, we can’t force the Spirit to make all things identical.  The same Spirit works in individual believers with individual expression and with individual results.  Men want God to be predictable.  He is only predictable so far as His nature is concerned - He does not change, but He displays His nature through the diversity of His creation and through His work in us.  The creation is a witness of His creative diversity. The church, a living organism, is witness of His spiritual diversity; therefore, the route of the torch of the testimony is unpredictable.


Chapter Seventeen


While mainstream churches of the nineteenth century drifted toward rationalism, there remained groups of believers that clung to the truth of Scripture as it pertains to the life of the church.  Chapter 17 titled "The Remnant" notes the fact that these independent movements were not without troubles of their own. The so-called "Brethren" movement stands out as a remnant of believers endeavoring to fellowship strictly according to the Word.  While Kennedy considered the "Plymouth Brethren" worthy of particular note as both good and bad examples, he offered a fair assessment of factors contributing to good fellowship and what often leads to the sectarian attitudes that divide believers.  

"The nineteenth century is outstanding for progress no less in the spiritual realm than in the realm of science and social and economic development.  In this century we see the fruition of the evangelical movement which had begun in the century before, and, indeed, we see a more substantial recovery of some aspects of Scriptural truth than had been seen for a very long time.  We all know how much more easy it is to lose spiritual ground than it is to gain it.  The work of a lifetime can be shattered in a moment, and if it is recovered at all, it may take generations.  In the early chapters we have seen how the early simplicity and spirituality of the church gave place to a great, ecclesiastical organization, largely bereft of spiritual vitality.  True, the testimony of assemblies of believers seeking to order their lives and witness according to the Scriptures has never died out, and they have been far more numerous than conventional Church histories would often lead us to suppose, but the nineteenth century saw, in still greater measure, in certain circles, a return to the spirit of the early church."  [204]  

"God often uses the very grossness of the Church’s departure from ‘the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints’ to stimulate His own people to a fresh return to Scripture truth." [205] 

"...The differentiation between clergy and laity, and the disinterestedness of the latter on matters which basically affect spiritual life, is something which is completely foreign to the spirit of the New Testament churches.  It is not to be expected that every believer should be versed in all the intricacies of theological debate, but wherever there is life in the Spirit and a respect for the Scriptures as the Word of God, there will be a healthy concern for eternal truth in the church as a whole.  Indifference is symptomatic of spiritual death, and any religious system in which such unquestioning indifference can be the accepted norm is very far from the church as Christ meant it to be."  [206]  

"…We see…how impossible it is to guard the faith by the imposition of a creedal statement.  The Scripturalness of every creed is more than matched by man’s ingenuity at interpreting it to mean precisely what he wants.  There is but one way to preserve the purity of the church, and that is by preserving the flow of the life of the Spirit of God within it."  [207]  

"In our recounting the history of God’s working down through the ages, it has been inevitable that particular names should stand out as the names of men who were specially used to bring about a return to Scriptural principle.  God’s means of fulfilling His purposes are His people, so it would be wellnigh impossible to give an adequate account of any spiritual work without mention of some of those who were involved.  Yet in mentioning God’s mighty men we always need to remember that they were but instruments in God’s hands.  A movement of the Spirit of God is greater by far than any single individual who may be concerned in it, and if any company of Christians is so completely dependent upon a man that is folds up when the man is taken away, it only goes to show the extent to which it was based on the human rather than on the divine.  It is true that there have been many useful associations of Christians who have owed their strength to the organizing genius of some devoted man of God, but the church is of a completely different order.  While accepting the ministry of all whom God sends with gift to edify it, the church is grounded solidly upon its relationship with Christ and looks to Him alone as its Head. It has been for this reason that the gatherings of regenerated people have never been completely destroyed, even in times of the most cruel persecution when anyone who seemed to have an acceptable gift of ministry among them was hurried to the flames."  [207-208]  

"In Dublin, a Roman Catholic doctor, Edward Cronin, came to a regenerating experience of Christ.  From early in his Christian experience he was impressed by the truth of the essential oneness of God’s people, and in order that he might give as full expression to this as possible, he made it his policy to attend various ‘Independent’ and nonconformist churches…He soon found, however, that these groups were unhappy with his attitude, and wanted that he should identify himself fully with one of them…This he felt he could not do as it was at once cutting him off from other believers and giving tacit approval to sectarianism."  [208-209]  

"…[At Bethesda, believers] met without any organization in simple dependence upon the Lord to lead them since they were one in Him.  

"As various questions arose, they searched the Scriptures for the answer, and God honored their faith.  Those who had formed the original company had all been baptized as believers, but the question soon arose as to whether they should accept into full fellowship those who had not been baptized yet were of undoubted godly character.  At first there was some division of opinion on the matter, but as they sought the Lord they came to the conviction that they should receive all whom the Lord would receive irrespective of differences of understanding or measure of spiritual maturity.  Never afterwards was the question of baptism a subject of dispute.  

"Eldership was another matter which urged them to a careful examination of God’s Word.  They saw that elders were not set apart by the formal vote of the church, or through the dictation of any man, but by the appointment of the Holy Spirit.  The seal of their calling is the obvious mark of God’s blessing upon their labors, their possession of the qualifications clearly laid down in Scripture, and their recognition by the church as divinely set apart.  It is the duty of the church to submit to them in the Lord.  Regarding ministry, it was understood that God endows some with special gifts and responsibility for the edifying of the church, but gift is not confined to these alone, and all must be given opportunity of expression that the church might benefit through whatever the Lord has given to each one.  George Muller was possessed of a grace and sense of balance in holding spiritual convictions which is all too rare among God’s people.  He was fully aware that a truth given undue stress might cloud over a still more basic facet of the faith and bring irreparable loss to the whole church.  Baptism for example, if insisted upon as a condition of fellowship, immediately makes the practical expression of the unity of the body impossible and denies, therefore, the whole basis of the church."  [211]  

"Wherever God’s people are, fellowship is soon established.  There was a link of spiritual communion between the brethren in the north of Scotland and Bethesda and between brethren in many other places as well as Bristol, Plymouth and Dublin.  Of organizational ties there were none, but spiritual relations in the family of God recognize one another wherever they go, and fellowship is at once established on the only true and lasting foundation, that of spiritual kinship.  

"Satanic powers are ever concerned to destroy the work of God.  It is a significant fact that any attempt to return to a Scriptural conception of the church and the Scriptural ground of meeting is always fiercely assailed.  This was true of the movement which we are at present considering.  While one section continued to move on in the stream of blessing, another was the scene of the most lamentable controversy and division.  It is almost impossible to calculate the number of divisions that have taken place through the years, to such an extent has the testimony been torn into fragments, and further divisions continue to occur.  The first great split concerned the assembly at Plymouth which had known so much blessing, and two of the most gifted and devoted men were involved, B.W. Newton and J.N. Darby.  

"…[Loyalty to these men] tended to overshadow...loyalty to the Lord."  [212-213]  

"…We may legitimately lament the tragic divisions of the Exclusive brethren which have so limited the effect of their public testimony, but it would be entirely wrong to think that their testimony has been in vain.  From their midst have come men of outstanding spiritual perception and godly character, and their writings have exercised an influence which has contributed substantially to the emergence in other parts of the world of churches meeting on the basis of life in Christ.  

"While the assembly at Plymouth was the beginning of the stream of controversies and divisions we had just been considering, the assembly at Bethesda, Bristol, and others, such as the company at Barstaple which came under the influence of Robert Chapman, continued on the ground of fellowship on which they had begun, accepting all who were accepted of Christ.  These assemblies continued to grow in number, and their influence has extended to many parts of the world.  Like the "Exclusives’ they have produced an extensive and valuable literature.  As is amply demonstrated throughout the history of the church, the tendency of any movement of the Spirit to crystallize into a sect is never absent, and there are inevitably assemblies which have adopted the rigid ground of sectarianism, but there are others which have not.  

"There are certain particularly noteworthy factors about these companies of Christian believers.  One is the consistent loyalty they have maintained to the inspiration of the Scriptures.  The past hundred years has seen the penetration of rationalism into practically every major Christian denomination.  Unbelief has been taught in theological colleges and preached from so-called Christian pulpits, but wherever there have been believers gathering on the simple principle of the New Testament churches, rationalism has been conspicuously absent.  Not only has the Word of God been defended with spiritual and intellectual vigor, but it has been defended by the testimony of experience such as can be molded only by God’s unchanging truth.  This surely is the greatest bulwark against error, the transforming experience of union with Christ.  When a person knows that, whereas he was blind now he sees, all the arguments of unbelief fall to the ground as so much senseless clatter.  As long as believers meet because they have been partakers of the divine nature, the Bible will remain to them the Word of God, their spiritual food and drink.  

"It is also significant that familiarity with the Scriptures has not been confined to a few. The Bible has taken its place in the life of the family and the individual as an indispensable spiritual guide for daily living.  Another important factor in the movement has been the witness it has produced in practically every stratum of social and business life.  The emphasis that all believers are priests with the privilege of worship which issues in a responsibility of witness has not been confined to the realm of theory, but has been given serious practical expression.  This has resulted in incalculable spiritual blessing through the means of a quiet, consistent Christian testimony."  [216-218]  

Forces have always been at work attempting to influence the church to cast away its Scriptural charter.  It has often been in reaction to these very forces that the church has enjoyed revival and a resurgence of its outward expression of unity.  In every era, the return to Scripture and truth, accompanied by the life of the Spirit, has produced a brighter torch flame.  Where there has been a personal hunger for the truth among believers and a concern for the health of its members, the church has enjoyed a greater expression of faith and purity.  It has never been the work of one man or even of many men; it has always been a work of the Spirit of God.  As Kennedy noted, when a company of believers is so completely dependent upon one man that it folds when the man is taken away, it only reveals the extent to which it was dependent upon human strength rather than God’s power.   

The church – the congregation of believers in our Savior - is grounded solidly on its relationship with Him, for He is its Head.  What, then, of man’s role in the church?  What of the offices we see prescribed in Scripture?  As some of our brethren in the "Brethren" movement discovered, elders are not to be appointed or set apart by a vote of the congregation but are appointed by the Head of the church - the Spirit of God - alone.  And it is not always to the "gifted" that these positions are granted.  I think we’ve all witnessed the danger that arises when men of great talent are placed on pedestals of authority in the church.  The "I am of Paul; and I am of Cephas; and I am of Apollos; and I am of Christ" attitude the apostle mentioned in I Corinthians 1:12 is just as virulent and active today as it ever was; and we must ever guard against it.  The Spirit divides gifts to every believer as It wills [I Corinthians 12:11] for the edification of the whole church [v 25].  Those truly deserving of honor are not the ones who encourage us to separate from members who do not follow certain human leaders but those who encourage us to join with all who follow our Heavenly Leader.  We’ve known too many of the former and too few of the latter; but praise God we have known at least a few of the latter!


Chapter Eighteen


Kennedy devoted a great deal of attention in Chapter 17 to the "Brethren" movement, and J N Darby in particular.  In Chapter 18, he began pretty much where he ended Chapter 17 with an analysis of Darby’s contribution to the advance of the testimony.  Darby was no hypocrite, but his exclusive attitude and doctrines led to an exclusive atmosphere in his assemblies that splintered their fellowship.  Kennedy clearly identified the flaw in Darby’s attitude: Once he reached a conclusion, he was rigid and inflexible.  When his methods failed, he apparently refused to reconsider the validity of the "principles" upon which he had charted his course. It’s hard to exclude sectarian attitude from exclusive doctrine.   

If we are to judge by fruit, the movement Darby initiated adopted the same exclusive stance, essentially believing their group to be the only association of believers the Head of the church recognized.  It’s not uncommon for groups to revolve around the notion that salvation is "rare if not impossible outside their own circle" – as a result, they become ineffective in promoting church growth and propagating the gospel. Among the quotations I’ve cited from this chapter of The Torch of the Testimony, I think you’ll easily acknowledge that Kennedy accurately identified the factor responsible for their ineffective witness. 

While Darby recognized, accurately I believe, the dispensational aspect of God’s dealing with man throughout history, he apparently held a misconception that God was never successful in any of them, that His purposes were constantly frustrated - at least, that’s Kennedy’s assessment of Darby’s view.  Kennedy correctly concluded that the church has remained faithful despite the assumptions of apostasy, which we know to be attributable primarily to the professing church.   

A N Groves was also influential in advancing non-denominational fellowship.  In reading the excerpts I’ve selected from this chapter, I think many of my readers will identify with his view and commendable attitude.  Other men were faithful; and other movements developed, under the radar so to speak, in Russia, India, China and Japan.  The spiritual descendants of those believers are still found today.  Attempts to send believers into exile failed to dampen the church testimony.  This, in itself, is strong evidence of the fact that the torch of the testimony is not dependent upon popularity, publicity or notoriety.  But many of our brethren have suffered the agonizing consequences of attempts to eradicate them because of their faithfulness to adhere to the simple truth of the Word.  In moves familiar to believers we know today, some nineteenth century believers had their children taken from them and placed with families who supported the "official" line of the organized religious majority - with one notable distinction:  Those believers suffered under the persecution of a state-church; believers we know suffered under the religious pretense of men who claimed to be exercising the authority of God and His Word, yet could not effect the result promised in the Word.  

From the beginning of this book review, I’ve pulled some lengthy quotes to share with you.  Granted, for the most part I selected those points consistent with my own observations of how the church functions today – actually, I found little difference in our views. As I approach this next to the last chapter, I want to urge you again to try to find a copy of the book and read it.  There is so much more to the book than I have shared.  I believe it will help you to distinguish the church (the genuine, spiritual organism) from well-publicized religious movements and organizations (Churches) that grab public attention and influence historians.  What we see performing in the religious spotlight is not the true church, for God’s church usually performs its greatest work in the shadows, shining the light of Truth in some of the darkest corners of this evil world.  

"John Nelson Darby’s experience and teaching are of singular importance, not only because of the vital part he played in a return to the ground of Christian gathering, but also because of some of the misconceptions he later came to hold.  A man of great devotion to the truth, spiritual insight and intellect, yet not without some of the limitations of which all mortal men are heirs, he was possessed of a logical consistency of purpose which demanded that whatever he saw of the truth should be put into effect and its implications honored to the utmost possible degree.  What he taught he practiced, but when he set out upon a certain road he seemed unable to recognize the signs that were telling him he was going the wrong way.  His experience demonstrates, on the one hand, the life of a man completely devoted to the Lord and, on the other, the spiritual havoc that can result when the mind is so fixed upon a principle that everything must give way before it, and the church itself can be sacrificed so long as the principle remains intact." [219]  

"…The Nazarenes in eastern Europe and the Balkans have also been led to an excessively exclusive attitude where they feel that salvation is rare if not impossible outside their own circle, but their quiet faithfulness to the Lord under harsh conditions has been a testimony to those around them of the grace of God.  [220]  

"Darby’s thought was ordered by his view that the dispensation and the church were in a ‘state of ruin’.  He saw the history of mankind divided into a series of dispensations in each of which God sought to establish a mode of relationship with man.  Each of these dispensations, he pointed out, was ruined at the outset by man’s sin or disobedience, and the aim of God in each particular dispensation was never, therefore brought to fruition…" [220] 

"One of the difficulties of Darby’s view is that it practically leaves God in a position of permanent frustration, with but a few faithful left each time surveying the scene of desolation.  That man is guilty of persistent disobedience to God is an obvious fact, but that God’s purposes are thus so absolutely foiled is difficult to accept.  If the bulk of the nation Israel rejected Him, yet there remained a remnant through whom He was able to work.  It may be true that the world is in a state of apostasy hastening on to final judgment, but the divine purpose is not ruined.  The pearl of great price, the church, has been found.  The treasure, though hidden, is there.  The cross has meant victory, not only in heaven, but wherever Christ is truly exalted here upon the earth."  [221]   

"But the church was, in Darby’s view, a thing of the past.  It was now in a ‘state of ruin’. Indeed what he said is correct if we accept his basic assumption that the church of the New Testament and the professing Church in the world are one.  That may have been so for a short time after Pentecost, but it did not long remain…" [221]  

"…[The Brethren] became more concerned with what they were testifying against than what they were testifying for.  Turned in upon themselves they have lost the power of vital growth."  [223]  

"…Darby laid much emphasis on the liberty of the Holy Spirit to speak and work through God’s people.  If his teaching on the ruin of the church led to the constricted witness and thinking of some, his emphasis on the liberty of the Spirit led to the expanded witness and thinking of others.  Where the Spirit is free to do His work of guiding into all truth, the thinking of one man cannot dominate indefinitely, and any unwise emphasis made by one will be corrected in what the Spirit reveals through another.  

"It is a great pity that J. N. Darby’s experience should have been so characterized by the inflexibility with which he opposed other brethren in the Lord who disagreed with him. A kindly and gracious man by nature, all grace seemed to depart when engaged in a discussion on spiritual principles where minds differed."  [223]  

"[Anthony Norris] Groves had a great desire to see a general return to the Scriptural ground of Christian gathering, and he felt this would be most easily accomplished in a country such as India where the roots of denominationalism had not as yet gone deep. Denominationalism he saw as a major hindrance to the effective spread of the Gospel. To counteract it he sought fellowship with all who were children of God, upholding a witness to the simple truth of Scripture regarding the church, and counseling obedience to the Word…His friendship and counsel were valued, but only in so far as they did not impinge upon the spirit of sectarianism that was strengthening its hold upon those who professed faith in Christ.  The preaching of the Gospel and the fellowship of the Lord’s people in India had generally been uninhibited, but with the growth of the work, denominational organization was being strengthened, and each group was enclosing its adherents in an exclusive company after the pattern of denominationalism in the West.  Groves clearly saw the evil of this and earnestly sought to prevent it through his proclamation of the truth, but he found himself misunderstood, accused of adopting a superior attitude, and seeking to undermine the stability of the church organization.  He was also deeply concerned by the failure of many missionaries to identify themselves with those whom they sought to reach with the Gospel.  His determination that he would allow no distinction between himself and the people of the country to hinder the ministry to which he had been called bore fruit which is very much evident in the present day.  

"Probably the most outstanding of Groves’ fellow-workers was Victor Arroolappen…[Arroolappen] was nurtured in the Gospel, but his fellowship with Groves was the means of strengthening his faith and establishing his mind in the Scriptural truths respecting the church.  A man of marked ability and spiritual gift, he consistently refused the offer to associate himself with any denominational group, and moved throughout the South of India ministering the Word to the lasting blessing of many.  The fruit of his labors have been multiplied through the generations, and from the line of his own family God has raised up men of a like spirit whose service has been one of the main contributing factors to a further movement of the Spirit through which God has been calling together assemblies of His people throughout India within recent years."  [226-227]  

"In a letter written to Darby in 1836 [Groves] frankly voiced his fears, expressing his conviction that he had departed from his original principle that the ground of fellowship is possession of the life of Christ, that the companies which had grown up around him would more and more gather on the ground of doctrine or man’s opinion, and that they would soon find within themselves the same evils as existed in the systems from which they had separated.  These were prophetic utterances, a further indication of Groves’ own discernment and of the importance that the fellowship of the Lord’s people should never be narrower than the fellowship that the Lord Himself owns.  [227]  

"The word of the Gospel had penetrated Russia through some of the Mennonite colonists and others, but these communities remained largely separate, living their own lives with special privileges and religious freedom granted them by the government on condition that they did not attempt to proselytize among the Russians.  The impact of godly lives and personal words of witness no doubt had an effect on many, but it was directly through the reading of the Word of God that groups of believers began to come into being and spread to the Empire’s utmost corners.  They accepted no sectarian name, and called one another ‘brethren’, but they were dubbed ‘Stundists’, that is ‘meeting-goers’ a word which originally came from the gatherings of the German colonists.  

"The reading of the Scriptures was to these Russians a revelation of spiritual truth and power such as they had never before conceived.  The Orthodox Church in which they had been brought up with its deadening forms and traditions had left them in ignorance of God and the transforming power of personal faith in Christ.  The Bible revealed Christ, and in seeing Him they knew the touch of regenerating grace.  Since freedom to read the Word, much less liberty to obey it, was denied them in the Russian Church, they separated from it to meet around the Lord who dwells in the midst of the two or three.  As the Spirit taught them they were eager to obey...The old clerical system was abandoned, and elders were raised up from the midst of the churches according to the Scriptures.  They found that God still gives to all some gift for the building up of the assembly, that the Gospel be spread abroad, discipline to be maintained, and the saints be edified."  [227-228]  

"…Another well-known name associated particularly with the distribution of the Word of God is that of Dr. Baedeker of travel-guide fame.  His journeys, however, were of much more than geographical interest.  He had an eternal aim in view, and was active in distributing the Scriptures in Russia during a period of the severest oppression at the end of the [nineteenth] century."  [228]  

"The union of the Church and State in Russia had always been the means of imposing sanctions upon those who dissented from the official religion…Believers were forbidden to gather together.  When it was found that they continued to meet secretly, the meetings were broken up and they were punished by fine, imprisonment, or exile to the far corners of the Empire.  But even this was a means of spreading the Gospel, for the Lord’s people witnessed wherever they went, and the distribution of the Scriptures continued.  In an all-out effort to stamp out the ‘Stundists’…they were debarred from many occupations, forbidden to move from one place to another, and their children were taken from them to be brought up by those who were loyal to the Orthodox Church or placed under the guardianship of the clergy."  [228-229]  

"…The companies of God’s people were again being persecuted when the Great War broke out in 1914.  1917 saw the beginning of the Russian Revolution when a new terror swept throughout the land over the ruins of the old, Imperial Russia and the Orthodox Church.  Atheism was forcibly imposed upon the country, but the eternal Gospel is not so easily destroyed by the temporal might of man.  As religious persecution has been moderated over the years, there are indications that the great steppes and mountains which extend from the shores of the Baltic to the borders of China are not without a vital testimony to the regenerating power of a risen Christ."  [229]  

"As we have pursued the history of the spiritual movement of the church, one thing surely has been clear, that the working of the Spirit of God in any one age or in any one country cannot be viewed as an isolated outpouring of grace.  Every movement could trace its vital beginnings back for centuries, and would find that God had contributed through people of different countries and races the elements of truth and light which ultimately led to the restoration of an outstanding church testimony.  That it should be so is, in fact, part of church life itself, that the whole body is ‘fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part’ (Eph. 4:16).  Outstanding movements of the Spirit of God today could be cited in China, India and other countries.  Their origin is not in a man, but in God, although God uses men to accomplish His purposes.  Their basis is the life of the Spirit, their rule is the Word, and the breadth of their fellowship is not national, but the breadth of the church.  If in any instances they have become constricted to a purely national outlook, to that extent they have become sectarian.  

"An instance of a spiritual movement of far-reaching importance and influence in Japan today is associated with the name of Kanzo Uchimura.  Uchimura, the son of a Samurai scholar, born in Tokyo, had his first contact with the Gospel during his student days in Sapporo, Hokkaido.  There he took a stand as a Christian, but it was to an experience years later in North America that he attributed his real conversion, when he entered into new life in Christ through faith.  That experience changed the whole course of Uchimura’s life, and he returned to Japan with a burning zeal to proclaim the simple word of the Gospel, uncluttered by sectarian accretions, to his own countrymen.  

"A man of forceful character, and a prolific writer, Uchimura edited or contributed to a number of journals both in Japanese and in English.  But his outstanding work was the encouragement he gave to gatherings for the study of the Scriptures.  He held one such gathering in Tokyo until his death in 1930.  Other groups of a similar nature have sprung up throughout the country and in other countries as well.  They meet in homes or in hired halls, in town and in country, some numbering hundreds, others but two or three, but all seeking to enter into a closer understanding of Christ through His Word.  These meetings became known as ‘Mukyokai’ which means ‘non-church’, not signifying a denial of the Scriptural fact of the church, but a denial of the organized systems of Christendom as being what was meant in the Scriptures.  Uchimura believed that the complexities of denominationalism have covered over the truth of what the church was meant to be which is simply the unity of those who have received new life in Christ, not a unity determined by creeds, forms or ceremonies.  

"Mukyokai groups are completely independent one of another which was attested by the fact that, during the last war, the Japanese government had to deal with each one of them separately, while they were able to amalgamate other churches into a federation recognized by the State, which could be easily controlled.  After the prevalent fashion, Mukyokai has been ‘denominationalised’ by those who have viewed it from outside.  It was looked upon, during Uchimura’s lifetime, as the work of a brilliant man and dependent upon him.  In an article entitled "Non-Church Christian Work in Japan’ in the Japan Mission Year Book of 1931, F.W. Heckleman writes of "…the work of Uchimura Kanzo, which was, up to his death unique for Bible Study, personal experience, and the publishing of a Bible Study Magazine.  This work is now at a standstill, and may end for want of a leader; but it is not possible now to state what the future will be."  It is interesting to view this statement well over thirty years after Uchimura’s death.  If Mukyokai was at a standstill in 1931 it is certainly not at a standstill today, but forms, without doubt, one of the most powerful Christian influences in the country.  It has survived the ravages of war and continues to expand because it was based not on the experience of one man, but upon the unchanging Word of God.  

"While the twentieth century has seen materialistic forces apparently win the allegiance of hundreds of millions, yet there has also been a spread of the Gospel unparalleled in previous years.  These are days of rich, spiritual harvest in many parts of the world, when the seed that has been sown in toil and tears is blossoming forth.  There is also, in not a few countries, an unprecedented desire to return to the simplicity in Christ which was demonstrated by the early churches.  A volume alone could be written about what God is at present doing in this respect, gathering together His people as He did in New Testament times.  The day will no doubt come when that volume should be written, but, for the present, it is the path of wisdom to allow God to do His work without attempting to acclaim those whom He is using as His instruments.  We are living in an age supremely conscious of technique and man’s own skill, an age given over to hero worship.  Unfortunately, this is not a tendency altogether foreign to the people of God, and it is but too easy to give to men, albeit unwittingly, a glory that should go to God alone.  How easy it is to lay more emphasis on a ‘Prophet’ of God than on the word he bears.  But the ‘Prophet’ will pass away, and the Word only remains.  It is when the ‘Prophet’ has gone and the Word still abides with its same power and authority that we can most surely judge what has been of God and what has been of man."  [231-233.]  

If there’s one bit of humor in Chapter 18, surely it’s the name F W Heckleman.  I know nothing more about Heckleman than Kennedy’s mention in his book; but what an appropriate name for one skeptical of the effective, enduring work of God!  I mean no disrespect; he may be a dear brother for all I know; yet he made the common mistake of presuming to know what God will do with His church.  I suppose many of us make essentially the same mistake whenever we attempt to predict the result of certain doctrinal applications.  A prime example is the notion that God will cause a lone group of believers - aware of the fact that it’s possible to function simply as members of the body of Christ without any denominational name - to grow in numbers and influence in the world.  The secret is out!  God doesn’t concentrate all His saints in one place on Earth in this dispensation.  He doesn’t focus the world’s attention on the church; instead, He has commissioned the church to focus the world’s attention on His work at the cross.  

Another example of jumping to conclusions about God’s methods is the assumption that He expects all believers to measure up the exemplary heroes of faith we find in the Bible.  When we’re tempted to draw that conclusion, it’s usually because we’ve forgotten that no two of them are exactly alike.  Yet we find numerous examples in Scripture of nameless individuals in everyday life who are lasting testimonies of faith - a widow with two mites, two blind men who were healed and followed Jesus, a woman with an alabaster box of costly ointment, a man born blind who clearly saw Messiah; a thief on the cross; even a Samaritan woman.  These aren’t heroes by any standard definition; yet, while critical observers today would minimize their importance (Even the most notable Bible heroes are not without detractors.), their examples of insight, if not faith, ought to inspire us nonetheless.   

Kennedy wisely observed that we live in an age of hero worship.  Again, we are not to idolize heroes of the faith - historical or contemporary - even if we are willing and able to suffer like persecution.  Greatness in Christ is found in the simple, humble faith of the least of His disciples.  True heroes of the faith demonstrate that their true aim is humility; and those humble in the sight of the Lord are elevated and revered. [James 4:10]  I love the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers - it inspires courage and boldness; but the church will not conquer the world with a force of military might or human heroics.   Its power is in its humble simplicity.  Jesus likened His kingdom to leaven working its way into the whole batch of dough. It’s like a mustard seed that falls into the soil; it springs up into a large shrub and provides shelter.  It’s not an inflexible mighty oak atop a hill seen from a great distance calling attention to itself.  

Another matter Kennedy was unafraid to address is the effect of doctrinal difference among otherwise agreeable brethren.  This has plagued the fellowship of believers since the beginning.  Over the years of my pilgrimage I’ve met inflexible individuals - believers fixed on a point of doctrine and unwilling to examine contrary views.  (I am in favor of inflexibility when it comes to truth and character; and I know there are peaceful ways to settle disputes over concepts of truth and character.)  I’ve met confrontational men who take their "fight" to their opponents with a vengeance.  And I’ve met men who preferred to walk away from confrontation rather than engage in a "fight" - those who recoil when challenged.  I tend to view these as two opposite poles and indications of inner insecurity or fear - at one pole, insecurity when everyone does not agree with their doctrine; at the opposite pole, insecurity with their inability to defend their doctrine.  

Years ago, when I first met some of you, I was introduced to a controversy over when the church began. Two men in the assembly of believers at a home Bible study had differing doctrines.  Although each held a dispensational view of Scripture, "Jack" taught that the church began at Pentecost; "Hank" taught that it could not have begun before Acts 28:25-28 when the apostle Paul proclaimed Israel’s rejection of the gospel and its acceptance by the Gentiles.  My father was a long-time friend of Hank and a proponent of the latter view; I had come to hold the former view; so I was very interested in the outcome of a discussion of the topic with an eye toward keeping an open mind like the Bereans.  (The birthday of the church is not the topic here.)  What I found interesting about the disagreement on that occasion was the different reactions of the two men.  I was about 25 years of age at the time; each of those men was at least ten to forty years older.  Jack, the younger of the two, challenged Hank to a discussion of the topic at our next meeting. When meeting time came, Hank didn’t attend.  I was disappointed.  I thought Hank a coward, that he must not have felt confident in his view.  I eventually realized Jack was a bully; it was not respectful or brotherly of him to challenge an older man publicly, especially on an inconsequential point.  As I’ve grown older I’ve come to see there’s nothing wrong with issuing a challenge or with avoiding one; the problem arises when brethren don’t recognize the proper time and place for discussions of topics that fall into the category of doubtful disputations.  Jack was cocky and wanted to settle the matter, once and for all; but he didn’t exercise the proper protocol.  Hank knew the proper time and place, preferring a private discussion until the matter was settled; but by not appearing publicly to at least suggest a private discussion first, he left the impression his position was untenable.  I never saw Hank after that; he’s now home with our Savior, having finished his course in peace.  Yet many times I’ve wished I’d had an opportunity to study the topic with him to learn his point of view and the strength of his argument.  Jack took a predictable direction with his "ministry" over the subsequent 40 years, going about the country challenging believers to public debates. He became a major partner of a religious machine that engendered an exclusive attitude among believers who were formerly (for the most part) open to fellowship with all saints.  Initially, the mission statement of his ministry was: "Building Christian lives, Christian homes, and the church, which is Christ’s body."  The fruit of his ministry actually devastated lives, divided homes and attacked the body of Christ.  The machine eventually rolled right over him; he was expelled and went off to proselytize sympathetic followers. When his attitude was challenged outside the machine recently, he declared that the challenge lacked love. It’s sad to learn of him now having abandoned many of his own family members and former friends.  Can such a man finish his course in peace?  Jack is no Darby in temperament, but his case almost parallels in our day what Darby’s case was in his day.  

Debates within the "Brethren" assemblies under the influence of Darby in the 19th century led to the development of exclusivity.  The topics of their debates were not responsible for the actual divisions that followed - they never are; it was their party spirit, their sectarian attitude - it always is.  We can attribute sectarian splits both to those who demand doctrinal unity and to those who avoid discussing conflicting views. Folks who don’t want to have to think about how to defend their view often suggest that the only way to keep/promote/observe the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is to drop controversial subjects altogether and just show love with a smile; they seem to think Scripture is not intended to be understood intellectually, only from the heart. Their outlook is usually presented with an air of superiority reminiscent of the "I am of Christ" sect at Corinth.  There’s no denying that we must live peaceably with one another and avoid offense; but there definitely is a peaceable way to handle disagreements - just not in the presence of those weak in the faith who are to be received, but not to doubtful disputation. [Romans 14:1]  When a matter is thrown before the whole church as in an open letter, the challenge must be addressed with clear, accurate responses in the same forum; it must be demonstrated publicly that there’s an appropriate answer to it.  

The point of devoting so much attention to a sore point here is to draw your attention to the fact that sectarian attitudes, not doctrinal differences, are usually responsible for divisions in fellowship; and there are ways to settle disputes peacefully.  No solution is found in the mindless acquiescence behind the question, "Can’t we all just get along?"  I can’t begin to recall all the times I’ve heard folks suggest that if we just pursue peace and love all will be well in the church.  That approach does not resolve a single one of the nagging questions believers new and old have concerning the nature of God and His work with mankind. God would rather we be either hot or cold.  The "peace and love / peace and safety" approach is lukewarm gutlessness.  This is not to suggest that we should approach disagreements with anything but a peaceable, loving attitude.  We just should never be afraid to approach any disagreement with the right attitude.


Chapter Nineteen


The final chapter of The Torch of the Testimony - Chapter 19 - bears the title of the book.  It’s a summation of all the others.  Once beyond tracing the course of the torch and piecing together fragments of its story from nearly obscured footnotes of history, Kennedy focused on the factors responsible for fanning and preserving its flame down through the centuries.  He observed that the secret of successful groups was their adherence to the pattern and example of fellowship in Scripture.  On the other hand, he noted groups that rested on their laurels or allowed their focus to evolve or drift toward devotion to a man, a group of men or even a single tenet of truth, without exception entered a state of spiritual decline and apostasy.  He even observed that undue emphasis on the message of redemption - to the neglect of the church message - is but half a gospel.   

Analyzing various nameless groups, even best intentioned attempts to strictly adhere to the Biblical fellowship pattern often end with the same result.  They begin with the noble ideal of recognizing and embracing all true believers; they band together simply as an association of members of the true church; they eventually coalesce into judgmental, exclusive assemblies that presume to govern the lives of other believers with authority from above.  There’s nothing wrong with the first two phases of this progression; but when the truth of nameless fellowship is adopted by a dominant, exclusive faction (clique) for ruling the church...oh the incredible ignorance of presuming to have a corner on the market of recognizing the one true church – the one and only, all inclusive, body of believers!  The utter arrogance of sectarian attitude!  All genuine believers (even cliquish ones - whether inside or outside sects and denominations), who stray from the foundational relationship upon which the church is built, are still members of the same body to which we all belong; and in that body, every joint supplies something to the edification of the whole of that living, spiritual organism.  Encasing any Scriptural truth in a shell of exclusive attitude in essence denies the Savior’s command to love one another.  Love is not a truth applied to the church but one that emanates from the Spirit within the believers that comprise it.  Sectarian attitude limits love, and is a great sin against the body of Christ.  With so much sectarian confusion in Church history and in the world around us, and with the propensity of human efforts to fail to reach ideal fellowship, where are we to begin to interact with our brethren?  That is a question to be answered after careful consideration of the Scriptural pattern, and I intend to address it in a subsequent article.  But in the final chapter of his book, Kennedy offered some very good answers and observations that help us understand the true nature of the genuine church.  

"...If we could but set the whole anomalous development of Christendom aside and begin with the Word of God alone and a mind to obey it, is it to be supposed that our problem would be just the same?  ‘Of course not,’ would be the answer, ‘but that is just what we cannot do, set the whole anomalous development of Christendom aside.  We must accept the situation as it exists and begin there.’  Is that not the crux of the whole matter? Granted the chaotic fact of organized Christianity cannot be ignored, but in our seeking the mind of Christ, is that really where we must begin, in a prime occupation with what has been produced by an alliance of the ingenuity of man and perverted or limited truth? Should we not begin with the Word of God itself?  Surely if the history of the church teaches us anything at all, it teaches us that the testimony, be it that of an individual or of an assembly, that has been honored of God, has been the testimony established on His Word.  All spiritual blessing and advancement begins there, not in an attempt to accommodate certain Scriptural precepts to an existing religious system, but in an unconditional desire to honour the Word of God.  

"It is precisely here that the failure of so much Christian thought lies today.  The great bulk of Christian service in these days is conditioned by a largely unquestioned acceptance of organized Christianity as the church.  The Church is regarded as a field of evangelism in which the Gospel must be preached and which must be revitalized by the coming of revival.  The establishment of churches according to the Word is of little concern, and the effort to promote revival takes its place.  Thus the preaching of redemption becomes an end in itself, and the full message of the Gospel which is concerned not only with the salvation of the individual, but with his relationship in the church and all that entails, is left half proclaimed...It is apt to note how full was the message preached by the apostle Paul.  He was, he says, a minister both of the Gospel and of the church (Col. 1:23-25).  By no means did he minimize the importance of personal redemption as basic to the whole of God’s purpose, but he recognized that the consummation of God’s purpose was in the church, and to leave it out of his message would be to be content with only half a Gospel."  [234-235]  

"…The point is not to decry or minimize the importance of any spiritual awakening God might vouchsafe to send.  We thank God for every touch of genuine revival and pray for more, but it would seem from Scripture that it is something extra, as it were, to the purpose God has set out to fulfill in calling together the church.  Revival may be a vital, contributing factor to God’s purpose, but it is not itself the fulfillment of His design."    

"…The revivals were but a parenthesis, albeit a glorious one, in the divine plan and their ultimate value would be determined by what they contributed to the stream of God’s eternal purpose."  

"…Evangelism, or maybe revival, has begotten that which has not the strength to beget. Redemption has not been followed by the church, and the result is spiritual bareness."  

"In our review of the great revival outpourings under Wesley and Whitefield, it has been suggested that their main significance lies in their preparation of the way for the outstanding return to the ground of Christian fellowship and gathering of the nineteenth century.  That does not detract in the least from the mighty work that was accomplished through the ministry of these two great men of God, but it does indicate that the ministry of no one man is compete in itself.  It is but contributory to what God is doing through others, and all finds its full expression in the church towards which all ministry must flow.  The difficulty is that the gift of the evangelist is much more readily accepted than the gift of the teacher.  The born again Christian views with no prejudice the preaching of redemption, but deep rooted prejudice and traditional loyalties may often be touched by the teaching of the Word, so we dismiss the teaching that offends, hold on to evangelism and our prejudices as well, making the manifestation of the church impossible.  How many of us have really learned not to be offended in Christ?  [236-237]  

"Paul’s message is succinctly summed up in four verses, 2 Tim. 2:19-22.  First of all, he says, ‘The foundation of God standeth, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his: and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness’ (vs. 19).  All around may be declension and confusion, but the Lord knows His own people and His own people know Him.  The proof of their knowledge is that they desire to obey Him and live lives separated from unrighteousness.  This sums up God’s personal relationship to each one of His own, and their individual responsibility toward him." [237]  

"…Here it is, the mixture that is called the Church.  Paul almost implies that such a mixture is inevitable, but is it to be accepted because of that?  ‘If a man therefore purge himself from these…he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, meet for the master’s use, prepared unto every good work.’  From whomsoever or whatever it be interpreted that a man should ‘purge himself’, this verse leaves the child of God standing solely in his relationship to the Lord outside any Church or organization.  He is back precisely at the place where he was spiritually born, knowing only that he is alive in Christ, and has to rediscover his relationship in the divine family.  He stands where alone he is free and usable." [238]  

"…It is when some test to satisfy man’s mind is set as a qualification for fellowship, by-passing the witness of the Spirit, that difficulties arise.  

"The separated company of the church will be characterized by four things, righteousness, faith, love, peace, all matters of the heart, not of the head.  They all leave much room for development, and development necessitates knowledge.  A mind applied to know Christ is of vital importance for spiritual maturity, but only if it is directed by a heart already related to Him.  Righteousness is the obvious outcome of regeneration; where there is the nature of Christ there will also be the character of Christ.  Faith is the attitude of complete dependence upon God and subservience to Him which alone allows the Spirit to work.  Love is the outflow of the Spirit’s life within us to one another.  Peace is the satisfaction of knowing the Lord in the midst.  

"These are simple elements of the church from which the people and purposes of God can grow to maturity.  They are the elements of life, life which is reproductive, but to be reproductive it must remain free.  The organization of Christianity has again and again through the centuries, led to barrenness.  It has been when the life of the Spirit has burst the constricting bands of denominational organizations that the church has been revealed in its primitive power and authority."  [238-239]  

"…The separated church of 2 Timothy 2:22 is pre-eminently a testimony to the truth, not a testimony against error.  It is a testimony to the truth that all who are born of the Spirit into the family of Christ are one, and must grow and witness together in the fellowship of the church where the Lord dwells in their midst…."  [239]  

"The church is the scene of a continual, spiritual struggle for its own existence.  ‘Hold the pattern of sound words which thou has heard from me,’ Paul exhorts Timothy (2 Tim. 1:13).  If we do not hold firmly on to the fellowship of the church it will slip from our grasp.  It is of all things most vehemently assailed.  It is tempted to compromise with organized Christianity.  It is tempted to organize itself in order to conserve what it has gained.  It is tempted to sectarianism by limiting its growth to a certain emphasis of Christian truth.  When it succumbs to any of these temptations, declension follows, for progress has been limited, and when it has reached the end of its possible progress, it must fade out as a spiritual power.  This is the picture that history so graphically portrays, the picture of spiritual power followed by declension, but from every scene of declension God calls out His remnant.  The denominations of today are often the churches of yesterday.  They each carried the torch of the testimony so far, then strayed from the path to rest content with what they had achieved.  But the torch was taken up by others, and will be borne forward till the Lord Himself comes.  The church, therefore, knows no organizational continuance.  Its continuance lies in the spiritual life of the Lord’s people wherever it has the opportunity of manifesting itself by their coming together in His Name." [239-240]  

"…It is much easier to gather round a man than round the Lord, and the church will always face this temptation where the Lord finds a vessel particularly meet for His use." [240]  

"The assembly based on the sure ground of Scripture faces a most subtle peril, the peril not of willingly accepting a denominational or sectarian position, but of allowing itself to be pushed into it.  ‘Exclusivism’, among those who are truly children of God, is an odious word.  The assembly is separate from worldly and ecclesiastical organizations not to be exclusive, but to be inclusive, for it is only outside the camp of denominationalism and sectarianism that a welcome for all who are regenerate can be maintained whatever their own religious background..."  [240]  

"…When an assembly allows itself to be forced into [the] position of limitation, it becomes denominational.  

"Throughout the centuries, God’s people who have sought fellowship only around Christ have struggled for namelessness.  Consistently they have denied the name of some man or other label which has been attached to them, desiring only that they should be known as Christians, or brethren, or by such other simple designation as might find warrant in Scripture.  It has always appeared to be a losing battle, and to some it may appear unimportant, yet when a company of believers has been willing to accept a name, it has also accepted the limitations that have gone with it.  The struggle for namelessness is not an insignificant factor in the struggle of the church for its existence."  [240-241]  

"…What may be deduced as details of a church pattern in the Acts or the Epistles were but the natural means whereby the outflow of the life of the Spirit manifested itself. Scripture always commences there, with life, and where spiritual life is truly uninhibited, spiritual pattern follows.  That does not mean that the churches will show wide diversity of pattern.  Differences there will be from one place to another, just as there was not a rigid sameness about the assemblies in apostolic times, but we have seen amply demonstrated through the centuries that although churches may grow up in different countries completely independent of one another, yet the pattern of their fellowship is not greatly dissimilar.  Just as spiritual life determines doctrine in the church, it also determines the pattern.  The principle of fellowship, for example, in the family of God where all believers are priests, immediately excludes the acceptance of a distinction between clergy and laity and the adoption of an Episcopal form of government."  [242]  

"…Neither can [the church] attract to its fellowship those who are unregenerate.  The life and work of the assembly can afford no lasting lure to the unconverted, for fellowship, worship, intercession, are things which are foreign to the life of this world.  

"In some countries today there is great concern among the large Christian bodies to make the Church popular.  Every conceivable scheme is being brought into play in order to attract people to the Church.  It is forgotten that the true church can never be attractive to the world, and was never meant to be.  It is something which is completely beyond the world’s understanding.  People are brought into the church through the witness of the Lord’s children who comprise the church.  When the life of Christ is expressed through a spiritual order, believers will maintain a witness that is spiritually effective.  Others will be regenerated, and they will be added to the church, not because they, as worldly people, were attracted to it, but because they have been subject to a divine change which enables them to enter into life on a higher plane.  The church’s mission is not to fit into the world, but to see men changed so they will fit into the church.  

"The church…is no mere theory.  It is a fact of this…century, as it was of the first.  The principles of the unchanging Word of God, having been demonstrated and tested for almost two thousand years, have proved themselves applicable to every age and every circumstance.  The church authoritative, holy, witnessing, invincible has continued and will continue, not in outward show or ostentation, but wherever the Lord has found people willing to gather round Him in submission and obedience."  [243]

While, as Kennedy stated, the struggle for namelessness is not an insignificant factor in preserving the testimony of the church, when this single facet of truth is allowed to overshadow all others it can lead to dogmatic ideology.  Throughout history, when our brethren endeavored to maintain fellowship simply as nameless groups of believers, then yielded to the temptation to take a name, or accept a name forced upon them, this in itself did not signal the end of their testimony.  Another factor preceded the adoption of names. The flame of their testimony flickered and died when a sectarian attitude or party spirit was allowed to flourish with or without names; the sect names usually followed.  Kennedy also observed that it’s easier for human nature to gather round a man than round the Lord.  Placing the name of any man or doctrinal tint on a banner to identify a particular association of believers creates a division of fellowship. Even taking our Savior’s Name to distinguish one group from another creates a division.  "I am of Christ!" is no less sectarian in attitude than "I am of (any other entity)."  

The mega-Churches of Christendom today seem to focus on increasing membership rolls.  The church - the spiritual organism - grows by submitting to its Head, not by recruiting members.  Its effectiveness is not measured with membership numbers; its growth is measured in terms of the edification of its members - in terms of the spiritual welfare of the saints - a qualitative measurement, not a quantitative one.  Lest we convince ourselves the church is designed to be a close, tight-nit human organization, it becomes apparent from Kennedy’s analysis of history that such is not the case.  It is a close, tight-nit spiritual organism that cares for itself, often without one member even realizing how its performance edifies another - like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.  Each member functions with spiritual reflexes to feed, support, instruct, comfort and console the other members.  

In a sense, every believer plays a part in evangelism; we are everyday ministers of the gospel lived out in our lives; but we are not all called to be evangelists.  Evangelism is the mission of evangelists - "through the witness of the Lord’s children who comprise the church" - in conjunction with the power of the Spirit of God.  It’s almost a paradox that we can rally around efforts to present the gospel but can’t agree to objectively examine doctrinal differences; we view "with no prejudice the preaching of redemption" while avoiding any teaching that offends.  If we’re not genuinely interested in reconciling differences, how can we stand shoulder-to-shoulder presenting a "united" front with a message of redemption?  When ambassadors of the gospel are doctrinally divided, evangelizing can become mere proselytizing.  Evangelists are called from members of the church with a purpose to present the gospel, not recruit people to fill pews; they’re not called to point unregenerate souls to the church but to the Savior.   

Jesus did not specialize in preaching redemption to the exclusion of teaching the life of the redeemed.  In following Paul as he followed Christ, we learn from the Savior’s example that we are all ambassadors, if you will, commissioned to proclaim the gospel and minister to the church.  That’s why spreading the gospel is not the main mission of the church.  But organized Churches have gone beyond promoting evangelism and church ministry; they’ve specialized in homeless shelters, teen missions, music ministries, publishing - just to name a few, and fund-raising to support all these works.  It is human reasoning to speculate that we can do more for God (or a better job of it) if we pool resources, compartmentalize or specialize.  When we have a legal problem, we take an attorney on retainer.  When we have a broken limb, we seek help of a physician.  So when facing spiritual challenges, we’re naturally tempted to turn to a spiritual adviser or specialist - a "minister" or a "pastor" or a "teacher" - in short, a man to "lead" us; and human leaders resort to human organization.  We tend to become complacent when there is an organization to do the work that would normally fall to the individual believer.  

Every believer has God’s Spirit within to meet all spiritual needs.  With God’s witness inside, we don’t need outside help.  Still, human nature is tempted to ignore His Spirit and turn to other believers.  Is there no place, then, for the evangelist, pastor or teacher?  Are we islands unto ourselves?  Of course, not!  We learn from one another.  We have the same Spirit, and our spirit bears witness with the spirit of every believer; it certainly bears witness with those who are genuinely called to minister to the church - and we could be edified by any one of its members - indeed by every one of them.  There is but one test or condition of fellowship in the church: that one be added to it by the Spirit of God and be in submission to the Head of the church.   

Another fallacy Kennedy exposed is the notion that it is the mission of the church to make itself attractive to the world.  Let’s face it: the church is not attractive to the world.  And it’s not its mission to deliberately make itself unattractive either; it just is unattractive to unregenerate individuals - that’s all there is to it! The world shuns the glory of God.  The church is not designed to share God’s glory but to show it.  It’s a fellowship bond between the most unlikely collection of otherwise incompatible people with a mission to build itself up in love.  We naturally (or rather, supernaturally) edify other believers - sectarian, denominational or otherwise - and that’s not one and the same thing as supporting sects or denominations.  

Kennedy accurately noted that exclusivism is odious to those who are truly children of God.  Perhaps the foremost distinguishing feature of Jesus’ disciples is our love for one another [John 13:35]; therefore, it follows that we ought to be able to gage our spiritual maturity by our love for all other believers.  Without examining the original Greek language word derivatives, it’s obvious from the context that this is not romantic love, and it’s more than human friendship.  It’s a love that involves selfless, supernatural care for one another.  Although we may not agree on every point of doctrine - and we may even believe it is "sin" to hold views other than our own - it is surely sin to exclude brethren over doctrinal differences.  That sectarian sin has been responsible for more fellowship division than any of the sins of the flesh.  


This concludes my chapter-by-chapter review of John W Kennedy’s book The Torch of the Testimony.  In a follow-up article, I plan to share some of my own insights gained over six decades of personal observations of church life.  I may refer to Kennedy’s book when appropriate; and I may focus on some of the denominational and non-denominational myths that hinder the united fellowship of all believers.  I’ll endeavor to show that despite these theological stumbling blocks, the work of God has continued unabated on Earth into its 21st century. 

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